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LECTURE XI.

THE OFFERINGS OF CAIN AND ABEL,

AND THE

ORIGIN OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES CONSIDERED.

Part II.

GENESIS IV. 3, 4.

Such was

In process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord

..And Abel he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof."

the first recorded act of worship amongst mankind, such the first recorded sacrifice which was laid upon the altars of the Almighty. A bloody and a bloodless offering were both presented before the Lord; and the bloody was accepted and the bloodless despised. “The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering, but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.”

To those who suppose that sacrifices were instituted from the very beginning by the Deity himself, and prescribed as a mode of atonement immediately after the fall, there can be but little

difficulty in explaining and accounting for the preference thus shewn. They have but to remark that the offering of Abel was in strict obedience to the divine command, and the respect he obtained becomes sufficiently justified. They have but, on the other hand, to observe how Cain substituted a vegetable for an animal sacrifice, and infer, from this direct violation of a positive ordinance of God, that his presumptuous disobedience to Heaven's decree was the natural and necessary cause of all the disrespect and disapprobation with which his religious services were received.

elucidate every

Simple, however, as this representation of the case may be, and easily as it

may obscurity which attends this memorable transaction, we should never for a moment permit ourselves to forget that it is with the truth, and not with the simplicity, of the principle which he assumes as the basis of his reasoning that an impartial enquirer is principally concerned. A mind of piety may often be tempted to embrace hypotheses and acquiesce in conclusions, because of their manifest usefulness in removing difficulties and illustrating the equity of God's government of the world. A religious heart will often accept the excellence of an opinion for an evidence of its correctness, and pleased with the advantages

reason.

derived from its admission, feel little inclination to investigate severely its claims. But a solid judgement and a cautious understanding should ever be on its guard against a delusion so soothing and so consistent with the humility of a finite

Did a reverential submission to the revealed declarations of the will of the Almighty pervade, in any considerable degree, the world in which we live; were all, or even most men, poor in spirit and not proud in thought, then indeed the mode of proceeding to which I have alluded might be more readily allowed to continue without check; because a really religious enquirer would seldom if ever be led into any serious error by its adoption. But surrounded, as we are, by men anxious to discover and able to detect our very smallest deviation from the essential rules of right reasoning, and to turn the mistakes of the advocates of the Bible into an argument against its inspiration or truth, we never can be too careful of the positions we assume, or the means by which we defend or explain the difficulties of Scripture.

It was under the influence of considerations like these that I felt it a duty in the preceding Discourse to scrutinise with such strictness the arguments upon which the supposed divine institution of sacrifices before the Mosaic Law, is founded

and maintained. It was with this view that I endeavoured to shew that, as it is universally allowed that no positive injunction for the practice of sacrifices is expressly recorded by Moses in the book of Genesis, so neither can any. sufficient reason be assigned why he should have omitted all mention of a command - so interesting in a religious point of view, if it had actually been given at that early period of the world. Neither the conciseness of his ante-diluvian history, nor the subsequent institution of sacrifices in the wilderness, which he has so carefully and minutely detailed, seems to afford any thing like a decisive proof that Moses intentionally suppressed the fact of their previous establishment by God. In the same spirit of rigid and impartial enquiry, we must now proceed to examine into the other arguments by which theologians have attempted to prove that his silence may be accounted for and explained. These arguments may be arranged under two distinct heads. First, those which endeavour to shew that the divine institution of animal sacrifices after the fall is implied, though not expressed, in the Mosaic narrative; and secondly, those which are founded upon circumstances altogether independent of that narrative.

1. 1. Now the first of those remarks from which divines have laboured to infer the divine

institution of animal sacrifices in the very first ages of the world, is too weak almost to require a refutation. The familiarity, they observe, with which the mention of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel is introduced, evinces a pre-existing practice. Familiarity of expression undoubtedly implies a pre-existent practice, a practice admitted and consequently existing before the period at which the expression was used. Had Abel, therefore, himself been the historian of the incident, much force might have been due to this remark, and we should have been authorised, in some measure, to assume that he spoke of what was neither a new nor a singular mode of worship amongst men. But the whole weight of this inference is destroyed the moment we reflect that Moses, and not Abel, was the author of the book of Genesis, and that to the Israelites and not to the ante-diluvians was the narrative addressed. The familiarity of the manner, therefore, with which the mention of sacrifice is introduced, marks merely the intimacy of Moses and the Israelites with the idea and use of that religious ordinance. This is an intimacy which it would have been strange indeed if they had not imbibed from their residence in Egypt, the establishment of the Passover, and the multitude and variety of their legal offerings. But it is an intimacy which cannot be made to imply, in the smallest degree,

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