The First Death
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Romans 5:12a).
Death is now a familiar and frequent occurrence. The pale face and closed eyes meet us everywhere and are to be seen every day.
But this world was never made to be a graveyard; its laughing streamlets, its smiling landscapes, its singing birds, seem out of place in a land of tombstones.
During the last 4000 years there have been near 200 worlds full of people, who have died; so that for every living body there are near 200 dead ones—supposing 33 years as the average of each generation.
I. Abel's Death
“And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Genesis 4:8).
A. The Sad Results of the Want of Faith
“Slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).
At the very altar of God sin may be committed. Even while Ananias and Sapphira were making their offering they sinned,—and perished in their sin; so, also, Korah and party. How many similar examples in case of Jews going through wilderness! Even zealous Miriam was smitten of leprosy. How many martyrs because of this! For this Stephen was stoned; for this Paul was stoned. “Hated me without a cause,” says Christ.
Sad fact in the world’s history that the first child born in this world became a murderer, and the second, a murdered child! Abel could not follow his brother and avenge his death, but his blood could. Thus, he “being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).
Once a doctor was passing a graveyard; the grave digger had just dug up a skull; as he held it in his hand a rusty nail dropped to the ground. “Let me see that nail,” said the doctor. Inquiring about the circumstances of the man’s death, he was told that there was nothing strange, only that his widow married soon afterwards. He took the nail and showed it to the woman, saying, “Do you know that nail?” She at once dropped upon her knees and confessed the murder. “His blood be on us, and on our children” said the Jews (Matthew 27:25). It has been following the Jewish nation ever since.
B. Cain Starting to Flee
Abel slain, Cain turns aside to flee.
The death-blow has been given, and here we see Cain starting to flee. He is characterized hereafter as a “fugitive.” “The wicked flee when no man pursueth” (Proverbs 28:1). Abel is dead and cannot return the blow; but still conscience has sounded the alarm, and off he starts. Here was the first illustration of the natural enmity on the part of the world to God’s children—“enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” (Genesis 3:15). “The world…hated me” (John 15:18). (v. 25) “They hated me without a cause.” (v. 19) “Because ye are not of the world…therefore the world hateth you.”
The only reason given for this murder was that his brother’s works were righteous and his own work’s were evil. Abel was not disposed to compromise matters so as to save his life and retain the friendship of the world, yet how many do, forgetting that the “friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Abel was willing to lose his life rather than cease to live a righteous life.
Blood spoke to the soul of Cain. Often words only reach the ear and get no further; but the voice of blood penetrated to the innermost recesses of the soul. It brought out the long, loud, bitter cry (Genesis 4:13), “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” This will be the penetrating voice that will sound louder than the crash of falling mountains; for amid falling rocks, sinners will be exclaiming (Revelation 6:16), “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” The blood of the slain Lamb: so while this Lamb’s blood speaks now in gentle tones of mercy and pardon, it will then be heard in peals of thunder—it will then be the wrath of the Lamb. This same picture is also presented in Revelation 1:7. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail.” Yes, even wail because of the pierced hands and feet. If Cain’s punishment was great, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant…an unholy thing” (Hebrews 10:29). Not always can he sing, “Five bleeding wounds he bears.”
C. The Separation of Two Brothers
How many meet around the altar on earth and part to meet no more! Two sons of David: one the infant, who went up from the family altar to heaven; the other, Absalom, who perished with blood and in blood;—Dives and Lazarus. Shall we gather at the river or separate forever?
All this hinges on two little words, “By faith” Abel (Hebrews 11:4).
II. Parents Gazing
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Romans 5:12a).
Here was a sad picture for parental eyes to gaze upon! The first death in the world!
A. Adam and Eve Saw the Fulfillment of God's Word
“The day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This was the fruit of their own sins. How often parents see in the death of their children the fruit of their sin! This was what struck Aaron dumb when over the dead bodies of his two boys Moses said (Leviticus 10:3), “This is it that the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me…And Aaron held his peace.” He had reason to hold his peace. He saw in their dead bodies the fruit of his own sin when with the golden calf he had trifled with sacred things. Ah! How often this it is that makes sad funerals!
I was called to attend a funeral in Lancaster County, Pa. A young man had died and was brought home to be buried. The mother said to the preacher, “Won’t you please ask my son John to come in and see the corpse before the coffin lids close? He has refused to look upon his brother William since he was brought home.” John was standing on the porch leaning up against a post as Rev. Mr. Keys approached him and said, “We are now ready to proceed with the funeral, and, as the coffin lids will soon close, your mother wishes you to come and take a last look at your brother.” John at once raised his hands, and with bitter agony exclaimed, “O William! William! How can I see you! I have been a Christian for years and so often have felt as if I ought to speak to you about your soul, and your sins, and your danger of being forever lost; but I have delayed doing it, until now it is too late. O William! William! I can’t see your pale face and closed lips; they will pierce my soul with agony as I think of my delay. No, no; I can’t go in to see William.”
B. The Fruit of One Sin
One sin of our first parents caused this beautiful world to be turned into a grave yard. Universalists say that eternal punishment is too great a result to follow from a few sins; but the world has now suffered for six thousand years as the result of that one sin; and who can prove that the end of the period of that one sin is nigh?
The blow with which Cain struck his brother is still felt in the world and is heard reverberating around the entire globe. How many deaths have followed this one! Who can tell?
Who would like to spend eternity with men like Cain? Yet “without are…murderers” (Revelation 22:15); and all who are not saved will witness their wrath for ever.
C. Adam and Eve Viewing the Dead Body of Abel
Here also we see parents gazing upon the first death in a family. What a significant epoch that is in the history of the family circle. I doubt not many families here represented have learned the deep impression made. The empty chair at the table, the empty clothes hanging in the wardrobe, the empty pillow in the bed speak to the depths of the heart.
While moving a bureau in a bed-chamber, a concealed shoe fell to the floor. It was a little occurrence but it broke a father’s heart. It told of the pattering of little feet that were now hidden under ground.
It may be I am speaking to some who have yet to gaze upon the first pale face in the yet unbroken circle, but, as certain as there was this first death in the history of the world, there will also be a time when trembling fingers will record the first name on the blank record left in the family Bible.
Cain had the “form of godliness” (2 Timothy 3:5) but knew nothing of its power. Cain did not neglect his religious duties. He brought his offering unto the Lord as well as Abel. But it was mere form and this cannot control or shield a man in time of temptation.
A little boy had raised his hand to strike a brother, but suddenly let it drop. He afterwards said, “I thought of Jesus, and so I couldn’t strike.”
Christ’s blood “speaketh better things” (Hebrews 12:24), because it speaks of hope and help. Abel’s blood didn’t speak of pardon. Whithersoever he fled Cain couldn’t find pardon. David was guilty of murder, yet he knew of the blood that had pardon in it. He could truly say (Psalm 51:7), “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” He knew how “sins…as scarlet” (Isaiah 1:18) could be made “whiter than snow.” Paul had been accessory to the death of Stephen; yet, though “sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15), he finds salvation in the blood. Cowper says, “The dying thief rejoiced to see…”
III. Cain's Flight
“And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (Genesis 4:9-15).
A. A Picture of One Forever Lost
The first thing said of Dives, after he entered into the other world (Luke 16:24), was that he lifted up his eyes and “cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me.” But not a drop of water even was furnished to his parched tongue.
“The sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56). A sting will burn; and if there is any sin left in us when we leave the world that sin will lay upon conscience like a hot coal of fire forever.
Prof. Webster, who was hung for murder in the East, often complained to his jailer that the inmates of adjoining cells would often call out during the night at him, “You are a bloody man, professor, you are a bloody man.” “But it was discovered that all was quiet during the night, and that all he heard was the voice within—the voice of a stinging conscience echoing his sin through the chambers of his soul.
B. The Effect of Sin Amid Beautiful and Bountiful Surroundings
Cain was now going through a world in its childhood beauty. It had just been finished and furnished as a palace to be inhabited by man. Cain was the firstborn child of the world, and there was a time when he was sole heir to the entire world. He could have said, “All of Asia is mine, the islands of the ocean are mine; yea, the world is mine.” Yet look in the face of this owner of the world and ask him (Matthew 16:26), “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Hear his groans in reply: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”
His feet are now treading the soft velvet carpet that God’s fingers have woven. His ears are saluted with the sweetest notes of nature’s choristers; silver streamlets join in the chorus, and in their murmur echo the strain, “God is good.” Balmy breezes fan his brow, and whisper, as they hasten by, “God is good.” Beautiful flowers smile around his pathway, and fill the air with sweet fragrance that tells of God’s goodness; yet amid all these pleasant surroundings, hear the cry of Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”
Sinners often think they could be happy if they were only in heaven. What a mistake! It would be the worst hell they could enter. Look at Cain as he is trying to flee “from the presence of the LORD” (Genesis 4:16). Look at Adam and Eve after they had sinned, how they sought to hide “from the presence of the LORD” (Genesis 3:8). Though they were in Paradise, they did not wish to stay there in the presence of an offended God. What is more painful to one with weak and sore eyes than to be brought near the light! Do you not thereby increase their misery?
A friend said to a French nobleman and atheist while on his death-bed, “Heaven is merciful.” His answer was, “Heaven is to me the severest part of hell. Couldst thou feel half the mountain that is upon me thou wouldst struggle with the martyr for his stake, and bless heaven for the fire that is not an unquenchable fire.”
In Hebrews 12:24, we read that the blood of Jesus “speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Thus it seems it speaks to a soul—speaks as loudly as the voice of blood that followed Cain; but it speaks of peace and pardon.
A missionary met a young heathen in Africa who had been left back by a caravan to perish by the way-side. Wondering what his prospects were for the world to come, he asked him, “What are your hopes for eternity?” The answer was, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The missionary was surprised to receive such an answer, and was going to make further inquiries, when he found that the native had closed his eyes in death; but there was something that he had clasped in his hand before dying. As he opened the cold fingers he found therein a leaf of the Bible, containing the first chapter of 1st John in which were these words, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The voice of blood had reached far into the heathen wilderness and opened heaven to the eyes of this dying man.
C. How Far Down Through Succeeding Ages the Voice of This Blood Can Be Heard
“His blood be on us, and on our children” said the Jews when about to crucify Jesus (Matthew 27:25). Do they not in their scattered condition still bear the marks of this blood upon them though 2000 years have rolled around? If the voice of blood can be heard in tones of thunder thus long on earth, is it any wonder that it will follow a sinner through eternity?
While there is power in the blood of Jesus to speak better things than the blood of Abel, if it is trifled with and rejected, it will speak in louder condemnation. “Of how much sorer punishment…shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant…an unholy thing” (Hebrews 10:29). If man’s blood drops can speak loud, how much louder the blood of the Son of God?
There shall many sounds be heard in the last judgment day; the blasts of angel trumpets; the melting of the elements; the trembling of mountains; the burning of a world—and yet it will not be these things that will cause men to tremble. It will be the slain Lamb—the slighted blood of Jesus. Man shall say “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
The effect of sin upon the conscience is often seen even in this life-time as a consuming fire. Look at Cain. The Bible says that after he had killed his brother, he “went out from the presence of the LORD” as a “fugitive and a vagabond”, saying, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” And what was punishing Cain that he said was greater than he could bear? It was no fear of anything from without; there were no thorns piercing his feet; no lash was falling upon his back. God placed even a mark of protection upon him; for when Cain said, “Every one that findeth me shall slay me,” “the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him”, and then said that sevenfold vengeance would be on any one who should slay Cain. No; the explanation of Cain’s torment is seen in this text; “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”
Cain no doubt wandered away from where he killed his brother; yet the voice of blood followed him wherever he went. The blood may have soaked in the ground and disappeared from human sight, yet every drop had a tongue and a voice. The text says, “The voice of thy brother’s blood.” Sins get tongues, and oh, how loud and long they can speak!
The sins of the Sodomites assumed tongues and lifted up a cry so loud that it pierced the heavens. “The LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me” (Genesis 18:20-21). The angels said to Lot (Genesis 19:13), “We will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD.”
In Carlisle, Pa., I visited a jail with a pastor, to see a convict who acknowledged his guilt of murder. The voice of blood echoed in his cell, so that, in describing his feelings, he said, “In the morning when I go to wash my face, and take water in my hand, before it reaches my eyes, it all turns into blood-drops. While I am dressing myself I can hear it dripping from my clothes. When I look around on the walls of my cell, it seems to be running down in streams all around. When I walk to and fro in my cell, I hear it splashing under my feet, as if the floor of the cell was covered with it, and when I lay my head upon the pillow at night my head seems to be swimming in blood.”