Therefore the Spirit of God, when he worketh in the heart as a spirit of bondage, doeth it by working in us by the law, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Rom.6: 20. And he in this his working is properly called a spirit of bondage; because by the law he shows us that indeed we are in bondage to the law, the devil, and death and danmation.
He is called in his working the spirit of bondage, because he here also holds us -- to wit, in this sight and sense of our bondage state -- so long as it is meet we should be so held; which to some of the saints is a longer, and to some a shorter time. Paul was held in it three days and three nights, but the jailer and the three thousand, so far as can be gathered, not above an hour; but some in these later times are so held for days and months, if not for years. But I say, let the time be longer or shorter, it is the Spirit of God that holdeth him under this yoke, and it is good that a man should be his time held under it.
Now, as I said, the sinner at first is by the Spirit of God held under this bondage; that is, hath such a discovery of his sin and of his damnation for sin made to him, and also is held so fast under the sense thereof, that it is not in the power of any man, nor yet of the very angels in heaven, to release or set him free, until the Holy Spirit changeth his ministration and comes in the sweet and peaceable tidings of salvation by Christ in the gospel to his poor dejected and afflicted conscience.
The Spirit loveth to do what it does in private: that man to whom God intendeth to reveal great things, he taketh him aside from the lumber and cumber of this world, and carrieth him away in the solace and contemplation of the things of another world.
This water of life is the very groundwork of life IN us, though not the groundwork of life FOR us. The groundwork of life FOR us is the passion and merits of Christ; this is that for the sake of which grace is given unto us, as is intimated by the text, Rev.22:1. It proceeds from the throne of God, who is Christ. Christ then having obtained grace for us, must needs be precedent as to his merit, to that grace he hath so obtained. Besides, it is clear that the Spirit and grace come from God through him. Therefore, as to the communication of grace to us, it is the fruit of his merit and purchase.
But I say, IN US grace is the groundwork of life; for though we may be said before to live virtually in the person of Christ before God, yet we are dead in ourselves, and so must be until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high; for the Spirit is life, and its graces are life, and when that is infused by God from the throne, then we live, and not till then. And hence it is called as before, living water, the water of life, springing up in us into everlasting life. The Spirit then and graces of the Spirit, which is the river here spoken of, is that, and that only, which can cause us to live; that being life to the soul, as the soul is life to the body. All men therefore, as was said afore -- though elect, though purchased by the blood of Christ -- are dead and must be dead until the Spirit of life from God and his throne shall enter into them; until they shall drink it in by vehement thirst, as the parched ground drinks in the rain. Now when this living water is received, it takes up its seat in the heart, whence it spreads itself to the awakening of all the powers of the soul. For as in the first creation, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, in order to the putting of that creation into that excellent fashion and harmony which now we behold with our eyes, even so the new creation, to wit, the making of us new to God, is done by the overspreading of the same Spirit also.
As the herb that is planted or seed sown needs watering with continual showers of the mountains, so our graces implanted in us by the Spirit of grace must also be watered by the rain of Heaven. "Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly, thou settest the furrows thereof, thou makest it soft with showers, thou blessest the springing thereof." Hence he says that our graces shall grow. But how? "I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon."
All the warmth that we have in our communion, is the warmth of the Spirit. When a company of saints are gathered together in the name of Christ to perform any spiritual exercise, and their souls are edified warmly and made glad therein, it is because this water, this river of water of life, has, in some of the streams thereof, run into that assembly. Then are Christians like those that drink wine in bowls, merry and glad; for that they have drank into the Spirit, and had their souls refreshed with the sweet gales and strong wine thereof. This is the feast that Isaiah speaks of when he saith, "In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined." Isa.25:6. This is called in another place, "The communion of the Holy Ghost." 2 Cor.13:14. Now he warmeth spirits, uniteth spirits, enlighteneth spirits, reviveth, cherisheth, quickeneth, strengtheneth graces; renews assurances, brings old comforts to mind, weakens lusts, emboldeneth and raiseth a spirit of faith, of love, of hope, of prayer, and makes the word a blessing, conference a blessing, meditation a blessing, and duty very delightful to the soul. Without this water of life, communion is weak, flat, cold, dead, fruitless, lifeless; there is nothing seen, felt, heard, or understood, in a spiritual, heart-quickening way. Now ordinances are burdensome, sins strong, faith weak, hearts hard, and the faces of our souls dry, like the dry and parched ground.
This drink also revives us when tempted, when sick, when persecuted, when in the dark, and when we faint for thirst. The life of religion is this water of life; where that runs, where that is received, and where things are done in this spirit, there all things are well -- the church thrifty, the soul thrifty, graces thrifty, and all is well.
You that are spiritual, you know what a high and goodly lifting up of heart one small gale of the good Spirit of God will make in your souls; how it will make your lusts to languish, and your souls to love and take pleasure in the Lord that saves you. You know, I say, what a flame of love, and compassion, and self-denial, and endeared affection to God and all saints, it will beget in the soul: "Oh, it is good to be here," saith the gracious heart.
This is the reason why so many are carried away with the errors that are broached in these days, because they have not indeed received the Lord Jesus by the revelation of the Spirit and with power, but by the relation of others only; and so having no other witness to set them down withal, but the history of the word and the relation of others concerning the truths contained in it, yet not having had the Spirit of the Lord to confirm these things effectually to them, they are carried away with delusions.