From The Return of Prayers, chapter 2.
There have been some minor updating of old English words and punctuation.
Concerning prayers put up for the Church
First, there may be some prayers which you must be content never yourselves to see answered in this world, the accomplishment of them not falling out in your time. For example, those that such you haply make for the calling of the Jews, the utter downfall of God’s enemies, the flourishing of the Gospel, the full purity and liberty of God’s ordinances, and the particular flourishing and good of the society and place you live in. All you, whose hearts are right, treasure up many such prayers as these, and sow much of such precious seed, which you must be content to have the Church (it will be) in after ages [i.e., after you have passed on] to reap. All which prayers are not yet lost, but will have answers; for as God is an eternal God, and Christ’s righteousness an everlasting righteousness, and therefore of eternal efficacy (Dan 9:21), being offered up by the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14), so are prayers which are the work of the eternal Spirit of Christ, made to that God in His name, and in Him are eternally accepted and of eternal force, and therefore will take place in after ages.
- Such was the prayer that Stephen made for his persecutors, which took place in Saul when Stephen was dead.
- Such was David’s prayer against Judas (Psa 109:8-9), which took effect above a thousand years after, as appears in Acts 1:20.
- Such were the prayers of the Church, for three hundred years, in the primitive times, that kings might come to the knowledge of the truth, leading them to peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty (which Paul, in Nero’s time, exhorted unto, 1 Tim 2:2,) were not answered and accomplished until Constantine’s time, when the Church brought forth a man child.
- Such was Isaiah (Isa 58), after he had exhorted to, and given directions for, fasting and prayer in a right manner, he adjoins this promise: Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach; namely for this, because his fasting and prayers might have influence into many ages yet to come, in the accomplishment of what was prayed for.
And that which Christ says of the apostles – reaping the fruit of John the Baptist’s ministry and the seed he had sown – is in like manner verified in John 4:37. And in this sense, that which the Papists say is true: that there is a common treasury of the Church, [but] not of their merits, but of their prayers. There are bottles of tears being filled, vials filling, to be poured out for the destruction of God’s enemies. What a collection of prayers has there been these many ages towards it! That may be one reason why God will do such great things towards the end of the world, even because there has been so great a stock of prayers going, for so many ages, which is now to be returned. Herein it falls out to us in our prayers, as in their prophecies to the prophets of old when the Spirit in them signified the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Unto [those prophets] it was revealed, and [yet] not for themselves, but unto us [did they] minister the things that are now revealed. And thus, it is in the spirit of prayer, which is instead of [i.e., in the place of] the spirit of prophecy; for we pray through the guidance of the Spirit, who teaches us what to ask, [even] for many things that come to pass in ages to come.
It may be you will have things revealed unto you in prayer, by a secret impression made on your spirit, that these shall come to pass, and so have your faith confirmed in them. This may also be an evidence [to you] that even for your prayers, among others, God will perform them; and that the contribution of your prayers helps to make up the sum. Upon such prayers God usually, for the present, also testifies the acceptation of a man’s person, and reveals Himself most to him that He is his, as He did to Moses. (He never revealed his love to Moses more than when he prayed most for God’s people.) Thus you may have this as one of your best evidences of the uprightness of your heart – that you can pray for the Church’s good, though for a long time to come, which you may never behold with your eyes, even as David also did, and rejoiced in it.
And when they are accomplished, with you in heaven, your joy will surely be the fuller for your prayers. Just as at seeing the conversion of those you have prayed for, so [will be your joy] at the ruin of the Church’s enemies, etc., whom you prayed against. For if there be joy in heaven at the conversion of a sinner, as at the birth of a new prince and heir of heaven, then haply in like proportion he shall rejoice most whose prayers had most hand in it, and a special interest therein. And so, as your other works, so your prayers follow you, and the fruit of them, as Jeremiah speaks. Yet, at the day of judgment, you shall rejoice, as well as they that enjoyed the fruit of your prayers in their times, you, having sown the seed of their happiness. Both he that sows and he that reaps shall then rejoice together, as Christ says (John 4:36).