James 1:18.---' He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.'

Firstfruits! The phrase might very well carry as back into the history of ancient peoples and savage religions. But in the New Testament, each time the phrase occurs, the Spirit of it is ethical and devotional. Yet it has once been described with much vivacity of language of a morning in Jerusalem when the firstfruits of the fig harvest were brought into the city. It was as though the whole community held high festival. There was rejoicing, song, and laughter through the streets. Happy crowds greeted each other with phrases about the harvest, like our smiling and conventional greetings at Easter-time or Christmas. The day was bright with thanksgiving, and all because a few figs had been brought into the market--- figs which would soon be as common as blackberries. But the point is that they were the pledge of the fuller harvest. They were the promise and prophesy of what was to be. This is a great and splendid hope. Analyze the elements which have given it form and breath and it will be seen that age by age the blessing which is one day to be universally diffused is first found flourishing in the Christian Church. This is a corrective of the tendency to censoriousness directed against the Church of Christ, even as it is the unfailing antidote to the poison of pessimism. The Church is not perfect and never has been. It is not infallible. Infallibility is unknown amongst mortals. The Church, however Divine its origin, is human in its limitations. It is made up of human beings who are by nature children of wrath, not, that is to say, heirs of the anger of God---Paul never meant that---But wrathful children, creatures of impulse and the passion. Such impulses and passions the Christian, just because he is a Christian, seeks to make subject to the higher law, ministrant to the higher life. But be what we are, not marble saints niched in cathedral aisles, but men and women, the Church is human, fallible, imperfect. Yet, all the same, the Church is the best organization upon the face of the earth at the present time. It is so far as God has yet revealed Himself, His own most efficient instrument for accomplishing His will upon this earth. And while no candid person today dreams of denying that the record of the Church is stained and shamed by weaknesses, sins, and crimes, none the less is it true that, age by age, the blessing which is one day to be universally diffused is first found flourishing within the Church. We may express this into phrases---both true, each capable of justification in a lifetime of historical research. First, the Church has been on the side of every evil which up to the present hour has been torn and out of the life of civilization. Second, no evil has yet been torn out of the life of civilization except by the aid and inspiration of the Church. Those statements are not contradictory each of the other; each one is true in itself. The Church has sinned and has been on the side of colossal sins; but inside the Church, too, have been virtue raised to the highest point known among the mortals in grace immortal and divine; and these have waged successful war against many wrongs, are waging war which must be successful against more, and bodying forth the promise of a day when righteousness shall cover the earth as the waters covered the sea. That is not to say that the whole Church is possessed by these excellences in virtues and graces. It is not to say that the Church holds on to them without any relaxation of grip. There have been sad aberrations. There have been periods of shameful decadence. But the point is that these virtues and excellences and graces are in the Church first, and they are the firstfruits of the after universal harvest. Let us illustrate this point. The story of slavery has often been told. It is easy to say that nothing will ever extenuate the guilt of the Church in its defense of human slavery. Is just as easy to say that nothing will ever sufficiently praise the virtue of the Church in its opposition to slavery. And both statements are true. We recall stories of Christian people, slaveholders, slave dealers, and defenders of slavery. We recall just as readily stories of devotion and heroism and living glory incarnate in Christian men and women who had set themselves against it. The first ship the sail from England on the diabolical errand of buying human beings in Africa and selling them in the West Indies bore---what a travesty!---the sacred name of Jesus. Think of man-stealers on board the 'Jesus!' Hawkins, who was in command of her, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and His Crest became a manacled negro. Two hundred years later there was in England and organization called " The Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Lands ". It sent missionaries to the coast of Guinea to convert the negroes, but it owned plantations in the Barbados worked by its slaves, and it never made the slightest attempt to give Christian instructions to the victims of its own tyranny. John Newton, author of some of the loveliest lyrics in the whole world of Christian hymnody, author of that glorious hymn " how sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers ear, " was a slave dealer. The stories can be multiplied without end. But they are not any more true to the facts of history than the indubitable record that ancient civilizations, before the coming of Christ, never dreamed that slavery was wrong. The beginnings of the emancipation are to be found in the history of the early Church. The appeal, if appeal is necessary, can be made it to the non-Christian historians who have shown by chapter and verse, with convincing lucidity and with irrefutable instances, that the Church of the living God let loose upon society those burning principles which melted the shackles of the negro's limbs and decreed that the slave and should fall and the man arise. The spiritual liberty with which Christ had made people free was as the firstfruits of a harvest of social and political liberty. All this can be said, with the necessary change of phrasing, about personal purity and holiness. The two things are not the same. No man would expect to be listened to for five minutes if he claimed that the Church had been free from conspicuous failures in this regard. Licentiousness of the flesh and licentiousness of the spirit have alike marked its course. But neither should any man be regarded as well instructed who did not recognize that everything we know upon the face of the earth today of personal purity and of holiness began in the Church of God. If we open our Plato we see how that supremely lofty spirit broods with a despairing sadness over the sins which were eating out the vigor and character of his nation. Plato could conceive of three principles or forces breaking up these particular evils. First, piety, or love to a divine person; second, desire for honor, or the respect of the good; and third, love of moral beauty; though he was compelled to add "these be perhaps romantic aspirations." Yet the merest tyro in historical study knows that the three forces of which he dreamed were in an especial and Divine manner brought into the world by Jesus of Nazareth: 'Love to a Divine person; the respect of the good, that is to say, of His own followers; and the lofty feeling for moral beauty.' Wherever among the nations we find today a principle of purity at work into existence, sustained, and fostered by the Church. And as for holiness---not goodness merely, not enthusiasm, but enthusiastic love of goodness, sublimed to ecstasy---it is doubtful whether outside the Church there has ever been a holy man in this world. Yet most of us treasure the memory of at least one person whom we have at one time known to whom we would not deny the epithet, and these have been brought forth of His will by the word of truth as a kind of firstfruits of His creatures, a promise of what mankind shall be. This gospel of firstfruits is everywhere justified by the ascertained and treasured results of human struggle. Hopes which were once the secret strength of the aspiring, the consecrated and the great, are now the commonplace possession of us all. It is too late in the day to attempt to glorify in round, set phrases liberty of thought, liberty of conscience, and liberty of speech. But we know where the liberty of the soul was born. We know where its deathless words were first spoken. We know with what pen and with what ink its messages were written. It was born in the Christian Church. Its cradle was a prison cell. It was spoken by lips that torture failed to silence. It was written by fettered hands. It was inscribed in the blood of the martyrs. It grew in conflict with persecuting monarchies and hierarchies and assertive intolerances which would crush free conscience beneath the heel of the priest, and compel the Spirit of God to work through channels which kings approved. These pioneers of liberty were the firstfruits of the harvest to be reaped. Now, what has all this to teach us?---though indeed it is teaching itself all the way. Well, first, let us believe that we are the firstfruits, the pledge of the world's redemption. Why, if we could be persuaded to believe this, to believe it with realizing earnestness; if the ministry of the Spirit, following the ministry of the Word, could burn into our very soul the assurance of it, enthusiasms would be kindled in the heart of every one of us, uncontrollable, contagious, invincible, so that wherever we went it would have to be said of us as of the people who were the firstfruits of apostolic labors, 'the men who have turned the world upside-down have come here also.' We need to hold on to this truth of Scripture, to this truth of religion, this truth which is impressed upon the heart of God, that we who are what we are, with whatsoever virtues and graces we possess, with whatsoever longings for the emancipation of the world's heart from the thralldom of sin, are the firstfruits of His creatures. Are we beating our hearts out against some of the problems of our time? Do we writhe beneath a sense of injustice? Are we longing supremely for the day when man's inhumanity to man shall cease to make countless thousands mourn? And have we allowed our outlook upon the future to be darkened by the sins and sorrows of today? Then our only misfortune is that we are a little before our time? We have projected our souls into the infinite and we are not infinitely strong to transform and transfigure the present by the light of our radiant faith; but the world will come round to us yet! Let us be true to the truth we feel to be true, and let us not fear to fling at the feet of any evil the gage of battle, strong in the faith that still overcomes the world.

In Christ, timothy maranatha