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as the instrument, styled, with the utmost propriety, “the word of truth:” not only on account of the infallible truth and certainty of all its declarations, but on account of its high dignity and excellence, as a revelation from God, it is “ the truth;" to which whatever is contrary is imposture, and whatever is compared to it insignificant.*
It falls not within the limits of this discourse to illustrate, at large, the manner in which the word of God produces a saving change: two circumstances may suffice to establish the fact. The first is, that where the light of the gospel is unknown, no such beneficial alteration in the character is perceived, no features of a renewed and sanctified mind are to be traced. The second is, that among those who live under the light of the gospel, the reality of such a change is less or more to be perceived, in proportion to the degree in which the gospel is seriously attended to, and cordially received. Every person who is deeply influenced by religious considerations, and enabled to live a holy and spiritual life, will acknowledge his deep obligations to the gospel; and that it is to its distinguishing discoveries he is, under God, indebted for the renovation he has experienced. “Being born again,” saith St. Peter, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”+
III. We are directed to the consideration of the end proposed by this regenerating influence, * Gal. iii. 1.
+ 1 Pet. i. 23.
“that we might be a kind of firstfruit of the creatures."
In the Jewish law, which was, in all its essential parts, a perpetual shadow of the gospel, the firstfruits of the earth were commanded to be dedicated in the temple, and presented by the priest as an offering to God: “The first of the fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God.”* In the performance of this part of religious duty, an affecting form of words was prescribed, expressive of the humility and gratitude of the offerer.+ When a vineyard was planted, the Israelites were forbidden to partake of the fruits for the first three years; during which it was to be looked upon as uncircumcised and impure : “And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. But in the fourth
* Exod. xxxiv. 26.
† “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.
“And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
“ And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God." Deut. xxvi. 2, 5, 10. VOL. V.
year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the Lord withal.”*
In allusion to this, the apostle observes, the design of christianity is, that being received into the heart as a renovating principle, we may become, in a spiritual sense, what the fruits presented in the temple were in a literal; “a certain firstfruits of his creatures :" in which representation, he meant, probably, to include the following ideas :--that we should be dedicated to God as holy persons, separated from every unclean use; that we should be distinguished as the most excellent part of his creatures; as the firstfruits were ever considered as the best of the kind; and that our dedication to God should be a pledge and [earnest] of the universal sanctification of the creatures.
1. This representation denotes our solemn dedication to God, as holy persons, -as persons set apart for his use and service. Christians are not their own, and the method by which God claims and appropriates them to himself is that of regenerating grace.
The principle of regeneration is a principle which prompts men to devote themselves to God. They in whom it is planted “present themselves a living sacrifice,” † as “a reasonable service;” they present all their faculties and powers to him ; their understanding, to be guided and enlightened by his truth; their will, to be swayed by his authority, * Lev, xix. 23,
† Rom. xii. 1.
and to be obedient to his dictates; their hearts and affections, to be filled with his presence, and replenished with his love; the members of their body, to be instruments of his glory, sacred to his use; their time, to be employed in the way which he directs, and in pursuit of the objects which he prescribes, and no longer according to the dictates of inclination and caprice. They feel, and cheerfully acknowledge, the obligations they are under to regard him as their God,—their owner and their Lord, through the Redeemer. They deprecate the thought of considering themselves under any other light, than as those who are “bought with a price ;"* that, as God was highly honoured by presenting the firstfruits in the temple, since it was an acknowledgement of the absolute right over all things inhering in him, and whatever was possessed was held at his pleasure, so he is much more honoured by devoting ourselves, in proportion as the offerer is superior to the gift, in proportion as a reasonable creature is superior to unconscious matter. They gave themselves,” says St. Paul, speaking of the Macedonians, “ first to the Lord;”+ they gave themselves immediately to Jesus Christ as the great High Priest and Mediator, to be by him presented with acceptance to the Father, just as the basket of firstfruits was put into the hand of the priests, to be laid upon that “altar which sanctifies the gift.” I It would have been great presumption for an Israelite to
† 2 Cor. viii. 5. # Matt. xxiii. 19.
• 1 Cor. vi. 20.
present his fruits without the intervention of the priest, as they were to be received immediately from his hands; so, in our approaches, we are to come first to the Mediator, and, in his name, to devote ourselves to God: “No man cometh to the Father but by him.”*
Though we are infinitely unworthy of the acceptance of so great a King, yet, when we present ourselves, we offer the noblest present in our power, we offer that which has an intrinsic excellence, far beyond the most costly material gifts : we offer what has a suitability in it to the character of God; that which is immaterial, to the “Father of lights,”+ and that which is spiritual, to the “ Father of spirits.” I If he will deign to receive any tribute or acknowledgement at the hands of a fallen creature, as he had demonstrated his readiness to do through a Mediator ; what can be deemed equally fit for this purpose with the solemn consecration of our inmost powers to him, in love, adoration, and obedience? A soul resigning itself to him, panting after him, and ambitious of pleasing him in all things, is a far more excellent gift than the numerous peace-offerings which Solomon, surrounded by a whole nation, presented at the dedication of the temple. Under the gospel he makes little account of other offering: the fruit which he demands is the fruit of our lips. By the Lord Jesus, therefore “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of
† James i. 17. I Heb. xii. 9.
* John xiv. 6.