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Manton Collected Works, Vol. 13

Thirdly, The third question is, Wherein lies the difference between the two sacrifices? Some place it only in the acceptation of God as if the sense were, Abel offered gratiorem, a more acceptable sacrifice, better in God’s esteem; but in the original it is , more sacrifice; uberiorem, saith Erasmus, a larger, a more plenteous, majoris pretii, a more excellent and a more beseeming sacrifice. It was better, not only in God’s esteem, but in its own worth and value.
Briefly, there is a threefold difference between Abel’s and Cain’s sacrifice.
1. In the faith of Abel. Abel’s principle was faith, Cain’s distrust . The one came in faith, looking to the promised seed, and so the duty was effectual for his comfort and encouragement, he was accepted with God; the other came to it as to a dead ceremony and task against his will, a superficial rite of no use and comfort . That .which is done in faith pleaseth God, otherwise it is but an idle rite and naked ceremony. God looks for habitual faith; but in all that proceed to a justified state he looks for actual faith, without which our sacrifices are but an abomination to him; Prov. xxi. 27. ‘The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination,’ how much more when he bringeth it with a wicked mind. Though a wicked mau bring it with the most advantage, with good intentions, yet it is an abomination; much more if he bring it with a carnal aim and a grudging spirit and evil mind, as Cain did. But of this hereafter.
2. The second difference lay in the willing mind of Abel. Abel came with all his heart, and in a free manner, to perform worship to God; and he brought the best, the fattest, and costliest sacrifice he could, as far as the bounds of God’s institution would give him leave. But Cain came with a sullen, covetous, unthankful, and fleshly spirit; he thought whatever he brought was good enough for God. Cain was envious to God before he was envious to his brother; he offered with a grudging mind whatever came first to hand, but kept the firstfruits to himself. Cain looked upon his sacrifice as a task rather than a duty; his fruits were brought to God as a mulct and fine rather than an offering, as if an act of worship had been an act of penance, and religion was his punishment. Note from hence—the worth of duties lies much in the willing mind of those that perform them.
[1.] There must be the mind. God doth not require ours, but us. Abel brought his lamb, and himself too; but Cain offered not himself, he brought only his offering. . God would have us, when we come to him, to bring ourselves; though he need us not, yet we have need of him. The Lord complains that they did not bring themselves: Jer. xxix. 13, ‘ Ye shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.’ This is right Cain’s trick, to bring God our gift, and not ourselves.
[2.] The mind must be willing and free. Probably that which did put Cain upon duty was the awe of his parents, or the rack of his own conscience; therefore he would do something to satisfy the custom. He would bring of the fruits, and there was all, but was unmindful of what God had done for him, and distrustful how God would reward him. Many are of Cain’s spirit; we think all is loss that is laid out upon God, and therefore do not come readily: Ps. cxix. 108, ‘Accept, I beseech thee, the free-will offering of my mouth, O Lord.’ All your duties should be free-will offerings. A christian should have no other constraint upon him but love: 2 Cor. v. 14, ‘ The love of Christ constraineth us.’ The devil rules the world by enforcement and a servile awe, and so captivates the blind nations; but God will rule by the sceptre of love. God would have his people a willing people. Their heart shall be their own law. In all our addresses to God we should come to him upon the wings of joy and holy delight.
3. The third difference is in the matter offered. It is said of Cain’s offering, Gen. iv. 3, ‘ That he brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.’ The Holy Ghost purposely omits the description of the offering. Being hastily taken, and unthankfully brought, it is mentioned without any additional expression to set off the worth of them; it should have been the first and the fairest. But for Abel, see how distinct the Spirit of God is in setting forth his offering: ver. 4, ‘ And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof;’ not only the firstlings, that the rest might be sanctified, but he brought the best, the chiefest, the fattest. All these were afterwards appropriated to God: Lev. iii. 16, 17, ‘All the fat is the Lord’s.’ Now observe from hence—