The Rule in Cain’s Case: A Study in Ethics -- By: Charles Caverno

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 072:286 (Apr 1915)
Article: The Rule in Cain’s Case: A Study in Ethics
Author: Charles Caverno


The Rule in Cain’s Case: A Study in Ethics

Charles Caverno, A.M., LL.D.

A memory of a study in law, long gone, lingers. In that study I found something called, “The Rule in Shelley’s Case.” What that rule was I do not now know — perhaps I never knew. No matter. I want the form in blank. I wish to fill the blank in the form with the name “Cain”; so that it will run, “The Rule in Cain’s Case.”

We read in Genesis 4 that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord. Something was wrong with Cain or with his manner of offering; so that it is said that Cain and his offering were not acceptable to the Lord. Whereupon it is said that “Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” Then comes, in the record, a statement of what I call, The Rule in Cain’s Case (Gen. 4:6–7) :—

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door.”

I would fix attention upon the detection and recognition of the rule in our personal experience, and wherever we may find it expressed or indicated in literature — in the workings or the work of the mind of man. If one keeps the rule in point of regard, interest in it will grow with years. Out of his study will come the conviction of the universality

of moral experience, and knowledge of a constant form of its expression.

The Rule in Cain’s Case is the most primitive and comprehensive statement of the moral government of God over man. As a rule of morals it is Alpha and Omega. The first man knew it and the last man will. The rule has presided over human history and will preside over human destiny. It is a primal, inclusive, and ultimate statement of the psychology of ethics — of the experience of man in the domain of right and wrong. All that we have done in morals and in ethical philosophy is illustrative of some phase of this rule, or of some natural and justifiable inference from experience under it.

The double character of the rule strikes attention at once. It contains both “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” or rather “thou shouldst” and “thou shouldst not”; for it is suggestive rather than mandatory, with a declaration of their respective consequences. According to this rule, right finds assent, and wrong negation. To illustrate: take a coin of the realm — a silver dollar. The numismatists, or coin experts, say it has an obverse or a front side, and a reverse or rear side. In this rule, the two s...

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