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Ar the head of the noble army of martyrs stands the righteous Abel, the second son of fallen Adam. So early was that harsh but salutary lesson inculcated, that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. His name, implying something corruptible and transient, seems to have been predictive of his fate; and it intimates to us, what was afterwards expressed in terms at large by another of the afflicted servants of God-Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery: he cometh up, and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. Like a flower of the field, young Abel sprang up, and flourished.

Fair was his appearance, and sweet the odour of his virtues. But a brother's envy, like a blighting wind, went over him, and smote him to the earth.

b Job, xiv. 1.


Acts, xiv. 22.

The days of his pilgrimage were quickly ended, and he hasted away to an abiding city. Disinherited of the earthly paradise, from a wilderness grown over with thorns, he departed to the unfading gardens of everlasting delights. And so the holy Jesus, that King of saints and Prince of martyrs, made but a short stay amongst us in the days of his flesh. The envy of his brethren pursued him even to death: and the fairest flower that ever bloomed on earth, overcharged with rain, and borne down by the stormy tempest, bowed its head and died. Set not your hearts then, O ye children of Adam, upon a long life; nor esteem it as necessarily a blessing. Had it indeed been so, Cain had never survived his righteous brother, nor had the King of righteousness died under forty.

The employment of Abel was that of keeping sheep: an employment, we see, nearly as ancient as the world itself, nor esteemed beneath those who were the first favourites of Heaven, and who are now exalted to the highest thrones in the kingdom of glory. And, indeed, where shall we find usefulness, innocence, and pleasure, so met together in any employment, as they are in this?" My life (said Constantine the Great, when at the height of human felicity), "is something more honourable than that of a shep"herd, but much more troublesome." No one subject hath so frequently engaged the pens of poets, as the felicities of the pastoral life; nay, when they would. describe the golden age, and picture to our imaginations a heaven upon earth, they have found no method of doing it to greater advantage, than by representing

shepherds, in times of peace, plenty, and prosperity, feeding their flocks in verdant pastures, and leading them to living fountains of waters. But chiefly we are to note the use which the wisdom of God hath made of this employment in the holy Scriptures, by transferring the pleasing images which it affords, to the highest and most important truths of religion; while it teaches us how to make them the means of turning our eyes to the mercies and loving-kindnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great and good Shepherd of the sheep, who nourisheth the souls of the righteous in the pastures of eternal truth, and leadeth them to living fountains of divine consolation. Let no man, then, despise another, for the supposed meanness of his occupation. The shepherd, who discharges his trust conscientiously, may comfort himself with this reflection, that he has the righteous Abel for an example; as also, that to shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night, came the first tidings of the birth of a Saviour. And being taught by the Scriptures how to raise his thoughts from things visible to things invisible, he may thus make his business a constant fund of instruction and comfort; and so, after having lived the life, he may pass to the glory of Abel.

In process of time, or at the end of days, i. e. at the time appointed of God, Abel brought of the firstling's of his flock, and of the fat thereof, an offering to the Lord; thereby instructing us, as the law afterwards did the children of Israel, that we ought never to appear before the Lord empty, or to offer him of that which costs us nothing. The prime of our years, the

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flower of our strength, the best of our substance, the first fruits of our increase, should be dedicated and devoted to him, who makes us all we are, and gives us all we have. So shall the benedictions of Heaven descend upon all things around us, and upon ourselves in the use of them; while, by thus presenting our souls and bodies to God, we not only imitate Abel, but become followers of Christ, who, by the obedience of his life, and by the sacrifice of his death, offered up himself, the first-born of every creature, the perfection of beauty, and the excellency of power.

This offering of Abel was made in faith. By FAITH, says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. The just live by faith. They conduct their lives, and regulate their actions, by the revealed principles of pardon, acceptance, and glory, promised, through the merits of a Redeemer upon the terms of repentance, faith, and obedience. Upon the strength of these, they live and act in opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil; looking not at the things which are seen by the bodily eye, but at the things which are not so seen; of the existence and reality of which their faith in the revelations of God affords them a full and sufficient evidence. And thus it is that they, fighting the good fight of faith, and overcoming the world, believe to the saving of the soul. The sacrifice offered by Abel, as an expression of his faith, shows his faith to have been in the great sacrifice

• Heb. xi. 4.

d Hab. ii. 4.

e Heb. x. ult.

since offered up for the transgressions of all mankind. In the innocent victim, bleeding on the altar, he beheld with the eye of faith, what was afterwards exhibited to that of sense, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world. And, in this particular, the righteous Abel is a constant and useful monitor to every Christian, who comes into the presence of his heavenly Father, to come with the commemoration, as he did with the prefiguration, of the body and blood of Christ his Saviour. And let the one stir up at least as lively a faith in those who live since the manifestation of the Messiah in the flesh, as the other did in those who lived before it.

By this sacrifice, thus offered in faith, Abel obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. Now, it being a rule in the divine law, that the blood of slain beasts cannot take away sins; and yet Abel obtaining a testimony of his justification by shedding such blood, which was in him an act of faith, and therefore acceptable in the sight of God; from these premises we can draw but one conclusion, viz. that being justified by faith, he had peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord". It is hardly to be doubted, but that the sign or token of Abel's acceptance was the same vouchsafed upon most occasions afterwards', viz. the consumption of the offering, by fire descending from heaven. Hereby it was declared, that the innocent was taken for the guilty, and the sacrifice sustained the vengeance that must otherwise have been inflicted upon the sinner. And hence

h Rom. v. 1.

f John, i. 29. 8 Heb. xi. 4.
i See Jortin's Remarks, II. 402.

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