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.
Page  125


Observations to be made after prayer, upon the is∣sue of what was prayed for: and first, if accom∣plished, whether as the fruit of prayers, or out of common providence; Helps herein.

WHen a man hath thus waited, and kept his way, then let him observe the issue and con∣clusion of what he sought for, how things are cast by God. Now of necessity, one of these two must fall out, that either the thing desired is accomplished, or not accomplished; and in ei∣ther Page  126 of these he may come to spie out answers to his prayers; for prayer may be answered, though the thing be not done.

I meane to insist seve∣rally on these.

*1 If the thing thou prayedst for doth come to passe, then what needst thou doubt of an answer, and whether God heard thee or no? For thou be∣holdest it with thine eies: and so often it falls out, that God doth grant ac∣cording to the desires of a mans heart; and not on∣ly so, but also fulfils his counsell therein, as it is, Psal. 20. 4. that is, fulfils not onely his desire, and aime of his prayer, but in that Page  127 very way, by that very meanes, which his judge∣ment and counsell pitcht upō in his own thoughts. The desire of the heart may be satisfied, when God gives some other thing, but the counsell of the heart is then fulfilled, when a man is answered in that particular, which his own judgment pitcht upon as best for him. For counsell is an act of the understanding, delibera∣ting about meanes to an end, & directing to choose a particular meanes tend∣ing to an end: so that as Eliphaz sayes to Iob, 22. 27, 28. Thou shalt make thy prayer to God, and hee shall hear thee: & decree a thing, Page  128 and it shall be established to thee, that is, a man is gui∣ded to decree and pitch upon such mercies in his prayers, as God makes good in particular: hee saies what he would have, and God performs it: and this priviledge thou shalt have (sayes Eliphaz there) if thou wilt turne to him, and be acquainted with him, and receive the Law from his mouth: thou shalt not erre in praying; but what thou settest upon to pray for, shall be accor∣dingly granted to thee▪ such a man shall have the priviledge, Fingere sibi fortunam in a right sense, to be his owne chooser, and carver of his owne Page  129 mercies; and as Christ said, Be it according to thy faith, so God sayes some∣times, Be it according to thy prayers; and Eliphaz speaks of it as of a speciall favour, that whereas other mens prayers are answered ob∣liquely, thine sayes hee shall be answered directly, which is more comforta∣ble; as direct beames are, and have more heate in them then collaterall and oblique. Thus if a man will heare God and obey him, God will heare him: for if a man be subject to Christ; Kingly Office, his Propheticall Office shall guide him, and cause him not to erre in his Petiti∣ons; but by an unerring Page  130 providence & preinstinct infused by his spirit, God will so guide him, as to ask evē that very thing which GOD intends to give; whereas of himselfe hee knowes not what, nor how to aske. So David asked long life, and God gave it him, Psal. 21. 2, 3, 4. God not onely gave him his hearts desire, but the re∣quest of his lips, v. 2. Hannah askt a sonne, and God an∣swered her in the very thing shee desired, and therefore shee called him Samuel, 1 Sam. 1. 20. Be∣cause (sayes she) I askt him of the Lord: and Verse 27. For this child I prayed, and the Lord (did not give an∣other thing in stead of it, Page  131 but) hath given me my Pe∣tition I asked of him. So, 1. Chro. 4. 10. labesh called on God (tis said) and God gran∣ted him the thing hee re∣quested. And thus God of∣ten deales with his chil∣dren. And to this end hath God given us his Spirit; and made Christ Wisedome unto us, who knowes what is good for us, though we doe not. And hath there∣fore also commanded us to spye out mercies for our selves, and then come to him for them: and to this end hath made such particular promises of par∣ticular mercies, which he would have us have an eie unto in our prayers; all which is, because often he Page  132 means to bestow the very things we aske.

And yet because,* al∣though we have the very things wee did aske and desire, such is the jealousie & infidelity of our hearts, that we often discern not, nor acknowledge that it was our prayers, that ob∣tained them from God: but we are apt, when once wee have them, either to look but to things below, and the second causes of them, though before wee did earnestly seeke them of God, or else still dis∣trustfully to questiō whe∣ther or no it was at our prayers that hee granted them, or out of common providence. Thus Iob in Page  133 his distemper, Iob 9. 16▪ although I had called, and God had answered me, yet (sayes he) I would not be¦leeve that he had hearkened to my voice, that is, not that he did it in respect to my prayer and request, be∣cause he now deales so fe∣verely with me, For hee breaketh me with a tempest, Ver. 17. And thus doe our distrustfull hearts, (which are apt to bee un∣satisfied with all the clee∣rest pledges of Gods fa∣vour, and still to miscon∣strue and pervert them,) although God doth an∣swer us upon our calling upon him, yet we will not beleeve that he hearken∣ed to our prayer in it. Page  134 Therefore that you may be further inabled to dis∣cerne, how, and when things you prayed for, come in by prayer; I give you these further directi∣ons.

*1. When God doth a thing in answer to pray∣ers, hee often doth it in such a maner, that his hand may bee in a more then ordinary maner seen in it.* There are few pray∣ers, wherein a man hath sought God much, but in the answers of them God discovers himselfe much, and turnes many great wheeles in the accom∣plishment of them, and manifests (as David de∣sires, Psal. 17. 7.) his mar∣velous Page  135 loving kindnesse; and indeed, when GOD heares prayers, that have beene a long while a ma∣king, Hee shewes usually halfe a miracle one way or other.

Now GOD discovers his immediat hand in the answers of prayers many wayes.

*1. When hee carries a thing through many diffi∣culties, when there were a great many crosse wards in a businesse prayed for, the least whereof would have kept the key from turning: when GOD shall make (as it were) a key on purpose to unlocke it; when God plots and con∣trives all the passages in a Page  136 businesse thou didst pray for, and so accomplisheth it; This is a signe, it is a fruit of prayer, and that prayer had been a making that key all that while: So in bringing David to the Kingd me; Ioseph out of prison; Mordecai to honour: and likewise S. Peter out of prison, which was done at the prayers of the Church, Act. 12. He was sleeping betweene two souldiers: if they had waked, he had beene dis∣covered: and hee was in chaines, but they fall off, ver. 6. 7. And the Keepers stood before the doore, but they mind him not, ver. 6. and when one watch is past, hee passeth Page  137 quietly through another, ver. 10. and when both those were past, an Iron gate flyes open of its own accord, ver. 10. Now such difficulties are there in many businesses, which yet in the end are accom∣plished by prayer: Iron chaines fall off, Iron gates, enemies hearts flye open of their own accord; and though not in that mira∣culous manner, by the meanes of an Angell, yet no lesse wonderfully.

*Or secondly when God facilitates all meanes to accomplish the thing which was prayed for, so as all meanes doe in view conspire and combine in it, that thou hast winde Page  138 and tyde, and a faire day, and all the way paved; or as David sayes, hast thy way made plaine before thee; and there falls out a great conjunction and meeting of many circumstances to∣gether to effect it, which had influence into it, whereof if any one had beene wanting, haply the thing had not been done, when the thing prayed for is thus granted, prayer then hath done it. Thus, when hee delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt, which was the ac∣complishment of their long desires and prayers, (their cry came up the Text sayes) how were all things facilitated! they that de∣tained Page  139 them doe them∣selves come, and intreate them to goe out, yea, are urgent, sayes the Text; and that at midnight: nay, hire them to goe out, with their eare-rings; and Pharaoh himselfe then parts lovingly and fairely with them, and desires their prayers,*Blesse me also: Yea, to shew there was no resistance, the Text sayes, a Dog did not move his tonguee: The bruite Creatures did not disturb thē, though at midnight, when those Creatures use to be most obstreperous through noises.

*3. When hee doth it suddenly, and accompli∣sheth the thing thou hast Page  140 long prayed for, ere thou art aware of it: as the re∣turne of the Captivity of Babylon, which was the conclusion of many pray∣ers, was done in a trice, they were as men in a dream, Psal. 126. 1. they could scarce beleeve it was so, when it was done, it was because they had sowen many prayers which came up on the suddaine, ver. 5, 6. So Peter, hee was fast asleepe, and did not so much as dreame of deli∣verance. So Iosephs deli∣very out of prison, and advancement to bee the greatest man in the King∣dome, the suddennesse of it shewed it was Gods re∣membring of him, and Page  141 hearing his prayers.

*4. When God grants the thing with an over∣plus, above what wee did ask, & casteth many other mercies in together with that which we long pray∣ed for; this also may be a signe God did heare our prayers in it: for when he doth heare indeed, hee useth to doe above what wee did aske or thinke, thereby the more to overcome the heart. So David asked long life, and he gave him more then he asked, Psal. 21. 2, 3, 4, 5. So Solomon he asked but wisdome, and hee gave him more then he asked, Peace, Riches, Ho∣nour, and all with it, 1 Kin. 3. 12, 13. Hannah shee as∣ked Page  142 but one male childe, 1 Sam. 1. 10. but God gave her three sonnes more and two daughters, Chap. 2. 21. When prayers are answered, usually mercies come thicke, they come tumbling in; the thing we prayed for comes not alone: as when sinnes are punished, then miseries also they come like ar∣mies in troops upon us: as temptations likewise come together, and we fall into many of them at once,* as S. Iames speakes: Thus doe mercies also.

*5. When the thing is granted by prayers, there is often some particular circumstance of provi∣dence concurrent with it, Page  143 which is a token for good, and sealeth to us that it is from God; such often as a man himselfe takes notice of, and which others take notice of also. Shew mee a token for good, sayes Da∣vid, Psal. 86. 17. that others may see it and be ashamed: and such tokens doth God often make small circum∣stances to bee. Things small in themselves, may bee magna indicia, great signes and tokens: for example Moses and Aa∣ron, and the Israelites had long cryed to GOD for the deliverance of his people, and laid up many prayers; their cry came up, as was said; and when God doth deliver them, Page  144 what tokens were there of good? and of GODS hand in it, and of his an∣swer to their prayers? The Text notes (as was observed before) that a dog did not barke at their going out, Exod. 11. 7. which was a small circumstance, but it was magnum indici∣um, and so intended by God; for the Text addes, That ye may know that God puts a difference between the Israelites and the Egypti∣ans. This was a oken of Gods hand, to over-rule the tongues of rude bruit creatures, that use to stir at such unusuall noises, and at travellers especial∣ly in the night. So when Isaac and Abraham, and Page  145 his servant also, had pray∣ed for a Wife for Isaac, see by what a token God shewed he had heard their prayers; Rebekkah was the first that came out to the servant sent to bring a wife for him: and if shee be the woman appointed for Isaac (saies the servant) Let her offer me drinke,*and my Camels also: this was a small thing in appea∣rance, but a great indicium of Gods hand in it, and therefore the servant bow∣ed at it, and worshipped: and the signe in it selfe was such, as argued a good nature in her, and a kinde courteous dispositi∣on, which therefore (it may bee) hee singled out, Page  146 as a token of a meet wife, as a thing especially to be looked at in the mariage choise.

*Againe, the considera∣tion of the time, wherein the things we have asked▪ are granted, may much help us to discerne, whe∣ther it be in answer to our prayers. For God who doth all things in weight and measure, shewes his wisdome and love, as much in the season, as in giving the thing it selfe: GOD considereth all times of thy life, and still chosseth the best and fittest to an∣swer thy prayers in, In an acceptable time have I heard thee. So Esay 49. 8. As Da∣vid (in like maner sayes) Page  147 hee prayed in an acceptable time, Psal. 69. 13. So accor∣dingly God answers in the best and most acceptable time to us; for he waits to be gracious, for he is a God of judgement, Esay 30. 18. that is, Hee is a wise God that knowes the fittest times and seasons, where∣in to shew kindnesses, and to deale forth his favours in.

*As first, it may be, that at that very time when thou hast beene most in∣stant and earnest, yea even whilest thou art a pray∣ing or presently after, the thing is done and accom∣plisht. To this purpose is that of Esay 65. 24. That as sometimes he heares be∣fore Page  148 they call (which ar∣gues much love to give mercies unsought) so also whilest they are speaking, I will heare, and grant the thing, which argues no lesse love; and he culs out that time on purpose, that they might rest assured that it was in answer to their prayer. Thus to as∣sure Hezekiah his prayer was heard, God sent the Prophet in unto him whi∣lest hee was a praying and weeping, with his head tur∣ned towards the wall. So Isaac going out to pray in the field, meets his Re∣bekkah then a comming;* that blessing of a good Wife, being surely the great request temporall Page  149 hee was then in Treaty with God for: this Rebek∣kah was the fruit of many prayers. So when S. Peter was in prison, the Church being gathered together to pray for him, S. Peter comes and knocks at the same houre, Acts 12. from the 12. ver. to the 18. So as it often falls out herein, as to the Ruler in the Gospel, Iob. 4. 52. who in∣quiring diligently, found that the same houre that Christ had said to him, Thy sonne liveth, his son recove∣red, and so he beleeved, and his whole houshold: So also here, that sometimes the thing is done, or the newes of it comes the same houre or soone after, Page  150 wherein a man was pray∣ing about it, and haply then when the heart was most stirred about it, more then at any time else: this is a signe it was an answer of prayers, and may help to confirme a mans faith in it, as that al∣so did his.

*Or secondly, when it is the most acceptable and every way the fittest time to have the thing granted. At that time, 1. when thou hadst most neede, and 2. when thy heart was most fit for it. For in answering prayers, God aimes especially at two things: 1. To shew his mercy, that a man might magnifie and exalt that: Page  151 And 2. To have the heart satisfied and filled with joy and contentment in his answer, and the thing made sweet, and a mercy indeed to him: in briefe, that his goodnesse might be delighted in, and his mercy exalted.* And for these two purposes he culs out such times, when we have most need; and also when our hearts are most subdued, and our lusts mortified. For then we are fittest to rellish his goodnesse alone, and not to bee drawne away with the carnall sweetnesse that is in the thing. The one you have exprest, Esay 30. 18. Hee waits to bee gracious to have his mercy exalted. The se∣cond Page  152 intimated Iames 5. Ye aske and receive not, be∣cause ye aske amisse, to con∣sume upon your lusts; Such prayers, whilest the heart is in this temper, the Lord denies, or deferres in mer∣cie till the heart bee wea∣ned.

*For the first of these: As, suppose thou diddest pray long for assurance of salvation, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and when thou hadst most need of it, either when thy spirit would have failed without it, as Esay 57. 16. Or a∣gainst some great afflicti∣on approaching, or some great encounter with the world for the Name of Christ, then God filled thy Page  155 heart with it, &c. that was the fittest time: now hath God heard thy pray∣er. As S. Peter hee was in Prison, and had beene so for many dayes, as ap∣peares by the fourth and fifth verses, Acts 12. God could haue delivered him at any time, while the Church prayed for him, ver. 5. But God kept him in on purpose, till that very night, when in the next morning Herod meant to bring him forth to execution, and then God delivered him at the prayers of the Church; then was the most fit time; As the Psalmist sayes, The full time to have mercy on him was come.* And then Page  154 to receive an answer, is a signe God did it out of speciall love, which love hee would have exalted by thee, as Esay 30. 18.

*If 2. when thy heart was most fit for the mercy, it was granted, then art thou also heard in an ac∣ceptable time: for God doth not with hold mer∣cies from those that are his, out of want of love; neither so much for what is past, as for the present evill disposition of their hearts, whereby they are unfit to receive them: and in this sense likewise may that bee understood, that God prepareth the heart: and heareth the pray∣er, Psal. 10. 17.

Page  155 As first, when thy heart is most weaned from that temporall mercy (suppo∣sing it such) granted thee upon seeking of it: So David, when had hee the Kingdome in possession given him? then, when hee was as a weaned child, and had his high thoughts (which haply at the first newes of it had risen in his minde) purged out, Psal. 131. 2. I have no high thoughts, &c. sayes hee then; Thus, when thy heart had let all carnall ends goe, and had beta∣ken it selfe alone to God, for thy portion to be had alone out of him then the thing prayed for comes to passe: this was the Page  156 fittest season.

[Object.] .But you will bee ready to say, To have a thing when my heart is taken off from it, and even con∣tented not to have it, makes it to be as no mer∣cy: for where there is no desire, there is no rejoy∣cing.

[Answ.] If thy desire bee taken off the thing, then thou wilt rejoyce the more in GOD now; and though the thing of it self should now give thee lesse satis∣faction, yet God by the thing wil give thee more, and he will make it up; for thou wilt rellish his love and sweetnesse in it now, which is better then life, and therefore much bet∣ter Page  157 than that thing enjoy∣ed; and indeed the vio∣lence of the desire before, would have made it lesse sweet, for the thing alone would not have filled and contented that desire, when it was an inordinate lust, and so thou wouldst have beene vexed with it, rather than satisfied, and found a greater vanity in it: but now when it is be∣come a subordinate de∣sire unto God, that the desire is downe, and the heart quieted and con∣tented with God in the thing: the heart sayes as she said, I have enough. So 2. likewise thou maist have an affliction thou pray∣edst long against taken off Page  158 then, when thy heart was most willing to accept thy punishment (as Moses's phrase is,*) and to submit to God in it.

*A third thing you are to observe concerning the accomplishment of the thing prayed for, whereby you may discern whether granted in ans∣wer to prayers, is, when thou seest God in his dea∣lings with thee, and an∣swering of thee, to deale in a kinde of proportion with thy manner of pray∣ing and seeking of him, and of walking with him whilest thou were depen∣dant on him, for such or such a mercy. And as you may see a proportion be∣tween Page  159 sinnes and punish∣ments, which are the re∣wards of them; that you can say, such a sin brought forth this affliction, it is so like the Father: so you might see the like pro∣portion, betweene your prayers, and your walking with God, and Gods ans∣wers to you, and his dea∣lings with you. So did David, Psal. 18. 24. Accor∣ding to the cleannesse of my hands hath he recompenced me, &c. His speech notes some similitude or like∣nesse: as for example, The more by-ends or carnall desires you had in pray∣ing, and the more you mingled of these with your holy desires, and the Page  160 more want of zeale, fer∣vency, &c. were found in your prayers, the more you shall (it may be) finde of bitternesse mingled with the mercy, when it is granted; and so much imperfection, and want of comfort in it: so sayes Da∣vid in the same Psal. verse 25. 26. With the pure thou wilt shew thy selfe pure. Pure prayers have pure blessings; & è contra: With the foward thou wilt shew thy selfe froward: and a∣gaine, as you in praying sometimes slackened and grew cold, so you might see the businesse in like manner to coole, and cast backward: as when Moses hands were downe, Amalck Page  161 prevailed; but when they were lifted up, Israel had the better, Exod. 17. 12. God let him see a propor∣tion, which argued his prayer was the meanes of prevailing. A man findes in praying, that his suite sometimes sticks, and goes not on as he expected, this is because he gives not so good a fee as he was wont, and doth not ply God, and solicite him; but on the contrary, when hee was stirred up to pray, then still hee found things to goe well: by this a man may clearely see, that it was the praier which God did heare and regarded. Thus likewise when a man sees hils and dales in Page  162 a businesse, faire hopes of∣ten, and then all dasht a∣gaine, and the thing in the end brought to passe, let him looke back upon his prayers: didst not thou in like maner just thus deale with God? When thou hadst prayed earnestly, and thought thou hadst even carried it, then dash all againe, by interposing some sin, and thus againe and againe? Herein God would have you observe a proportion; and it may help you to discern, how, and when they are answe∣red, and obtained by pray∣er; because God deales thus with you therein in such a proportion to your prayers.