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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Considerations to quiet the heart, and to help it to dis∣cerne an answer to, and acceptation of the prayer when the thing is not accomplisht.

*BUt now the next and more difficult questi∣on is, When the thing is not granted, how shall we then discerne and know, that God doth notwithstand∣ing heare the prayer?

Concerning which, I must premise this, that it is true, that alwayes the very thing it selfe desi∣red is not granted, when yet the prayer is heard. Page  184 Christ prayed, the Cup might passe from him, which though some in∣terpret the word passing, for the short continuance of the brunt, and that therefore in that respect hee was heard directly in what he asked: yet if so, why was that clause if it be possible, added? that argues his petition was for a to∣tall removall, yet with subjection to Gods will; for he knew there was no great impossibility in a short removall of it: nay, it was impossible but that it should passe, Acts 2. 24. But howsoever, it is plain in Moses, about his go∣ing into Canaan: Deut. 3. 26. I besought the Lord,Page  185 sayes hee, ver. 23. and hee was angry with mee, and would not heare me. ver. 26. Likewise ere I come to re∣solve the case, an objecti∣on is also to be removed, which is,

That if the Spirit of GOD doth make every faithfull prayer in us, as Rom. 8. 26. it is said Hee doth; wee know not what to pray for, but the Spirit help∣eth our infirmities, &c. and he searcheth the deep things of God, as it is said, 1 Cor. 2. that therefore hee know∣ing that GOD will not grant such a thing, you may think that he should not stirre up the heart to pray for that which God meanes to deny, but al∣wayes Page  186 guide the heart a∣right, and not let us erre or misse in the things wee pray for. To this, in briefe by way of answer.

*1. The Spirit makes not prayers in us, alwayes according to what Gods secret will and foreknow∣ledge is,* but according to his revealed will to us, both in his word, and in his providence, as things therein are presented to us, and doe lie before our view, and so not alwayes according to what hee meanes to doe, but accor∣ding to what it is our duty to pray most for: for hee concurres to assist us to pray, as he doth in preach∣ing or using other such Page  187 like meanes and Ordinan∣ces, wherein though the spirit knowes whom God meanes to convert, whom not, yet he assists us Mini∣sters in our spirits often∣times as much to preach to those hee meanes not to convert, as to those hee meanes to convert: Hee dealing with us therein according to what is our duty, not according to what is his decree.

Againe, secondly, that phrase helpes to answer this, when hee is said to helpe our infirmities, and therefore not according to his owne vast know∣ledge, doth he frame our prayers, but so, as hee ap∣plies his assistance to our Page  188 infirme, weake, and nar∣row apprehensions, and stirres up desires in us to such things, as according to our knowledge wee are in duty to conceive, and which by all wee can see, by what is afore us re∣vealed in his providence, we thinke to be most for our good, and his glory; and God accepts such de∣sires as from us, but yet doth for us according to the largenese of his owne love.

*And so now to come to the case propounded, and therein unto helps to pacifie, and direct the heart about those prayers at which the things are not granted.

Page  189 And first, how diddest thou frame thy prayer for that thing which is deny∣ed thee? Didst thou pray for it absolutely, and per∣emptorily as simply best for thee? thou must not then think much, if such a prayer bee denyed, for therein thou wentest be∣yond thy commission: but if thou didst pray for it conditionally, and with an (if) as Christ did, if it be possible (which instance is a strong ground for such kinde of prayers) and not my will, but thy will be done, so, as thou didst referre it unto, and trust Gods judge∣ment in the thing, and not thine owne, onely didst put him in mind as thy Page  190 duty was, of what was re∣presented to thee as best for thee in view, and so left it to him to cast, and didst, referre it to His will and wisedome:* Then thy prayer may be most fully answered and heard, and yet the thing denied, and thou art to interpret, and God takes meaning and mind revealed in the e∣vent in the best sense, which way soever it falls: for otherwise, CHRIST had not been heard, when yet, the Text sayes, Hee was heard in all hee feared, Hebr. 5. 7.

*2. Observe, if there were not a reservation in that denial, for some grea∣ter and further mercy, Page  191 whereof that deniall was the foundation. Thus 1 oftentimes some great crosse is prevented, by the deniall of a thing, which we were urgent for: if we had had many of our de∣sires, we had been undone: So it was a mercy to Da∣vid, that his childe was taken away, for whose life he was yet so earnest, who would have been but a li∣ving monument of his shame. It was also a mer∣cy to David, that Absalom was taken away, (whom surely he prayed much for, for hee loved him much) who if he had lived, might have beene the ruine of him and his house. As a wicked mans deliverance Page  192 and the granting his re∣quest layes a foundation, and is a reservation of him to a worse Judge∣ment: So, the deniall of a Godly mans prayer is for his greater good, and is laid as a foundation of a greater mercy: 2 and a∣gaine, oftentimes the ve∣ry deniall breaks a mans heart, and brings him nea∣rer to God, puts him upon searching into his wayes, and estate, and in his pray∣ers to see what should be amisse therein, which a∣lone is a great mercy; and better then the thing, see∣ing by the losse of that one thing hee learns how to pray better, and so to obtaine a hundred better Page  193 things afterward. Christ desired the Cup might passe, it did not; and that was the foundation of our sal∣vation, & the way to His glory: Hee being to passe through that suffering in∣to His glory: The woman that had the bloody issue, though shee used many meanes, and haply prayers among the rest, and all in vaine, yet none tooke ef∣fect; that in the end shee might come to Christ, and have both body and soule healed at once.

*3 Observe if there be to a transmutation and a translation or turning of he thing desired into some other greater bles∣ing of the same kind: for Page  194 God (all whose wayes are mercy and truth to His peo∣ple) doth improve, hus∣band, and lay out the pre∣cious stocks of their pray∣ers, to the best advantage, in things, whereby the greatest returns and gains may accrue: as old Iacob laid not his Hand of bles∣sing as Ioseph would have guided them, but laid the right hand upon the yon∣ger Sonne, whom Ioseph did set at his left: So of∣ten doth God take off his hand of blessing from the thing we prayed for, and laies & discovers it in an∣other more for our good: and as God giving Isaac the power and priviledge to blesse a sonne, though Page  195Isaac hee intended it for Esau, yet God unbeknown to him transmitted it to Iacob, yet so, as the bles∣sing was not lost: Thus is it in our prayers for bles∣sings both upon our selves and others. There is of∣ten a transmutation, ne∣ver a frustration of them: which may as truely and directly bee called an an∣swer to the prayer; As if a factor beyond Sea, when the owner sends for such and such commodities, supposing them more ven∣dible and advantagious, but the Factor know∣ing the state of things, and the prices, sends him ver in stead of them, such as shall sell better, Page  196 and bring in more profit, may be said to answer his letters, and that better, then if hee had sent those very commidities he writ for; Thus Abrahams pray∣ers for Ishmael were tur∣ned for Isaac: Davids for the Childe to Solomon.

*4 Observe if in the end God doth not answer thee still according to the ground of thy prayer: that is, see if that holy end, intention, and affection, which thou hadst in pray∣er, be not in the end fully satisfied, though not in the thing thou didst de∣sire: for God answers, Secundum cardinem, accor∣ding to the hinge which the prayer turnes upon. Page  197 As when a General is sent out with an Army, by a King or a State, who give him many particular di∣rections, how to order and dispose, and manage the war, although in ma∣ny particulars that fall out, wherein they could not foresee to give so pun∣ctuall and particular dire∣ctions, he swerve from the directions, yet if he keeps to the intent of their Commission, and doth what is most advantagi∣ous for their ends, he may bee said to keepe to his Commission. For as they say of the Law, Mens leg is est lex▪ the mind of the Law is the Law, not the bare words it is printed in: so Page  198 the Meaning of the Spirit is the prayer, Rom. 8. 27. and not simply the things desired, wherein wee ex∣presse those our desires: and still the meaning, the intent, the ground of our prayers shall be answered. To open this, the maine ends, and meanings of our hearts in our requests are Gods glory, the Chur∣ches good, and our owne particular comfort and happinesse: we can desire but comfort, and a man looketh out, and spieth out such a particular mer∣cie, which hee thinketh tends much to Gods glo∣ry, and his happinesse, and yet that thing is deni∣ed; yet notwithstanding Page  199 God will answer him ac∣cording to the meaning of his prayers, his glory shall certainely be advan∣ced, even for that prayer of his, some other way, and his comfort made up, which is the common de∣sire of all mankinde: and thou canst have but com∣fort, let the thing bee what it will that con∣veighs it to thee; and God will take order that that comfort thy soule desired, thou shalt have come in one way or other, which when it doth, thou canst not but say thy prayers are heard. For as God ful∣fils his promises, so hee heares prayers, there is the same reason of both: Page  200 now God hath promised, Hee that leaves Father and Mother, shall have an hun∣dred fold: not in specie, as we say, in kinde, this can∣not alwayes bee fulfilled, for an hundred Fathers he cannot have. God ful∣fills it not therefore al∣wayes in the same kinde, but in some other things, which shall be more then a hundred Fathers would bee.

Moses hee prayes hee might goe into Canaan, God answers the ground of his prayer, though not in the matter in it expres∣sed and desired, and that both for Moses his com∣fort and his owne glory; for hee takes him up to Page  201 heaven, the true Canaan, whereof that Canaan was but a type, and hee ap∣points Ioshua a fresh and a young man, comming on in the world, and one whom Moses himselfe had tutored and brought up, and was his pupill, ser∣vant and attendant, Num. 6. 11, 28. and this was more for Gods glory, for Ioshua was therein to bee he type of Christ lead∣ing us to heaven, which the Law (of which Moses was the type) could not bring us unto by reason of the weaknesse of it; and he being yong did it better: and it was not so much al∣so for Gods glory, that one man should doe all; Page  202 and whereas Moses desired to have the honour of it; in that his servant that at∣tended him, and had been brought up by him, and had all from him, that hee was the man should doe it, was well nigh as great an honour to Moses, as if hee had beene the leader himselfe. And so David when hee desired to build the Temple and an house to God, for the like rea∣sons God denied it, but yet honoured him to pre∣pare the materialls, and to draw the patterne, as also in that his Son did it, who was therein also the like type of Christ, being a Prince of peace, but David a man of blood and war, Page  203 and likewise God accep∣ted this of David, as if he had built it, and will re∣compence him as much.

*5. Observe, if in the thing which thou hast prayed much about, though it be denyed thee, yet if God doth not en∣deavour to give thee (as I may so speake) all satisfa∣ction that may be, even as if hee were tender of de∣nying thee, and therefore doth much in it for thy prayers sake, though the conclusion proves other∣wise, as being against some other purpose of his, for some other ends: As when hee denied Mo∣ses to goe into the Land of Canaan, hee did it with Page  204 much respect (as I may so speak with reverence) to Moses: he yeelded as far as might bee, for hee let him leade them, till hee should come to the very borders; and hee let him see that good Land, carry∣ing him up to an hill, and (as it is thought) by a mi∣racle inabled his sight to view the whole Land; and the man hee chose to performe this work, was his servant, which was a great honour to Moses; that one brought up by him should succeed him. So when Abraham prayed for Ishmael, Oh let Ismael live in thy sight, Gen. 17. 18. God went as far in gran∣ting his request as might Page  205 be; for, sayes hee, ver. 20. I have heard thee, and I have blessed him, and I will make him fruitfull, and multiply him exceedingly, and hee shall beget twelve Princes; but my covenant I will esta∣blish with Isaac. So like∣wise, when in casting that thing, thou didst seeke at his hands, he shews an ex∣traordinary hand in tur∣ning it; it is a signe he had a respect to thee, that hee would vouchsafe to dis∣cover his hand so much in it; let the thing fall which way it will, if Gods hand appeare much in it, thou mayest comfortably con∣clude, that there is some great thing in it, and that prayer wrought that mi∣racle Page  206 in it, to dispose it so; and that there is some great reason why hee de∣nies thee, and a great re∣spect had to thy prayers, in that he is pleased to disco∣ver so extraordinary a providence about it.

*Lastly, looke into the effect of that deniall upon thine owne heart; as,

1 If thy heart be inlar∣ged to acknowledge God, to be holy and righteous in his dealings with thee, and thine own unworthi∣nesse the cause of his de∣nying thee. Thus we of∣ten find the Saints expres∣sing themselves in their prayers: that Psal. 22. though typically made of Christ; yet as it was pen∣ned Page  207 by David, and as it may concerne his person, it may serve for an in∣stance for this, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not: this might have made him jealous of God; but saies he, Thou art holy, &c. and dealest now with me in an holy manner, and art just in it: Others have called on thee, and have been heard, though I now for my unworthinesse am denied: But I am a worme. It might have put a man off, when he should think, others are heard, but not I, but it puts not him off, but humbles him, I am a worme, &c. And Thou art holy.

*2 If God fill thy heart Page  208 with an holy contentmēt in the deniall; if he speak to thy heart, as he did to Moses, when hee denied him, Deut. 3. Let it suffice thee; if as to S. Paul, when hee was so earnest about removing that buffeting, if thou gettest but such an answer as that to him, My grace is sufficient; or that some such like considera∣tion is dropt in that stayes thee: It was the effect of Davids seven dayes fast∣ing, that he did so conten∣tedly beare the losse of the Childe, which his ser∣vants thought would have overwhelmed him, 2. Sam. 12. 19, 20, 21. But a consi∣deration was dropt in, which was the fruit of his Page  209 prayer, That he should goe to him, not hee returne hi∣ther; and his minde was comforted thereby, in so much, as it is said, ver. 24. That he comforted Bath she∣ba also.

*3 If thou canst bee thankfull to God out of faith, that God hath cast and ordered all for the best, though hee hath de∣nyed thee; and although thou seest no reason, but that the thing prayed for, would have beene for the best, yet art thankfull up∣on the deniall of it, out of faith resting in Gods judgement in it: As Da∣vid, in all those foremen∣tioned places was, Thou art holy, that inhabitest the Page  210 prayses of Israel; he praises God for all this: David before he did eate, after his seven dayes fasting for the childe, arose, And went first into the Temple and worshipped, 2. Sam. 12. 20. and of what kinde of worship it was, appeares by his anointing himselfe and changing his raiment, which was in token of re∣joycing and thanksgi∣ving, and it fell out to him according to his faith, for presently after, Solomon was begotten, vers. 24.

*4 If thou canst pray still and givest not over, although thou standest for mercies which thou missest; if when thou hast Page  211 mercies granted, thou fea∣rest most, and when deni∣ed, lovest most, and art not discouraged, thy pray∣ers are heard, Psal. 80. 4. Though God seemed an∣gry with their praiers, yet they pray, and expostu∣late with him, and give not over, for they made that Psalme as a Prayer, And how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? So Psal. 44. 17. Though wee are cast among Dragons, yee wee have not beene false in thy Covenant. So say thou, I will pray still, though I never have an answer in this life. It moves ingenuous natures to see men take repulses and denialls well, which Page  212 proud persons will not doe: and so it moves God.