by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:14
We are studying Ephesians because God gives us specific information about what the Church is, and for us that means what our new church ought to be. This statement is obviously a continuation of what the Apostle has been saying in verse 13 and especially concerning the sealing with the Holy Spirit of promise. It is not only a continuation of, but also an addition to that statement and to the entire statement which the Apostle has been making from the beginning of this Epistle.
The sealing with the Spirit is the assurance that we are the children of God. But the Apostle, in his desire to strengthen and to comfort and to build up the Ephesians, feels that he cannot leave the matter there, because there is another aspect of the truth which is in a sense still more precious. He deals with this in verse 14.
I emphasize that the Apostle is not repeating himself here or saying the same thing again in a different way. He is really taking us a step further, and still with the object and purpose of helping us to see something more of the glory of our position in Christ Jesus. It is all “to the praise of his glory.”
I. The Meaning of the Term Earnest
This term—“which is the earnest of our inheritance”—is a term which is used frequently in connection with business transactions, although it is not used as commonly today as was once the case. At one time it was a very common term in all transactions of buying and selling, and there is general agreement that it then had two meanings. One was that it was a kind of pledge that is given, a guarantee. A man buying a piece of land, for example, had not sufficient money to pay for it all; so the custom was that, as he promised to pay it all at a later date, for the time being he gave the other person something as a pledge that he would eventually pay the full price.
But there is a richer meaning to this term, namely, that it is not only a pledge but also an installment, actually a small part of the full price to be paid. There is a subtle but a real difference at this point.
Take a simple illustration. Imagine that you owe someone fifty dollars. You may give a pledge for that; for instance, you may give a book as a pledge. Then when you pay your debt you are given back your book. But if instead of giving a book as a pledge you gave an earnest, a dollar let us say, then when you come to settle up with the man from whom you borrowed, you do not get your dollar back, and then give him fifty dollars, you simply add forty-nine dollars. This is so because your earnest was actually a part of the whole.
An “earnest” then is something that is given us “on account.” The word until brings this out yet more clearly— “Who is the earnest of our inheritance until . . .” Until what? “until the redemption of the purchased possession.” It is clear that “the final completion of God’s plan” is the meaning which it carries here.
“Redemption” means deliverance by means of the payment of a ransom price, and it means here the ransom price of the blood of Christ that has been paid for our final redemption and deliverance. The blessing brought to us by the Holy Spirit, and the sealing in particular, is an installment given to us until we receive in all its fullness what Christ has purchased for us by his own precious blood.
II. The Message Conveyed by the Term Earnest
The first question is what is the difference between the sealing and the earnest. The seal assures me that I am an inheritor; it gives me an assurance with regard to my relationship to the inheritance. The earnest gives me the enjoyment of an actual portion of it and therefore increases my assurance that I shall receive all ultimately.
The Apostle’s teaching, then, is that the Holy Ghost has been given to me, and that he, by bearing witness with my spirit, has assured me that I am a child of God. God has said to me, “You are my child”, and given full proof through the sealing; but he has also given me this earnest of my inheritance so that I can begin enjoying it now.
Let us look first at the earnest as a pledge. The best way of looking at the Holy Spirit as the pledge of my inheritance is to look at the way in which the Apostle speaks of it in the eighth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Take, for instance, the eleventh verse: “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you.” The Apostle explains how in spirit we are already redeemed; we are “in Christ,” we are risen with him. But sin remains in us, and we are at times discouraged because of the fight against it. The Apostle’s comfort and encouragement is found in that verse. The fact that the Spirit dwells in us is an earnest, a pledge of what will yet happen to us completely and perfectly. There is a day coming when our very bodies will be entirely delivered from sin, the guarantee of his blessing being the presence of the Spirit within our bodies.
The Holy Spirit within us is not only a pledge, he is also an installment of our inheritance. The Apostle conveys this through the term “firstfruits.” It is a reference to an ancient custom among farming communities. At the time of harvest the farmer went out and reaped a certain amount of his crop. He then took it home and, having turned it into flour, said to his wife, “Bake this so that we can taste a sample of what is to come.” He had not yet gathered in the whole harvest but only the firstfruits. Having sown the seed in the spring, and having waited through the months of summer, at last the harvest has arrived, and he is anxious to try a little of it. The Spirit and his work within us, especially the sealing, is the firstfruits of the harvest that awaits us.
In other words, the Apostle’s teaching is that the Holy Spirit within us gives us what we as Christians should be enjoying—a foretaste of heaven! Our coming together in public worship should be a foretaste of heaven. We can safely say that the two chief blessings in heaven will be to see our blessed Lord and Savior, and to become like him. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). To see our blessed Lord and Savior face to face, to see God; this is beyond our comprehension, and we cannot grasp it because it is so glorious.
What the Apostle emphasizes is that we should be enjoying the firstfruits and the foretaste now. And elsewhere he gives us some idea as to what that means. In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 3, he writes: “Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” That happens now! We do not see him yet face to face, but we do see him with open face as in a mirror. It is by the Spirit that we are seeing a reflection of the glory of the Lord.
It is not only a guarantee, it is a part of the thing itself. I am entering into the glory even now. It begins here imperfectly and only in small portions; nevertheless it is real, a part of the glory itself.
The second aspect is that we become like our Lord, and share his life. To be like him means to be perfect. That is what we shall enjoy when we shall see him as he is, and shall have been made like him. But we are promised a foretaste of even that also in this life, for the Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance. We know something about the joy of holiness, and a hatred of sin. We learn to hate sin as Christ hated it, and to enjoy holiness and purity.
Furthermore, love is a great characteristic of heaven. When we shall see him we shall love him perfectly; but we begin to love him here. St. Paul prays for the Ephesians in his third chapter, that “being strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man”, they may begin to know something of the “breadth and the length and the depth and the height, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that (they) might be filled with all the fullness of God.” In heaven you will love him absolutely. We are meant to do so; to know his love to us, to love him, and to love one another. In heaven we shall all love one another; but that begins here.
The same applies to joy. The joy of heaven begins here. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). “Whom having not seen you love; in whom though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8)— now! If the Holy Spirit is in us we shall know this joy. That is why the Apostle repeatedly appeals to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice” (4:4). We also know “the peace of God that passes all understanding”. Heaven is perfect peace, and we know something about it here. Whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in, we may be at peace— whether we are in want, in need, or full and in abundance, we can always be enjoying this perfect peace of God.
Through the Holy Spirit within us as an earnest we begin enjoying heaven even here. We do not see it all, but God in his infinite grace and kindness and compassion has given us a foretaste. Let us truly enjoy it!