Southern Baptists Need Their Sovereign Grace Heritage (by Dr. James Willingham)

“Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….” In 1972 that statement by Dr. John D. Eusden in his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ The Marrow of Divinity focused my attention like a salmon fixes the eye of a soaring eagle.

In 1973 in my first pastorate I had come to the conclusion that the Sovereign Grace view (which some have called Augustinian and/or Calvinistic) of biblicat texts was the most accurate of the various approaches to Scripture. The reason was simple; that understanding was based on the meaning of the words, not an imposed idea.

The view had been preached among Southern Baptists from their beginnings. Indeed, it was the founding theology of the oldest churches and associations which would constitute the Convention. The election of the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, William B. Johnson, was reflective of that fact.

With the passage of time that doctrinal understanding had faded. Some still held to the original views. My country pastor, Rev. George Washington Gray, informed me that such were the beliefs that he had preached in my childhood.

And then my ordaining pastor, Dr. Ernest R. Campbell, who had been Associate Pastor to Dr. Robert G. Lee, declared from the pulpit and in personal conversation that he was a supralapsarin hyper Calvinist. Even so, Dr. Lee thought so much of Dr. Campbell that he put it in his will for Dr. Campbell to preach his funeral.

Believing a truth and preaching it, however, is no easy task. The Gospel in any form, shape, or fashion seems to engender hostility. How much more truths that are, seemingly, so antithetical to human beings in any generation. It is a hard to let a person know that he or she is a sinner, and, worst of all, a helpless sinner at that.

In other words, man suffers from total inability, a truth that many who claim the name of Christ do not accept or believe or even consider to be Christian. And yet the words are clear. Can means ability. Thus, when Jesus said, “No man can come to me,”(John 6:44,65), He is not saying man may not. He is saying man is unable to come.

But there is more. There is the idea of God choosing people to be saved. There is His passing by of others (here many go ballistic). However, our Lord does something that is a fulfillment of the statement with which we began this article.

Yes, the doctrines of grace as they are called are apparently used evangelistically; they are presentations and even offers and invitations or drawing powers to bring sinners to Christ. Our Lord Himself used this very approach in Matthew 15:21-28 and Luke 4:15-30. In other words, He approaches sinners with opposites.

Before we set forth a final word, let us take up one of the sorest issues, namely, that which is called limited atonement or particular redemption. Actually, everyone preaches limited atonement. It is either limited by man or limited by God. Even the Universalist preaches a limited atonement.

Why? Because the universal atonement cannot get every one saved in this life, and its promise of future life is, according to the Bible, a delusion.

But what if limited atonement or particular redemption is the invitation, the offer, the proclamation, the hook to draw or the net to haul us to Christ? That there are passages making such a presentation, I leave to the reader to find out for himself or herself (just look at Matthew 15:21-28 and Luke 4:15:30).

However, I want to bring home to the reader the thought that God uses therapeutic paradoxes, healing, saving, transforming opposites – even when they are, for all practical purposes, downright antithetical. The fact that such approaches work in counseling is a well known fact. I even possess several works in my library dealing with that reality.

Does our God act in such a fashion? Does He send a message offering no hope whatever, the purpose of which is to bring about a change so that there can be hope? The answer is an unqualified yes.

Just consider the case of Jonah, a prophet who did not want to see a people saved, who cared more for the gourd that shaded his head than he did for the 60,000 babies that knew not their right hand from their left (the only persons that apparently are lacking in such knowledge).

And then there is Jonah’s message, an unconditional prophecy of judgment, “Forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” There is not one word of invitation or assurance that the people of Nineveh would be spared, if they did repent. There was no command to repent given, contrary to what some have said.

Still, the result was the salvation of a whole city, a lesson to the whole earth today, a reason for praying for the conversion of every last soul on earth and that by means of the very opposite of teachings. Our Lord exemplifies this reality.

In John 5:25, He says, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” He will go on to say that have not God’s word abiding in them as they did not believe Him (Jhn5:38), but make no mistake about it such approach has a saving purpose involved in it.

Note what Jesus said in John 5:34, “these things I say, that ye might be saved.”

In closing, I would cite the example of Dr. George W. Truett in his address at the Spurgeon Centennial in the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he was introduced by the Prime Minister of the British Empire, “Calvinism presses down on the brow of man the crown of responsibility.”

Some of the most responsible of people in history have been believers in Sovereign Grace. They were the main instigators, participants, and sustainers of the First and Second Great Awakenings and of the launching of the Great Century of Missions. And, when our New Calvinists, as Time Magazine called them in 2009, finally began to get a handle on the how of their theology (as well as the what) and began to really pray, we might well see the Third Great Awakening, the one in which the whole earth is converted along with every soul for a thousand generations and, perhaps, those on a million billion planets. Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

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