The following is Calvin's Commentary on the offerings of Abel and Cain. I took the liberty of breaking it down into paragraphs and main points. Hopefully, it will be a bit easier to read. The truth here is astounding. There is much to learn from this the first act of worship in the Bible.

And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering, but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect (Gen. 4:4b-5a).

Abel's Offering
God is said to have respect unto the man to whom he vouchsafes his favour. We must, however, notice the order here observed by Moses; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offerer; by which he signifies, that

God will regard no works with favour except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him.

And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Sam. 16: 7;) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart.

Whence also it happens, that he not only rejects but abhors the sacrifices of the wicked, however splendid they may appear in the eyes of men. For if he, who is polluted in his soul, by his mere touch contaminates, with his own impurities, things otherwise pure and clean, how can that but be impure which proceeds from himself? When God repudiates the feigned righteousness in which the Jews were glorying, he objects, through his Prophet, that their hands were "full of blood," (Isaiah 1: 15.) For the same reason Haggai contends against the hypocrites. The external appearance, therefore, of works, which may delude our too carnal eyes, vanishes in the presence of God. Nor were even the heathens ignorant of this; whose poets, when they speak with a sober and well-regulated mind of the worship of God, require both a clean heart and pure hands. Hence, even among all nations, is to be traced the solemn rite of washing before sacrifices.

Now seeing that in another place, the Spirit testifies, by the mouth of Peter, that 'hearts are purified by faith,' (Acts 15: 9;) and seeing that the purity of the holy patriarchs was of the very same kind, the apostle does not in vain infer, that the offering of Abel was, by faith, more excellent than that of Cain. Therefore, in the first place, we must hold, that

all works done before faith, whatever splendour of righteousness may appear in them, were nothing but mere sins, being defiled from their roots, and were offensive to the Lord, whom nothing can please without inward purity of heart.

I wish they who imagine that men, by their own motion of freewill, are rendered meet to receive the grace of God, would reflect on this. Certainly, no controversy would then remain on the question, whether God justifies men gratuitously, and that by faith? For this must be received as a settled point, that, in the judgment of God, no respect is had to works until man is received into favour.

Another point appears equally certain;

since the whole human race is hateful to God, there is no other way of reconciliation to divine favour than through faith.


since faith is a gratuitous gift of God, and a special illumination of the Spirit, then it is easy to infer, that we are prevented by his mere grace, just as if he had raised us from the dead.

In which sense also Peter says, that it is God who purifies the hearts by faith. For there would be no agreement of the fact with the statement, unless God had so formed faith in the hearts of men that it might be truly deemed his gift. It may now be seen in what way purity is the effect of faith.

It is a vapid and trifling philosophy, to adduce this as the cause of purity, that men are not induced to seek God as their rewarder except by faith. They who speak thus entirely bury the grace of God, which his Spirit chiefly commends. Others also speak coldly, who teach that we are purified by faiths only on account of the gift of regenerations in order that we may be accepted of God. For not only do they omit half the truth, but build without a foundation; since, on account of the curse on the human race, it became necessary that gratuitous reconciliation should precede.


since God never so regenerates his people in this world, that they can worship him perfectly; no work of man can possibly be acceptable without expiation.

And to this point the ceremony of legal washing belongs, in order that men may learn, that as often as they wish to draw near unto God, purity must be sought elsewhere. Wherefore God will then at length have respect to our obedience, when he looks upon us in Christ.

Cain's Offering
It is not to be doubted, that Cain conducted himself as hypocrites are accustomed to do; namely, that

he wished to appease God, as one discharging a debt, by external sacrifices, without the least intention of dedicating himself to God.

But this is true worship, to offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices to God. When God sees such hypocrisy, combined with gross and manifest mockery of himself; it is not surprising that he hates it, and is unable to bear it; whence also it follows, that

he rejects with contempt the works of those who withdraw themselves from him.

For it is his will, first to have us devoted to himself; he then seeks our works in testimony of our obedience to him, but only in the second place.

It is to be remarked, that

all the figments by which men mock both God and themselves are the fruits of unbelief: To this is added pride, because unbelievers, despising the Mediator's grace, throw themselves fearlessly into the presence of God.

The Jews foolishly imagine that the oblations of Cain were unacceptable, because he defrauded God of the full ears of corn, and meanly offered him only barren or half-filled ears. Deeper and more hidden was the evil; namely that impurity of heart of which I have been speaking; just as, on the other hand, the strong scent of burning fat could not conciliate the divine favour to the sacrifices of Abel; but, being pervaded by the good odour of faith, they had a sweet-smelling savour.

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google
  • Furl
  • Reddit
  • Spurl
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati