The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 5: Cain and Abel Tested
Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, differed widely in character.
Abel had a spirit of loyalty to God; he saw justice and
mercy in the Creator's dealings with the fallen race, and gratefully
accepted the hope of redemption. But Cain cherished feelings of
rebellion, and murmured against God because of the curse pronounced
upon the earth and upon the human race for Adam's sin.
He permitted his mind to run in the same channel that led to
Satan's fall—indulging the desire for self-exaltation and questioning
the divine justice and authority.
These brothers were tested, as Adam had been tested before
them, to prove whether they would believe and obey the word
of God. They were acquainted with the provision made for the
salvation of man, and understood the system of offerings which
God had ordained. They knew that in these offerings they were
to express faith in the Saviour whom the offerings typified, and
at the same time to acknowledge their total dependence on Him
for pardon; and they knew that by thus conforming to the divine
plan for their redemption, they were giving proof of their
obedience to the will of God. Without the shedding of blood
there could be no remission of sin; and they were to show their
faith in the blood of Christ as the promised atonement by offering
the firstlings of the flock in sacrifice. Besides this, the first
fruits of the earth were to be presented before the Lord as a thank
The two brothers erected their altars alike, and each brought
an offering. Abel presented a sacrifice from the flock, in accordance
with the Lord's directions. "And the Lord had respect unto
Abel and to his offering." Fire flashed from heaven and consumed
the sacrifice. But Cain, disregarding the Lord's direct and explicit
command, presented only an offering of fruit. There was no token
from heaven to show that it was accepted. Abel pleaded with his
[p. 72] brother to approach God in the divinely prescribed way, but his
entreaties only made Cain the more determined to follow his own
will. As the eldest, he felt above being admonished by his brother,
and despised his counsel.
Cain came before God with murmuring and infidelity in his
heart in regard to the promised sacrifice and the necessity of the
sacrificial offerings. His gift expressed no penitence for sin. He
felt, as many now feel, that it would be an acknowledgment of
weakness to follow the exact plan marked out by God, of trusting
his salvation wholly to the atonement of the promised Saviour.
He chose the course of self-dependence. He would come in his
own merits. He would not bring the lamb, and mingle its blood
with his offering, but would present his fruits, the products of
his labor. He presented his offering as a favor done to God,
through which he expected to secure the divine approval. Cain
obeyed in building an altar, obeyed in bringing a sacrifice; but he
rendered only a partial obedience. The essential part, the
recognition of the need of a Redeemer, was left out.
So far as birth and religious instruction were concerned, these
brothers were equal. Both were sinners, and both acknowledged
the claims of God to reverence and worship. To outward appearance
their religion was the same up to a certain point, but beyond
this the difference between the two was great.
"By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice
than Cain." Hebrews 11:4. Abel grasped the great principles of
redemption. He saw himself a sinner, and he saw sin and its
penalty, death, standing between his soul and communion with
God. He brought the slain victim, the sacrificed life, thus
acknowledging the claims of the law that had been transgressed.
Through the shed blood he looked to the future sacrifice, Christ
dying on the cross of Calvary; and trusting in the atonement that
was there to be made, he had the witness that he was righteous,
and his offering accepted.
Cain had the same opportunity of learning and accepting these
truths as had Abel. He was not the victim of an arbitrary purpose.
One brother was not elected to be accepted of God, and the other
to be rejected. Abel chose faith and obedience; Cain, unbelief and
rebellion. Here the whole matter rested.
Cain and Abel represent two classes that will exist in the world
till the close of time. One class avail themselves of the appointed.
[p. 73] sacrifice for sin; the other venture to depend upon their own
merits; theirs is a sacrifice without the virtue of divine mediation,
and thus it is not able to bring man into favor with God. It is
only through the merits of Jesus that our transgressions can be
pardoned. Those who feel no need of the blood of Christ, who
feel that without divine grace they can by their own works secure
the approval of God, are making the same mistake as did Cain.
If they do not accept the cleansing blood, they are under
condemnation. There is no other provision made whereby they can
be released from the thralldom of sin.
The class of worshipers who follow the example of Cain includes
by far the greater portion of the world; for nearly every
false religion has been based on the same principle—that man
can depend upon his own efforts for salvation. It is claimed by
some that the human race is in need, not of redemption, but of
development—that it can refine, elevate, and regenerate itself.
As Cain thought to secure the divine favor by an offering that
lacked the blood of a sacrifice, so do these expect to exalt
humanity to the divine standard, independent of the atonement.
The history of Cain shows what must be the results. It shows
what man will become apart from Christ. Humanity has no
power to regenerate itself. It does not tend upward, toward the
divine, but downward, toward the satanic. Christ is our only
hope. "There is none other name under heaven given among men,
whereby we must be saved." "Neither is there salvation in any
other." Acts 4:12.
True faith, which relies wholly upon Christ, will be manifested
by obedience to all the requirements of God. From Adam's day
to the present time the great controversy has been concerning
obedience to God's law. In all ages there have been those who
claimed a right to the favor of God even while they were
disregarding some of His commands. But the Scriptures declare
that by works is "faith made perfect;" and that, without the
works of obedience, faith "is dead." James 2:22, 17. He that
professes to know God, "and keepeth not His commandments,
is a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 2:4.
When Cain saw that his offering was rejected, he was angry
with the Lord and with Abel; he was angry that God did not
accept man's substitute in place of the sacrifice divinely ordained,
and angry with his brother for choosing to obey God [p. 74] instead of joining in rebellion against Him. Notwithstanding
Cain's disregard of the divine command, God did not leave
him to himself; but He condescended to reason with the man
who had shown himself so unreasonable. And the Lord said
unto Cain, "Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance
fallen?" Through an angel messenger the divine warning was
conveyed: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And
if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." The choice lay
with Cain himself. If he would trust to the merits of the
promised Saviour, and would obey God's requirements, he would enjoy
His favor. But should he persist in unbelief and transgression, he
would have no ground for complaint because he was rejected by
But instead of acknowledging his sin, Cain continued to
complain of the injustice of God and to cherish jealousy and
hatred of Abel. He angrily reproached his brother, and attempted
to draw him into controversy concerning God's dealings with
them. In meekness, yet fearlessly and firmly, Abel defended the
justice and goodness of God. He pointed out Cain's error, and
tried to convince him that the wrong was in himself. He pointed
to the compassion of God in sparing the life of their parents
when He might have punished them with instant death, and
urged that God loved them, or He would not have given His
Son, innocent and holy, to suffer the penalty which they had
incurred. All this caused Cain's anger to burn the hotter. Reason
and conscience told him that Abel was in the right; but he was
enraged that one who had been wont to heed his counsel should now
presume to disagree with him, and that he could gain no sympathy
in his rebellion. In the fury of his passion he slew his brother.
Cain hated and killed his brother, not for any wrong that Abel
had done, but "because his own works were evil, and his brother's
righteous." 1 John 3:12. So in all ages the wicked have hated
those who were better than themselves. Abel's life of obedience
and unswerving faith was to Cain a perpetual reproof. "Everyone
that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light,
lest his deeds should be reproved." John 3:20. The brighter the
heavenly light that is reflected from the character of God's faithful
servants, the more clearly the sins of the ungodly are revealed,
and the more determined will be their efforts to destroy those
who disturb their peace. [p. 77]
The murder of Abel was the first example of the enmity that
God had declared would exist between the serpent and the seed
of the woman—between Satan and his subjects and Christ and
His followers. Through man's sin, Satan had gained control of
the human race, but Christ would enable them to cast off his
yoke. Whenever, through faith in the Lamb of God, a soul
renounces the service of sin, Satan's wrath is kindled. The holy life
of Abel testified against Satan's claim that it is impossible for man
to keep God's law. When Cain, moved by the spirit of the wicked
one, saw that he could not control Abel, he was so enraged that
he destroyed his life. And wherever there are any who will stand
in vindication of the righteousness of the law of God, the same
spirit will be manifested against them. It is the spirit that through
all the ages has set up the stake and kindled the burning pile for
the disciples of Christ. But the cruelties heaped upon the follower
of Jesus are instigated by Satan and his hosts because they cannot
force him to submit to their control. It is the rage of a vanquished
foe. Every martyr of Jesus has died a conqueror. Says the prophet,
"They overcame him ["that old serpent, called the devil, and
Satan"] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their
testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death."
Revelation 12:11, 9.
Cain the murderer was soon called to answer for his crime.
"The Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he
said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain had gone so
far in sin that he had lost a sense of the continual presence of
God and of His greatness and omniscience. So he resorted to
falsehood to conceal his guilt.
Again the Lord said to Cain, "What hast thou done? The
voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground."
God had given Cain an opportunity to confess his sin. He had
had time to reflect. He knew the enormity of the deed he had
done, and of the falsehood he had uttered to conceal it; but he
was rebellious still, and sentence was no longer deferred. The
divine voice that had been heard in entreaty and admonition
pronounced the terrible words: "And now art thou cursed from the
earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's
blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not
henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond
shalt thou be in the earth." [p. 78]
Notwithstanding that Cain had by his crimes merited the
sentence of death, a merciful Creator still spared his life, and granted
him opportunity for repentance. But Cain lived only to harden
his heart, to encourage rebellion against the divine authority, and
to become the head of a line of bold, abandoned sinners. This
one apostate, led on by Satan, became a tempter to others; and his
example and influence exerted their demoralizing power, until
the earth became so corrupt and filled with violence as to call
for its destruction.
In sparing the life of the first murderer, God presented before
the whole universe a lesson bearing upon the great controversy.
The dark history of Cain and his descendants was an illustration
of what would have been the result of permitting the sinner to
live on forever, to carry out his rebellion against God. The
forbearance of God only rendered the wicked more bold and defiant
in their iniquity. Fifteen centuries after the sentence pronounced
upon Cain, the universe witnessed the fruition of his influence
and example, in the crime and pollution that flooded the earth.
It was made manifest that the sentence of death pronounced
upon the fallen race for the transgression of God's law was both
just and merciful. The longer men lived in sin, the more abandoned
they became. The divine sentence cutting short a career of
unbridled iniquity, and freeing the world from the influence of
those who had become hardened in rebellion, was a blessing rather
than a curse.
Satan is constantly at work, with intense energy and under a
thousand disguises, to misrepresent the character and government
of God. With extensive, well-organized plans and marvelous
power, he is working to hold the inhabitants of the world under
his deceptions. God, the One infinite and all-wise, sees the end
from the beginning, and in dealing with evil His plans were
far-reaching and comprehensive. It was His purpose, not merely to
put down the rebellion, but to demonstrate to all the universe the
nature of the rebellion. God's plan was unfolding, showing both
His justice and His mercy, and fully vindicating His wisdom and
righteousness in His dealings with evil.
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The holy inhabitants of other worlds were watching with
the deepest interest the events taking place on the earth. In the
condition of the world that existed before the Flood they saw
illustrated the results of the administration which Lucifer had [p. 79] endeavored to establish in heaven, in rejecting the authority of
Christ and casting aside the law of God. In those high-handed
sinners of the antediluvian world they saw the subjects over whom
Satan held sway. The thoughts of men's hearts were only evil
continually. Genesis 6:5. Every emotion, every impulse and
imagination, was at war with the divine principles of purity and
peace and love. It was an example of the awful depravity resulting
from Satan's policy to remove from God's creatures the restraint
of His holy law.
By the facts unfolded in the progress of the great controversy,
God will demonstrate the principles of His rules of government,
which have been falsified by Satan and by all whom he has
deceived. His justice will finally be acknowledged by the whole
world, though the acknowledgment will be made too late to save
the rebellious. God carries with Him the sympathy and approval
of the whole universe as step by step His great plan advances to
its complete fulfillment. He will carry it with Him in the final
eradication of rebellion. It will be seen that all who have forsaken
the divine precepts have placed themselves on the side of Satan,
in warfare against Christ. When the prince of this world shall be
judged, and all who have united with him shall share his fate, the
whole universe as witnesses to the sentence will declare, "Just
and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints." Revelation 15:3.
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"Seth and Enoch"