James 1:18
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.—There is a greater witness to God’s goodness than that which is written upon the dome of heaven, even the regeneration of man. As the old creation was “by the Word” (John 1:3; John 1:10, et seq.), the new is by Him also, the Logos, the Word of Truth, and that by means of His everlasting gospel, delivered in the power of the Holy Ghost. So tenderly is this declared, that a maternal phrase is used—God brought us forth in the new birth; and though “a woman” may forget “the son of her womb” (Isaiah 49:15), yet will He “never leave, nor forsake” (Hebrews 13:5).

That we should be a kind of firstfruit of his creatures.—And why this mercy and loving-kindness? for our own sakes, or for others and for His? Surely the latter; and “if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy” (Romans 11:16). We know “Who is the firstborn of every creature” (Colossians 1:15) “the firstbegotten of the dead” (Revelation 1:5), nay, “the beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:14); “and we are created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10), become new in Him (comp. 2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), made the firstfruits of His redemption; and, moreover, it would seem we are the sign of the deliverance promised to the brute creation “which waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19; Romans 8:21). The longing for a future perfection is shared by all created beings upon earth, and their discontent at present imperfection points to another state freed from evil (Romans 8:18-22). “The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope” (Romans 8:20). And the fruition of this hope is foreshadowed in the words above. “The very struggles,” it has been well observed by Dean Howson, “which all animated beings make against pain and death show that pain and death are not a part of the proper laws of their nature, but rather a bondage imposed upon them from without; thus every groan and fear is an unconscious prophecy of liberation from the power of evil.” “The creature itself also shall be delivered” is the plain assertion of St. Paul (Romans 8:21); comparing his with that of St. James, we must conclude that they point to all nature, animate and inanimate as well. “We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2Peter 3:13), and “there shall be no more death . . . nor any more pain” (Revelation 21:4).

“All creation groans and travails;

Thou, O Lord, shalt hear its groan,

For of man, and all creation,

Thou alike art Lord alone.”

James

‘FIRST-FRUITS OF HIS CREATURES’

Jam 1:18.

ACCORDING to the Levitical ceremonial, the first sheaf of the new crop, accompanied with sacrifice, was presented in the Temple on the day after the Passover Sabbath. No part of the harvest was permitted to be used for food until after this acknowledgment, that all had come from God and belonged to Him. A similar law applied to the first-born of men and of cattle. Both were regarded as in a special sense consecrated to and belonging to God.

Now, in the New Testament, both these ideas of ‘the first-born’ and ‘the first-fruits,’ which run as you see parallel in some important aspects, are transferred to Jesus Christ. He is ‘become the first-fruits of them that slept’: and it was no mere accidental coincidence that, in this character, He rose from the dead on the day on which, according to the law, the sheaf was to be presented in the Temple. In His case the ideas attached to the expression are not only that of consecration, but that of being the first of a series, which owes its existence to Him. He makes men ‘the many brethren,’ of whom He is ‘the first-born’; and He, by the overflowing power of His life, raises from the dead the whole harvest of which He is the first-fruits.

Then that which Jesus Christ is, primarily and originally, all those who love Him and trust Him are secondarily and by derivation from Himself. Thus, both these phrases are further transferred in the New Testament to Christian people. They are the ‘first-fruits unto God and the Lamb’; or, as my text has it here, with a qualifying word, ‘a kind of first-fruits’; which expresses at once a metaphor and the derivation of the character: They are also ‘the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven.’

So, then, in this text we have contained some great ideas as to God’s purpose in drawing us to Himself. And I want you to look at these for a moment or two.

I. First, then, God’s purpose for Christians is that they should he consecrated to Him.

The sheaf was presented before God in the symbolical ceremonial, as an acknowledgment of His ownership of it, and of all the wide-waving harvest. It thereby became His in a special sense. In like manner, the purpose of God in bestowing on us the wondrous gift of a regeneration and new life by the word is that we should be His, yielding to Him the life which He gives, and all that we are, in thankful recognition and joyful consecration.

We hear a great deal about consecration in these days. Let us understand what consecration means. There is an inward and an outward aspect of it. In the inward aspect it means an entire devotion of myself, down to the very roots of my being, to God as Lord and Owner.

Man’s natural tendency is to make himself his own centre, to live for self and by self. And the whole purpose of the gospel is to decentralise him and to give him a new centre, even God, for whom, and by whom, and with whom, and in whom the Christian man is destined, by his very calling, to live.

Now, how can an inward devotion and consecration of myself be possible? Only by one way, and that is by the way of love that delights to give. The yielding of the human spirit to the divine is only accomplished through that sweet medium of love. Self-surrender is the giving up of self at the bidding of love to Him to whom my heart cleaves.

The will will yield itself. There will be no murmuring at hard providences; no regrets darkening a whole life and paralysing duty, and blinding to blessings, by reason of the greatest sorrow which He may have sent. The will will yield in submission; the will will yield in obedience. According to the dreadful metaphor of the founder of the Jesuits - dreadful when applied to the relations of a man to a man, but blessed when applied to the relation of a man to God, and of God to man - I shall be in His hands ‘like a staff’ in the hand of a man, only to be used as He desires.

Consecration means self-surrender; and the fortress of self is in the will, and the way of self-surrender is the flowery path of love.

To take the other metaphor of Scripture, by which the same idea is expressed - the consecration which we owe to God, and which is His design in all His dealings with us in the gospel, will be like that of a priestly offering of sacrifice, and the sacrifice is ourselves.

So much for the inward; what about the outward? All capacities, opportunities, possessions, are to be yielded up to Him as utterly as Christ has yielded Himself to us. We are to live for Him and work for Him; and set, as our prime object, conspicuously and constantly before us, and to be reached towards through all the trivialities of daily duty, and the common-places of recurring tasks, the one thing, to glorify God and to please Him. Consecration means the utter giving of myself away, in the inmost sanctuary of the spirit. And it means the resolute devotion of all that I have and all that I am in the outgoings of daily life to His service and to His praise.

That is what God meant for you and me when He made us Christians; that was His design when He sent His Son. And we thwart and counter-work Him, just in the measure in which we still make ourselves our own centre, our wills our own law, and our well-being our own aim.

Now, remember, such consecration is salvation. For the opposite thing, the living to self, is damnation and hell and destruction. And whosoever is thus consecrated to God is in process of being saved. The relation between the two ideas is not, as it often is put, that you are to he saved that you may be consecrated; but, you are being saved in being consecrated. And the measure in which we have ceased to be devoted to ourselves, and are devoted to Him, is the accurate measure in which we have received the true salvation that is in Jesus Christ.

That consecration is blessedness. There is no joy of which a human spirit is capable that is as lofty, as rare and exquisite, as sweet and lasting, as the joy of giving itself away to Him who has given Himself for us. And such consecration is the true possession of what we give, and the only way of really owning ourselves or our possessions. ‘He that loveth himself shall lose himself,’ and he that gives himself away to God, a weak, sinful man, gets himself back from God, a hero, strong, and a saint.

Such consecration, which is the root of all blessedness, and the true way of entering into the possession of all possessions, is only possessible in the degree in which we subject ourselves to the influence of these mighty acts which God has done in order to secure it. Our yielding of ourselves to Him is only possible when we are quite sure that He has given Himself to us. Our love which melts us, and bows us in willing, joy-fill surrender, can only be the echo of His love. The pattern is set us in the Christ, and set us that we may imitate it, and we imitate it in the measure in which we lie exposed to its mighty power. ‘He gave Himself for us, that He might purchase for Himself a people for His possession.’ My surrender is but the echo of the thunder of His; my surrender is but the flash on the polished mirror which gives back the sunbeam that smites it. We yield ourselves to God, when we realise that Christ has given Himself for us.

Christian men and women, behold your destiny! God’s purpose concerning you is that you might be not your own, because you are bought with a price. And measure against that mighty purpose the halting obedience, the reluctant wills, the half-and-half surrender which is no surrender at all, which make up the lives of the average Christians among us, and see whether any of us can feel that the divine purpose is accomplished in us, or that we have paid what we owe to our God.

II. Secondly, my text suggests that God’s purpose for Christians is that they should be specimens and beginnings of a great harvest.

The sheaf that was carried into the Temple showed what sun and rain and the sweet skyey influences had been able to do on a foot or two of ground, and it prophesied of the acres of golden grain that would one day be garnered in the barns. And so, Christian men and women to-day, and even more eminently at that time when this letter was written, are meant to be the first small example of a great harvest that is to follow. The design that God had in view in our being Christianised is that we should stand here as specimens of what He means the world to be, and as witnesses of what He, by the gospel, is able to make men.

If we strip that thought of its metaphor it just comes to this, that if Christianity has been able to take one man, pick him out of the mud and mire of sense and self, and turn him into a partially and increasingly consecrated servant of God, it can do that for anybody.

The little sheaf, though there be but a handful of nodding heads in it, is a sure pledge of the harvest on the great prairie yonder, as yet untilled and unsown, which will yet hear like fruit to His praise and honour.

‘We have all of us one human heart.’ Whatever may be men’s idiosyncrasies or diversities of culture, of character, of condition, of climate, of chronology, they have all the same deep primary wants, and the deepest of them all is concord and fellowship with God. And the path to that is by faith in His dear Son, who has given Himself for us. If, then, that faith in one case has given to a man the satisfaction of that which all men are hungering for, whether they know it or not, and are restless and miserable till they find it, then there is document and evidence that this gospel, which can do that for the individual, can do it for the race. And so the first-fruits are the pledge and the prophecy of the harvest.

What a harvest is dimly hinted at in these words of my text; the ‘first-fruits of His creatures!’ That goes even wider than humanity, and stretches away out into the dim distances, concerning which we can speak with but bated breath; but at least it seems to suggest to us that, in accordance with other teaching of the New Testament, ‘the whole creation’ which ‘groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now,’ will, somehow or other, be brought into the liberty and the glory of the children of God, and, as humble waiters and attenders upon the kings who are the priests of the Most High, will participate in the power of the redemption. At all events, there seem to me to gleam dimly through such words as those of my text, the great prospects of a redeemed humanity, of a renewed earth, of a sinless universe, in which God in Christ shall be all in all.

The possibility and the certainty of that issue lie in this comparatively humble fact, that some handful of poor men have found in Jesus Christ that which their finding of it in Him manifests to them, is the elixir viloe and the hope of the world. You are meant to be specimens, exhibitions of what God intends for mankind, and of what the gospel can do for the world. Do you think, Christian men and women, that anybody, looking at you, will have a loftier idea of the possibilities of human nature, and of the potentialities of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Because if they will not, then you have thwarted your Father’s design when He sent you His Son.

III. Lastly, my text suggests that God’s purpose for Christians is that they should help the harvest.

That does not lie in the Levitical ceremonial of the sheaf of the first-fruits, of course. Though even there, I may remind you, that the thing presented on the altar carried in itself the possibilities of future growth, and that the wheaten ear has not only ‘bread for the eater but seed for the sower,’ and is the parent of another harvest. But the idea that the first-fruits are not merely first in series, but that they originate the series of which they are the first, lies in the transference of the terms and the ideas to Jesus Christ; for, as I pointed out to you in my introductory remarks, when He is called ‘ the first-fruits of them that slept,’ it is implied that He, by His power, will wake the whole multitude of the sleepers; and when it speaks of Him as’ the first-born among many brethren,’ it is implied that He, by the communication of His life, will give life, and a fraternal life, to the many brethren who will follow Him.

And so, in like manner, God’s purpose in making us ‘a kind of first-fruits of His creatures’ is not merely our consecration and the exhibition of a specimen of His power, and the pledge and prophecy of the harvest, but it is that from us there shall come influences which shall realise the harvest of which our own Christianity is the pledge and prophecy. That is to say, all Christian men and women are Christians in order that they may make more Christians.

The capacity, the obligation, the impulse, are all given in the fact of receiving Jesus Christ for ourselves. If we have Him we can preach Him, if we have Him we ought to preach Him, if we have Him in any deep and real possession, we must preach Him, and His words will be like a fire in our bones, if we forbear; and we shall not be able to stay.

‘Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,

Not light them for themselves.’


What do you get Christ for? To feed upon Him. Yes! But to carry the bread to all the hungry as well.

Do not say you cannot. You can talk about anything that interests you. You can speak about anything that you know. And are your lips to be always closed about Him who has given Himself for you? Do not say that you need special gifts for it. We do need special gifts for the more public and conspicuous forms of what we call preaching nowadays. But any man and any woman that has Christ in his or her heart can go to another and say, ‘We have found the Messiah,’ and that is the best thing to say.

You ought to preach Him. Capacity involves obligation. To have anything, in this world of needy men who are all knit together in the solidarity of one family - to have any anything implies that you impart it. That is the true communism of Christianity, to be applied not only to wealth but to everything, all our possessions, all our knowledge, all our influence. We get them that they may fructify through us to all; and if we keep them, we shall be sure to spoil them. The corn laid up in storehouses is gnawed by rats, and marred by weevils. If you want it to be healthy, and your own possession of it to increase, put it into your seed-basket; and ‘in the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand,’ and it will come back to thee, ‘seed for the sower and bread for the eater.’

Now this is a matter of individual responsibility. You cannot get rid of it. Every Christian has the obligation laid upon himself, and every Christian man has some sphere in which he can discharge it, and in which, if he discharge it not, he is a dumb dog lying down and loving to slumber. Oh! I wish I could get into you tongue-tied, cowardly Christian men and women who never open your mouths to a soul for the Master’s sake, this conviction, that you are thwarting God’s purposes, and that the blood of souls lies at your door by reason of your guilty silence.

If you believe these things which I have been saying to you, the application follows. ‘The field is the world.’ And neither criticisms about missionary methods nor allegations of the superior claims of the little hit of the field round about your own doors are a sufficient vindication before God, though they may be an excuse before men, for tepid interest in, or indifference to, or lack of help of, any great missionary enterprise.

We have to sow Beside all waters; and if any men in the world were ever debtors both to the Greek and to the barbarian, both to the Englishman and the foreigner, it is the members of this great nation of ours, which, ‘as a nest hath gathered the riches of the nations, and there were none that peeped or muttered or moved the wing.’ We are debtors to the heathen world, Because whether we will or no we come into contact with heathen lands; and whether we take Bibles or not, our countrymen will take rum and gunpowder, and send men to the devil if we do not try to draw them to God. We are debtors to them in a thousand cases by injuries inflicted. We are debtors by benefits received; and we are debtors most of all because Christ died for them and for us equally.

And so, I beseech you, give us your help, and remember in giving it that ‘God of His own will hath Begotten us by the word of truth, that we should Be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.’James 1:18. Of his own will — Without any necessity on his part, or merit on ours; from a will most loving, most free, most pure, just opposite to our evil desire, James 1:15; begat he us — He converted, regenerated us, who believe; by the word of truth — The true word, emphatically so termed, the gospel; that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures — The most excellent of his visible creatures, and consecrated to, and set apart for him in an especial manner. The first-fruits being the best of their kind, by calling the regenerated the first-fruits of God’s creatures, the apostle has shown how acceptable such are to God, and how excellent in themselves through the renovation of their nature; and as the first-fruits, being offered to God, were supposed to sanctify the rest of the harvest, true Christians, who are in a peculiar manner dedicated to God, in some respects may be said to sanctify the rest. The apostle says, a kind of first-fruits, for Christ alone is absolutely the first-fruits.1:12-18 It is not every man who suffers, that is blessed; but he who with patience and constancy goes through all difficulties in the way of duty. Afflictions cannot make us miserable, if it be not our own fault. The tried Christian shall be a crowned one. The crown of life is promised to all who have the love of God reigning in their hearts. Every soul that truly loves God, shall have its trials in this world fully recompensed in that world above, where love is made perfect. The commands of God, and the dealings of his providence, try men's hearts, and show the dispositions which prevail in them. But nothing sinful in the heart or conduct can be ascribed to God. He is not the author of the dross, though his fiery trial exposes it. Those who lay the blame of sin, either upon their constitution, or upon their condition in the world, or pretend they cannot keep from sinning, wrong God as if he were the author of sin. Afflictions, as sent by God, are designed to draw out our graces, but not our corruptions. The origin of evil and temptation is in our own hearts. Stop the beginnings of sin, or all the evils that follow must be wholly charged upon us. God has no pleasure in the death of men, as he has no hand in their sin; but both sin and misery are owing to themselves. As the sun is the same in nature and influences, though the earth and clouds, often coming between, make it seem to us to vary, so God is unchangeable, and our changes and shadows are not from any changes or alterations in him. What the sun is in nature, God is in grace, providence, and glory; and infinitely more. As every good gift is from God, so particularly our being born again, and all its holy, happy consequences come from him. A true Christian becomes as different a person from what he was before the renewing influences of Divine grace, as if he were formed over again. We should devote all our faculties to God's service, that we may be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.Of his own will - Greek "willing." βουληθεὶς boulētheis. The idea is, that the fact that we are "begotten" to be his children is to be traced solely to his will. He purposed it, and it was done. The antecedent in the case on which all depended was the sovereign will of God. See this sentiment explained in the notes at John 1:13. Compare the notes at Ephesians 1:5. When it is said, however, that he has done this by his mere will, it is not to be inferred that there was no reason why it should be done, or that the exercise of his will was arbitrary, but only that his will determined the matter, and that is the cause of our conversion. It is not to be inferred that there are not in all cases good reasons why God wills as he does, though those reasons are not often stated to us, and perhaps we could not comprehend them if they were. The object of the statement here seems to be to direct the mind up to God as the source of good and not evil; and among the most eminent illustrations of his goodness is this, that by his mere will, without any external power to control him, and where there could be nothing but benevolence, he has adopted us into his family, and given us a most exalted condition, as renovated beings, among his creatures.

Begat he us - The Greek word here is the same which in James 1:15 is rendered "bringeth forth," - "sin bringeth forth death." The word is perhaps designedly used here in contrast with that, and the object is to refer to a different kind of production, or bringing forth, under the agency of sin, and the agency of God. The meaning here is, that we owe the beginning of our spiritual life to God.

With the word of truth - By the instrumentality of truth. It was not a mere creative act, but it was by truth as the seed or germ. There is no effect produced in our minds in regeneration which the truth is not fitted to produce, and the agency of God in the case is to secure its fair and full influence on the soul.

That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures - Compare Ephesians 1:12. For the meaning of the word rendered "first-fruits," see the note at Romans 8:23. Compare Romans 11:6; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Corinthians 16:15; Revelation 14:4. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament It denotes, properly, that which is first taken from anything; the portion which was usually offered to God. The phrase here does not primarily denote eminence in honor or degree, but refers rather to time - the first in time; and in a secondary sense it is then used to denote the honor attached to that circumstance. The meaning here is, either.

(1) that, under the gospel, those who were addressed by the apostles had the honor of being first called into his kingdom as a part of that glorious harvest which it was designed to gather in this world, and that the goodness of God was manifested in thus furnishing the first-fruits of a most glorious harvest; or,

(2) the reference may be to the rank and dignity which all who are born again would have among the creatures of God in virtue of the new birth.

18. (Joh 1:13). The believer's regeneration is the highest example of nothing but good proceeding from God.

Of his own will—Of his own good pleasure (which shows that it is God's essential nature to do good, not evil), not induced by any external cause.

begat he us—spiritually: a once-for-all accomplished act (1Pe 1:3, 23). In contrast to "lust when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin, and sin … death" (Jas 1:15). Life follows naturally in connection with light (Jas 1:17).

word of truth—the Gospel. The objective mean, as faith is the appropriating mean of regeneration by the Holy Spirit as the efficient agent.

a kind of first-fruits—Christ is, in respect to the resurrection, "the first-fruits" (1Co 15:20, 23): believers, in respect to regeneration, are, as it were, first-fruits (image from the consecration of the first-born of man, cattle, and fruits to God; familiar to the Jews addressed), that is, they are the first of God's regenerated creatures, and the pledge of the ultimate regeneration of the creation, Ro 8:19, 23, where also the Spirit, the divine agent of the believer's regeneration, is termed "the first-fruits," that is, the earnest that the regeneration now begun in the soul, shall at last extend to the body too, and to the lower parts of creation. Of all God's visible creatures, believers are the noblest part, and like the legal "first-fruits," sanctify the rest; for this reason they are much tried now.

Of his own will; out of his mere good pleasure, as the original cause, and not moved to it by any dignity or merit in us, Ephesians 1:9 2 Timothy 1:9.

Begat he us; by a spiritual generation, whereby we are new born, and are made partakers of a Divine nature, John 1:13 1 Peter 1:3,23.

With the word of truth; i.e. the word of the gospel, as the instrument or means whereby we are regenerated: why it is called

the word of truth, see Ephesians 1:13.

That we should be a kind of first-fruits; i.e. most excellent creatures, being singled out and separated from the rest, and consecrated to God, as under the law the first-fruits were, Revelation 14:4.

Of his creatures; viz. reasonable creatures; the word creature being elsewhere restrained to men: see Mark 16:15 Colossians 1:15. Of his own will begat he us,.... The apostle instances in one of those good and perfect gifts, regeneration; and he pitches upon a very proper and pertinent one, since this is the first gift of grace God bestows upon his people openly, and in their own persons; and is what involves other gifts, and prepares and makes meet for the gift of eternal life; and therefore may well be reckoned a "good" one, and it is also a "perfect one"; it is done at once; there are no degrees in it, as in sanctification; a man is born again, at once, and is born a perfect new man in all his parts; no one is more regenerated than another, or the same person more regenerated at one time than at another: and this comes from above; it is called a being born from above, in John 3:3 as the words there may be rendered; and it comes from God the Father, even the Father of our Lord Jesus, as well as of all lights, 1 Peter 1:3 and who in it produces light, in darkness, and whose gifts of grace bestowed along with it are without repentance. And since this comes from him, he cannot be the author of evil, or tempt unto it. This is a settled and certain point, that all the good that is in men, and is done by them, comes from God; and all the evil that is in them, and done by them, is of themselves. This act of begetting here ascribed to God, is what is elsewhere called a begetting again, that is, regeneration; it is an implantation of new principles of light and life, grace and holiness, in men; a quickening of them, when dead in trespasses and sins; a forming of Christ in their souls; and a making them partakers of the divine nature; and this is God's act, and not man's. Earthly parents cannot beget in this sense; nor ministers of the word, not causally, but only instrumentally, as they are instruments and means, which God makes use of; neither the ministry of the word, nor the ordinance of baptism, can of themselves regenerate any; nor can a man beget himself, as not in nature, so not in grace: the nature of the thing shows it, and the impotent case of men proves it: this is God's act, and his only; see John 1:13 and the impulsive or moving cause of it is his own will. God does not regenerate, or beget men by necessity of nature, but of his own free choice; Christ, the Son of God, is begotten of him by necessity of nature, and not as the effect of his will; he is the brightness of his glory necessarily, as the beams and rays of light are necessarily emitted by the sun; but so it is not in regeneration: nor does God regenerate men through any consideration of their will, works, and merits: nor have these any influence at all upon it; but he begets of his own free grace and favour, and of his rich and abundant mercy, and of his sovereign will and pleasure, according to his counsels and purposes of old. And the means he makes use of, or with which he does it, is

with the word of truth; not Christ, who is the Word, and truth itself; though regeneration is sometimes ascribed to him; and this act of begetting is done by the Father, through the resurrection of Christ from the dead; but the Gospel, which is the word of truth, and truth itself, and contains nothing but truth; and by this souls are begotten and born again; see Ephesians 1:13 and hence ministers of it are accounted spiritual fathers. Faith, and every other grace in regeneration, and even the Spirit himself, the Regenerator, come this way: and the end is,

that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures; either of his new creatures, and so it has respect to such, as James, and others; who received the firstfruits of the Spirit, who first hoped and trusted in Christ, and were openly in him, and converted to him before others; or of his creatures, of mankind in general, who, with the Jews, are usually called creatures; See Gill on Mark 16:15, and designs those who are redeemed from among men, and are the firstfruits to God, and to the Lamb, as their regeneration makes appear: and this shows that such as are begotten again, or regenerated, are separated and distinguished from others, as the firstfruits be; and that they are preferred unto, and are more excellent than the rest of mankind, being made so by the grace of God; and that they are by regenerating grace devoted to the service of God, and are formed for his praise and glory.

{14} Of his own {q} will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of {r} firstfruits of his creatures.

(14) The fourth part concerning the excellency and fruit of the word of God, The sum is this: we must listen to the word of God most carefully and diligently, seeing it is the seed, through which God by his free favour and love has begotten us to himself, picking us out of the number of his creatures. The apostle condemns two faults, which greatly trouble us in this matter. For we so please ourselves, that we would rather speak ourselves, than hear God speaking. Indeed, we are angry when we are reproached and ignore it. Opposed to these faults, he sets a peaceable and quiet mind, and such as desires purity.

(q) This is what Paul calls gracious favour, an good will, which is the fountain of our salvation.

(r) As it were an holy type of offering, taken out of the remnant of men.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 1:18. Most interpreters subordinate the thought contained in this verse to the preceding, regarding it either as an example (Laurentius: loquitur Ap. in his verbis de generatione spirituali ut sit quasi exemplum aliquod istorum donorum spiritualium, quae sunt desuper) or as a confirmation and a proof (thus Gebser, Kern, Wiesinger, Bouman; also Lange[80]); on the contrary, according to Theile and de Wette,[81] its relation is that of co-ordination. But in both explanations the peculiar significance which this verse has in the context is mistaken. It is to be recognised as a principal thought, not only because the succeeding exhortations flow from it, but also because the preceding development only comes to its close in it; whilst only in βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς is not only the assertion ἀπὸ Θεοῦ πειράζομαι completely refuted, but also all the earlier mentioned assertions have their sure foundation. It is accordingly not a confirmation of Jam 1:17, but rather a special inference from the general idea of that verse.

βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς] The verb itself testifies that here the discourse is of the new birth, and not of natural birth, for ἀποκύειν is Synonymous with γεννᾷν; but the man γεγεννημένος ἐκ Θεοῦ (1 John 3:9; see also 1 Peter 1:23) is not man in himself, but man born again. Unsatisfactorily Pott explains ἀποκύειν = facere, efficere, since by this the specific idea of the verb, that the foundation of the life of him who is born again lies in God, and that he is θείας φύσεως κοινωνός (2 Peter 1:4), is lost.

ἡμᾶς] not us as men, nor us as Jewish Christians, but us as Christians.

The verse emphatically commences with βουληθείς, by which is expressed not a contrast to the merit of human works (Bede: non nostris, sed beneficio suae voluntatis; similarly Calvin, Hornejus, Grotius, etc.), nor to “the Jewish claims of righteousness” (Lange), but it is designed prominently to bring forward the thought that the new birth rests on the divine will—the work is that which God has peculiarly willed. But if this be the case, how can πειράζεσθαι proceed from Him? Without sufficient reason, Bengel, Kern, Schneckenburger, Wiesinger, and others put the additional idea of love in βουληθείς.[82]

ΛΌΓῼ ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς] The instrument of ἈΠΟΚΥῆΣΑΙ is the ΛΟΓΟς ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς, that is, the gospel,[83] which is so called because “ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑ in its entire reality is inherent in it” (Harless on Ephesians 1:13). The words: ΕἸς ΤῸ ΕἾΝΑΙ ἩΜᾶς ἈΠΑΡΧΉΝ ΤΙΝΑ ΤῶΝ ΑὙΤΟῦ ΚΤΙΣΜΆΤΩΝ] express the aim of this new birth, by which is not indicated what Christians, as those who are born of God, ought to become, but what they are, according to the intention of God.[84] By τινα added to ἈΠΑΡΧΉΝ the mode of expression is indicated as figurative, for, as Calvin correctly remarks, ΤΙΝΑ similitudinis est nota, nos quodammodo esse primitias (so also Gebser, Hottinger, Kern, Wiesinger, and others). Also Bengel recognises this, but he puts therein a false reference, observing: quaedam habet modestiam, nam primitiae proprie et absolute est Christus. Still more incorrect is it, with Lange, to explain τινα, that James considered the angels of God as a different kind of first-fruits of creation. Laurentius correctly says: ἈΠΑΡΧΉ allusio est ad ritum legalem in Vetum Testamentum de consecratione primogenitorum, frugum, jumentorum et hominum (so also Calvin, Hornejus, Wiesinger, and others; unsatisfactorily de Wette: “chosen and holy”). The word has here, as everywhere in the O. T., and predominantly among the classics, a religious signification, namely, “the first-fruits dedicated to God;” so that James by this expression indicates Christians, as a fruit dedicated to the service of God. But ἡμᾶς emphatically repeated shows that James does not here state the nature of Christians generally, but what the position is which he and those Christians occupy who, according to Romans 8:23, possess ΤῊΝ ἈΠΑΡΧῊΝ ΤΟῦ ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΟς (see Meyer in loco). They are a kind of first-fruits of God’s creatures, because they, as being born of God, are dedicated to God first among all His creatures. The glorification, which is destined for the whole world, was first imparted to Christians then living.[85] In the N. T. ἀπαρχή is sometimes so used that the religious signification steps into the background (thus in 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Romans 8:23; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15; otherwise in Romans 11:16 and Revelation 14:5); and accordingly several expositors explain the expression of James as equivalent to οἱ πρῶτοι τῶν κτισμάτων αὑτοῦ. But against this is, on the one hand, the added τινα, and on the other hand, the existing necessity of conceiving as added to κτισμάτων an attribute, as νέων or καίνων, since the expression τὰ κτίσματα Θεοῦ is not taken by itself, those who are born again, but generally, the creatures of God. It is still more arbitrary to take ἀπαρχή as equivalent to πρῶτοι, in the sense of τιμιώτατοι (Oecumenius; Morus: omnium creaturarum carissimi et dignissimi; the favourites among His creatures), and then to refer the verse to the dignity of man generally, as the Scholiast explains: τὴν ὁρωμένην κτίσιν φησίν, ἧς τιμιώτερον τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἔδειξεν.[86] By αὑτοῦ (Lachmann and Buttmann, αὐτοῦ; Tischendorf, ἑαυτοῦ), emphatically added, the creatures are indicated as God’s property.

[80] Lange strangely designates the new birth as the effect of the δώρημα τέλειον which came down from heaven.

[81] Theile: Deus, luminum pater, etiam parens est generationis nostrae. De Wette: In place of all good gifts, the gracious gift of the Christian salvation is likewise mentioned as a proof that God can be no tempter.

[82] Bengel: voluntate amantissima. Schneckenburger: non merum volendi actum sed beniguam et benigna voluntate ortam volitionem exprimit. The view of Oecumenius is evidently entirely perverted: τὸ βουληθεὶς εἶπεν, ἐπιστομίζων τοὺς αὐτομάτως ὑποστῆναι τόδε τὸ πᾶν ληροῦντας.

[83] If the want of the article should constrain us to translate λόγος ἀληθείας “a word of truth,” that is, a word whose nature is truth (see Meyer on 2 Corinthians 6:7), yet by this word of truth here the gospel can only be understood; but it is more probable that the article is omitted because λόγος ἀληθείας, as an idea definite in itself, did not require the article to designate it.

[84] According to Lange’s supposition, “this teleological mode of expression is chosen in order to indicate that the Jews should become what Christians already are.” This is purely arbitrary, as such a distinction is not indicated in the very slightest degree.

[85] It is, however, also possible that James by ἡμᾶς has had in view, not the distinction between the then existing and the later Christians, but only the distinction between Christians and the other creatures, since Christians of all ages form the ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κτισμάτων, until the commencement of the world’s glorification. Lange with truth brings forward the idea that if Christians are ἀπαρχή, they are sureties for the future glorification of the world; but that the first believers of Israel in their unity are sureties for the future conversion of the nation, is an introduced idea which is not indicated by James.

[86] Thus Schulthess: divino rationis et orationis munere, cujus ex tot animantium generibus atque naturis homo solus est particeps, principatum dignitatis ei datum cernimus.Jam 1:18. Again we have a verse without any connection between what precedes or follows; the words ἴστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί of Jam 1:19 seem to belong to Jam 1:18. As we have seen, Jam 1:17 most probably contains a quotation; the possibility of Jam 1:18 being also a loose quotation, from some other author, should not be lost sight of; it would explain, as in the case of Jam 1:17, the abrupt way in which it is introduced; the ἴστε, taken as an indicative, might well imply that the writer is referring his readers to some well-known writing, much in the same way as St. Paul does in Acts 17:28, ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν, ὡς καί τινες τῶν καθʼ ὑμᾶς ποιητῶν εἰρήκασιν· “τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμέν”. For the general thought of the verse cf. 1 John 3:9.—βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας: this is strongly suggestive of an advanced belief in the doctrine of Grace, cf. John 15:16. οὐχ ὑμεῖς με ἐξελέξασθε, ἀλλʼ ἐγὼ ἐξελεξάμην ὑμᾶς. The rare word ἀπεκύησεν is, strictly speaking, only used of the mother. “It seems clear that the phrase has particular reference to the creation of man, κατʼ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν. This was the truth about man which God’s will realised in the creation by an act, a λόγος, which was the expression at once of God’s will and man’s nature” (Parry).—ἀπαρχήν τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ κτισμάτων: ἀπαρχή = תרומה used in reference to the Torah in Shemoth Rabba, chap. 33; see further below; the picture would be very familiar to Jews; just as the new fruits which ripen first herald the new season, so those men who are begotten λόγῳ ἀληθείας proclaim a new order of things in the world of spiritual growth; they are in advance of other men, in the same way that the first-fruits are in advance of the other fruits of the season. Rendel Harris illustrates this very pointedly from actual life of the present day in the East: “When one’s soul desires the vintage or the fruitage of the returning summer, chronological advantage is everything. The trees that are a fortnight to the fore are the talk and delight of the town” (Present Day Papers, May, 1901, “The Elements of a Progressive Church”).18. Of his own will begat he us] The construction of the Greek is participial, willing he begat us, and is parallel to that of Colossians 2:18, which, rightly rendered, runs “let no man willing, i.e. by the exercise of his will, deprive you.…” The word implies the rejection of the thought either of a destiny constraining the Divine Will, or of chance and, as it were, random impulses, and the reference of our higher spiritual birth to His deliberate Will. Here again we have a parallelism with St John “born … not of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13), and with St Peter (1 Peter 1:23).

The word for “begat” is the same as the second “bringeth forth” in James 1:15, and is obviously used here, with the general sense of “engendering” or “begetting,” to emphasise the contrast between the process which ends in death and that which issues in a higher life. Here also, though the birth was not monstrous, it was out of the common course of Nature, and therefore the unusual word was rightly employed again.

with the word of truth] So our Lord makes Truth, the “word which is truth,” the instrument of the consecration or sanctification of His people (John 17:17-19). The “word of truth” cannot have here the higher personal sense which the Word or Logos has in John 1:1, but it is something more than the written Word of the Old Testament Scriptures, or even the spoken word of preachers. It is the whole message from God to man, of which the written or spoken word is but one of the channels, and which to those who receive it rightly is the beginning of a higher life. Comp. Matthew 13:19; Mark 4:14.

a kind of firstfruits of his creatures]. The meaning of the term is traced back to the Jewish ritual of Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 26:2. The sheaf of the firstfruits was offered as part of the Passover celebration. On their entry into Canaan the Israelites were to offer the firstfruits of the land (Deuteronomy 26:2). In each case the consecration of the part was a symbol and earnest of that of the whole. So St James speaks of the “brethren” who have been born to a higher life, not only as better than others, but as the pledge of a fuller harvest. So St Paul speaks of Christ being “the firstfruits of them that sleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), of a convert being “the firstfruits of Achaia” (1 Corinthians 16:15). St John agrees, as usual, more closely with St James, and describes “the redeemed from the earth” of Revelation 14:4 as “the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” Christians are called and made what they are by the grace of God, that they may shew of what elevation humanity is capable. Comp. Romans 11:16.Jam 1:18. Βουληθεὶς, of His own will) with an inclination most loving, most free, most pure, most fruitful. In Hebrew אב, from אבה, he willed: comp. John 1:13. Ἔλεος, mercy, 1 Peter 1:3, corresponds with this. There is an antithesis in the words, Lust, when it hath conceived.—ἀπεκύησεν) begat He. Antithetical to ἀποκύει, bringeth forth (begetteth), Jam 1:15.—ἡμᾶς, us) who believe, especially of Israel. A twofold generation is spoken of, the one opposed to the other; and that which is in evil is described by abstract terms, that which is in good by concrete.—ἀληθείας, of truth) the Gospel.—ἀπαρχήν τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ κτισμάτων, a kind of first fruits of His creatures) We are of God by creation and generation; His workmanship, Ephesians 2:10; and offspring, Acts 17:29. Of all His visible creatures, and they are many and great, the faithful are the first fruits, the chief and noblest part, more holy than the rest and sanctifying the rest; and it is on this account that they (the faithful) are exercised with temptations. A kind of: There is modesty in this expression, for strictly and absolutely Christ alone is the first fruits.Verse 18. - Begat; literally, brought forth; ἀπεκύησεν. The word has been already used of sin in ver. 15. The recurrence of it here points to the connection of thought. The offspring of sin has been shown to be death. God, too, who is both Father and Mother (Bengel), has his offspring. But how different! Us (ημῦς). To whom does this refer?

(1) To all Christians.

(2) To Christians of the apostolic age.

(3) To Jewish Christians, to whom the Epistle is specially addressed.

Probably (3). Just as Israel of old was Jehovah's firstborn (Exodus 4:22), so now the germ of the Christian Church, as found in these Judaeo-Christian communities, was to be "a kind of firstfruits." The thought may be illustrated from a striking parallel in Philo ('De Creat. Princ.'): Τὸ σύμπαν Ἰουδαίων ἔθνος ... τοῦ σύμπαντος ἀνθρώπων γένους ἀπενεμηυη οῖα τις ἀπαρχή τῷ ποιῃτῇ πατρί. Transfer this from the Jewish to the Judaeo-Christian communities, and we have the very thought of the apostle. By the word of truth (cf. 1 Peter 1:23, where, as here, the new birth is connected with the Word of God). A kind of firstfruits of his creatures (ἀπαρχή). The image is taken from the wave sheaf, the firstfruits of the harvest, the earnest of the crop to follow. St. Paul (according to a very possible reading) has the same figure in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, "God chose you as firstfruits (ἀπαρχήν);" see R.V. margin. Elsewhere he applies it to Christ, "the Firstfruits of them that are asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). "His creatures (κτισμάτων)." It does not appear to be absolutely necessary to extend the use of this word so as to include the irrational creation as well as mankind. בדיה is frequently used in rabbinical writings for the Gentile world, and κτίσμα may be given the same meaning here, and perhaps κτίσις in Mark 16:15; Romans 8:19, etc.; Colossians 1:23. Begat (ἀπεκύησεν)

Rev., brought forth. See on James 1:15, and compare 1 John 3:9; 1 Peter 1:23.

A kind of first-fruits (ἀπαρχήν τινα)

A kind of indicates the figurative nature of the term. Time figure is taken from the requirement of the Jewish law that the first-born of men and cattle, and the first growth of fruits and grain should be consecrated to the Lord. The point of the illustration is that Christians, like first-fruits, should be consecrated to God. The expression "first-fruits" is common in the New Testament. See Romans 8:23; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23; Revelation 14:4.

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