THE WAY OF CAIN
T. PIERCE BROWN
In Jude 11, we find the following expression: “Woe unto them! for they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.” What is involved in going in the way of Cain? He is speaking of ungodly false teachers who had crept in and were leading people astray in various ways.
When we examine what is said of Cain, both in the Old and New Testaments, we gain some insights into what is involved. First, it involves substituting human will, wisdom or opinion for what God says. When the Hebrew writer says in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,” it is asserted by most gospel preachers that since Abel offered what he offered by faith, and it was a blood sacrifice, then Cain’s mistake was in offering a grain sacrifice. That is, the sin was merely in the KIND of offering. I am unwilling to restrict the sin merely to the kind of sacrifice, for the principle of offering by faith is true whether it involves kind, quality, amount or anything else God specifies.
We can prove beyond question that Abel offered the kind of sacrifice God commanded him, for the Bible says it was by faith and accepted. We can also prove that Cain’s was not by faith, and thus was not accepted. But we cannot prove that the lack of faith of Cain was merely because it was the wrong kind, or whether it was the wrong amount. The expression “more excellent” in Hebrews 11:4 normally referred to amount. We need to be aware that doing something by faith involves doing exactly what God says, if he specifies what. We must do it when he says, if he specifies when, how he says, if he specifies how, the amount he says, if specifies an amount, or for the purpose he says, if he specifies a purpose. We may partake of the Lord’s Supper at the right time, with the right elements, but if we do it with the wrong purpose, we may eat and drink damnation to ourselves (1 Corinthians11:29).
This principle is broad and deep. Naaman would not have acted in faith if he had dipped in another river, been sprinkled, or dipped only once anywhere. When God commands us to sing, we cannot be justified by playing. When God says to give as we have been prospered, we cannot be justified by being stingy. Even if we give sacrificially, we cannot be justified unless we do it cheerfully. If God commands us to be baptized for the remission of sins, and we are baptized to show that we are already saved, it cannot be by faith. If worship is to be in spirit and in truth, it is vain if not as authorized, no matter how fervent it may seem. We know of no exception to the principle just stated: When God specifies a way he wants something done, whether it involves time, manner, amount, quality, motive, attitude or any other thing, failure to comply with what is specified makes the act invalid.
If the way of Cain involves only that one element, it is worth our consideration. But there are several other factors about Cain that are directly connected with that presumptuousness, and are found almost invariably in those who choose to go in the way of Cain.
Second, there was the way of unyielding pride. When a person makes up his mind to do what he wants, rather than what God specifies, the statement of Genesis 4:5 very often applies to him. “And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” When a person puts his own will before God’s, he will often be too proud to change, and will become angry when he is shown to be wrong. He may even lash out at the one who showed him to be wrong, and try to destroy him or his reputation.
Third, it is the way of bitterness, selfishness and divine condemnation. They both admitted a belief in God, worshipped him, and made a sacrifice to him. There are those connected with the Lord’s church today who teach that if a person professes a strong belief in God, worships him and makes sacrifice for him, this fairly well establishes that they are accepted of God. If we take issue with that, they accuse us of being self-righteous, hypocritical, legalistic, judgmental and divisive in spirit. But since they are so loving, and admit that we are all wrong at some point, they are humble, ecumenical and Christlike in spirit. They are going in the way of Cain, and stand condemned of God.