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 they 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.

[Object.] WHEN men heare that GOD is thus unchange∣able, that when he hath rejected any, he never retracts his decree; this objectiō may be made. For what end is it then to pray, to endeavour a change of life, or to repent, for if there be such Page  92 an unresistable decree past against mee, what hope is there?

Before I come to a particular answere to this, I will premise these two things in gene∣rall.

[ 1] First, you know, that in other things there is an unchangeable Decree,* as there is an unaltera∣ble Decree concerning the time of mens death, and yet no man for this doth cease to eate, or to take Physicke: so there is an unchangeable De∣cree concerning the successe of every businesse under the Sunne, yet wee doe not forbeare to take counsell, and to use the best meanes to bring our enterprises to passe: And so there is an unchangeable Decree concerning the sal∣vation of men, concerning giving grace, or denying grace to them; and you can no more take an argument from hence, to give over endeavours, than you can in the for∣mer.

[ 2] 2. Though there be an unchangeable Decree past upon men, when GOD hath rejected them, and GOD will not alter it; yet this Decree is kept secret, and no man knowes it: therefore there is a dore of hope opened, to stirre up men to endeavour. Indeed if the Decree were made knowne, and revealed to us, then it were in vaine, then there were no place for endeavours: but seeing it is not so, therefore there is place for hope, and for endeavours which arise from hope.

These things being premised, we will now Page  93 come to a particular answer of this objection.

[ 1] First, that if thou doest pray, thou shalt change GOD and his carriage toward thee, though hee be unchangeable. For if a man be rejected as Saul was, and as the Iewes were, and as those in Rom. 1. who were given up to a repro∣bate minde; if he be so rejected, he is not able to pray, or repent, or to seeke to GOD or to desire to go about in good earnest to seeke any change of life: for if he were able to doe it, he was sure to speed. Therefore if thou doest pray in truth, thou shalt prevaile, thou art sure to have mercy at his hand; for it is a great signe that he hath not giuen thee over, that no such unchangeable decree is past against thee: there∣fore it is no doctrine of discouragement. In∣deed it is a doctrine of great terrour to those, whose hearts doe not tremble at it, that let such a doctrine slide a way as water doth off a stone, and not sinke into threir hearts at all: but to a man that saith, I would repent, and pray, and change the course of my life, if there were any hope; I can say this to thee, that if thou doest pray thou shalt be accepted; for GOD hath stiled himselfe, that he is a GOD hearing praiers; and except he were changeable, he must needs be ready to heare thee, if thou seekest to him: For the Lord is unchangeable in his promises, & thou shalt finde him unchangeable towards thee: but to a man that will not pray, that is set upon e∣vill, and will not be wrought upon, to such a man this is a fearefull and a terrible do∣ctrine.

Page  94 [ 2] Secondly, though GODS decree be unchang∣able, yet if thou canst find a change in thy selfe, it shall go well with thee: as if a father should take up an unchangeable resolution to disinherit a stubborne and ungracious child, because he is so; if the child should change now and alter his courses, and grow sober, the father may now re∣ceiue him to mercy, and yet no change in his resolution, but the change is in the sonne. Or, if a Prince should set downe in a law, (as a law of the Medes and Persians, that alters not) saying, I will not receive to favour such a rebellious sub∣ject, because he is so: yet if his subject be chan∣ged, he may receive him, and yet his Decree may be unchangeable, because the change was in the subject, and the decree was grounded up∣on this, if hee did remaine so rebellious and stubborne: So I say to thee, if GOD hath there∣fore threatned to reject thee, because thou art a stubborne and rebellious wretch, if now thou shalt finde a change in thy selfe, that thy stub∣borne heart is broken, standing in awe of him, fearing to offend him, or to commit any sinne that thou knowest to be a sinne, I say, notwith∣standing that unchangeablenesse of his, he cannot but receive thee to mercy. As if a Physitian should take up an unchangeable resolution, not to give his patient such restorative physicke, be∣cause his stomacke is foule, so that it will not worke, and because he will not receive such pur∣gations whereby he should be prepared for it: But if there be a change in him, if his stomacke Page  95 be cleane & fit for it, so that it will work, and he become willing to receive it, if hee give it him, the change is not in the Physitian, but in the pa∣tient. Therefore when you heare this, sit not downe discouraged, but rather goe and sit a∣lone, and consider of thy sinnes, and give not over till thy heart be broken for them: and when this is done, be sure that he will receive thee to mercy, for he may be unchangeable in his decree, if the change be in thee. And there∣fore this Doctrine doth not discourage, but ra∣ther stirre up, and incite men to change their courses, yea it is the very scope of it.

[ 3] Againe, I adde this further; he that saith, to what purpose is it to endeavour, whosoever it is that sayes so, I would aske that man this que∣stion; Didst thou ever goe about any holy du∣ties, and yet didst finde this stoppe in it, that though thou wouldest doe them, thou couldest not be accepted? hadst thou ever a serious re∣solution to forsake such and such a sinne, and the occasions of it, and yet thou didst finde such a barre as this, that thou couldest not alter GODS decree thereby, and for that onely reason hast gone on in it? Did ever any man upon his death-bed say so? No man will say so: but it is because he would not. Therefore complaine not of the unchangeable decree of GOD, but of the stubbornesse of thy heart, that thou wilt not buckle, and come in unto him.

The best way in this Doctrine of the unchan∣geablenesse of Gods decree of election, is this: It Page  96 is good to consider in what manner it is delive∣red in the Scripture, and to what purpose, and to make that use of it, and then thou shalt be sure not to abuse it. As for example; to what end, and for what occasion is this Doctrine of ele∣ction delivered? You shall finde that it is on this occasion. Rom. 9.18, 19. When many of the Iewes did not come in, to whom did belong the covenant, and the lawes, and the testimonies, this was an objection that was made against the Doctrine of the Gospell; what was the reason that the Iewes did not come in, and that his owne people were not wrought upon? To an∣swere this objection, the Apostle tells them, that it was not against Gods good will, hee was able to doe it, if it was his pleasure, but, saith he, some hath hee chosen, and some not; some hee loves, and some hee hates; some hee hath mercy upon, and some he hardens. So that the scope of the Doctrine is, that God might be magnified, that no objection might be made a∣gainst the almighty power of GOD, that hee was not able to bring them in, that men might not say that they have resisted his will: and the Apostle reveales it for that purpose, that men might be answered. So that such Doctrines as this, you must consider for what end they are revealed. As for this Doctrine of Gods un∣changeablenesse, what is the end, why it is revea∣led? You shall see in Numb. 23.19. He is not as man that he should repent: Therefore I have blessed Israel, and he shall be blessed. The end is, to shew Page  97 that his favour is an unchangeable favour: So he hath cursed Saul, and he shall be cursed, 1 Sam. 15.29. his decrees are unalterable. As it is Iam. 1.17. GOD is good, and cannot be otherwise, therefore he can tempt no man. Out of all these places it is apparant, that the use of this Do∣ctrine is, that we might tremble at his judge∣ments, and that we might rejoyce in his favour with joy unspeakable and glorious: In a word, that men might know the excellency of the Al∣mighty, and might know and magnifie GOD, because constancy and unchangeablenesse is a property of wisedome. This being the end why it is revealed, it ought to be applied onely to this use: as to come to particulars, which before we did not mention. When we heare that GOD rejected Saul, and will not repent of it, and the Iewes, &c. the use that we should make of it is this; If GOD should passe such a decree of re∣jection upon me, it cannot be changed; there∣fore I would feare before him, and take heede of that stubbornesse and course of disobedi∣ence, that may bring that curse upon me, and such a stroke upon my soule; and for this pur∣pose is this doctrine revealed to us. And this use the Apostle makes of it, Heb. 3. when he had delivered Gods unchangeable decree, declared by his swearing in his wrath, that they should never en∣ter into his rest: therefore deferre not, saith he, while it is called to day, lest that you continuing in a course of rebellion, the doore of mercy be shut upon you, and GOD doe sweare in his Page  98 wrath, as he did to them, that you shall never en∣ter into his rest. Beloved, there is a double time: a time of the comming forth of this decree, and a time of preparing and trying, while the doore stands open. Therefore take heede that that acceptable time doe not passe away, lest thou be hardened through the deceitfulnesse of sinne.

[Vse 3] If GOD be unchangeable, then looke what∣soever hee hath done in former times,* what judgements hee hath inflicted, and for what, what mercies hee hath shewen, and upon what ground; and thou maist expect the same, be∣cause there is no change in him: therefore goe over all the Scripture, and beholde what hee hath done there, looke through all thine owne experience, & see what he hath done to thee, & to others, & know that he will doe the same to thee, for he is unchangable. As for example, look what he did to Ioab, Shimei, and the house of Saul. You know the sinnes that they commit∣ted; Ioab had committed murther, and Shimei reviled David, and Saul slew the Gibeonites a∣gainst his oath: though they went on a long time in peace and prosperity, yet because their pardon was not sued out, therefore after many yeares God called them to an account. As Ioab went not to the grave in peace, and Shimei de∣served death, and therefore it was brought up∣on him; and Saul was punished in the blood of his sonnes, and hee was slaine himselfe, as hee had slaine others in battell. So be thou assured, if there be any sinne which thou hast formerly Page  99 committed, unrepented of, though it be long since, GOD will waken it in due time. So, looke what he did to David; hee had committed a sinne in secret, but the Lord saith, that hee will make his punishment to be open, he will doe it before the Sunne: So if thou hast committed a sinne in secret, take heede lest hee bring it to light, he will doe to thee, as he did to David; and I say unto thee, that though thou be rege∣nerate, and art one of his elect, yet if thy case be the same with Davids, hee will doe so to thee, for hee is unchangeable. There be two cases wherein the Lord will not spare, but bring judgement upon his owne children.* [ 1]

First, in the case of scandall, as Davids was: for though his first sinne was secret, yet his se∣cond was publicke, and made the first so too. Therfore though his sin was forgiven him, God tells him that his punishment should be open, and that the sword should not depart from his house.

[ 2] Secondly, if their sinne be not scandalous, yet if it be unrepented of, GOD will even pu∣nish his owne children. And as GOD deales with secret sinnes to bring them to light: so he will doe with secret innocency, on the other side also. As Ioseph, whose uprightnesse was in secret, for none did see it but himselfe; as for his Mistresse, she accused him, and was belie∣ved: yet the Lord brought it to light in due sea∣son. So he will doe thine. Let men keepe their credit with GOD, and he will keepe their cre∣dit with men, let them raise slanders, or what Page  100 they will: looke how he did with Ioseph, so he will deale with thee, for he changeth not.

So looke how the Lord hath dealt with wic∣ked men; looke how the Lord did deale with them that did meddle with holy things, as Na∣dab, and Abihu, and Vzzah, and the Bethshemites; you know that he destroyed them all, and that with a present destruction: so if thou wilt a∣buse his name, abuse his holy things, and come unto the Sacraments with an uncircumcised heart, he is the same God still, hee is as much offended now, and hee is as ready to execute his wrath upon thee, as he was then.

So looke how hee dealt with Saul, with the Iewes that came out of Egypt, hee swore in his wrath, that they should not enter his rest: if thou wilt doe the same that they did, rebell against him as they did, he will sweare in his wrath, that thou shalt never enter into his rest. As hee passed his sentence upon Saul, and as hee passeth his sentence upon any: so he will bring it to passe, if thy case be the same, for he is unchangeable.

So looke how hee did deale in Iohn Baptists time, and as it was with them, Now the axe is laid to the roote of the tree, when the Gospell, and the meanes of grace, and the spring-time of the word began; because they did not regard it thē, they were cast off: the time of their ignorance God regards not so much; but then hee called upon every one to repent, and because they did not come in then, hee deferred not his judge∣ment. That upon which I ground this, you Page  101 shall finde in two places of Scripture. 2 Pet. 2.4. If the LORD did so with the Angels, spared not them, saith he, he is the same GOD, and there∣fore hee knowes how to reserve the unjust to the day of judgement, and especially those that are uncleane: the ground of it is his unchangeable∣nesse. The other place is in 1 Cor. 10. You know what he did to the Israelites, saith hee, hee will doe the same to you: therefore doe you take heede, that you doe not commit fornication, as some of them committed, and died in the wildernesse, &c.

Onely here is this caution diligently to be remembred, which we must adde to all this that hath beene spoken.* It is sure, that whensoever it is the same case, hee will doe the same thing: though his judgements are different, the time different, the wayes and meanes are different.

As for example, he stroke Vzzah presently, and so he did Gebazi, and Nadab, and Abibu; yet to others there may be difference in time: to these he did it presently, to others it may be he will doe it many yeares after. Againe, he stroke them with death, but it may be there is another kinde of judgement reserved for thee▪ as it may be he will give thee up to hardnesse of heart, or the like.

Againe, so it is in shewing mercy, for the rule is as true therein also: For he shewes mercy to some this way, and to others that way, and he humbles men after divers manners; and so some men hee punisheth for their sinnes in this life, some hee reserves for another world: Againe, Page  102 some hee strikes presently, and some hee for∣beares with much patience.

And this you must remember in both these, that though hee doth the same things, yet hee doth them in a different manner, time, and way: he hath divers judgements, and afflictions; and as there are divers meanes to attaine to the same end, as some may ride, some go on foot, and yet all come to one journeys end: So the judge∣ments and afflictions may be different, yet the end the same; and that this caution being taken in, thou maist be sure, that the same judge∣ments that he did execute in former time, he is ready to execute them still. As he hath given them up to open sinnes, that did neglect him in secret, so he will doe to thee; as he hath stric∣ken some men in their sinnes, so the same wrath is gone out against and remaines for thee, if thou doe not repent and turne to him: for the kindes, as whether by sicknesse, or death, &c. these we cannot determine of; the wayes of GOD are in∣finite, and exceding divers, unsearchable, and past finding out: but though in regard of his particular wayes it doth not follow, he did thus to this man, therfore he will doe the very same to thee; yet because he did this to them, he will doe the same thing to thee in the same or in a different manner.

So looke what he hath done to all his Saints, hee hath blessed them, and heard them. But thou wilt say, I have prayed, and I am not heard. I say to thee, if thy case be the same, Page  103 thou shalt be heard. To this end are those pla∣ces: The Lords hand is not shortened,*that he can∣not save, nor his eare heavie, that it cannot heare: This is the scope of the Prophet; as if he should say, you wonder why you are not heard, that you have not the same successe in prayer that they had, but the case is not the same, saith he: they repented, but you doe not; you are mista∣ken, for you are yet in your sinnes; I am as strong to helpe you, and as ready, and if I doe it not, it is because the case is different: your sins have made a separation betweene me and you. Which implies, that GOD will heare if the case be the same. Onely remember this, that GOD may deferre it something long before he heares you, yet he will doe it in the end.

[Vse 4] If unchangeablenesse be proper to GOD (for so you must understand it, proper to him, and common to no other) then learne to know the difference betweene him and the creatures.

There be diverse branches of this use:* As,

[ 1] First if this be so, then every creature is, and must be changeable, and if so, then take heed, that you doe not expect more of the creature,* then is in it, for this will raise our affections to the creature, and so cause griefe and vexation in the end: and indeede the forgetfulnesse of this changeablenesse in the creature, and unchang∣ablenesse in GOD is the cause of all our crosses and sorrow in outward things we meet with. There be these degrees to it.

For, first, The forgetfulnesse of the mutabi∣litie Page  104 of the creature causeth us to expect more from it then is in it. Secondly, This expectati∣on raiseth our affections unto the creature: hence it is, that we set our affections too much vpon them, and delight too much in them. Thirdly, Strong affections, when they are set vpon the creature, doe alwayes bring forth strong afflictions: for what is the reason of all the griefe, that we undergoe from day to day? Is it not, because our affections are set upon changeable objects, vpon the creatures? And therefore when they are changed, then there is a change in the mind: whereas if thou didst looke alone upon the unchangeable GOD, this would keepe thee from worldly care and sor∣row, this would preserve in thee evenesse and aequability of minde. Therefore take heed of forgetting this, that to be unchangeable, is pro∣per to God alone; Therfore set thy affecti∣ons vpon none but him: and if thou wilt doe so, thou shalt allwayes injoy a constant securi∣ty of mind, as if a man were in the uppper regi∣on, where there is no change of weather, when as belowe here, there is one day foule, another faire; so that if a man could live with GOD, and walke with him, and have his conversati∣on in heaven, he should not be subject to such change: whereas if a man set his minde upon earthly things, he shall be still subject to per∣turbations and unevenesse. All griefe of mind comes from hence, that thou lookest for un∣changeablenesse from the creature, where it is not to be had. If thou wouldest looke up to God,Page  105 thou shalt find all things a like there, there is no change with him. When an earthen pot is broken, it doth not much trouble you, for you remember it to be but an earthen pot: now e∣very thing here below, all your friends, wife, children, they are but earthen vessels, and the consideration of this would exceedingly helpe you, if you would settle it on your heart. Ther∣fore say, what a foole was I? I did not remem∣ber, they were but a flower, a vapour, and a shadow: for so the Scripture calls them. And shall a man take on, because a vapour is scat∣tered, and a flower withered, and a shadow va∣nished? Therefore remember, that to bee un∣changeable is proper to God alone: and to be changeable is as proper to the creature, as to him to be immutable.

[ 2] Secondly, You may see from hence, how to helpe that vanity to which the creature is sub∣ject:* for if unchangeablenesse be the property of God, thou must not seeke a stabilitie from the creature, but consider that it hath no further in it, then God is pleased to communicate the same to it. Therefore to goe to him to whom un∣changeablenesse belongs: for as mutable as they be, yet if he will make thy freinds to be stable, or thy wealth, it shall be so. Therefore the on∣ly way is, to goe to him, to make those things firme, which otherwise are unconstant. The love of a freind is unconstant, for hee may dye, the breath is in his nostrils, and if he doe live, yet his thoughts may perish, and his affections alter: So that they shall faile thee as a land floud doth Page  106 in summer, as Iob saith. It dries up in summer time, and yet that is the time of thirst; and so will they faile thee in time of neede: and the like may be said of all things else, so that he whose comfort doth depend upon them, hath but a de∣pendent felicity, which is like the motion of mills, and ships, which cease when the water or wind failes them. But yet as mutable as they are, God can put a constancy unto them. Apply this therefore to thy selfe. Thou livest now, and art in health and wealth, in such and such a place, and such circumstances as may continue it: the onely way to establish thee in all this is, to goe to God, and to beseech him to put a stabi∣litie into thy condition. For the creature, as it is made of nothing, and is built upon a founda∣tion of nothing: So it is apt to returne to no∣thing. And remember this, that the more reti∣red, and weaned, and fearefull thy affections are about any thing, so that thou canst say in good earnest; If God will, I shall injoy them to day, and next day, but his will I know not, I know not how long I shall injoy them; if thou canst say thus, thou shalt hold them the longer, and the faster: for that is a signe that thou depend∣est upon God, and not not on the creature, that thou trustest him, and art not fastened to it.

[Vse 5] If this be so, then unchangeablenesse is an ex∣cellency in him:* for all his Attributes are ex∣ceeding excellent. Then if thou wouldest judge of any thing in the world, thou must take this as a measure by which thou maist prize and e∣steeme Page  107 it: looke how changeable it is, so much the worse it is; if it be good, the more immu∣table, the better it is, for all changeablenesse commeth from weakenesse. Therefore learne to value it so: and you shall finde this of much use. As we may see in the heavens: it is said that they are vaine, because they waxe olde as doth a garment, but thou art the same, Psal. 102.26, 27. Go through every thing glorious in the world, glorious Churches, they are subject to change; as Ierusalem, the glory of all the earth, it is ruina∣ted, and brought nothing. Take men that are most eminent, yet because they are subject to change, by death or by passions, there is an un∣evennesse in them: though they live here like Gods in their glory. Therefore magnifie no man, but labour to be perswaded of thy selfe, as a man. I need not speake to you of riches, they take to themselves wings and fly away; nor of credit and honour, they are in the power of them that give them: whatsoever is changea∣ble, according to the mutability of it, so value it. But I presse the contrary. Looke upon the things that are not changeable, and labour to prize them. Thou shalt find saving grace to be unchangeable, though it may be impared in de∣gree, and may recoyle to the root, and may not bud forth as at other times, yet it is unchangea∣ble, it shall never be taken away: So spir••uall life is unchangeable, when that begins, then the other shakes off, even as old nailes doe; when new grow under them: therefore this should Page  108 teach us to value it much.

So the word of GOD is an unchangeable thing, Isay 40.8. The grasse withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of the Lord shall stand for ever. So Matth. 5. Heaven and earth shall passe away, but my word shall not passe. Now what use should we make of this? Then study the word more than any thing in the world besides. There is much learning in the world, and there are many creatures: now all other knowledge is of the creature, and that vanisheth away with them, but the word of God shall not passe, the word indures for ever. Therefore looke what truthes thou canst get out of the word, which may build up the inward man, looke what profit thou canst get from it, that shall remaine for ever: therefore thou shouldest prize it much, get it plenteously in thy heart, in the wisedome and power of it. We have many imployments in this life: but that which is bestowed upon unchangeable things, which shall shall never al∣ter, that is the best time spent.

Lastly, all the good workes thou doest, and all the evill workes of unregenerate men unre∣pented of, shall remaine for ever. Looke what good workes thou doest in the world, they shall remaine with thee for ever, they shall be had in continuall remembrance. Therefore thou shoul∣dest labour to be abundant in good workes, that is, to be sure to serve GOD whatsoever thou doest. If thou be servant or a labouring man; when thou doest thy workes out of obedience Page  109 to him, even those workes shall remaine. So looke in any thing that thou hast done for Christ, all these things shall remaine for ever: what faithfull prayers soever thou hast made, or whatsoever thou hast suffered for Christ, what paines thou hast taken in preaching, or in repen∣ting, or in advancing the cause of CHRIST, these shall be had in everlasting remembrance. So looke what sinnes unrepented of thou hast committed. The sinnes of unregenerate men shall also remaine. All the praise that comes from any action, and the pleasure of it, that passeth away, and comes to nothing: but looke what sinfulnesse there is in any worke, that re∣maines, and if thou repent not of it, that sinne shall be reckoned upon thy score; and what uprightnesse soever there is in any worke, that shall remaine. Therefore learne from hence to prize and value onely those good things that are immutable, and proportionably to feare and shunne the evill.