For our last reference to His wonderful work in the heart and life of man, once He has come, we turn to Paul’s Ephesian letter. “In whom we also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13).
To adequately grasp the force of Paul’s words here we need to remind ourselves of the historical background leading up to the writing of this letter to the Ephesians. You will recall that in Acts 19 the record is given of the first visit of Paul to Ephesus, It was then that he questioned the Ephesians concerning the ministry of the Spirit, to which they replied that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit. The passage is a bit obscure. When Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Ghost they replied that they had not so much as heard that there was any Holy Ghost. This cannot be the accurate rendering of this passage. And the reason is this. When Paul further interrogated them he asked, “Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism” (Acts 19:3).
It seems hardly credible that they should have actually answered that they had never heard of the Holy Ghost. For certainly had they been taught concerning the ministry of John, directly or indirectly, they must needs have heard of the Holy Ghost for the declaration of His coming in relation to Christ with its consequent call to repentance and amendment of life was all a part of John’s teaching. Be that as it may, it is clearly stated that as soon as Paul made clear to them the actual import of the death and resurrection of Jesus they readily adjusted their thinking and were immediately baptized. After their water baptism Paul, according to the same record, laid his hands on them and they received the baptism with the Holy Ghost.
And so it was, as he later wrote his epistles to them, that he referred to this visit making the declaration we have already quoted — that after that they had believed they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. The clear plain inference, in passing, was that subsequent to and distinct from their recognition of Christ as Savior and the baptism of water that followed, they were baptized with the Holy Ghost, It is to this that Paul refers in Ephesians.
Against this bit of added historical background the apostle teaches us concerning the sealing of the Spirit. What does it mean? Once more here is a distinctly original setting. Paul used the figure, common to his day, of the closing and securing of documents and letters. Letter writing, as far as its mechanics is involved, is a modern innovation, It has not been so very long that the use of envelopes as we now have them has been in vogue. Prior to that time all forms of writing that must be private and secure were imprinted with the seal. Some sort of seal with its special insignia was always at hand. The document was prepared and straightway imprinted with the sealing warm wax, securing it from common gaze or thievish hands.
How well do I recall my boyhood days in a very similar regard. My father was a railroad man and among the many routine duties of the month was the regular remittance of funds to the railroad bank in the custody of the Express Company. The preparation of these remittances always interested me and whenever I was present in the office at the time it was my requested privilege to seal the letter. Eagerly I would light the wax watching it flow out in large splotches of fluid which I would carefully press with the heavy bronze stamp till the wax was congealed and cold. I can almost recall today the impress of that seal, something like this: USX-32.
Whether or not my memory serves me aright as to the actual imprint the fact was this. This seal said to all who cared to observe — “This is the property of the Express Company, keep your hands off or suffer the consequences.” The sealing of the Holy Ghost, when He has at last come in His fullness to the human heart, means that God has stamped His initials and personal identity upon the soul saying to the world, “This is the personal property of God and belongs solely to Him.” And once that He, the Holy Ghost, has sealed, that life becomes conspicuously different from all the world about and bears an identity with the Deity that makes it unique. The mark is so legible and clear that final pretense of worldly favor is dissipated. The Holy Ghost has come.