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offering he had not respect”? Will it be said, that these words convey something arbitrary ? They may, perhaps, to our metaphysical minds; but they could not to minds like those of Moses' auditors, minds such as also exist in the bosom of the most philosophical societies, in all ages of the world ; they do not to children, unless they are made metaphysical by education. The obvious impression is, merely, that the sacrifice of the one was of good spiritual effect, and that of the other had no spiritual effect ; and the inference of any mind of moderate reasoning powers would be precisely that which Moses has again put into the mouth of the LORD, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted ?” &c., the interpretation of which is, that good faith, or want of good faith, in the sacrificer, was the source of the difference between the acceptance and the non-acceptance of the offering
But, then, lest the self-condemned worshipper should be discouraged, because convicted of sacrificing in a wrong spirit, he is reminded that the future is still in his power ; that he may even sacrifice as an expression of his repentance ; a sin-offering * lieth at the door.” If he desired to sacrifice, he could take advantage of this circumstance, and all should be as if he had not done wrong. What an inimitable story is this ! It is too much to believe, as some have done, that Moses' genius invented it. It is, indeed, much more reasonable to suppose that it was, as it purports to be, a fact, handed down by tradition; the republication and sanctioning of a fact, as revelation to the Hebrews, which, in its day, had been also a revelation to the primitive people. The plain prose of it is, that Cain sacrificed without the spirit of love. Instead of being blessed, he only felt his loss of the material substance. But this pain made him reflect; and he reflected, not without gaining mental light, it seems. He learnt that there was à à moral cause for his want of blessing, — wrong-doing. He learnt, also, that it was not remediless, for right-doing could even atone for the past; the future was his own. We may understand all this better in prose. But Moses' auditors could have taken no idea from these prosaic words, or, at least would have received no impression from them.
* This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew.
We cannot too often recur to this fact; for unless we keep it in mind, we shall be led into all the absurdities of allegorical interpretation, of exoteric and esoteric meanings. Moses had no double meanings, unless we consider all poetry as having double meanings, it all being addressed to the whole nature, and so holding true, whether received by the reason or sensibility.
It will be observed that Moses does not warn his readers here of any dangers that may arise from external worship, except the danger of the heart's not being fully in it. We have learnt that many other abuses are possible. But it is not to be expected that Moses should have known them; and, even if he had, it would have been absurd for him to have warned his readers of them, at that stage of their progress.
Other abuses were to be guarded against by other prophets, when they should arise. The great point, however, that the outward sacrifice is not enough, was deemed worthy of the second place in his revelation. should also follow Moses in this. It should be one of the first principles of all religious education, to have the external worship grow naturally out of the circumstances around the individual, - and to be the sign of devotion, - not a substitution for it.
We now come to crime and its retribution, which naturally enough follows what we have last considered.
The story of the murder of Abel is distinct from the story of the sacrifices ; and there is no reason to suppose that the quarrel between the brothers arose out of the sacrifices. But it is worthy of all consideration, that Moses has linked these two stories together, and probably that Providence linked them in fact, as well as in tradition. This seems to imply, that one was a moral consequence of the other. The second story proves that Cain, though he might have been startled, was not subdued, by his own just reflections on his unaccepted sacrifice. THE LORD had then spoken in vain ! From a mind thus perseveringly impious, arose a crime, which was, as yet, new in the world,
a crime against the social principle, whose operations are intimately, if not inseparably, connected with the operations of the religious principle.
( And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother, and slew him."
N. S. VOL. XII. NO. I.
Not a circumstance is recorded in connexion with this dark deed. No intimation is given of the occasion of it. The terrible tradition had come down to posterity, in its naked
What an evidence is this of its truth! The first death, if it was indeed also a murder, must have been an undying tradition among men. The shock which it communicated must also have been felt in succeeding generations. Nothing is more surely transmitted than an event which was a shock. Cain undoubtedly rose up against his brother wilfully. Ungoverned by the love of his Maker, reckless of his will, the powerful nature within him was liable to be wrought into passion by any thing that jarred his personal feelings. Some trifle, perhaps, excited the outbreaking, and, regardless of consequences, a blow was struck !— Death! – which he could not have premeditated, for it was inconceivable before it had occurred, - Death revealed to him in thunders, that, in dealing with a human being, he was dealing with the Infinite.- When the mighty hiatus between sense and spirit yawned beneath him, how must he have recoiled and shuddered ! But Moses expresses it in language which rhetoric in vain would essay to imitate ; “ And The LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother?' And he said, 'I know not; am I my brother's keeper ?' And He said, 'What hast thou done ? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which has opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand,'" &c. To
us, these words do not convey what they did even to the auditors of Moses, to whom death was as much of a mystery as ever; for we know where the dead are; and to us, the truth, that we are each our brother's keeper, is too much familiarized, in words at least, to awaken the earthquake, that such reflections must have awakened in Cain ; or to produce the impression which that recorded curse, interpreted on the same principle as the curse in the preceding chapter, must have produced on the mind of the Hebrew. When we connect these subduing words, put as usual into the very mouth of the Lord, with what follows, nature almost faints at the thought ; but it cannot doubt the picture, for it is too true to what we know of ourselves. Alas for Cain! A mark was truly set upon him ; the introducer of Death! No wonder the earth yielded no more to his
labor. The earth had refused to give spontaneously any longer, to the passive Adam; and this had been called a
But even when Cain tilled, it did not bring forth ! What a curse was this ! but was it arbitrary ?
If we look back at the original event, and the consequences upon the mind of Cain, which were so evidently visible, as a revelation to him and his brethren, on the eve of their forming a frame-work of society, we shall be struck by the wisdom of Providence therein displayed. In the ungoverned buoyancy of new-found power, man needed, as subsequent experience has proved, that the laws of social morality should be sanctioned by terrors. Or, if we look at it as first presented as a revelation by the records of Moses, we shall find it in beautiful adaptation to his purpose. The Hebrews were about being formed into a nation, and needed such lessons on the social principle. It is in strict harmony with Moses' whole plan. The record of human experience, in his Revelation, is, indeed, but one long series of events, displaying successively, over and over again, what Jesus seemed to feel so deeply on the cross, that man, when he omits to do right, and especially, when he sins against a brother, knows not what he does !
Some persons, in reading these ancient records, have said, that the punishment of Adam and of Cain was out of proportion to their crime, because it was impossible for them to look forward to what had never been experienced. Such persons, of course, consider virtue as a choice arising from the consideration of consequent external happiness or unhappiness, to be derived to the individual choosing. To them it will be difficult to defend Moses, or rather the Providence he describes. But to those who admit that virtue is felt to be virtue, because it is in harmony with, and builds up, all that is peculiar in man, and all that raises him above the influence of transitory circumstances, and makes him create good, — the equity of Providence is vindicated, and its wisdom and goodness made especially manifest, by these events. For deviation from the original principles of our nature, or from virtue, has outward evil effects; and human legislation and penalty should bear a proportion to these ; but the inward evil of doing wrong is not measurable ; unless, indeed, we measure man by the standard of the perfect man in Christ Jesus, and say, that by all that
it reduces a man below that, by all that it adds to the difficulty of attaining it, and by all the stumblingblocks it raises in the way of others’ also attaining that perfect stature, and by all the hanging back of the progress of humanity which comes from the loss of the actual assistance the growing man might have given to his fellows, supposing he had cultivated his nature, – by all this, he is to be considered as having done injury to humanity. To measure in this manner, however, was impossible before Jesus' coming; it is even difficult to do it now, because the character of Jesus is so little understood, and his influence on society so much involved and interrupted, and it is so hard for the mass of mankind to separate it from the influence that false views of him have had. Thus still, as in the days of Moses, the secret of the mystery of sin is beyond the ken of human organs, and the only means of indicating the mighty importance of virtue, is for every deviation from it to be thus tremendously visited ; for mere thoughtlessness to be thus awakened ; for man to learn, in agony and blood, that to be reckless is an immeasurable crime, connected, as he is, by immortal ties, which are nothing less than human heartstrings, with he knows not how large a portion of his
In the days of the first revelation, and even in the days of Moses, there were no skeptics from philosophical speculation. The infidel of that day, was only one practically ; overwhelmed by physical passions, or thoughtless of God through the multiplicity of momentary impressions. The sin to which he was first liable was the omission of thought, for this omission was the foundation of the. power which temptation had over him. In Cain's case, omission of thought had been already rebuked in the non-acceptance of the sacrifice ; but, still reckless, he had lifted his hand against his brother, and learnt only from the lifeless body to know what he had done, to realize that man was, in a degree, his brother's keeper, and that the earth was a desert and wild waste to the murderer. This was instruction that was then wanted in the world. It is impossible for us now to estimate the good that these revelations did in their day; or even the good that they did among the Hebrews, as they stood in the books of Moses, and were taught to their children, with the history of their nation,