“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 the verses 18-16 we are taught that the Lord cannot be tempted with evil and therefore tempteth no man. The Lord is too pure of eyes to behold iniquity, Sin is far from Him. Therefore the wages of sin is death; sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. This thought is further confirmed by James in verse 17 which sets forth the unchangeable goodness and perfection of the Lord. Also verse 18 emphasizes the same principle. Instead of advocating that the sinner when tempted is tempted of God and that God therefore delighteth in evil, James proclaims here that we have been begotten by the Word of truth, in order that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures. We must walk holily. And this calling to be a kind of first fruits of (His creatures is further set forth in several admonitions that follow.
Of immediate interest is the expression, “Begat He us with the Word of truth.” The intense struggle of comparative recent date, which revolved about the question whether regeneration must be considered mediate or immediate, is known to many of our readers. Immediate regeneration refers, then, to this work of God as occurring without the means of the preaching of the gospel—it simply precedes all external means. Mediate regeneration, on the other hand, maintained that this work of God is mediate, occurs through the means of the preaching of the gospel. The advocates of this latter conception realized, to be sure, that the external means did not regenerate, but they maintained that this work of God was always accompanied by the preaching of the gospel. They appealed, besides other passages of the Scriptures, to passages such as James 1:18 and, where we read: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”
In general we may remark that this intense conflict was undoubtedly based to a large extent on misunderstanding. The appeal to I Peter 1:23 is surely not happily chosen. It is true that we read there of regeneration (“being born again”) and that in connection with the living and eternally abiding Word of God. But we also read there of the “incorruptible seed” out of which this regeneration occurs and upon which this regeneration follows. This incorruptible seed is surely regeneration. Moreover, we must bear in mind that Scripture’s use of the word “regeneration” does not always apply to this conception in that strict sense of the word as referring to the work of God within our heart. The Word of God also speaks of regeneration as including our conscious life and therefore our conversion. This regeneration continues day by day, may be identified with a continuous conversion, and is undoubtedly meant in I Peter 1:23.
What, now, does James mean when he speaks of our being begotten by the Word of truth? The Word of truth in this passage surely refers to the written Word of God, the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of those Scriptures. Inthe apostle speaks literally of having begotten the Corinthians through the gospel. In the Word of truth is literally identified with the gospel of our salvation. In this latter passage Paul therefore speaks of the gospel as the “Word of truth”. And, as far as the immediate context of this text is concerned, passages such as verses 19, 22-25 establish beyond dispute that James is referring in this chapter to the written Word of God, the divine Scriptures. This also defines the meaning of “being begotten” in this text. James here refers to our conscious rebirth. Even as the birth of a child refers to that moment when it first beholds the light of day, so this text is speaking of our conscious rebirth, when God’s child is called consciously out of sin and death and darkness into the light of God’s everlasting Kingdom.
He begat us, we read, with the Word of truth. Why are the Scriptures called the “Word of truth”? Truth we may define as the presentation of the reality. God is the reality. He is the absolute Good, Who alone is, and therefore worthy by the creature of all praise and adoration. Christ Jesus is the Truth. He is that as the eternal Son of God in the Trinity, because He is the expressed image of the Father and therefore the eternal revelation of the truth. But He is also the truth as the Mediator. His life was always a complete presentation of the reality. Fact is, He loved God, always revealed God, manifested the Father, the absolute reality. And Christ also merited that truth for us, in order that we, too, may be inducted into God’s everlasting covenant and thereby once more reveal the reality and be in harmony with the alone blessed God. The Scriptures are the Word of Truth because they are the infallible record of that truth which exists in God, and in Christ, and is realized by Christ for us and within us.
We have been begotten with or by that Word of truth. We understand, of course, that this begetting occurs only through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not only the immediate work of God, within our hearts, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. But also the bringing forth of a conscious child of God is the exclusive work of the Spirit. He alone enables us to hear and see and taste the blessedness of the Kingdom of heaven. However, He begets by the means of the Word of truth. Our spiritual knowledge of grace is the work of the Holy Spirit, but it is the Word of God which gives content to that knowledge. To be begotten by the Word of truth signifies, therefore, that the Holy Spirit avails Himself of the Scriptures to lead us consciously into the light of God’s eternal covenant.
James further declares that “He begat us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” We read literally: “He begat us. . . for to be, or unto a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” The meaning of this “for to be” or “unto” is plain. When I say that someone is being trained to be a teacher, I mean that the purpose but also the result of this training is his becoming a teacher. The same thought is implied in this text. The purpose and the result, the objective, of our being begotten is that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.
What is the meaning of the expression “first fruits of His creatures”? We read literally of a “certain first- fruit”. This expression, translated in the English, “a kind of first fruit”, signifies that God’s people, having been begotten, have become like unto a first fruit, such as occurred frequently in the Old Dispensation. James therefore declares that there is a similarity between this people of God and these first fruits of the Old Testament. What is this point of similarity? According to some, James is speaking unto the believers of his day. Those believers, in distinction from the church, which must be gathered in the future, are called a first fruit. This interpretation, however, is in error. In the first place, although it is true that, strictly speaking, James is addressing the church of his day, we must remember that what he here declares of God’s people (that they are begotten with the Word of truth) is applicable to the people of God throughout the ages. Secondly, this interpretation fails to do justice to the expression “of His creatures”. “Creatures” is a word which refers to all creation. The meaning of this expression is not difficult to see. The symbolism of the first fruit occurs repeatedly in the Old Dispensation. When, in the Old Dispensation, Israel’s precious crop had begun to ripen as on Pentecost, a first fruit was taken from that crop and presented unto the Lord. That first fruit was a part of the harvest. Thereby the pious Israelite declared that he was receiving the entire harvest from the Lord and was dedicating it unto the Lord. Also God’s people are a certain first fruit, a part of the full harvest, a glorious guarantee that the full harvest will presently be realized.
This first fruit of James 1:18 surely refers to the people of the Lord of all ages. The realization of this first fruit is the guarantee of the entire harvest. The entire creature will presently share in the blessed renewal of all things. Of course, the reprobates are excluded. But we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth until now, awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God, and that it, too, will share in the glorious liberty of the people of God. However, this full harvest will not be realized until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. All creation groaneth. But the church of God is being begotten again. They receive in their hearts the principle of that eternal liberty. They are a first fruit of that heavenly harvest. And presently God’s church will be perfected and all creation will share in that eternal salvation.
This first fruit is the objective of our being begotten. It is surely the fruit of this work of the Spirit through the Word of truth. As such a first fruit we are dedicated to God in the midst of this world. We have been called by God’s Spirit and Word, out of the darkness of sin into the light of God’s covenant. Yea, that we are a first fruit, and that therefore our deliverance is but a beginning of the realization of God’s marvelous plan of redemption, we know through the Word of truth. But this first fruit is also God’s purpose. We have been begotten also, so we read, in order that we should be as a first fruit. Even as in the Old Dispensation such a first fruit was dedicated unto the Lord, we, too, must be dedicated unto Him. God called us out of darkness into His marvelous light in order that we should also walk as such. We have been called into holiness and liberty. Let us therefore be holy as God is holy, and walk in the freedom wherewith the Lord has made us free.
This work of God takes place, according to the text, “of His own will”. The word “will” of this text appears also in. There we read that the Lord works all things after the counsel of His own will. The word translated “counsel” in Eph. 1:11 is the same word which is translated “will” in James 1:18. When we read in Eph. 1:11 that God works all things after the counsel of His will, the meaning is that God’s will, God’s sovereign good pleasure, is the eternal origin of His counsel. The “will” of our text is God’s counsel as it embraces all things. To be begotten of His own “will” implies, therefore, that our rebirth has its eternal source in the sovereign Lord Himself.
And this, too, is divine good pleasure, that we should be begotten unto a first fruit of His creatures. The natural is first, then the Spiritual; first the earthy, then the heavenly. God sovereignly decreed that we should be a kind of first fruit. God sovereignly decrees, therefore, the order of the natural first and thereupon the spiritual; He sovereignly willed to save us, and, with us, all things in the way of sin and grace, in order that we should forever be unto the praise of the glory of His grace in Jesus Christ our Lord.