‘To Provide for Another Life’
Perhaps the Puritan John Preston could see the setting sun through a window of the church when he warned the congregation: “Plainly we may see…mankind hurried along to the west of his days…our fathers have gone before, and we are passing, and our children shall follow at our heels, that as you see the billows of the sea, one tumble on the neck of another, and in the end all are dashed upon the shore; so all generations and ages in the end are spilt on the banks of death, and thus is the condition of every man. Is it not our wisdom then to provide for another life?” The passing of another year and the start of 2006 is a further reminder, if that was needed, that time is passing quickly and that, at the longest, we must soon begin another life in eternity.
In the Book of Proverbs our attention is drawn to the ant, “which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (6:7,8). This little creature, in common with many another, provides for a time of scarcity, when the growing season is over. Such pictures are set before us so that we may learn lessons which should influence the whole of our lives. The sluggard particularly – the one afflicted with spiritual laziness – is to learn lessons that ought to rouse him from the drowsiness of soul from which he is liable never to awake until he too is spilt upon the shore of a lost eternity. “Go to the ant,” he is told; “consider her ways, and be wise…How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” (6:6,9).
After graduating from Cambridge University, Preston was intensely ambitious for advancement in his academic career. But he might have gone on to the end of his days as a spiritual sluggard, careless about his soul and making no provision for another life, if he had not come under the ministry of John Cotton, later an eminent minister in New England. We are told that “the word of God made so deep an impression on [Preston’s] mind as at once cured him of thirsting after preferment. From this time he became remarkable for true Christian piety”. He himself became another noted Puritan minister. Later in life, he might easily have been appointed Bishop of Gloucester but he preferred to be a preacher in Cambridge, where he had “the prospect of extensive usefulness to souls”; his ambition now was to be the means of doing good to souls. Because he had, as it was said, “found the treasure hid in a field, he wisely relinquished everything” else so that he could have treasure in heaven. 1
Such is the Saviour’s counsel: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:19-21). We need to consider seriously the fact that, when we are hurried along “to the west of our days”, we must leave behind whatever earthly treasure we have accumulated. Only spiritual blessings – that treasure which, more than any other, has its source in heaven – will remain in our possession. How necessary then to set ourselves to seek in real earnest, before it is too late, these spiritual blessings – the treasure which we can never lose!
What a precious part of that treasure is the forgiveness of sins! The price paid for it was truly infinite – “the precious blood of Christ”, when He gave Himself, in the place of sinners, to the cursed death of the cross. We can never add to the price that was paid; it is utter folly to try. Indeed it is a complete insult to the great God of eternity to attempt to bring good works as a price in our hands, which will inevitably be altogether defective because all our best works are fatally flawed by sin; so they only add to the guilt which we are attempting to have removed. We must commit ourselves by faith to the One who came in God’s great name to save, who gave Himself a ransom for many, and who is now “exalted a Prince and a Saviour, for to give…forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). We are to hear Him calling to us individually: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). It is a call we dare not disobey.
The rest which the Saviour speaks of includes the peace of conscience that comes with the forgiveness of sins. It is all part of the complete salvation that Christ has provided for all who will believe in Him. And that complete salvation is rich treasure indeed. Though those who have this treasure must, like all others in every generation, be swept onto “the banks of death”, they will never lose the least part of the treasure which is theirs for the sake of Christ. And beyond death they will have the rest of an eternal Sabbath.
We not only need our sins to be forgiven; we need to have sin subdued; we need new hearts. That is brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Christ. Regeneration – the implanting of a new heart and the removal of the stony heart, on which no impression can ever be made by the word of God – is the beginning of the divine work in the soul. And that work of the Holy Spirit will go on; where He begins the good work, He will continue it until it is completed, until the soul is perfectly fit to enter into another life in heaven.
The treasure which God gives to needy sinners when they look to the Saviour can never be taken away; it can never be corrupted by moths or by rust; it is beyond the reach of the most resourceful thief. Not even the devil himself can lay hands on their spiritual treasure, whatever temporary damage he may cause to them. The treasure is committed to believers in an everlasting covenant which can never be broken. The covenant is as certain as its Surety, Christ Himself, is unchangeable. It was with a sense of the sureness of the divine covenant that David could look towards death with confidence, recognising that it is “ordered in all things and sure”. He was therefore safe even in the face of that last great enemy, death. He had, through grace, treasure in heaven which he could never lose.
At the age of only 40, in 1628, Preston succumbed to consumption and passed into another world. He had, in good time, prepared for that other life which then began, on the far side of death. He too could be assured of the certainty of covenant mercies – that he would never lose those spiritual blessings, that incorruptible treasure, which he had found in Christ and had so often proclaimed to others.
But each of us is in danger of glibly assuming that we will pass many more years here before we are swept into eternity. Certainly, in an age of antibiotics and a multitude of sophisticated treatments, most people do indeed live considerably longer than was the case in Preston’s time. But let us never forget that life is uncertain and, whether we live for a longer or shorter time, we must at last pass into eternity. And we may be called away far sooner than we expect. Is it not then our wisdom – urgently, immediately – to provide for another life? The Lord still calls, with all the authority of His infinite majesty: “Forsake the foolish and live”. We are to forsake a life of sin and believe in the Saviour, who is so freely offered to us in the gospel – the message of reconciliation, which declares to us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.
Let us, before it is too late, heed that other call which comes also from the God of infinite majesty: “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Is 55:6,7).
For the biographical details, see the account in Benjamin Brook, The Lives of the Puritans, vol 2, p 352ff.
Taken with permission from the Free Presbyterian Magazine, January 2006
The Banner of Truth has published John Preston’s The Breastplate of Truth and Love
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