The Seal

A. E. Long, Nutley

Part 2 of 3 of the series Aspects of the Holy Spirit's Work

We are considering the work of the Holy Spirit as the Anointing, the Seal and the Earnest, all of which are covered by 2 Corinthians I. 21, 22: "Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts". It is to be noticed that all three aspects are God's work for "us" and are made good to us in the present. At conversion, therefore, the Christian was anointed by the Holy Spirit for service, sealed by Him as being God's property and. given the earnest of the Spirit as pledge of that inheritance to which grace has made him heir.

As with the anointing, the subject of the seal is found in both Old and New Testaments and must, therefore, be seen as a whole if it is rightly to be understood.

The Seal and Authority. In the Old Testament, kings used a signet ring as a seal upon their letters, attesting the royal authority in what was written. The use of the king's signet might be entrusted to others, authorized to act for the king. Pharaoh gave his ring to Joseph, who was deputed to act as his deputy, Gen. 41. 42, in the administration of Egypt during the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. Joseph's decrees to the nation, as bearing Pharaoh's seal, came with all the king's authority. Jezebel put king Ahab's signet to terrible use when she wrote letters in the king's name and sealed them with his ring, in the matter of encom­passing the murder of Naboth, whose vineyard Ahab coveted. He was thwarted in acquiring this vineyard by Naboth's refusal either to exchange or sell the inheritance of his fathers, 1 Kings 21. 8. The ring of King Ahasuerus, taken from the deposed Haman, "the Jews' enemy", was given to Mordecai the Jew, recently promoted to high office in the king's domin­ions. By this ring, he was authorised to write and seal letters in the king's name empowering the Jews to defend themselves on the day appointed by Haman for their total destruction, cf. Esther 3. 12, 13; 8. 2, 10, 11. According to the law of the Persians and Medes, the terms of a letter sealed with the king's ring were irreversible, "the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse", 8. 8. King Darius, pressed by his courtiers to take action against Daniel concerning his daily intercession to God, which the king had forbidden by decree under pain of death, unwillingly had Daniel consigned to the lions' den. Darius was unable to reverse his edict, which the royal seal had ratified, "according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not", Dan. 6. 8, 12. The stone which was laid upon the entrance to the den "the king sealed . . . with his own signet, . . . that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel", v. 17.

From these considerations we deduce that the use of the king's seal attested both the authenticity and authority of what was sealed as proceeding from the king, as well as the unalterability of his purpose.

In the New Testament we read that God "set the seal of his authority" upon Christ, John 6. 27 n.e.b. This was doubtless the seal of the Holy Spirit, authorizing and authenticating all that Christ was and did. God has likewise set the seal of His authority, in the Holy Spirit, upon us, as authenticating our witness, cf. John. 15. 26,27, and expressing the unalterability of His purpose concerning us. Even the hireling prophet Balaam was compelled to recognise this fact in God's purpose concerning Israel: "I have received commandment to bless ... and I cannot reverse it", Num. 23. 20.

Of the Corinthians Paul wrote that they were the epistle of Christ written with the Spirit of the living God in fleshy tables of the heart, 2. Cor. 3. 3. We may add, with perfect propriety, that such an epistle was also sealed by the Spirit, as attesting its validity.

The Seal and Purchase. In the Old Testament, the signet ring was used as a seal on legal instruments attesting the purchase of land or property. Jeremiah, who had been imprisoned by Zedekiah for prophesying that Jerusalem would fall to the Chaldeans and that the king's safety would only be secured by surrendering to the besieging enemy, was at that critical juncture told by God to buy his uncle's field in Anathoth, Jer. 32. 7. It seemed an absurd thing for him to do, when the enemy was at the gates and Jerusalem would in­evitably fall; and when all existing rights over property would soon be extinguished by the enemy's advent and possession. That Jeremiah did so expressed his faith in God's purpose to bring back His people after seventy years' Babylonian captivity and their re-possession of their property, "thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land", v. 15, cf. vv. 43, 44. So Jeremiah "bought the field . . . that was in Anathoth, and weighed . . . the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And . . . subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed ... the money", vv. 9, 10. The land thereby became Jeremiah's by purchase; in due time, none would dispute his title to it.

We may say that God has sealed us by the Spirit in proof of His ownership by purchase, for "ye are not your own ... ye are bought with a price", 1 Cor. 6. 19,20. The price was that of redemption. Jeremiah had "the right of redemption", since it was his uncle's field, Jer. 32. 7, 8. Christ, as our Kins­man Redeemer, cf. Ruth 3. 13, had the right of redemption, which He was both able and willing to exercise. Hugh Stowell’s ell’s words express the idea: "Every lamb is sprinkled with the blood He shed: Then on each He setteth His own secret sign. 'They that have My Spirit, These', saith He, 'are mine'.". The "blood" is the price of redemption; the "secret sign" is that of the seal of the Holy Spirit, in token of which those sealed become Christ's property - "Mine".

The Seal and Exclusive Ownership. The seal also attests exclusive ownership, in which there can be no rival. Such is the point of the bridegroom's statement in the Song of Songs: "A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed", 4. 12. None but he might refresh himself at that "fountain"; it was "sealed" for him exclusively. So P. Gerhardt wrote, as translated by John Wesley,

Jesu, Thy boundless love to me No thought can reach, no tongue declare;

O knit my thankful heart to Thee, And reign without a rival there:

Thine wholly, Thine alone, I am,

Be Thou alone my constant flame.

The Jew was circumcised as an outward sign betokening his covenant relationship with God. It began with Abraham, who "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had", Rom 4. n. The Christian has no outward sign of covenant relationship with God, but the in­ward seal of the Holy Spirit - "we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh", Phil. 3. 3. Accordingly, Paul also wrote "he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit . . .", Rom. 2. 28,29.

Ephesians 1. 13 amplifies Paul's statement, "who also hath sealed us", 2 Cor. 1. 22, in the words "in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise". Some have inferred from the words "after that", that the sealing of the Holy Spirit does not necessarily occur immedi­ately upon conversion, but is a subsequent experience, of the nature of a "second blessing". It may be said that experience but rarely keeps pace with truth and it may well be that with many there is not at conversion an immediate apprehension of the implications of the sealing of the Holy Spirit. But our faulty apprehensions of truth do not invalidate truth. The Revised rendering of the phrase is better, "having also be­lieved, ye were sealed". The simple and sole condition of being sealed with the Holy Spirit is that of faith in Christ -not the measure of faith, but the fact of it.

The statement "that holy Spirit of promise" really introduces the subject of the last paper of this series - The Earnest.