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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EXOD. 3.13, 14.

And Moses said unto God, Behold when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent mee unto you, and shall say unto me, what is his name; what shall I say unto them?

And God said unto Moses, I AM, THAT I AM, &c.

IN these words, as you know, God describes him∣selfe to Moses by his eter∣nall being; I AM hath sent me unto you. Now our bu∣sinesse is to make this es∣sence and being of GOD more fully knowne to you: This is done by Page  72 declaring to you the severall Attributes, which are given to him in Scripture, wee have passed through divers: The last Attribute was his Simplicity.

That which followes next in order is his Im∣mutability or Vnchangeablenesse.* Now that hee takes this proper to himselfe, you shall see in Numb. 23.19. GOD is not as man that he should lie, neither the sonne of man that hee should repent. Repenting, you know, is a signe of change; he will not repent, that is, he will not be subject to any change: whatsoever purpose or decree, or counsell he takes to him, hee is immutable in it. Shall he say, and not doe it? shall he speake, and not make it good? So Iames 1.17. Every good and perfect gift is from above, and commeth downe from the father of lights, with whom there is no variable∣nesse, nor shadow of turning. When the question was, whence temptations should arise; saith the Apostle, GOD tempts no man, for he is in himselfe just, good, and full of goodnesse, and he can never be otherwise, and therefore no temptation to evill can arise from him: and see∣ing he is so, he must alwayes be so, for he is not changed, nay there is no shadow of change in him. So Mal. 3.6. I am the Lord, I change not. So that in this body of Divinity we doe but summe up divers heads, and so open them to you. This is an Attribute that he takes to him∣selfe, and therefore we will explaine it to you. First, I will shew you the reasons why; se∣condly, an objection or two against it; and Page  73 thirdly, I will shew you the consequences or uses that arise from it.

Now to convince us fully of this point, con∣sider these reasons.

Because wheresoever there is any change,* there must be some vanity and imperfection; that all the creatures are subject to change, it a∣riseth from hence, that they are subject to some imperfection. Now that which is most per∣fect, cannot be subject to change; because in e∣very change, either there is some perfection added that before was wanting, or else some∣thing is taken away which before was enjoy∣ed. Now neither of these can befall our GOD, who is most perfect, nothing can be added or taken away from him; for if any thing could, he were not perfect: whence it must needes fol∣low, that he is unchangeable.

Whatsoever is changeable must be in a pos∣sibility either to receive some new being,* or some other being that it had not before, either in substance or in circumstance, or else it cannot be changeable: now that which is capable of no new being in any respect, nor other being in no circumstance, or accident, cannot be chan∣ged. Now GOD is exceeding full of being, as the sea is of water, and the Sunne of light, that is, he hath all the degrees and extensions of be∣ing in him: therefore he is not in possibility of receiving any other being, than he hath; he is not subject to receive any other being, for sub∣stance, and no other being for quantity, and Page  74 therefore nothing can be added to his time or place where he is; neither can hee receive any other being for quality, no new habits, no new powers can be added to him; for if there could be, he should not be full of being, but there should be some defect in him; if there were any possibility in him of having any more: but see∣ing he is full of being, and constantly full, it cannot be that hee should be subject to any change; some other being must be added to him, or else taken from him; but seeing that cannot be, therefore he must needes be unchan∣geable.

*In regard of his simplicity; because, if there be nothing in him but what is himselfe, but what is his essence, unlesse his essence should be annihilated, (which is impossible) he is not sub∣ject to change. Now all the creatures, besides their essence, have quantity in them, and that may be greater or lesse in the creature; and be∣sides, they have quality, and therefore they may be better or worse: but God is great with∣out quantity, and good without quality; and therefore in regard of his simplicity, seeing there is nothing in him, but what is himselfe, he cannot admit of any shadow of turning.

*Because he is infinite; you know, an infinite thing is that which extends it selfe, which fills all things, to which nothing can be added: and therefore seeing he is infinite at the utmost ex∣tent, hee cannot extend himselfe any further. Againe, nothing can be taken from him, where∣by Page  75 he should be changed; for, Infinitum est, cui nec addi, nec adimi potest: and therefore seeing he is most infinite, he is also unchangeable. For whatsoever is infinite, cannot be greater or les∣ser, nothing can be added or taken from it: and therefore unchangeable.

If you observe it among the creatures,* you shall find, that all change ariseth from one of these two things; either from something with∣out, or else from some disposition within the creature: But in God there can be no change in either of these respects. Not from any thing without him, because he is the first and supreme being, therefore there is no being before him, that he should borrow any thing of; neither is there any being above him, or stronger than he, that should make any impression upon him. Againe, not from any thing within him; for when there is in any creature any change that ariseth from a principle within, there must needes be something to move, and to be mo∣ved; something to act and to suffer in the crea∣ture, else there can be no change: as mans body is subject to change, because there be divers principles within, of which something doth act, and something doth suffer, and so the body is subject to change, and moulders away: but in God there are not two things, there is not in him something to act, and something to suffer, and therefore he is not made up of such principles, as can admit any change within him. So then the conclusion stands sure, that hee can admit Page  76 of no change or variation within or without him: and so needes must be unchangeable.

[Object. 1] The objections against this are but two. The first is, That which is taken from those pla∣ces of Scripture, where God is said to repent, as, that He repented that he made Saul King, 1 Sam. 15.11. and Gen. 6.6. It greived him at the heart, that he made man: now those that repent, seeme to change their minde.

[Answ.] This is attributed to God, as many other spee∣ches are, onely after the manner of men: as man, when he alters any thing that he did be∣fore, seemes to repent: so that it is but a figura∣tive speech, and a Metaphor, vsed, when hee doth make any change in the world: as he made Saul King, and put him downe againe: he puts men in high estates, and pulls them downe a∣gaine, this is onely in regard of the actions done; as when he shewes favour to any man, and takes it away againe. So that it is but a fi∣gurative kinde of speech: not that there is any change in himselfe, but because what he did be∣fore, he undoes it now: in regard of his actions he changeth, not in regard of himselfe.

[Object. 2] What is the reason that he is said to drawe neere to us at one time, and at another time to depart from us, why doth the Holy Ghost come into one mans heart, and sanctifie him, when before hee was an unregenerate man; what is the reason that Christ which was in heaven, came downe and tooke our nature vpon him, and lived amongst us, I say, what is the reason Page  77 of all this, if there be no change in the Lord.

[Answ.] GOD is said to doe all this, to come to us, and to goe from us, and to sanctifie them that were voide of sanctification: and as you say of the Sunne; you say, that the Sunne comes into the house, when it fils it with light, but when the windowes are shut, you say, the Sunne is gone; Yet the Sunne alters not, but the change is in regard of the house, It is said to come in∣to the house because of the light that comes into it, which before did not, but the Sunne it selfe is not altered: So in this case, the Holy Ghost sanctifies a man, GOD drawes neere to him in his comfortable presence, because there are some workes wrought in the heart, that before were not: GOD is not changed, but it is the man that suffers the change; he sees light now, that before was in darkenesse and in the shadow of death; he is said to be changed by reason of those operations that now are there, which before were not. So is it in Christs com∣ming; there was a change in the humane nature that was assumed, which before was not: there was a worke done on the earth, which was not before: he put forth his power in his humilia∣tion and exaltation, which before he did not: but yet he was the same, the change was in the creature, and not in him.

Now we come to the consequences; which are two.

Hence wee may learne then how to under∣stand all those places which wee meete with in*Page  78 Scripture, wherein the Lord expresseth such a sollicitude for the death of sinners: as, Why will you die, O house of Israel? why will you not hear∣ken, and obey? And, As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner. And, how am I prest under your abominations, even as a cart is pres∣sed with sheaves? And it is said, Gen. 6.6. That the Lord was grieved at the heart, or it pained him at the heart, that hee had made man. All these kind of expressions (as it is evident from hence) are but attributed to GOD after the manner of men: not that hee is moved, for it cannot be, seeing he is unchangeable: whatsoever new ac∣cidents fall out in the world, hee is not stirred with them, he is not moved with any new affe∣ction: for if he were, he should be, as man is, changeable. But the meaning of those places is, to shew the infinite goodnesse of his nature, and the greatnesse of our sinnes: so that as men grieve much, when their wills are crossed, and when their worke is brought to nothing, how weary are they, when they strive long, and doe no good? So the LORD would expresse it to us thus, that wee might take notice, what the great provocations are, what the sinnes and faults are, wherewith we offend him from day to day, that we may know what they be, and what price to set upon those sinnes whereby we weary him from time to time.

*That all the love and hatred,* that hee hath now since the world was made, all the com∣placency and displicency, all the happinesse and Page  79 joy which he hath from any thing, done either by the Angels or men, that he had it from all eternity; for if any thing were new in him, there should be a change: but now there being none, you must needes grant this, that they were in him from all eternity. So that all the workes of men and Angels be nothing to him, all the joy that he hath from them, hee had it from eternity.

Againe, all the sinnes whereby evill men provoke him, and all the punishments that they suffer for sinne, it moves not him; but as when a glasse falls against the wall, the wall is not hurt, but the glasse is broken: so wicked men, they hurt themselves, but hee is not moo∣ved.

Therefore hence observe, that GOD must needes be most holy, and righteous, and just in all his wayes,* because there is neither love, nor ha∣tred, nor griefe in him, nor joy, which should make crooked, or bend the rule of his will, or alter it in any action. Men are therefore unjust, because in all that they doe, there is something that bends their wills this way, or that way, they are capable of love, joy, griefe: but GOD, seeing he is capable of none of these, therefore he must needes be most just and righ∣teous in all his workes. Therefore whatsoe∣ver he doth, though thou seest no reason for it, yet justifie thou him in all; when thou seest him overthrowing the Churches, denying his grace to many thousands, and the like, yet doe thou Page  80 justifie him in all his wayes: because there is no griefe or trouble can come to him, as to the creature, therefore he must needes be ho∣ly in all wayes, and righteous in all his workes.

If this be so, then this will also follow, that all the decrees, all the counsells, and all the acts of his will, that ever were in him, they were in him from all eternity: that is, there is not a vicissitude of counsells, thoughts and desires upon the passages of things in the world, as there is in men; for then he should be subject to change: For this is a sure rule, Whatsoever is under different termes, there is a change in it; he is now, that which he was not before: and if there were any instant, in which GOD should will one thing which he did not another time, hee should bee subject to change. Therefore looke backe to all eternity, in your imaginati∣ons & thoughts, as in the making of the world; all those acts, those counsels that he executed upon men, they were in him from everlasting.

Now I come to uses for practise: and we will make such uses as the Scripture doth make of this point. The first is this.

[Vse 1] In 1 Sam. 15.28, 29. And Samuel said unto Saul,*The Lord hath rent the kingdome of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thee: and also the strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent: for he is not as man that hee should repent. If GOD be unchangeable, take heede then, lest he come to this, that hee cast thee off, as he did Saul: for if ever he doe Page  81 it, he will never repent, never alter, never re∣tract his decree. Saul lived, you know, many yeares after, for it was in the beginning of his reigne; and yet because the will of GOD was revealed clearely to him, he was bid by a cleare command, Goe and kill all the Amalekites, and leave not any of them alive: Saul now had a heart contemning GOD in this commandement, therefore also GOD came to a resolution and decree, to cast him off: though Saul lived ma∣ny yeares after, yet you could see no change in him, there was no alteration in his outward condition: But, saith he, and it is most feare∣full, God doth not repent: it is not with him as it is with man, for he may be intreated, and may repent; but the Lord is not as man that he should repent. Consider this, you that have cleare commandements from GOD, you that have beene tolde that you ought to be conscionable in your calling, that you ought to pray in your families, if you will be still breaking the Lords will, and live idly in your calling, and rebelli∣ously sinne against GOD, living as if there were no GOD in the world; take heede lest the Lord reject you; and when hee hath done it, consider that he is an unchangeable God, and that all his decrees are immutable. Consider that place, Hee swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest. It was not long after the children of Israel came out of Egypt, yet ten times they provoked him, before hee declared this resolution, and many of them lived forty Page  82 yeares after: but because many of them did see clearely that it was the will of GOD, they did see his miracles and his workes that hee had done amongst them, and yet because they still rebelled, he swore in his wrath, that they should never enter into his rest. It is a fearefull case, when GOD shall doe this, (as he doth it:) Even all you that heare me this day, there is a time, I am perswaded, when the Lord pronounceth such a decree upon such a man, saying, I have rejected him: yet no man sees it, no not he him∣selfe, but he comes to Church, and heares the word from day to day. But yet remember that GOD is unchangeable; for, you see, the Iewes in Ieremies time, they lived under Ieremies Ministe∣ry almost twenty yeares, but yet at the last hee rejected them, and hee would not be intreated, though Ieremy and the people did pray to him. There are three places for it: Ier. 7.16. There∣fore pray not thou for this people, neither lift thou up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me, for I will not heare thee. But what if the Iewes were moved with the calamity when it came, should cry, and be importunate with the Lord, would not their teares move him? No, saith he: Ierem. 11.14. Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not heare them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble.

But what if they fast and pray? No; if they doo that, I will not heare them. Ier. 14.11, 12. Then GOD said unto me, pray not for this people Page  83 for their good: when they fast, I will not heare their cry; when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them, but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pesti∣lence. When the day of death comes, when the time of sickenesse and extremitie comes, then you will cry, and cry earnestly: but God shall say to you then, the time was, when I cryed to you by the Ministers, and you would not heare: nay, you slighted and mocked them, and you would not heare them, I will also mocke & laugh at your destruction. Prov: 1.26. Doe not thinke this is a case that seldome comes, it is done every day, continually upon some. There is a double time: a time of preparing and try∣ing before this unchangeable decree come forth. Zeph. 2.1, 2. Gather your selves together, yea ga∣ther together, O nation not desired, before the decree come forth, before the day passe, as the chaffe, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lords anger come upon you. And there is a time, when the decree is past; and when this is not past, there is a doore of hope opened: but when the decree is come forth, then you are past hope.

[Object.] But how shall I doe to know this?

[Answ.] Beloved, never an Angel, nor I, nor any crea∣ture can tell you; you see that he tooke Saul at the beginning of the kingdome, when hee was young and strong; hee tooke the Iewes at the beginning of Ieremies preaching; onely the use that you are to make of it is this: Take heede Page  84 of neglecting God, or good admonitions, take heede of contemning the word from day to day, and saying, that I will repent hereafter; for the Lord perhaps will not give thee a heart to repent, he will not heare you, as he said be∣fore, though you cry never so much to him, as in time of extremity you are likest to doe.

[Vse 2] The second use I take out of Rom. 11.28, 29. As concerning the Gospell, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the Fathers sake. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.* The meaning of it is this: saith the Lord, I have cast away the Iewes, and they are now enemies for the Gospels sake, that is, that the Gospell might come sooner to you; they have rejected it, that upon their re∣fusall, it might come to you Gentiles; they are enemies and cast off, yet they are beloved for their fathers sake; that is, in regard of the pro∣mise that I made to their father Abraham, Isaac, and Iacob; and in regard of that covenant, I will not alter; not, saith he, to all the Iewes, but those whom I have elected, so farre as my co∣venant reacheth, with whom I have made it. Do not thinke that there is any change of the Lord toward them, For the gifts and calling of the Lord, that is, the calling of them by the worke of the Spirit, and the gifts of saving grace, that he hath bestowed upon the elect Iewes, they are without all repentance, there is no change in them. Then if ever thou art in covenant with God, and hast this seale in thy soule, that there is a change Page  85 wrought in thee by the covenant, then thy ele∣ction is sure: and be sure God will never alter it, for he is unchangeable. This thou must consi∣der, that thou maist have strong consolation. Belo∣ved, our consolation, if it be upon any thing, but upon GOD that is unchangeable, it is weake, and twenty things may batter it, and overthrow it: but when it is grounded upon the immutabi∣lity of his councell, it is called in Heb. 6.18. strong consolation,* so that all the Divells in hell, all temptations of the world, and all the objecti∣ons that our owne hearts can make cannot bat∣ter it; for it is built upon the lowest foundation, even upon the unchangeable God. So that this doctrine is for comfort to all the Saints of God. Therefore consider thou, whether thou art in the state of grace, whether thou hast made the match with Iesus Christ, if ever there was a covenant betweene Christ, and thy soule.

But how shall I know it, you will say? Did you ever come to this, as to say, I am content to be divorced from, and to part with all things, with every lust, and to be content to follow him through all his wayes, and to beare every crosse? yet this is not enough; Did there fol∣low hereupon a generall change within thy heart, and a new heart, and a new spirit given thee? otherwise it is but lip-labour, a thought onely that passeth through the mind, and there∣fore was never any such actuall agreement be∣tweene Christ and thee. But if there were any such change, then thou maist comfort thy selfe; Page  86 for God is unchangeable, and this covenant, it is an everlasting covenant. Consider that it is every where called so: Isay 55.3. it is said to be an e∣verlasting covenant,* because it is founded upon the sure mercies of David: God gave Saul mercies as well as David, God tells him that he shall have the kingdome, if hee will walke in his wayes; but Saul started out of the wayes of God, and so God performed his part, but yet the covenant was broke, because Saul performed not his part. And as it was with Saul, so it was with the peo∣ple of Israel; because they broke the covenant on their parts, God also broke his. David started out of the way, as well as Saul: but they were sure mercies that were promised him, for it was an everlasting covenant of mercy. Ther∣fore you must know this, that there is a two∣fold covenant: First, a single covenant, such as GOD makes with children when they are bap∣tised, which is this; If you will believe and re∣pent, and walke in my wayes, you shall be sa∣ved: now if they breake the condition, GOD is freed, he is not bound any further. Secondly, a double covenant, to performe both parts; which is this; If you will believe, and repent, you shall be saved, and, I will give you an heart, and you shall repent, and believe, and be saved; I began the worke, and I will finish it: here is not one∣ly a covenant on Gods part, to be our Father, but on our parts also, as in the other; but GOD doth not onely promise for his part, but makes a covenant to to inable us to performe the con∣ditions Page  87 on our part: and therefore it is called a double covenant. And it is impossible that this covenant should be broken, for then GOD should breake it himselfe, (for he is ingaged for both parts); and so be changeable, if hee should not give thee a new heart, and keepe thee from the first day of thy regeneration till death. Therefore it is an everlasting covenant, and the fruites of it are sure mercies; it is a double cove∣nant, and therefore cannot be changed. And it is called, Compassions that faile not: why are they called so? to shew the unchangeablenesse of this covenant.

But you will say, what if I fall into sin? I will forgive them, saith the Lord. Oh, but lusts doe rebell, old lusts, and new: but, saith the Lord, I will mortifie them, and give you grace to over∣come them. Oh, but grace is subject to decay: but I will renew it, saith GOD. If thy sinnes and lusts should exceede his mercies, then they should faile; but they cannot: and therefore they are called compassions that faile not.

Besides, consider this, that the covenant is made in Iesus Christ. There are two Adams, he made a covenant with both: with the first A∣dam, he made a covenant, as with the common roote of all mankinde; but Adam brake the co∣venant, and so did all his members. But there is a second Adam, and all that are saved, are members of him as truely as wee are of the first Adam: and he kept the covenant, and therefore if he stand, they shall stand also.

Page  88Besides, consider that he makes this Cove∣nant as to sonnes, and not as to servants. To the servant the Master saith; Doe my worke faith∣fully, and thou shalt have thy wages, if not, I will turne thee out of my dores: but with his Sonne it is not so, hee abideth in the house for e∣ver; if he fall into sinne, hee corrects and nur∣tures him, but yet hee keepes him in his house for ever.

[Answ.] But what use is there of this Doctrine?

[Object.] There is this end for it; were it not for this Doctrine, thou couldest never love God with a sincere and perfect love: For I aske thee this question, canst thou love him with a perfect love, whom thou thinkest may sometime be∣come thine enemy? It is a saying, Amare tan∣quam aliquando osurus, is the very poyson of true friendship. But now, when thou knowest that God is knit to thee by an unchangeable bond, that hee is a friend whom thou maist build upon for ever, whom thou maist trust: this makes thy heart to cleave to him, as Paul saith, I know whom I have trusted, this makes thy heart to fasten up∣on him, and there is no scruple of love, which would be, if there were a possibility of change.

Besides, what makes a man to depart from his profession? Because he thinkes to get a bet∣ter portion: but when thou hast this portion sure; Christ, and heaven sure, why shouldest thou let it goe. Heb. 10.23.*

Besides, endeavours never faile, till hope failes: And therefore when thou art sure that Page  89 thy worke is not in vaine in the Lord, it is that which makes thee constant, and immovable in well-doing. And therefore the use is, to make us have strong consolation in the Lord, and to doe his worke abundantly,* to doe that which wee are exhorted to doe; to cleave to the Lord without separation. And this wee cannot doe, except we were sure of him: and that you may know by this, that he is an unchangeable God, and the gifts of his calling are without repentance.