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.
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The maine observation and subject of this Discourse thence deduced: That Gods people are dili∣gently to observe the answers to their Pray∣ers: The reasons of it.

THese words being e∣specially spoken in re∣lation to the answer of God returned to his Pray∣er made, therefore in that relation I meane princi∣pally to handle them.

The observation is this; That when a man hath put up Prayers to God, hee is to rest assured, that God will in mercy answer his Prayers,Page  6 and to listen diligently, and observe how his Prayers are answered: both are here to bee observed. I will heare what God will speake, that is, how Hee will ac∣complish them: and with∣all he confidently expres∣seth an assurance, that God will speake peace. Thus doth the Church, Mich. 7. 7, 8. I will looke to the Lord, I will wait, my God will heare mee: Shee was both sure of gracious audience with Him, my God will heare me: and she will wait till hee answers her, and observe how hee doth it, I will looke to the Lord: and vers. 9. I will heare the in∣dignation of the Lord, till he plead my cause. So Habak∣kuk,Page  7 hee having made a Praier against the Tyran∣nie of Nebuchadnezzar, in the first Chapter, having ended it, hee begins the second Chapter thus, I will stand upon my watch tower, and see what hee will answer mee:* and in the end an answer comes vers. 2. and as hee thus waited for a Vision (for sometime their Prophecies were in answer to their prayers) so should wee for an an∣swer unto ours.

1. Reason,* because o∣therwise you take an Or∣dinance of God in vain in your hearts, which is to take Gods Name (with whom in that Ordinance you deale) in vaine: for it Page  8 a signe you thinke your prayer not an effectuall meanes to attain that end it is ordained for; and say secretly in your hearts, as they Iob 21. 15. What profit have we, if we pray to him? for if we use any meanes, and expect not the end, it is a signe wee thinke the meanes vaine to accom∣plish that end. Whereas every faithfull prayer is ordained of God to bee a meanes to obtaine what wee desire and pray for, and is not put up in vain, but shall have answer: 1. Ioh. 5. 14, 15. This is the con∣fidence that we have in Him, that if we aske any thing ac∣cording to His will, He hea∣reth us: tis true, God hea∣reth Page  9 an enemy, but to heare with favour, is the hearing there meant; and is so used in our ordinary speach, as we say of a Fa∣vourite, that he hath the Kings eare; and if a man bee obstinate to a mans counsell, we say, hee would not heare, though hee give the hearing; so here, to heare is a word of gracious inclination to doe the thing required; and thus Gods eares are said to bee open to their prayers; and so it followes there, that if he heareth us, whatsoever we aske, wee know that we have the petitions that wee desired of Him. Assoone as wee have prayed, wee are said to have our petitions, that is, Page  10 they are then granted, and we may be confident they are assented unto by God; although in regard of outward dispensation, the command for accomplish∣ment is not yet come forth: even as a petitio∣ner is said to have his suit, when the word of the King is gone forth that it shall be done, though it passeth not the seale, or bee not signed a good while after. And like as when a wick∣ed man sinneth, assoone as the act is committed, so soone doth sentence from God goe forth against the sinner, but the Execution overtakes him not (it may bee) a good while after, according to that of Solo∣mon, Page  11 Sentence against an e∣vill doer is not presently exe∣cuted,* it is presently senten∣ced, as the words imply, but not executed: so in like manner falleth it out, when a godly man praies, that as soone as the praier arrives in Heaven (which is in an instant) so soone is the petition granted, (So Dan. 9. at the beginning of his praier the Command came forth ver. 23. though the Angel, who brought the answer, arrived not at him till towards the end in the Evening, ver. 21.) but the reall accomplish∣ment of it may be defer∣red. So as no prayer in re∣spect of an answer to it is in vaine; but where Page  12 God hath given a heart to speake, Hee hath an eare to heare, and love to re∣turne answer: which not to regard, is to take an Ordinance in vain, which is Gods Name.

And secondly,* not sim∣ply Gods name, as in an Or∣dinance made knowne, but also His name, that is, His Attributes are taken in vaine. For it is a signe you thinke of that God you pray to, that either his eare is heavy, that hee cannot heare: or his hand shortned, that he cānot save: or his heart straitned, and his bowels restrained, that he will not: And thus you rob him, and despoile him of one of his most royall Page  13 Titles, whereby he styles himselfe,* a God that hea∣reth prayers; who is so re∣gardfull of them, that in the first of Kings 8. 59. they are said to be nigh the Lord day and night, they are all before him, and he sets them in his view, as wee doe letters of friends which wee sticke in our windows, that we may re∣member to answer them; or lay them not out of our bosomes, that wee might be sure not to forget thē: so the petitions of his people, passe not out of his sight, till hee sends an answer, which is called speaking here; God speaking as well in his workes as in his word. But you, by your Page  14 neglect herein, make an Idoll God of him, such as were the vanities of the heathen, as if hee had eares and heard not, eyes and saw not your need, &c. Such a God as Elias mockt, You must speak aloud, (saith he) he may be in a journey, &c. Even such a God doe you make the God of heaven & earth to bee, whilest you put no more confidence in him, or make no more reckoning of your prayers to him, then the heathens did of their sacrifices to their Gods. Petitioners do not onely put up their re∣quests, but use to wait at great mens doores, & en∣quire, and listen what an∣swer is given unto them; Page  15 and it is part of an honour to great men that we doe so: and for the same end are wee also to waite on God, As an acknowledge∣ment of his greatnesse, and our distance from him, and dependance upon him; as the eyes of the servants looke to the hand of their Masters,*so doe we (saith David) on thee, till thou hast mercy on us. And Psalm. 130. after he had prayed ver. 2. Hee saith, hee waited more then they that watch for the mor∣ning, like those that ha∣ving some great businesse to doe on the morrow, long for the day light, and looke often out to spy the day, so hee for a glimme∣ring, and dawning of an Page  16 answer. The like we have Psal. 5. 3. In the morning will I direct my prayer to thee, and looke, that is, for an answer.

Againe,* 3. If God doth give you an answer, if you minde it not, you let God speake to you in vaine, when you doe not listen to what hee answers: if two men walke together, and the one, when him∣selfe hath said, and spoke what hee would, listens not, but is regardlesse of what the other answers, hee exceedingly slights the man: As non responde∣re pro convitio est, not to answer againe is con∣tempt, so non attendere, not to attend to what one Page  17 sayes: Now our speaking to God by prayers, and his speaking to us by answers thereunto, and to study out his dealings with us, by comparing our praiers and his answers together, which are as Dialogues be∣tween us and him, is one great part of our walking with God. It is said of Sa∣muels prophecy,*that not a word of it fell to the ground: and so it may bee said of our prayers; and so it ought to bee of Gods an∣swers, not a word of them should fall to the ground: as there doth, if you by your observation, and listning therunto catch them not (as Benhadads servants are said to doe Ahabs words,) Page  18 apprehend, and observe them not: & by the same reason, that you are to observe the fulfilling of Gods promises, you are of your prayers also: now, 1. Kings 8. 56. it is said, not one word failed of all hee promised, Solomon had ob∣served this by a particular survay, and register made of all that God had spoken and done for them, and found not a promise un∣performed: and there is the like reason both of an∣swers to prayers, (for pray∣ers are but putting promises into suite;) and for our observing of them: and therefore Salomon brings those words in there, to this very purpose, to con∣firme Page  19 firme their faith in this, that no prayers made, would faile, being groun∣ded on a promise, thereby o encourage others, and his owne heart to dili∣gence herein, as also as a motive unto God to hear him; for vers. 59. hee in∣ferres upon it, Let my words be nigh thee, &c. See∣ing thou alwaies thus per∣formest thy good word unto thy people.

4. Yea,* you will pro∣voke the Lord not to an∣swer at all, he will forbear to answer, because hee sees it will be thus in vain. When a man is talking to one that listens not to him, hee will cease to an∣swer, and leave off speak∣ing, Page  20 and so will God. So as that which the Apostle saith of faith,* that it is not enough to beleeve, but when you have done the will of God, you have need of pati∣ence to eke out faith, that you may inherit the promi∣ses, may bee also said, and is alike true of praying: it is not enough to pray, but after you have pray∣ed, you have need to li∣sten for an answer, that you may receive your prayers; God will not ful∣fill them else. As he said, the Sermon was not done, when yet the Preacher had done, because it is not done, till practised: so our prayers are not done, when yet made, but you Page  21 must further waite for, and attend the accom∣plishment.

5. If you observe not his answers,* how shall you blesse God, and returne thankes to him for hear∣ing your prayers: Psal. 116. 1, 2. I love the Lord, because hee hath heard my voice, and my supplication, and therefore he goes on to thanke him, through∣out the whole Psalme. You are to watch unto pray∣er with thanksgiving:* and therefore, as to watch, to observe, and recollect your owne wants, which you are to pray for, that you may have matter of requests to put up, so also to observe Gods answers Page  22 for matter of thankesgi∣ving; and many fill that common place head full of matter, to furnish them for petitioning, but as for this other of thankesgi∣ving, they watch not un∣to it against they come to pray, nor study matter for that head also; and if any study will furnish you this way, it is the studying out of Gods answers to your prayers: The reason you pray so much, and give thankes so little, is, that you minde not Gods an∣swers: you doe not study them. When we have put up a faithfull prayer, God is made our debtor by promise, and wee are to take notice of his pay∣ment, Page  23 and give him an ac∣knowledgement of the receipt of it, hee loseth of his glory else.

6. As God loseth,* so your selves also the expe∣rience which you might get hereby.* 1. Both expe∣rience of GOD and his faithfulnesse, which will cause in you, hope and confidence in God ano∣ther time, when you have found him againe and againe answering your prayers. It was a speech of one eminent in holi∣nesse, upon occasion of the accomplishmēt of a great request made to God by him, That God having ne∣ver denied him any re∣quest, I have tryed God Page  24often, now (sayes he) hence∣forth I will trust him; if the hearing the prayers of a∣nother, will encourage us to goe to God, (as Psal. 33. 5. For this cause shall every one that is godly pray unto thee) much more when we observe, and have ex∣perience that our owne are heard: Therefore (sayes David) Psal. 116. 1, 2. The Lord hath heard me, and I will call upon him as long as I live: as if hee had said, Now that God hath heard mee, now I know what to doe: this experiment, if I had no more, is enough to encou∣rage me for ever to pray unto God: I have learned by it to call upon him, Page  25 as long as I live. And also 2. by observing Gods an∣swers to your prayers,* you will gaine much in∣sight into your own harts, and wayes, and prayers; and may thereby learne how to judge of them. So Psal. 66. 18, 19. Davids an∣surance that he did not re∣gard iniquity in his heart, was strengthned by Gods having heard his prayers: for thus he reasons, If I re∣gard iniquity in my heart, God will not heare me: But God hath heard me. For 1. if God doth not grant your petitions, it will put you to study a reason of that his dealing: & so you will come to search into your prayers, and the car∣riage Page  26 of your hearts there∣in, to see whether you did not pray amisse; according to that, Ye lust & have not, because ye aske amisse, Iames 4. 3. As if you send to a friend, who is punctuall in that point of friendship of returning answers, and useth not to faile, and you receive no answer from him, you will beginne to thinke there is something in it: And so also here, When a Petition is deni∣ed, you will be jealous of your selves, & inquisitive, What should be the mat∣ter, and so by that search come to see that in your prayers, which you will learne to mend the next time. Or 2. if they be an∣swered, Page  27 yet because that therein usually God deales in a proportion with you to your prayers, (as you might perceive if you would observe his dea∣lings with you) you would by this meanes come to have much insight into Gods acceptation, and o∣pinion of your wayes: For you should see His dealings with you, and yours with Him, to be ex∣ceeding parallel and cor∣respondent, and hold pro∣portion each with other. So Psal. 18. 6. In my distresse I called upon the Lord, and so verse 7, 8, &c. hee goes on to describe his delive∣rance which was the fruit of those prayers, and then Page  28 at 20, 21. verses, &c. hee addes his observation up∣on both, According to the cleannesse of my hands hath he dealt with mee, &c. For with the pure thou shalt shew thy selfe pure.

7. You will lose much of your comfort:* there is no greater joy than to see prayers answered, or to see souls converted by us, Iohn 16. 24. Aske and you shall receive, that your joy may be full: the receiving answers makes joy to a∣bound and overflow. Yea, even when we pray for o∣thers, if our prayers be an∣swered for them, our joies are exceeding great; much more when in our owne behalfe: and therein, even Page  29 in the smallest things which a Christian doth enjoy, doth his comfort exceed anothers, that hee hath them by vertue of prayers, and promises: he knowes how hee came by them; If stolne waters bee sweet, And bread eaten in secret,*&c. (as Solomon saies) to wicked men; beg'd meat is much more sweet to god∣ly men: yea, in the very praying for outward mer∣cies, there is more sweet∣nesse, than they have in enjoying them. As it is joy to a good heart to see any one converted, but much more to him that is the meanes of it. I have no greater joy (saies S. Iohn) then that my children walke Page  30 in truth: So to see God doe good to his Church, and heare others prayers is a comfort, but much more to see him do it at a mans own praiers. There∣fore when God restores comfort to a drooping soule, he is said, Esay 57. To restore comfort also to his mourners, that is, to those that prayed and mourned for him, as well as unto that soule it selfe, it be∣ing a comfort to them to see their praiers answe∣red. Comfort it is many wayes: [ 1] The heare from God; as to heare from a friend, though it bee but two or three words, and that about a small matter, if there be at the bottome Page  31 this subscription, Your lo∣ving Father, or, Your assu∣red friend, it satisfies abun∣dantly: so also, [ 2] To know that God is mindfull of us, accepts our works, fulfills his promises: [ 3] How doth it rejoice one to find ano∣ther of his mind in a con∣troversie: but that God and we should be of one mind, and concurre in the desire of the same things;*not two in the earth onely agree, but God who is in heaven and we to agree, this rejoiceth the heart exceedingly. And thus it is when a man perceives his prayer an∣swered. Therfore you lose much of your comfort in blessings, when you do not observe answers to your prayers.