Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
In this verse the apostle singles out for special mention the highest and best of all God's gifts to his people - that of regeneration. His argument is, that if God voluntarily breathes a new life into those who are spiritually dead, it is inconceivable that he should ever seduce to that which "bringeth forth death."
I. THE BEST OF ALL GIFTS. Regeneration is the summum bonum, being a gift which at once supplies man's deepest want, and satisfies all that is highest in his nature. The new birth is a necessity; for man comes into the world destitute of the principle of spiritual life. It is sad that so much of the fashionable literature of the day should ignore this, and represent natural virtue and amiability as everything in character. But regeneration is a fact; as every Christian knows, both from observation and from his own experience. It does not consist in reformation; it is a new "birth" - the re-creation of the whole soul after the Divine image, through the infusion of a new spiritual principle. It involves a new heart, a new self, a new character, a new life.
II. THE SOURCE OF THE GIFT. Where resides the power that can renew the soul? Not in a man himself; one's birth is not one's own act. It is "the Father of the lights" who performs the miracle of regeneration. Such a change can only be effected by his almighty power. To bestow this gift is the special office of God the Holy Ghost; we are "born of the Spirit." And what induces God to confer this invaluable blessing? He gives it "of his own will." He is not constrained to give it by fate. He is not moved by fitful impulse. He is not incited by any deservings on our part, for we have none. He is not even prevailed upon to regenerate, as the result of the work of Christ. The ultimate cause is simply "the good pleasure of his will." It is his nature to love, and bless, and bestow gifts of grace upon the undeserving. Man's will in union with his lust generates sin and death (ver. 15); but the will of "the Father of the lights" imparts new life to dead souls.
III. THE INSTRUMENT OF THE GIFT. "By the Word of truth;" i.e. the gospel of Jesus Christ - the doctrines of grace contained in the Scriptures. The gospel is in our hands as a definite "word," and one which is absolutely and divinely true. While the Holy Spirit is the Agent in regeneration, he employs the Word as the instrument. Although the Scriptures are charged with moral power, man's understanding is so blind, and his affections are so corrupt, that they could never by themselves impart life to any soul; but in the hand of the Spirit the doctrines of grace become "living and powerful." Thousands have been regenerated in connection with the private reading of the Bible, and hundreds of thousands as the result of public preaching. The Word is needed in regeneration as the means of calling forth the new thoughts and feelings, the new desires and resolves, of the new life. Only in connection with the apprehension of revealed truth can a man begin to believe the gospel, or love the Savior, or in any way "exercise himself unto godliness."
IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE GIFT. "That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." These words refer to God's gracious purpose towards his people themselves. They suggest the dignity and honor which belong to the regenerate. The image is derived from those provisions of the Hebrew ceremonial law by which the firstfruits of the harvest, and the firstborn of man and beast, were dedicated to God. The consecration of the firstfruits asserted their own intrinsic value as Divine gifts; and it also symbolized and foreshadowed the consecration of the harvest that was to follow. Now, these Hebrew Christians of the dispersion were the precious "firstfruits," in the first century, of the entire world of the redeemed. Similarly, we in this age are the "firstfruits" in relation to the Church that is still future. Not only so, but the entire company of believers of all ages and of both worlds is "the Church of the Firstborn." They are all of them elect, precious, devoted to God. Every regenerate man is a pledge of the ultimate regeneration of the multitude which no man could number; as well as of "the restoration of all things," when the new creation of the world shall be accomplished, and Paradise be restored. In conclusion, have we the assurance that this incomparable gift is ours? Can we say, individually, "He begat us"? What a joy to know, from the marks of grace upon us, that "we have passed out of death into life"! - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.