The Seal and Earnest of the Spirit (J. C. Brewer)

By Jerry C. Brewer

Vol. 114, No. 09

The application of the terms earnest and seal to the Holy Spirit’s work belong to the apostolic period when the gospel was being revealed in parts and portions and define two necessary aspects of the gospel scheme of redemption — revelation and confirmation. Purposed from eternity and hidden beneath the types and shadows of the old covenant, the scheme of redemption was a mystery that is now revealed.

…how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Eph. 3:3-4).

The word mystery in the above passage does not mean “mysterious” or “mystical.” It means unknowable through human reasoning and wisdom.

The word mystery in Revelation comports with the same meaning of the word as used elsewhere in the New Testament — that is, the spiritual truths not discoverable by human reason; understandable, but hidden from human knowledge until revealed. The word has the connotation of secret doctrine, hence prior to revelation it was a hidden thing; but when revealed, it was brought within human intelligence and understanding. …The word mystery did not mean mysterious. It meant that which could not be known until it was made known, or revealed, and it meant the gospel plan of salvation. The doctrine of the New Testament is, in this sense, called a mystery. (Foy E. Wallace Jr., The Book of Revelation, Sec. II, Part IV, p. 82).

Undiscoverable by human wisdom, God’s plan could be known only by revelation, which requires inspiration. Inspiration requires confirmation. The scheme of redemption was revealed in words, (1 Cor. 2:10-13), and confirmed by signs and wonders (Heb. 2:1-4). Inspiration was the means God used to reveal his plan. Miraculous gifts of the Spirit confirmed that those through whom it was spoke the word of God. This was the function of the Holy Spirit whose work of revelation and confirmation is expressed in the terms “seal” and “earnest.”

The earnest of the Spirit relates to those gifts of partial revelation of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 13 and is used only in 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14. From the Greek word arrhabon, defined as, “a pledge, i.e. part of the purchase-money or property given in advance as security for the rest: – earnest.” (James Strong, Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible, “Greek Dictionary of The New Testament,” p. 16).

That which was given as an “earnest” was not the Holy Spirit, but that which the Spirit gave — partial knowledge of God’s word, which blossomed into the perfect (complete) revelation of His will. The earnest of the Spirit constituted a partial revelation until the “redemption of the purchased possession” which was the completion of divine revelation.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail whether there be tongues, they shall cease, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away (1 Cor. 13:8-10).

The partial revelation of the gospel, imparted to Christians in the first century, was an earnest or pledge of the full revelation to come. That partial knowledge would cease when those parts were gathered into the whole, which Paul styled “that which is perfect.” The revelation we now possess in the New Testament is the sum of the parts extant in the apostolic age. (The word perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10 means “completeness” and when the parts of the mystery were gathered into the whole, the full price was paid of which the earnest was a pledge.)

The Holy Spirit was not the earnest in the hearts of men in the first century, except in a metonymical sense where the cause was put for the effect. When Paul said God had “given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” he referred to that which the Spirit revealed, not the Spirit himself. Neither is the Holy Spirit an earnest in the hearts of Christians today. Many who so teach contend that the Spirit constitutes a “down payment” or “pledge” from God of eternal salvation. But the full purchase price of anything is paid in the same currency as the down payment. If the Holy Spirit is the pledge or earnest of salvation, then God is making his down payment with a currency other than that which he will issue as the balance of the purchase. Besides, to say that God must make a “down-payment” on salvation is tantamount to saying we cannot trust him to fulfill his pledge to us!

When Paul said God had “given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” (2 Cor. 1:21-22), he distinguished between himself and the Corinthians. The pronoun “you” in this passage refers to the Corinthians and the pronouns “us” and “our” refer to Paul and the other apostles. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was Holy Spirit baptism, which the apostles received. He made the same distinction in the Ephesians’ epistle.

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11-14).

The Ephesians were sealed with the gift of tongues and given the earnest of prophecy when Paul laid hands on them after they were baptized (Acts 19:1-6). Paul explains the purpose of the earnest and seal of the Spirit in the Ephesians in the following statement:

Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened (Eph. 1:15-18).

The earnest of the Spirit was revelation, which came through Holy Spirit baptism, and the seal of the Spirit was the confirmation of that revelation. When gifts of revelation were imparted through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, they were accompanied by miraculous powers for confirmation.

The genuineness of the earnest of the Spirit, or the gospel that resided in inspired men, was attested by the Spirit’s seal of “signs and wonders and divers miracles” upon them. From the Greek sphragizo, the word seal is defined as, “to stamp (with a signet or private mark) for security or preservation …to keep secret, to attest. … The stamp impressed (as a mark of privacy or genuineness), lit, or fig. seal.” (Strong, p. 70). This seal or sign of genuineness was a visible attestation of the authority by which inspired men spoke.

Those who claim this seal for Christians today cannot produce any visible sign of such seal. Their argument is the same one made for the direct indwelling of the Holy Spirit — “I know it because the Bible says I have it.” But what is the purpose of a seal of authority? The great seal of a state attests to and confirms the genuineness of documents issued by the state’s authority and is visible to all who read them. The seal of the Spirit was composed of the signs worked by inspired men of the first century and visibly attested to their authority from God. The seal of the Spirit wasn’t some invisible thing placed upon them for God’s benefit. Why would God have to attest ownership of Christians to himself? Does he not know them that are his without having some sort of mark placed upon them? The visible seal of the earnest of the Spirit was what Paul called “the signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12). That was the sign or seal of his apostleship and of all who had the earnest of the Spirit in the first century.

Apostasy

By C. R. Nichols

Vol. 114, No. 09

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, be is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned John 15:1-6).

In this passage Jesus represented himself as the “true vine” and declared that his disciples were “branches.” All the “branches” (disciples) are said to be in the “vine” – that is, “in Christ.” Some of the “branches” in him are said to “bear fruit,” and some of the “branches” in him are said to be fruitless. The Lord said: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away. …If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” To me it seems the lesson to be learned from the foregoing passage is too clear to be lost on the honest reader.

Those who teach that it is not possible for a child of God to so conduct himself as to be lost, in their effort to break the force of the passage we now study, declare that the non-fruit-bearing branches are not, in fact, in the “vine” (Christ); that they are no more than “water sprouts”; that they are only nominally in the vine, not in the vine in fact; that they have no vital connection with the vine. Is it not strange to you that the Lord did not have at his command language sufficient to express his thought? True, the Lord says the non-fruit-bearing branches are “in” him — in Christ; and to save a theory, here comes some teacher and declares they were not “in” the vine — that is, they had no vital connection with the vine. Indeed, if they had no vital connection with the vine, what is the necessity of taking them away? Would they not have withered and died without the necessity of being taken away?

The Lord says the branches that bore fruit were “in” the vine; and, too, he declared the branches that did not bear fruit were “in” the vine.

In Christ

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). “Salvation” is in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). The non-fruit-bearing branches are said to be in Christ; and that being true, they were saved, for salvation is in Christ. They enjoyed the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). But because some of these branches did not bear fruit, it is said they were taken away and cast into the fire and burned. The destiny of such branches will be the opposite of that which the righteous enjoy. In the face of this plain lesson in the word of God, some insist that when one time a man becomes a Christian, there is no possibility of his failure to enter heaven.

Become a Castaway

“I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27). The American Standard Version reads, “I buffet my body,” instead of, “I keep under my body.” The Greek word from which “keep under” is rendered is from a word which means to “strike one upon the part beneath the eye; to beat black and blue; hence, to discipline by hardships” (Bagster). “To beat black and blue, to smite so as to cause bruises and livid spots. …Like a boxer, I buffet my body, handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships 1 Cor. 9:27.” (Thayer.) The word is derived from the practice of athletes training by subjecting the body to severe discipline to make it strong and able to stand great strain. It then came to have the meaning of treating harshly. Paul buffeted his body he brought it into subjection, he beat it down. Why? “Lest … when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” What is the import of the “castaway”? Among the ancients, as well as in our day, metals are tested; and if a piece of metal does not meet the necessary standard for a certain work, it is cast away — that is, it is rejected. The word is found in the following passages and rendered “castaway,” “reprobate,” “rejected”:

  • Romans 1:28: Gave them over to “reprobate mind.”
  • 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I myself should be a castaway.”
  • 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.”
  • 2 Timothy 3:8: “Reprobate concerning the faith.”
  • Titus 1:16: “Unto every good work reprobate.”

In the chapter from which the verse we are studying is taken Paul is discussing games in which people in his day engaged, especially contests in which physical supremacy was tested, and became the decisive feature, other things being equal. The prize awarded to the successful one in the contest was a crown of leaves — a crown or wreath made of pine straw, olive, or laurel leaves. Those who would contest for the prize were required to undergo a course of training for several weeks; they were required to make oath that they had trained the required length of time; that they were not guilty of crime; that they were freemen and upright in character. Each one who would compete in the arena was paraded before the crowd, and it was challenged to lodge against any of the prospective contestants any charge that would disqualify him from the games. If one of the participants did not “strive lawfully,” he was disqualified, and at times such a one was chased from the arena in disgrace. Judges were chosen for the different divisions of the games, and for some time before the contests the ones who were to contend for the prize were required to train before the ones who would judge them. To these games Paul makes reference, saying: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” – lest I be declared a “reprobate” and rejected at the final day of rewards.

I was thoroughly disgusted at the only serious attempt I have heard by those who declare one cannot fall from grace and be lost. My opponent said:

Paul entertained grave fears that the opposition which was hurled against him, even from false brethren, would result in a wave of protest against him; that he would allow his body to fall into sin and bring about his rejection as a preacher; that his brethren would cast him out of the ministry, silence him as a preacher. He had no fears of his final acceptance with God; he was certain of his entrance finally into heaven; but he was fearful that some of those in the church who had questioned his authority as an apostle would bring to bear the weight of their influence and cause the churches to reject him — cast him away.

Paul was not discussing the possibility of being misunderstood, nor of being misrepresented, and, as a result of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, being rejected by his brethren; but he was careful to conduct himself in such a way that he would not be rejected at the last day. He was alive to the necessity of buffeting his body, bringing it into subjection and keeping it into subjection.

In the Christian race, which Paul and all other Christians are running, it is necessary that we strive lawfully. One is not to allow the body full swing and meet its every demand, but to bring it into subjection, beat it down, lest the Judge, the Judge who awards the crown, finds fault and rejects you. But the Judge who is to reward the man striving in the Christian race makes no mistakes. Under him you are to train for the continued contest, and by him you will be rewarded at the last day. Paul declares he was making the effort to keep his body in subjection, lest be become a reprobate, lest he be rejected at the last day. Surely if one who saw the Lord, one who served as an apostle, preached so extensively, could become a “castaway,” it is necessary for you also to take care.