THE WATER OF LIFE;
A DISCOURSE SHOWING THE RICHNESS AND GLORY
GRACE AND SPIRIT OF THE GOSPEL,
AS SET FORTH IN SCRIPTURE BY THIS TERM, THE WATER OF LIFE.
BY JOHN BUNYAN.
'And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.'—Revelation 22:17
London: Printed for Nathanael Ponder, at the Peacock in the Poultry, 1688.
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.
Often, and in every age, the children of God have dared to doubt the sufficiency of divine grace; whether it was vast enough to reach their condition—to cleanse them from the guilt of all their sins—and to fit their souls to dwell with infinite holiness in the mansions of the blessed. To solve these doubts—to answer these anxious inquiries, Bunyan wrote many of his works; for although he was a Boanerges, or son of thunder, to awaken the impenitent, he was eminently a Barnabas—a son of consolation—an evangelist to direct the trembling inquirer to Christ the way, the truth, and the life. He proclaims first, from his own experience, that there is 'Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners'; then he proclaims 'Good News for the Vilest of Men, the Jerusalem Sinner is Saved'—'Christ is an Advocate'—'Christ is a complete Saviour.' Every one is invited with a 'Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.' There is 'Justification by his Righteousness'—'Salvation by his Grace.' 'He is a Throne of Grace' to which all are freely invited. Even 'The Broken Heart is an acceptable sacrifice.' There is 'The Holy City, New Jerusalem,' to receive such at the end of their pilgrimage, and directions amply given to the pilgrim to guide him in his progress to the celestial city; and he now introduces us to a majestic overflowing river, 'The Water of Life,' sufficient for the refreshment and solace of the myriads of God's saints who have lived from the creation, and will live until the final consummation of all things, when the prophet in holy vision saw 'a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, stand before the throne, and before the Lamb.' This work was the result of the author's mature experience, being published by him during the last year of his eventful life. In it he refers to one of those ten excellent manuscripts left by him at his decease, prepared for the press, and afterwards published by Mr. Doe. It is called, The Saint's Privilege and Profit. The way in which he alludes to this, as if it had been printed, shows that he had fully determined to publish it shortly, and this, if it was needed, would confirm our confidence in those treatises. He thus refers to it: 'Because I have spoken of this thing, more particularly upon that text, 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace,' I shall therefore here say no more.'
Two things are rather extraordinary with regard to this valuable treatise on the Water of Life. One is, that although inserted in every list of our author's works, both published by himself and by his friends after his decease, it escaped the researches of Doe, Wilson, Chandler, Whitfield, and others who collected and published Bunyan's works, excepting only the edition with Mason's notes, printed for A. Hogg about 1785. The other singular circumstance is, that although the separate treatises of Bunyan were all most wretchedly and inaccurately printed, the Water of Life has in this respect suffered more than any other of his works. A modern edition of this book, published at Derby by Thomas Richardson, is, without exception, the most erroneously printed of all books that have come under my notice. The Scriptures are misquoted—words are altered so as to pervert the sense—whole sentences and paragraphs, and even whole pages in three or four places, and, in one instance, four consecutive pages, are left out!!! I should be grieved if more penal enactments were added to our statutes, but surely there should be some punishment for such a crime as this. The other editions are more reputable, but very incorrect. One of them bears the imprint of 'London, for James Bunyan, 1760.' Another has 'London, sold by Baxter, Doolittle, & Burkit,' evidently fictitious names, adopted from those three great authors. The Pilgrim's Progress was twice published by D. Bunyan, in Fleet Street, 1763 and 1768; and the Heavenly Footman, 'London, sold by J. Bunyan, above the Monument.' All these are wretchedly printed, and with cuts that would disgrace an old Christmas carol. Thus the public have been imposed upon, and thus the revered name of Bunyan has been sacrificed to the cupidity of unprincipled men. Had his works been respectably printed they would have all been very popular and useful, and his memory have been still more venerated.
To attract his readers to come personally, and partake the blessings imparted by the water of life, Bunyan shows that, as a medicine, it alone is the specific to cure the sin-sick soul—all other applications must fail most fatally—'all other remedies come from and return to the Dead Sea'—while the water of life issues from, and leads the soul to, the throne of God. It cleanseth from the old leaven. The Divine Physician is ever ready to administer to the wearied soul. Be not misled by worldly-wisemen to take advice of the doctor's boy, but go direct to Jesus; he is ready—he is willing to cure and save to the uttermost. His medicine may be sharp, but merely so as to effect the cure 'where bad humours are tough and churlish.' 'It revives where life is, and gives life where it is not. Take man from this river, and nothing can make him live: let him have this water and nothing can make him die.' The river of water of life allegorically represents the Spirit and grace of God; thus the truth is mercifully set before us, for 'what is more free than water, and what more beneficial and more desirable than life?' Vast and majestic rivers convey but a faint idea of the immensity of Divine grace; in comparison with which 'the most mighty mountain dwindles into the least ant's egg or atom in the world.' A stream of grace issued from the same source during the patriarchal dispensation, and then mankind were directed to it by immediate revelation, or by the tradition of their fathers. It extended under the Jewish or Levitical law, in its course passing through the temple, issuing from under the threshold of God's house, revealed by types, and shadows, and an earthly priesthood, and then 'grace ran but slowly because Jesus was not glorified.' Now it flows like a majestic river from the throne of God, open to all, without limit of family or nation, revealed to every creature by the volume of inspiration. This water admits no mixture—it is pure and perfect as its origin—free as the air we breathe to sustain life. 'There is no grudge, or a piece of an upbraiding speech heard therein.' Any attempt to mix with it human merits destroys all its efficacy. In it, and in it only, spiritual life, exciting to works of mercy, and giving sure hopes of immortal bliss, is to be found. God's children can no more live separated from this river than fish can live out of water. As a fish, by natural instinct, avoids foul and unwholesome water, so a Christian has spiritual powers to judge of the purity of doctrine. Like the manna from heaven, and our daily bread, it must be supplied day by day. No church cistern of works of supererogation can supply this pure water. All such pretended supplies are poisonous. It must come direct from heaven without human interference. Those only who spiritually thirst will seek it. Some prefer wine that perisheth in the using, while this water, once received, becomes a well-spring of living waters, springing up into everlasting life. How marvellous that river which swallows up all the impurities of the myriads of the redeemed, so that they are seen no more for ever. These are the truths pressed upon our attention in this treatise. Well may our venerated Bunyan say, while richly enjoying the blessings of this river of grace, just before he waded through the black river which absorbs our earthly bodies—'O grace! O happy church of God! all things that happen to thee are, for Christ's sake, turned into grace!' It is a river that so reflects the splendour of God, that the first sight of it was to Paul above the brightness of the sun; a light that did, by the glory of it, make dark to him all the things in the world.
Reader, may your soul and mine be abundantly refreshed from this inexhaustible river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.
THE EPISTLE TO THE READER.
I have now presented thee with something of a discourse of the water of life and its virtues; therefore, thou mayest, if thou wilt, call this book Bunyan's Bill of his Master's Water of Life. True, I have not set forth at large the excellent nature and quality thereof, nor can that so be done by the pen or tongue of men or angels. Yet this I have said, and so saying, said truly, that whosoever shall drink of this water shall find it in him a well of water; and not only so, but a well springing up in him to everlasting life, let his disease be what it will. And as men, in their bills for conviction to readers, do give an account to the country of the persons cured, and the diseases that have been removed by liquors and preparations, they have made for that end, so could I, were it not already (by Holy Writ) done by an infallible pen to my hand, give you accounts of numberless numbers that have not only been made to live, but to live for ever, by drinking of this water, this pure water of life. Many of them indeed are removed from hence, and live where they cannot be spoken with was yet; but abundance of them do still remain here, and have their abode yet with men.
Only, if thou wouldst drink it, drink it by itself, and that thou mayest not be deceived by that which is counterfeit, know it is as it comes from the hand of our Lord, without mixture, pure and clear as crystal. I know there are many mountebanks in the world, and every of them pretend they have this water to sell; but my advice is, that thou go directly to the throne thyself (Heb 4:16); or as thou art bidden come to the waters (Isa 55:1), and there thou shalt be sure to have that which is right and good, and that which will certainly make thee well, let thy disease, or trouble, or pain, or malady, be what it will. For the price, care not for that, it is cheap enough, this is to be had without money or price. 'I will give,' saith God and the Lamb, 'unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely' (Rev 21:6). Hence he says again, 'Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely' (Rev 22:17). So that thou hast no ground to keep back because of thy poverty; nay, for the poor it is prepared and set open, to the poor it is offered, the poor and needy may have it of free cost (Isa 41:17,18).
But let it not be slighted because it is offered to thee upon terms so full, so free. For thou art sick, and sick unto death, if thou drinkest not of it, nor is there any other than this that can heal thee, and make thee well. Farewell. The Lord be thy physician! So prays thy friend,
THE WATER OF LIFE.
'AND HE SHOWED ME A PURE RIVER OF WATER OF LIFE, CLEAR AS CRYSTAL, PROCEEDING OUT OF THE THRONE OF GOD AND OF THE LAMB.' Revelation 22:1
These words are part of that description that one of the seven angels, which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, gave unto John of the New Jerusalem, or of the state of that gospel church, that shall be in the latter days (Rev 21:9). Wherefore he saith, 'And he showed me'; HE, the angel, showed me it.
In the text we have these things to consider of,
FIRST. The matter, the subject matter of the text, and that is the water of life. 'He showed me the water of life.' SECOND. We have also here the quantity of this water showed to him, and that is under the notion of a river: 'He showed me a river of water of life.' THIRD. He shows him also the head, or well-spring, from whence this river of water of life proceeds, and that is, 'the throne of God and of the Lamb.' 'He showed me a river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb.' FOURTH. We have also here the nature and quality of this water; it is pure, it is clear as crystal: 'And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.'
[THE WATER OF LIFE.]
[FIRST.] We will begin with the first of these, to wit, with the matter, the subject matter of the text, which is, THE WATER OF LIFE. These words, water of life, are metaphorical, or words by which a thing most excellent is presented to and amplified before our faces; and that thing is the Spirit of grace, the Spirit and grace of God. And the words, water of life, are words most apt to present it to us by; for what is more free than water, and what more beneficial and more desirable than life? Therefore I say it is compared to, or called, the water of life. He showed me the water of life.
That it is the Spirit of grace, or the Spirit and grace of God, that is here intended: consider, FIRST, the Spirit of grace is in other places compared to water: and, SECOND, it is also called the Spirit of life. Just as here it is presented unto us, 'He showed me the water of life.'
FIRST. The spirit of grace is compared to water. 'Whosoever,' saith the Lamb, 'drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life' (John 4:14). What can here by water be intended, but the Spirit of grace that this poor harlot, the woman of Samaria, wanted, although she was ignorant of her want, as also of the excellency thereof? Which water also is here said to be such as will spring up, in them that have it, as a well into everlasting life.
Again, 'In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.' But of what? Why of his rivers of living waters. But what are they? Why he answers, 'This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive' (John 7:37-39).
Yes, the prophets and servants of God in the Old Testament, did take this water of life for the Spirit of grace that should in the latter days be poured out into the church. Hence, Isaiah calls water God's Spirit and blessing, and Zechariah, the Spirit of grace. 'I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring' (Isa 44:3). And Zechariah saith, 'I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication,—and they shall mourn,' &c. (Zech 12:10). Behold, in all these places the Spirit of grace is intended, and for our better understanding it is compared to water, to a well of water, to springs of water, and to floods of water.
SECOND. It is also called the Spirit of life, [either] more closely, [or] more openly.
More closely, where it is called 'living water,' 'that living water,' and 'water springing up into everlasting life' (John 4:10,11,14, 7:38).
Then more openly or expressly it is called 'the Spirit of life.' 'And after three days and an half, the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet' (Rev 11:11).
From hence, therefore, I conclude, that by these terms, water of life, is meant the Spirit of grace, or the Spirit and grace of the gospel. And the terms are such as are most apt to set forth the Spirit and grace of the gospel by: for,
[First. The term WATER.]
1. By this term, WATER, an opposition to sin is presented unto us. Sin is compared to water, to deadly waters, and man is said to drink it, as one that drinketh waters. 'How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?' (Job 15:16). So, then, that grace and the Spirit of grace is compared to water, it is to show what an antidote grace is against sin; it is, as I may call it, counter poison to it. It is that ONLY thing by the virtue of which sin can be forgiven, vanquished, and overcome.
2. By this term WATER, you have an opposition also to the curse, that is due to sin, presented unto you. The curse, is compared to water; the remedy is compared to water. Let the curse come into the bowels of the damned, saith the psalmist, like water (Psa 109:18). The grace of God also, as you see, is compared to water. The curse is burning; water is cooling: the curse doth burn with hell-fire; cooling is by the grace of the holy gospel: but they that overstand the day of grace, shall not obtain to cool their tongues so much of this water as will hang on the tip of one's finger (Luke 16:24,25).
3. Water is also of a spreading nature, and so is sin; wherefore sin may for this also be compared to water. It overspreads the whole man, and infects every member; it covereth all as doth water. Grace for this cause may be also compared to water; for that it is of a spreading nature, and can, if God will, cover the face of the whole earth; of body and soul.
4. Sin is of a fouling, defiling nature; and grace is of a washing, cleansing nature; therefore grace, and the Spirit of grace, is compared to water. 'I will,' saith God, 'sprinkle clean water upon you, [my Spirit, v 27] and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you' (Eze 36:25).
5. Water; the element of water naturally descends to and abides in low places, in valleys and places which are undermost; and the grace of God and the Spirit of grace is of that nature also; the hills and lofty mountains have not the rivers running over the tops of them; no, though they may run 'among them.' But they run among the valleys: and 'God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble,' 'to the lowly' (John 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Prov 3:34).
6. The grace of God is compared to water, for that it is it which causeth fruitfulness; water causeth fruitfulness, want of water is the cause of barrenness; and this is the reason why the whole world is so empty of fruit to Godward, even because so few of the children of men have the Spirit of grace in their hearts. But,
[Second. The term LIFE.]
As there is a great special signification in this term WATER, so there is in this term LIFE, water of life. 'He showed me the water of life.' In that, therefore, there is added to this word water, that of life, it is, in the general, to show what excellent virtue and operation there is in this water. It is aquae vitae, water of life, or water that hath a health and life in it. And this term shows us,
1. That the world of graceless men are dead; dead in trespasses and sins (John 5:21,25; Eph 2:1; Col 2:13). Dead, that is, without life and motion Godward, in the way of the testament of his Son.
2. It also shows us that there is not any thing in the world, or in the doctrine of the world, the law, that can make them live. Life is only in this water, death is in all other things. The law, I say, which is that that would, if anything in the whole world, give life unto the world, but that yet killeth, condemneth, and was added that the offence might abound; wherefore there is no life either in the world or in the doctrine of the world. It is only in this water, in this grace of God, which is here called the after of life, or God's aquae vitae.
3. It is also called the water of life to show that by the grace of God men may live, how dead soever their sins have made them. When God will say to a sinner, 'live,' though he be dead in his sins, 'he shall live.' 'When thou wast in thy blood, I said unto thee, Live; yea, when thou wast in thy blood, I said, Live' (Eze 16:6). And again, 'The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live' (John 5:25). That is, when he speaks words of grace, and mixeth those words with the Spirit and grace of the gospel, then men shall live; for such words so attended, and such words only, are spirit and life. 'The words that I speak unto you,' saith Christ, 'they are spirit, and they are life' (John 6:63).
4. In that this grace of God is here presented unto us under the terms of water of life, it is to show that some are sick of that disease that nothing can cure but that. There are many diseases in the world, and there are also remedies for those diseases; but there is a disease that nothing will, can, or shall cure, but a dram of this bottle, a draught of this aquae vitae, this water of life. This is intimated by the invitation, 'let him take the water of life freely' (Rev 22:17). And again, 'I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely' (Rev 21:6). This is spoken to the sick, to them that are sick of the disease that only Christ, as a physician, with his water of life, can cure (Mark 2:17). But few are sick of this disease, but few know what it is to be made sick of this disease. There is nothing can make sick of this disease but the law and sin, and nothing can cure but the grace of God by the gospel, called here the water of life.
[THE GREATNESS AND ABUNDANCE OF THE WATER OF LIFE.]
[SECOND.] We come now to discourse of the second thing with which we are presented by the text, and that is, the quantity that there is of this water of life. It is a RIVER—'He showed me a river of water of life.' Waters that are cordial, and that have in them a faculty to give life to them that want it, and to maintain life where it is, are rare and scarce, and to be found only in close places and little quantities; but here you see there is abundance, a great deal, a RIVER, a river of water of life. In my handling of this point I will show you,
FIRST. What a river of water of life this is. SECOND. And then draw some inferences therefrom.
FIRST. What a river this is, this river of water of life.
First. It is a deep river. It is a river that is not shallow, but deep, with an 'O the depth!' (Rom 11:33). 'I will make their waters deep, saith God' (Eze 32:14). And again, they 'have drunk of the deep waters' (Eze 34:18). A river of water of life is much, but a deep river is more. Why, soul-sick sinner, sin-sick sinner, thou that art sick of that disease that nothing can cure but a potion of this river of the water of life, here is a river for thee, a deep river for thee. Those that at first are coming to God by Christ for life, are of nothing so inquisitive as of whether there is grace enough in him to save them. But, for their comfort, here is abundance, abundance of grace, a river, a deep river of the water of life, for them to drink of.
Second. As this river is deep, so it is wide and broad (Eph 3:18; Job 11:9). Wherefore, as thou art to know the depth, that is, that it is deep, so thou art to know its breadth, that is, that it is broad; it is broader than the sea, a river that cannot be passed over (Eze 47:5). Never did man yet go from one side of this river to the other when the waters indeed were risen; and now they are risen, even now they proceed out of the throne of God and of the Lamb too. Hence this grace is called 'the unsearchable riches of Christ' (Eph 3:8). Sinner, sick sinner, what sayest thou to this? Wouldst thou wade? wouldst thou swim? here thou mayest swim, it is deep, yet fordable at first entrance. And when thou thinkest that thou hast gone through and through it, yet turn again and try once more, and thou shalt find it deeper than hell, and a river that cannot be passed over. If thou canst swim, here thou mayest roll up and down as the fishes do in the sea. Nor needest thou fear drowning in this river, it will bear thee up, and carry thee over the highest hills, as Noah's waters did carry the ark. But,
Third. As this river of water of life is deep and large, so it is a river that is full of waters. A river may be deep and not full. A river may be broad and not deep. Aye, but here is a river deep and broad, and full too. 'Thou waterest it; thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water' (Psa 65:9). Full of grace and truth. Fill the water-pots, saith Christ, up to the brim. The waters of a full cup the wicked shall have; and a river full of the water of life is provided for those who indeed have a desire thereto.
Fourth. As this river is deep, broad, and full, so it still aboundeth with water. The waters, says the prophet, 'were risen' (Eze 47:4). Hence, the Holy Ghost saith, God causeth the waters to flow (Psa 147:18). And again, 'And it shall come to pass in that day [the day of the gospel] that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim' (Joel 3:18). When a river overflows it has more water than its banks can bound: it has water. 'Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed' (Psa 78:20). This river of water of life, which is also signified by these waters, is a river that abounds and that overflows its banks in an infinite and unspeakable manner. Thus much for the river, to wit, what a river of water of life it is. It is a river deep, broad, full, and abounding with this water, with this Spirit and grace of the gospel.
[Inferences to be drawn from this term RIVER.]
SECOND. Now I shall come to draw some inference from it, that is, from this term, a river. A river of water of life.
First. Then, a river is water that is common, common in the streams, though otherwise in the head. This river proceeds out of the throne, and so, as to its rise, it is special; it is also called the water of life, and as it is such, it is special; but as it is a river it is common, and of common use, and for common good. Hence the grace of God is called the common salvation (Jude 3), for that by the word there is no restraint, no denial to or forbidding of any that will, from receiving thereof.
And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Rev 22:17). What can more fully declare the commonness of a thing? Yea, this river is called, at the very head of it, an 'open fountain,' a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zech 13:1). And by David or Judah and Jerusalem is comprehended every soul that would drink of the water of life or living water. And hence it is that this river is said to 'go down into the desert and go into the sea,' where all kinds of fishes are (Eze 47:8). By sea is meant the world, and by fish the people, and thither shall run this river of water of life. But,
Second. Though a river, in the streams of it, is common, yet a river, as it passes through a country or province, will choose its own way, it will run in the valleys, in the plains, not over steeples and hills. It will also fetch its compasses and circuits; it will go about and reach hither and thither, and according to its courses it will miss by its turnings what places and people it lists, yet it is common, for that it lies open, yet it is common for all the beasts of the field. There is, therefore, a difference to be put betwixt the commonness of a thing and its presence. A thing may be common, yet far enough off of thee. Epsom, Tunbridge waters, and the Bath, may be common, but yet a great way off of some that have need thereof. The same may be said of this river, it is common in the streams, but it runs its own circuit, and keeps its own water-courses. 'He sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the hills' (Psa 104:10). Indeed, he openeth his river in high places, in his throne, and of the Lamb, but still they run in the midst of the valleys to water the humble and the lowly. Wherefore, they that thirst and would drink are bid to come down to the waters—'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy,' &c. (Isa 55:1). And again, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink' (John 7:37). The waters are common, but you must come to them, to them where they are, or you will be nothing the better for them. 'Come ye to the waters.'
Third. This water of life is called a river, to intimate to you by what store of the same it is supplied. All rivers have the sea for their original: 'All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again' (Eccl 1:7). And so this river of water of life is said to proceed out of the throne, as out of a place where it breaketh out, but the original is the sea, the ocean of grace, which is an infinite Deity. 'Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea, into the depth of the sea of thy grace' (Micah 7:19). Rivers, when they are broken up, do with their gliding streams carry away a great deal of the filth, which from all parts of the countries through which they run, is conveyed into them; and they carry it away into the sea, where it is everlastingly swallowed up. And, O! the filth that is cast into this river of God! and, O! how many dirty sinners are washed white therein, for by its continual gliding away, it carrieth that filth into the midst of the sea.
A river will take away the very stink of a dead dog: nor doth all the soil and draught that is cast into the rivers, cause that those that can should be afraid to make use thereof: all that have need do betake themselves to this river notwithstanding. But how much more virtue is there in this sweet river of grace that is designed, yea, opened on purpose, to wash away sin and uncleanness in, to carry away all our filth, and to remain as virtuous still!
Fourth. It is called a river, to show that it yields a continual supply, as I may call it, of new and fresh grace. Rivers yield continually fresh and new water. For though the channel or watercourse in which the water runs is the same, yet the waters themselves are always new. That water that but one minute since stood in this place or that of the river, is now gone, and new and fresh is come in its place. And thus it is with the river of God, which is full of water; it yieldeth continually fresh supplies, fresh and new supplies of grace to those that have business in those waters. And this is the reason that when sin is pardoned, it seems as if it were carried away. Those waters have, with their continual streams, carried away the filth of the sinner form before his face. It is not so with ponds, pools, and cisterns; they will be foul and stink, if they be not often emptied, and filled again with fresh water. We must then put a difference between the grace that dwelleth in us, and this river of water of life. We are but as ponds, pools, and cisterns, that can hold but little, and shall also soon stink, notwithstanding the grace of God is in us, if we be not often emptied from vessel to vessel, and filled with fresh grace from this river (Jer 48:11). But the river is always sweet, nor can all the filth that is washed out of the world make it stink, or infect it: its water runs with a continual gliding stream, and so carries away all annoyance, as was said, into the depth of the sea.
Fifth. The grace of God is called a river, to show that it is only suited to those who are capable of living therein. Water, though it is that which every creature desireth, yet it is not an element in which every creature can live. Who is it that would not have the benefit of grace, of a throne of grace? But who is it that can live by grace? Even none, but those whose temper and constitution is suited to grace. Hence, as the grace of God is compared to a RIVER, so those that live by grace are compared to FISH: for that as water is that element in which the fish liveth, so grace is that which is the life of the saint. 'And there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither; for they shall be healed, and everything shall live whither the river cometh' (Eze 47:9). Art thou a fish, O man, art thou a fish? Canst thou live in the water; canst thou live always, and nowhere else, but in the water? Is grace thy proper element? The fish dieth if she be taken out of the water, unless she be timely put in again; the saint dieth if he be not in this river. Take him from this river, and nothing can make him live; let him have water, water of life enough, and nothing can make him die.
I know that there are some things besides fish, that can make a shift to live in the water; but the water is not their proper, their only proper element. The frog can live in the water, but not in the water only; the otter can live in the water, but not in the water only. Give some men grace and the world, grace and sin; admit them to make use of their lusts for pleasure, and of grace to remove their guilt, and they will make a pretty good shift, as we say; they will finally scrabble on in a profession; but hold them to grace only, confine their life to grace, put them into the river, and let them have nothing but river, and they die; the word, and way, and nature of grace, is to them as light bread, and their soul can do no other but loath it, for they are not suited and tempered for that element. They are fish, not frogs, that can live in the river, as in their only proper element. Wherefore, the grace of God, and Spirit of grace, is compared to a river, to show that none but those can live thereby whose souls and spirits are suited and fitted thereto.
Sixth. The grace, and Spirit of grace of God, is called or compared to a river, to answer those unsatiable desires, and to wash away those mountainous doubts that attend those that indeed do thirst for that drink. The man that thirsteth with spiritual thirst, fears nothing more than that there is not enough to quench his thirst. All the promises and sayings of God's ministers to such a man seem but as thimbles instead of bowls (Psa 63:1, 143:6). I mean so long as his thirst and doubts walk hand in hand together. There is not enough in this promise; I find not enough in that promise to quench the drought of my thirsting soul. He that thirsteth aright, nothing but God can quench his thirst. 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God' (Psa 42:2, 63:1, 143:6). Well, what shall be done for this man? Will his God humour him, and answer his desires? Mark what follows: 'When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none,' (and they can find none, when all the promises seem to be dry, and like clouds that return after the rain), 'and their tongue faileth for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them.' Aye, but Lord, what wilt thou do to quench their thirst? 'I will open rivers,' saith he, 'in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water' (Isa 41:17,18). Behold! here are rivers and fountains, a pool, and springs, and all to quench the thirst of them that thirst for God.
Wherefore, as I said, such provision for the thirsty intimates their fears of want and the craving appetite of their souls after God. Right spiritual thirst is not to be satisfied without abundance of grace. And 'they shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house, and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures' (Psa 36:8).
Seventh. The grace of God is compared to a river, to show the greatness of the family of God. He has a family, a great family, and, therefore, it is not a little that must be provided for them. When Israel went out of Egypt, and thirsted by the way, God provided for them a river; he made it gush out of the rock; for, alas! what less than a river could quench the thirst of more than six hundred thousand men, besides women and children? (Psa 78:20).
I say, what less than a river could do it? When the people lusted for flesh, Moses said, 'Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them to suffice them?' (Num 11:22). Even so could not less than a river sustain and suffice that great people. Now his people in gospel days are not to be diminished, but increased; and if then they had need of a river, surely now of a sea; but the river is deep and broad, full, and abounds, or rises with water, so it will suffice.
Eighth. The grace of God is compared to a river, perhaps to show of what a low esteem it is with the rich and the full. The destitute indeed embrace the rock instead of a shelter, and the poor and needy, they seek water: but they that can drink wine in bowls, that can solace themselves with, as they think, better things, they come not to this river to drink; they never say they shall die if they drink not of this water. It is, therefore, for the poor and needy, God will lead THEM to his 'living fountains of waters,' and will 'wipe away all tears from THEIR eyes' (Rev 7:17). And thus I pass the second and come to the third particular, and that is, to show the head and spring from whence this river proceeds, or springs.
[THE HEAD OR WELL-SPRING OF THE WATER OF LIFE.]
[THIRD.] Rivers have their heads from whence they rise, out of which they spring, and so, accordingly, we read this river has; wherefore he saith, 'He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.'
[GOD.] God is here to be taken for the whole Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit, for that grace proceeds from them all; the grace of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the grace of the Spirit is here included. Hence, as the Father is called 'the God of grace' (1 Peter 5:10): so the Son is said to be full of grace, grace to be communicated (John 1:14-16), and the Holy Ghost is called 'the Spirit of grace' (Heb 10:29). So then by this we perceive whence grace comes. Were all the world gracious, if God were not gracious, what was man the better? If the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost, are gracious, if they were not all gracious, what would it profit? But now God is gracious, the three persons in the Godhead are gracious, and so long they that seek grace are provided for; for that, there proceeds from them a river, or grace like a flowing stream; indeed the original of grace to sinners is the good will of God; none can imagine how loving God is to sinful man. A little of it is seen, but they that see most, see but a little.
[THE LAMB.] But there is added, 'and of the Lamb.' The Lamb is, Jesus as sacrificed, Jesus as man, and suffering. Hence you have the Lamb, at the first vision of the throne, set forth unto us, that is, as slain. 'And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain' (Rev 5:6). Wherefore, by this word Lamb, we are to understand who, or by what means, grace doth now run from the throne of God, like a river, to the world. It is because of, or through the Lamb. We are 'justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood' (Rom 3:24). And again, 'We have redemption through his blood,' even 'the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of God's grace' (Eph 1:7).
Nor doth the Lamb of God, by becoming a means, through death, of the conveyance of grace to us, at all darken the nature or glory of grace, but rather doth set it off the more. For wherein can grace or love more appear than in his laying down his life for us? I speak now of the grace of the Son. And wherein could the nature and glory of grace of the Father more appear than in giving his Son to death for us, that grace might, in a way of justice as well as mercy, be bestowed upon the world? Wherefore, as he saith here, that the river of water of life proceedeth from God, so he adds that the Lamb, because he would have us while we are entangled and overcome with this river of God's pleasure, not forget what it cost the Lamb of God that this grace might come unto us.
For the riches of grace and of wisdom are, that grace comes to us not only in a way of mercy and compassion, but in a way of justice and equity; but that could be by no other means but by redeeming blood. Which redeeming blood came not from us, nor yet through our contrivance or advice; wherefore, whatever it is to the Lamb, still all is of grace to us. Yea, the higher, the greater, the richer is grace, by how much the more it cost the Father and the Lamb, that we might enjoy it. When a man shall not only design me a purse of gold, but shall venture his life to bring it to me, this is grace indeed. But, alas! what are a thousand such short comparisons to the unsearchable love of Christ.
The Lamb, then, is he from whom, by, or through whom the grace of God doth come to us. It proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And it proceeds from him now as a donator: from him, not only as a means of conveyance, but as one that has power to give grace; power, as he is the Son of Man. For as the Son of Man he is the Lamb, and as he is the Lamb it cometh from him. 'The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins' (Matt 9:6). And that before he had actually paid to God the price of our redemption. But how much more now? Wherefore Paul, in his prayer for grace and peace for saints, supplicates both God and the Lamb—'Grace be to you, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ' (Eph 1:2; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3).
'Proceeding out of the throne.' Formerly this river of water is said to come from under the threshold of the house of the Lord (Eze 47:1). And it is, said again, they 'shall go out from Jerusalem,' that is, the church or house of God still (Zech 14:8). In that they are said to come out from under the threshold, it may be to intimate that they ran but low formerly, if compared to what they do now. Which might also be signified by this, that they 'issued out,' that that issues out ordinarily comes forth but slowly. Also the prophet saith, the first time he went through the waters, they were but up to the ankles (Eze 47:3,4). But what is ankle-deep to that which followeth after? It is said also to come out from Jerusalem, where, I perceive, were no great rivers, to intimate, that as long as the first priesthood, first temple, and type, were in their splendour, only the shadow of heavenly things were in use, and that then grace ran but slowly, nor would run much faster, because Jesus was not yet glorified. For the Spirit and abundance of grace was to be given not before but after his ascension.
Wherefore, now Jesus is ascended, now he is glorified, now grace proceeds from the throne, not from the threshold of the house. 'He shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb.'
THE THRONE. That of which the mercy-seat was a type, that which is called the throne of grace (Exo 25:17; Heb 4:16). And it is called the throne of grace, even, therefore, because it is that from or out of which proceeds this river of water of life, this overflowing grace of God. Now, it may be asked what is the throne of grace? and I shall answer it is the humanity of Christ. He is the throne, he is the Jacob in which God sitteth (Isa 22:22,23). And he shall be for a glorious throne to his Father's house (Rev 3:7). The fulness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily; and God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, nor can grace come to men but by Christ, nor can God rest as to our salvation but in him. But because I have spoken of this thing more particularly upon that text, 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace,' &c., I shall, therefore, here say no more.
Only, methinks, it is a glorious title that the Holy Ghost has given to the humanity of Christ, in that he calls it the throne of God; and methinks he gives it the highest preference in that he saith, out thence proceeds a pure river of water of life: we will a little, therefore, speak something to this word—the throne, the throne of God.
First. A throne is the seat of majesty and greatness; it is not for things of an inferior quality to ascend or assume a throne. Now, then, since this river of water of life proceeds from the throne, it intimates, that in grace and mercy there is great majesty; for grace, as it proceeds, has a voice from the throne. And, indeed, there is nothing in heaven or earth that can so AWE the heart as the grace of God (Hosea 3:5). It is that which makes a man fear, it is that which makes a man tremble, it is that which makes a man bow and bend, and break to pieces (Jer 32:9). Nothing has that majesty and commanding greatness in and upon the hearts of the sons of men as has the grace of God. So that, I say, when he saith that this river of grace proceeds out of the throne of God, it is to show us what a majesty, what a commanding greatness, there is in grace. The love of Christ constraineth us.
When Moses went up to the mount the first time to receive the law, he did exceedingly fear and quake. Why? because of the fire and smoke, thick darkness and thunder, &c. But when he went up the second time thither, 'he made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.' But why? because it was before proclaimed that 'the Lord was merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin,' &c. (Exo 34:6-9).
There is nothing overmastereth the heart like grace, and so obligeth to sincere and unfeigned obedience as that. 'Examine me, O Lord,' said David, 'and prove me; try my reins and my heart. For thy loving kindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth' (Psa 26:2,3). Therefore, he saith again, O Lord our God, 'how excellent is thy loving kindness' in all the earth! and that loving kindness is marvellous; for it has that majesty and that excellent glory in it as to command the heart and subdue sin. And, therefore, grace has given to it the title of sovereignty, or of one that reigns. The throne is called 'the throne of grace' (Heb 4:16), that on which it sits and reigns, as well as that from whence it proceeds: 'Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord' (Rom 5:21).
Second. As a throne is a seat of majesty and greatness, and so can awe, so it is the seat of authority and legislative power, and so will awe; this is confirmed from what was said but now, 'grace reigns.' Wherefore it is expected that they that hear the word of God's grace should submit thereto, and that at their peril. 'He that believes not shall be damned,' is a word of power, of law, and of authority, and the contemner shall find it so. Grace proceeds from the throne, from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Wherefore, sinner, here is laid a necessity upon thee, one of the two must be thy lot; either thou must accept of God's grace, and be content to be saved freely thereby, notwithstanding all thy undeservings and unworthiness, or else thou must be damned for thy rebellion and for thy rejecting of this grace. Wherefore, consider with thyself and think what is best to be done. Is it better that thou submit to the grace and mercy of God, and that thou acceptest of grace to reign for thee, in thee, and over thee, than that thou shouldst run the hazard of eternal damnation because thou wouldst not be saved by grace? Consider of this, I say, for grace is now in authority, it reigns and proceeds from the THRONE. Now, you know, it is dangerous opposing, rejecting, despising, or disowning of them in authority; better speak against twenty than against one that is in authority. If 'the wrath of a king is as messengers of death' (Prov 16:14), if the wrath of the king 'is as the roaring of a lion,' what is the wrath of God? (Prov 19:12). And you know, to despise grace, to refuse pardon, to be unwilling to be saved from the guilt and punishment due to treasons, the king's way, since that also is the best way, how will that provoke? how hot will that make wrath? But to accept of grace, especially when it is free grace, grace that reigns, grace from the throne, how sweet is it? 'His favour is as dew upon the grass.'
This, therefore, calls for thy most grave and sedate thoughts. Thou art in a strait, wilt thou fly before Moses, or with David fall into the hands of the Lord? wilt thou go to hell for sin, or to life by grace? One of the two, as was said before, must be thy lot: for grace is king, is upon the throne, and will admit of no other way to glory. In and by it thou must stand, if thou hast any hope, or canst at all 'rejoice in hope of the glory of God' (Rom 5:2).
Third. As the throne is the seat of majesty and authority, so it is the highest seat of authority. There is none above the throne, there is no appeal from the throne. There are inferior courts of judicature, there are under-governors, and they may sometimes, perhaps, be faulty; wherefore in some cases an appeal from such may be lawful or permitted; but from the throne none can appeal. Now grace is upon the throne, reigns upon the throne, proceeds from the throne. A man may appeal from the law to the throne, from Moses to Christ, from him that spake on earth to him that speaks from heaven; but from heaven to earth, from Christ to Moses, none can appeal, Moses himself has forbid it. For 'Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, of your brethren like, unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people' (Acts 3:22,23).
See here, this NEW prophet judges in the highest court; he is master of grace, the throne by which grace reigns; and even Moses admits that from himself an appeal may be made to this prophet; yea, he allows that men may flee from himself to this prophet for refuge; but there must be no appeal from him. Thou must hear him or die. How shall we escape, 'if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven?' (Heb 12:25).
This, therefore, is to be duly weighed and deeply considered by us. It is not a saint, nor a minister, nor a prophet, nor an angel that speaks, for all these are but servants, but inferiors; no, it is a voice from the throne, from authority, from the highest authority; it is the Lord from heaven. This grace proceeds from the throne, and, therefore, men must stand and fall by what shall come from hence. He that comes not hither to drink shall die for thirst. He that refuses this water now, shall not have so much as will hang upon the tip of his finger, if it would save his soul, hereafter. 'How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation' (Heb 2:3).
Apostates will, therefore, from hence find gripping pangs and burning coals, for they have turned themselves away from this throne, and from the grace that proceeds therefrom; nor is it to any purpose whatever they plead for themselves. They are fallen from grace, and what can help them? Christ is become of none effect unto such, whosoever is, that is, seeks to be, justified by the law; they 'are fallen from grace' (Gal 5:4).
Fourth. The throne is the seat of glory, 'When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him; then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory' (Matt 25:31). And if the throne of judgment is the seat of glory, much more the throne of grace. We will venture then to say that the throne of grace is the throne of God's glory, as the throne of judgment will be the throne of Christ's glory, and that grace proceedeth from his throne, that both it and he might have glory; glory in a way of mercy.
1. That it might have glory; therefore has he designed that grace shall be effectual in, and to the salvation of some, even 'to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in his Beloved' (Eph 1:6). He has designed, not the glory of man's works, but the glory of his own grace; and, therefore, has put man's works, as to justification before God, under his feet, and counts them as filthy rags; but has set his grace up above, has made it a king, given it authority to reign, has provided for it a throne, and called that throne the throne of grace, from whence it also proceeds to its own praise and glory, in and by the effectual salvation of those that receive it, and receive it not in vain.
2. As grace is exalted, and made to proceed out of the throne, to its own praise, to its own glory; so is it also thus exalted and made flow to us like a river, that we should be the praise of the glory of him that hath exalted it. We that receive it, and submit unto the throne whence it proceeds, have thereby 'obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that we should be to the praise of his glory' (Eph 1:11,12). So that this throne is a throne of glory. 'A glorious high throne, from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary' (Jer 17:12). Now what follows from this, but that they that accept of this grace give glory to God, to his grace, and to the word of his grace; such, I say, 'glorify God for his mercy' (Rom 15:9). 'They glorify God for your professed subjection to the gospel of Christ' (2 Cor 9:13), which is the gospel or good tidings 'of the grace of God' (Acts 20:24). They, with Abraham, believe, and give glory to God (Rom 4:20). And with the Gentiles they glorify the word of the Lord (Acts 13:48).
But to slight grace, to do despite to the Spirit of grace, to prefer our own works to the derogating from grace, what is it but to contemn God? to contemn him when he is on the throne, when he is on the throne of his glory? I say, it is to spit in his face, even then when he commands thee to bow before him, to subject unto him, and to glorify the grace of his glory, that proceeds from the throne of his glory. If men in old time were damned because they glorified him not as God, shall not they be more than damned, if more than damned can be, who glorify him not for his grace? And, to be sure, none glorify him for his grace but those that close in therewith, and submit themselves thereto. Talkers of grace are but mockers of God, but flatterers of God. Those that only talk highly of grace, and submit not themselves unto it, are but like to those that praise a look, or flatter him in his own conceits. Grace God has exalted, has set it upon the throne, and so made it a king, and given it authority to reign; and thou goest by, and hearest thereof, but wilt not submit thyself thereto, neither thy soul nor thy life; why, what is this more than to flatter God with thy lips, and than to lie unto him with thy tongue? what is this but to count him less wise than thyself? while he seeks glory by that by which thou wilt not glorify him; while he displays his grace before thee in the world from the throne, and as thou goest by, with a nod thou callest it a fine thing, but followest that which leadeth therefrom? Tremble, tremble, ye sinners, that have despised the richness of his goodness; the day is coming when ye shall behold, and wonder, and perish, if grace prevaileth not with you to be content to be saved by it to the praise of its glory, and to the glory of him who hath set it upon the throne (Acts 13:38-41).
Fifth. The throne is the seat of wisdom. Hence, he is called 'the Ancient of Days,' that sits on this throne, the throne of God (Dan 7:9). Infinite in wisdom, whose garments were white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool. By Ancient of Days, and in that it is said the hair of his head is like the pure wool, his wisdom is set forth unto us. Wherefore, when we read that out of the throne proceeds a river of grace; when we read this proceedeth out of the throne of God, it is as much as to say the wise God, who most perfectly knoweth all ways, counteth, in his wisdom, that to save men by grace is the best, most safe, and sure way: 'Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed' (Rom 4:16). And, again, forgiveness is according to the riches of his grace, wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Eph 1:7,8).—Wherefore, to set grace upon the throne, to let grace proceed out of the throne as a river, is by the wise God, the only wise God, counted the best way, the safest way, the way that doth best suit the condition of a sinful man, and that tends most to the utter disappointment of the devil, and death, and hell. Grace can justify freely, when it will, who it will, from what it will. Grace can continue to pardon, favour, and save from falls, in falls, out of falls. Grace can comfort, relieve, and help those that have hurt themselves. And grace can bring the unworthy to glory. This the law cannot do, this man cannot do, this angels cannot do, this God cannot do, but only by the riches of his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. Wherefore, seeing God has set grace on the throne, and ordered that it should proceed from this throne to the world; yea, seeing he has made it king, and granted to it, to it only, the authority and sovereignty of saving souls, he has magnified not only his love, but his wisdom and his prudence before the sons of men. This, then, is his great device, the master-piece of all his witty inventions; and, therefore, it is said, as was hinted before, in this thing he hath proceeded towards us in ALL wisdom and prudence (2 Sam 14:14; Prov 8:11,12).
So then, he that comes to, and drinks of this water, glorifies God for his wisdom, praises God for his wisdom. Such an one saith that God is only wise, and, bowing his head, saith again, 'to God only wise, be glory both now and for ever. Amen.' But he that shall contemn this grace, confronts the highest wisdom, even wisdom upon the throne; he saith to himself, I am wiser than Daniel, than the judgment of God. I could have found out a more safe way to heaven myself; and had I been of God's council, I would have told him so. All this, so horrible blasphemy, naturally proceeds from him that liketh not that grace should be king on the throne, and should proceed out of the throne to the world; but 'shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?' He that reproveth God, let him answer it (Job 40:2).
The text says, that this very doctrine to the Greeks, to the wise, is foolishness, and the preaching of it a foolish thing to them; but it will appear even then, when the conclusion of all things is come, and when these wise ones, by their wisdom, have fooled themselves to hell, that this 'foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men' (1 Cor 1:21-25).
Christ Jesus, because he was low in the world, is trampled upon by some, but he is a glorious throne to his Father's house: for since his humility was the lowest of all, now he is exalted to be the throne of God, yea, is made the fountain whence grace continually flows, like the rivers, and comes down to us like a mighty stream. Wherefore, I will conclude this with both comfort and caution: with comfort, and that because of the security that they are under that indeed have submitted themselves to grace; 'sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.' And let it be a caution to those that despise. Take heed, it is dangerous affronting of the wisdom of God. Now here is the wisdom of God, even wisdom upon the throne. It pleased God, for the glory of his wisdom, to make this the way: to wit, to set up grace to reign. I have often thought, and sometimes said, if God will be pleased with any way, surely he will be pleased with his own. Now this is the way of his own devising, the fruit and effect of his own wisdom; wherefore, sinner, please him, please him in that wherein he is well pleased. Come to the waters, cast thyself into them, and fear not drowning; let God alone to cause them to carry thee into his paradise, that thou mayest see his throne.
Sixth. The throne is the seat of faithfulness, the place of performing of engagements and promises. 'When I shall receive the congregation,' saith Christ, 'I will judge uprightly,' that is faithfully (Psa 75:2). And now he has received it, and is made head over all things to it (Eph 1:22,23). And for this cause is he upon the throne, yea, is the throne, from whence proceeds all this grace, that like a river doth flow, and glide from heaven into the world. This river, then, is nothing else but the fulfilling of promises; the faithful fulfilling of promises. 'If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you' (John 16:7). 'This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh,' &c. (Acts 2:16-18). Now this river is the Spirit, the Spirit and grace of God, which was promised by the Father and the Son, and now it comes running from the throne of God and of the Lamb. For 'being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear' (Acts 2:33).
Behold, then, how mindful, how careful, how faithful our Father and the Lamb of God is! It is not exaltation, nor glory, nor a crown, nor a kingdom, nor a throne, that shall make him neglect his poor ones on earth. Yea, therefore, even because he is exalted and on the throne, therefore it is that such a river, with its golden streams, proceeds from the throne to come unto us. And it shall proceed to be far higher than ever was the swellings of Jordan. True, it runs not so high now as in former days, because of the curse of God upon Antichrist, by whose means the land of God's people is full of briers and thorns (Isa 32:13-17). But when the tide is at the lowest, then it is nearest the rising; and this river will rise, and in little time be no more so low as but ankle-deep; it will be up to the knees, to the loins, and be a broad river to swim in (Eze 47). For 'there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams' (Isa 33:21). 'And there shall be no more curse' in the church, 'but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him' without molestation (Rev 22:3-6).
'These sayings are faithful and true,' and in faithfulness shall they, from the throne of God and of the Lamb, be performed to the church. Faithfulness in him that rules, is that which makes Sion rejoice; because thereby the promises yield milk and honey. For now the faithful God, that keepeth covenant, performs to his church that which he told her he would. Wherefore, our rivers shall run, and our brooks yield honey and butter (Job 20:17). Let this teach all God's people to expect, to look, and wait for good things from the throne. But, O! methinks this throne, out of which good comes like a river! who would not be a subject to it? who would not but worship before it? But,
Seventh. A throne is 'the seat of justice.' 'Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne' (Psa 89:14). And it is also from justice that this river of grace flows to us: justice to Christ, and justice to those that are found in him (Rom 3:24). God declares that he can justly justify, and justly forgive (1 John 1:9). Now, if he can justly justify and justly forgive, then can he give grace, and cause that it should proceed to, yea, flow after us as a river (1 Cor 10:4). The river that gushed out of the rock in the wilderness ran after the people there, wherefore they wandered therein. They drank of the rock that followed them; the rock was not removed out of his place, but the flood followed them whither they went. 'He opened the rock and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river' (Psa 105:41). This rock, saith he, was Christ, that is, figuratively: and this throne is Christ really: and the water gushing out of the rock, and following of them in the wilderness, was to show how, when Christ became a throne, grace and goodness should follow us in the wilderness from thence so long as here we abide. Wherefore David, considering this, said, 'Surely goodness and mercy shall FOLLOW me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever' (Psa 23:6).
But whence must this come? The text says from the throne; from the throne, the seat of justice; for from thence, by reason of what HE hath found in Christ for us, he, in a way of righteousness and justice, lets out to us rivers of his pleasures; whose original is that great and wide sea of mercy that flows in his infinite heart beyond thought.
All is paid for both US and grace (John 7:39). We are bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20). He has obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb 9:12). Yea, and as we are made his, and heaven made ours thus, so this river of grace has been also obtained by him for us (John 7:38). Wherefore, all comes to us in a way of justice and righteousness. Hence we are said to obtain 'faith through the righteousness of God' (2 Peter 1:1), that is, through the justice of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Mark, here is the justice of God, and the justice of Jesus our Lord; and we have our faith from the justice of God, because of the righteousness of Jesus our Lord; that is, Jesus answered with works of justice the demands of justice; and therefore, in a way of justice, grace reigns, and comes to us like a river, as is signified, for that it is said to come to us out of the throne.
Again, grace is said 'to reign through righteousness unto eternal life' (Rom 5:21). Through what righteousness? the righteousness or justice of God by Jesus Christ our Lord. By Jesus Christ, or for his sake. For for his sake, as I said, we are forgiven; and for his sake have all things pertaining to life and godliness. Which all things come to us, through, or down, the stream of this river in a way of justice; and, therefore, it is said to come from the throne.
Eighth. This throne is the seat of grace and mercy; and, therefore, it is called the mercy-seat and throne of grace. This throne turns all into grace, all into mercy. This throne makes all things work together for good. It is said of Saul's sons, they were not buried after they were hanged, until water dropped upon them out of heaven (2 Sam 21:10,14). And it may be said of us there is nothing suffered to come near us, until it is washed in that water that proceeds from the throne of grace. Hence afflictions flow from grace (Psa 119:67), persecutions flow from grace; poverty, sickness, yea, death itself is now made ours by the grace of God through Christ (1 Cor 3:22; Rev 3:19; Heb 12:5-7). O grace, O happy church of God! all things that happen to thee are, for Christ's sake, turned into grace. They talk of the philosopher's stone, and how, if one had it, it would turn all things into gold. O! but can it turn all things into grace? can it make all things work together for good? No, no, this quality, virtue, excellency, what shall I call it, nothing has in it, but the grace that reigns on the throne of grace, the river that proceeds from the throne of God. This, this turns majesty, authority, the highest authority, glory, wisdom, faithfulness, justice, and all into grace. Here is a throne! God let us see it. John had the honour to see it, and to see the streams proceeding from it. O sweet sight! O heart-ravishing sight! 'He showed me a pure river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God.'
Indeed, as was hinted before, in the days of the reign of Antichrist there are not those visions of this throne, nor of the river that proceedeth therefrom. Now he holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth a cloud upon it; but the preserving, saving benefits thereof we have, as also have all the saints, in the most cloudy and dark day. And since we can see so little, we must believe the more; and by believing, give glory to God. We must also labour for more clear Scripture knowledge of this throne; for the holy Word of God is the perspective glass by which we may, and the magnifying glass that will cause us to behold, 'with open face, the glory of the Lord' (2 Cor 3:18).
But, methinks, I have yet said nothing of this throne, which is indeed none other but the spotless and glorified humanity of the Son of God. This throne is the Lord Jesus, this grace comes from the Divine Majesty, as dwelling bodily in the Lord Jesus. Wherefore let us fall down before the throne, and cast our crowns at the foot of the throne, and give thanks to him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever. O how should Jesus be esteemed of! The throne of the king is a royal seat: it is said of Solomon's, 'there was not the like made in any kingdom' (1 Kings 10:20). But of this it may be said there is not its like in heaven and earth. At the setting up of this throne, the angels flocked round about it, and the beasts and the elders gathered together to see it (Rev 4). When this throne was set in heaven, there was silence, all the heavenly host had no leisure to talk; they were surprised with sight and wonder. When this throne was set in heaven, what talk there was! it was as the music of the trumpet.
'And behold,' says John, 'a door was opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard was, as it were, of a trumpet talking with me, which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold a THRONE WAS SET IN HEAVEN, and one sat upon the throne.'
This throne was Jesus Christ exalted, SET, that is, lifted up, not as upon the cross to the contempt and scorn of his person, but, as I said, to the wonderment of the four beasts, and the elders, and all the angels in heaven. 'A throne was set in heaven, and one sat upon the throne'; that is, God. And this intimates his desirable rest for ever: for to sit is to rest, and Christ is his rest for ever. Was it not, therefore, well worth the seeing? Yea, if John had taken the pains to go up thither upon his hands and knees, I say, to see the Lord Jesus as a throne set in heaven, and the glory of God resting and abiding upon him, and giving out by him all things, not only his Word, but all his dispensations and providences, to the end of the world; and this blessed thing among the rest, even 'a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,' [how richly would he have been rewarded for his pains].
[THE NATURE AND QUALITY OF THIS WATER.]
[FOURTH.] But I leave this, and proceed to the fourth and last thing, namely, to the nature and quality of this water. It is said to be pure and clear; pure and clear as crystal. 'And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.' I know that there is a two-fold quality in a thing, one with respect to its nature, and the other with respect to its operation. The first of these is inherent, and remaineth in the subject being as such, and so for the most part useless. The other is put forth then when it meeteth with fit matter on which it may freely work. As to instance aquae vitae, the very metaphor here made use of, hath a quality inherent in it, but keep it stopped up in a bottle, and then who will may faint notwithstanding; but apply it, apply it fitly, and to such as have need thereof, and then you may see its quality by the operation. This water, or river of grace, is called, I say, the water of life, and so, consequently, has a most blessed inherent quality; but its operation is seen by its working, the which it doth only then when it is administered and received for those ends for which it is administered. For then it revives where life is, and gives life where it is not. And thus far, in the general, have we spoken to it already. We will, therefore, in this place more particularly, though briefly, speak a few words unto it.
[The operative quality of this water.]
FIRST. Then 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 it is intimated by the text; 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 communications 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 to 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 before, 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 putting of that creature 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. For the Spirit, as I may so say, sitteth and broodeth upon the powers of the soul, as the hen doth on cold eggs, till they wax warm and receive life. The Spirit, then, warmeth us, and bringeth the dead and benumbed soul—for so it is before conversion—to a godly sense and understanding of states, of states both natural and spiritual; and this is the beginning of the work of the Spirit, by which the soul is made capable of understanding what God and himself is.
And this drinking in of the Spirit is rather as the ground drinks in rain, than as a rational soul does through sense of the want thereof.
The Spirit also garnisheth the soul with such things as are proper for it, to the making of it live that life that by the Word of God is called for.
It implanteth light, repentance, faith, fear, love, desires after God, hope, sincerity, and what else is necessary for the making the man a saint; these things, I say, are the fruits and effects of this Spirit which, as a river of water of life, proceedeth forth of the throne of God and of the Lamb. Hence the Spirit is called the Spirit of faith, the Spirit of love, and the Spirit of a sound mind; for that the Spirit is the root and original of all these things, by his operations in, and upon, the face of the soul (2 Cor 4:13; Gal 5:22; 2 Tim 1:7).
But, again, as this living water, this Spirit and the grace thereof, doth thus, so it also maintains these things once planted in the soul, by its continual waterings of them in the soul. Hence he saith, 'I will water it every moment'; water IT—his vineyard, the soul of the church, the graces of the church; and so the soul and graces of every godly man (Isa 27:3).
And because it so happeneth sometimes, that some of those things wherewith the Holy Ghost has beautified the soul may languish to a being, if not quite dead, yet 'ready to die' (Rev 3:2), therefore he doth not only refresh and water our souls, but renews the face thereof, by either quickening to life that which remains, or by supplying of us with that which is new, to our godly perseverance and everlasting life. Thus 'thou visitest the earth, and waterest it; thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God' (Psa 65:9).
For this must be remembered, that 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 settlest the furrows thereof: thou makes it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof' (Psa 65:10). 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' (Hosea 14:5-7). Or, as he saith in another place, 'The Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not' (Isa 58:11).
There is, besides this, another blessing that comes to us by this living water, and that is, the blessing of communion. All the warmth that we have in our communion, it 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 be edified, warmed, 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 (Jer 31:12,13). 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 wines 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; revives, 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 and 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. And this hint I thought convenient to be given of this precious water of life, that is, with reference to the operative quality of it.
[The other qualities of this water.]
SECOND. I shall come, in the next place, to speak of it, as to the other descriptions which John doth give us of it. He says it is, First, pure; Second, clear; Third, clear to a comparison: 'And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.'
[First. The purity of this water.]
1. You read here that this water of life is PURE, that is, alone without mixture, for so sometimes that word PURE is to be understood. As where it saith, pure, 'pure olive oil' (Exo 27:20). 'Pure frankincense' (Exo 30:34). 'Pure gold' (Exo 25:11,17). 'Pure blood of the grape' (Deut 32:14), and the like. So then, when he saith, 'he showed me a pure river of water of life,' it is as if he had said he showed me a river of water that was all living, all life, and had nothing in it but life. There was no death, or deadness, or flatness in it; or, as he saith a little after, 'and there shall be no more curse.' A pure river. There is not so much as a grudge, or a piece of an upbraiding speech found therein. There is in it nothing but heart, nothing but love, nothing but grace, nothing but life. 'The gifts and calling of God are without repentance' (Rom 11:29).
2. PURE is sometimes set in opposition to show or appearance; as where he says, 'the stars are not pure' (Job 25:5). That is, not so without mixture of darkness, as they seem to be: so again, 'If thou wert pure and upright' (Job 8:6): that is, as thou seemest to be, or as thou wouldst have us believe thou art.
Now, take pure in this sense here, and then the meaning is, it is grace without deceit, without guile; its show and its substance are the same; it has nothing but substance in it; it is indeed what it seems to be in bulk; it is a river in show and a river indeed. It comes from God and from his throne in appearance, and really it comes from his very heart.
The great fear of the tempted is, that there is not so much grace in God, and that he is not so free of it as some scriptures seem to import. But this word PURE is levelled against such objections and objectors, for the destroying of their doubts, and the relieving of their souls. There is no fraud, nor guile, nor fable in the business; for though God is pleased to present us with his grace under the notion of a river, it is not to delude our fancies thereby; but to give us some small illustration of the exceeding riches of his grace, which as far, for quantity, outstrips the biggest rivers, as the most mighty mountain doth the least ant's egg or atom in the world.
3. But, again, this word PURE is set in opposition to that which is hurtful and destructive: 'I am pure from the blood of all men,' that is, I have hurt nobody (Acts 20:26). 'The wisdom that is from above is first pure,' it is not hurtful (James 3:17). Do you count them pure with the wicked balances? how can that be, since they are hurtful? (Micah 6:11).
Now take PURE in this sense here, and then it intimates, that the grace of God, and the doctrine of grace, is not a hurtful thing. It is not as wine of an intoxicating nature. If a man be filled with it, it will do him no harm (Eph 5:18). The best of the things that are of this world are some way hurtful. Honey is hurtful (Prov 25:16,27). Wine is hurtful (Prov 20:1). Silver and gold are hurtful, but grace is not hurtful (1 Tim 6:10). Never did man yet catch harm by the enjoyment and fulness of the grace of God. There is no fear of excess or of surfeiting here. Grace makes no man proud, no man wanton, no man haughty, no man careless or negligent as to his duty that is incumbent upon him, either from God or man: no, grace keeps a man low in his own eyes, humble, self-denying, penitent, watchful, savoury in good things, charitable, and makes him kindly affectionated to the brethren, pitiful and courteous to all men.
True, there are men in the world that abuse the grace of God, as some are said to turn it into wantonness and into lasciviousness (Jude 4). But this is, not because grace has any such tendency, or for that it worketh any such effect; but because such men are themselves empty of grace, and have only done as death and hell hath done with wisdom, 'heard the fame thereof with their ears' (Job 28:22). It is a dangerous thing for a man to have the notions of grace, while his heart is void of the spirit and holy principles of grace; for such a man can do no other than abuse the grace of God. Alas, what can be expected of him that has nothing in him to teach him to manage that knowledge of grace which he has, but his flesh, his lusts, and lustful passions? Can these teach him to manage his knowledge well? Will they not rather put him upon all tricks, evasions, irreligious consequences and conclusions, such as will serve to cherish sin? What Judas did with Christ, that a graceless man will do with grace, even make it a stalking horse to his fleshly and vile designs; and rather than fail betray both it, and the profession of it, to the greatest enemies it has in the world.
And here I may say, though grace is pure, and not hurtful at all, yet one altogether carnal, sinful, and graceless, having to do with the doctrine of it, by the force of his lusts which tamper with it, he will unavoidably bring himself into the highest ruin thereby. An unwary man may destroy himself by the best of things, not because there is in such things an aptness to destroy, but because of the abuse and misuse of them. Some know the way of life, the water of life, by knowledge that is naked and speculative only; and it had been better for such if they had not known, than to know and turn from what they know; than to know, and make the knowledge subservient to their lusts (2 Peter 2:20-22). Some receive the rain of God, and the droppings of his clouds, because they continually sit under the means of his grace. But, alas! they receive it as stones receive showers, or as dunghills receive the rain; they either abide as hard stones still, or else return nothing to heaven for his mercy, but as the dunghills do, a company of stinking fumes. These are they that drink in the rain that comes often upon them, and that instead of bringing forth herbs meet for the dresser, bring forth briers and thorns; and these are they who are nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned (Heb 6:7,8).
By this word PURE I understand sometimes the chiefest good, the highest good. There are many things that may be called good, but none of them are good as grace is good. All things indeed are pure, that is, all creatures in themselves are good and serviceable to man, but they are not so good as grace (Rom 14:20; Gen 1:31). 'There is a generation that are pure,' that are good in their own eyes (Prov 30:12). There are good men, good consciences, good works, good days, good angels, &c., but none so good as grace, for it is grace that has made them so. Grace, this water of life, therefore is good, superlatively good, good in the highest degree, for that it makes all things good, and preserveth them good. And whatever it be that this water of life washeth not, it is soil, and given to the curse, as the prophet intimates where he saith, 'But the miry places thereof, and the marshes thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt' (Eze 47:1).