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“[That we might be to the praise of His glory:]

We who had before hoped in the Christ, in whom also ye have hoped,

Since ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation,—

In whom indeed, when ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise,

Which is the earnest of our inheritance, till the redemption of God’s possession,—

To the praise of His glory.”

Eph. i. 12–14.

When the apostle reaches the “heritage” conferred upon us in Christ (ver. 11), he is on the boundary between the present and the future. Into that future he now presses forward, gathering from it his crowning tribute “to the praise of God’s glory.” We shall find, however, that this heritage assumes a twofold character, as did the conception of the inheritance of the Lord in the Old Testament. If the saints have their heritage in Christ, partly possessed and partly to be possessed, God has likewise, and antecedently, His inheritance in them, of which He too has still to take full possession.4747   Exod. xix. 3–6; Deut. iv. 20, 21; 1 Kings viii. 51, 53; Ps. lxxviii. 71, etc. With the above comp. Gen. xv. 8; Numb. xviii. 20; Jos. xiii. 33; Ps. xvi. 5.

51 Opening upon this final prospect, St Paul touches on a subject of supreme interest to himself and that could not fail to find a place in his great Act of Praise—viz., the admission of the Gentiles to the spiritual property of Israel. The thought of the heirship of believers and of God’s previous counsel respecting it (ver. 11), brought before his mind the distinction between Jew and Gentile and the part assigned to each in the Divine plan. Hence he varies the general refrain in verse 12 by saying significantly, “that we might be to the praise of His glory.” This emphatic we is explained in the opening phrase of the last strophe: “that have beforehand fixed our hope on the Christ,”—the heirs of Israel’s hope in “Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.” With this “we” of Paul’s Jewish consciousness the “ye also” of verse 13 is set in contrast by his vocation as Gentile apostle. This second pronoun, by one of Paul’s abrupt turns of thought, is deprived of its predicating verb; but that is given already by the “hoped” of the last clause. “The Messianic hope, Israel’s ancient heirloom, in its fulfilment is yours as much as ours.”

This hope of Israel pointed Israelite and Gentile believer alike to the completion of the Messianic era, when the mystery of God should be finished and His universe redeemed from the bondage of corruption (vv. 10, 14). By the “one hope” of the Christian calling the Church is now made one. From this point of view the apostle in chapter ii. 12 describes the condition in which the gospel found his Gentile readers as that of men cut off from Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise,—in a word, “having no hope”; while he and his Jewish fellow-believers held the priority that belonged to those whose are the promises. 52 The apostle stands precisely at the juncture where the wild shoot of nature is grafted into the good olive tree. A generation later no one would have thought of writing of “the Christ in whom you (Gentiles) also have found hope”; for then Christ was the established possession of the Gentile Church.

To these Christless heathen Christ and His hope came, when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation.” A great light had sprung up for them that sat in darkness; the good tidings of salvation came to the lost and despairing. “To the Gentiles,” St Paul declared, addressing the obstinate Jews of Rome, “this salvation of God was sent: they indeed will hear it” (Acts xxviii. 28). Such was his experience in Ephesus and all the Gentile cities. There were hearing ears and open hearts, souls longing for the word of truth and the message of hope. The trespass of Israel had become the riches of the world. For this on his readers’ behalf he gives joyful thanks,—that his message proved to be “the gospel of your salvation.”

Salvation, as St Paul understands it, includes our uttermost deliverance, the end of death itself (1 Cor. xv. 26). He renders praise to God for that He has sealed Gentile equally with Jewish believers with the stamp of His Spirit, which makes them His property and gives assurance of absolute redemption.

There are three things to be considered in this statement: the seal itself, the conditions upon which, and the purpose for which it is affixed.

I. A seal is a token of proprietorship put by the owner upon his property;4848   Ch. iv. 30. The “seal” of 2 Tim. ii. 19 has both the first and third of these meanings. or it is the authentication of some53 statement or engagement, the official stamp that gives it validity;4949   Rom. iv. 11; 1 Cor. ix. 2; John iii. 33, vi. 27. or it is the pledge of inviolability guarding a treasure from profane or injurious hands.5050   Matt. xxvii. 66; Rev. v. 1, etc. There is the protecting seal, the ratifying seal, and the proprietary seal. The same seal may serve each or all of these purposes. Here the thought of possession predominates (comp. ver. 4); but it can scarcely be separated from the other two. The witness of the Holy Spirit marks men out as God’s purchased right in Christ (1 Cor. vi. 19, 20). In that very fact it guards them from evil and wrong (iv. 30), while it ratifies their Divine sonship (Gal. iv. 6) and guarantees their personal share in the promises of God (2 Cor. i. 20–22). It is a bond between God and men; a sign at once of what we are and shall be to God, and of what He is and will be to us. It secures, and it assures. It stamps us for God’s possession, and His kingdom and glory as our possession.

This seal is constituted by the Holy Spirit of the promise,—in contrast with the material seal, “in the flesh, wrought by hand,”5151   Ch. ii. 11; comp. Rom. i. 28, 29; Gal. v, 5, 6; Phil. iii. 2, 3. which marked the children of the Old Covenant from Abraham downwards, previously to the fulfilment of the promise (Gal. iii. 14). We bear it in the inmost part of our nature, where we are nearest to God: “The Spirit witnesseth to our spirit.” “The Israelites also were sealed, but by circumcision, like cattle and irrational animals. We were sealed by the Spirit, as sons” (Chrysostom). The stamp of God is on the consciousness of His children. “We know that Christ abides in us,” writes St John, “from the Spirit which He gave us” (1 Ep. iii. 24). Under 54 this seal is conveyed the sum of blessing comprised in our salvation. Jesus promised, “Your heavenly Father will give His Holy Spirit to them that ask” (Luke xi. 13), as if there were nothing else to ask. Giving us this, God gives everything, gives us Himself! In substance or anticipation, this one bestowment contains all good things of God.

The apostle writes “the Spirit of the promise, the Holy [Spirit],” with emphasis on the word of quality; for the testifying power of the seal lies in its character. “Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John iv. 1). There are false prophets, deceiving and deceived; there are promptings from “the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience,” diabolical inspirations, so plausible and astonishing that they may deceive the very elect. It is a most perilous error to identify the supernatural with the Divine, to suppose mere miracles and communications from the invisible sphere a sign of the working of God. Antichrist can mimic Christ by his “lying wonders and deceit of unrighteousness” (2 Thess. ii. 8–12). Jesus never appealed to the power of His works in proof of His mission, apart from their ethical quality. God’s Spirit works after His kind, and makes ours a holy spirit. There is an objective and subjective witness—the obverse and reverse of the medal (2 Tim. ii. 19). To be sealed by the Holy Spirit is, in St Paul’s dialect, the same thing as to be sanctified; only, the phrase of this text brings out graphically the promissory aspect of sanctification, its bearing on our final redemption.5252   Comp. Rom. viii. 9–11; 2 Cor. v. 1–5.

When the sealing Spirit is called the Spirit of 55 promise, does the expression look backward or forward? Is the apostle thinking of the past promise now fulfilled, or of some promise still to be fulfilled? The former, undoubtedly, is true. The promise (the article is significant5353   Acts i. 4, ii. 33, 39, xiii. 32, xxvi. 6; Rom. iv. 13–20; Gal. iii. 14–29.) is, in the words of Christ, “the promise of the Father.” On the day of Pentecost St Peter pointed to the descent of the Holy Spirit as God’s seal upon the Messiahship of Jesus, fulfilling what was promised to Israel for the last days. When this miraculous effusion was repeated in the household of Cornelius, the Jewish apostle saw its immense significance. He asked, “Can any one forbid water that these should be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?” (Acts x. 47). This was the predicted criterion of the Messianic times. Now it was given, and with an abundance beyond hope,—poured out, in the full sense of Joel’s words, upon all flesh.

Now, if God has done so much—for this is the implied argument of verses 13, 14—He will surely accomplish the rest. The attainment of past hope is the warrant of present hope. He who gives us His own Spirit, will give us the fulness of eternal life. The earnest implies the sum. In the witness of the Holy Spirit there is for the Christian man the power of an endless life, a spring of courage and patience that can never fail.

II. But there are very definite conditions, upon which this assurance depends. “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”—there is the outward condition: “when you believed”—there is the inward and subjective qualification for the affixing of the seal of God to the heart.

56 How characteristic is this antithesis of hearing and faith!5454   See Rom. x. 14–18; Gal. iii. 2, 5; Col. i. 6, 23; 1 Thess. ii. 13; 2 Tim. i. 13. St Paul delights to ring the changes upon these terms. The gospel he carried about with him was a message from God to men, the good news about Jesus Christ. It needs, on the one hand, to be effectively uttered, proclaimed so as to be heard with the understanding; and, on the other hand, it must be trustfully received and obeyed. Then the due result follows. There is salvation,—conscious, full.

If they are to believe unto salvation, men must be made to hear the word of truth. Unless the good news reaches their ears and their heart, it is no good news to them. “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. x. 14). The light may be true, and the eyes clear and open; but there is no vision till both meet, till the illuminating ray falls on the sensitive spot and touches the responsive nerve. How many sit in darkness, groping and wearying for the light, ready for the message if there were any to speak it to them! Great would Paul’s guilt have been, if when Christ called him to preach to the heathen, he had refused to go, if he had withheld the gospel of salvation from the multitudes waiting to receive it at his lips. Great also is our fault and blame, and heavy the reproach against the Church to-day, when with means in her hand to make Christ known to almost the whole world, she leaves vast numbers of men within her reach in ignorance of His message. She is not the proprietor of the Christian truth: it is God’s gospel; and she holds it as God’s trustee for mankind,—that through her57 “the message might be fully preached, and that all the nations might hear” (2 Tim. iv. 17). She has St Paul’s programme in hand still to complete, and loiters over it.

The nature of the message constitutes our duty to proclaim it. It is “the word of truth.” If there be any doubt upon this, if our certainty of the Christian truth is shaken and we can no longer announce it with full conviction, our zeal for its propagation naturally declines. Scepticism chills and kills missionary fervour, as the breath of the frost the young growth of spring. At home and amongst our own people evangelistic agencies are supported by many who have no very decided personal faith, from secondary motives,—with a view to their social and reformatory benefits, out of philanthropic feeling and love to “the brother whom we have seen.” The foreign missions of the Church, like the work of the Gentile apostle, gauge her real estimate of the gospel she believes and the Master she serves.

But if we have no sure word of prophecy to speak, we had better be silent. Men are not saved by illusion or speculation. Christianity did not begin by offering to mankind a legend for a gospel, or win the ear of the world for a beautiful romance. When the apostles preached Jesus and the resurrection, they declared what they knew. To have spoken otherwise, to have uttered cunningly devised fables or pious phantasies or conjectures of their own, would have been, in their view, to bear false witness against God. Before the hostile scrutiny of their fellow-men, and in prospect of the awful judgement of God, they testified the facts about Jesus Christ, the things that they had “heard, and seen with their eyes, and which their hands had handled concerning the word of life.” They were as sure of these things as of their own being. 58 Standing upon this ground and with this weapon of truth alone in their hands, they denounced “the wiles of error” and the “craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive” (iv. 14).

And they could always speak of this word of truth, addressing whatsoever circle of hearers or of readers, as “the good news of your salvation.” The pronoun, as we have seen, is emphatic. The glory of Paul’s apostolic mission was its universalism. His message was to every man he met. His latest writings glow with delight in the world-wide destination of his gospel.5555   1 Tim. ii. 1–7, iv. 10; Tit. ii. 11. It was his consolation that the Gentiles in multitudes received the Divine message to which his countrymen closed their ears. And he rejoiced in this the more, because he foresaw that ultimately the gospel would return to its native home, and at last amid “the fulness of the Gentiles all Israel would be saved” (Rom. xi. 13–32). At present Israel was not prepared to seek, while the Gentiles were seeking righteousness by the way of faith (Rom. ix. 30–33).

For it is upon this question of faith that the whole issue turns. Hearing is much, when one hears the word of truth and news of salvation. But faith is the point at which salvation becomes ours—no longer a possibility, an opportunity, but a fact: “in whom indeed, when you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” So characteristic is this act of the new life to which it admits, that St Paul is in the habit of calling Christians, without further qualification, simply believers (“those who believe,” or “who believed”). Faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit are associated in his thoughts, as closely as Faith and Justification. 59 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” was the question he put to the Baptist’s disciples whom he found at Ephesus on first arriving there (Acts xix. 2). This was the test of the adequacy of their faith. He reminds the Galatians that they “received the Spirit from the hearing of faith,” and tells them that in this way the blessing and the promise of Abraham were theirs already (Gal. iii. 2, 7, 14). Faith in the word of Christ admits the Spirit of Christ, who is in the word waiting to enter. Faith is the trustful surrender and expectancy of the soul towards God; it sets the heart’s door open for Christ’s incoming through the Spirit This was the order of things from the beginning of the new dispensation. “God gave to them,” says St Peter of the first baptized Gentiles, “the like gift as He did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts xi. 15–18). Upon our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters the soul and announces Himself by His message of adoption, crying in us to God, Abba, Father (Gal. iv. 6, 7).

In the chamber of our spirit, while we abide in faith, the Spirit of the Father and the Son dwells with us, witnessing to us of the love of God and leading us into all truth and duty and divine joy, instilling a deep and restful peace, breathing an energy that is a fire and fountain of life within the breast, which pours out itself in prayer and labour for the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit is no mere gift to receive, or comfort to enjoy; He is an almighty Force in the believing soul and the faithful Church.

III. The end for which the seal of God was affixed to Paul’s Gentile readers, along with their Jewish 60 brethren in Christ, appears in the last verse, with which the Act of Praise terminates: “sealed,” he says, “with the Holy Spirit, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession.”

The last of these words is the equivalent of the Old Testament phrase rendered in Exodus xix. 5, and elsewhere, “a peculiar treasure unto me”; in Deuteronomy vii. 6, etc., “a peculiar people” (i.e., people of possession). The same Greek term is employed by the Septuagint translators in Malachi iii. 17, where our Revisers have substituted “a peculiar treasure” for the familiar, but misleading “jewels” of the older Version. St Peter in his first epistle (ii. 9, 10) transfers the title from the Jewish people to the new Israel of God, who are “an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” In that passage, as in this, the Revisers have inserted the word God’s in order to signify whose possession the term signifies in Biblical use. In the other places in the New Testament where the same Greek noun occurs,5656   1 Thess. v. 9; 2 Thess. ii. 14; Heb. x. 39. it retains its primary active force, and denotes “obtaining of the glory,” etc., “saving of the soul.” The word signifies not the possessing so much as the acquiring or securing of its object. The Latin Vulgate suitably renders this phrase, in redemptionem acquisitions,—“till the redemption of the acquisition.”

God has “redeemed unto Himself a people”; He has “bought us with a price.” His rights in us are both natural and acquired; they are redemptional rights, the recovered rights of the infinite love which in Jesus Christ saved mankind by extreme sacrifice from the doom of death eternal. This redemption 61 “we have, in the remission of our trespasses” (ver. 7). But this is only the beginning. Those whose sin is cancelled and on whom God now looks with favour in Christ, are thereby redeemed and saved (ii. 5, 8).5757   Comp. Chapter VIII. They are within the kingdom of grace; they have passed out of death into life. They have but to persist in the grace into which they have entered, and all will be well. “Now,” says the apostle to the Romans, “you are made free from sin and made servants to God; you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life.”

Our salvation is come; but, after all, it is still to come. We find the apostle using the words “save” and “redeem” in this twofold sense, applying them both to the commencement and the consummation of the new life.5858   For the former usage see, along with ver. 7 and ch. ii. 5, 8; Rom. iii, 24, x. 9; Titus iii. 5; 2 Tim. i. 9; Col. i. 14; Heb. ix. 15; for the latter, ch. iv. 30; Luke xxi. 28; Rom. v. 9, 10, viii. 23; Phil. ii. 12; 1 Thess. v. 8, 9; 2 Tim. ii. 10, iv. 18. It may be doubted whether St Paul ever uses these terms to denote present salvation or redemption without the final issue being also in his thoughts. Perhaps he would have called the redemption of ver. 7, in contrast with that of Rom. viii. 23, “the redemption of the spirit.” The last act, in Romans viii. 23, he calls “the redemption of the body.” This will reinstate the man in the integrity of his twofold being as a son of God. Hence our bodily redemption is there called an adoption. For as Jesus Christ by His resurrection was “marked out [or instated] as Son of God in power” (Rom. i. 4), not otherwise will it be with His many brethren. Their reappearance in the new “body of glory” will be a “revelation” to the universe “of the sons of God.”

But this last redemption—or rather this last act of the one redemption—like the first, is through the blood 62 of the cross. Christ has borne for us in His death the entire penalty of sin; the remission of that penalty comes to us in two distinct stages. The shadow of death is lifted off from our spirits now, in the moment of forgiveness. But for reasons of discipline it remains resting upon our bodily frame. Death is a usurper and trespasser in the bounds of God’s heritage. Virtually and in principle, he is abolished; but not in effect. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave,”5959   Hosea xiii. 14; Isa. xxv. 8. the Lord said of His Israel, with a meaning deeper than His prophet knew. When that is done, then God will have redeemed, in point of fact, those possessions in humanity which He so much prizes, that for their recovery He spared not His Son.

So long as mortality afflicts us, God cannot be satisfied on our account. His children are suffering and tortured; His people mourn under the oppression of the enemy. They sigh, and creation with them, under the burdensome and infirm tabernacle of the flesh, this body of our humiliation for which the hungry grave clamours. God’s new estate in us is still encumbered with the liabilities in which the sin of the race involved us, with the “ills that flesh is heir to.” But this mortgage—that we call, with a touching euphemism, the debt of nature—will at last be discharged. Soon shall we be free for ever from the law of sin and death. “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come with singing to Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

To God, as He looks down upon men, the seal 63 of His Spirit upon their hearts anticipates this full emancipation. He sees already in the redeemed spirit of His children what will be manifest in their glorious heavenly form. The same token is to ourselves as believing men the “earnest of our inheritance.” Note that at this point the apostle drops the “you” by which he has for several sentences distinguished between Jewish and Gentile brethren. He identifies them with himself and speaks of “our inheritance.” This sudden resumption of the first person, the self-assertion of the filial consciousness in the writer breaking through the grammatical order, is a fine trait of the Pauline manner.6060   The same incoherence occurs in Gal. iv. 5–7: “that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.”

Arrhabon, the earnest (fastening penny), is a Phœnician word of the market, which passed into Greek and Latin,—a monument of the daring pioneers of Mediterranean commerce. It denotes the part of the price given by a purchaser in making a bargain, or of the wages given by the hirer concluding a contract of service, by way of assurance that the stipulated sum will be forthcoming. Such pledge of future payment is at the same time a bond between those concerned, engaging each to his part in the transaction.

The earnest is the seal, and something more. It is an instalment, a token in kind, a foretaste of the feast to come. In the parallel passage, Romans viii. 23, the same earnest is called “the firstfruit of the Spirit.” What the earliest sheaf is to the harvest, that the entrance of the Spirit of God into a human soul is to the glory of its ultimate salvation. The sanctity, the joy, the sense of recovered life is the same 64 in kind then and now, differing only in degree and expression.

Of the “earnest of the Spirit” St Paul has spoken twice already, in 2 Corinthians i. 22 and v. 5, where he cites this inner witness to assure us, in the first instance, that God will fulfil to us His promises, “how many soever they be”; and in the second, that our mortal nature shall be “swallowed up of life”—assimilated to the living spirit to which it belongs—and that “God has wrought us for this very thing.” These earlier sayings explain the apostle’s meaning here. God has made us His sons, in accordance with His purpose formed in the depths of eternity (ver. 5). As sons, we are His heirs in fellowship with Christ, and already have received rich blessings out of this heritage (ver. 11). But the richest part of it, including that which concerns the bodily form of our life, is still unredeemed, notwithstanding that the price of its redemption is paid.

For this we wait till the time appointed of the Father,—the time when He will reclaim His heritage in us, and give us full possession of our heritage in Christ. We do not wait, as did the saints of former ages, ignorant of the Father’s purpose for our future lot. “Life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel.” We see beyond the chasm of death. We enjoy in the testimony of the Holy Spirit the foretaste of an eternal and glorious life for all the children of God—nay, the pledge that the reign of evil and death shall end throughout the universe.

With this hope swelling their hearts, the apostle’s readers once more triumphantly join in the refrain: To the praise of His glory.

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