Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
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. 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," are transferred to Jesus Christ. 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. That which Jesus Christ is, primarily and originally, all those who love Him and trust Him are secondarily and by derivation from Himself.
I. GOD'S PURPOSE FOR CHRISTIANS IS THAT THEY SHOULD BE CONSECRATED TO HIM. 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. 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 metaphor of Scripture, 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. 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. 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 that has given Himself for us. Such consecration, which is the root of all blessedness, and the true way of entering into the possession of all possessions, is only possible in the degree in which we subject ourselves to the influence of these mighty acts which God has done in order to secure it. "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.
II. 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. If Christianity has been able to take one man, pick him out of the mud and the mire of sense and self, and turn him into a partially and increasingly consecrated servant of God, it can do that for anybody. "We have all of us one human heart." Whatever may be man'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. 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 gleam dimly through such words as 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.
III. 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 a 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 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. 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. And are your lips to be always closed about Him who have given Himself for you? Do not say that you need special gifts for it. 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. To have anything in this world of needy men who are all knit together in the solidarity of one family — to have anything implies that you impart it. The corn laid up in storehouses gets gnawed by rats, and marred by weevils. If you want it to be healthy, and you 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."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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.