The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Early Family Life
This chapter begins the family register of the world, and begins it, in truth, very awkwardly. Eve said that she had gotten a man from the Lord, but the man soon showed that the contrary supposition would have been sustained by a higher probability, for it would seem from Cain"s spirit and conduct that the Lord had next to nothing to do with him. He took quietly, however, to his father"s trade, and the three of them lived a dull, narrow life in some place now undiscoverable. A dull life, truly. The old people disgraced, the young man nothing to hear but how his father and mother had misbehaved themselves, and had been made to start the world with a skin a-piece and a rude knowledge of gardening. No newspaper, no telegraph, no politics, no theatres, no public-houses: why, some of you young men think your lives dull enough, but at any rate you can hear the noise, if you cannot join in the glee, and it is something after all to be able to hear a good loud noise: it scares the ghosts off and sets you wondering. Cain had nobody of his own age to speak to. He lived under the cloud of an unhappy memory, and day by day he got moodier and gloomier in temper.
When Abel was born his mother did not say he was from the Lord. She kept a silence full of meaning upon that point. Her experience of Cain"s odd ways and fierce looks had led her to take Abel"s coming very quietly, for if the one had led her such a life, what would two of them do? So Abel came almost without a welcome, and Adam set him in due time to a new business, for no more gardeners were wanted just then. You know what became of Abel; Cain killed him, as many elder sons are trying to kill their younger brothers today. Those who have been some time in possession do not like to be disturbed. Elder sons begrudge their wooden horses and their other toys to their baby brothers now-a-days, and pinch those baby brothers and grin at them unlovingly on the sly; even in your nursery, my friend, though you think your little ones are angels. The late comers have a hard time often, for there is an unwritten law of primogeniture and an unwritten law of knuckles. Your Cain has bitten your Abel many a time when you were not looking, and has been grimly glad when the unlucky baby has had his fingers jammed in the nursery door.
Cain was not without a kind of religiousness, remember. He did go to the unroofed church sometimes, but he went so unwillingly, so slouchingly, so coldly, that it was no church to him he begrudged the few roots and fruits that he took, just as we be grudge the weekly offering, and therefore God let him take them home, just as we would do if we could get secretly at the box. God takes nothing from our unwilling hand. He loves a cheerful giver! He will take two mites, he will take a cup of cold water, he will take a box of ointment, if given gladly; but none of your grudging, none of your dropping a penny as if it were a half-crown, none of your grunting, none of your porcupinishness; all must be free, glad, honest, open, and joyous; then the fire will come down and take back to heaven the gift of your love.
Abel was religious in the right way. He gave the best he had with an open heart, and the Lord said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." Now, observe, if you please, for it will help you through your whole life, that brothers are not necessarily akin. The greatest contrasts I have perhaps ever known have been between brothers. Yes, and they have been utter strangers to one another, have been these very brothers. And if you think of it, the thing is reasonable enough: the human family in all its bearings is one; human nature is not incoherent, but consolidated. We live in flats, and think that one flat has no connection with another; that is our foolish and ruinous mistake. Your brother may be on the next continent; your mate-heart may be a stranger you have never seen. Cain and Abel were not akin. Cain did things with his hand; Abel did them with his heart: Cain flung his gifts at you, and if you did not catch them so much the more pleased was he; Abel gave them with a hearty love, and was sorry he had not more to give. So Cain killed Abel, and will kill him to the end of the world, spite of all preachers and moralists, but now in a cunning enough way to escape the gaoler and the gibbet. But he will kill him! The man who lost the prize for which his essay was written will kill the man whose essay was accepted; he will sneer at him, and a sneer may be murder. The man who lost the election, being "defeated, not disgraced," will kill the man who got in; he will shrug a shoulder when his name is up, and a shrug may be homicide! You and I may have killed a good many people, and a good many people may have tried to kill us; they will take away our trade, they will say unkind things of us, they will close an eye or pucker a lip villainously, and then dry their mouths as those who have been drinking in secret. It is very horrible; it smells sulphurously; hell cannot be far away, and we are not to windward.
Some people are very curious to know what these sacrifices were, and grey-headed commentators, who ought to have known better, have spent no end of time in trying to gratify their idle curiosity. Some have thought that the virtue was in the thing taken, as if that could be! No; you must find out what the heart Isaiah, what the motive Isaiah, what the will is. "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." It is for ever true that God abhors the sacrifice where not the heart is found. If you want to find out Cain"s condition of heart you will find it after the service which he pretended to render; you know a man best out of church; the minister sees the best side of a Prayer of Manasseh, the lawyer the worst, and the physician the real. If you want to know what a man"s religious worship is worth, see him out of church. Cain killed his brother when church was over, and that is the exact measure of Cain"s piety. And Song of Solomon, when you went home the other day you charged five shillings for a three-shilling article, and told the buyer it was too cheap: and that is exactly the value of your Psalm -singing and sermon-hearing. You said you enjoyed the discourse exceedingly last Thursday; then you filled up the income-tax paper falsely: and you will be judged by the schedule, not by the sentiment. Do not trouble your heads about the details of the first sacrifice, but remember that what is required of us is that we do justice, love, mercy, and walk humbly with God. If thou doest well thou shall be accepted, and if not sin lieth at the door.
Cain killed Abel and then said he did not know where he was, and pettishly he asked, "Am I my brother"s keeper?" How sins go in clusters! Murder, lying, selfishness, all found together in this incident. But blood makes itself heard; you cannot wash out the deep stain. All human blood is precious; there is not a drop too much of it in all the earth. It is a fountain that rises close by the throne of God. Slay a child, and the law of civilisation will seize you and kill you with a holy sword. "He that sheddeth man"s blood by man shall his blood be shed." This is not a question of capital punishment in the vulgar sense of the term, but of capital punishment in its high and eternal necessity. Capital punishment, in our sense of the term, was not inflicted upon Cain, but in the fullest and deepest sense his life was forfeited to the inexorable and righteous law. Capital punishment is the doom of all sin. "The wages of sin is death." "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." To do evil is to perish at the core.
As we proceed in the chapter we find that family life extends rapidly. What length of time elapses you see we cannot tell. The spaces may have been what some people like to call "geological periods." I fancy that the true explanation of all these difficulties about the rise of the human race from two people, and all these intermarriages, is to be found in the question of time. But I know nothing about it, and the people called "the commentators" know nothing about it; the solid fact with which we have to deal is that the human race is here, and the account given of it in the Bible is the best account of it yet found in all the world. How wonderfully things begin to take shape in the following verses:—
"And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. And his brother"s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah" ( Genesis 4:20-22).
Heretofore we have had rural and pastoral life, now we advance to manufacture and art Man is awakening, and he demands more than he has yet had; "it is the divinity that stirs within him." Jabal developed cattle and got men to live in tents, having a taste for architecture and order; Jubal made musical instruments, as harps and organs; Tubal-cain wrought in brass and iron. A grand thing it is for a man to see that his trade is from God! The organ-builder is quite as much the creation of God as the sermon-builder. Your spinning and weaving and compounding, are all from heaven. "We are fellow-workers with God." The Divine meaning is that this earth and all belonging to it shall be developed to the highest possible point. And he who helps in that direction is called of heaven to the work. Build your organs for God; keep your shops for God; employ your men and your money for God: "whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
Towards the end of the chapter Lamech seems to go out of his head.
"And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold" ( Genesis 4:23-24).
Thus Lamech seems to become the father of all such as are crazy. I cannot tell what he saith. Is it a riddle? Is it a mania? Does he think he has killed somebody? Or is it nothing but frenzy and incoherence? Truly Lamech has a large family to answer for. It is amazing how many incoherent people there are in the world. I believe it is a matter of fact that the most of men are lunatics. Not upon all points; not openly and visibly; not far enough gone to be confined in asylums; but really insane on some vital questions. How else account for their lives? How else explain the discrepancy between their creed and conduct? How else give a reason for their going straight down to hell in the very face of the Cross and against the stress of the whole love of God? "The whole head is sick," that is the terrible and sufficient answer!
My object is to show, so far as I may be able, some of the necessary consequences of sin, and to point out how those consequences prove the terribleness of wrong-doing. Sometimes we know a thing better by its consequences than by its essence. I think this is particularly the case with sin. It may require great intellectual power to see sin as sin, but the consequences of sin show themselves in glaring and appalling clearness to the dullest eyes. If, then, any man would really know the sinfulness of sin let him study its effects upon himself, and look at its consequences within the circle with which he is most familiar.
Have you ever noticed the effect of a wicked thought in its swift passage through the brain? I have—alas, too often!—in my own case. I have been in high intellectual health one moment, and in the next I have been thrown down as by an invisible bolt of fire; that invisible bolt was a wicked thought; an idea that flashed through the mind and was never known to any but God. I had suffered great loss. The brain was stunned, and for the moment it lost the fine delicate power of moving with ease through difficult questions and high speculations. Its most exquisite threads had lost their tension, and its bloom mouldered and perished. You cannot explain this fully to any one who has not felt it. But you who have felt loss of memory, a sensation of dizziness, and painful uncertainty in mental exercises; you who have turned giddy where once you stood like a rock, and have stammered where once you spoke with determined emphasis; you know what I mean by the sad effects of melancholy thought upon intellectual completeness and power; and in that desolating hour you may have said with infinite bitterness—"My punishment is more than I can bear."
But sin is moral rather than intellectual, and its moral consequences may be considered as more marked and terrible than the intellectual results. This is actually the case. Sin lures a man to his destruction. It eats out his soul piece by piece. If there is such a thing as a moral nerve it softens, crumples, wastes, kills it, and then it gets the whole man into its unholy and cruel dominion.
Take a lie, and trace what may be called its natural history. First of all, the man must lie to himself, note that fact carefully, if you please. In getting his own consent to the lie, the man told the lie to himself. In that moment he impoverished his vitality, and prepared himself to go the next step, and when he went the next step he became so weak that he could be driven to any length on the road of wickedness. Thus he exposed himself to a new attack—he came within the humbling and shattering influence of fear. "The righteous are bold as a lion"; but loss of righteousness is loss of boldness. Here, then, is an intolerable punishment. The scourge of fear is always lacerating the bad man. Beckon him, and his knees knock together by reason of false alarm. Turn suddenly upon him, and he feels a sword cutting through his very heart He flees, "when no man pursueth," and a great shadow lies coldly across his merriest feast. This is punishment. It is a punishment that never ceases When the wicked man goes to rest his pillow is too hard for his throbbing head. If he fall into troubled slumber, an unexpected tap at his door will be to him as an earthquake, or as a call to sudden judgment. And he never gets the better of this. Indeed, he gets worse and worse, until his own shadow frightens him, and his own voice seems to be calling for his detection and punishment. His punishment is greater than he can bear; its reality is great, but its imagination is infinite! Hell, in its most terrible and revolting aspect, becomes simply the natural and proper end of sin. If we could think ourselves back into a state of innocence, it would probably be impossible to us to create, even imaginatively, the idea of hell. It would not come within the region or range of our thinking. It would be like something that required an additional sense to apprehend or lay hold of it But let that innocence be lost—let the soul stray from its sacred sanctuary—let it lose its hold upon God—and instantly hell opens, and hell is felt to be the proper end of sin. The sinner creates his own hell.
Cain said, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." We sometimes say that punishment should be proportioned to sin. There is a sense in which that is most true and just It is most true and just with regard to all punishment that comes from the outside. It is a law which must be obeyed by the parent, the magistrate, and every wronged or offended man. But this is by no means the limit of the question. The punishment which a man inflicts upon himself is infinitely severer than any punishment that can be inflicted upon him. "A wounded spirit who can bear?" You remember how you ill-treated that poor child now dead; you saw the anguish of his soul, and he besought you and you would not hear; and now a great distress is come upon you, and your bread is very bitter. Who is punishing you? Not the magistrate. Who then? You are punishing yourself. You cannot forgive yourself. The child touches you at every corner, speaks to you in every dream, moans in every cold wind, and lays its thin pale hand upon you in the hour of riot and excitement. You see that ill-used child everywhere; a shadow on the fair horizon, a background to the face of every other child, a ghastly contrast to everything lovely and fair. Time cannot quench the fire. Events cannot throw into dim distance this tragic fact. It surrounds you, mocks you, defies you, and under its pressure you know the meaning of the words, which no mere grammarian can understand—"The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment."
All this will come the more vividly before us if we remember that a man who has done wrong has not only to be forgiven, he has to forgive himself. That is the insuperable difficulty. He feels that any external view of his sin, which even the acutest man can take, is altogether partial and incomplete; and, consequently, that any forgiveness which such a man can offer is also imperfect and superficial. And even in relation to God the same difficulty arises, notwithstanding the completeness of his view as the necessity of his omniscience. To have grieved a Being so good, so holy, as God, is felt to be a crime that ought not to be forgiven, and that his mercy can only be extended at the expense of his righteousness. But to this we must return presently.
Have you ever watched the deteriorating effects of sin even upon the personal appearance? Take a youth of extreme beauty, and let him, little by little, be led into wicked practices; in proportion as he is so led will the register of his descent be written upon his face, and upon his whole attitude and manner. Quite imperceptibly, I admit, but with awful exactness and depth. The eye, once so clear and so steady in its look, will be marked by suspicion, uncertainty, or timidity of movement; its glances will not be like sun rays darting through thick foliage, but rather like a dark lantern turned on skilfully to see what is happening here and there, but throwing no light on the man who holds it. And strange lines will be woven around the mouth; and the lips, so well-cut, so guileless and generous, will be tortured into ugliness and sensual enlargement; and the voice, once so sweet, so ringing, the very music of a character unstained and fearless, will contract some mocking tones, and give itself up to a rude laughter, partly deceitful and partly defiant. All this will not happen in one day. Herein is the subtlety of evil. If you do not see the youth for years you may be shocked when you miss the fine simplicity and noble bearing which you associated with his name. This is part of the man"s punishment. It is the spot of leprosy on a forehead once so open and unwrinkled, and it will grow and spread and deepen until there be no place fit for him but the silent and inhospitable wilderness.
This punishment, too, seems to get into a man"s business and house. It lowers the high discipline which once ruled and ennobled them, and substitutes trickery and eye-service for the better law which once prevailed. Everywhere it touches and debases the sinner; to his very walk it imparts a swagger or a slouch, significant of debased character, and every relation of life it perverts, disennobles, and defiles.
Now a meditation of this kind might well drive us to despair, if there be nothing else to be said. Sin can only aggravate itself and relieve our torment by plunging into some still deeper excess. Where, then, is hope to be found? If there is any way of escape, let us have it pointed out so clearly that the wayfaring Prayer of Manasseh, though a fool, need not err therein.
I have said that even God"s forgiveness, strictly in itself, does not meet the case of a man being unable to forgive himself. That is Song of Solomon, philosophically, but, thank God, not evangelically. God"s forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, is not mere forgiveness, however abundant and emphatic. It is not merely a royal or even paternal edict. It is an act incomplete in itself; it is merely introductory or preparatory, as the uprooting of weeds is preliminary to a better use of the soil. It is an essential Acts, for in the absence of pardon the soul is absolutely without the life that can lay hold of any of the higher blessings or gifts of God. To what, then, is forgiveness preparatory? To adoption, to communion with God, to absorption into the Divine nature, to the witness of the Holy Ghost. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God." And if in moments of special trial "our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things." You will see, then, that if it was merely an act of forgiveness, it would be quite true that man would be unable to forgive himself; but it is "assurance," it is "sonship," it is joy of the Holy Ghost. "There Isaiah, therefore, now no condemnation, to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." "To be spiritually minded is life and peace." "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." "It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?" Thus the soul is flooded with joy. Its daily song is of victory. It is stirred, and ruled, and gladdened by a mysterious and indestructible sense of triumph, for the grace of the blessed and infinite Christ fills the whole heart with sweet content and immortal hope.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24