The returne of prayers A treatise wherein this case how to discerne Gods answers to our prayers is briefly resolved, with other observations vpon Psal. 85.8. concerning Gods speaking peace, &c. By Tho: Goodvvin. B.D.
Goodwin, Thomas, 1600-1680.


Application: A reproofe of those that pray, but looke not after the returne of their prayers: The causes of this neglect.

THe use of all is,* to re∣prove those, who put up prayers, and are ear∣nest in begging, but looke not after them when they have done, no more than if they had not prayed: who still venture, & have a great stock of prayers Page  213 going, but looke not after the returns that are made, cast not up their com∣mings in and gainings by prayers; and when they have prayed, sit down dis∣couraged, as not making account in earnest that ever they shall heare of their prayers againe, even as if they had been but as words cast away: as beat∣ing the ayre; as bread cast upon the waters, which they thinke sinks, or is carried away, and they shall finde it no more; but herein you despise Gods Ordi∣nance, and erre, not knowing the power of prayers; and yee contemne the Lord But you wil say as they in the Prophet said, Where∣in Page  214 in doe wee contemne him? if you askt a man a questi∣on, and when you had done, did turne your back upon him, as scoffing Pi∣late askt in scorne of Christ, What is truth? but would not stay for an an∣swere, did you not con∣temne him? as not to an∣swer when a question is asked you, is contempt, so not to regard the answer made, when you have beene earnest in begging, is no lesse contempt also: if you had writ letters to a very friend about im∣portant businesse, and had earnestly solicited him for an answer, and hee were carefull in due time to send one, if you should Page  215 make account to heare of him no more, should you not wrong him in your thoughts? Or if hee did write, if you should not vouchsafe to reade over his answer, were it not a contempt of him? so is it here, when you have been earnest with God for bles∣sings, and regard not the answer: and because veri∣ly this is a fault among us, I will therefore endevour to discover to you the cau∣ses and discouragements,* which though they keepe you not from praying, yet from this earnest expecta∣tion, and reall, and true making account to heare of answers of your pray∣ers; onely my scope is, not Page  216 to shew you so much the reasons, why God denies you many requests, as why even in your owne hearts you are discoura∣ged after you have pray∣ed, as if they would not bee answered, although God doth answer them. These discouragements are partly temptations, partly sinfull impediments wherein wee are more faulty.

*1 Because your assu∣rance that your persons are accepted, is weake, therfore your confidence that your prayers are heard, is weake also: For as God doth first accept the person, and then our prayers: so the beliefe, Page  217 that God doth accept our person is that which al∣so upholds our hearts in confidence that our pray∣ers shall be granted: this you may finde in 1 Iohn 5. 13, 14, 15. in the 13. vers. he sayes. These things have I written to you, that ye may know you have eternall life: and upon that assurance this will follow, Vers. 14, 15. And this is the confi∣dence that we have in him, that if we aske any thing ac∣cording to his will, he heares us, &c. And if we know he heares us, we know we have the petitions wee desired of him. Marke how he links these three together, as effects and consequences each of other. 1. These Page  218 things I write unto you, that you may be assured, that life and heaven is yours, as in 12. and 13. verses. And up∣on that 2. this confidence wil follow in your hearts, That God hears you, that is, that you have his eares o∣pen to you, and his heart enlarged towards you: and then 3. if you be assu∣red that God heares you, then from this will follow an assurance, that You shall have any thing granted you desire; yea, and he makes this one of the maine and immediate effects of As∣surance of justification; therefore he sayes, this is the confidence that we have in him; that is, this effect there is of this confidence, Page  219 for whereas they might say, what benefit will ac∣crue to us by this assu∣rance? why this saies hee, which is one of the great and maine priviledges of a Christian, even assurance that God will heare him; and not only so, but grant him all his prayers. For when a man is assured God hath given him his Son, he will then easily be induced to beleeve and expect, How shal he not with him give mee all things? Rom. 8. 32. If once he looks upon God as a Father, he will then easily conceive that which Christ sayes, If Fathers that are evill can give good things to their Children, how much more Page  220 shall not your Father give his spirit, and all good things to them that aske them: and if he gave his Son, when wee did not pray to him, how much more shall hee not with him give us all things wee pray for? If a man comes to sue to any man whose mind he knew not, whether hee loved him or not, he would have small hope or expectation of having his suite gran∣ted, though hee came a∣gaine and again; but if he be assured he is in favour with him, according to that degree of favour, hee supposeth himself to stand in with him, hee is assured and confident of obtain∣ing his request.

Page  221* 2 Discouragement is the weaknesse of their prayers: though a man thinks his person is accep∣ted, yet alas sayes he, my prayers are so poore and weake, as surely God will never regard them. To remove which, let mee first aske thee this questi∣on: [ 1] Doest thou pray with all thy might? then though that thy might be weak in it selfe, and in thine owne apprehension such, yet because it is all the might which thou hast, and which grace hath in thee, it shall be accepted. For God accepts according to what a man hath, and not ac∣cording to that he hath not. 2 Cor. 8. 12.

Page  222 [ 2] 2. Thou art to consi∣der that God doth not heare thee for thy prayers sake, though not without them, but for his Names sake, and his Sons sake, and because thou art his child, as the mother when her child cryes (suppose it be a weake child) doth not neglect to heare and re∣lieve it: but tenders it not because it doth cry more lowd, but because it cries; and pities it the more the weaker it is.

[ 3] 3. Againe, though the performance in it selfe be weake, yet confidered as a prayer, it may be strong, because a weake prayer may set the strong God a worke, as faith for the act Page  223 of it, as produced by us may be weak, yet because its object is Christ, there∣fore it justifies: so it is in prayer, it prevailes, not because of the perfor∣mance it selfe, but because of the name, which it is put up in, even Christs name; and therefore as a weake faith justifies, so a weake prayer prevailes as well as a stronger; and both for the like reason in both, for faith attributes all to God, and so doth prayer; for as faith is meerly a receiving grace, so prayer a begging grace. And therefore dost thou think thy prayers are ac∣cepted at all, notwithstan∣ding their weaknesse? if Page  224 that they are accepted, then they must be accep∣ted as prayers, now if they be accepted as prayers, then as effectuall motives to prevaile with God to grant the thing you aske; for if hee should not ac∣cept them to that end, for which they were ordai∣ned, it is as if hee accepted them not at all. As there∣fore when he approves of any mans faith as true and sincere, hee approves and accepts of it to that pur∣pose, for which it was or∣dained, which is to save and justifie, and to this end doth as fully accept the weakest act of faith, as the strongest; so is it with their prayers, which Page  225 being ordained as a means to obtaine mercies from him, if hee accepts them at all, it is with relation to the accomplishment of them, which is their end.

4. Men are mistaken in judging of the weak∣nes of their prayers, they judge of the weaknesse of their prayers by their ex∣pressions, and gifts in per∣forming them, or by the stirring and overflow of affections, whereas the strength & vigor of pray∣er should be estimated from the faith, the since∣rity, the obedience, the desires exprest in it. As it is not the lowdnesse of a Preachers voice, but the Page  226 weight and holinesse of the matter, and spirit of the Preacher, that moves a wise, and an intelligent hearer: so not gifts, but graces in prayers are they that move the Lord. The strength of prayer lies not in words, but in that it is fitted to prevaile with God; one prayer is not more strong then ano∣ther, further then it is so framed as it hath power with God more or lesse; as of Iacob it is said, he had po∣wer with God, Hos. 12. Now prayers move God, not as an Oratour moves his hearers, but as a child moves his father: two words of a childe hum∣bled, and crying at his fa∣thers Page  227 feet, will prevaile more then penned orati∣ons. Rom. 8. It is the mean∣ning of the spirit, that God lookes unto, more then the expressions: for the groans there are said to be unutterable. Hezechiahs ex∣pressions were so rude and broken, that he sayes, Esay 38. 14. that he did but chatter, (hee being then sick,) even as a crane, yet God heard them.

*A third discourage∣ment is faylings of ans∣wers; I have prayed often and long, and I have been seldome or never answe∣red, and therefore I make little account of my pray∣ers, that they are heard: o∣thers have the revenewes Page  228 of their prayers comming in, but I doe misse whatso∣ever almost I stand for: Therefore say they as those, Why have we fasted, and thou regardest it not? Isay 58. 3.

[ 1] To remove this, consi∣der, 1. That thou hast the more reason to wait, for thou hast the more ans∣wers to come: for as wick∣ed men treasure up wrath, so doe godly men mercy, and especially by their prayers; & therefore mer∣cies, and answers do often come thick together, even as afflictions also doe.

[ 2] Suppose thou shouldst have few answers concer∣ning the things thou see∣kest for here, either in Page  229 praying for thy selfe or others, yet thy reward is with the Lord. It is in pray∣ing as in preaching, a man may preach faithfully many a yeere, and yet not convert a soule, and yet a man is not to give over waiting, but to observe after every Sermon what good is done, and whe∣ther God will give men repentance, as it is, 2 Tim. 2. 25. And if none be con∣verted, yet as Esay 49. 4. A mans reward is with the Lord. Every man shall re∣ceive his own reward accor∣ding to his own labour. 1 Cor. 3. 8. and not according to the successe of his labour only. So it is in praying, though thou missest a∣gaine Page  230 and again, & nothing succeeds thou prayest for, yet be not discouraged, for thy reward is with the Lord, which will come in one day.

[ 3] 3. God doth it, not that hee heares thee not, but to try thee; for a man to say as David sayes, Psal. 116. 1, 2. God hath heard my prayer, therefore I will call upon him as long as I live, that is nothing so much as to be able to say, Well, I have prayed thus long, and for these many things, and never sped, and yet I will call upon him whilst I live, though I find no answer in this life. To finde commings in, in a trade, and yet to hold out Page  231 trading still, argues not so much faithfulnesse in a mans calling, as when a man hath losses, and ca∣stings behind hand, and yet to follow it.

[ 4] 4. God usually stayes so long that we have done expecting, Luke 18. 8. The Elect cry day and night, but God stayes so long, ver. 7. that when he comes hee findes not faith, they have done expecting, have for∣got their prayers, and then hee doth things,*they looked not for.

*Other discouragements there are wherein we our selves are more faulty, and which are our sins, more then our temptations, which yet weaken the ex∣pectation Page  232 of having our prayers answered: as,

*1 Slothfulnesse in pray∣er, when wee doe not put to all our might in pray∣ing, and then no wonder, we doe not onely not ob∣taine, but that our owne hearts misgive us, that we look for little successe and issue of such prayers, Qui frigidè rogat, docet negare; he that shews himself cold in a suite, teaches him he sues to to deny him; if wee see one seeking to us faintly, and slightly, wee are not then sollicitous to deny him, but thinke hee will be easily put off, and not thinke much; so ac∣cordingly when wee shall observe so much by our Page  233 selves, and see our selves slothfull in praying, and praying as if we prayed not, no wonder if by reason of that consciousnesse, wee looke not after the suc∣cesse of such prayers, which in the performance wee slighted; when wee pray, as if wee were wil∣ling to bee denyed, wee knowing that the Scrip∣ture sayes, that the fervent prayer onely prevailes, that prayer which is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, that sets all the faculties on worke, Iames 5. 16. How should wee then ex∣pect that God should grant any good thing to us? For though God sels nothing to us for our prayers, but gives freely, Page  234 yet hee would have his gifts accepted: now with∣out large desires, and lon∣gings they would not be accepted: and what is fer∣vent prayer, but the ex∣pression of such fervent desires? Iacob wrestled when he obtained: many seeke to enter, sayes Christ, but you must strive. Now when wee know these things, and yet are sloth∣full, how can wee expect any answers at all? will not the consciousnesse of it quell all our expectati∣ons? and hence it comes to passe that God propor∣tioning his dealings with us to our prayers, because we seeme to pray, and yet pray not to purpose, Page  235 therefore God hee some∣times seemes like one a∣sleepe, and then some∣times to wake, and make faire offers to helpe, and yet falls as it were asleepe againe, because we were thus drowsie in our pray∣ers; those prayers that a∣waken God, must awa∣ken us: Those prayers that stir God, must first stirre us to lay hold on God as Isaiah speakes: as obe∣dience strengthens faith and assurance, so ferven∣cy in prayer begets confi∣dence of being heard. In all other things slothful∣nesse doth discourage and weaken expectation: doth any man expect that rich∣es should come upon him Page  236 when hee doth his busi∣nesse negligently? for it is the diligent hand that ma∣keth rich: doth any man expect a crop and a har∣vest, if hee takes not pains to plow, and sowe his Corne? no more if you doe not take paines with your hearts in Prayer, can you expect an answer, or indeed will you.

*2 Cause: or sinfull discouragement herein, is looking at prayer onely as a duty to be performed, and so performing it as a taske, and not so much out of desires stirred up after the things to be ob∣tained, nor out of faith that we shall obtain them; which is as if a PhysitianPage  237 having a sick servant, to whom he prescribeth, and commandeth to take some physicke to cure him, and his man should take it in∣deed because it is com∣manded and prescribed by his master, looking at it as an act of duty as hee obeyes him in other busi∣nesses, but not as looking at it as a medicine, or meanes, that will have a∣ny worke upon him to cure him, and therefore orders himselfe as if hee had taken no such thing. Thus doe most in the world pray to God, take prayer as a prescription on∣ly, but not as a meanes: they come to God daily, but as to a Master onely in Page  238 this performance, not as to a Father, and thus do∣ing, no wonder if they looke for little effect of prayers: for our expecta∣tion never exceeds or reaches further then our end and intention, which we had in any businesse. If I perform any Ordinance, but as a duty, then I rest therein, and expect no fur∣ther: as if a man preach∣eth for filthy lucre onely, he performs his duty and then lookes for his hire, but lookes not after any other effect of his Ser∣mons: so nor will men doe after their prayers for answers to them when they performe them as duties onely. Now to Page  239 help you in this, you are to looke to two things in prayer.* First to a command from God. Secondly to the promise of God: and so to consider it in a dou∣ble relation, first as a duty, in respect to the Command, secondly as a means to ob∣taine or procure blessings at Gods hand in relation to his promise: therefore in prayer, first an act of obe∣dience, secondly an act of faith is to bee exercised, aske in faith nothing waver∣ing, Iam. 1. Now the most in the world performe it as an act of obedience on∣ly, and so rest in the pre∣sent performance and ac∣ceptation of it, but if a man pray in faith, hee will Page  240pray with an eye to the promises; and looke on prayer as a meanes for time to come to obtaine such or such a mercy at Gods hands; and if so, then he is not satisfied till hee hath an answer of his prayers, and till then will wait, as the Church sayes, Shee would wait till hee did arise and plead her cause.

*A third sinfull discou∣ragement is returning to sinnes after prayers, when a man hath prayed for some mercy, and riseth full of much confidence that his prayers are heard, and so a while he walkes, yet falling into a sin, that sin doth dash al his hopes, undoes his prayers, (as he Page  241 thinkes) and calls them backe againe, meetes as it were with the answer, which is Gods messenger, and causeth it to returne to heaven againe. How often when God had even granted a petition, and the decree was a com∣ming forth, and the grant newly written, and the seale a setting to it, but an act of treason com∣ming betweene, stops it in the seale, and deferres it, blots and blurreth all, both prayer and grant when newly written, and leaves a guilt in the mind, which quells our hopes, and then wee looke no more after our prayers; and this especially if when we Page  242 were a sinning, such a thought came in, (as of∣ten it doth to restrain us) are you not in dependāce upon God for such a mer∣cy, and have prayed for it, and are faire for it, how then dare you doe this, and sin against him? when in this case the heart goes on, this blots all the prayer, and discou∣rageth a man; for saith the conscience, will God hear sinners? (as he said.) And thus farre it is true that sinning thus between, in∣terrupts and hinders the obtaining our petitions, that answerably as wee doe thus dash and betray and undoe our prayers,* so in a proportion, we finde Page  243 in the way to our obtain∣ing the thing wee prayed for, so many rubbes and difficulties doe arise; for as wee lay blocks in Gods way comming towards us to doe us good, so hee in ours: therefore often when a businesse goes prosperously on, and wee think wee shall carry it, comes some accident be∣tweene the cup and the lip, that casts all behinde hand againe, because an∣swerably wee dealt with God. For when wee had prayed, and were encou∣raged and in good hopes, then by some sinne or o∣ther wee spoyld all, and bereaved our selves of our expectation. But yet this Page  244 you are to consider, that as in the end praying useth to overcome sin in Gods Children, so also God in the end overcomes diffi∣culties, and brings the matter to passe: and know it is not sins past so much that hinder the prayers of Gods people, as the pre∣sent unfitnesse and indis∣position of their hearts for mercy.