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!