Preston was born in 1587 at Heyford in Northamptonshire and was educated at Queens' College, becoming a fellow in 1609.
He took orders, and on becoming dean of his college drew large crowds to hear his preaching. On the Duke of Buckingham's advice he was appointed chaplain to Prince Charles in 1620 and in 1622 he became both preacher at Lincolns Inn and master of Emmanuel. After the accession of Charles I he was a central figure for the Puritans in the struggle for control of the established church.
Perhaps exhausted by his failure to prevent Archbishop Laud, he died at the age of 40. In theology he was a stanch Calvinist and his writings had considerable popularity.