« PreviousContinue »
a justifiable pretext, but an undoubted authority to destroy animal life for raiment, we must in the next place proceed to examine whether, considering that to be the case, he could reasonably suppose an offering of the animal so destroyed, would be accepted as a religious service by the Being who had given him the authority. Upon this point, however, if we regard his offering as merely of an eucharistical nature, we shall feel, I apprehend, but little serious difficulty. If, indeed, we choose to call and to explain all eucharistical sacrifices as gifts, and if, interpreting gifts in the sense which the word usually bears when adopted in the ordinary transactions of common life, we choose still further to assert, that “they carry with them the idea of a bribe to God,” we no doubt advance what is both true in itself, and decisive against their propriety in that particular sense. But when, instead of speaking of such sacrifices as gifts, we omit the ambiguous word, and speak of them only as offerings before the Lord, and as acts expressive of the gratitude of the offerer for some benefit he has received, the vegetable sacrifice of Cain, and the animal sacrifice of Abel, are then placed upon the same footing, and may be alike accounted for upon the principles of reason alone. For doubtless we are bound not only to be grateful in our hearts, but also to
express it by our lips, and to accompany our words by corresponding actions : and doubtless we are bound to pursue this conduct in acknowledgement of every kind of blessing, whether of raiment or of food. Since, therefore, it is generally and justly allowed that Cain might be led, by the mere principles of nature, to bring an offering of the produce of the earth as an acknowledgement of the divine goodness in appointing to him the fruits of the ground for food, it must be allowed also that the same reasoning might lead Abel to bring an offering of the firstlings of his flock as an acknowledgement of the divine goodness in appointing to him their skins for raiment. In this manner it is easy to conceive, that animal sacrifices would then appear neither an unnatural nor an irrational mode of testifying a grateful sense of a blessing so specially and singularly conferred, though to us they are no longer even an innocent service. As Christians, we have embraced a religion which, by the positive and superior precepts of revelation, has superseded the exercise of reason in devising the forms of outward godliness. We live under a Gospel which, by prohibiting all further oblations of victims from the hands, has reduced the offices of piety to the mere spiritual offerings
See Kennicott's Two Dissertations, p. 200.
of the heart and lips“. But before any peculiar form of worship had been either forbidden or prescribed, and before the vanity of all other sacrifices had been proclaimed, and their propriety terminated in the final sacrifice of the cross, it is neither difficult to conceive that reason should have prompted an offering of every thing from which benefit was derived, nor irreverent to suppose that God would accept such offerings as one of the most unequivocal testimonies of a sense of gratitude and dependence. As God, therefore, had actually provided man with raiment by the destruction of animal life, the destruction of animal life in the presence of the Lord, and the presentation of the slain victim upon his altar in return, became one of the most natural modes of expressing gratitude for the means appointed for the communication of one great necessary of life. It was at once an innocent, a pious, and an appropriate act of homage.
Thus have we examined the only remaining argument of those who assert the divine institution of sacrifices immediately after the fall,
I have added these remarks, because some bave been weak enough to argue, that if sacrifices were a reasonable mode of worship in the Patriarchal ages and under the Mosaic law, their practice must be equally proper under the Christian dispensation, Hence they infer, that as sacrifices would now be deemed an irrational service, they never could have been otherwise.
and proved it to be equally inconclusive with the rest. When we consider the circumstances in which Abel stood, it appears that an offering of the "firstlings of his flock,” is not inexplicable upon the mere principles of reason and piety alone. Consequently it is not necessary to suppose that he acted in obedience to the positive command of God, in order to account for his having adopted that peculiar mode of worship. Neither is it at all more necessary to call in the aid of such a supposition to relieve us from the alleged impossibility of accounting, upon any just grounds, for the divine preference of the offering of Abel instead of that of Cain. The reasonableness of the former has appeared, in the progress of our investigation, to be as clear as that of the latter, and the sentiment of gratitude, seeking every appropriate method of expressing itself, whether by actions or by words, has been found, upon enquiry, to explain and to justify both the bloody sacrifice of Abel, and the bloodless sacrifice of Cain. For the two great and most comprehensive blessings we enjoy, are those of food and raiment, and we have shewn that, whilst the one of these two brothers was offering up a natural service of praise and thanksgiving for the appointed means of sustenance, the other was doing the same for the appointed means of clothing. The reasonableness therefore of Abel's service, when aided and sanctified by the righteousness of his person through that faith and holiness in which Cain was deficient, afford a just and intelligible foundation for the superior respect with which both himself and his offering were received. Had his offering been contrary to reason and repugnant to nature, no doubt it would have been difficult, however pre-eminent his holiness or faith, not only to explain how his understanding could have been led to adopt it as a mode of religious worship, but also to suppose that God would have accepted and sanctioned it when brought. But the moment we perceive that this act of homage had its foundation not in a superstitious, but a rational piety, every objection vanishes, and the whole becomes capable of a sound and satisfactory defence. It was right to prefer the reasonable service of righteous Abel, before the reasonable service of unrighteous Cain.
The difficulties of the question being thus removed, and the hypothesis of the divine appointment of sacrifices having been shewn to be both unsupported and unnecessary, we might now quit the subject. It is impossible, however, to forbear the addition of a few incidental remarks, which seem to render it by no means improbable, that the faith of Abel in a deliverance from the conse