The Earnest of the Spirit

By 0. C. Birdwell

Several months back two articles by this writer were published in which the Holy Spirit was discussed (See Truth Magazine, Vol. XVII, No. 43 and 44). One article dealt with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the house of Cornelius; and other discussed the Holy Spirit as a pledge. If you have access to this material, please go back and read the latter article in connection with what is to be said here. Should you not have the article maybe enough of the material will be repeated for you to understand what is being discussed.

In the article, “The Holy Spirit as a Pledge,” Ephesians 1:13, 14 was shown as referring to the receiving of the word by the Gentiles and their being “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” The Holy Spirit was presented as being poured out (Acts 10:44, 45) as a surety or pledge that the Gentiles have also been made a heritage and are heirs of God. The coming of the Holy Spirit, then, upon the Jews (Acts 2) and upon the Gentiles (Acts 10) would be the “earnest,” pledge, or assurance of the salvation of both.


Since the above mentioned article was published a great deal of favorable comment has been received. Along with this comment some questions have been asked that should be answered and discussed in order to clear up some possible misunderstanding on the subject. Most of the questions center around the word “earnest” or phrases “earnest of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), “earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:22), and “earnest of the Spirit” .(2 Cor. 5:5). According to Young’s Concordance these three places record the only use of the word “earnest” in the New Testament. Receiving the “earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:22) seems to be difficult for some to harmonize with the conclusion of the previous article that the Holy Spirit came on the Gentiles (at the house of Cornelius) as an earnest (surety, pledge) of our inheritance and that Paul is not talking about a personal indwelling of the body as commonly believed. So the question, “Do you believe in the earnest of the Spirit in the heart?”

As discussed already, one must understand what the word “earnest” means and also along with this know the meaning of the word “heart.” We have shown that “earnest” means “surety,” or “pledge.” Also, Peter said that God “bare them witness giving them (the Gentiles) the Holy Spirit even as he did unto us (the Jews)” (Acts 15:8). Hence, the word “earnest” must stand for the assurance or witness made by God in sending the Holy Spirit. The word, also, means “down payment” or “partial payment.” But if this meaning is stressed one might conclude, and, I believe, falsely so, that the Holy Spirit is given to personally indwell each individual as a down payment on his inheritance, the rest of which is to be ultimately delivered. One might reason that such an indwelling would be the only possible way the Holy Spirit could be an assurance of our salvation in any way that would be meaningful to us. Such is not the case and a little thought will reveal this. According to the “personal indwelling as an earnest” position, the Spirit is not felt; he does not speak to man; nor does he guide apart from the written word. The only way one could know of the indwelling would be by the written promise. We are right back, therefore, to the testimony of Scripture. There could be no more personal assurance in this position than in the one affirmed above that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles is the pledge of our inheritance.

“in our hearts”

But we still have not seen what is involved in receiving the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. If we properly understand “earnest” as used here to mean assurance, pledge, or witness, our problem is pretty well resolved if we understand the nature of the Bible heart. Many sermons have been preached showing the Bible heart to be the intellect, will, or emotion of man. We have shown that the word “heart” as used in the New Testament does not ordinarily refer to the fleshly lobe. But all of a sudden someone comes along and infers that “heart” in 2 Cor. 1:22 means the fleshly heart, and more than that it is made to stand for the entire physical body. The “heart” here is the same as the one “pricked” in Acts 2:37. It is the intellect or mind of man. The Holy Spirit came as a witness or pledge of our redemption. We hold this in our intellect or heart. It is held through witness and testimony. This is in complete harmony with what Paul said in 2 Cor. 1:22.

Ordinary or Miraculous Gifts of the Spirit?

Another question that has been asked is as follows: “Was the earnest that which is usually referred to as the `ordinary gift of the Spirit,’ or the ‘miraculous gifts of the Spirit’?”

To answer this question it will be needful to restate some of the material already presented. If the usual meaning of “ordinary gift” and “miraculous gifts” be understood, my answer would be “neither.” The coming of the Holy Spirit, or the outpouring of the Spirit from the Father, is in itself, the earnest or assurance of our inheritance (both Jew and Gentile). As shown above, “earnest” means pledge, assurance, or witness (see Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Paul said, “ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13, 14). The “Ye” are the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit’s coming is the pledge, assurance, or witness. He came on the Gentiles as a witness of their inheritance in keeping with the promise of God (see Acts 15:8).

Let us now turn our attention to another matter that needs to be clear if we are to properly understand this subject. It seems that some material has been used on this subject that has not been made as clear in its meaning as it should have been. The idea of some seems to be that the “miraculous gifts” are made up of Christ’s having the Spirit without measure, the apostles and Cornelius receiving the “baptismal measure,” and the disciples receiving a “measure by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.” Then, the “ordinary gift” is described as the coming of the Holy Spirit into our body to personally indwell in what is called a “non-miraculous” fashion. It is supposed by some that the latter is the meaning of “and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

“Measure” of the Spirit

It needs to be understood that when the word “measure” is used to describe the Holy Spirit, the word would have to apply to the extent of the work done by the power of the Spirit and not to the Spirit Himself. The disciple who had only the gift of prophecy by the Spirit had no less of the Holy Spirit in what he did than did the apostles: He simply was not enabled by the Holy Spirit to do anything else. And it was not because he had just received a fragment of the Spirit. It would take the fullness of the Holy Spirit for one to exercise any one of the gifts. So the idea that the Spirit is fragmented and the apostles received one measure by baptism, and the disciples received another measure by the laying on of the apostles’ hands will not stand serious investigation. This is clear in 1 Cor. 12:4 where Paul said, “Now there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit.” Here the gifts are different but there is no indication that one had the Holy Spirit to a lesser degree, or that the Spirit was possessed in a fragmented or small measure. Consider also the twelve at Ephesus who had received only John’s baptism. After their baptism “into the name of the Lord Jesus, the account says, “When Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6). These people did not receive a “measure” of the Spirit but rather the Spirit came on them! They obviously were limited in what they could do and this is the only way in which the word “measure” could be intelligently used.

Truth Magazine XIX: 38, pp. 598-599
August 14, 1975