John Preston was born in October, 1587, at Upper Heyford in Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire. His father, a farmer, died when Preston was twelve years old, and a maternal uncle provided for his training at King’s College (1604-1606) and Queen’s College, Cambridge (1606-1607), where he primarily studied philosophy.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1607, Preston became a fellow of Queen’s (1609) and prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral (1610). About that time, he decided to study medicine and astrology [i.e., astronomy], which was then valued as a handmaid to medicine. In 1611, Preston took a Master of Arts degree, and shortly thereafter was brought to conversion under the preaching of John Cotton. He changed his course of study to divinity, specializing in Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham, followed by the Reformers, especially Calvin.
After his conversion, Preston became a great influence in various notable ways – as a valued politician, an influential teacher, a great preacher, and an author of renown. About 1618, he was appointed dean and catechist of Queen’s College. He preached a series of sermons there that would later be the foundation of his body of divinity. These sermons became so popular that anyone who was not a faculty member or a student of the college was forbidden to attend.
In 1622, Preston succeeded John Donne (1573-1631) as preacher at Lincoln’s Inn. As chaplain, he preached often before the king and the court. In 1624, he was offered the lectureship at Trinity Church. That appointment won back for the Puritans the most influential preaching position in Cambridge, which had originated with Sibbes. It was one of the last victories of the Puritans at court.
Preston’s numerous books became extremely popular. Eleven volumes of his sermons were published within a decade after his death. One of these is The Breastplate of Faith and Love, published in facsimile of the 1634 (fifth) edition by the Trust in 1979. Preston died in July 1628 at the age of forty.