The Earnest

A. E. Long, Nutley

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

We now consider the last aspect of the three-fold work of the Holy Spirit as given in 2 Corinthians 1. 21,22, namely that of the Earnest. We read that it is God who has "given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts". The expression "the earnest" occurs but thrice in the New Testament and not at all in the Old Testament, although the idea is plainly there. All three New Testament occurrences come from Paul's pen, 2 Cor. 1. 22; 5. 5 and Eph. 1. 14.

The Meaning of Earnest. This expression is not one currently in secular use, although the dictionary defines "earnest" as "money given in token of a bargain made; also earnest-money - a pledge, firstfruits". In a footnote to 2 Corinthians 1. 22, Conybeare says of the word - "Literally, the earnest-money, i.e., a small sum which was paid in advance, as the ratification of a bargain; a custom which still prevails in some countries". We are familiar with this custom in modern life. When the purchase of a house is seriously contemplated, it is customary to deposit ten per cent, of the full price with the vendor's agent, as an earnest or token of intention and good faith to proceed with the purchase and to pay the full sum upon completion. Nonetheless, pending the signing of the contract, a potential buyer is not committed to proceed but can, if he so wishes, withdraw from the transaction and recover the deposit. Contrariwise, when God gives us the earnest of the Holy Spirit in token of His intention fully to redeem, there is no thought or possibility of Him retracting in the matter. Not all the combined craft and guile of Balak and Balaam could cause God to retract His purpose to bless Israel: "God is not a man, that he should . . . repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it", Num. 23. 19, 20.

Nowadays, we prefer words like pledge, surety, or deposit, to earnest. The Greek word Paul used means surety, pledge, earnest. The Amplified New Testament renders 2 Corinthians 1. 22 "giving us His (Holy) Spirit in our hearts as the security deposit and guarantee (of the fulfilment of His promise)".

Although the word earnest does not occur as such in the Old Testament, the thought is clearly to be seen there. In deplorable circumstances, Judah gave Tamar, his daughter-in-law, his signet, bracelets and staff as a "pledge" or token of his promise to send her a kid from the flock, Gen. 38. 16-18, only in this case the pledge was returnable and not part of the promised payment. In Israel, a pledge of clothing offered against the granting of a loan was redeemable upon the repay­ment of the loan, Deut. 24. 10-13, but ^ was an earnest of intention to repay the loan. Etymologically, the Greek word for earnest is said to be related to the Hebrew word for pledge.

Two ideas are to be distinguished in Paul's use of the word, for he was flexible in his use of metaphor.

The Earnest as the First Instalment. The first thought is that the Holy Spirit is God's token payment or first instal­ment of the whole. It is an earnest of His firm intention fully to redeem that upon which He has paid a deposit. In a footnote to Ephesians 1. 14, Conybeare says "the metaphor is, that the gift of the Holy Spirit was an earnest (that is, a part payment in advance) of the price required for the full deliverance of those who had been slaves of sin, but now were purchased for the service of God". Phillips renders verses 13 and 14 in this sense - "you were, so to speak, stamped with the promised Holy Spirit as a guarantee of purchase, until the day when God completes the redemption of what He has paid for as his own". We have already noticed the application of the idea of the earnest-money as the first instalment towards the payment of the whole, in modern custom.

The Earnest as the Firstfruits. The second thought is that the Holy Spirit is Himself a foretaste or "firstfruits" of the full inheritance to which the Christian is heir. Older readers may remember that in their youth ice-cream vendors were apt to give a free "taster" of their wares in order to promote sales among the young. It was a foretaste of what could be theirs, if a purchase were made. Again, when one orders a new suit or dress, it is not uncommon to ask for a small sample of the material, pending completion of the gar­ment. During the time of waiting, the sample would afford pleasurable anticipations in the future wearer. And were the customer not known to the tailor or costumier, a deposit might well be required, as an earnest of good faith to pay the balance due on completion. The Amplified New Testament gives this thought: "That Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance -the firstfruit, the pledge and foretaste, the down payment on our heritage - in anticipation of its full redemption and our acquiring (complete) possession of it . . .".

A familiar illustration in the Old Testament is that of the spies sent out by Moses to view Canaan. They were required, among other things, to report on "what the land is, whether it be fat or lean . . . (and to) bring of the fruit of the land", Num. 13. 20. They returned with a "cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff . . . and pomegranates, and ... figs", v. 23. They reported on the land that "it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it", v. 27. The fruit was a foretaste of all that Canaan would be. It should have whetted their appetites to press on to Canaan without delay, that they might enjoy to the full what they now saw but a small sample of. In the same way, the Holy Spirit, as the "earnest" or foretaste of coming glory, should whet our spirit­ual appetite for its full enjoyment.

The New English Bible rendering of Ephesians 1. 14 covers both thoughts - "that Spirit is the pledge that we shall enter upon our heritage, when God has redeemed what is his own".

Paul's other use of the word is in 2 Corinthians 5. 5: "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit". The "self­same thing" to which Paul refers is "that mortality might be swallowed up of life", v. 4, that is, when "our earthly house of this tabernacle" is exchanged for "a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens", v. 1. "We . . . groan" in our present bodily state, in common with "the whole creation", Rom. 8. 22, 23, awaiting "the redemption of our body", and long after that better state of being "present with the Lord", 2 Cor. 5. 8. The Holy Spirit is the pledge and assurance of this, in that as "the Spirit of life", Rom. 8. 2, the life-principle is already at work in us: "if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he ... shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you", v. 11.