Study 1 THE EXERCISE OF FAITH – ABEL
Studies in Hebrews Eleven
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portions: Hebrews 11:1-4; Genesis 4:1-8; Luke 18:10-14)
In this series of studies we shall consider some of the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11. This chapter contains the most complete treatise on faith to be found in the Bible, and its biographical illustrations show us faith at work in the lives of a great variety of people. We shall see the presence, the principle, the power and the possibilities of faith. These men and women were all ordinary, sinful people; but they are mentioned because they believed God. Faith is the indispensable quality for which God looks - look up Hebrews 11:6 and 1 John 5:10. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that in the life of the former the principle of faith is operative, whereas in the life of the latter faith is not present - look up Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38.
The first man of faith who is mentioned is Abel - read Hebrews 11:1-4, and compare Genesis 4:1-8. As we look at Abel we see that it was his faith which enabled him to approach God and to worship Him acceptably. Notice that in Hebrews 11:5 we read of Enoch, who walked with God; and in Hebrews 11:7 we read of Noah, who worked for God; but, we first read of Abel, who worshipped God. Worship is the highest function of the human soul, and only as we are able to worship can we effectively walk with and work for God.
How can a man approach God and be accepted by Him? There are two ways - the true way and the false way, and these are represented by Cain and Abel and the offerings they brought to the Lord. Cain was rejected because his offering was not acceptable to God. Abel was accepted because the offering he brought was acceptable to God. We are all like Abel or Cain - saved or lost, believers or unbelievers, Christians or not Christians. How did Abel exercise faith in the Lord, faith which made him acceptable to the Lord, enabled him to worship and brought the assurance of salvation?
1. ABEL EXERCISED FAITH BY DISCOUNTING HUMAN SCHEMES, METHODS AND REASONING AND BY OBEYING GOD.
Picture these two men, Cain and Abel. Before they could come into the presence of God they must bring an offering, because they were sinners. How do we know they were sinners? - Romans 5:12 tells us. So both men built an altar, and Cain brought his offering - ‘the fruits of the soil’; and Abel brought his offering from ‘fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock’ - a sacrificial lamb. Cain’s offering was far more attractive than Abel’s, but Abel’s offering was what God wanted, because He had evidently revealed His way of salvation to his parents, Adam and Eve. We learn this from Genesis 3:15, and from Genesis 3:21. Before the skins could be provided for a covering for Adam and Eve, an animal had to be killed and blood had to be shed. So, while Cain placed upon the altar the fruits of his own labour - grain, vegetables, which he had raised by his own efforts - Abel, his brother, took a perfect lamb, killed it, poured the blood at the side of the altar and placed the lamb upon the altar. Abel’s offering anticipated the coming of the Lamb of God - look up Exodus 12:3; Leviticus 9:3; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 13:8 - it typified the sacrifice of Calvary. There is only one way for a sinner to approach a holy God, and that is through the shed blood of the Lamb; and to exercise faith in God means to recognise this fact and to approach Him in this way, contrary though it is to human reasoning.
2. ABEL EXERCISED FAITH BY ACKNOWLEDGING HIS SIN AND HIS NEED OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS.
There is no hint that Cain made any acknowledgment of sin; but Abel’s sacrifice and offering spoke not only of man’s sin, but also of God’s remedy for sin - look up Hebrews 9:22. Cain and Abel are the O.T. counterparts of the Pharisee and the publican - look up Luke 18:10-14. One was proud, and he was rejected; the other was humble, and he was accepted; one was blind in his sin, and full of self-righteousness; the other acknowledged his need of God’s forgiveness.
3. ABEL EXERCISED FAITH BY RECOGNISING THAT NO WORK OR EFFORT OF HIS OWN COULD GAIN HIS ACCEPTANCE BEFORE GOD.
The language of Abel was, ‘Not the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law’s demands… Nothing in my hand I bring…; simply to Thy cross I cling’. But the language of Cain was, ‘All the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law’s demands. Something in my hand I bring …’ Cain brought his best, but it was not acceptable - look up Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:20; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5.
4. ABEL EXERCISED FAITH BY PROVIDING AN OFFERING THAT FORESHADOWED THE GREAT OFFERING FOR SIN.
As Abel brought his offering he, in effect, prayed like this: ‘O God, I am a sinner. I have broken Your holy law, and I deserve to die for my sins. But You gave my father and mother a promise of the Coming One who is to take away our sin, and I come to You in the way which You have commanded me, to show You that I believe Your promise and trust the Coming One. Accept the life of this little lamb in the place of my life, and forgive my sins for the sake of the Lamb who is to come’ - now look up Isaiah 53:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21;
1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:7.
5. ABEL EXERCISED FAITH BY ACCEPTING GOD’S TESTIMONY THAT HE WAS RIGHTEOUS.
In Hebrews 11:4 we read that ‘By faith he was commended as a righteous man.’ This means that Abel believed that through his offering God had accepted him and had justified him. Abel’s faith, therefore, brought him the assurance of salvation. So should ours - look up Romans 8:1, and compare Hebrews 10:19-22. In concluding this study, notice two more references to Abel.
- In Hebrews 12:24 we read that the blood of Jesus ‘speaks a better word than that of the blood of Abel’. While the blood of Abel was prophetic and pointed forward to that which was to be, the blood of Jesus, on the other hand, declares that the whole work of salvation is finished. His offering was, and is, historic.
- In Hebrews 11:4 we read that Abel, by his faith, ‘still speaks even though he is dead’. This means that Abel continues to proclaim from age to age that there is only one way for a guilty sinner to be saved; there is only one acceptable way for a man to approach a holy God, and that way is through faith in the precious blood of Christ - look again at Hebrews 9:22.