by Steven Lawson
Inseparably connected with the doctrine of election is the truth of monergistic regeneration. James teaches that the new birth is a sovereign act of God. The Holy Spirit produces new life in the Father’s elect when they are dead in trespasses and sins. The instrument the Spirit always uses in the new birth is “the word of truth.” The Spirit accompanies the proclamation of the Word with an irresistible inward call that causes the elect to believe the message of the gospel. God does this in all of those who are His, even in those unnoticed or unwanted by this world:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
When James wrote that God “brought us forth,” he was referring to sinners being born again. The Greek word translated as “brought us forth” is apokueo, which means “to be birthed, to be bred or begotten.” James’ choice of this word makes a strong statement that regeneration is effected by the sovereign will of God (John 1:13; 1 Peter 1:3). It is by His will—not the will of man—that the new birth is initiated and brought to pass. God’s will is the sole cause of man’s regeneration. Manton explains, “This word means natural birth, and sometimes it is used for creation. So we are said to be ‘His offspring’ (Acts 17:28). Some people apply these words to God’s creation of us, making people His firstfruits, or the most special part of the whole creation. But this is beside the point, for James speaks of this as birth that is through the word of truth. In the next verse he uses this to argue that we should be more aware of the duty of listening; therefore this birth implies the work of grace on our souls.” James referred to these first believers as “firstfruits of his creatures.” This initial ingathering was a guarantee of a fuller harvest of believers to come. The truth of sovereign regeneration stood behind this confidence of James, for he knew that God would overcome all resistance in the hearts of all of the elect.
Calvin saw this very clearly. The Genevan Reformer explains, “When he says that God of His own will, or spontaneously, hath begotten us, he intimates that He was induced by no other reason, as the will and counsel of God are often set in opposition to the merits of men.… As our election before the foundation of the world was gratuitous, so we are illuminated by the grace of God alone as to the knowledge of the truth, so that our calling corresponds with our election. The Scripture shows that we have been gratuitously adopted by God before we were born.” Such a view of regeneration gives all glory to God.
Lawson, S. J. (2006). Foundations of Grace (1400 BC–AD 100) (Vol. 1, pp. 506–507)