An evaluation of the theological trends of the 20th century will reveal that in the early part of this century the Fatherhood of God was given prominence, especially under the influence of men like Harnack; the middle portion of the century was devoted primarily to the doctrine of the person of Christ, especially under the influence of neo-Reformational (and often heretical) theologians, of whom Barth was perhaps chief. In more recent times the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has received more attention, perhaps most obviously through the rise of Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism, as well as the reaction of orthodox theologians to these movements. As could be expected, the Scriptural truths regarding the Holy Spirit received more scrutiny and development also in the Reformed community.
The Protestant Reformed Churches have been no exception to this. Though many issues raised and discussed by the theologians and churches of the world do not touch us directly or concern us greatly, mostly because the majority of the views expressed are patently non-Scriptural and heterodox, the emphasis upon’ the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has affected us. For some time I have heard comments from our people to the effect that their knowledge concerning the Holy Spirit and His work is lacking. While it is by no means true that our people are ignorant regarding this aspect of the Scriptural doctrine of salvation, such comments do indicate that there is a need to increase our knowledge in this area.
This fact was recently brought home pointedly to me. At a recent meeting of the Reformed Ministers Association of the Dakotas, an organization of Reformed ministers which meets monthly for the purpose of informal discussion of various aspects of the Reformed faith, one of the members presented a paper on the subject of the Holy Spirit as guarantee. The thoughts presented in this article are the fruit of the discussion which followed, as well as of personal study. It is my hope that the ideas set forth here will in a small way contribute to our understanding of this aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and thus of the Holy Spirit Himself.
The concept of the Holy Spirit as guarantee or down payment is found only three times in Scripture, in all instances in the epistles of Paul. II Corinthians 1:21-22 says: “Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, who hath sealed us, and given us the earnest (down payment, guarantee) of the Spirit in our hearts.” In II Corinthians 5:5 we read, “Now he that hath wrought for us the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” (The selfsame thing refers to the bodily resurrection). AndEphesians 1:13, 14: “In whom (Christ) also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
As far as the idea of the term is concerned, it is rooted in a Hebrew word which means “to become surety, to pledge.” In this sense it is often used in the Old Testament. And its basic meaning carries over into the New Testament; in fact, so closely are the Old Testament and New Testament ideas connected that the word used by Paul in these Greek passages is a transliteration of the Hebrew word. The word in the original means earnest money, pledge, guarantee, down payment. The figure conjured up by this word is certainly familiar to us who live in the age of credit. When we make a purchase for which we cannot immediately pay, we charge it, deferring the whole of the balance due until some later date; however, we must make a down payment, i.e., give the seller a fraction of the purchase price immediately. This is not only a pledge to the seller that he will receive the balance due him, but also a guarantee to the buyer of immediate ownership and possession of what he has bought.
According to Paul, the Holy Spirit is exactly such a down payment. In Ephesians 1:14 the Holy Spirit and the down payment are identified, while in the two passages in II Corinthians Paul speaks of the guarantee, the content of which is the Holy Spirit. While at first glance it may seem crass to speak of the Holy Spirit in such pecuniary terms, yet this is exactly what Paul does, taking a well-understood figure from our daily lives, as Scripture often does. The meaning of the figure is, therefore, that the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment to us, His people.
All of this is in harmony with the context in the passages cited. All of them have an eschatological emphasis, i.e., they deal with the future realization and fulfillment of the salvation of God’s elect. In II Corinthians 1:22 the context is the certainty of the promises of God in Christ from the viewpoint of their ultimate fulfillment; in II Corinthians 5:5 the context is the certainty of the future bodily resurrection and our hope in it; and Ephesians 1:14speaks about our inheritance in the final sense. Yet the implication is that we already possess the promises of God in Christ, though not in the fulness of perfection; we have now the certainty of the resurrection of the body, we are the recipients of the benefits of Christ. Nor is this surprising, for the Holy Spirit as He works in believers always operates as the Spirit of Christ, applying to them the benefits of Christ’s finished work. Yet the emphasis in this down payment idea is definitely future and regards the full and perfect possession of salvation.
When we put all of these ideas together a clear picture of the Holy Spirit as down payment emerges. We have immediate possession of God’s salvation in Christ. Of that fact the Holy Spirit is the guarantee as He is poured out into the church on Pentecost and dwells in the hearts of believers. This means that the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge to us that He will give us the whole of our salvation in the day of Christ. Then we shall receive the balance of our inheritance, which we now possess in part. God has assured us by giving us the Holy Spirit in our hearts that He will pay the balance.
Moreover, the down payment is the Spirit of Christ as He dwells in believers subjectively. Though all of the work of the Holy Spirit is in a sense subjective, this needs stress. The point is that although we must avoid being engulfed in the morass of subjectivism, we may not ignore the fact that there is a rightful place for Christian experience. And this is exactly what the Holy Spirit as down payment is all about—experiential assurance and certainty. We know because the Holy Spirit is our guarantee that the good work which our sovereign God has begun in us he will surely perfect and realize in the day of Christ. And when we recognize that God witnesses this Himself in the Person of His Holy Spirit in our very hearts, then our assurance can only increase.
This does not mean, however, that the possession of the Holy Spirit as guarantee is purely subjective in character. It is also objective, for this aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit is inseparably connected with the other aspects of His work mentioned in the Scriptures. Perhaps the question might arise, “How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit as God’s down payment?” In answer I would point to the truth that this same Spirit Who is the guarantee is also the author of other works of grace. His work, after all, is principally one, though it has several aspects. For example, the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete or Intercessor with the Father in heaven. That is, He pleads on our behalf on the basis of the finished work of Christ, appealing to the justice of God regarding our right to the final inheritance of glory. Immediately the connection is evident. Not only does the Holy Spirit guarantee us that He is our Paraclete, but He also pledges to us that the same inheritance for which He pleads as our Intercessor is in reality ours. The functions of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete and down payment both concern the final inheritance, the former from an objective viewpoint, the latter from the subjective. Certainly we believe the one; is it harder to believe the other? Besides, this same Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is also the giver of the gifts of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12), which are objective proofs of His presence within the believer. The possession of the Holy Spirit as guarantee cannot be denied any more than can the presence of the Spirit in believers as manifested in the gifts and fruits of the Spirit.
All of this has a very practical significance for the child of God. Most or all of us are at one time or another plagued by doubts about the certainty of our salvation. We wonder if we really do possess the Holy Spirit as God’s down payment. Perhaps we even go a step further and question whether, although we have the Spirit of Christ, He is active as God’s guarantee. The answer of God’s Word is that He must be, whether or not we are always equally conscious of His operation as such. When we possess the Spirit of Christ, we have God’s down payment. In the words of I John 4:13, “Hereby know we that we dwell in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” And then, too, we have the firm and unshakeable assurance of our final inheritance in all its perfection and glory.