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. 4] IF GOD produceth no infi∣nite effect, and yet is infi∣nite in power, that power which being never brought into act is in vaine.

[Answ. 1] To this I answer, that it is true, when any power is appointed and destinated to any act, it is so Page  186 farre in vaine, as it doth not attaine to that end and act: as bread is appointed to nourish; if it doth not, it is not fit for the end to which it is made, and so in vaine: I may say the same of every thing else. But that is not the end of Gods power, to bring forth any effect answera∣ble to it selfe: for his power (to speake proper∣ly) hath no end, but all things are made for it. In other things, the cause is proportionable for its end: but he himselfe is the cause of all other things; all that he doth, is for himselfe; and therefore though hee doth not produce any such effect, yet his power is infinite.

[ 2] Secondly, when there is a repugnancy in the nature of the thing, it is no shortening or li∣mitation of his power. Now a creature, if it be a creature, must be finite: And the Lord can doe what may be done: but to make a creature infinite, is a contradiction. And therefore if hee doe not doe it, it is not because hee can∣not but because the thing it selfe cannot bee done.

Wee now come to the application of this point.

[Vse 1] If GOD be Almighty, then let all those that are in covenant with God, and that have interest in him, that can say, they are the Lords, and the Lord is theirs, let them excedingly rejoyce in this, that they have an Almighty God for their God.* To have a friend that is able to doe all things, (as we tolde you before, he is every where present,) it is a great benefit: to have a Page  187 friend in Court, in Country, a friend beyond the seas, if you shall have occasion to bee bani∣shed thither: but if you adde this, hee is able to doe whatsoever he will, it will adde much to our comfort. A friend many times is willing, but he is not able; if able and willing, yet not present: but seeing he is every where, if thou hast any businesse to doe, thou needest not to send a letter, doe but put up a prayer to him, to bee thy factour, to doe it for thee, to worke thy workes for thee, he is every where present, and hee is Allmighty also, able to doe it, there∣fore bee content to have him alone for your portion. That is the cause, that mens wayes are so unlike one to another: because they would graspe GOD and the creature. And why doe they doe so? Because they will not bee content to have GOD alone. And what is the ground of that? Because they doe not thinke him indeed All-sufficient and Allmigh∣ty: for if they did, they need not to joyne any other with him.

[Object.] But you will say, this is against sence: GOD is All-sufficient, it is true, it is good to have him: but, doe we not need many hundred things besides? Must we not have friends, house, wife, &c.? Can wee live without them? Can wee live without friends, estate convenient? What is your meaning then to have GOD a∣lone for our portion?

[Answ.] GOD hath all these in him, that is, hee hath the comfort of them all: if he bee All∣mightyPage  188 and All-sufficient, then looke about, and consider the multitude of the things thou need∣est, and the variety of comforts thou desirest, and thou shalt finde all in him. That argument which you are not strangers to. He hath made them all; and there is nothing in the effect, but what is in the cause, because it gave it to the ef∣fect first, and it gives nothing, but what it selfe had before: if hee hath put in beames of comfort, and this beauty in the severall crea∣tures, must they not needs be in him?

[Object.] But you will say, that this is but a specula∣tion.

[Answ.] But that it is more I will put you to one place, which I desire you to consider seriously: that is, Mar. Then Peter began to say unto him, Loe wee have left all, and have fol∣lowed thee. And Iesus answered and said; verily I say vnto you, there is no man that hath left house, or Bretheren, or Sisters, or Father, or Mother, or Wife, or Children, or lands for my sake and the Gospels; but hee shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, Houses, and Bretheren, and Sisters, and Mothers, and Children, and lands, with per∣secutions, and in the world to come eternall life. When it is said here, hee shall receive the ve∣ry same; why doth the Holy Ghost repeat them in particular; Hee shall receive houses and Bre∣theren &c. with persecution? that is, you shall bee stript of all these things by persecution, yet at the same time, you shall have them all. At that time when he is in a close prison, & driven from Page  189 all these, hee shall receive them for this pre∣sent. The meaning is this: let a man have com∣munion with GOD, let the Lord reveale him∣selfe to a man; if hee be once pleased to come to a man, and sup with him, if hee will but commu∣nicate to a mā the consolations of the spirit, and fill him with joy and peace through beleiving: I say, though hee be in a close prison, yet he shall have the comfort of houses, Brethren, Sisters; Mothers &c. That is, that comfort which they would yeeld him, he shall finde them altoge∣ther in GOD. So that if one should come and say to him, what if you should have Father, Mo∣ther, and friends restored to you, that you may injoy them; I say, a man that hath a neere com∣munion with GOD, to whom GOD saies, that hee will come and sup with him, at such a time; hee will say, I doe not care one jot for them, for I have that which is better than them all. For example: you see this in the Apostles, that rejoyced in prison. What doe you thinke they would have said to men that offered them rich∣es? Would they not have slighted them? They did slight imprisonment: and in that they did slight shame, and prison &c. they would have slighted the other by the rule of contra∣ries. Therefore labour to be content with GOD alone.

To make this argument without doubt, con∣sider what heaven is. Doe you thinke, that there you shall have a worse condition than here? Here you have need of many comforts Page  190 and conveniences, it is a variegate appetite, that is, an appetite that is full of multiplicity: why, when you come to heaven, you doe not lay aside your nature, but you desire still; and there you shall have none but GOD alone: so that there you shall bee in a worse estate then here, if all these things were not to bee found in the Lord: if there were not this variety in the Lord, it could not bee, that in heaven you should bee so happy. Here you need Sunne, and Moone, and Starres, and a thousand other things, but there you shall have none, but I, saith he, will bee Sunne, and Moone, and all to you: and there∣fore he saith, that hee will be all in all, which is the plurall number, and signifies, all things, I will be 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉.

Now this Allmighty GOD, that will bee All-sufficient in heaven, if hee will but commu∣nicate to a man, and draw him neare to his pre∣sénce, shall not that be inough? Beloved, it is certaine, that hee will bee inough for your por∣tion. As for instance; let a man be stripe of all his friends, and brethren and sisters, and country, as Abraham was: hee was stript of all, and had GOD alone left for his portion, yet you see that hee was exceeding rich, and made a great Prince, and he had a great posterity. Ther∣fore let us make this use of it: to care for none but the Lord alone, wee know not what shall become of us, wee may be led into banishment, as others now are, and have bin: now if you have the Lord with you, it is inough. So if Page  191 any condition befall you, if you can bee con∣tent with GOD alone, you are well, what if your friends deceive you? What if you should bee shut up in a close prison? It is nothing, he is All-sufficient and Allmighty, and there is no estate or condition, but hee is with you in it, there is no streit, but he can helpe you out. Therefore study these things, and examine them, and labour to beate them upon your soules: never rest, till you have brought your hearts to such a condition: to say, I know that no man can separate betweene GOD and me, and I am content with GOD alone.

[Vse 2] Secondly, If this be so, then labour to make use of this power of his.* Why is this Attribute revealed to you? is it not for this, that men might make use of this power of his? Then let every man consider with himselfe, what he hath neede of, what strait he is in, what businesse he would have done: remember that GOD is All∣mighty, and is able to bring it to passe; be it poverty in your estates, or debts, which a man is not able to overwrastle, if there be a blemish in your names, and you cannot tell how to have it healed, or any weaknesse in your body; and which is more than all this, if there be a lust that ye cannot overcome, a temptation which ye cannot be rid of, if there be a deadnesse of spirit in you, and indisposednesse to holy du∣ties, and yee cannot tell how to get life and quickening; remember that there is an All∣mighty power revealed for that end, and it is Page  192 our parts to make use of it: though it be an he∣reditary disease in thee, (now you know an he∣reditary disease is that which we have from our parents,) though thou hast such a disease, such a strong lust, yet thinke with thy selfe, the Lord is able to heale this. Iam. 4.6. A place named before, But he giveth more grace, &c. As if he should say: when hee had tolde them of the lusts that fight in their members, this objection comes in; Alas, wee are not able to master these lusts. It is true, saith the Apostle, the lusts that are in us, doe lust against the spirit, as natu∣rally as the stone descends downeward: but how should wee heale them, say you? How? The Scripture giveth more grace, that is, there is an omnipotent power which can heale all this.

So Matth. 19.26. With men this is im∣possible, but with God all things are possible. It is a place worthy consideration. Saith our Savi∣our, It is impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdome of heaven: why, say the Disciples, Who then can be saved? Indeed, saith Christ, it is impossible with men, but with God all things are possible. The meaning is this; when a man hath riches, that is, when the object is present and before him, a man cannot of himselfe but set his heart upon them; and when a mans heart is set upon them, no man in the world can weane his heart from those riches: what shall we doe then? Why, saith hee, the LORD hath an Allmighty power, he is able to morti∣fie Page  193 these lusts. We can no more doe it, than a cable rope can goe through the eye of a needle. Now that which is said of riches, may be said of any lust. Let an ambitious man have honour, or such an object sutable to a carnall minde, hee cannot choose but set his heart upon it: now when that lust is set upon an object, a Camell may as well goe through a needle, as hee can loose his heart from these lusts: but yet the Lord can doe it, With him all things are possible. And what the Apostle saith of the Iewes, Rom. 11.23. The Lord can ingraft them in againe, as bad as they be, though the wrath of GOD be gone over them to the utmost, yet GOD can doe it: so is it true of thy selfe, and any one else, the Lord can, if hee will; to him nothing is impossible. Thinke with your selves, that he that can draw such beautifull flowers out of so dry an earth, as you looke upon in winter; though thou hast an heart as farre from grace, as the flowers seeme to be from comming forth in the midst of winter, yet he that can do so in nature, is able to doe the like in grace also, as he did to Paul, and Mary Magdalen. Now consider what they would have beene without his power: and by his power we may be as excellent as they. To confirme this, consider what a change grace hath wrought even among us: how many a∣mongst us, that of proud have become humble, of fierce and cruell have become gentle; of loose, sober; of weake, strong, &c. Goe there∣fore to him, beleeve this, and apply it: and it is Page  194 sure it shall be according to thy faith. If a man would goe to the Lord, and say to him, Lord, I have such a lust, and cannot overcome it, and I want griefe and sorrow for sinne, thou that hast an allmighty power, thou that didst draw light out of darknesse, thou art able to make such a change in my heart, thou hast an allmighty power, and to thee nothing is impossible. I say, let a man doe so, and the Lord will put forth his power, to effect the thing that thou desirest. Surely hee which establisheth the earth upon nothing, and keepes the winde in his fists, and bounds the water as in a garment, can fixe the most unsetled minde, and the wildest dispositi∣on, and set bounds to the most loose and in∣temperate.

[Vse 3] If God be allmighty, you must beleeve this all∣mightinesse of his:* and whereas you say, wee doubt not of his power, but of his will; I will shew to you, that all our doubts, and discou∣ragements and dejections doe arise from hence, not because you thinke the LORD will not, but because you thinke he cannot. Therefore you know not your owne hearts in this, in saying that you doubt not of the power of GOD.* I will make this good to you by these argu∣ments.

[ 1] If we did not doubt of the power of GOD, what is the reason that when you see a great probability of a thing, you can goe and pray for it with great chearfulnesse: but if there be no hope, how doe your hands grow faint, and Page  195 your knees feeble in the duty? You pray be∣cause the duty must not bee omitted, but you doe not pray with a heart. And so for endea∣vours: are not your minds dejected, doe you not sit still as men discouraged, with your armes folded up, if you see every doore shut up, and there bee no probability of helpe from the creature? And all this is for want of this faith, would this bee, if you did beleive this Allmigh∣ty power of GOD? For cannot GOD doe it, when things are not probable, as well as when there are the fairest blossomes of hope?

[ 2] Besides, doe wee not heare this speech of man? when the times are bad, doe not men say; oh, wee shall never see better dayes? And when a man is in affliction, oh, he thinkes this will never bee altered: 'so if he be in pro∣sperity, they thinke there will bee no change. Whence comes this, but because we forget the Allmighty power of GOD? If wee thought that hee could make such a change in a night, as he doth in the weather, as he did with Iob, wee should not bee so dejected in case of adversity, and so lift up in case of prosperity.

[ 3] Besides, men have not ordinarily more abili∣ty to believe, then the Israelites had which were GODS owne people: yet consider, that these very men, that had seen all those great plagues, that the Lord brought upon the Egyptians, I therein meane, all his Allmighty power; that saw his power in bringing them through the red sea, and giving them bread and water in the wil∣dernesse; Page  196 yet called his power into question, and said, that GOD could not bring them into the land of Canaan. Yee will finde they did so, Psa: 78.41. They turned backe, and limited the holy one of Israel. And said, hee cannot doe this and this: and why? because they have Cities walled up to heaven. That is the thing laid to their charge, They limited the holy one of Israel: that is, they remembred not that hee had an unlimited power, but they thought, if the Ci∣ties had bin low, and the men had bin but ordi∣nary men, hee could have done it: but because they were so mighty men, and the Cities had such high walls; therefore they could not be∣leive, that hee could bring them in. Now if they did so, doe you not thinke it is hard for you to doe otherwise? Yea take him, that thinkes he doth not doubt of the power of God, bring that man to a particular distresse, and yee shall see him faile: (for it is one thing to have a thing in the notion, as for a man to thinke what hee would doe, if hee were a Pilot, or a Cap∣taine; and an other thing to have it in the reall managing, as when hee is brought to fight:) so is it here. It is one thing to beleive GODS Allmighty power, and who doubts of it? But I ask you, if you have had a triall of your heart; if you have bin brought to an exigent. Doe you finde it so easie a thing, to believe in diffi∣culties, as in facility?

[Object.] But you will say, the people of Israel were a stubborne and stiffenecked rebellious people: and I hope our faith is greater then theirs.

Page  197 [Answ.] I, but doe you thinke that your faith is grea∣ter than the faith of Mary or Martha. Ioh. 11.21. Lord, if thou hadst bin here my Brother had not died. So verse 32. If you observe their reaso∣ning, you shall see, all this doubt was of his power. If thou hadst bin here, when hee was sicke, and when it was time, thou mightest have raised him: but now it is too late, hee hath bin dead foure dayes, and his body is putrified. Here is no doubt of his good will: but all the question was of his power. And so it is with us: doe not we doe the same, and say with our selves, if this had beene taken in time, it might have beene done, but now the case is desperate? Why? is not the Lord as well able to helpe in desperate cases, if he be Allmighty?

[Object.] Yea, but these were but weake women, and we hope our faith may be stronger than theirs?

You shall see there that Moses did doubt of Gods power. When God had pro∣mised to send them flesh, and that not for a day or two, or five, or twenty▪ but for a moneth together, and for so many people: Moses saith, Lord, wilt thou send them flesh for a moneth together? There are sixe hundred thousand men of them, and it is in the wildernesse. As if he should say, if it had beene for a day or two, or in a plentifull Country, or for a few per∣sons: but there are six hundred thousand, and it is in the wildernesse, and that for a moneth toge∣ther. Here Moses was at a stand, and could not Page  198 beleeve it. The Lord answeres him; Is the Lords hand shortened, that he cannot helpe? thou shalt see, that I am able to doe it, Numb. 11.21. It is therefore not an easie thing to beleeve Gods power. Therefore set your selves with all your might, to beleeve this Allmighty power, and know, that all your strength will be needfull for it. It is apt to man to measure things accor∣ding to their owne modells, as to thinke him to bee as powerfull, as mans understanding can reach, and mercifull, as farre as man can bee mercifull; but for a finite creature to be∣lieve the infinite attributes of God, hee is not able to doe it throughly without supernaturall grace. You cannot believe that hee forgives so much as hee doth, or that his power is so great, as his power is, but (though you observe it not) you doe frame modells of him according to your selves, and you doe not thinke that his thoughts are above yours, as the heavens are above the earth. Therefore labour to get faith in his power. And will you have it to lie dead, when you have it? No. Therefore adde this for a fourth use.

[Vse 4] Fourthly, then whatsoever thy condition bee, whatsoever strait thou art in, be not dis∣couraged, but seeke to him;* that is the ground of your prayers. You know the Lords prayer is concluded with this: For thine is thy kingdome, power and glory, for ever and ever. As if that were the ground of all the petitions that went before. So if the Lord bee Allmighty, and hath an All∣mightyPage  199 power, then in the most desperate case, when there is no hope or helpe in the creature, that you can discerne, yet then pray, and pray strongly an confidently as men full of hope, to obtaine what they desire.

And remember this for your comfort: At that time, when you are in affliction, and in so great a strait, that you are hedged about, and no hope, no possibility to evade, that is the time that the Lord will shew forth his power; for a man is never discouraged but in this case; I have seene it by many particular experiments: when the case hath beene desperate, when there hath beene no hope, yet when God hath beene sought to by fasting and prayer, there hath beene alteration above all thought, accor∣ding to that expression used, Ephes. 3.20: Hee is able to doe exceeding abundantly above all that we aske or thinke, according to the power that wor∣keth in us: that is, when they could not enlarge their thoughts farre, nor were able to see there could be any way devised, yet enlarging their prayers, the LORD hath devised a way often∣times; I will give you some instances that the Scripture gives in this case. When Esau came against Iacob, was hee not in a fearefull strait; there was no hope, and no possibility, Esau was too strong for him; what should he doe now? he exposeth himselfe to the enemy, there was no other remedy; and it was an enmity of twen∣ty yeares continuance, and the Text saith, that Iacob feared, and yet the LORD delivered him, Page  200 when he had prayed to him. So when Laban came against him, GOD bid him that he should doe him no hurt. So Daniel, when he was cast into the Lions den, when all the Lions were present with their mouthes opened ready to devoure, yet the Lord stopped their mouthes, they could doe him no hurt. So is it in many cases amongst us; when our enemies are ready to devoure us, then GOD comes in in the nicke, betweene the cup, and the lip, and workes a way for our delivery. Therefore never be dis∣couraged whatsoever thy case be: it is a very great matter to say, that the Lord can doe such a thing, though you thinke it but a small thing. As when the Leper could goe to Christ, and say, Lord, thou canst make me cleane if thou wilt, then the Lord did so. It was a great matter for those three children in Dan. 3. to be able to say, when the fire was ready prepared, and the King was wroth, and there was no resistance, yet they said, The Lord is able to save us out of thy hand O King! The LORD did take this so well at their hands, that the LORD did helpe them, and save them. On the contrary side, when a man doth doubt of his power, you shall see how much moment it is of. As that Prince said to Eliah, Though God should make windowes in heaven, yet there could not be such a plenty, as hee spake of: now the LORD was so displeased with it, that he destroyed him for it. So the Israelites did not beleeve that the LORD could bring them into the land of Canaan, therefore Page  201 the Lords anger was kindled against them for this: Psal. 78.

But to draw this use to a conclusion. Learne to bring your hearts to this, whatsoever your case is, still to beleeve his power, and to be a∣ble to say still, the Lord can doe it; and it is not a small matter to be able to say so. When the Churches are very low, and there is no hope, and you see little helpe, a man should goe and pray with such chearfulnesse and such hope, and confidence, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to helpe them; which you would doe, if you did beleeve that GOD is Allmigh∣ty. You know what the case of the Church was in Ahasuerus time, yet fasting and praying made a great change in the suddaine. Nay when the Church is downe, yet pray with as great hope, as if it had the best props to holde it up, for the Lord is able to raise it up againe.

I will give you two instances, that you may consider the Lords power on both sides; his power to raise it up from a low condition; (as now, if you consider the miserable estate of the Church in Christendome at this time:) as it appeares by the vision of the dry bones in Eze∣kiel: the meaning whereof is, that when the people are as low as low may be, like dead men, buried men, men scattered to the foure windes, yet saith the Lord, I will put life into them; I will raise them and make them a great army, and I will put grace into them, and make them living men; that is, though the Church Page  202 be never so low, yet the Lord can put life into it, and make a wonderfull change.

Again, there is no Church so safe, (as we doe thinke our selves now, and as the Palatinate did thinke themselves) but that yet the Lord can make a sudden change, and bring them downe, as well as hee could raise these dry bones; and as he hath done to others already. This you shall see. Lam. 4.12. The Kings and all the inha∣bitants of the world, would not have beleived, that the adversary and the enemy could have entred into the gates of Ierusalem. Ierusalem was so strong, there was such probability of safety, that no man would ever have beleived that the enemy and the adversary should ever have entred into the gates thereof. Yet the Allmighty power of GOD brought them downe on a suddaine, and laide them flat to the ground. Therefore let the case bee what it will bee, suppose a nation bee never so strong, yet GOD can bring them downe; and let it bee never so weake and low, yet the Lord is able to raise them up. And it is true of every particular thing also; then beleive this Allmighty power of GOD, and apply it, whatsoever thy case bee; consider that thou hast to doe with an Allmighty God.

[Object.] But you will say, the case may bee such, as there is no helpe, the Lord hath declared his will by an event; and the case is such as never was helped, and will you have us to beleeve it now, because there is an Allmighty power?

[Answ.] You must learne to doe in this case, as ChristPage  203 did: Lord if thou wilt, let this cuppe passe from me; yet not my will but thine be done. Iust after this manner you ought to doe in every one of these cases, where there is no hope: you must say thus, Lord, it is possible to thee to doe it, be the case as desperate as it will be. As suppose a man hath a stone in the bladder, which we thinke an incurable disease, because the stone is so hard, and cannot be softened, yet it is possible to him; he can so lodge it, and bed it, that it shall doe you no hurt; and if he doe take away this life, yet he gives you a better; if it doe paine you here, yet he will give you joy and peace, which is farre better than to indure a little paine in the flesh. I say, you ought to doe as Christ did in this case; and remember this, that in such a case, your businesse is not with the power, but with the will of GOD: that is, you must say, Lord I know it is possible that this cup may passe, but Lord, here is all the matter; it is my desire that it should passe, and it may be it is thy will that it shall not, Lord, if this be the case, it is meet my will should yeeld, and that thy will should be done: As if Christ should have said, Lord, I will give thee this honour, that thou canst remove this cup from mee, but if thou doest not, it is not thy will to doe so; and I am content. So doe thou give the Lord this glory of his power in every case, that hee can doe it, if it be his will.

Be it that thy desire is to be delivered from such or such an affliction; consider this: Is it Page  204 meete Gods will should yeeld to thine, or thine to his? Then bring thy heart downe, and be content that it should be so.

[Object.] But you will say; it is hard to doe this, to be willing to undergoe such an affliction.

[Answ.] Consider it is Gods will; and therefore if it were not best for thee, yet thou shouldest ho∣nour him so farre, as to preferre his will before thine own: but it being his will, thou shalt be as∣sured if thou art one that belongs to him, that it shall be best for thee. Christ was no loser when he yeelded to his Fathers will, for God heard him in what he prayed for: as it is Heb. 5. though the Lords will passed on him, and he dranke of the cup. So thou must yeeld to his will what∣soever it is, be content with what is done, and beleeve that thou shalt be no loser by it in the end, but thou shalt have what thou desi∣rest, though not in that manner that thou wouldest have it to be done.