“Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odour, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shews plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words were these, ‘God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.’ It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain his favour, except that his heart was purified by faith.
‘God testifying…’ He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us, can please God, until we ourselves are received into favour, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus,—God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God.
This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outwards masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.
~ Excerpt from Calvin’s Commentaries (Hebrews 11:4) by John Calvin (1509-1564)