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Sermon #07 — James Series
Title: His Will, His Work, His Word
Text: James 1:18
Subject: The New Birth and Its Result
Date: Tuesday Evening — March 10, 2015
My text is James 1:18. — Many miss the blessed instruction and consolation of the Book of James because they imagine that James’ writings in his Epistle contradict, or at least appear to contradict, the rest of the Book of God. Most would not go so far as to assert that James is not inspired of God to write his Epistle, but they treat it as though that were the case, either ignoring it or trying to find some way to suggest that James words were not written for us. Some suggest that James wrote his Epistle just for the Jews who were believers in his day. I really don’t see how that helps them. God saved Jews in James’ day in exactly the same way he has always saved sinners: by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And that is exactly the doctrine given us by “James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ” in his Epistle.
James, like the other Apostles, tells us plainly that every good thing found among men is a gift of pure, free grace, the gift of God in Christ Jesus.
(James 1:16) Do not err, my beloved brethren. (Let there be no mistake about this!) (17) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Nothing good comes from humanity. Nothing connected with God’s salvation springs from our fallen nature. Flowers of grace do not spring up of themselves from the dunghill of human nature. James, like all the other inspired writers of this blessed Book, put the crown upon the crown of him who is worthy to wear it, God our Savior. He rejoiced as much as David, or Paul, or you, or me to sing…
(Psalm 115:1) Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.
In fact, the psalmist’s words are magnificently echoed in our text — James 1:18
(James 1:18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Please note the fact that James was inspired of God to tell us precisely and distinctly that what he says here applies only to a certain group of people — “us.” — “Of his own will begat he us.” With that word “us” the Word of God divides all men into two groups, “us” and “them” or “us” and “the world.”
· Thank God for “his great love wherewith he hath loved us” (Ephesians 2:4).
· How we ought to rejoice in that redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus who “hath loved us and hath given himself for an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor” (Ephesians 5:2). — “Christ hath redeemed us” (Galatians 3:13). — “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood” (Revelation 5:9).
· Grace and salvation belong to us because God “hath saved us and called us” (2 Timothy 1:9). — “The God of all grace hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus” (1 Peter 5:9).
· “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13).
Are you among those of whom and to whom this word from God is given? Do you know “the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Ephesians 1:19). If you do not, it is my prayer that God will by his grace cause you to trust Christ this hour. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if you could leave here quoting our text with joyful confidence that God has made you one of us, his loved, chosen, favored, redeemed people? — Saying with us…
(James 1:18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
The title of my message is — His Will, His Work, His Word. James speaks to us in our text about these three things. — His Will, His Work, His Word.
Proposition: Here the Spirit of God teaches us that God saves sinners according his sovereign will, by the Word of his Truth, that he might make chosen, redeemed sinners “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
“Of his own will begat he us.” — “His own will” — That is the first thing to which James calls our attention. Whenever we think about, talk about, write about, or preach about God’s salvation, we must begin here, with the will of God. Salvation is by the will of God. Regeneration and all its consequent blessings come to us entirely through the absolute, sovereign, and gracious will of God. That is the universal testimony of Holy Scripture. — “Salvation is of the Lord!”
· By His Purpose!
· By His Purchase!
· By His Power!
· For His Praise!
“The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord” (Psalm 37:39).
(Romans 9:16) So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
The great contest between the religion of the world and the religion of Jesus Christ is just this: — Who is entitled to the praise and glory of the sinner’s salvation? Your answer to that question will be determined by your answer to this one: — Is salvation by free-will, or by free-grace? To answer these questions, I make no appeal to the preachers and theologians of the past, though I thank God for what he has taught me through the writings of those faithful men who served him in past generations. And I make no appeal to the preachers and theologians of the present, though I truly thank God for his faithful witnesses who minister to my soul. To find the answer to these questions, I turn to the Book of God alone, the Bible, our solitary rule of faith and practice. — “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
Who is entitled to have the praise and glory of salvation? What does the Bible say? — “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake!” — “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!” — “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power!”
Is salvation by the free-will of man, or by the free-grace of God? What does the Book of God tell us? — “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy!” Salvation is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts!”
What does that vile, ugly, reprehensible term, “free-will” represent? Freewillism is the religion of man. It represents anything decided, determined, or done by man to attain salvation. Freewillism is the religion of Satan. Lucifer was the first freewiller (Isaiah14:13-14). Freewillism was the religion of those men who crucified the Lord of glory (Mark 15:9-15). Freewillism is the religion of Babylon and the religion of antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2).
What is represented by that glorious, God-honoring, Christ exalting term, “freegrace”? Freegrace represents everything decided, determined, and done by almighty God to bestow salvation upon his elect. Freegrace is the sovereign, voluntary, eternal, immutable, unconditional, uncaused, uncontrolled, gratuitous bounty of God’s goodness, by which salvation, in all its branches, is accomplished. It is this grace that reigns unto the eternal life of chosen sinners through Christ (Romans 5:21).
· God did not save us because of our worth, but in spite of our worthlessness!
· God did not save us because of our good works, but in spite of our evil works!
· God did not save us because of our will, but in spite of our will!
“Of his own will begat he us!” — “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16). It is almost universally believed that God wills the salvation of all people without exception, that he wants to save all, that he has done all he can to save the whole human race. But that is not what God says. God declares, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy!”
If the Lord God wills the salvation of all and some are not saved, as is the case, what does the will of God have to do with anyone’s salvation? — Absolutely nothing! If God willed the salvation of all, and some are lost in spite of his will, God’s will would be just as irrelevant and meaningless as yours or mine. But that is not the case. He declares, “I will do all my pleasure!” — “Our God is in the heavens. He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased!” — “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the sea, and in all deep places!”
The Word of God declares, with unmistakable clarity, that it is the will of God alone that is the cause of our salvation in Christ (John 1:11-13; Romans 9:16). If salvation depended upon the will of man, no one would ever be saved. What is the condition of man’s will? It is the same as man’s condition.
· Spiritually Dead!
· In Bondage!
This is the doctrine of Holy Scripture (John 5:40; 6:44; Romans 3:10-12). James tells us plainly that it is not the sinner’s will that brings him to Christ, but God’s will (Ephesians 1:3-5, 9, 11; John 6:37-39). If God almighty willed the salvation of all, all would be saved (Isaiah 14:24; 46:9-11; Daniel 4:34-35). — “The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely, as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have thought, so shall it stand!”
God is in no way obliged by the will or works of men to bestow his mercy. Man’s will does not govern God’s will. And man’s works do not determine God’s works. God is absolutely sovereign. It is his right entirely to give his mercy to whom he will, or withhold it from whom he will. And he can never be called to give an account of his actions to anyone.
God willed to be gracious for the glory of his own great name. Having determined to create a world with a race of angels and a race of men, he chose to save some angels in their original holiness and leave others to fall; and he determined to allow all men to fall into sin representatively in our father Adam, choosing to save some for the glory of his grace and to pass by others.
God determined who he would save, choosing his own elect in Christ and predestinating all things to bring them into their heavenly inheritance as the sons of God.
God willed to give his Son to die as a sin-atoning Substitute for his elect. In his eternal purpose of grace, God looked upon his Son as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and accepted his people in him. And in the fulness of time, God sent his Son into the world to magnify his law and make it honorable, so that he might be just and yet justify the ungodly.
At the time appointed, God sends his Spirit to regenerate his elect and call them to faith in Christ by the gospel. This call of God the Holy Spirit is a sovereign, irresistible, distinguishing, effectual call. It goes only to God’s elect, only to the redeemed, and it always results in salvation.
And it is God who preserves his elect in life. His saved ones cannot perish. All of them will endure unto the end and be glorified at last. If even one of God’s elect were to perish, his purpose would fall to the ground, the blood of Christ would be of non-effect, the Spirit’s power would be broken, and God’s name would be mocked in hell forever. These things can never be. — We are sure that God will, be glorified in the salvation of all his elect because nothing depends upon man, but all depends upon “God who showeth mercy!” — “Of his own will begat he us!”
“Mortals, be dumb! What creature dares
Dispute His awful will?
Ask no account of His affairs,
But tremble and be still!
Just like His nature is His grace,
All sovereign and all free!
Great God, how searchless are Thy ways!
How deep Thy judgments be!”
— Isaac Watts
Why has God saved me? Why did Christ die for me? Why did the Lord choose me? — Because he willed me his! Grace is without cause, except in God himself! Because he willed and according to the dictate of his own good pleasure, he had compassion upon us, redeemed us, and saved us!
Second, James tells us that salvation, particularly, the new birth is his work. — “Of his own will begat he us!” We have been born-again by Divine power! Our first birth was our generation, our creation. Our second birth is our regeneration, our new creation. In both nature and grace, the only Creator is God.
(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
New Man — In regeneration the Lord God makes chosen, redeemed sinners new creatures. That which is produced in regeneration is called the new creature and the new man. Those who are born again are said to be new born babes (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24; 1 Peter 2:2). That new man, the new creature, we are told is “created in righteousness and true holiness.” That simply means that he is created by two great works of omnipotent grace: justification and sanctification — redemption and regeneration — righteousness imputed and righteousness imparted.
That new man is “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). He is that which is born of God and cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9). This new man, this new creature is what God the Holy Ghost speaks of when he tells us that all who believe have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
New Heart — That new creature is given a new heart and a new spirit, a new understanding, to know and understand things never known nor understood before. The regenerate soul has a new heart which knows God, not merely as the God of nature and providence, but as the God his Father, the God of all grace. The believer knows God in Christ the Mediator. He is made to know the love of God in Christ, the covenant of grace, and the blessings of it which were made and given to him in Christ before the world was created.
Our Lord Jesus tells us that this knowledge of God in Christ is eternal life (John 17:3). Those who have eternal life, those who are made new creatures in Christ by the new birth know Christ and the fulness of God’s grace in him. We know and enjoy the pardon of sin through his blood, justification by his righteousness, atonement by his sacrifice, and acceptance with God through him. We know and enjoy complete salvation in and by Christ.
In this new heart are new desires after heavenly things. The regenerate soul has new affections, which are placed upon things above, new delights in them, and new joys, which arise from them (Ezekiel 36:26; 1 John 5:20; 1 Corinthians 2:9). In this new man are new eyes, with which to see the kingdom of God. To some, God does not give eyes to see divine and spiritual things, but to regenerated souls, he does. They have seeing eyes, made by the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:4; Proverbs 20:12). They see their lost state and condition by nature, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and their utter inability to make atonement by anything they can do. We see the insufficiency of our righteousness, our impotence to every good work, and our complete inability to change our condition.
Regenerate souls are made to see their need of the blood, righteousness, and sacrifice of Christ, and of salvation by him. They have the eye of faith, by which they behold the glories of Christ’s Person, the fulness of his grace, the excellency of his righteousness, the virtue of his blood and sacrifice, and the suitableness and completeness of his salvation.
Moreover, in the new man are new ears to hear the good Shepherd’s voice. They have them from the Lord, and blessed are they (Revelation 2:11; Deuteronomy 29:4; Proverbs 20:12; Matthew 13:16-17). They hear the word in a manner they never heard before. They hear it with understanding, and receive the love of it. Now we are able to distinguish the voice of Christ from the voice of a stranger. We know the joyful sound of the gospel, and rejoice to hear it.
The new man has new hands with which to work and serve his Master. We have the hand of faith, to receive Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, to lay hold on him for life and salvation, to embrace him, hold him fast, and not let him go. With the hand of faith, we are now able to handle him, the Word of Life, and receive from him grace for grace. We have hands to work with, and do our work from better principles and for better purposes than law could ever give. — “The love of Christ constraineth us!”
Those who are born of God have new feet with which to walk, with which to flee to Christ, the City of refuge. We walk to Christ on the feet of faith, and walk on in him all our days just as we received him in the beginning. God’s children never outgrow the simplicity of faith. With these new feet of faith, we run with cheerfulness in the way of his commandments, following hard after him, and follow on to know him. By the grace of God, the heaven born soul runs and is not weary. He walks and does not faint.
Grace Alone — If the regenerate soul is a new creature in Christ, if regeneration is a resurrection from the dead, as the Word of God everywhere declares that it is, then it is utterly absurd to imagine that man has anything to do with the work. Can man create? Can man raise the dead? What nonsense it is to talk about people being born again by their free will, their decision for Jesus, saying the sinners’ prayer, walking a church aisle, being baptized, or going through some religious ceremony!
The new birth is God’s work. — “Of his own will begat he us!” Our Lord does not say, You must do something to get born again. He says, “Ye must BE born again!” The new birth is God’s work and God’s work alone! It is he and he alone who makes chosen, redeemed sinners new creatures. The new creation is his work of grace, for which he shall have all praise.
It is written, “Even when we were dead in sins, (God our Father, by the power of his Holy Spirit) hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-7).
Alright, here’s the third thing James speaks of in our text — His Word. — “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” The instrument by which this great work is accomplished is “the Word of Truth!” — Without question, much more could and should be said about this than I can state in this message; but here are three things asserted by the Spirit of God that I want you to see.
1. God saves sinners by the preaching of the Gospel (Romans 1:15-17; 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; Hebrews 1:12; 1 Peter 1:23-25). This is the means God has ordained for the salvation of his elect.
(Romans 1:15-17) So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (17) For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
(Romans 10:9-17) That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (10) For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (12) For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. (13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (14) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (15) And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? (17) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:17-24) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (18) For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (19) For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. (20) Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (21) For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (22) For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: (23) But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; (24) But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
(Hebrews 4:12) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
(1 Peter 1:23-25) Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (24) For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: (25) But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
2. The Word of Truth revealed in this blessed Book, the Word by which God saves sinners is Jesus Christ crucified. Christ crucified is all the counsel of God (1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 20:27).
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5) And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (3) And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (4) And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: (5) That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
3. But the bare preaching of the gospel is not saving to anyone. — God saves sinners by the Word of Truth, by the preaching of the gospel, when he sends the gospel home to your heart by the effectual power and grace of his Holy Spirit as the Word of the Truth, the gospel of your salvation (Ephesians 1:12-14; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
(Ephesians 1:12-14) That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. (13) In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (14) Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-21) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (18) And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Now, look briefly at the rest of my text, and I will show you God’s aim in this great work of grace, the salvation of our souls.
(James 1:18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, — (Watch this, now. God did this for this purpose, with this aim, with this design in mind.) — that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
We were begotten by the Word of Truth for this purpose, “that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” What is intended by that? How are we “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”? Again, I can only skim the surface here; but, if you will turn back to Deuteronomy 26, I will show you something of the meaning of those words. In Deuteronomy 26 the Lord God gives us the law of firstfruits, as it was established in the legal dispensation. We will read just the first four verses of the chapter now, but I hope you will read the rest at your leisure.
(Deuteronomy 26:1-4) And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein; (2) That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name there. (3) And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the country which the LORD sware unto our fathers for to give us. (4) And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD thy God.
The first fruits are the best. — And the Lord God has put a peculiar dignity upon his elect, making us honorable in his sight, making us his people, the sons and daughters of God!
· Objects of God’s Love!
· Objects of God’s Care!
· Objects of God’s Delight!
(1 John 3:1) Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. (2) Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Firstfruits are the pledge of full harvest. — We who now believe by the working of his mighty power are but the pledge of all the chosen, all the ransomed of the Lord who shall yet believe (2 Peter 3:9).
But there is more. When James tells us that we are born of God, “that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures,” he is specifically telling us that by this work of grace our heavenly Father answers the prayer of his dear Son for us. — “Sanctify them through thy truth. Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). The Lord God has saved us by his grace, that we might present ourselves unto God by Christ Jesus, a living sacrifice, wholly, acceptable unto the Lord, just as the Jews of old were taught to bring the firstfruits to God.
· The first fruits were brought by faith.
· The first fruits were brought willingly (Gifts — Worship — Our Time — Our Lives). — “God loveth a cheerful giver!”
· The first fruits were brought with a confession. — A Syrian ready to perish, who went down to Egypt, where I was brought into horrible trouble, from which you redeemed me!
· The first fruits were brought in a basket and put in the priest’s hands, and were presented to God by the priest.
(James 1:18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
(Deuteronomy 26:17) Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice: (18) And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; (19) And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.