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begun. In allusion to this offering, Jesus Christ is called, “the first fruits of them that slept,” because he was the firstborn from the dead, and his resurrection is an earnest and pledge of the resurrection of believers.
The sanctifying and comforting influences of the spirit, which are now vouchsafed to christians, are called the first fruits of the Spirit. For as the first fruits were to the Jews pledges of the ensuing harvest; so the graces of the Spirit are tokens and earnests of heavenly happiness.
The Apostle James says, “God of his own will hath begotten us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures :" Or that we should be consecrated to his service; as the first fruits of harvest were dedicated to him, in acknowledgment that all was his gift.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation, they who were redeemed from among men ; they who in times of general corruption, had not defiled themselves, but preserved their purity; they who had followed the Lamb whither soever he went, are called “the first fruits unto God and the Lamb." These, like the firstborn and first fruits under the law, were dedicated to God; and their fidelity was an earnest of a more plentiful accession to the church of God in future times.
By a like allusion to the offering, which preceded the harvest, the Apostle calls the first converts to the faith of Christ in a particular place, the first fruits of that place unto Christ. They resembled the first fruits, not only in their early dedication of themselves to Christ, but also as their conversion was a mean and an earnest of a succeeding harvest there. You see then the special reason why Paul salutes Epenetus in those terms.
Now consider this man, dwelling in the midst of heathens and idolaters, surrounded with daily ex. VOL. II.
amples of vice and superstition, and long accustomed to the manners of the world; but, on the preaching of an Apostle of Christ, renouncing his former vices and errors; coming out from among a corrupt and idolatrous multitude ; standing forth alone in the profession of the truth and the reformation of his life ; and, by his example, and conversation, inviting his fellow citizens to turn from their vanities and serve the living God; and will you not admire his integrity, zeal and fortitude-His openness to conviction—The strength of his faith in Christ, and the benevolence of his heart toward those around him ? Viewing Epenetus in this light, Will you wonder, that Paul remembers him in his christian salutations ; calls him his beloved friend; and celebrates his virtue as the first fruits of A. chaia unto Christ? In what an amiable and important light does he stand ? What higher and nobler character could be given of him, than the Apostle has expressed in these few words?
We are here naturally led to this remark, that forwardness in religion is a character highly commendable in the sight of Jesus Christ. So our apostle esteemed it. He therefore ever speaks in terms of peculiar honour and affection, concerning those who first embraced the gospel in a particular place; who were in Christ before him; who ran great hazards in the cause of truth ; who had been his helpers in the work of Christ ; and who had labored much in the Lord.
Let us first shew how a forwardness in religion may discover itself. And then display the excellency and commendableness of this disposition.
We will first consider the disposition here commended in Epenetus : He was the first fruits to Christ. He distinguished himself by a promptitude, zeal and forwardness in the cause of the gospel.
There is, in some persons, a certain vanity-a self importance, which makes them forget their proper place, and urges them to take the lead in ev. ery matter in which they mean to bear a part. They assume haughty airs, and dictatorial language ; feel superior to advice, and competent to prescribe to every man. They are swift to speak on every subject, and slow to hear on any. They are bold and confident in their own opinions ; fixed and obstinate in their own resolutions; and liberal in their censures of all who dissent from them.
This is forwardness indeed ; but not forwardness in religion. True religion is always attended with humility ; with sober thoughts of ourselves ; with a charitable disposition to others; with a modest distrust of our own wisdom, strength, and virtue : and with a ready attention to the instructions and councils of those, who may be our helpers in Christ Jesus. Paul, though the chief of the Apostles, thankfully accepted assistance in his work from private Christians; even from those who had been converted by his ministry.
While we aim to be forward in religion, let us avoid every thing that savours of pride and ostentation. This, so far as it prevails, is inconsistent with religion in ourselves, and so far as it appears, will defeat our endeavours to promote religion among others. Particularly,
1. Early religion may be called the first fruits unto Christ. It discovers an amiable forwardness to serve him. Epenetus was not called by the gospel in his youth : He enjoyed not those early advantages, which many now enjoy. But it seeins probable, that he embraced the first opportunity to hear the gospel, and accepted the first invitation to devote himself to Christ. His religion had all the virtue and excellency of early religion. He gave to Christ the first fruits, if not of life itself, yet of
that part of life in which he was favoured with the heavenly call.
All have now this call in their youth. They, who are most forward and seasonable in obeying it, are the first fruits to Christ. They give him their purest and best time, as an earnest that all shall be consecrated to him.
You, who are young, are from the very circumstance of your age, tempted to delay the work of religion. Many of you appear to live with great indifference to it. By your example you embolden one another in the dangerous neglect. Now, if any of you, awakened to a sense of your danger,should renounce the vanities ofyour youth, and dedicate your. selves to the service of your redeemer, you would be to him the first fruits among your fellows. And who knows, what a harvest might ensue? Your example may encourage others ; your early zeal might provoke many. But still you would be entitled to the distinction of being in Christ before them.
2. Forwardness in religion will appear in an open profession of it, and a diligent attendance on the means of it.
There may be a profession of religion, when the heart is not engaged in it. But a zeal for religion, without a profession, cannot be supposed ; for a profession is not only injoined as a duty in itself, but prescribed as a mean of promoting religion among others. The man who really believes the gospel of Christ, and feels the vast importance of it, will open. ly declare before men the views and apprehensions, which he entertains of it. The apostle says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone that be. lieves.” The believer will wish the prevalence of re. ligion anong others. That a dispensation, on which the eternal happiness of guilty men so essen
tially depends, should be generally neglected and disregarded, is a thought which deeply wounds the benevolent feelings of his soul. As he desires that others should have the same sentiments of it with him, so he openly avows his regard to it; and by a diligent attendance on the instituted ordinances of it, invites all to come and seek an acquaintance with it, and share in its divine and heavenly blessings.
3. One who is forward in religion, will maintain the profession and practice of it, though he should thus render himself singular.
Epenetus professed the religion of the gospel, when all around him were in a different sentiment and practice. He was the first, among all the people in Achaia, to stand forth in its cause. Stephanas was the first there, who dedicated his whole family to Christ, and set up the worship of God in his house. What a noble zeal and fortitude they discovered, in adventuring to be singular in the faith and obedience of the gospel ?
The christian, who is forward and zealous in religion, will profess it, though his neighbours treat it with indifference. He will maintain the worship of God in his family, though all around him despise and even redicule his strict and conscientious devotion. The cavillers at family worship, he answers in the language of the captain of Israel, “ If it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, chuse you this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my. house, we will serve the Lord.”
He will attend on the instituted ordinances of God's house, and require the attendance of his children with him, though the manner of others is to forsake the assembling of themselves together.
He will have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but will rather reprove them. He will be the companion of them who fear God,