Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.
"The Holy Spirit of promise," given to all who believe, is here declared to dwell in and to seal believers as the "earnest" of their "inheritance;" whilst, on the other hand, that sealing is declared to last until — or, as seems more probably the rendering of the preposition here, to be done with a view unto — the full redemption of God's purchased "possession." So that the two halves of the thought are intentionally brought together in these words of our text. And about both of them — God's possession of us and our possession of God — it is asserted or implied, that they are partially realized here, and are to be realized more fully in the future. An "earnest" is a portion of the estate which is paid over to the purchaser on the completion of the purchase, as the token that all is his and that it will all come into his hands in due time. Like that part of a man's wages given to him in advance when he is engaged; like the shilling put into the hands of a recruit; like the half crown given to the farm servant at the hiring fair; like the bit of turf that in some old ceremonials used to be solemnly presented to the sovereign on his investiture; it is a portion of the whole possession, the same in kind, but a very tiny portion, which yet carries with it the acknowledgment of ownership and the assurance of full possession. So says my text, "the Spirit of God is the earnest of the inheritance," a small portion of it granted to us today, and the pledge that all shall be granted in the future. And the same idea of present imperfection is suggested in the corresponding clause, which speaks about God's entire purchase (for there is an emphasis in the Greek word in the original); His possession as also a thing of the future. So then here are the three points that I want to look at for a moment or two; first, a word about the imperfect present; second, about the present, imperfect as it is, still being a guarantee and pledge of the future; and, lastly, about the perfect future which is the outcome of the imperfect present.
I. A WORD ABOUT THIS IMPERFECT PRESENT, which is put here as being on one side the earnest of the inheritance, and on the other side as being God's partial acquisition of us as His possession. There can be nothing deeper, nothing greater, nothing more real in the manner of possession, than the possession which every one of us may have of an indwelling God for our life and our peace. It passes all human analogy; love gives us the ownership, most really and most sweetly, of the hearts that we love; but after all the yearning desires for union, and experience of oneness in sympathy, the awful wall of partition between spirits remains; and life may, and death must, separate; but he that hath God's Divine Spirit with him, has God for the life of his life and the soul of his soul. And we possess Him when, by faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God dwells in our hearts. But most real and most blessed as that union and possession is, my text tells us that it is incomplete. I need not dwell upon that in order to prove it; I only want to apply and urge the truth for a moment. We have an Infinite Spirit to dwell with us; how finite and little is our possession of it! The Spirit of God is set forth in Scripture under the symbol of "a rushing, mighty wind," and you and I say that we are Christ's, and that we have Him. How does it come, then, that our sails flap idly on the mast, and we lie becalmed, and making next to no progress? The Spirit of God is set forth in Scripture under the symbol of "flaming tongues of fire," and you and 1 say that we have it; how is it, then, that this thick-ribbed ice is round our hearts, and our love is all so tepid? The Spirit of God is set forth in Scripture under the symbol of "rivers of water"; and you and I say that we possess it. How is it, then, that so much of our hearts and of our natures is given up to barrenness, and dryness, and deadness? Oh, brethren, with an Infinite Spirit for our Guest and Indweller, any of us that look at our own hearts must feel that my text is too surely true, and that the present possession of the best of us is but a partial and incomplete possession. Many Christian people forget that if our present condition be, as it certainly is, necessarily imperfect, it ought also to be, and it will be, if there be any vital force of Christian principle within us, constantly and indefinitely approximating to the ideal standard of perfection that gleams there ahead of us. Or, to put it into plainer English, if you have life you will grow. If there be any real possession of the inheritance, it will be like the rolling fences that they used to have in certain parts of the country, where a squatter settled himself down upon a bit of a royal forest, and had a hedge that could be moved outwards and shifted on by degrees; and from having begun with a little bit big enough for a cabbage garden, ended with a piece big enough for a farm. And that is what we are always to do, to be always acquiring, "adding field to field" in the great inheritance that is ours.
II. Now turn to the second thought here — THAT THIS IMPERFECT PRESENT, IMPERFECT THOUGH IT BE, IS A PROPHECY AND A PLEDGE OF A PERFECT FUTURE. The "earnest of our inheritance" till the full "redemption of the purchased possession." The facts of Christian experience are such as that they inevitably point to the conclusion that there is a life beyond. All that is good and blessed about religion, our faith, the joy that comes from our faith, the sweetness of communion, the aspiration after the increase of fellowship with Him; all these, to the man that enjoys them, are the best proof that they are going to last forever, and that death can have no power over them. "Like thoughts, their very sweetness yieldeth proof that they are born for immortality." To love, to know, to reach the hands out through the shows of time and sense, and to grasp an unseen reality that lies away beyond, is, to any man that has ever experienced the emotion and done the thing, one of the strongest of all demonstrations that nothing belonging to this dusty low region of the physical can touch that immortal aspiration that knits him to God; but that whatsoever may befall the husk and shell of him, his faith, his love, his obedience, his consecration, these at least are eternal, and may laugh at death and the grave. And I believe that even to the men that have not the experience, the fact of religious emotion, the fact of worship, ought to be one of the best demonstrations of a future life. But I pass that with these simple remarks, and touch another thing; the very incompleteness of our possession of God, and of God's possession of us, points onwards to, and, as it seems to me, demands a future. The imperfection, as well as the present attainments of our Christian experience, proclaim a coming time. That we are no better than we are, being as good as we are, seems to make it inconceivable that this evidently half-done job is going to be broken off short at the side of the grave. Here is a certain force at work in a man's nature, the power of God's good Spirit, evidently capable of producing effects of entire transformation. Such being the case, who, looking at the effects, can doubt that sometime and somewhere there will be less disproportion between the two? The engine is evidently not working full power. The characters of Christians at the best are so inconsistent and contradictory that they are evidently only in the making. It is clear that we are looking at unfinished work, and surely the great Master Builder, who has laid such a foundation stone tried and precious, will not begin to build and not be able to finish. Every Christian life, at its best and noblest, shows, as it were, the ground plan of a great structure partly carried out — a bit of walling up here, vacancy there, girders spanning wide spaces, but gaping for a roof, a chaos and a confusion. It may look a thing of shreds and patches, and they that pass by the way begin to mock. But the very fact that it is incomplete, prophesies to wise men of the day when the headstone shall be brought with shouting, and the flag hoisted on the roof tree. Fools and children, says the proverb, should not see half done work — certainly they should not judge it. Wait a bit. There comes a time when tendencies shall be facts, and when influences shall have produced their appropriate effects; and when all that is partial and broken shall be consummate and entire in the Kingdom that is beyond the stars. Wait! and be sure that the good and the bad, so strangely blended in Christian experience, are alike charged with the prophecy of a glorious and perfect future.
III. Then, lastly, my text in the one clause asserts, and in the other implies, THAT THE FUTURE IS THE PERFECTING OF THE PRESENT. The "earnest" points onwards to an inheritance the same in kind, but immensely greater in degree. The "redemption of the possession" is a somewhat singular expression; for we are accustomed to regard the great act of redemption as already past in the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. But the expression is employed here, as in several other places, to express not so much the act of purchase, the paying of the price of our salvation, which is done once for all and long ago, as the historical working out of the results of that price paid in the entire deliverance of the whole nature of man from every form of captivity to anything that would prevent his full possession by God.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.