THE SEALING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Eph. 4:30:—"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption."
It is Paul's custom in his epistles to prepare for exhortation by the enunciation of truth; to lay first the foundation of fact and doctrine, and on that foundation to raise his appeals for conduct. The Epistle to the Ephesians is no exception to this rule. The former chapters of this epistle are a magnificent exposition of doctrine, a noble presentation'to Paul's readers of what God has done for them in election and redemption and calling, and of the great privileges which they have obtained in Christ. To this he adjoins, according to his custom, a ringing appeal, based on this exposition of truth and privilege. This appeal to his readers is to live up to their privileges, or, in his own words, to walk worthily of the calling wherewith they were called. The whole latter or practical part of the letter is thus expressly based on the former or doctrinal part. And this is true of the exhortations in detail as well as in general. Paul wrote always with vital connectedness. There never was a less artificial writer, and none of his epistles bears more evident traces than the Epistle to the Ephesians of having been written, as the Germans say, "at a single gush." All here is of a piece, and part is concatenated with part in the intimate connection which arises out of—not artificial effort to obtain logical consecution—but the living flow of a heart full of a single purpose.
Take, as an example, the beautiful appeal of our text. The Apostle is not perfunctorily or mechanically repeating a set phrase, a pious platitude. He is making an appeal, out of a full heart, to just the readers he has in mind, in just their situation; and under the impulse of his own vivid appreciation of their peculiar state and condition. On the basis of the privileges they had received in Christ he had exhorted them generally to an accordant inner and outer conduct; and he had presented these general exhortations both positively and negatively. Now he has come to details. He has enumerated several of the sins to which they in their situation were liable, perhaps, in a special degree, sins of falsehood, wrath, theft, unbecoming speech. Shall they, they, the recipients of this new life and all these Divine favours, fall into such sins? He suddenly broadens the appeal into an earnest beseeching not so to grieve the Holy Spirit of God in whom they were sealed unto the day of redemption. That they, too, had this sealing, had he not just told them? Nay, had he not just pointed them to it as to their most distinguishing grace? It is not by a new or a merely general motive by which he would
move their hearts. It is distinctly by the motive to which he had already adverted and which he had made their own. It was because he had taught them to understand and feel that they, even they, Gentiles according to the flesh, had been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, as an earnest of their inheritance, and could count on this being a living and moving motive in their minds—or rather it is because he himself felt this great truth as real and as a motive of power—that he adduces it here to move them to action.
If we are»to feel the motive power in the appeal as Paul felt it and as he desired his readers to feel it, we must approach it as he approached it and as he desired them to approach it, namely, through a preliminary apprehension and appreciation of the fact underlying the appeal and giving it force. To do this we should approach the consideration of the text under some such logical analysis of its contents as the following. First, we should consider the great fact on which the appeal is based, namely, that Christians have been sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. Secondly, we should consider the nature of this sealing Spirit as the Holy Spirit, and the pain which all sin must bring to Him as the indwelling and sealing Spirit. Thirdly, we should consider the nature and strength of the motive thence arising to us, who are the recipients of His grace, to refrain from the sin which grieves Him, and to seek the life of holiness which pleases Him. Time would fail us, however, on this occasion fully to develop the contents of these propositions. Let us confine ourselves to a few brief remarks on (1) the nature of the basal fact on which Paul founds his appeal, as to our position as Christians; and (2) the nature of the motive which he seeks to set in action by his appeal.
The fundamental fact on which Paul, in the text, bases his appeal to a holy life is that his readers, because Christians, "have been sealed in the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption." Now, "sealing" expresses authentication or security, or, perhaps, we may say, authentication and security. It is, then, the security of the Christian's salvation which is the fact appealed to; the Christian is "sealed," authenticated as a redeemed one, and made secure as to the completion of the redemption; for he is sealed unto the day of redemption.
The reference to Paul's teaching, in a former chapter, as to the grace given to his readers, will help us to understand the fact here adduced as a motive to action. There we have the fuller statement, that these Christians had had the Word of the Truth, the Gospel of salvation, preached to them; that they had heard it, and had believed it; and then, that they had been "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise," in other words, the Holy Spirit who works out all the promises to us to fruition; "who," adds the Apostle, "is an earnest of our inheritance," an earnest being more than a pledge, inasmuch as it is both a pledge and a part of the inheritance itself. Then the Apostle tells us unto what we were thus sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is Himself an earnest of our inheritance, namely, "unto the redemption of God's own possession" unto the praise of His glory.
Let us read these great words backwards, that we may grasp their full import. Christians are primarily the purchased possession of God: God has purchased them to Himself by the precious blood of His Son. But, the purchase is one thing, and "the delivery of the goods" another. Their redemption is, therefore, not completed by the simple purchase. There remains, accordingly, a "day of redemption" yet in the future, unto which the purchased possession is to be brought. Meanwhile, because we are purchased and are God's possession, we are sealed to Him and to the fulfilment of the redemption, to take place on that day. And the seal is the Holy Spirit, here designated as the "Holy Spirit of promise" because it is through Him that this promise is to be fulfilled; and the "earnest of our inheritance" because He is both the pledge that the inheritance shall be ours, and a foretaste of that inheritance itself. The whole is a most pointed assertion that those who have been bought by the blood of Christ, and brought to God by the preached Gospel, shall be kept by His power unto the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the last day.
The great fact on which Paul bases his appeal is, therefore, the fact of the security of believers, of the preservation by God of His children, of the "perseverance of the saints"—to use time-honoured theological language. We are sealed, rendered secure, by the Holy Ghost, unto the day of redemption: we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, the fulfiller of the promises, and the earnest of our inheritance, unto the full redemption of us, who are God's purchased possession. The fact the Apostle adverts to is, in a word, that our salvation is sure.
How is this a motive to holiness? Men say that security acts rather as a motive to carelessness. Well, we observe at least that the Apostle does not think so, but uses it rather as a motive to holiness. Because we have, been sealed by the Spirit of God, he reasons, let us not grieve Him by sin. Men may think that a stronger appeal might be based on fear lest we fall from the Spirit's keeping; as if Paul should rather have said, Because you can be kept only by the Spirit, beware lest you grieve Him away by sinning. But Paul's actual appeal is not to fear but to gratitude. Because you have been sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption, see to it that you do not grieve,
bring pain or sorrow to this Spirit, who has done so much for you.
It is not to be denied, of course, that the motive of fear is a powerful one, a legitimate one to appeal to, and one which in its due place is appealed to constantly in the Scriptures. It is, no doubt, a relatively lower motive than that here appealed to by Paul; but as Bishop Doane once truly said, most men are more amenable to appeals addressed to the lower than to those addressed to the higher motives. When men cease to be of a low mind, we can afford to deal with them on a higher plane. I have no sympathy, therefore, with the view, often expressed, that man must not be urged to save his soul by an appeal to his interests, by an appeal to the joys of heaven or to the pains of torment. You all know the old story of how St. Iddo, once, when he journeyed abroad, met an old crone with a pitcher of water in one hand and a torch ablaze in the other, who explained that the torch was to burn up heaven and the water to quench hell, that men might no longer seek to please God because of desire for one or fear of the other, but might be led only by disinterested love. History says that St. Iddo went home wondering. Well he might. For on such teachings as this he should have to forego the imitation of his Lord, who painted to men the delights of the heavenly habitations and forewarned men to fear him who has power after he has destroyed the body also to cast into hell, where, so He says, their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. The motives of fear of punishment and vision of reward, though relatively low motives, are yet legitimate motives, and are, in their own place, valuable.
But the Apostle teaches us in our present passage that the higher motives too are for use and in their own place are the motives to use. Do not let us, as Christian ministers, assume that our flocks, purchased by the blood of Christ, and sealed unto the day of redemption by the Spirit, are accessible only to the lowest motives. "Give a dog a bad name," says the proverb, "and hang him." And the proverb may be an allegory to us. Deal with people on a low plane and they may sink to that plane and become incapable of occupying any other. Cry to them, "Lift up your hearts" and believe me you will obtain your response. It is a familiar experience that, if you treat a man as a gentleman, he will tend to act like a gentleman; if you treat him like a thief, only the grace of God and strong moral fibre can hold him back from stealing. Treat Christian men like Christian men; expect them to live on Christian principles; and they will strive to walk worthily of their Christian profession.
So far from Paul's appeal to the high motive of gratitude here, then, being surprising, it is, even on the low ground of natural psychology, true and right. The highest motives are relatively
the most powerful. And when we leave the low ground of natural psychology and take our stand on the higher ground of Christian truth, how significant and instructive it is. If the Holy Spirit has done this for me; if He in all His holiness is dwelling in me, to seal me unto the day of redemption, shall I have no care not to grieve Him? Fear is paralyzing. Despair is destruction of effort. Hope is living and active in every limb, and when that hope becomes assurance, and that assurance is recognized as based on the act of a Person/lovingly dealing with us and winning us to holiness, can we conceive of a motive to holiness of equal power? Brethren, we must not speak of such things historically only. We are not here simply to observe how Paul appealed to the Ephesians, as he sought to move them to holy endeavor; nor to discuss whether or not this is a moving manner of dealing with human souls. His appeal is to us. The fact asserted is true of us,—we are sealed by the Holy Spirit to the day of redemption. He is in us too as the Holy Spirit whom sin offends, and as the loving Spirit who is working in us towards good. Do we feel the pull of the appeal? Shall we listen to and feel and yield to and obey Paul's great voice crying to us down through the ages: "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption"? Commune with your souls on these things to-day!