No, this article has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde’s famous play, but we have employed a similar title!
The word Earnest is used three times in the New Testament. Here are the references –
2 Cor.1:22 God . . . has sealed us, and given us the earnest of the spirit in our hearts.
2 Cor.5:5 God, who has also given us the earnest of the spirit.
Eph.1:14 You were sealed with that promised holy spirit, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
The Greek word for earnest is ARRABON. Now here is a strange thing. The equivalent Hebrew word sounds almost identical, being pronounced AYRABON. Furthermore in Latin it is ARRHABO. There are not many such words that appear so nearly alike in three different languages.
Here are the three Old Testament references. Genesis 38:17,18,20 They concern Tamar and Judah, and the portion reads as follows –
Tamar had dressed herself up as a prostitute, and Judah met her, not knowing her real identity. He requested her services. She said, “What will you give me, if I let you come in to me?” He said, “I will send you a kid of the flock.” She said, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?” He said, “Whatpledge shall I give you?” She said, “Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.” He gave them to her, and he went in to her, and she conceived. . . . . Judah sent the kid by his friend theAdullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, but he could not find her. (The rest of the story is well known. We are only interested in seeing how the word AYRABON, translated pledge, is used.)
What does ARRABON mean? The Hebrew and Greek Lexicons tells us, “A Pledge, a Surety, a Deposit, a Down-payment, a Foretaste, a First-instalment; any of these things depending on the circumstances, but always within a legally-binding setting, where a contract is drawn up between two parties, one the Giver, the other the Receiver, and a payment is made, often called the earnest-money, as a pledge of integrity, honesty, and firm intent, until a certain time in the future, when by agreement the full sum is paid. Hence there is always a delay implied.
In modern Greek usage, the word ARRABONA now means an engagement ring. This is very interesting, because the woman receives the ring as a pledge of future marriage. However, it must be emphasised that she would never be content with just the ring. She must have the husband!! This helps us to understand the Biblical references quoted at the head of this article.
A long time ago, in ordinary everyday dealings between people in rural settings, there was a custom employed when any transfer of property was being considered. In respect of the sale of a field, for example, the Owner of the field would dig a clod of earth from that field, and hand it to the prospective new owner as the earnest. He would then maintain that clod in a special container, as evidence of a legally binding transaction until the full price was paid. Although no lawyer was employed, and no written document exchanged, local custom was strong, in that once the earnest had been given, the owner would act honourably towards the other party until the actual sale. He would never be tempted to receive a higher price from some other party, (known today as gazumping), or by pure whim or fancy, decide not to sell. Once the clod had been given, the transaction was “signed, sealed and settled.”
Similarly, if a man wished to sell his house, he would cut a swathe of thatch from the roof, and hand it over as the earnest to the prospective buyer. If he were selling his mill, then he might decide, for example, to part with a small piece of machinery, as his earnest.
Let us now return to the N.T. verses to find out what we need to learn from them. There is one difficulty here, shared by all English translations. They employ Upper Case when translating pneuma hagion,making it read “the Holy Spirit.” But one must not fall into the trap of thinking that the Holy Spirit, a member of the Godhead, can be likened to a mere “down payment” to be exchanged for the full price later. That would be a most improper thought. A brief study will surely show that “lower case” can be used. Jesus said, “Wait until you be endued with power from on high.” But later, in Acts, this power was referred to as “holy spirit.” Hence sometimes we must use Capital letters, when the context shows that the Person is implied, whilst at other times we shall need to use lower case, when the power is implied. The writer to the Hebrews said that we have “tasted the powers of an age to come.”
In each of the three references above, the lower case is needed. Paul is referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit being the earnest, the pledge, of something far greater in the future. Gifts within the early church, such as tongues, interpretations, prophecy, visions, wisdom, knowledge, and many others, were supernatural powers, not to be confused with human talents. When a believer received the baptism of the spirit, he received one or more of these gifts, and Paul says that it is like the Fiancée receiving her engagement ring, until she is received into the Lord’s arms in resurrection as His Bride.
Judith Durham, one of The Seekers, composed a song back in the sixties, which contains the following words. They amply sum up the sentiments of the bride-to-be, –
I’ll be shedding black and grey, to take on red and blue,
Colours I can feel like touching You.
Yes, the Bride of Christ may receive gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they are but “black and grey” compared with the vibrancy and wonder of the “multicoloured” heavenly setting when she meets her Lord in glory. Paul felt like this when penning those wonderful lines in 1 Corinthians 13. Speaking of gifts of the Holy Spirit, he likens them to the childhood state, saying “When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.”
However, all this, I believe, is just a part of the richness contained within the whole idea of earnest. Let me quote from the writings of one G.W.H.Lampe, “The resurrection was an earnest of the coming redemption of the world.” I believe that. I believe in the resurrection of Christ as an earnest, a pledge,of the final resurrection of all. As Paul said, even though all men die in Adam, yet “in Christ shall ALL be made alive.” It is signed, sealed and sure. It cannot be otherwise, lest God be called a liar. Jesus was “the firstborn of all creation”, so that we all belong to Him by virtue of our origin; but He was also “the firstborn from the dead,” thereby making Himself the earnest, or pledge, of our ultimate restoration and resurrection.
Furthermore, I believe that God’s Church, His remnant, is an earnest for the redemption of the rest of creation. God has not called out His elect from every nation as an end in itself. Many people erroneously believe that they will be caught up to heaven, there to live in bliss forever more, regardless of the fate of the other 90%. Nothing could be further from the truth. The elect remnant must pledgethemselves to be the instruments in God’s hands to teach, instruct, comfort, and discipline the rest of the world to know God, and to bow the knee to Jesus. The Bride will be God’s greatest evangelist of all time. This is “the joy set before us,” whereby we do not lose heart as we go through manifold testing and trials to train us for that day.
Another example of earnest is in the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain. The wrath of God as made manifest in the human sphere by this great fire. In Jude we are told that it was “an example.” I believe that Billy Graham’s wife was in error when she said that God would have to apologise toSodom if He didn’t destroy San Francisco. She didn’t understand that Sodom was an example, anearnest, a pledge that God would deal that harshly with all gross wickedness. He didn’t need to repeat the example again and again. The future judgments of God will be the fullness of what Sodom was as a type, an example, to warn mankind that “whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
Finally, I’d like to say a word about those “times of revival” that one reads about, and often longs for. Take for example the Welsh revival in 1905. Miners, coming out from the pit, and making their way home, would pass chapels, and hear singing, and fall under the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of their condition, they found themselves entering the chapels, and seeking peace with God, often with many tears of repentance. It is so heart-warming to read of these stirring revivals, and oftentimes in the past we have prayed to see them again. But my present understanding is that all such occasions were examples, earnests, pledges by God that in the days of His Kingdom, these glad events would be witnessed world-wide. We should be praying “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.”
May God be praised for “the earnest of our inheritance, until He redeems His purchased possession.”