Awakening a Thousand Generations

by Dr. James Willingham

“Have you ever thought about the fact that at any one time every last soul on earth could be the elect of God?”  One of the roots of this blog post can be traced to that question put to me, circa 1967-68, by a man whom I consider to have been the wisest person I ever met.

There are other sources.  For example, Jonathan Edwards’ Humble Attempt which moved William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and others to launch what the noted historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette,  called the Great Century of Missions or the modern missionary movement as it is generally known.

The most important source is our text, I Chronicles 16:15, which states:

Be ye mindful of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.

Let us look at that text from a temporal and chronological perspective.  Consider the length of a generation.  Today, we think in terms of 20 years which would mean that mankind has about 20,000 years.  If we have longer generations as is implied in the idea of a man dying at a hundred being a youth and perhaps the average man living as long as Methuselah, 900+ years, then we have 900,000 years.

Couple that with the idea of men going to the stars and setting umpteen quadrillions of planets, and the inhabitants of the same being truly converted (after all, John Owen in his Death of Death in The Death of Christ suggested that the excellency of the atoning death of Christ is of such nature that it could redeem the inhabitants of any number of worlds), one can see how the cheer of the promises to the patriarchs of a seed as innumerable as the sand by the sea shore and the stars of heaven and the statement in Rev.7:9 could also be utterly truthful, the opening of the door of a vision utterly overwhelming.

Contrary to popular opinion, the people who launched the modern missionary movement were believers in Sovereign Grace.  They held to what is known as “the doctrines of grace,” summarized in the acrostic, TULIP (Total Depravity/Inability, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints) along with the truths of Predestination and Reprobation.

We hope to show that each of these truths is an invitation to trust God for salvation and for everything and in everything that concerns our Christian commitment.  It is surely the truth that such biblical theology provides the knowledge that every person has meaning and purpose to it.

We do not exist for ourselves; we exist to serve the glory of God.  And serve it we will, either to the glory of His grace or to the glory of His justice, the justice of one who will have been found doing good even to the sinners who perish.  John Gill said something to the effect that when we know the truth, no one in his right mind will condemn God for having sent such people to Hell.  He also declared that God decreed to damn no man but for sin nor did He decree to damn any but for sin.

The question stated in the opening paragraph, in conjunction with Jonah 3 and 4, demolished my eschatology, enabling me to see that God’s plans and methods were much greater than I had ever imagined.  I could not see His way due to my view of last things, but, when I did, it opened vast vistas of possibilities for the Gospel, greater than every last soul at any one time.

What about believers in Christ whose theology and eschatology do not agree with those presented here?  The answer is to be found in Edwards’ Humble Attempt which appealed to believers in all denominations to united in prayer for such expansion of the Gospel.  We might not be able to jot every “i” cross every “t” the same way, but we can point people to the one who unites all true believers, regardless of the limitations of their belief systems.

If every soul on earth along with the inhabitants of untold numbers of planets are the elect of God, then it behooves us to labor for their conversion by means of open, honest, and earnest persuasion alone, knowing that our efforts will be attended with the blessings of Heaven.  What a future lies before us, despite the design of some to the contrary.  This is not to say we will not have trials, but that success will be ours in the long run.  Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

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3 comments

  1. Christiane

    At the moment of Christ’s Incarnation, the whole of humanity so deeply injured by Adam’s sin, was now offered a chance for renewal in the Person of the ‘Second Adam’ who is Our Lord Himself.

    from Gregory of Nanzianzus, comes this insight:
    He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness.
    What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first. Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son.
    The Son arranged this for the honor of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

    The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice.
    When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.”

  2. dr. james willingham

    Dear Christiane: Our Lord in His incarnation and redemptive sacrifice was not giving man a chance; He was seeking to redeem the people whom the Father had given him. “All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” The Lord in His work is not in the chance business; He is in sure work. And the many of which He speaks will far exceed the number that folks are hoping to win by saying He died for everyone without exception, not considering that such a view makes His atonement ineffectual and misses the point of the hymn where we sing, “There is power in the blood.” In the dying for everyone view, one must add that man must make a decision, supply his own faith, do his own accepting in order to make Christ” redemptive work effectual. Hardly a glory to God or consonant with the Lord’s statements in Isaiah where He says whatever He purposes, He does. In fact, particular redemption is more intensely evangelistic that is general atonement, because it brings the fallen sinner to realize that he or she is utterly dependent upon the mercy and grace of God for any and all that is involved in salvation. I would not want it (salvation) to depend upon my choice, for, being a fallen, wicked sinner, I would choose just what I chose until the moment when God opened by heart for me like He did for Lydia. In any case, the Lord is plain: The seed of Abraham is more numerous that the sand of the sea and the stars of heaven which are innumerable, and Jesus tells us that the angels shall gather the elect from one end of THE (definite article in the original) to the other (Mt.23:31). The idea is meant and purposed to throw the sinner into seeking whether God in Christ has any mercy for him or her as the case may be. The one who answers the question of whether God has mercy for that particular sinner is God Himself and no one else, and when He answers the sinner knows that that answer has made a change in him, a transformation, a new birth, the production of a faith which cannot and will not rest without closing with Christ.

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