Life eternall or, A treatise of the knowledge of the divine essence and attributes Delivered in XVIII. sermons. By the late faithfull and worthy minister of Iesus Christ, Iohn Preston, D. in Divinity, chaplaine in ordinary to his Majestie, master of Emmanuel Colledge in Cambridge, and sometimes preacher of Lincolns Inne.
Preston, John, 1587-1628., Ball, Thomas, 1589 or 90-1659., Goodwin, Thomas, 1600-1680.
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The first Attribute of GOD.

[ 1] FIrst then, we will take this out of the Text, I AM hath sent me unto you;

That God is perfect;* he hath all the kindes, de∣grees, and extents of being in him. There be di∣vers kindes of being in the world; some have more, some lesse; some have a more excellent being, some have a lesse excellent; some have a larger being, some a lesser, and yet all are in him; and this is his perfection. Imperfection is a want of some being; Perfection is to have all the de∣grees of being, that belong to a thing in his kind, but all this is in God.

Now God is said to be perfect:

[ 1] Because hee being before any thing was; and therfore, he must needs be ful, without them, and whatsoever they have, they receive it from him. You shall see this in Act. 17.25.*Neither is he wor∣shipped with mens hands, as though hee needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life and breath, and all things. He proves there, that God is perfect; be∣cause he needs nothing, seeing hee gives to all life, and breath, and all things. That which is said of man, may be said of every thing else; What hast thou, that thou hast not received? Therefore, hee that gives it, must needs be full of it. It is said that he made man after his owne Image; and so he makes every thing else, hee is the life of them all. Now the sampler and the life hath more in it, than the image; and therefore the life, and first Page  121 originall; the realty, and first beginning must needs be perfect in himselfe.

[ 2] There is none that can set limits to God, that can set land-markes or bounds to his entitie or being. Every creature hath his severall bounds and limits, thus farre shall they goe, and no fur∣ther; but who hath set bounds to him? When he had set forth his Essence in Isai. 40. he addes,*To whom will you liken GOD? or what likenesse will you compare unto him?

There be these differences betweene the perfe∣ction that is in God, and that which is in any crea∣ture:*

[ 1] All creatures have perfection within their own kinde only, and in such a degree; but he is simply and absolutely perfect, without all respect, with∣out all comparison, he is a mightie sea of being, without banke and bottome; therefore his being is absolute.

[ 2] They have all some imperfection mingled with it; as, take all the creatures, the Angels; take all the Saints, when they are in the highest top, and full of all their blessednesse, yet they have some imperfection, as Iob saith; he hath charged you with folly.

[Object.] But you will say; they are perfect in their kinde, how then are they imperfect?

[Answ.] They have a negative imperfection, though not a privative; they are not deprived of that which should be in them; yet there is a negative imperfection, that is, there be many perfections, which they have not; it cannot be said of any Page  122 creature, as, 1 Ioh. 1.*That in it there is light, and there is no darknesse at all: Of him only can it be said, there is no creature so perfect, but it hath some imperfection.

[ 3] The creature though it be perfect, yet it is ca∣pable of sinne and misery, and it is in possibilitie to lose that perfection it is in; but God is not in possibility to lose that perfection he hath, neither can he be capable of sinne.

[ 4] Take the best, and most exquisite creatures, the Angels; their perfection is made up by some things, that are no substances, by circumstances, which are not substances, which may be separa∣ted, (though they are not;) there is something in them which is better, something which is worse; a substance and an accident, and every accident is separable, it may be lost; you see the evill An∣gels, they fell, they lost that they had: but God is a perfect substance, wholly substance; there is nothing him, by reason of which it may be said, there is something in him that is best, some∣thing that is worse.

[ 5] Though they have perfection, yet they have alwayes need of something; now God hath need of nothing. The creatures, though full of per∣fection in their kinde, yet still they have excee∣ding great need of something. As you say of a river, you will say it hath need, though it be full, it hath need of the fountaine to maintaine it; so may I say of the creatures, though they be full of perfection in their kinde, yet they have need of that fountaine, from whence their perfection Page  123 commeth, which if it be stopt, they will come to nothing.

Thus God is infinitely perfect and immense, having no limits:* For all limits are either from the matter or from the forme; the forme is limi∣ted, because it wants matter to carry it to a fur∣ther extent; and the matter is limited, because it is bounded with such a forme; but in God there is neither matter nor forme; as there is nothing without him, so there is nothing within him to bound that largenesse of being which he hath.

But now to apply this:

[Vse 1] If God be thus full of being, as the sea is full of water, and a thousand times fuller; then all that you can doe, reacheth not to him;*Psal. 16.4.*It extends not to him; the sinnes that you commit hurt him not; all the righteousnesse you per∣forme, doth not pleasure or benefit him: and if it be so, then consider what little cause you have to murmure against him at any time, upon any oc∣casion. For all discontentment among the crea∣tures comes from the hence, that their expectation is not satisfied; and what is the reason, why it is not satisfied▪ but because they thinke that there is some reason why they should bee respected. Therefore examine your owne hearts, whether there be not a secret popery in your hearts, that you think, that you can do somthing that reacheth to God, that he should respect you for: but if God be thus ful, thou canst doe nothing, that can reach to him. But you shall see how prone men are to this; are we not ready to say; Why am I not in Page  124 so great a place as another? Why have not I more gifts? Why have I not greater imploy∣ments? Why have I such imperfections? Why am I thus subject to diseases and crosses? Whence comes this? Because we expect something; be∣cause we thinke we are not well dealt with; and why doe we thinke so? because men thinke, that there is something in them, why they should be lookt after, they thinke that they have carried themselves so, that they thinke there is something in justice due to them. But if thou canst say with David, and Iob, and Christ, when he saith to his disciples; When you have done all, that you can, say that you are unprofitable servants. What if God will not have David to build a Temple, but his sonne must doe it? Or Moses to lead the children of Israel into the Land of Canaan, but Ioshua must have the glory of it? They must be content; yet they did more for God, than ever thou canst doe; therefore thou must labour to be content also. The creature doth but take of him whatsoever it hath, and therefore it can give nothing to him; and shall the River bee beholding to him that drinkes of it, because hee comes and quencheth his thirst? Or shall the Sunne be beholding to him that hath the use of his light? When thou hast done all that thou canst, say thou art an un∣profitable servant, thou canst doe nothing that reacheth to God; therefore labour to be vile, and low in thine owne eyes, and willing to be dispo∣sed of, as it pleaseth him.

*Againe, if this be so, then consider the free∣nesse Page  125 of his grace,* in all the goodnesse which hee bestowes: for to have done any thing for a man before-hand, doth lessen the benefit bestowed. Now consider, that thou hast done nothing to the Lord; therefore labour to magnifie the Lord, that hath bestowed it upon thee. For this cause the Lord will have justification by faith, and not by workes, that he might be magnified: And so he will have sanctification, not by the power of the free-will, but by the infused grace of his Spi∣rit, that no flesh might boast. It is the Lord that is full, it is he that gives it to thee, thou canst doe nothing to him; Rom. 11.35, 36.*Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompenced him againe; for of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, &c. As if he should say, the Lord out of his free grace had shewed mercy to the Iewes, (for of them he there speakes) they were wet, like Gi∣deons fleece, when all the world was drie. After∣wards it pleased him to bedew the Gentiles, when the Israelites were dry; well, he hath done this, sayes Paul, and what hast thou to say to him? Did he any wrong? Is he not free? May not he doe what he will? This is one use. Another is, that you should be content with his disposing; he owes nothing to any; for of him, and through him, and for him are all things; to him be glory for ever; Amen. [Vse 3]

If hee be thus full, that the creature doth no∣thing to promerit at his hand, then thou mayest goe to God. though thou hast no worth in thee;* though thou hast done little service to God, yet Page  126 goe to him, and say; Lord, I have done nothing; if I had done much, yet it would not reach to thee; thou art full of perfection, and blessed for ever: therefore a man may goe to him with great faith, and aske great things of him, though he be little worth, and hath done little service for him. For, if thou didst God any good, thou mightest goe to him, and say, I have done this and that for thee, therefore recompence me. But seeing it is not so, therefore labour to goe to God in faith, and when thou goest, thinke with thy selfe; why may I not have it aswell as another? Doe not say, I am not so holy, and I cannot doe as Paul and Moses, their workes did nothing to him. Thinke with thy selfe, that when he first chooseth a man, he doth it freely; and thinkest thou that he is not the same afterwards? Therefore, now thou mayest go to him on this ground with boldnesse, because whatsoever thou doest it is nothing to him.

[Vse 4] Moreover, if the Lord be thus full in himselfe, then he hath need of nothing.* He therefore saith to all the men in the world, and to all things; he saith to Princes, I have no need of you; to rich men, I have no need of you, or of your wealth; he saith to Schollers, that have excellent parts, I have no need of you: therefore say not, I am un∣done, or the Churches are undone, because Prin∣ces are not for you; because men helpe you not, for God can helpe them alone; he doth not need Princes: When there was none, saith the LORD, I stirred up my selfe like a mightie Giant, hee needs Page  127 no helpe, he is most perfect, full of being, able to doe whatsoever he pleaseth.

[Vse 5] Againe, consider with thy selfe, that if thou∣sand thousands perish, it is nothing to him;* hee cares no more for the destruction of the whole world, than thou doest for the throwing away of a little dust; he is full of excellencie and perfecti∣on; you see how often he sweepes away whole kingdomes with the besome of destruction, nay, he swept away the whole world by the Floud, as you doe sweepe a little dust out of your houses. Therfore do not thou dispute with God, and aske, why are so many damned? why are so many swept away? thinke with thy selfe, that he, that was before all things were, will be when they are gone: therefore learne with Paul, to reverence his judgements, to feare and tremble before him. He is full of being, and though thou perish, what is that to him? Wilt thou dispute with God? thou art but a particle of dust. What art thou that con∣tendest with him? let the Potsheard strive with potsheards of the earth, but not with God. Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, what makest thou?

[Vse 6] Againe, if God be thus full, then consider why hee hath laid such a commandement on thee,* to doe such and such things. It is for himselfe? no, for thy righteousnesse, thy keeping of his Law reacheth not to him. What is it for, then? Sure∣ly it is for thy selfe, and for thy good. If for thee he hath commanded, and every commandement is for thy wealth; then consider what reason Page  128 thou hast to walke in his wayes; he saith, as kinde parents to their children, when they exhort them to good courses, it will be for your owne good; and if you doe it not, it will be for your hurt: as it is said of the Sabbath, It was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; that is, God appointed the Sabbath for mans advantage, he would be undone else; he would grow wilde, and forget God: and as it is said of the Sabbath, so it is true of every Commandement; therefore that is put to every Commandement; The Commandement, which I command you for your wealth, Is••••. 36. 17.* that is, when ever I command you any thing, it is not for mine owne sake, not, that I might be served and worshipped, (though that is joyned with it) but it is for your profit, whatsoever I command. This then should stirre us up to goe about holy duties willingly, after another manner than we doe. No man will serve himselfe unwillingly, (though, it may be, he will other men.) Now, all the Com∣mandements of God doe tend to our owne ad∣vantage: for to that end hath he appointed them. Keepe the Commandements and live in them: you live in them, as fire doth by wood, and the creatures by their food. If a man did consider this, hee would doe this in another manner; wee goe about our owne businesse with intention, be∣cause it is our owne; so if we were perswaded, that what God did command, it were for our own good, you would doe it in all diligence; you would not only goe, but runne the wayes of his Commandements; you would not only take hea∣ven,Page  129 but you would take 〈◊〉 with violence, and with all your might and strength, you would do what∣soever he commands, for it is for your own pro∣fit, and not for his.

[Vse 7] If God be thus ful, then you should give him the praise of his perfection,* and stay your thoughts upon him. It is a thing that we come short of, for the most part, for we are ready to aske, what is God to us? what profit, what good is it to us? (for that is the base nature of ours;) but grace teacheth us otherwise, we must learne to know God, to honour and magnifie him in our thoughts for himselfe. Some men have a greater know∣ledge of God, some lesse; hee that hath more, he is able to set him up higher in his apprehension, and to give him the more praise, Psal. 68.1.*Ex∣alt him in his name IAH, that is, consider that he alone is ful of being, and gives being to all things; therefore (saith he) praise him, and extoll him for this, and let your thoughts be upon him.

[Quest.] But must it be a bare and empty thought of him onely?

[Answ.] No, you shall know it by these foure things, if you thinke aright of God indeed:

[ 1] Thou wilt esteeme his enmitie and friendship above all things;* thou wilt not regard the crea∣tures at all; either in the good, or hurt that they can doe thee: if thou canst see the fulnesse of be∣ing that is in him, and the emptinesse that is in every creature; then, if he be thy friend, he is all in all to thee; and if he be thine enemie, thou wilt consider that hee that is full of all strength, and Page  130 power, and being, that he is thine enemie, and that his enmity is heavy, for hee which is, is against thee. If the creature be set against thee, it is but as a little clay or dust, they cannot hurt thee, unlesse his arme goe along with it; and then it is not that creature, but his arme that doth it: As when they came to take Christ, it is said, hee passed thorow the midst of them; they were to him as a little dust, and as the armie that came against David, Ioshua, and Elisha, they were to them as a little water; but when God comes against a man, then every little thing, if he pleaseth to extend and joyne his power, he is able therewith to quell the strongest man. Then, one man shall chase a thousand, and a thousand shall put ten thousand to flight, Deut. 28.* He is as a mighty river, that carries all before it, Nahum 1.* Therefore regard the enmity of the creature, as small things, his enmity is only to be respected.

[ 2] If thou thinkest of him thus, then thou wilt be satisfied with him; for thou hast him that is, and thou wantest only the thing that is not;* and there∣fore thou must say, when thou hast lost any thing, I have lost that which is nothing; when thou hast gained any thing, say, that thou hast gotten that which is nothing: it is a hard thing to say so, but yet it is so; as it is said of riches in the Prov. 23.5. so it is true of honour, pleasure, pro∣fit, &c. Indeed riches to men are their substance, so they call them, but to God they are nothing; and so he cals them: riches, honour, &c. they have but a little diminutive being, as if they were no∣thing. Page  131 And they are nothing in two respects:

  • 1 In comparison of God, they are nothing.
  • 2 Because they are able to doe nothing.

So other comparisons argue, as that they are flowers, and false treasures, and shadowes: now doth any man grieve, if his shadow doth disap∣peare; or that he hath lost a flower. Therefore learne to magnifie God, for he is all; thou wantest nothing, if thou hast him; he is all in heaven, and why should hee not be so here? Because when Peter said they had left all; Christ tels them they should have an hundred fold, and why? be∣cause they had a full communion with God; and therefore, they had all the comfort that friends or lands could afford; he was in stead of all to them, as Paul, when hee was in prison, was not God all to him? and what need had he of riches, or lands, or friends? for friends are but to com∣fort a man; and money, it can doe no more than man can doe; and praise, and honour doe but knit mens hearts to us; now, if we have the light of Gods countenance, we need not mans helpe; if God will put forth his power for us, what need we any thing else? if he will heale us, what needs the Physitian? if hee will cloath us, and give us meat and drinke, then what needs wealth? Therefore labour to be satisfied with him, to prize and esteeme him, and to thinke him to be all in all.