“In whom also ye, having heard. . . . in whom also having believed ye were sealed. . . . unto the redemption of the (final) possession, unto the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:13, 14

It is of the utmost importance for the proper understanding of this passage, that we keep the line of thought, as developed by the apostle in the foregoing verses, in mind.

This line of thought cam be stated as follows:

  1. First of all, that the Triune God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. These blessings are those merited by Christ, the redemption and the forgiveness of sins. They are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, patience and hope. In and with these blessings God has given us perspectives of the blessed hope of the future age, the reuniting, the summing up of all things in Christ.
  2. The standard, the measuring rod of this mighty work of God is solely His good pleasure. Thus God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ. But this act of God is even as He has elected us in Christ before the foundations of the world. And this election is again involved in the decree of foreordination. And, again, the act of the wonder of God’s grace in summing up of all things in heaven and on earth is according to the eternal purpose of God. It is thus according to God’s purpose, for thus it is unto His praise as the sovereign Lord.
  3. And all this work of God, both in its manifestation in time and in the eternal decree is in Christ. That the work of God, His eternal purpose is in His Son in the flesh, is repeatedly emphasized in the foregoing verses. In this Son in the Decree we are elected before the foundations of the world, vs. 4. God made His purpose to unite all things in heaven and on earth in the dispensation of the fullness of times in Him. vs. 9. Thus it is stated by the apostle in Eph. 3:11: “According to the eternal purpose, which He (God) made in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” This purpose of Christ is all-determinative for all the events in history. When cruel man would rise against the Lord’s anointed One, God will declare of the Decree. The eternal decree is, therefore, indeed, in this Son in the flesh. For this very reason the apostle emphasizes, that all God’s work of redemption is also in this Christ. It is all in Him. In Him we are blessed with all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places. In Him, the Beloved Son In the flesh, we have the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. vss. 3, 7. And, as we pointed out in connection with our exposition of vs. 11. In Him we were made a precious heritage of God.

4. Our final observation was, that we, who are this precious heritage of God, are a people who are saved in hope. With longing expectation we look for the final act of God, whereby He shall make us complete possessors. But for this possession in the final form, the redemption of our bodies from the grave, the subjecting of all things under His feet, the marvelous revelation of the Son of God in His great glory, the final justification of the suffering saints over against a godless world, is also “in Him”! Always all the eyes of the children of God are riveted on Him. Not to be unclothed, but to be clothed upon is the desire of God’s people. God’s saints do not only hope in Christ merely in this life. Then, indeed, of all men they would be the most pitiable.

But what is the power of this hope? How is it to be explained? Why is it not quenched by the seeming tardiness of the Lord’s coming? Are the saints possibly to be classified as blind fanatics, as men who think to have the solid ground of eternal promises under their feet, but who will sink in the mire of mere illusionary self-deception? Should these children of God not quail before the sharp arrows of the wicked, before the bitter taunt “where is thy God?” Does it not seem that the righteous suffer and die as do the wicked?

It is true, that the apostle does not raise these questions. They are not explicitly stated in this passage. We do not know whether the apostle had this precisely before his mind. But, however this may be, it is a fact, that the apostle does here appeal to the sanctified, believing experience of the readers. He says “in who also ye having heard the word of truth, in whom also having believed, ye were sealed unto the redemption of the final possession”.

It is, therefore, quite evident, that the purpose of this passage (vss. 11-14) is pedagogical. That the apostle thus writes is very natural. His purpose is to bring the believers to a recognition of and thankfulness for all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places. That is the thrust of the “also ye” vs. 13, and of the “in whom also having believed” vs. 13. As was pointed out in our former writing, the apostle does not contrast “ye also” (Gentile Christians) with “we, the having before hoped in Christ” (the believers out of the Jews), but the point is an appeal to Christian experience.

Was this then necessary? Was it necessary for the apostle to say: Look here, church of God, do not think that God will not bring this all about in Christ, even in Him; do not think this too exalted and great, too good to be true; do not say this too exalted ? Whether it was necessary to say this over against any particular error is not evident in this epistle. But certainly it is necessary for the proper understanding and comfort of this great reality of the “summing up” of all things.

And let us not overlook that the apostle emphasizes that this great power of Christian experience is “in Him”. That we are a “heritage” is in Him. And as such a heritage we are a new creation in Christ, some “firstfruits of His creation”. In our having been constituted such a new creation, a wonderful, precious heritage of God, we are an exhibition of what God will do in Christ presently in the time of the “end”, when all things will be summed up in Him, both of things in heaven and on earth.

This great work of God in Christ also includes us. It is God’s power in our life to salvation. That we before hope in Christ is the manifestation of the life of God’s saints, as a heritage. God does something to the elect sinner to make him hope, to look with earnest expectation for that which He has promised him. This great work of God is called, a “having been sealed. . . . unto the redemption of the (final) possession”.

In a former paragraph we spoke of the “pedagogical thrust of this passage. That it has. But what the apostle here says with a pedagogical purpose, at once is also of doctrinal import. And the latter calls for further comment. We believe, that the several elements in these verses can profitably be discussed under the following headings:

  1. That the church has been sealed unto the day of redemption, the time of the final and complete possession of all that God has purposed to give and make us as His heritage.
  2. That the Agent, who thus seals us, is the Holy Spirit of Promise, who is the Pledge of our inheritance.
  3. That the Holy Spirit uses His own means unto our being sealed. We are sealed in “hearing the gospel” and in “believing”.
  4. That in this sealing not man, the saint receives the praise, but alone the great grace and power of God. All is Soli Deo Gloria.

Let us begin our discussion with the first of these four propositions. We do this because in this proposition the central thought, of the passage under consideration, is expressed.

The term “to seal” (sphragizein) we often meet with in Holy Writ. In a general way it can be said, that it refers to that by which a thing, an act, a promise is confirmed, proved and authenticated. Thus the command of Pilate to shut the grave of Jesus was authenticated with his seal. It was the confirmation of the word of Pilate to the effect, that no one might enter the grave. It showed conclusively, that it was Pilate who had given the word and none else. The seal was genuine and not counterfeit.

In the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians we twice meet with this verb. Besides in our passage which we are discussing, we also meet with it in Eph. 4:30, where we read “and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye have been sealed unto the day of redemption”. There is yet one more passage in the writings of the apostle Paul, to which attention must foe called. We refer to II Cor. 1:21, 22, where the apostle writes: “Now he that establishes us with you unto Christ and hath anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

Now it is not our intention to give a detailed exposition of these passages here. We merely quote them to orientate the reader and ourselves as to Paul’s usage of the term.

In II Cor. 1:21, 22 a certain content is given to this sealing. In the context Paul is defending his conduct toward the Corinthians. He had not come to them as originally planned and stated. He had planned to come directly to them from Ephesus. But he had changed his mind in this matter. Instead of going directly from Ephesus to Corinth in Achaia, he left Ephesus for Troas, and not finding Titus there as planned, he went into Macedonia. He possibly stayed in Philippi and there met Titus. Now Paul’s conduct was not determined by mere fancy and whim, so that today he promised to do something and that tomorrow he canceled his plans. His plans had been changed because of the strained relationship not of Paul to the Church at Corinth, but because of the attitude of the latter toward Paul.

Paul now assures the church at Corinth that his conduct toward them in not yet coming to them, was not determined by mere whim. With him “yes was yes”, and “no was no”. God was His witness. But this strained relationship would not sever the tie that bound Paul to the believers, whereas God was the One that “establishes us with you unto Christ.” Of this Paul is certain. For God is greater than all men. He has given His Spirit. He has sealed us, given the earnest of the Spirit.

Two matters stand out here therefore. The first is the seal as the authentic proof, that God is back of Paul, the church. It is His work. It cannot fail. The second is, that the believers cannot so become estranged one from the other, for the tie that binds is of God in Christ. AH the “gates of hell” cannot prevail against it. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of the final and complete unity of all the saints in the light,

From the foregoing it is clear, that in forming a conception of this act of God, whereby He seals the saints, we will have to steer clear from conceiving of this act as being performed in a mechanical way. God does not just mechanically place a seal-stamp on the redeemed. It is true, that in the book of Revelation, the sealing of the saints is presented in such a way, that one might think of it as an outward, mechanical act. Thus we read in Rev. 9:4. . .but only those men which have not the seal of God on their foreheads.” From this one might, it is true, draw the hasty conclusion, that the seal of God is stamped on the forehead of the saints, much in the same way as men place a mechanical imprinted! seal on paper. Again one might draw the same conclusion from what we read in Rev. 7:2, “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. . . .” One might think of such a seal in the hands of this angel, and that with it iHe mechanically sealed the One-Hundred-and-Forty-Four-Thousand. However, it is sufficient to see the folly of such a conception, by reminding ourselves of the symbolical nature of the Apocalypse of John. The entire book of Revelation is full of typical acts and representations that did mot literally occur as stated. Not to keep this in mind would lead to the ridiculous, would be a violation of all sound and time-tried rules of interpretation.

Another matter to keep in mind, is, that the sealing as almighty act of God, does not make of man a mere “stock and block”. In all God’s dealing with the creatures in His providence, in His upholding and ruling of all things, He deals with each creature according to its created nature. This implies, that with respect to the sealing of the saints, God treats man as a moral rational creature. Just how He does this we cannot fully comprehend. How His Spirit testifies with our spirit, cannot fully be traced out. It is a sealing that takes place not merely in the mind (in the sense of intellect) not merely in the will, but it touches man in the spiritual-ethical center of his being, that is, in his “heart”. Thus it is stated by the apostle in II Cor. 1:22. “Who sealed us and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” And from this “heart” of the saints are the issues of his life. The heart is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

When our text, therefore, says that we have been sealed unto the “redemption of the (final) possession”, it must mean, that we undergo such an operation of God in Christ, that we keep on hoping and firmly trusting that finally all God’s promises shall be perfectly realized. Thus we become empowered in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in our hearts, so that we may be firm and rooted in love, and constantly receive the power to look unto the “end”, when all things shall be summed up in Christ Jesus, in His blessed appearance to our final and complete salvation.

We would conclude this essay with the following observations:

  1. The mechanically conceived presentation of the sealing of the saints is wholly untenable and to be rejected, as well as any view, which does violence to the morally-rational, the spiritual-ethical nature of man.
  2. The sealing is such an act of God, whereby He: (a) empowers us in our hearts to look for our blessed Savior upon the clouds, and to persevere to the end, in the midst of persecutions and all trials; (b) inwardly assures us in our hearts that all is well, that it is no illusion, but blessed reality, what we expect in our Lord Jesus Christ.