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.
Page  58

THE FOVRTH SERMON.


HEBREWES 11.6.

He that commeth to God, must beleeve that God is, &c.

THere is one reason more remains, & that is from the testimony of the Church; doubtlesse, it is an argument of great strength;* That so ma∣ny generations since CHRISTS time, and before, have, from hand to hand, delivered it unto us, and that so many holy men, as the Martyrs were, and, as the Fa∣thers were, when they lived, that these all gave testimony to this Scripture in all ages.

Page  59But yet we will adde something to it, because the Papists have abused this, and say, they would have the truth of the Scriptures to depend upon the authority of the Church, and not so much up∣on the testimony it hath received from all ages and generations; they would have it to be such a testimony as the present Church gives of it; be∣cause, say they, that can erre in nothing; there∣fore not in this: and therefore they say, This is the Bible, and the very Dictate of the Pope, in ca∣thedrâ, with his Councell (some say,) makes it so, and you must receive it for Scripture, upon this ground, without any further inquiry. But, with us, who doe not receive that conclusion, that the Church cannot erre; it is out of questi∣on, that the Scripture doth not depend on the au∣thoritie of the Church.

But yet we will give you this reason against it. Aske that Church, that Synod of men, what is that which makes the Church to beleeve that the Scripture is the Word of God? Surely, they will give the same answer, that we shall deliver vnto you; that it could be nothing else, but the Scrip∣ture it selfe, which therefore must needs be of greater authoritie than the Church it selfe, for the declaration of themselves, and the Scriptures ma∣nifestation of this argument, be of more force than the authority of the Church, as the cause hath much more strength, than the effect. Againe, the Church hath no authoritie to judge of the Scripture, till it be knowne to be the Church, which cannot be but by the Scripture. More∣over, Page  80 the Scripture hath a testimony more an∣cient, than the authoritie of the Church, and therefore cannot receive its authoritie from any; the Scripture being the first truth, it cannot be proved by any other; it is the confession of their owne Writers, that Theologia non est argumenta∣tiva; Theologie is not argumentative, to prove its owne principles, but only our deductions out of it: As also, they say, we cannot prove the Scriptures, probando, sed solvendo, by answering, and resolving objections made against it. In all other things, you see, it is so; as the Standard, that being the rule of all, cannot be knowne but by it selfe; the Sunne that shewes light to all things else, cannot be knowne by any other light but its owne: so the Scripture, that is the ground of all other truths, cannot be knowne, but by the evidence of those truths, that it carries in it selfe.

We have onely this word to be added more concerning the Scriptures. You shall observe this difference betweene the Writings of the Scripture, that were written by holy men inspi∣red by the Holy Ghost,* and all mens Writings in the world. In mens Writings, you shall see that men are praised and extolled, something spo∣ken of their wisdome, and of their courage, and what acts they have done; there is no story of any man, but you shall finde something of his praise in it: but you shall finde the quite contrary in the Booke of God, there is nothing given to men, but all to God himselfe; as Moses, David, Page  61 Paul, and all the Worthies in the Scripture, you shall finde nothing given to them: But of David, it is said, that he walked wisely, because the LORD was with him, it was not his owne strength; so, when they had any victory, it was not through their owne courage, or stratagems, that they used, but the LORD did give their enemies into their hands. And Paul, that was the meanes of con∣verting so many thousands, he ascribes nothing to himselfe, but it was the grace of GOD, that was with him. So, Samson was strong, but yet he had his strength from God; and therefore this is an argument, that the Scriptures were written by holy men inspired by the Holy Ghost.

Seeing we have such just ground to beleeve,* that there is a GOD, that made Heaven and Earth,* and that this word, which testifies of him, is indeed the word of GOD. This use we are to make of it, that it might not be in vaine to us; it should teach us to confirme this first principle, and make it sure; seeing all the rest are built upon it, therefore we have reason to weigh it, that we may give full consent to it, and not a weake one.

[Object.] But, you will say, this is a principle, that needs not to be thus urged, or made question of; there∣fore, what need so many reasons to prove it?

[Answ.] Even the strongest amongst us have still need to increase our faith in this point; and therefore we have cause to attend to it, and that for these two reasons:*

Because these principles, though they be so common,* yet there is a great difference in the be∣leefe Page  62 of the Saints,* and that, with which common men beleeve them; the difference is in these foure things: both of them doe beleeve, and they speak as they thinke, yet you shall find this difference:

A regenerate man hath a further and a deeper insight into these truths, he gives a more through and a stronger assent to them;* but another man gives a more slight and overly assent; that faith, with which they beleeve them, is a faith that wants depth of earth; therefore, if any strong temp∣tation comes upon them, as feare of being put to death, &c. they are soone shaken off, and doe of∣ten fall away, when they are put to it; they shrink away in time of persecution: for their faith wants depth of earth, that is, the assent, they give to the Scripture, is but an overly, and superficiall assent, it doth not take deep root in their soule, and there∣fore it withers in time of temptation, they doe not so ponder them, as others doe; and therefore they are not so grounded in these first principles, as others are; though they have some hold, 〈◊〉 yet not so great a hold, as the godly have: So as they are not so firmely established, so grounded in the present truth, they are not so rooted, as the Saints are.

*That, which breeds this assent in them, is, but a common gift of the Holy Ghost; but that, with which the Saints beleeve them, is a speciall grace infused, wrought by the Holy Ghost: now, that which hath a weaker cause, must needs have a weaker effect; that which is wrought by a com∣mon, cannot be so strong an assent, as that which Page  63 is wrought by an infused habit of the Holy Ghost; therefore the faith of the Saints is stronger than the faith of the wicked.

The Saints, the regenerate men,* build their hope, comfort and happinesse upon the truth of these principles, as that there is a GOD, that rules Heaven and Earth, and that the Scriptures are his Word, and whatsoever is in them, is truth, they build all upon these; therfore, if any doubts arise, they can never be at rest, till faith hath resolved them, and wrought them out: with another man it is not so; he takes these things upon trust, and beleeves them, as others do, but he doth not much trouble himselfe about them; and therfore, if any doubts come against them, he suffers them to lye there, and goes on in a carelesse manner: But with the Saints it is not so; they building their hope upon them, doe therefore resolve to suffer any thing for God, they will be content to lose all for Him, if occasion requires, and therefore they are upon sure ground; but the other, they doe but receive upon trust, and therefore they doe not cleave to him in that manner that the Saints doe.

Regenerate men have a lively and experimen∣tall knowledge, that there is a GOD,* and that the Scriptures are his Word, from the communion that they have had with this God, and from the experience they have had of the truths delivered in the Scripture. They know very well, and that experimentally, what difference there was be∣tweene; what they were once, and what they are Page  64 now; what it is to envie the Saints, and what it is to have an affection of love to them; they know the time, when they slighted sinne, when they made no reckoning of it; they know againe the bitternesse and sorrow of sin, when the com∣mandement came, and shewed it unto them in its colours: they know a time when they judged perversely of the wayes of God, when they had a bad opinion of them, and how now they are changed: besides, they know, how that once they did admire, and magnifie worldly excellen∣cie and preferment; but since they were inlight∣ned, their opinion is otherwise; I say, they know all this experimentally. Take the whole worke of regeneration, they know it in themselves; and so for God himselfe, as hee is described in the Scriptures, such have they found him to them∣selves: Now where a man doth know things thus experimentally, it is another kinde of know∣ledge, than that which is by heare-say: so that though there is a beleefe in them both, yet there is a great difference betweene them.

*We must labour to confirme our faith in these principles, because they are of exceeding great moment, and consequence, in the lives of men;* though they seeme to be remote, yet they are of more moment than any other; as of a house, you see a faire top, but yet the foundation is of more moment, and that cannot be seene; the streames are seene, but the Well-head cannot: so all the actions of the lives of men are built upon these principles, and as they are more strongly, or Page  65 weakly beleeved; so have they more or lesse in∣fluence into the hearts and lives of men. As take a man that beleeves fully, that there is a GOD; and that, the Scriptures are his Word: this breeds an unresistable resolution to serve, and please him, notwithstanding all oppositions he meets with: Take the greatest things that use to daunt men, as take a man that is to die, if he considers that there is a God, with whom he is to live for ever, what is death then? no more than the stones flying about Stevens eares, when he beheld the heavens opened; so when men speake against him, and slander him; when they scoffe, and re∣vile him, and trample upon him; yet, if God be with him, he can boldly say, I care not for mans day, nor for the speaking against of sinners; he is not moved a whit with them; they passe away as a vapour, that moves him not: so when hee sees the current of the times to runne against him, yet, when he sees that there is an Almightie GOD that takes notice of him, he is able to stand against and despise them all, and is not stirred an haires breadth out of the way for it, they are as waters beating against a rocke. Consider the Martyrs, that died in the fire, if you had stood by, you would have said; Surely, that man hath a strong faith, that can goe out of this life, and suffer such a kinde of death; but why doth he doe it? be∣cause he beleeves that there is a GOD,*that is a rewarder of them that seeke him. So every regene∣rate man, whatsoever he doth, he doth it with the same faith that they did, only here is the diffe∣rence; Page  66 the Martyrs spent all at once, and these doe it but drop by drop: as when a man for∣beares all present joyes, which this life consists in; it is, as it were, a dying by peece-meales, a dy∣ing drop by drop, as Paul said, I dye daily. If one of us were to suffer, as the Martyrs did, what is it that would establish our soules? it is the beleefe of these principles, that inables the Saints to doe all this: you live by your faith in these princi∣ples, though you observe it not; for this is a thing that is to be marked to this purpose, that the opinions of men, their imaginations and thoughts, they all proceed from such notions, as lye more overly in their hearts, but their actions proceed from the strong setled notions and prin∣ciples that are riveted in their inward heart. And therefore, observe the lives of men; such as their principles in them are, such are their actions: For as it is true, on the one side, where men beleeve, there they come to God; so it is true on the other∣side, if men be not grounded in these first princi∣ples, if they doe not beleeve, they doe not come to him; but goe on unevenly in their wayes, and forsake their profession.

Now, whence comes this uneven walking, this exorbitance of the wheeles, but from the weaknesse of the maine spring, that sets all on mo∣tion? because these are the first springs, that set all the rest on worke. For, could a man be car∣ried away by the praise of men, by the voice and breath of man, on the one side; or could he be discouraged by the scoffes of men on the other Page  67 side, if he did fully beleeve this principle? it is impossible he should, as Esay 52.* As if he should say, It is impossible that men should shrinke so, at the face of man, if they did not forget the Lord their Maker. Hence it is, (although you doe not observe from whence it comes) yet hence doe come all those fruits of Atheisme in the lives of men; all that unthankfulnesse, that men can take blessings at GODS hands, and never give him thankes, nay rather, they render evill for good; hence it is, that men trust in meanes more than in God; hence it is, that men are so unholy when they come into his presence, they are not strucke with feare and reverence of his Majestie, when they come before him; hence also comes that care∣lessenesse in the lives of men that feare not his Word, but walke on in a carelesse and remisse manner; and hence also is that hasting after ho∣nours and profits, with the neglect of better things; they all arise from hence, even the weak∣nesse of the assent to these maine principles: for there is a double kinde of Atheisme in the heart; there is a direct thought of Atheisme, when a man doubts of the truth of these principles, and knows he doth so. Secondly, when a man doubts, and knowes not that he doubts.

[Object.] But, you will say, If it be of so much moment, then what is the way to strengthen our faith in them?

[Answ.] It is exceeding profitable to search and exa∣mine these truths to the ful, * not to give over pon∣dering of them, till your hearts be established in Page  68 the present truth.* It is good to doe with your selves, as Eliah did in the case of Baal, Why halt you betweene two religions, come to that disjuncti∣on, If Baal be god, follow him? So I say to you in this case; examine it to the full,* if these princi∣ples be not true, walke according to your liberty and lusts, take no paines, but live as your nature would have you; but if they be true, then walke so, as if thou didst throughly beleeve them so to be; the beleefe of them is that which will carry us through all losses and slanders, through good report and ill report; if thou didst throughly be∣leeve them, they would make thee doe any thing for God; I say, it is very profitable to come to this disjunction, and it strengthens our faith much; and this being laid, then draw the conclu∣sion from it, that we thus here must live, and that it is here best for us to doe so.

*To pray to God to strengthen our faith in these common principles,* to say as the Disciples did, LORD increase our faith: you see that Christ did it, when Peters faith failed him, he prayed that it might bee strengthened; and when you have found any weaknesse or doubting, you must re∣member that faith, in these principles, is the gift of God. There is indeed a common faith, which others may have, and thou mayest have, but the strong faith ariseth from the Spirit, God dispen∣seth it where he pleaseth; this infused faith is not gotten by strength of argument, or perspicuitie of the understanding; it is not brought in by cu∣stome, but God doth worke it; it is not all the an∣tecedent Page  69 preparation that wil doe it, but God must first worke it, and then you are able to beleeve these principles of faith, and able to beleeve them to the purpose.

When thou hast such a habit lying in thy soule,* the more thou readest the Word, and acquaintest thy selfe with it,* day by day, the more stronger doth thy faith grow, Rom. 10.*Faith comes by hea∣ring, and hearing by the Word of GOD, that is, it is a meanes, by which God workes it, both in the beginning and increase of it. Therefore take that exhortation, which is in Coloss. 3.16.*Let the Word dwell in you plenteously, &c. that is, let it not come as a stranger, looking to it now and then, (as it is the fashion of most men) but let it be familiar with you, let it dwell with you, and let it dwell with you plentifully; that is, reade not a Chapter or two, but all the Word; be not content to know one part of it, but know it thorowout. Lastly, let it be in wisdome; A man may reade much, and understand little, because he knowes not the mea∣ning of it; a childe may be able to say much by hart, and yet not have it in wisdome: therefore let the Word dwell plentifully in you, in all wisdome.

It is profitable to converse with faithfull men:* As it is said of Barnabas,* hee was a man full of faith; therefore it is said, he converted many: It is not in vaine, that phrase of the Scripture; hee was a man full of faith, and therefore many were added to the Lord. And you shall finde it by ex∣perience, when you converse with worldly men; Page  70 they will be readie, on every occasion, to attri∣bute the event of things to naturall causes, but the godly, they ascribe it to God. Now good words strengthen our faith, but the evill words of natu∣rall men, they corrupt good manners. And not on∣ly the words of the godly worke so, but the very manner of the delivery of it, is emphaticall, for they doe beleeve it themselves: now if a man de∣liver an history that he beleeves, he will deliver it in such a manner, that hee will make others be∣leeve it also: Act. 14.1.*They so spake, that a great multitude of the Iewes beleeved; that is, in such a manner, that many were turned to the faith. Iu∣nius professeth in his life, that the very first thing that turned him from his Atheisme, was the tal∣king with a country-man of his not farre from Florence, and his manner of expressing himselfe. The next was the majesty of the Scripture, which he observed in Ioh. 1. but the other was the be∣ginning of it.

*So it will still be true, that walking with god∣ly men will increase our faith, but with worldly men, it will weaken it. Therefore use all these meanes to strengthen these principles in you; for they will have many excellent effects in your lives. As;

[ 1] When a man beleeves this throughly, he will take the judgement of the Scripture against his owne fancy, and the opinions of men (with which we are still ready to be misled;) so that when the Scripture saith of riches, that they are nothing, whereas before thou thoughtest them to be a Page  71 strong tower, now you thinke them to be but a staffe of reed; so of sinfull lusts, that are so plea∣sant to us, the Scripture saith of them, that they fight against the soule, though they are sweet for the present, yet they are sowre in the latter end; so that thou takest the judgement of the Scripture against thy own reason. So for the praise of men, see what the Scripture saith; he is praise-worthy whom God praiseth; so thou judgest vaine-glory to be but a bubble; I say, if you could beleeve this throughly, you would set the judgement of the Scripture against your owne reasons, and the opinions of men.

[ 2] Besides this, it will breed a notable fervencie in prayer, when a man knoweth that there are such promises, it will make him never give over, it will make him watch and pray continually with all perseverance, though many times hee prayeth, and hath no answer, as the woman of Canaan, yea, though he hath sometimes a contra∣ry answer and effect to what he asketh; yet when he hath laid hold on the promises, he will not let goe, he will never give over; hee knowes, Hee, who hath promised, is faithfull; therefore he is not like a wave of the sea, tossed up and downe with every wind.

But it is not onely a ground of all this, but it brings forth the effect: it doth exceedingly strengthen our faith in matters of justification; for it is certaine, that the same faith, whereby we beleeve, and apply the promises of salvation, through Christ, it is the same faith whereby we Page  72 beleeve the Scripture, and that there is a God, that made both Heaven and Earth. There is no diffe∣rence in the faith; yea, that justifying faith, by which thou art saved, it ariseth from the beleefe of these principles; as it was the same eye, where∣by the Israelites did see the mountaines and trees, and other objects, and by which they saw the brazen Serpent; No man beleeves justification by Christ, but his faith is mainly grounded upon this Word of God; for whereas in Scripture we finde that IESVS CHRIST is come in the flesh, and that he is a Lambe slaine, for forgive∣nesse of sinnes; that he is offered to every crea∣ture, that a man must thirst after him, and then take up his Crosse and follow him. Now come to a beleever going out of the world, and aske him what hope hee hath to be saved, and what ground for it? he will be ready to say, I know that Christ is come into the world, and that he is offered, and I know that I am one of them that have a part in him; I know that I have fulfilled the conditions, as that I should not continue wil∣lingly in any knowne sinne, that I should love the LORD IESVS, and desire to serve him above all; I know that I have fulfilled these conditions. I say, if the ground whereon our faith is builded be the Word, then it is builded on a sure rocke, and the gates of hell, Satan, and all his tempta∣tions shall not prevaile against it, but against a strong fancie it may.

Therefore let us labour to strengthen our faith in these principles, that there is a GOD that made Page  73 Heaven and Earth; and that the Scripture is his Word, whereby his minde is revealed to us, that so you may know what his will is, and what to expect of him, upon all occasions.

[ 3] There is one thing which remaines in this point, which we added in the third place; That, that God which we worship is this GOD: for either it is that God, whom we worship, or else there is no true God in the world; we are to propound it negatively, to take away all other false religions: For, if there was ever a God revealed in the world, he was the God of the Iewes, and if he was the God of the Iewes, then of the Christians, and if of the Christians, then surely of the Protestants, and not the Papists; (for they doe in most points adde to the garment of Christ, and the Protestants doe but cut off what thy have added before) and if of the Protestants, then surely of those that doe make conscience of their wayes, that doe not live loosely, but doe labour to please him in all things.