Abel, as the first in faith on whom the penalty of sin was by birth entailed, must be one whose history we may expect to furnish us with outlines of that discipline, which a life eminent for faith would require. It is a mistake, and one which at times causes no little trial to the soul, to conclude, that because any line of truth or grace is strong in me, on that account nature is less assuming. The fact is the reverse ; for the more nature is made to feet its fall, the more will it assume ; and it is well to understand this. Had nature in its first estate been of any lower order than it was, although the fall could not have lowered it more than it has, yet its aspirations and assumption to escape from the effects of the fall would not have been so violent and daring as they are. The fact of man having been made in the image and likeness of God, gives nature ground for assuming what it has forfeited ; and the more it is pressed to feel the immensity of the fall from its once high state, the more it struggles for recognition and assumes importance wherever it can. Hence it is that souls who are really in earnest to deny nature any position are opposed by it at every step, and thus learn practically that they alone who have suffered in the flesh have ceased from sin ; that only the cross of Christ frees from the power and thraldom of nature and the world ; and to this great moral truth learning death in discipline gives effect through God's grace. We learn that we are dead through the death of Christ, and that we are before God in Him, freed from all that was judged in that death. Consequently, the Father's discipline is to lead us into the practical realisation of this our position in Christ; so that we are not only dead in Him, but we reckon ourselves dead, the latter being the practical effect of the former, and discipline is the instrument for accomplishing that effect. The soul that fully learns its acceptance with God, as righteous before Him, is taught it must not be dependent on the nature from that which it is delivered, and outside of which is its existence. The apostle could say that he died daily, bearing about with him the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in his body. If our acceptance be veritable-if it be truly a deliverance from our natural state, ought we not to afford moral and practical evidence of its effect? Nay, must it not be so? For acceptance in righteousness being entirely above and beyond our natural condition, the more the one is enjoyed and maintained, the more the other is lost sight of. And such is the only worthy acknowledgment of this our high position. Can we maintain our natural condition and yet rejoice in deliverance from it? If we rejoice in deliverance, must we not prove it by renunciation of that from which we are delivered?
If Abel be the first witness of acceptance in righteousness, we shall find also that he was the first witness who, as accepted of God, was deprived of his natural life. He was a witness in one as well as in the other. If he testified of acceptance to the joy and rest of his own heart, he by death also testified how true and glorious that acceptance was ; so that " he being dead yet speaketh." This is the first order of discipline: " Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed as to sin." This is consequent on our life in Christ; for if living in Him, we ought to be dead in ourselves; and discipline, in its simplest and primary lessons, instructs us in this. There is no saint but must learn what death is ; it may be in the slow process of a continual dropping of constant small trials, or through one overwhelming calamity, or perhaps through a last illness : but in one way or another death must be learned, in order to make good to our souls their deliverance from it. And without this there cannot be testimony. Abel's history is very scanty in details, but it presents, with a vividness and vigour not to be surpassed, the two grand points in a believer's life: namely, acceptance with God, and death to every natural tie and sense-the former being the easy action of faith, the latter declared not willingly, but through violence, consequent on an altered and fallen condition, in an evil world, from which death gave relief. God allows the violence of Cain to afford an opportunity for the display of all this. He thereby declared His own grace, and Himself as the giver of it, while His servant and witness, although disciplined therein as to himself, occupied the highest place of service in the gospel, even that of suffering for righteousness' sake.
Let it then be granted that if I know acceptance well, death is my portion here, and that discipline will not overlook this ; for it is what makes the truth of my acceptance dearer to myself, and what witnesses it to others. In this consists the whole interest and instruction of Abel's history. He started in life, as we say, not according to the rule and direction given to Adam-to till the ground from whence he was taken ; Abel, on the contrary, is a keeper of sheep, which discloses at the outset that he had no intention of improving the scene around him, or of deriving from the earth, by his own efforts, anything which would mediate between him and God. The sense of death and judgment was before his soul, and to be delivered from this could alone satisfy him. As a keeper of sheep he tended his flock, passing from pasture to pasture as their need required. Expecting nothing to spring from the earth to relieve him, no one place on it was his permanent abode. A labourer-a wanderer, suffering from the curse which rested on everything around him, and he himself under the penalty of death in such a scene, he tended a living flock, which brought him into association with life, the very thing which his own spirit needed. He, therefore, in faith took of the firstling of his flock, the beginning and the strength of it, and he offered it to God as God's own, and as typifying the life of Christ. This, as presented to God, met his own sense of death; but something more than this was needed in encountering the presence of God; there was need of acceptance also. This was met and answered by presenting the fat, which is the excellency of the animal, only obtainable through death; the result in resurrection of the death of Christ, which now satisfies the conscience as to its full acceptance with God. Thus Abel entered into the mind of God as to his own state before Him, and thus he obtained witness that he was righteous, not merely as to what he did, but as to how he stood. Happy as accepted of God, he has to learn the place and the suffering of one so blessed down here. If he be accepted of God, he must be dissociated from a scene which was under God's curse. If he be delivered from the sentence of death, death can be no penalty to him ; but he must expect it where everything is contrary to the life in which he is accepted : consequently he is called to give unequivocal proof that acceptance with God and deliverance from judgment are such real blessings that actual death cannot deprive him of them. This is his testimony and this is his discipline. As it was with Stephen, the first martyr of resurrection, so it was with Abel, the first martyr of acceptance. Stephen gave greater evidence in his death than in his life of the virtue of Christ's resurrection, and his soul advanced more into its realities in the moment of his death than it could have done during his lifetime. His last testimony was the brightest. While they, the agents of the world's evil, were stoning Stephen, he was only responding to their fatal blows by consigning his spirit to the One whom they denied and disowned; and what a proof of how perfect and assured he was in Christ's care and charge of him, that he could kneel down to expend all the strength their malignity still spared him in their behalf.
The witness of acceptance and the witness of resurrection has no part in this evil world. Everything must be death to him, and in discipline he learns this in order to actualise to himself the greatness of the gift of God, which is eternal life outside and beyond death. In whatever path you may walk you must learn this, that the Father will have it so. He must have the life of His Son true to its proper instincts. Out of " fire of sticks " the viper will remind a Paul that this is a scene of death. It is only from one tomb to another. In a shipwreck yesterday, afflicted by a viper to-day! We need this discipline. We think we can pass on like other men, enjoying the new and blessed portion we have received ; but we cannot. And it is well to understand that the Father will have us to appreciate our portion in His Son, in contrast to everything here. We try in vain to combine both, so that a great deal of our time is spent in learning that there is nothing here to meet the requirements of our new affections. There is a wandering in the wilderness in a solitary way, and yet no city is found to dwell in. But God allows this in order that His children may find that their desires can only be satisfied by Him. We must learn that we are not of the world. We cannot trust it. Christ could not commit Himself to man. Though Stephen have " the face of an angel," yet because he is true to Christ, they will stone him. And though Cain 44 TALKS " with Abel, and they are " in the field " apparently in easy intimacy, Abel soon learns that he cannot trust him, for in that very social moment Cain rose up against him and slew him.
Our profession declares that we have done with earth. God's discipline will always lead us practically into this, as will also faithful testimony. In our discipline we may give a testimony; but how much better, like Stephen, to be disciplined in our testimony. Surely we ought to lay it to heart how much our discipline arises from clinging to the world in one form or another, instead of on account of our testimony against it. We can easily account for Abel continuing in social nearness to his brother Cain, and justify his doing so, because the hatred of man against the righteousness of God had not as yet been exposed, and we can well understand how Abel preserved his easy, familiar ways with his brother, which afforded a more favourable opportunity to Cain to effect his deadly purpose. But while it is easy and natural to account for this, on what ground can we excuse saints for continuing in social intimacy with the world? Can we not often trace the cause and necessity for the discipline which many are undergoing to the fact that they who are alive before God in Christ, and who are through His death delivered from all. that is of the world, are still clinging to it, instead of testifying against it? The social hour was fatal to Abel, unacquainted as he was with the wickedness of man, and unsuspecting any harm. The social hour now is often morally more fatal to those who ought to know that the prince of this world crucified the Lord of glory, and that the friendship of the world is enmity against God. Do not such need discipline? Must they not be taught that they must surrender all that Christ was judged for? If they do not surrender it through grace, God our Father must, because of His love, sever His children in one form or another from that world from which we are delivered according to His mind by the death of His Son. It is right and fitting so to be. Let us then accept our true place outside the world, and let our discipline be through our testimony rather than our testimony through it.