THE SEALING OF THE SPIRIT
It is one peculiar characteristic of God’s people that they are a .sealed people, “sealed unto the day of redemption”. They are not all equally conscious of this fact, but God recognizes it. The term is not frequently used in Scripture, but where it occurs it has an important meaning. What does it mean? In the passage just quoted, the expression conveys the idea that “the Lord knoweth them that are His,” and has set a mark upon them by which they may be identified, has preserved them from the judgements which overtake the ungodly, and has preserved them for the inheritance reserved for them.
This is the meaning of the term in respect of human affairs: a document is sealed in confirmation or attestation of its contents, or to invest with authority, or as a mark of ownership, for security or for identification. A seal or signet was in olden times worn not as an ornament, but for special purposes, and strictly speaking it bore a device peculiar to the person to whom it belonged. In our own day the affixing of a seal is a formal act which accompanies, or takes the place of, a signature, and invests an instrument with authority. The gift of Pharaoh’s ring empowered Joseph to act as governor over all the land of Egypt. Jezebel used Ahab’s ring to give validity to her letters, so did Mordecai that of Ahasuerus; and Darius sealed the stone upon the den of lions “with his own signet and the signet of his lords, that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.” We remember how the Pharisees and chief priests made our Lord’s sepulchre secure, “sealing the stone and setting a watch.” In the prophecy of Ezekiel, and in the letter to the church at Philadelphia we find a similar process described as setting a mark, or writing a name on the persons concerned; but later in the Book of the Revelation the figure of sealing is again used to indicate identification and security (Rev. 9.4).
The main idea conveyed by the figure of sealing is that of appropriation and security. The “saints at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus,” who were “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,” are described as persons “chosen in him” unto holiness, ‘predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ” to God the Father, “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1.1-14). They are persons to whom Christ lays claim as His own people. Â•’I know my sheep.” “My sheep shall never perish.” So Paul writes to Timothy, “Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal; the Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2.19).
God takes special care of His sealed ones in this life. He took Lot out of Sodom, saved Daniel from the lions, and appointed Pella as a refuge for the early Christians. When He allowed them to be persecuted, tormented, torn to pieces, and burnt to death as His witnesses, their death was precious in His sight. God has always had such sealed ones on this earth. When Elijah pleaded piteously, “I, even I only am left, and they seek my life to take it away,” there was a “remnant according to the election of grace”. There were a “few names in Sardis which had not defiled their garments,” and should not be blotted out of the Book of life. The history of the church as recorded in heaven, is a history of the preservation of this sealed people. The same truth appears in Christian history. How marvellously the Waldensian Church was preserved, when Romish attackers would have rooted it out! In the Book of Revelation we read: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have
sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (7.3). What safety for the children of God! No matter how dark their earthly circumstances, how neglected and uncared for by the world, their sealing is of God. Their title-deeds are clear. Their life is hid with Christ in God. They are His servants.
Sealing is given us for our assurance, not God’s; and the security lies in this – that we have “a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” In whom have we this right which makes the Christian so secure? In the Lord Jesus Christ; and the right is a legal right, for His obedience to death gives us entitlement to the mansions He has prepared. The title-deeds are sealed with His impress: “Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” is ample security. This sealing strengthens faith, which we so much need in the time of temptation: “above all, taking the shield of faith.” And we may be said to seal God’s truth by our faith which the Holy Spirit works in us; for John the Baptist says: “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true” (Jn. 3.33).
As the signet of olden times carried a device peculiar to the man who used it, so God’s signet bears His own effigy. As the Lord Jesus Christ was sealed or stamped with the image of God – even “the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person” – so all His people bear the same stamp. The new man is “renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” In this way the mark by which God’s people are secured and identified is conformity to the image of Christ. Paul connects this sealing with the anointing and earnest of the Spirit. “Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God: who also hath sealed us” (2 Cor. 1.21,22). Christ was first sealed, and then His people. The anointing and the sealing do not cause fitness, but they are a declaration of it. “In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1.13). Sealing is not the work of faith, but the work of the Holy Spirit upon faith, assuring the soul. Christ was sealed and appointed as the Father’s servant, to the work of redemption; and the Holy Spirit given to Him without measure.
Christ was the express image of the Father from all eternity. With regard to Christ’s people, as sealing imprints on the wax the likeness of what is on the seal, so Christ sets the stamp of His image on the soul. From then on, every grace in Christ has an answering grace in that soul, in kind, though not in degree because of indwelling corruption. The affections are the same, loving what Christ loves, and hating what He hates. There is a longing to be transformed more and more into the image of the last Adam. By nature the soul bears only the image of the first Adam. It is like cold metal, incapable of receiving an impression in that condition. Men do not
naturally care to be made like Christ, to be anointed, stamped, and sealed with His image. They may desire so far to benefit from His death as to escape eternal perdition, but not to have His grace of humility, nor to have fellowship with Him in His sufferings. If we feel a stone to be hot, we conclude that the sun or some other source of heat has been concentrated on it; and so it is with men’s hearts. When the Sun of Righteousness has shined on them they become tender and capable of receiving an impression. Then the Holy Spirit carries on the work of sanctification, and seals them; and this sealing, which gives the stamp and likeness of Christ, has the effect of distinguishing Christ’s people from all others.
God’s children are described in Holy Scripture as chosen in Christ to be holy and without blame; as the workmanship of God, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that they should walk in them” (Eph. 2.10). So Paul exhorted the “called of Jesus Christ” in Rome, that they should not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their mind,” or, as he puts the same truth elsewhere, “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” To the Ephesians he says, “Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,” as “in time past ye walked, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Paul also blamed the Corinthian Christians because they did not show that they had a higher kind of life than other men. He said to them, “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”
Too often today, Christ’s lineaments are so blurred in the soul that it is difficult to distinguish His people from others. So long as this state of soul lasts, there cannot be joy in the Holy Ghost. Falling into sin, or sorrowful trials, are often part of God’s discipline to show carnally-minded Christians the sinfulness of conformity with the world, so that they may return with tears to the foot of the cross. It is a question whether David ever recovered exactly the same joy in God that he had before his fall. In the bitterness of his soul he cried out, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” It is well for the child of God that Christ’s image cannot be thoroughly erased once it has been stamped on the newly created heart. Others do not have it, whatever outward appearances may be. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8.9).
Another effect of sealing on the soul is a conscious certainty of the Holy Spirit’s presence. He witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God. We also have more communion with God, experiencing what it means to be adopted into His family, and crying “Abba, Father”. A sealed one can go as confidently to God
as a child to an earthly parent. And when God thus speaks to the soul, and the soul to Him, it is a sign of the sealing.
Another evidence of sealing is joy in the Holy Ghost. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Sanctification is certain and assured;
not so with joy. When the soul needs encouragement – perhaps before suffering, or after suffering, or after victory over subtle temptation, or in some great trial – then the joy in the Holy Ghost is more especially felt. But it may be interrupted by sin, by secret thought or desire contrary to God’s will, which stretches out far into the future. This joy is sensitive; and as it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, He is the first to be grieved by that far-off secret thought or desire, and joy is accordingly withdrawn. The question is, are we willing to have that removed which hinders spiritual joy? “I hate the sin that made Thee mourn, and drove Thee from my breast” (Cowper).
God will recognize His own seal, though it may not be outwardly visible to men. The Israelites mentioned by Ezekiel, who sighed and cried for all the abominations that were done amongst them, were to have a mark upon their foreheads (Ezek. 9.4-6). Their fellow men might not see the mark, but God saw it. He will also see the seal on His people in the hour of death and in the day of judgement; and none will be set on Christ’s right hand except those that have this seal.
There was a sealing in the experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. ”Him hath God the Father sealed.” He had His commission under the great seal of heaven. His claim to be the Son of God was supported by “the works which the Father gave him to finish.” The Father Himself bore witness of Him when “there came such a voice from the excellent glory”; as well as when the Holy Spirit in a bodily form accompanied the testimony spoken from heaven. But all through His course “the works that he did bore witness of him, that the Father had sent him”. They were the Father’s seal to His commission. His miracles bore testimony to His authority; and when He spoke of Himself as sealed, He had a short time before He miraculously fed five thousand men. Knowing that the people sought Him from low motives, that is, that they might be supplied again with earthly food which would not endure. He sought to raise their thoughts to Himself as the everlasting and true food of the soul, being sealed for this purpose, in carrying out man’s redemption. They were bidden to seek to obtain this spiritual food, by following after Him for that, instead of hankering solely for food for the body.
In a day like the present, Christ’s sealed people ought to be essentially a marked people. If they are, they will not follow worldly-minded leaders; they cannot yield to unscriptural
compromises, they cannot confound Christ with Belial. They are a separated people, and they must be seen to be such, and to touch not the unclean thing, and especially to preserve the freshness of their stamp or seal. The more clear it is, the brighter will be their joy. Christ’s image on the soul is worth more than any worldly prosperity. To consider Him constantly is the way to be transformed into His image.
There is another mark spoken of in the Book of the Revelation, “the mark of the Beast.” They who have Christ’s seal are bound to get the victory over the Beast; and when in His strength they have at length overcome, they will join in the song of Moses and of the Lamb.
K. W. H. Howard