In Charles Simeon’s sermon on Hebrews 11:4, “Abel’s Offering Instructive to Us,” he explores the meaning of Abel’s sacrifice: compared to Cain’s, it was an admission of guilt and a confession of the need for salvation. The offering of Cain could have been given in Eden before the fall, but the death of a firstborn shows an awareness of the consequences of sin.
Charles Simeon’s preaching always showed his genius for getting to the heart of the gospel from any passage of scripture, without doing violence to the context. His multi-volume Horae Homileticae, sermon outlines on the whole canon of Scripture, is the fruit of his fifty-year preaching ministry and a gift to the church. These wonderful outlines are available in many places, but the easiest way to sample a few is to use the indexed version at studylight.org. Whatever book of the Bible you’re studying right now, dip into Simeon’s Horae and watch him draw out the most important things.
At the end of his sermon on Abel, Simeon says “there is one thing not yet noticed in our text, which deserves particular attention, and which will serve us for an APPLICATION of the subject to our souls.” What he has in mind is the line “Abel, though dead, yet speaketh to us.”
From this verse, Simeon ventures to give a full and elaborate paraphrase of what Abel says to us by his faith.
“Hear then Abel as now speaking to you from the dead,” says Simeon:
‘Brethren, though dead, I yet live; and though I have been dead almost six thousand years, I would speak to you as though I had died but yesterday.
I am concerned that you should profit by my experience. You are all assembled to worship and serve your God: and you are ready to conceive, that on that account you are all rendering unto God an acceptable service.
But I must declare to you that this is far from being the case. Your outward forms, considered independently of the frame of mind in which you engage in them, are of no value in the sight of God. You may “kill an ox in sacrifice, and be only as if you slew a man: you may sacrifice a lamb, and be as if you cut off a dog’s neck: you may offer an oblation, and be as if you offered swine’s blood: you may burn incense, and be no more accepted, than if you blessed an idol.” God looks not at the act, but at the heart: and if that be not right with him, your sacrifices, how costly soever they may be, are only “an abomination to him.”