by Dr. James Willingham
The ground work or foundation for awakening prayer as well as for the visitation that we call an awakening is to be found in the theology we find linked to the First and Second Great Awakenings and the Launching of the Great Century of Missions as the late historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette called it or the Modern Missionary Movement as it is called today. That theology with few exceptions must be described as Sovereign Grace or Calvinism. The latter term actually diverts attention from the reality that Sovereign Grace is taught in Holy Scripture, and the very term is predicated on the use of the word, “reign,” used in Romans 5:21: “That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Reign or rule, of course, suggests the very idea of sovereignty, the authority and power to demand that things be done with a certainty. Sin abounds. Grace superabounds. The enemy comes in like a flood, and God raises up a standard against him, a counter flood, a greater flood. Like Noah’s flood of old which covered the whole earth, the deluge of grace shall fill the whole earth with His knowledge and glory. The stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth.
Interestingly enough, all of this is to be accomplished not by force but by persuasion Which brings us to the statement from a work which began my journey toward this understanding of God’s design. In his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (the first textbook in theology used at Harvard, so I understand), Dr. John Eusden stated; “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….” That statement was like a light turned on in my mind and heart. I began to think of texts that were so hard that people avoided them. My first message involving such approach was on the subject, “The Hardest Text in The Bible,” and the text was Romans 9:13, “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” I treated the text as an invitation to salvation, an invitation to be saved, to come on God’s terms, difficult as they seemed to be with a saying like that. Hopefully, I might present that sermon on this blog someday, God willing. I would also look at the other doctrines of grace as invitations to salvation, the truths of total depravity/total inability, unconditional election, limited atonement/particular redemption, irresistible grace, perseverance/preservation of the saints, reprobation, and even an unconditional prophecy of judgment without the slightest indication of mercy attached to it.
These truths are those preached by so many during the period under consideration. I refer, of course, to 1720-1820, a period in which the Protestant/Baptist Faith underwent a profound change, moving from a compulsive, contentious, state-enforced religion like the Romanists of old to an outgoing, persuasive, “I will win you without trickery, chicanery or force,” kind of faith, a definite improvement on the approach that had been used, one that is clearly more Christ like.
What we are talking about is the use of what some call paradoxes and others call antinomies and still more use other terms in trying to identify this phenomena. It is, indeed, a mystery, a reality which we need to understand and comprehend. As the Pilgrims Pastor is said to have put it long ago: “Who knows what new light is getting ready to break forth from God’s word.”