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upon those who would falsely assert that the preference shewn to Abel was an arbitrary and unfounded preference, or with equal injustice insinuate that it was the cruelty of his offering which made him acceptable to God. Such are the arguments by which we would endeavour to convince them of the injustice of the censures which, whether in poetry or prose, they have so often urged against the Scriptures as stigmatising the Lord of all mercy as delighting only in the sanguinary services of his creatures, and as capable of being appeased by no shrine without a victim, and no altar without gore. Such also are the arguments by which we would endeavour to prove that St. Paul did not intend, by referring the acceptance of Abel to his faith, to imply that sacrifices of atonement by blood had already been instituted by God. If then that opinion is still to be maintained it must be maintained upon the ground of the impossibility of accounting for the origin of animal sacrifices by reason alone, which is the last of those circumstances which have been urged in defence of the supposition of a divine command for such offerings. The examination of this point will, consequently form the subject of the next Discourse, in which I shall bring this lengthened discussion to a close, by endeavouring to establish the two following positions. First,
that considering the circumstances in which Abel stood, an offering “ of the firstlings of his flock” was neither an unnatural nor an unreasonable service: and secondly, that considering the recorded declarations of the Almighty to our first parents after their transgression, such an offering was, perhaps, the most proper method he could adopt of demonstrating his faith in the promise of some future deliverance from the consequences of the fall.
THE OFFERINGS OF CAIN AND ABEL,
ORIGIN OF SACRIFICES CONSIDERED.
HEB. XI. 4.
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it
he, being dead, yet speaketh.” FAMILIARIZED to the idea of an atonement of blood for sin, and believing the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross to have been the propitiation and satisfaction to God for the transgressions of the whole human race; beholding the Christian sacrifice typified in every ordinance, and every offering under the Mosaic law, and certain that the death of the Messiah was fore-ordained for our redemption from the very beginning of the world, some eminent theologians have piously conceived that animal sacrifices must also, from the very beginning of the world, have been instituted and commanded by God himself, as direct prefigurations of this last and all-sufficient oblation.
Others, again, have been induced to maintain the divine appointment of animal sacrifices after the fall, as the best mode of accounting for the preference which was shewn to the offering of Abel; others, Jest they should seem to countenance the will-worship of the Papists; and others, under the notion that this opinion would better enable them to refute the objections of the Socinian against the doctrine of the efficacy of Christ's death as a sacrifice for sin.
Such are some of the various motives which have induced theologians to embrace and defend this idea with so much zeal, under so many disadvantages, and by arguments which, so far from approaching to a solid proof, do not even appear to afford a strong presumption in favour of the existence of any command from God for the general practice of sacrifices as a religious rite, before the promulgation of the Mosaic law.
The truth of this assertion with regard to many of the arguments advanced, has already been established. We have shewn that there is no reason to suppose that a divine command for animal sacrifices after the fall, if given, was omitted by Moses. We have also shewn that neither can the existence of such a command at that early period be fairly or satisfactorily inferred
from his narrative. Lastly, we entered upon the consideration of those circumstances, exclusive and independent of the Mosaic history, in which the primitive and divine appointment of animal offerings is supposed to be implied, and found that neither the universal prevalence of sacrifices, nor the declaration of St. Paul, that “ by faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,” can be made of any avail to prove the disputed point. But there remains yet another circumstance to be examined, from which the same conclusion has been attempted to be drawn; and that is, the alleged absurdity of sacrifices in the eye of reason, and their alleged inhumanity in the eye of nature. This is indeed one of the most favourite arguments of the defenders of the divine appointment of sacrifices after the fall, and scarce any terms seem sufficiently strong to express their opinion of the cruelty and irrationality of animal offerings. By some the offerings both of Abel and of Cain are represented as almost equally unaccountable; and it is asserted that “unprejudiced reason never could have dictated, that destroying the best of our fruits and creatures could be an office acceptable to God, but quite the contrarya.” Others, whilst they seem to allow that the vegetable offering of Cain might indeed be the result of rational deductions alone, yet maintain that no such ad
• Delaney's Rev. Examined, vol. I. p. 125.