Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

John Preston

John Preston, D. D.—This celebrated divine descended from the Prestons of Preston in Lancashire, was born at Heyford in Northamptonshire, in the year 1587, and educated first in King's college, and then in Queen's college, Cambridge. In the latter situation he was pupil to the pious and learned Mr. Oliver Bowles, when he made amazing progress in philosophy, and almost every other

and haying hopes of high preferment at court, he looked upon the study of divinity as insignificant, and far beneath the attention of a great mind. In the year 1609 he was chosen fellow of his college. The Lord, who designed him I to fill an important office in his church, was pleased to frus> trate his aspiring thoughts. Being brought to hear Mr. John Cotton at St. Mary's church, the word of God made so deep an impression on his mind, as at once cured him of thirsting after preferment. From this time he became remarkable for true christian piety; and though he had hitherto despised the ministerial work as beneath his notice, he now directed all his studies with a view to that sacred employment.

When King James visited (he university of Cambridge, Preston, being a man of such extraordinary learning, was appointed one of the disputants before his majesty. The subject of disputation was, " Whether brutes had reason, and could make syllogisms." He maintained the affirmative ; as in the case ot a hound, when he comes to a place where three ways meet, he tries one, then another; but, finding no scent, runs down the third with full cry, concluding that as the hare is not gone in either of the two first ways, she must necessarily be gone in the third. The argument, it is said, had so wonderful an effect upon the audience, especially upon the king, that it would have opened a door to his preferment, had not his inclinations to puritanism been a bar in the way. Indeed, Sir Fulke Graville, afterwards Lord Brook, was so highly pleased with him, that, in addition to other demonstrations of his peculiar esteem, he settled fifty pounds a year upon him, and continued to be his great friend ever after.*

* Clark'* Lives annexed to his Martyrologie, p. 75—81.—Lord Brook was a most zealous patriot, and an avowed advocate for liberty. On account of the arbitrary measures of Charles I. he determined to seek freedom in America ; and he and Lord Say actually agreed to transport themselves to New England i but upon the meeting of the long parliament, and the sodden change of public affairs, they were prevented from undertaking the Toyage. He was afterwards commander in the parliament army, and having reduced Warwickshire to the obedience of the parliament, be advanced into Staffordshire. On the festival of St. Chad, to whom the cathedral of Lichfield is dedicated, he ordered his men to storm the adjoining close, to which Lord Chesterfield bad retired with a body of the king'i forces. But before his orders could be put in execution, he received a Bosquet shot in the eye, of which he instantly expired, in the year 1643. It was the opinion of some of the royalists, and especially of the papists,

VoL. II.

2 A

Preston having renounced all inclinations of preferment, and even the present opportunity of obtaining the royal favour, his conduct became the subject of much speculation. Courtiers, and those aspiring after posts of honour, wondered that he did not embrace the golden opportunity. Perceiving the young man to be void of ambition, and that he rejected all prospect of rising in the world, they began to be jealous of him. But having found the treasure hid in a field, he wisely relinquished every thing for the invaluable purchase. He had the King of kings to serve and honour, which to him appeared infinitely more desirable than any worldly emolument.'

From the above act of mortification, good men began to admire him; and their opinion received additional confirmation from the following circumstance:—The king visiting the university a second time, Preston was requested that one of his pupils might support a female character, in a comedy for the entertainment of his majesty; but he politely refused, saying, " I do not like the motion; and I cannot believe his friends intended him to be a player; therefore, I beg to be excused." This instance of his

Eeculiarcare for his pupil greatly advanced his reputation, [e was soon accounted one of the best tutors in the university. Many persons of distinguished eminence committed their sons to his tuition. He was particularly careful to train them up in sound religion, as well as good literature.* Fuller denominates him " the greatest pupilmonger ever known in England, having sixteen fellowcommoners admitted in Queen's college, in one year."t V He was, at the same time, an indefatigable student, refusing to allow himself sufficient rest and sleep. ~He used to lay the bed-clothes upon himself in such a manner as they would be sure to fall off at an early hour in the night, and so the cold awoke him. This, in time, did irreparable injury to his constitution; but by the use of suitable means his health was again in a great degree restored.

It might be expected that so great a man would become exceedingly popular. When he delivered his catechetical lectures in the college chapel, the place was usually crowded with strangers before the fellows came. This awakened the malice of those who envied his popularity,

that the bullet was directed by St. Chad. Archbishop Laud made a particular memorial of this in his diary.—Prynnes Brcviate of Laud, p. 27.—Granger'! Biog. Hist. vol. ii. p. 143,144.

• Clark's Lives, p. 82. + Fuller's Worthies, part ii. p. 291.

and they lodged a complaint against him to the vicechancellor, "that it was not safe for Preston to be thus adored, unless they wished to set up puritanism, and pull down the church." An order was therefore issued from the consistory, that the scholars and townsmen should henceforwards confine themselves to their own preachers, and not be allowed, in any case whatever, to attend these lectures in future.* Such ecclesiastical rigours appeared altogether unnecessary; for there was now very little preaching through the whole university, the two lectures at Trinity church and St. Andrew's being put down, and the lecturers silenced.

Having obtained so distinguished a reputation, he was at length allowed the use of St. Botolph's church, belonging to Queen's college. But here his uncommon popularity exposed him to the resentment of his enemies. Dr. Newcomb, commissary to the Bishop of lily, coming to the church, was exceedingly offended with the crowd of people assembled;+ and he prohibited him preaching, commanding that only evening prayers should be read. The minister of . the place, the Earl of Lincoln, and several others, entreated that Preston might be allowed to preach, at least, on that occasion. But Newcomb remained inflexible, and in anger went home, leaving them to have a sermon at their peril. However, Preston was advised to preach; and, as much time had been spent in sending messages to the commissary, he was obliged to omit the prayers before the sermon, in order that the scholars might be at home in time for their college prayers. Next morning Dr. Newcomb hastened to Newmarket, where the court was then held, and brought complaints against him to Bishop Andrews and others; assuring them, that Preston was a nonconformist in heart, and would soon be one in practice; and he was so followed and adored, that, unless some effectual means were speedily used, all conformity would be destroyed, and their authority be trodden under foot. And he added, that Preston was so cunning, that gentle means would not answer the purpose; but he must be seriously and thoroughly handled.J

The king being now at Newmarket, the complaint was laid before his majesty, who ordered him to be prosecuted. Preston was immediately convened before them, when he spoke in his own defence with great humility and meekness. Bishop Andrews told him, the king was informed that he

• Clark'! Lives, p. 62—84. + Toller's Ilisl. of Camb. p. 163.

i Clark's Lives, p. 85.

held all forms of prayer to be unlawful; and, as he was 89 exceedingly popular, his opinion was likely to do the greater mischief. Preston replied, that this was all a slander; for he believed set forms to be lawful, and he refused not to use them. Upon this, the bishop promised to be his friend, and to procure his release from the present prosecution. Indeed, some of the courtiers wished well to Preston, but were reluctant to undertake his cause. Dr. Young, dean of Winchester, had the boldness and honesty to inform him, that Bishop Andrews was his grand adversary; and that while he gave him kind words and fair promises, he was labouring to have him expelled from the university. This, in fact, appeared too true, from the bishop's own conduct. For, after Preston's frequent attendance upon his lordship, and all to no purpose, an order was issued, that on a certain Lord's day, he should declare hi» sentiments concerning forms of" prayer, before the public congregation in Botolph's church; or, in case of his refusal, undergo a further prosecution.* This was soon noised abroad; and it was reported that he was required to preach a recantation sermon, which afforded much sport to those who envied his reputation, and sought his disgrace. These, with exultation and triumph, went crowding to hear him. He preached from the same text as before. The whole of the sermon was close and searching; and in the conclusion, he delivered his opinion concerning set forms. All who went to laugh were disappointed. Most persons returned silent home, not without evidence of some good impressions upon their minds. Those who wished his downfall were not quite so merry in the conclusion as at the beginning. Unprejudiced hearers praised all, and were further confirmed in their high opinion of the preacher. His numerous friends were glad he came off so well, and were peculiarly gratified that he was at liberty again to preach. But the event proved extremely galling to men of high church principles.t

* Dr. Lancelot Andrews, successively bishop of Ely and Winchester, was a man of extensive erudition, and much esteemed by several learned foreigners. He was ranked with the best preachers and corapletestscholars of bis age, but appeared to much greater advantage in the pulpit than he does now in bis works; which abound with Latin quotations, and trivial Witticisms. He was a person of polite manners and lively conversation t and was celebrated for his dexterity in punning. He was particularly extolled on account of his piety, affability, liberality, and regard for the interests of literature. What a pity then it was that he took any share in the persecution of the puritans.—Granger'! Biog* Hist, vol. f, p. 347.— Aikin'i Lives of Seldcn and Usher, p. 364.

+ Clark's Lives,p. 85—83.

Preston, having acquitted himself with great honour, was afterwards appointed to preach before the king, which he performed to the admiration of his audience. He was endowed with a fluent utterance, a commanding elocution, and a strong memory, delivering what he had prepared without the use of notes. At the close of the service, his majesty expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the / sermon, especially with his observation relative to the Arminians, « That they put God into the same cxtremityas Darius, 'when he would have saved Daniel, but could not." The Marquis of Hamilton earnestly fecommerided'to his majesty that Preston might become one of his chaplains, declaring that he was moved to this entirely from the excellency of the sermon. He told the king, that the preacher spoke no pen and ink-horn language, but as one who comprehended what he said, and must, therefore, have in him something substantial. The king acknowledged all, but said it was too early: he remembered the Newmarket business; and so was reserved.

About this period Preston went abroad, and visited several of the foreign universities, by which he obtained much literary advantage. Having spent some time among learned men on the continent, he returned home, when his popularity at court became almost universal. He rose to so high a degree of reputation, that he was told he might be chaplain to whom he pleased. The Duke of Buckingham, not knowing what friends he might want, persuaded the King to appoint him chaplain in ordinary to the Prince of Wales.* In the year 1622, he was chosen preacher at Lincoln's-inn, Loudon, and, upon the resignation of Dr. Chadderton, master of Emanuel college, Cambridge, when he took his doctor's degree. The Duke of Buckingham highly esteemed him, and hoped by his means to ingratiate himself with the puritans, whose power was then growing formidable in parliament. Good men rejoiced to see that honest men were not all despised. The courtiers, particularly the duke, signified that he would now mount from one step to another, till he became a bishop. The Earl of

* The king used to call tbe duke SUnny, on account of his fine face, alluding to Acts vi. 15.—It was a pleasant remark of his majesty; who said,*' That Stenny had given him three notable servants: a gentleman of the bed-chamber, (Clarke) who could not help him to untruss a point; for he had but one hand. A chaplain, (Dr. Preston) who could not say prayers; for be scrupled the use of the liturgy. And asecrelary of state, (Sir Edward Conway) who could oeitiier write nor read."—Jlapin't Hist, of Eng. roj. ii. p. 199.

Pembroke, and the Countess of Bedford, had a great interest . in him; and all looked upon him as a rising man, and respected him accordingly. Some of the courtiers, however, bad a jealous eye upon him; for all saw that he came not to court for preferment, as did most others.*

In the year 1624, Dr. Preston was invited to become lecturer at Trinity church, Cambridge; for which there was a strong contest betwixt him and Mr. Micklcthwait, fellow of Sidney college, and a very excellent preacher. The contest in voting for the new lecturer was so great, that it could not be determined without the hearing of the king, who was opposed to the doctor's preaching at Cambridge. As an inducement to drop the contest, he was offered the bishopric of Gloucester, then void; and the Duke of Buckingham further urged, that, as the lecturo was supported by six-penny subscriptions, it was a thing unseemly to the master of a college, and the chaplain of the prince. But the duke was resolved not to lose him, and, therefore, took care that nothing was determined contrary to the doctor's wishes. Sir Edward Conway told him, that if he would give up the contest for the lecture, and let it be disposed of some other way, his majesty had authorized him to say, " that he should have any other more profitable and honourable preferment he might desire." But the doctor's chief object was to do good to souls, not to obtain worldly emolument: the king's was to render him useless, and divide him from the puritans.t When, therefore, it appeared that nothing would allure him from the object of his wishes, or be a sufficient compensation for this noble sphere of public usefulness, he was confirmed in the lecture, being his last preferment, which he held to his death. This celebrated divine thus generously preferred a situation of eighty pounds a year, with the prospect of extensive usefulness to souls, to the bishopric of Gloucester, or any other preferment in the kingdom. He obtained great celebrity by the learned productions V of his pen. His writings are numerous, and most of them admirable for the time. The pious and learned Bishop Wilkins gives an high character of his excellent sermons.f In bis " Treatise on the New Covenant," his method is highly instructive; and his manner familiar and insinuating, yet very clear. He abounds in apt similes and illustrative

• Clark's I.ivei, p. 89—95.

+ Fullrr'» Hist, of Cnm. p. 10S, 101.—Clark's Uvc>, p. 90, 07.
J Wilkini on Trenching, p. 8«, 8.1.

instances, generally well supported and applied. His doctrine drops as the rain, and his speech distils as the dew.*

Dr. Preston was a divine of extraordinary abilities and learning, and, about this time, deeply engaged in public controversy witfi several learned Artninians. tic was called to tako a leading part in two public disputations, procured by the Earl of Warwick, and held at Vork-house, in the presence of the Duke of Buckingham and others of the nobility. The first of these contests was betwixt Bishop Buckridge and Dr. White, dean of Carlisle, on the one part; and Bishop Morton and Dr. Preston, on the other. In the conclusion, the Earl of Pembroke observed, " that no person returned from this learned disputation of Arminian sentiments, who was not an Arminian before he came." The second conference was betwixt Dr. White and Mr. Montague, on the one part; and Bishop Morton and Dr. Preston, on the other. On this occasion, Preston is said to have displayed his uncommon erudition and powers of disputation, to the great advantage of the cause which he undertook to support.t

This celebrated divine, by his great interest in the Duke of Buckingham and the Prince of Wales, was of unspeakable service to many of the silenced ministers. He was in waiting when King James died, and came up with King Charles and the Duke of Buckingham, in a close coach, to London. The young king is said to have been so overcharged with grief, on account of the death of his father, that he wanted the comfort of so wise and so great a man.f The duke offered Dr. Preston the broad seal, but he was too wise to accept it. Afterwards the duke, changing measures, and finding he could neither gain the puritans to his arbitrary designs, nor separate the doctor from their interests, resolved to bid adieu to his chaplain. Dr. Preston saw the approaching storm, and quietly retired to his college, where it was expected he would have felt some further effects of the duke's displeasure, if providence had not so ordered things, that he had other work to mind, which took up all his time and thoughts to the day of his death.*

• Williams's Christian Preacher, p. 453.

t Fuller's Church Hist. b. li. p. 184,125.—Clark's Lira, p. 101—105. t Burnet's Hist, of bis Time, vol. I. p. 19.

S Fuller's Church Hist. h. si. p. 131.—Clark's Lives, p. 106—109.—The Duke of Buckingham nastbe great fnvonriteof King James and Charles L, over whom he had the highest ;i«ccutlancy. It is no wonder that an

Dr. Preston possessed a strong constitution, which he wore out by hard study and constant preaching. His inquiry was not, " How long have I lived ?" but, how have I lived ?" Desiring, in his last sickness, to die among his old friends, he retired to Preston, near Heyford, in his native county; and having revised his will, and settled all his worldly affairs, he committed himself to the wise and gracious disposal of his heavenly Father. As he felt the symptoms of death coming upon him, he said, " I shall not change my company; for I shall still converse with God and saints." A few hours previous to his departure, being told it was the Lord's day, he said, " A fit day to be sacrificed on! I have accompanied saints on earth: now I shall accompany angels in heaven. My dissolution is at hand. Let me go to my home, and to Jesus Christ, who hath bought me with his precious blood." He afterwards added, " I feel death coming to my heart. My pain shall now be turned into joy 5" and then gave up the ghost, in the month of July, 1628, being only forty-one_ years of age. His remains were interred in Fausley church, when

V the venerable Mr. Dod preached his funeral sermon to an. immense crowd of people.* Fuller, who has classed him among the learned writers of Queen's college, Cambridge,

[ says, " he was all judgment and gravity, and the perfect ) master of his passions, an excellent preacher, a celebrated / disputant, and a perfect politician."t Echard styles him V 4* the most celebrated of the puritans, an exquisite preacher, a subtle disputant, and a deep politician."!

Works.—1. Trcafiso on the New Covenant; or, the Saints' Poftlrin, 1G29.—2. Breast-plato of Faith and Love, 1630.—3. Sermons before the King. 1630.—1. Eternal Life; or, a Treatise of the Knowledge of the Divine Essence and Attributes, 1631.—5. The Lifeless Life, 1633.—6. A Discpurse of Mortification and Humi

accumnlation of honour, wealth, and power, conferred upon a vain man, who was suddenly raised from a private station, should be particularly invidious: and, especially, ns the duke was as void of prudence and moderation in the use of these, as his masters were in bestowing them. Most men imputed all the calamities of the nation to his arbitrary councils) and few were displeased at the news of his death. Such a pageant and tyrant as this, decorated with almost every title and honour that two kings could bestow upon him, was sure to be the butt of envy. He was murdered by Felton, August 23,1628.—Granger's Biog. Hist. vol. i. p. 326. ii. 114.—NtaVi Puritans, vol. ii. p. 151. f • Clark's Lives, p. 113. "V } + Fuller's Hist, of Cam. p. 90.—Worthies, part ii. p. 201.—Church ! ut.» K « mi ' •'.

Nation, IAS&—7. Spiritual Lire and Death, 1636.—a Jndas's RepeDlancer 1637.—9. The Saints'Spiritual Strength, 1637.—10. The Saints' Qualification and Remains, 1637.— II. Sermons, 1637.— 12. The Golden Sceptre, with the Church's Marriage and the Church'* Carriage, 1639.—13. Divine Love of Christ, 1610.