John Preston’s (1587-1628) work The Breastplate of Faith and Love consists of 18 sermons on Romans 1:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and Galatians 5:6. The following is an excerpt from his second sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1:3, p. 48-55:
“[F]or [a man] to take CHRIST so as to deny himselfe for him, to take him so, as to mortify his lusts, so as to take up his crosse, so as to obey CHRIST, to follow him in all things, this is a thing that no man is able to do, unless GOD enable him to it, with his almighty power. For the heart of every man, by nature, is so shut up against CHRIST, that it will give no entrance to him, he may stand and knocke long enough; unless GOD himselfe shake off the bolts, and open the gates, and breake open these everlasting doores, that the King of Glory may come in, we will not admit him, but keepe him out.
Every man naturally hath a hard heart, that cannot repent, that cannot turne from sin, he will be content perhaps to take Christ for a Saviour, but to take him so as to obey him, and feare him, so as to love him: this no man will do, or can do, unless the Holy Ghost enable him.
But, you will aske, How doth the Holy Ghost do it?
The Holy Ghost doth it by these three acts. First, by putting an efficacy into the Law, and making that powerful, to work on the heart, to make a man poore in spirit, that so he may be fit to receive the Gospel. For the Law, though it be fit to humble a man, yet it is no worker of sanctification. If a man were able to do any thing, he were able to see the righteousness the Law requires, and how far he is from it, and to discerne the curse upon the not doing of it, and yet this he is not able to do, without the spirit of bondage: the spirit of bondage must make the Law effectual, as well as the spirit of Adoption doth the Gospel. That is, except the LORD himselfe press the Law on our hearts, so as to cause it to make sin appeare to us, we, that are the Ministers of GOD, may discover your sins, we may shew you the rectitude required in the Law, we may shew you the danger, yet all will be to no purpose, unless God awaken you: if he will set sin upon the conscience to worry a man, to plucke him downe, when GOD shall charge sin on him, that he shall feele the weight and burden of it, when he shall sharpen sin, and cause it to use its sting, this makes a man fit to receive CHRIST: otherwise, if the sons of Thunder should speake to men, if we should come in the spirit and power of Eliah, nay, if GOD himself should thunder from heaven, all would not move the heart of a man, all would not awaken him to see his sins, till God himselfe shake the heart.
To convert the Gaoler [Jailer], in Acts 16. the foundation of the Prison was shaken; which was a resemblance of the shaking of his heart: we may as well shake the Earth, as strike the heart of a sinner without the work of GOD. For, though the Law be a sword, yet unless GOD take that sword into his hand, and strike therewithall himselfe, it shall not be able to wound a sinner. Therefore the first work of the Holy Ghost is to awaken a sinner, to set sin upon him, that he may be fit to receive CHRIST.
Secondly, when this is done, that the heart is thus prepared by the Spirit, then the Holy Ghost shewes us what we have by CHRIST, he shewes the unsearchable riches of CHRIST, what is the hope of our calling, and the glorious inheritance prepared for the Saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power in them that believe. I say, we neede the Spirit to shew these things.
But, you will say, a man may see these things without the helpe of the Spirit.
It is true, in some manner you may, but not in such a manner as shall affect you. For there is a manner of seeing proper only to the Saints, and that is the proper work of the Spirit in them, when we shall so see them, as to be affected with them. Otherwise, you may reade the Scriptures a thousand times over, you may understand them, yet you shall not be affected with them, till the Holy Ghost shew them unto you. This is the secret of GOD, that he revealeth to those whom he meaneth to save; that is, when he presents these spiritual things prepared for us in Christ, in such a manner, as that we shall love them, and embrace them; when we shall not only see the truth of them, but the goodness of them; when GOD shall not only shew us the advantages we have by Christ, but the excellency of Christ, so that we shall be in love with his person, as well as to be ready to receive the priviledges with him.
Now this is done by the Spirit: 1. Cor. 2. 12. We have received the Spirit of GOD, by which we know the things that are given us of GOD, and they are revealed to us by the Spirit. They are two or three times repeated in that Chapter; as if he should have said, If you saw them no more than other men do, than natural men do, you would be no more affected with them, than they are: but when you have the Spirit of GOD to shew you the things that are given you of GOD, that is the thing that works upon you, and affects you. And so in Joh. 14. 21. saith CHRIST, I will come to him, and shew my selfe to him: When CHRIST sheweth himselfe to a man, it is another thing than when the Ministers shall shew him, or the Scriptures nakedly read do shew him: for when Christ shall shew himselfe by his Spirit, that shewing draweth a mans heart to long after him, otherwise we may preach long enough, and shew you that these spiritual things, these priviledges are prepared for you in Christ, but it is the Holy Ghost that must write them in your hearts; we can but write them in your heads: Therefore the Lord taketh that as peculiar to himselfe: I will write my Law in your hearts. That is, I will make you affected with the things that I shew you, and this is the teaching of GOD. There is a teaching by men, and a teaching by GOD, that is, when God shall enable a man to see things in good earnest; otherwise it will be but as a man that sees a thing, when his minde is upon another matter: so, we shall see, and not see: but when the Holy Ghost shall shew you these things, you shall see indeed, till then, you may heare oft enough of these things, but your hearts will be minding other matters; some about their profits, and some their pleasures, &c. but when the Holy Ghost shall shew you these things; that is, when he presents them to us, that draweth the heart from minding other things, to seeke after CHRIST, to long after him, and not to content your selves, till you be united to him.
But, besides this, there is a third act of the Holy Ghost, by which he works it, and maketh this faith effectual, and that is the testimony that the Spirit gives to our spirits, telling us that these things are ours: when the heart is prepared by the Law, and when these things are so shewed unto us, that we prize them, and long after them, yet there must be a third thing, that is, to take them to our selves, to believe that they be ours; and there needeth a work of the Spirit for this too: for, though the promises be never so cleare, yet, having nothing but the promises, you will finde that you will never be able to apply them to your selves: but when the Holy Ghost shall say, Christ is thine, and these things belong to thee, and GOD is thy Father; when the Spirit shall beare witness with our spirits, by an immediate work of his owne, then we shall believe. This is necessarily required, and without this we shall not believe. It is true, the holiest man doth it two wayes.
One is by clearing of the promises, shining into our hearts, by such a light as makes us able to discerne them, and to believe them, and to assent to them.
But besides that, he doth it by an immediate voice, by which he speaketh immediately to our spirits, that we can say, as they said, Joh. 16. Now thou speakest plainly, and speakest no parable, we understand thee fully: so, till the Holy Ghost speake to us, we are in a Cloud, GOD is hid from us, we cannot see him clearly, but when we have this Spirit of Adoption, to give us this witness, then we believe plainly indeed. Therefore in Isay 57. 19. saith the Lord, I create the fruit of the lips, Peace, &c. That is, the Ministers may speake peace to you, but unless I go and joine with the Minister, except I adde a power of mine owne; that is, such an almighty power as I used in the Creation, it shall never bring peace to you. I create the fruit of the lips; that is, the words of the Minister to be peace, otherwise they would be ineffectual. Therefore, I say, there must be a work of the Spirit to persuade a man in such a case. And you shall finde by experience, let a Minister come to them that are in despaire, they will not apprehend the promises, though we use never so cleare reasons, though we argue with them never so long, and never so strongly, we shall finde that all will do nothing, it will be but labour spent in vaine, till GOD himselfe open the Clouds, till he will smile on a man, and send his Spirit into the heart, to give a secret witness to him, till there be a work of his owne joining with the promises, we finde by experience that our labour is lost.
It is true, we ought to do this, and every man is bound to looke to the Word: for, faith cometh by hearing; and to hearken to the Ministery; for it is Gods ordinance to breed faith in the heart, but yet till there be a work of the Spirit, a man shall never be so persuaded, as to have any sure and sound comfort by it.”