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.


Common directions help∣full in all cases and pray∣ers. First, from such ob∣servations as may be ta∣ken, from before, and in praying.

HAving premised these Cases, I come now to more generall and common directions to help you in discerning and observing the minde of God, and his answers to you in your prayers. All which dire∣ctions Page  86 are such, as may be helpfull in all the fore∣mentioned cases, and in all sorts of prayers what∣ever. And they are taken from observations, to bee made upon your prayers, &c. Both before, in, and af∣ter praying;

*First, Before praying; when God bespeakes a prayer, (as I may so speak) that is, when God secret∣ly speakes to the heart to pray much about a thing; I expresse it thus accord∣ing to that phrase of Da∣vid, Psal. 27. 8. Thou saidst seeke my face: and I said, Thy face Lord will I seeke: now God then speakes to the heart to pray, when not onely hee puts upon Page  87 the duty by saying to the conscience, this thou oughtest to doe: but Gods speaking to pray is such, as his speech at first was, when hee made the world, when hee said, Let there be light, and there was light: so hee sayes, Let there be a prayer, and there is a prayer, that is, hee powres upon a man a spirit of grace and supplica∣tion, a praying disposition; hee puts in motives, sug∣gests arguments and pleas to God; all which you shall finde come in readi∣ly, and of themselves; and that likewise with a quick∣ning heat, and inlarge∣ment of affections, and with a lingring, and long∣ing, Page  88 and restlessenesse of spirit to bee alone, to powre out the soule to God, and to vent and forme those motions and suggestions into a prayer, till you have laid them to∣gether, and made a prayer of them. And this is a speaking to the heart: and observe such times when God doth thus, and neg∣lect them not; then to strike, whilest the iron is hot; thou hast then his eare, it is a speciall op∣portunity for that busi∣nesse, such an one as thou mayest never have the like. Suitors at Court ob∣serve mollissima fandi tem∣pora, their times of beg∣ing, when they have Page  89 Kings in a good mood, which they will be sure to take the advantage of; but especially if they should finde that the King him∣selfe should beginne of himselfe to speake of the businesse which they would have of him: and thus that phrase of Psal. 10. 17. is understood by some, that God prepares the heart, and causeth the eare to heare; that is, hee fashi∣ons it, and composeth it into a praying frame. And sure it is a great signe that God meanes to heare us,* when himselfe shall thus indite the Petition.

And by the way let me give this note of diffe∣rence, betweene these Page  90speakings to the heart, and those whereby Satan puts us upon such duties at un∣seasonable houres and times; as when we are o∣therwise necessarily to be imployed in our callings, to eate, or to sleepe, &c. then to put upon praying, is a device of his he useth, to tire out new converts with. The difference will appeare in this, the devill comes in a violent impe∣rious manner upon the conscience, but inlargeth not the heart a whit unto the duty: but whensoe∣ver God at such extraor∣dinary by-times doth call upon us, hee fits and pre∣pares the heart, and fills the soule with holy sug∣gestions, Page  91 as materialls for the duty; for whatsoever he calls to, he gives abili∣ties withall to the thing he calls for.

And thus usually, when hee will have any great matters done & effected, hee sets mens hearts a worke to pray, by a kinde of gracious pre-instinct; hee stirres them up and toucheth the strings of their hearts, by his Spirit sent downe upon them: Thus against the returne of the captivity he stirred up Daniels heart, Dan. 9. 1. Hee knowing by bookes, the time to be neere expiring was stirred up to seek God:* and so hee that made this Psalme, Salvation being Page  92 then nigh, ver. 9. 10. then God stirred him up to pray, and pen this prayer for their returne: which God had foretold hee would doe, Ier. 29. 10, 11, 12. For having promised ver. 10. I will cause you to returne after seventy yeares: Then (sayes he, ver. 12.) shall ye call upon me, and ye shall goe and pray unto mee, and I will hearken unto you: he speakes it not onely by way of command, what it was they ought to doe; but as prophecying also what they should doe; for then he meant to stirre up their hearts; as then hee did, as appeares by those forementioned instances. Therefore observe what Page  93 things, God, thus by an instinct doth inlarge thy heart to pray for at times, and sometimes at extra∣ordinary by-times, when haply thou diddest not think to pray about any such thing, yet hee then stirred thee up most, it may be, as thou wert wal∣king, &c. and having spare time, he drawes thee into his presence and moves thee in that maner speci∣fied.

*Now secondly: as God thus speakes to the heart to pray, so also in praying; and his speaking to the heart in prayer may bee discerned by these parti∣culars.

*1. When God quiets, Page  94 and calmes, and contents the heart in prayer, which is done by speaking some∣thing to the heart, though what is spoken, be not al∣wayes discerned: If you should see one, who was an earnest and importu∣nate suitor and exceeding anxious when he went in to a great man, but behold him after comming out from him contented, and quieted, and cheerefull in his spirit, you would con∣ceive that certainly some∣thing had beene said to him, which gave him en∣couragement, satisfaction and contentment in his suit; Thus when thou goest to God, and hast been importunate in a bu∣sinesse, Page  95 (as suppose for Christ, Oh give me Christ, or else I die!) and thy de∣sires were exceedingly up for it; But thou risest up with thy minde calmed and satisfied, and feelest the anxiousnesse, the soli∣citude of thy heart about the thing taken off, and dispelled; This is a good sign that God hath heard thy Prayer, and hath spo∣ken something to thy heart, which makes it thus composed. When Hannah out of much bit∣ternesse and with strong desires (which by a long delay had bin made more violent, so as her heart was much disquieted (for, Prov. 13. 12. Hope, and by Page  96 the same reason, desire al∣so deferred makes the soule sick) when out of the a∣bundance of her griefe, shee had poured her soule out before the Lord, 1. Sam. 1. 16. Eli the Priest joyning in prayer also for her, The Lord grant thy petition! after that prayer she found her heart so quieted, that shee looked no more sad, as the Text sayes there; She arose quieted, and calmed, and it was that prayer, that did both fill Elies mouth, with that word of prophecie, and her heart with quietnesse, and a se∣cret word from God ac∣companying it, that did still those waves: and ac∣cordingly God gave her a Page  97 Son, a Son of her desires. And the like God doth now, by speaking (as I said) something to the heart: as by dropping in some promise or other in∣to the heart, or some like consideration; saying as it were to the heart, even as Eli from God did to her, The Lord grants thy petition; As to S. Paul, when he was earnest with God about removing his buf∣fetings by Satan (which whether they were the stirring up a lust, or tem∣ptations of blasphemy, I doe not now dispute) I besought God thrice, that is, earnestly (sayes hee,) that it might depart; and to this hee had an answer in Page  98 the meane time given him, till it should bee ta∣ken away; enough to still and quiet him, so 2. Cor. 12. 8, 9. And he said, that is, in prayer the Lord did put in this consideration and promise into his thoughts, And he said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee, and my power is made perfect in weaknesse: This answer thus comming in, this promise thus seasona∣bly suggested stayed and quieted Pauls heart. In like manner thou hast (it may bee) been long pray∣ing against poverty, or the like distresse, and God lets fall this or the like pro∣mise into thy heart, I will never leave thee,*nor forsake Page  99 thee, which quiets and contents thy minde. This is an answer, and observe such answers, for they are precious.

*2. If whilest thou art a praying, God doth draw nigh to thy soule, and re∣vealeth himselfe to it, in and upon such, or such a particular petition. As in case thou didst mainely intend when thou diddest begin to pray, to set thy selfe to beg some tempo∣rall mercie at his hands, some great matter for the good and prosperity of the Church (as Daniel, Chap. 9. did set himselfe to seeke God for the returne of the Captivity:) and e∣ven before thou commest Page  100 to aske it, or in asking it, God smiles upon thee, welcomes thee: falleth a∣bout thy neck and kisseth thee: This thou art to ob∣serve as a signe hee heares thy prayer, and accepteth both thee and it; when there is such a strong sense of Gods favour, and presence, whilest thou art upon such a suit and request, more then at other times, or then in other passages of the same prayer, this is a token God heares thee, in that particular, and thou art to observe this his speak∣ing to thy heart: When thus thou shalt no sooner come into his presence to enquire of him, but Page  101 hee sayes, Here I am, as the promise is, Esay 58. 9. Therefore, Psal. 69. 17, 18. Heare me speedily sayes Da∣vid; and (that I may know thou hearest mee) draw nigh to mee: therefore when God drawes nigh to thee, it is a signe hee heares thee. Daniel ha∣ving fasted and prayed for three weekes together, Dan. 10. 2, 3: Then an Angell came, and one of the three Persons came and told him, hee was a man greatly beloved, ver. 11 and 19. when in like ma∣ner God by his Spirit comes downe, and meets thee, and tells thy heart in secret that thou art His beloved, and Hee is thine,Page  102 then thy prayers are cer∣tainly heard: for if hee accepts thy person, much more thy prayers, 1. Iohn 5. 19, 20. Men, false men, (false upon the ballance, as David speakes, when they come to bee tried and weighed,) they will out of cunning use suitors most kindly then, when they meane to put them off, and deny them their requests: But God who is truth and faithfulnesse it selfe, doth not use so to deale, but when he means to answer the prayer, Hee withall sometimes reveals his free grace most, to the end they may see and acknowledge the foun∣taine of all, to be his ever∣lasting Page  103 love, and so take the thing granted as a fruit of it, and thereby come to bee the more a∣bundantly thankfull.

Onely let me adde this Caution,* which may bee of great use to you. That it is not alwayes infalli∣bly true, that when God drawes nigh to you in a particular request, that that request in particular, shall bee granted in that maner you desired, but it is a certaine evidence that thy prayer is heard, and that the thing thou askest is agreeable to his will, and that hee approves of thee and thy request ex∣ceedingly, and thinketh the better of thee for it, Page  104 and hee will give thee it, or something that is bet∣ter▪ There may be herein and sometimes is a mi∣stake of Gods meaning, to thinke that alwayes, then the thing shall be granted, when God drawes nigh to a man: experience sometimes shews the con∣trary.

[Quest.] But you will say, Why doth God draw so nigh if he meanes not to grant it?

[Answ.] 1. He shewes thereby His approving will of the thing prayed for. Now GOD approves many things, hee decrees not. *There is his approving will and his decreeing will. God may shew his appro∣ving Page  105 wil of the thing thou askest, (as suppose it bee in view a matter which is of great consequence for the Church;) which hee doth for thy encourage∣ment: but yet it followes not, that his decreeing wil is for the accomplish∣ment of that very thing in particular.

2. God may accept the person and the prayer, when hee doth not grant the thing prayed for; and by that drawing nigh witnesse his acceptation of thy person and the prayer. Yea,

3. That revealing of himselfe is oftentimes all the answer he intended to such a prayer, and it is an∣swer Page  106 enough too, to enjoy in the stead of a particular mercy the assurance of Gods love. As suppose thou didst pray against some evill comming upon his Church, which he yet intends to bring; which hee did set thy heart a worke to pray against, thereby to manifest the sincerity therof; and then hee seeing thee thus sin∣cere drawes nigh to thee, and tells thee, however, it shall go well with thee, and that thou art greatly beloved of Him: Thou art sometime to take this for all the answer hee meanes to give. And this hee doth sometimes also to content the heart, and Page  107 prepare it for a deniall in the thing: whereas, other∣wise, the deniall of what a Christian hath been ear∣nest in, might occasion (as in many it doth) a questi∣oning and doubting of Gods love.

*3 When God stirres up in the heart a particular faith in a businesse: as sometimes He doth, and upholds the heart to wait for it, maugre all discou∣ragements. So hee did in David, Psal. 27. 3. David was then in great hazards by reason of Saul or Ab∣salom, and those such and so often, as that to sense and outward probabili∣ties hee was like never to live quietly againe at Ieru∣salemPage  108 and enjoy Gods Or∣dinances there in peace; but for this David had prayed, and had made it as the grand request of his whole life (as every man hath some one great re∣quest of all other, even as Hee hath some speciall grace above all other, or gift, &c. so request to God next to His salvation, as haply for his Ministery, or the like, therefore sayes David, verse 4. This one thing have I desired) and ac∣cordingly God gave him a speciall faith in this thing above all other, be∣cause it was his great re∣quest, In this will I be con∣fident▪ verse 3. And though an hoste of men should a∣gaine Page  109 and againe incom∣passeme, saies he, yet in this I will be confident, that I shall still escape, and see Ierusalem againe, and en∣joy the Ordinances and live in peace; and though his faith failed him often (as in the persecution of Saul it did) for he said he should one day perish by the hand of Saul:* yet at other times his faith was mar∣vellously upheld, and hee was confident in this. Hee used not to be so, in other requests thus absolutely particularly and distinct∣ly, and therefore he sayes, In this, &c. As there is a witnesse of the Holy Ghost immediate to the heart, sealing up adoption to a Page  110 mans person, so in some cases, there is the like te∣stimony for the obtaining of some eminent thing we have asked. Which parti∣cular speciall faith, doth in a kind of similitude ans∣wer to the faith of mira∣cles of old, whereby a man had a particular confidēce, that God would doe such a miracle by him: so in & by meanes of prayer, in some things there may be a particular strengthning & assuring the heart, that God will doe such a thing for a man: which I confesse is rare and extraordinary, as also that immediate te∣stimony concerning our persons is, which many want that goe to heaven. Page  111 And haply this other con∣cerning the accomplish∣ment of speciall mercies, is much more rare; and but in some businesses; and is a thing which some men are not acquainted with, but yet may bee in some cases existent to some mens spirits, as it was to Davids in the thing mentioned.

And concerning this al∣so I will also adde a Cau∣tion, * as about the former. That it doth not alwayes fall out upon all such kind of evidences made to a mans spirit, and that by God, that the thing pray∣ed for doth come to passe. For these very perswasi∣ons stirred up by God, Page  112 may bee and are often but conditionall, though thus immediately made to a mans spirit, and are so to bee understood, and not peremptory and absolute. It cannot bee imagined that all these should al∣wayes be of greater abso∣lutenesse and perempto∣rinesse, than were many of those revelations made by God to the Prophets, wherein Hee manifested his gracious purpose to∣wards such a man or peo∣ple, either to vouchsafe them such a mercie, or bring such a judge∣ment; which forewar∣nings though they were particular and expresse, yet limited and intended Page  113 with a condition, accor∣ding to the performance, or not performance of which, it fell out, either the judgement expresly threatned was diverted, or that good thing which was as directly and fully promised, was not be∣stowed: as it was in the case of Ionas threatning the destruction of Nine∣veb; and so in the pro∣mise concerning Ely's house, 1. Sam. 2. 30. I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father should walke before mee for ever, but now the Lord sayes, it shall not bee so: For they had broken the condition which was implied in it; they had despised the Page  114 Lord; and them that despise me, sayes God there, I will despise. In like manner is Gods meaning, expressed towards us in such like perswasions wrought in us by prayer, to be under∣stood; as that such mer∣cies will surely come to passe, but still under a condition of obedience, and performing of those vowes, which a man joy∣ned with those his petiti∣ons, to move the Lord to grant the things; which if a man faile in, or ceaseth to goe on to beleeve, it may and doth often come to passe, that things fall out contrary to that per∣swasion, and then wee are apt to question whether Page  115 it was from God or no; which it might bee, and truely wrought by his Spirit and yet not alwaies absolutely meant (that was your mistake so to take it) but conditionally onely. For in such great requests of the soule unto God there use to passe mu∣tuall covenants betweene God and us; and Inden∣tures are drawne and sea∣led unto by us, that is, we in prayer, offer and pro∣mise to doe thus and thus, if God will vouchsafe us such a mercy, and pleade it to God to move him to bestow it; and God, hee thereupon (it may bee) seales a covenant on his part to grant the thing, & Page  116 works such an undoubted perswasion; but if wee in that interim of waiting for that mercy, doe deale falsely in that covenant which we made; and this even whilest wee are yet in dependance upon God for it; whereby it appeares that we would have done so much more after wee should have received it once, in this case God de∣nies the thing, and yet notwithstanding, that per∣swasion and evidence was from God that heard the prayer. He said indeed he would doe thus and thus for thee: (as he told Da∣vid, I would have given thee much more:) because thou saidst to him, thou wouldst Page  117 walke thus and thus, or didst vow this or that to him; thou failest in thy word, upon which God ut∣tered his; and thereupon sayes God as to Ely, Now it shall not be so, and yet God had spoken it afore, and not Satan, nor thine owne heart onely.

*4. When God doth put a restlesse importunity in∣to the heart, maugre all discouragements. So in that Psalme 27. 4. One thing I have desired, and I wil seek after it, that is, as I have sought it, so I will not leave seeking to God for it: when God maintaines this in the heart, it is a signe he heares, and will answer: for you know the Page  118 Parable, that the unjust Iudge heard her for her im∣portunity; therefore when God puts an importunity into the heart, he meanes to heare.

Onely this likewise is to be added in this,* There is a double importunity: one out of such an inordi∣nate desire to a thing, as the heart knows not how to be without such a mer∣cie, and so continues to ask, but asketh amisse, and so receives not, Iam. 5. But there is an importunity joyned with a subjection to Gods will; which when it runs along with it, then God hath stird it up, and then looke for something to come; otherwise you Page  119 may bee importunate, as they seeke mee daily, when yet God heard not, Esay 58. 2.