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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EXODVS. 3.13, 14, 15.

13 Moses said unto GOD; behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them; The GOD of your Fa∣thers hath sent me unto you, and they shall say unto mee, What is his Name? what shall I say unto them?

14 And GOD said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM. And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel; I AM hath sent me unto you.

15 And GOD said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Is∣rael; The LORD GOD of your Fa∣thers, Page  94 the GOD of Abraham, the GOD of Isaac, and the GOD of Iacob hath sent me unto you: this is my Name for ever, and this is my memoriall unto all genera∣tions.

NOw wee come to this, What GOD is.*God is IEHOVAH ELOHIM; an absolute Es∣sence, in three Persons.

But we will first speake of the Deitie, then of the Per∣sons.

Now God is knowne to us two wayes:

  • 1 By his Essence; and
  • 2 By his Attributes.

Now the great question is, what this Essence of God is.* Beloved, you need more than the tongue of man to declare this to you; yet we will shew it to you, as the Scripture reveales it.

Now, if we should define it, (though it is ca∣pable properly of no definition) wee would say, GOD is an incomprehensible, first, and absolute Be∣ing. These words in this place, set out the Essence of God most clearely of any place in Scripture, that I know. This is the first expression, where∣by God did ever shew himselfe in his Essence. God hath before made himselfe knowne by his All-sufficiencie,* Chap. 6.3. I appeared to Abraham; to Isaac, and unto Iacob, by the name of GOD Almigh∣tie, but by my name IEHOVAH, was I not knowne Page  95 unto them. This name, IEHOVAH, was knowne to Abraham, as appeares in divers places; but the meaning is, it was not opened to them, they did not understand it: The Lord saith, Gen. 17.1.*I am the Almightie GOD, walke before mee, and be thou perfect. You shall finde that Name used on every occasion, by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Ia∣cob. El-shaddai; GOD all-sufficient; but not IE∣HOVAH. The first time that ever God made himselfe knowne by this name, was here to Mo∣ses, I am that I am. There are two things to be observed in this expression:

[ 1] The incomprehensiblenesse of Almighty GOD, as it is usually said by us; when wee are asked a thing, that we will not reveale any further, or that we would not have another to prie any further into, we say, It is, what it is; so God saith to Mo∣ses, I am, what I am.*

[ 2] Such a kinde of speech is also used to shew the immutabilitie of a thing; as Pilat said, What I have written, I have written; I will not change it: so men use to say; I have done what I have done, to shew the constancie of a thing, that it shall not be altered: therefore, when God would shew the constancie of his Nature, he addes further, I am, without any other word: as if hee should say; Moses, if they inquire of thee, what my name is, tell them only this; Hee is, hath sent me unto you; as the Septuagints translate it,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉; that is, if I should deliver the most expressing name, where∣by I would be knowne to all ages, this is that which I will pitch upon; I am, or IEHOVAH; Page  96 which comes from the same root. And if Moses should yet further inquire of his Name, he leads him into a further expression: The LORD GOD of your Fathers, the GOD of Abraham, the GOD of Isaac, and the GOD of Iacob hath sent me unto you; this is my Name for ever, and this is my memoriall unto all generations. As if he should say; If yet they cannot understand what this Name is, it is the same that I was knowne by to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Iacob; what I was to them, the same will I be to you. I was knowne to them by my Word, and by my workes, and by my miracles, and the same shall you finde me, it is that God which hath sent me unto you. This is my Name; which words are to be referred, not onely to the latter words, but to the former, I am, that I am. The words in the originall are in the future tense; yet it is fitly translated, I am; for the future tense in Hebrew is often put for the present tense; and the words are put in the future tense, to shew his immutabilitie; which translation Christs words doe warrant; Before Abraham was, I am: therefore the Septua∣gints do well translate it 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, signifying no more, but he which is; so that, that which we are to learne from hence is this; That I am, or Iehovah, I am, that I am, is the proper and essentiall name of God, (all Divines agree in this, I know none hat differ) because it expresseth him in his Es∣sence, without any limitation, or modification. Besides, you shall finde, that this name is never attributed to any other. The Altar, indeed, was called Iehovah; but the meaning was; to Iehovah; Page  97 his other names indeed are given to the creatures, but this is given only to him: Whence I gather this point:

That to be, or to say this, He is, or I am,*is proper to GOD alone.*

It is common to no creature with him; you cannot say of any creature, It is; if it be the only property of God to be, then you must say of every creature, It is not; and onely the Lord is; which is a strange speech, but yet it is true, or else it is not proper to God only.

[Object.] But you will say; What is the meaning of that? for creatures have a being, though not so excellent a being, as he hath.

[Answ.] In comparison of him, they have no being at all, they cannot reach to his being: And there∣fore, what this being is, we will explaine to you by these five things:*

[ 1] It is an immense being,* such as hath all the de∣grees, and kindes, and extents of being in it. The creatures have not so; they have so little of this being, that it is nothing: it is not so much, as the drop of a bucket, Isai. 40. that is,* it is of so small a being, that it is no being: therefore that place is to be marked, Isai. 40.17.*All nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him lesse than nothing, or vanity. Which place shewes, that this place of being doth not agree to the creatures; for having said before, they were as the drop of a bucket, hee addes, nay, they are lesse than no∣thing. But you will say, how can they be lesse than nothing? That is, if I should expresse it to Page  98 you, as it is, they are lesse than that which you reckon as nothing; as you doe a dust of the bal∣lance; so that in respect of the largenesse of his being, they are nothing to him: there are divers degrees, and extents of being, and he hath them all in him; as, there is a being of Angels, another of men, and so of every creature; but they are defined, and you know that definitions doe but limit the being of a thing. The Angels have a large and glorious being; men have a good and excellent being, but they are nothing in respect of the being of God.

[ 2] It is a being of himselfe,* he is a spring of be∣ing, whereas all the creatures are but cisternes of being; which they have but by participation from him,*Rom. 11. In him we live, move, and have our being: In him, and for him, and through him, are all things; he only is of himselfe

[ 3] It is not only from himselfe, but it is an ever∣lasting being:*I am the first and the last: that is, I am before any thing was, and I am the last; every thing hath dependance on me.

[ 4] It is a being without succession:* the creatures have not this; there is something to them, which was not before; and something shall be, which is not for the present: this is true of every crea∣ture; of men and Angels; but with God there is no succession: and therefore it is that these words are used, I am hath sent unto you: which shewes that there is no time past with him, there is no distinction of time with him, all things are alike to him; but with the creature there is flux of time, Page  99 the creatures enjoy one thing one minute, which they do not another; but God enjoyes all at once, and that is one part of his blessednesse, which the creature is not partaker of. And againe, his acts are all done at once; but the creatures doe all theirs by succession.

[ 5] It is such a being, as gives a being to all things else.* And this is a great difference betweene him and the creatures: the Angels have an excellent being, yet they cannot give the least being to any thing. So that by these we may plainly see, that he only is, that is, he only is of an immense being, that is, he is like a mightie sea of being, that hath neither bankes nor bottom, he only is a spring of being, he only is everlasting, he onely is without succession, of time present, past, or to come. Last∣ly, he only gives a being to every thing. Such a one he is, all this is implyed, where he bids Moses goe, and tell the people; I am that I am, is hee that hath sent me unto you. But we will stand no longer hereon, onely wee will labour to reduce these speculations to use, as it is said of Socrates, he did Devocare philosophiam de coelis, bring phi∣losophy downe to be practised in private houses.

If we should inquire the reason, why God did reveale his Name to Moses, was it, that onely he, and the Israelites should finde out argute specu∣lations in his name, as many of the Rabbins have done? and our Divines follow them too farre; no surely, the end of names is to make things knowne. But yet he sets bounds to our apprehen∣sions, in saying, I am that I am; as if there were Page  100 more in it, as if there were some greater immen∣sitie in his nature: therefore the use is this;

[Vse 1] That there is something of the Essence of God, that may not be inquired into,* but to be content with that which is revealed. Rom. 1.18.*For that which may be knowne of GOD, is manifest in them; for GOD hath shewne it unto them: there is some∣thing that may be knowne, and something there is that may not be knowne: therefore, Beloved, looke not for a full knowledge of him, but only for a small degree of it; as Exo. 33.*My face (saith God to Moses) thou canst not see; which place com∣pared with that, Ro. 1.20. the meaning is this; that it is very little of God, that we can know: even as when a great traine, or glorious shew, shall passe before us, and all is gone, we onely see the latter end of it. So God passed by Moses, and he saw but a little of him: even as when you heare the latter end of a sentence, only that which the eccho re∣sounds; the maine we cannot know. Therefore we should learne from hence, not to be searching and prying into the counsels of God; as, why so many are damned, and so few saved; to ask, how the infallibilitie of Gods will, and the libertie of mans will can stand together; to aske the reason, why he suffered the Gentiles to walke in the vani∣tie of their owne mindes so long a time; why he suffers the Church to lye, as it doth at this time: for we might say as Gideon did, If the LORD be with us, why are wee thus and thus? Why the Church of the Grecians, those famous Churches; why the golden Candlestickes were removed Page  101 from them? These, and all other such, we must be content to be ignorant of; he doth not reveale himselfe fully in this life. Thou canst not see mee, and live, saith God to Moses: the meaning is this, the vale of mortality doth hide us, it covers God from us: when that shall be laid aside, wee shall know all these things; and therefore we must be content to stay the time; and till then, we are as narrow-mouthed vessels, wee are not able to re∣ceive much knowledge, but a great deale will fall beside; and God wil do nothing in vaine; as Christ said to his Disciples, There are many things that I should reveale unto you, but you are not able to beare them: and therefore it should content us rather; as a weake eye is not able to behold the Sunne, as the Schoole-men well say, we cannot see it in rotâ; we cannot see the circle wherein the Sunne doth runne, but only the beames of it; no more can you see God in his Essence; you may see him in his Word, in his effects: and therefore let us be content to bee ignorant of these things. Who should aske, why deales GOD thus with his Church? why are so many damned? Remem∣ber that in Isai. 45.9.*Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker; let the potsheard strive with the pot∣sheards of the earth: Shall the clay say to him that maketh it; What makest thou? The meaning of it is this; we should be content to let God alone, not to inquire into all his actions, into the ground and reason of all his workes; let the potsheards strive with the potsheards of the earth: if thou hadst to doe with man, one like thy selfe, then Page  102 thou mightst murmure with him, and aske him, why doest thou so? but what hast thou to-doe with the Lord? Shall the clay say to him that maketh it, why doest thou so? This similitude of clay doth not, by a thousand parts, expresse that distance that is betweene God and us; and there∣fore we should doe thus, stand upon the shore, as it were, and behold his infinite Essence: I am that I am; and goe no further; as a man that stands upon the sea-shore, and sees the vastnesse of the sea, and dares goe no further, if he goes into the deepe, he is drowned: You may looke into Gods Essence, and see and admire it; but to thinke that thou couldest comprehend God, is, as if a man should think to hold the whole sea in the hollow of his hand; yea, there is a greater disproporti∣on between them: therfore you shall see, that the Apostle doth thus expresse it, Ro. 11.*Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdome, and knowledge of GOD; how unsearchable are his judgements, and his wayes past finding out! Onely remember this, and make thus much use of it:

When you heare this name, I am that I am; that it is the Lords will to set limits to us. When the Lord came downe from the Mount, he set li∣mits to the people, and he gave this reason of it; I will not have them stand and gaze; so is it in this case, it is a dangerous thing to goe too farre; you know what did come to the Bethshemites, because they would be gazing: Remember that speech of God to Manoah; Why doest thou aske my name that is secret? There is something that is secret in God.

Page  103 [Object.] But, you will say; I would but see reason of things.

[Answ.] But thou must stay for this till mortalitie be put off; and in the meane while stand a farre off, and looke on God: And when thou seest the vast workes of God, when thou seest him to span the winds in his fist, and measure the waters in the hollow of his hand, and to weigh the mountaines in scales, and the hills in a ballance, &c. It is no great thing if thou art ignorant of his counsels. It is made an argument why we should not search into his secrets, Prov. 30.4.*Who hath ascended up to heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the winds in his fist? who hath bounded the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, or what is his Sonnes name, if thou canst tell? As if he should say; it is im∣possible that this mightie Work-man, he that did all this, that thou shouldest know him, or know the ground of his counsels; you can see but his back-parts, you can see no more and live, and you need see no more, that you may live.

That which is the very scope and drift of the Lords revealing his name to Moses;**Goe and tell the people; I AM THAT I AM hath sent me unto you; that is, it should strengthen our faith, and in∣courage us, it should raise our mindes, and stir up hope in us, in all wants, and in all distresses, that we fall into, upon any occasion: for this is the scope why the Lord reveales it here; he reveales it in a very seasonable time. A man would have thought it impossible, that they should be delive∣red Page  104 from Pharaoh, he being so mighty, yet God bids Moses goe, and tell them, that hee that IS, hath sent him unto them. Hee that IS, hee that can make things to be, when they have no rudi∣ments of being, he hath sent me.

Consider all the griefes and complaints that we have, they all arise from hence; there is some∣thing we would have, which is not; as it was the complaint of Rachel, shee wept for her children, be∣cause they were not: now, consider what the Lord saith here, I am that I am: he is the Lord of be∣ing; he giveth being to whatsoever pleaseth him: As take your expressions of your ordinary wants, you use to say; oh, if that such a thing were; if an house had such and such a thing, it would be a goodly house; so in an instrument, as a Watch, if it had such and such a being, it were a perfect Watch: so is it in the complaints that we make for our soules, or the soules of others; if you see a man that you would have reclaimed, you say if there were a stability of minde in him, a conside∣ration of death, a right knowledge of things, a sense of sinne, if there were grace in his heart to establish him, then hee would be thus, and thus. Consider that he who is the Lord of being, is able to make up these wants: so if our complaints be for our selves, they all come from some wants; but know that he who is the Almightie God, that makes all things to be, he can give thee constan∣cie, he can enable thee to do all things, and streng∣then the weake hands and feeble knees, Hebr. 22. He that is full of being, as the Sunne is of light, and Page  105 the Sea of water, thinke with thy selfe that hee alone is able to give being to every grace, and to make up every defect, and give that to thee which thou hast not, and to all whom thou hast to doe with, as thy wife, children, friends, &c. he can make things that were bad, good and usefull, and so make thy friend good also, as he did Onesimus for Paul; thinke with thy selfe that the Lord of strength can doe it, and he only can doe it: here every creature is at a stand to make a being; ther∣fore goe to him, and give him the praise and glo∣ry of his Name.

And as it should move us to doe this in our wants; so it should helpe thee in all those great crosses that afflict thee: For every crosse is in that which is not; as Rachel wept of her children that were not: You shall see in Abraham, he belee∣ved in GOD, even in GOD, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not, as though they were Rom. 4.17.* This was Abrahams case, he was to lose his sonne, for ought that he knew, yet he comforted himselfe in this, that Iehovah, the mightie God, that is the Lord of being, he that calleth things that are not, as if they were, hee could either give him his owne sonne againe, or one that was as good as he. Thus he did comfort himselfe; and so may we upon all occasions: God can make things to be that are not. Take Iob, when his houses, his children, estate, all were gone, and all were not, yet Iehovah, he that makes things that are not, did not he make all things to returne againe? So David, when things were not, Page  106 when his Kingdome was not, when his good name was gone, as wee see by Shimei's cursing, what a name he had, yet God did make all to come againe. Naomi, when all was gone, her husband and her sonnes gone, and they were not, yet hee that was the Lord of being gave her a sonne, and a daughter, that brought her in more comfort that her owne sonnes would. And this is the use that I would have you to make of it.

When thou hast lost any thing, when thy sons or thy goods are gone, he can make up all: Hee who could make up the absence of Christ to the Disciples, as he did by his Spirit, so that it was better with them than before, they had more comfort and knowledge, and could doe greater miracles, that God can surely make good any o∣ther losse the most pinching. For you must re∣member that he is IEHOVAH; you shall finde that name often used on this occasion; still it is added, I am IEHOVAH. But, to take the pre∣sent Scripture, there you shall see, what ground there is for this use we now make of it, Chap. 6.6. Wherefore,*say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burthens of the Aegyptians, &c. The meaning of it is this: many objections might be made by Mo∣ses, (and this is the reason, why God reveales this Name to Moses.) Alas, saith Moses, who am I: Shall I go unto Pharaoh, and bid him let the chil∣dren of Israel goe? What am I to be sent on this errand? Saith the Lord, Goe, tell him; I am, or Iehovah, hath sent thee unto him: and those an∣swers Page  107 are observable that Moses makes:

[Object.] I am of a slow mouth, and of slow speech.

[Answ.] Why? saith the LORD, I made the mouth; goe therefore, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

[Object.] Againe, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?

[Answ.] Saith the LORD, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy Prophet.

Where observe this, by the way. A man would wonder why Moses, that went to such a one as Pharaoh, should complaine, that he was a man of uncircumcised lips. One would thinke that Pharaoh being a carnall man, that uncircum∣cised words would please him better; but it is, as if he should say; Lord, when there is any circum∣cisednesse in my lips, then there is no authority in my speech. The lesse circumcision there is in any mans lippe▪ the lesse authority there is in his speech; as it is said of Christ, that he spake with authoritie, for his lips were circumcised. But to take this objection away; saith the LORD, I am Iehovah, I will be with thee, I will circumcise thy lips.

[Object.] Yea, but will Pharaoh be moved with words?

[Answ.] I am Iehovah, saith the LORD, I will make that to be, which is not: I will send plagues among them, and then he will let them goe.

[Object.] But when they are gone, they are a weake and a naked people, how shall they doe to live?

[Answ.] Saith GOD, I will give them favour in the eyes of the Aegyptians, and not send them emptie, and I will provide food for them.

Page  108So Moses went. A strange kinde of errand; as if one should goe and tell the great Turke, that the God of the Christians hath sent to let them goe: but yet Moses goeth; and all that comforted him, was 〈◊〉 the revealing of this Name.

Now apply this to your selves; when you are in any distresse, know that he that made the hea∣vens and the earth, can give a being to all these things: Esay 50.10.*Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servants, that walketh in darknesse, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his GOD. He that walketh in darknesse, and hath no light; let that be thy case, that every thing is desperate, thou seest not a jot of light, nor spark of hope, yet trust in the Name of Iehovah, hee can make light, when there is none; a man that hath no grace in his heart, let him trust in Ieho∣vah, that saith in his heart, I would I could be rid of such a lust, and that I could keep holy the Sab∣bath, but I have nothing in me, my heart is emp∣tie of all; (this is the complaint often even of those that have grace:) why, if there be no light, no grace, yet he can work it; and so Paul applyes that in Gen. 1. there was darknesse and no light,* to himselfe and them, in 2 Cor. 4.5.*He that com∣manded light to shine out of darknesse, &c. I, sayes he, and we Gentiles were in darknesse, and had no light; yet God commanded light to shine into our hearts, and into mine, the darkest of all the rest. So learne to apply the same to thy selfe; he that is in darknesse, and hath no light, yet let him Page  109 trust in the Name of Iehovah; beloved, that is faith. If you should expect no more of God, than a man can doe, or a creature can doe, it is not worthy the name of faith: as this is proper only to God, to give being to things that are not; so it is the propertie of faith, when things are not, to beleeve in the name of Iehovah: therefore, there would thy faith be seene; and as for thy selfe, so for the Churches also, you see now, 〈◊〉 how low an ebbe they are brought, and yet, they cannot be lower than the estate of the Israelites was in Aegypt, and when they were in captivitie; yet consider, that that Iehovah, who is the Lord of being, is able to raise the Churches, and to give a new being to them: Isai. 6.13.*But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall returne, and shall be eaten; as a Teile-tree, and as an Oke, whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves; so the holy seed shall bee the substance thereof: That is, when you see the Churches goe to wracke, when you see them cut downe like a mightie wood that is cut downe, or that is spoiled of its glory in the Autumne: So when you see the glory of the Churches thus ta∣ken away, yet there is a holy seed, which shall be like a root or bulke of a tree. So should you see the Churches overthrowne, laid under feet, so that there is no hope of them, so far as we could see; yet be assured, that there is a holy seed, that shall rise, and spread it selfe againe, even as a little root spreads it selfe into a great tree; and how shall they doe it? saith the Lord, I am Iehovah, I can give a being, I can inlarge their being.

Page  110 [Object.] But you will say, why then is it that they are brought so low?

[Answ.] Consider, that it is the Lords usuall course to sit as a man in sleepe, but saith he in Isai 42 13, 14.*The LORD shall go forth as a mightie man, he shall stirre up jealousie like a man of warre; he shall crie, yea roare; hee shall prevaile against his enemies: I have long time holden my peace, I have refrained my selfe, now will I cry like a travelling woman, I will destroy and devoure at once. He useth three expres∣sions there, to shew what hee will doe for his Church in extremitie; I will raise my selfe like a Giant, &c. and when he comes, he will come sud∣denly, as paines on a woman with childe come sud∣denly, so saith the LORD; When you looke not for me, them will I come, there shall goe nothing be∣fore me, I will come on a sudden; and not only so, but he will cry as a Giant, he will doe it strongly, and he will doe it effectually; so as he will bring it to passe as a man of warre, and so he will doe for his Church; againe, he that hath raised it in for∣mer times, he will doe it now; therefore let us not faint and give over hoping, for he that is Al∣mightie, he is able to doe all these things: Hee who could in Ioel destroy the armie of Catter∣pillars, and leave a blessing behinde him; can doe the same as well to men, (though never so many) who are the enemies of his Church.