39.But this he spoke of the Spirit. The word water is sometimes applied to the Spirit on account of its purity, because it is his office to cleanse our pollutions; but in this and similar passages this term is employed in a different acceptation, which is, that we are destitute of all the sap and moisture of life, unless when the Spirit of God quickens us, and when he waters us, as it were, by secret vigor. Under one part he includes the whole; (196) for under the one word water he includes all the parts of life. Hence we infer also, that all who have not been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ ought to be reckoned dead, whatever may be the pretended life of which they boast.
For the Holy Spirit was not yet given. We know that the Spirit is eternal; but the Evangelist declares that, so long as Christ dwelt in the world in the mean form of a servant, that grace of the Spirit, which was poured out on men after the resurrection of Christ, had not been openly manifested. And, indeed, he speaks comparatively, in the same manner as when the New Testament is compared to the Old. God promises his Spirit to his elect and believers, (197) as if he had never given him to the Fathers. At that very time, the disciples had undoubtedly received the first-fruits of the Spirit; for whence comes faith but from the Spirit? The Evangelist, therefore, does not absolutely affirm that the grace of the Spirit was not offered and given (198) to believers before the death of Christ, but that it was not yet so bright and illustrious as it would afterwards become. For it is the highest ornament of the kingdom of Christ, that he governs his Church by his Spirit; but he entered into the lawful and — what may be called — the solemn possession of his kingdom, when he was exalted to the right hand of the Father; so that we need not wonder if he delayed till that time the full manifestation of the Spirit.
But one question still remains to be answered. Does he mean here the visible graces of the Spirit, or the regeneration which is the fruit of adoption? I answer: The Spirit, who had been promised at the coming of Christ, appeared in those visible gifts, as in mirrors; but here the question relates strictly to the power of the Spirit, by which we are born again in Christ, and become new creatures. That we lie on earth poor, and famished, and almost destitute of spiritual blessings, while Christ now sits in glory at the right hand of the Father, and clothed with the highest majesty of government, ought to be imputed to our slothfulness, and to the small measure of our faith.