Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. James 1:18
James now speaks of the faith of the believer and how it comes about. The words here are to be contrasted to those of verse 15 –
15) Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
18) Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
James had spoken of the bringing forth of death through one’s own desires. Now he speaks of being brought forth (to life), as he says, “Of His own will.” In other words, the contrast is between what man wills, with its resulting negative effects, and of what God wills, with its resulting positive effects.
An obvious question, and one which divides scholars, is “What does, ‘Of His own will,’ signify?” Does James mean that God’s will is being worked out apart from man’s will, or does it speak of God’s will being followed by man in order to work out His determined end?
The first is known as monergism. Monergism comes from two words which signify “one work.” It signifies that God’s will is solely seen in the process of salvation – apart from man’s will. The second is known as synergism. This speaks of a cooperation of two or more agents to produce a combined effect. To determine which is correct, more needs to be considered.
James next says that it is of God’s own will that “He brought us forth.” The word used is the same as in verse 15. This now is its second and final use in Scripture. It is a medical or physical word which signifies the closing of a pregnancy. Thus it is to bring forth as a child.
In the course of nature, a child has no part in his bringing forth. If this were merely speaking of a physical birth, the answer to the question concerning man’s will would be clear. But James doesn’t stop there. He next says that this bringing forth is “by the word of truth.” To understand what James is referring to, a comparison to the same thought in 1 Peter is necessary –
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because
“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:22-25
Peter explains that “the word of truth” is speaking of the word of God, meaning Scripture, and specifically “the gospel.” Albert Barnes rightly states –
“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.”
James is showing the difference between choosing the natural inclination of man through desires and enticements and choosing that which God offers through the word of truth. It is obvious, based on the presentation by James, that what is being spoken of here is a synergistic model.
God’s will (Of His own will) is revealed in Scripture. However, that will can be accepted or rejected. If it is accepted, it brings forth the new being through the act of regeneration. The will receives the word and believes it and the Holy Spirit regenerates the man. James then says there is a purpose for this. It is so “that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
Another obvious question arises with these words, “Who is ‘we’ referring to?” James’ words could be speaking of the Christians of the apostolic age only. He could be referring to all Christians at all times too. Or, he could be referring to the believing Jews of his day. First, the letter is written (as it says in verse 1:1) “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” Secondly, the apostles had no idea what an “apostolic age” meant. They didn’t know if Jesus was coming back before their deaths or not. The answer is that James is referring to the Jewish believers of his time as “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
It was understood, even at an early age, that Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. This understanding led James to equate the Jews as “a kind” of firstfruits. It was already understood that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That is speaking of the resurrection of Christ. As Christ arose, so will those who are in Christ.
However, there were also firstfruit offerings brought forth at the time of Pentecost. The firstfruits indicate a portion of a whole which is taken and offered as representative of a greater portion. These early Jewish believers were considered as the consecrated portion and the first of the Lord’s brought-forth creatures. This is why he says, “a kind of firstfruits.” It shows that he is speaking in figurative terms. The addressed portion is given to represent the whole.
Life application: James speaks here of being born again as is stated in John 3:3-6. Jesus didn’t make it optional; you must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. This doesn’t mean rolling around on the floor or speaking in odd tongues. Rather, it means being born from above; from a divine source. Hyper-dispensationalists say that the term “born again” only applies to Jews. Reformed theologians say that a person is “born again” first by the Spirit. In this, he is then enabled to believe. He then believes, and then he is saved. In other words, they separate the idea of being born again from being saved.
Both of these ideas are foreign to Scripture, and they both come from taking the words of Scripture completely out of context. It is sad too, because if someone says, “I’m a Christian, but not ‘born again,’” then he isn’t a Christian. The two are inseparable. Or, if a person believes that he is “regenerated in order to believe,” meaning born again first, then how can he know that he is really saved? Maybe his experience came from being light-headed because of not enough water to drink on a hot day.
Rather, we are given birth through the “word of truth.” Jesus is the Word of God and He is revealed in the word of God, meaning Scripture. It is through faith in Him alone that we receive this new birth. We are presented with the information, and then we have a choice to make. This does not mean that God is denied glory. Salvation is wholly of the Lord. There is no deed of the flesh that merits it; no goodness good enough to satisfy the debt we owe. Instead, the transfer is made in Jesus Christ. We accept His cross and He gives us His righteousness. He did the work; we believe and receive.
The problem with monergism is that it fails to make a distinction between the work necessary for salvation, and the process of salvation. All work is accomplished by Jesus Christ. There is no “thing” that we can do to merit salvation. However, the process of salvation says that man must believe in the work of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Belief is not a work. James shows us this in his words of Chapter 1 of his epistle.
In the end, the process of salvation is so simple that many fail to understand it. Paul calls it a “stumbling block” because of its simplicity. Don’t trip over it yourself, but rather accept by faith what Jesus has done. Be certain of your eternal destiny; call on Jesus Christ today!
Thank You, O God, for Your sure word of truth that points us to the wonders Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. May we never take for granted the splendor of His work. Help us to be wise, understand what He did for us, and then receive that good news to the saving of our souls. And then, help us to keep our eyes and our thoughts fixed on Him – to Your glory alone. Amen.