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.


The second Case, concerning prayers made for others: of our friends, &c. How they are answered?

THe second case is, con∣cerning answers to our prayers for others, for particular men, as friends, and kinred, &c. and like∣wise for temporall bles∣sings.

Pray for others you know wee must:* so the Elders of the Church for Page  43 those that are sick, Iam. 5. 15, 16. Pray one for ano∣ther, sayes S. Iames: as in case a man is troubled with a lust, tell some pri∣vate friend of it, Confesse your sins one to another; that when a mans owne pray∣ers are not strong enough to cast it out, it may bee done by the help of ano∣thers praiers joyned with his. (So it followes, That yee may bee healed, ver. 16. For in that sense I under∣stand healing, in ver. 16.) So also, 1. Iohn 5. 16. If a man see his brother sin a sin, which is not unto death, that is not against the Holy Ghost, hee shall aske life for him, and God shall give him life, that sins not unto death.

Page  44 Concerning this case I give these considerations, how such prayers are an∣swered.

1. Consideration.* Such prayers God often hea∣reth; why else are any such promises made? as That they shall bee healed in their bodies, James 5. 15. Healed of their lusts, ver. 16. Converted to life, 1. Ioh. 5. 16. God hath made these to encourage us to pray, and to testifie his abun∣dant love to us; that it so overflowes and runs over, that he will heare us, not onely for our selves, but for others also: which is a signe we are in extraor∣dinary favour. So God in∣timates concerning Abra∣ham,Page  45 to Abimelech, Gen. 20. 7. He is a Prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and as he was a Prophet, so wee are Priests; as for our selves, so for o∣thers also, to God our Fa∣ther: and it is a preroga∣tive we have through the fellowship wee have, and communion of Christs Priestly office,*who hath made us Kings and Priests, to prevaile and intercede for others; and a speciall token and pledge of ex∣traordinary love. For if God heares a mans pray∣ers for others, much more for himselfe in his owne behalfe. So when Christ healed the man sick of the palsie, it was, as it is said, Page  46For the faith of the standers by, Matth. 9. 2. Hee seeing their faith, said, Thy sinnes are forgiven thee; the mea∣ning is, not as if for their faith sake he forgave that man his sins,* for, The just doth live by his (owne) faith: but to encourage them, who out of faith brought that sick man to him; and us all in like ma∣ner to bring others, and their plaints, by prayer, before him; he therefore then tooke occasion to declare and pronounce forgivenesse to that poore man;* hee therefore then said,*Thy sinnes are forgi∣ven thee.

2. Consideration: yet secondly, prayers for o∣thers Page  47 may often also not obtaine the particular thing prayed for them. So Samuels prayer for Saul, 1. Sam. 15. 35. So Da∣vid for his enemies, Psalm. 7. 13.

For it is in this,* as it is n the use of other means and ordinances for the good of others; God ma∣king such like kinde of promises to our prayers herein, as hee hath made to our endeavours to con∣vert when wee preach to men: that looke as wee preach to many, and yet but few beleeve,* for, Who hath beleeved our report? even as many as are ordai∣ned to eternall life; wee be∣come all to all, and winne but Page  48 some: So we pray for ma∣ny, not knowing who are ordained to eternall life, which whilest wee know not, wee are yet to pray for them, 1. Tim. 2, 3, 4. Onely as where God hath set his Ordinance of Prea∣ching, it is more then a probable signe hee hath some to convert, and usually the word takes a∣mong some, though often but a few: So when hee hath stirred up our hearts to pray for others, it is a signe God will heare us for some of those we pray for: yet so as we may be denied. For God doth re∣quire it as a duty on our parts, because it is an out∣ward meanes ordained by Page  49 God, by which sometimes Hee useth to bring things to passe: but yet not as such a certaine, and infallible meanes, as hee hath tied himselfe universally unto, to bring the thing to passe on his part.

And though indeed his promise to heare and ac∣cept the praier is generall and universal:* yet the pro∣mise to heare it, by gran∣ting the very thing it selfe praied for, is but an inde∣finite promise; such as he makes to other meanes of doing men good, as to our admonitions and re∣proofes, and to our prea∣ching, &c. Hee makes such promises, because sometimes hee doth heare and convert Page  50 by them. For instance, that promise, Iam. 5. 15. of healing the sick, cannot be univer∣sall: for it might then be supposed as a truth im∣plied in it, that sick men might never die, whē as it is appointed for all men once to die,* seeing it may bee supposed that the Elders may at all such times of danger of death stil come and pray with them: but the meaning is, that it is an Ordinance, which God hath made a gracious pro∣mise unto, because he of∣ten doth restore the sick at their praiers: and there∣fore upon every such par∣ticular occasion, wee are to rely upon God for the performance of it, by Page  51 an act of recumbencie; though with an act of full assurance that we shall ob∣tain it, we cannot; the pro∣mise being not universall, out indefinite.

Of the like nature are all other promises of things temporall and outward,* (of which wee herein speak) as when God pro∣miseth to give long life to them that honour their pa∣rents; riches and honours to them that feare Him; the tenour and purport of which promises is not, as if absolutely, infallibly, & universally God doth al∣wayes performe these to those that are yet truely qualified with the condi∣tions specified in those Page  52 promises; The contrary both Scripture, instances, and common experience shewes: they are therefore indefinitely meant, and so to bee understood by us; for, because when ever God doth dispense any such mercies to any of his, hee would doe it by promise; All his wayes to His being truth, that is, the fulfilling of some truth promised; and also God having purposed in his outward dispensation of things here in this world, to bestow riches and ho∣nours upon some that fear him, (though not up∣on al, for how then should all things fall alike to all?* Poverty and cotempt up∣on Page  53 them that feare God, even as well as those that feare him not.) Hee hath therefore indefinitely ex∣pressed His gracious dis∣pensation herein:* requi∣ring answerably an act of saith (which principle in us is suited to a promise, as a faculty is to its proper object) suitable to that his meaning in the promise; That as hee intended not in such promises an abso∣lute, infallible, universall obligation of himselfe to the performance of them to all that feare him: so the act of faith which a man is to put forth to∣ward this promise, in the application of it for his owne particular, is not re∣quired Page  54 to be an absolute, infallible perswasion, and assurance that God will bestow these outward things upon him, having these qualifications in him; but onely an indefi∣nite act (as I may so call it) of recumbency and submissi∣on; casting and adventu∣ring our selves upon him for the performance of it to us, not knowing but he may in his outward dis∣pensations make it good to us, yet with submissi∣on to His good pleasure, if otherwise Hee dispo∣seth it.*

It is true indeed, that that act of generall assent, which faith is to give to this promise in the gene∣rall Page  55 abstract truth of it, is to bee an assured certaine perswasion and beleefe, that God hath made this promise, and that He cer∣tainely will, and doth per∣forme it unto some accor∣ding to his purpose ex∣pressed therein; which act of generall assent, is that beleeving without waver∣ing, namely of the truth of the promise in general, which S. Iames calls for in prayer, Iam. 1. 6. But yet that speciall act of applica∣tion (as Divines call it) re∣quired in this faith, wher∣by I am to rest upon it, for my owne particular, is not required to be such an undoubted perswasion, as to thinke that I shall cer∣tainly Page  56 have this particular promise in kinde fulfilled to me; for the truth, pur∣pose, and intent of the promise, is not universall, but indefinite. So as it is but an it may bee (as God elsewhere expresseth such promises, as Zeph. . 1, 2.) That it shal be performed to mee: and yet because it may be God wil perform it unto mee, therefore my duty is to cast my self up∣on God, and put in for it, with submission to His good pleasure for the per∣formance of it to me. So that so farre as the truth and intent of it, is revea∣led to be infallible & cer∣tain, so far a man is bound to have an answerable act Page  57 of faith, of certaine and infallible perswasion to∣wards it, as to beleeve without wavering that God hath made such a promise, and will perform it according to His intent in making it, which is unto some: but yet withall be∣cause the tenour of it is but indefinite, and in that respect, whether it shal be performed to mee or no, is not therein certainely revealed; Therefore God requires not of mee in the application of such a pro∣mise, an absolute full per∣swasion that He will per∣forme it to mee in such or such a manner, &c. But only an act of dependance and adherence with refer∣ring Page  58 it to his wise and righteous good pleasure towards me.

And yet againe if God should at any time give a man such a speciall faith concerning any such par∣ticular temporall blessing for himselfe or another,* then hee is bound to be∣leeve it thus in particular: as when Hee gave power to any to work miracles, (as to his Apostles Hee did, with a Commission to work them,) then they were bound to beleeve that such and such a mira∣cle should infallibly bee wrought by them; as that the Devils should be cast out by them, &c. And therefore in this case Page  59 Christ rebukes His Disci∣ples, for not beleeving thus upon such particular occasions, Matth. 17. 20. And then it is also true, that if God give such a faith, Hee will infallibly perform it: and thus those his words are to bee un∣derstood, Matth. 27. 22. Whatsoever yee aske in faith beleeving,*yee shall receive, hee speakes it of the faith of miracles, for 21. ver. he had said, If ye beleeve and doubt not, yee shall say to this Mountaine, remoove into the sea, and it shall be remooved: so that, when God works such a faith, and wee are called to it, we are bound to beleeve with a certain perswasion that such a Page  60 thing will be done, and it shall bee done: but unto such a kinde of speciall faith in temporall promi∣ses for our selves or o∣thers, God doth not now alwayes call us. If indeed at any time wee did be∣leeve and doubted not, by reason of a speciall faith wrought by God, that GOD would remove a mountaine into the Sea, or bestow any outward mercy, it should be done: for he that stirred up such a faith, would accomplish the thing: but it is not that, which God requires of beleevers, that they should without doubting thus beleeve concerning outward things; the pro∣mises Page  61 thereof being not universall, but indefinite; and therefore answerably a man is not absolutely bound to beleeve that God wil certainly bestow such a temporall blessing on him, no not though he should have the qualifica∣tion, which the promise being not universal, made o all so qualified, but in∣definite to some of such so qualified. The case is the same of beleeving promi∣ses made to our praying for others, which is the thing in hand.

*3. When the prayers re thus made out of con∣cience of our duty for such, whom yet God doth Page  62 not intend that mercy un∣to, then they are returned againe into our owne bo∣somes to our advantage: even as S. Paul saith, that his rejoycing that others preached, though they lost their labour, should turne to his salvation, Phil. 1. 20. So prayers for others, though to the parties themselves we prayed for they prove in vaine, yet they turne to our good So Psalm. 35. 12, 13. When his enemies were sick, David he praied and humbled him∣selfe; and my prayers (saies he) returned into my bosome David did by this his prayer in secret for his enemies, testifie the since∣rity of his heart to God Page  63 and his true forgivenesse of them (for it is the usuall disposition of Gods chil∣dren, to pray for them that are the greatest ene∣mies to them,) and this prayer though it did not profit them, yet it turned to Davids owne good, it came back, and home a∣gaine to him, with bles∣sings to himselfe; God de∣lighting in, and rewarding such a disposition in his childe, as much as any o∣ther; * because therein we resemble Christ so truely, and shew that God is our Father, and our selves to have his bowels in us; and God stirreth up this pray∣ing disposition in his chil∣dren for their enemies, Page  64 not alwaies that he means to heare them for them, but because he meanes to draw forth, and so have an occasion to reward those holy dispositions, which are the noblest parts of his image in them and wherewith hee is so much delighted; and so their prayers returne into their owne bosome, and it is taken, as if they had prayed for themselves all that while. Thus in like maner, when Moses pray∣ed so earnestly for the people of Israel, God of∣fered to returne his pray∣er into his owne bosome, and doe as much for him alone, as hee had desired that God would doe for Page  65 them.*I will make of thee a great Nation (saies God to him) for whom I will doe as much for thy sake, as thou hast prayed I should doe for these. As in preaching the Gospel, Christ told the Disciples, That if in any house they came to preach peace, there were not a Sonne of peace, Luke 10. on whom the message might take place, and their peace rest, Your peace (saies hee) shall returne unto you againe. So is it, if your prayers take not place.

*4. If wee have prayed long for those, whom God ntends not mercy unto, hee will in the end cast them out of our prayers Page  66 and hearts, and take our hearts off from praying for them. That which he did by a revelation from heaven to some Prophets of old, as to Samuel and Ieremiah, the same hee doth by a more undiscer∣ned worke; that is, by withdrawing assistance to pray for such; by with∣drawing the spirit of sup∣plication from a man, for some men, and in some businesses. Now thus he did with Samuel; Why dost thou mourne for Saul?* 1. Sam. 16. 1. So with Iere∣miah, Jer. 7. 16. Pray not for this people: and this he doth, because he is loath when his people doe pray but to heare them; and Page  67 would not that such pre∣cious breath as that of prayer is, should bee with∣out its full and direct suc∣cesse, or be in vaine: there∣fore when he meanes not to heare, he layes the key of prayer out of the way, so desirous is hee to give answers to every prayer. It falls out in this case of praying for another, as in reproving another. One whom God intends not good unto, God will lock up a mans heart towards such a man, that hee shall not bee able to reprove him, when towards ano∣ther God doth inlarge it as much, where hee in∣tends good; thus it is sometimes in praying for Page  68 another; so as in praying a man shall not be able to pray for, as not to reprove such a man, though his heart was to doe both: but it fareth with him as God threatneth concern∣ing Ezekiel towards that people, that he makes his tongue cleave to the roofe of his mouth.*

*5. God will heare those prayers for, and answer them in some others, in whom wee shall have as much comfort, as in those wee prayed for: and so it often proves and fals out. God,* to shew he lookes not as man lookes, nor choo∣seth as hee chooseth, lets our hearts be set on work to pray for the conversi∣on Page  69 or good of one hee in∣tends not mercy to; and then answers them in some other, whom Hee makes as deare unto us. When God had cast off Saul, still Samuels heart lingred after him, and hee mourned for him: but God at the same time, when hee bids him cease mourning for Saul, 1. Sam. 16. to shew that yet hee accepted that his mourn∣ing as it came from him; Goe (saies hee) and anoint one of the sonnes of lesse, 1. Sam. 16. 1. Samuel desi∣red to see a good succes∣sor in that government, and he having been their ruler, it was his speciall care; and he having an∣ointed Page  70Saul, it exceed∣ingly grieved him, that he should prove so wick∣ed; and God saw and an∣swered the ground of his desires; and therefore im∣mediately upon his pray∣ers, sent him to anoint the best King that ever was upon that Throne, who was the issue and Man-childe of those his prayers. And again, when Samuel came to anoint one of the sonnes of Iesse; when he saw Eliab, ver. 6. Surely (saies he) the Lords anointed is before me: If Sa∣muel had been to choose, hee would have chosen him, and would have prayed for and desired him: but God seeth not as Page  71 man seeth, ver. 7. and choo∣seth not as man chooseth: but in David was his prai∣er fully heard, and answe∣red, and that better. So Abraham he had prayed for Ishmael; and Oh let Ish∣mael, live in thy sight! Gen. 17. but GOD gave him Isaac in stead of him. So perhaps thou prayest for one childe more then for another, out of thy natu∣ral affection, looking on his countenance and stature; as Samuel did on Eliabs: but yet thy prayers being sincere in the ground of them, in that thou desi∣rest a childe of Promise, God therefore answers thee, though in another, for whom yet haply, thy Page  72 heart was not so much stirred; who yet when he is converted, proves to thee as great a comfort; and it is as much as if that other thou diddest most pray for, had bin wrought upon.