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The FIRST FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT, OR, THE
FORETASTE OF HEAVEN.
Rom. viii. 23.
And not only they, but ourselves also who have the
first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groán within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of the body.
T is by a beautiful figure of speech the apostle
had been describing, in the foregoing verses, the unnatural abuse wbich the creatures suffer through the sins of men, when they are employed to sinful purposes and the dishonour of God their Creator. Permit me to read the words and represent the sense of them in a short paraphrase. Ver. 22. We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. The earth itself sented as groaning to bear such loads of iniquity, snch a multitude of wicked men who abuse the creatures of God to the dishonour of him that made them. The air may be said to groan to give breath to those vile wretches who abuse it in filthiness, and foolish talking, to the dishonour of God, and to the scandal of their neighbours ; it groans to furnish men with breath that is abused in idolatry by the false worship of the true God, or the worship of creatures which is abominable in his sight. The sun itself may be said to groan to give light to those sinners who abuse both day-light and darkness in rioting and wantonness, in doing mischief among men and committing fresh iniquities against their Maker. The moon and stars are abused by adulterers.and thieves, and other midnight sinners, when they any way'afford light enough to them to guide them in their pursuit of wicked ways and practises. The beasts of burden may be said also to groan and be abused, when they bear the wicked sons and daughters of Adam to the accomplishment of their iniquities : and even all the parts of the brutal world, as well as of the inanimate creation, are some way or other made to serve the detestable and wicked purposes of the sinful children of men, and may be figuratively said to groan on this account. And if we have tasted of the fruits of the Spirit of grace, we cannot but in some measure groan with the rest of the creation in expectation of the blessed day, when the creatures shall be delivered from this bondage of corruption, to which the providence of God has suffered them to be subjected in this degenerate state of things
We hope there is a time coming, when the creatures themselves shall be used according to the original appointment of their Maker, agrecable to their own first design, and for the good of their fellow crcatures, and supremely for the honour of their God, in that day when “ holiness to the Lord shall be written upon the bells of the horses ;" and every pot in Jerusalem shall be holiness' unto the Lord of hosts. Why should we not join then with the whole creation in groaning and longing after this promised time, when all the works of God shall be restored to their riglitful use, and the glory of the Maker shall somo way or other benade to shine in every one of theni?
The apostle then adds, in the words of my text, And not these creatures only, but ourselves also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we who are filled with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, and eminently the first fruits hereof appear in our taste and relisli of the divine provisions that Ciod has given us here in this world to prepare for a better ; and even bestows upon some of his Christian servants these first fruits of the tree of paradise, these blessings and these foretastes which are near akin to those of the upper world, when the saints shall be raised from the dead, when their adoption shall be dearly manifested and they shall look like the children of God, and their bodies and all their natural powers shall be redeemed from those disorders, whether of sin or sorrow, and from all the springs and seeds of them, which they are more or less liable to feel in the present state.
Here let it be observed, that the first fruits of any field, or plant, or tree, are of the same kind with the full product or the harvest : therefore it is plain, that the first fruits of the Spirit in this place cannot chiefly signify the gifts of the Spirit, such as the gifts of tongues, or of healing, or of miracles, nor the gifts of prophecy, preaching, or praying, because these are not the employments nor the enjoyments of heaven., The first fruits of the Spirit must rather refer therefore to the knowledge and holiness, the graces and the joys which are more perfect and glorious in the heavenly state, than they were ever designed to be here upon earth. Now these first fruits of graces and joys are sometimes bestowed upon Christians in this world, in such a degree as brings them near to the heavenly state ; and that is the chief observation I design to draw from these words, viz. That God has been pleased to give some of his children here on earth several of the foretastes of the heavenly blessedness, the graces and the joys of the upper world ; as they are tne first fruits of that paradise to wäich we are travelling ; and these privileges have brought some of the saints within the verge of the courts of heaven, within the confines and borders of the celestial country. What these are I shall shew immediately ; but before I represent then I desire to lay down these few cautions.
CAUTION 1. These sensible foretastes of heaven do not belong to all Christians ; these are not such ge. neral blessings of the covenant of grace, of which every Christian is made partaker ; but they are special favours now and then bestowed on some particular persons by the special will of God. I. Such as are more eminent in faith, and boliness, and prayer than others are, such as have made great advancements in every part of religion, in mortification to the world, in spiritual-mindedness, in humility, and in much converse with God, &c. Or, 2. Sometimes these first fruits may be given unto such as are weak both in reason and in faith, and may be babes in Christ, and are not able by their reasoning powers to search out their evidences for heaven, especially under some present temptation or darkness. Or, 3. Sometimes to those who are called by providence to go through huge and uncommon trials and sufferings, in order to support their spirits, and bear up their courage, their faith and patience.
It is true, the more general and common way whereby God prepares his people for heaven, is by leading them through several steps of advancing holiness, sincere repentance,' mortification of sin, weanedness from the world, likeness to God, heavenlymindedness, &c. These are indeed the usual preparatives for glory, and the surest evidences of a state of grace. Therefore let not any person imagine he is not a true Christian, because he hath not enjoyed these special favours and signal manifestations.
CAUTION 2. If there be any who have been favoured with these peculiar blessings, they must not expect them to be constant and perpetual, nor always to be given in the same manner or same measure ; they are rare blessings and special reviving cordials ; they are not the common food of Christians, nor the . daily nourishment of the saints. The word of God, and the grace of Christ in the promises is our daily support, and the constant nourishment of our souls. Cordials are not given for our daily nourishment in the life of grace.
CAUTION 3. However great and rapturous these foretastes may be, let us not so depend on them as to neglect the more substantial and solid evidences for heaven, and those steps of preparation which I have elsewhere mentioned. Let not those who have enjoyed them give a loose to their souls, and let go their watchfulness, or neglect their daily mortification and diligence in every duty. Some of these divine raptures have sometimes been so nearly counterfeited by raptures of fancy, by warm self love, or perhaps by the deceit of evil angels, that they are not so safe a foundation for our dependance and assured hope, as the soul's experience of a sincere repentance, and general turn of heart to God, and mortification of sin, and delight in every practice of holiness. The devil sometimes has transformed himself into an angel of light, 2 Cor. xi. 14. And there have been some who at first hearing of the gospel have had wondrous raptures. Heb. vi. 4. It is said, they have tasted of the powers of the world to come, &c. who have yet fallen away again, and having lost all their sense and savour of divine things, have become vile apostates.
CAUTION 4. If you seem to enjoy any of these affectionate and rapturous foretastes of heaven, be jeaJous of the truth of them, if they have not a proportionable sanctifying influence upon your souls and your actions.