Awakening to the Lost Masterpiece of Irresistible Grace

by Dr. James Willingham

“Oh, it was so wonderful that I could not resist it.”  Those were the words that a convert uttered in response to the pastor who had won her to Christ, when he asked her, “Why did you respond so readily.”  He had used one of those soul winning patterns often recommended and frequently used by so many today who believe that it is all up to man and his or her free will decides.  However, if we look at John 6:44,65, we find the word draw used, a term also used to describe the drawing of a sword from the scabbard and of dragging Paul and Silas through the streets.  Hardly illustrations of power that can be successfully resisted.

Even so, the idea of the Gospel being so winsome that one cannot resist it has often been stressed in the history of the church, especially do we find this to be the case in many of the converts of the First Great Awakening.  Illustrative of this idea is a circular letter by one converted in the period of the that awakening.  The author was John Gano, and the circular letter bore the title, Effectual Calling, a term also used to describe irresistible grace.  The idea stressed is that grace is successful.  Ps.65:4 gives a statement that describes it:  “Blessed is the man whom you choose and cause to approach unto you.”  The Hebrew verb for cause is the Piel, the verb used to describe the causative idea (if memory serves correctly).  In any case, I do know that it is the causative verb form.

The problem with the teaching is that it takes the power to act out of the hands of man and places it squarely in the will of God who chooses and causes.  That such was the preaching of the leading ministers of the Awakenings (counting the second as lasting from 1800-1820).  This is not to say that some one with serious theological shortcomings such as Finney did not win souls to Christ.  Several who were converted include A.H. Strong and his father who were reported to have been converted during Finney’s greatest crusade, the Rochester Crusade. Likewise converted during Finney’s labors were T. De Witt Talmadge and his family.

Rev. John Gano, previously mentioned, was a chaplain who reportedly baptized General Washington by immersion at the latter’s request.  He also is reported to have been the last minister to address the Continental Army before it disbanded.  Gano preached with the great Ev. George Whitefield in Charleston, S.C.  His winsome message and ways was a key factor in the union of the Separate and Regular Baptists.

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About dr. james willingham

B.S. Ed. Lincoln Univ., Mo., '67; M.A. (American Social and Intellectual History) (GPA 3.7) Morehead State Univ., Ky. '71; work toward a Ph.D. in American and Black History, 6 hrs. Univ. of South Carolina and 12 at Columbia Univ., NY, Spring and Summer of '71 respectively; M.Div. '74; D. Min. '76 Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, NC; M.A. '88 Liberty Univ., Va, (counseling). Honors: Phi Alpha theta - the International Honor Society of Historians; Pi Gamma Mu - The National Honor Society of Social Scientists Graduate Assistant, Morehead State, '69-70; Lecture: The Stanley Elkins Thesis: A Critique. Summer Afternoon Lecture Series Columbia University, Summer '71; Instructor, South Carolina State College, 1970-72 (taught 4-5 sections in American History. taught one course in Philosophy, Spring of '71), Adjunct faculty" Richmond Community College, Rockingham, NC 1985, taught two quarters of Political Science. Thesis for M.A. in American Social & Intellectual History: "The Baptists & Ministerial Qualifications:1750-1850." Prospectus for Doctoral Dissertation at Columbia University, Summer of '71, "The Baptists and Slavery." Instructor Seminary Extension: Greater Gaston Baptist Association, Gastonia, NC, 2002-2004. Taught Systematic Theology, Baptist History, Church History, Preaching, Isaiah, Hebrews Introduction to New Testament Theology. Pastorates: Pilot Knob Baptist Church, Belle, Mo., '62-64; Elston Baptist Church, Elston, Mo., '65-66; Gum Springs Baptist Church, Moncure, NC., '72-83; Heritage Baptist Church, Rockingham, NC, '84-96; Interim, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Casar, NC, 1/2001-3/2001. Chairman, Historical Committee, Sandy Creek Baptist Association, '77=81; Chairman, Historical Committee, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, '85-86. Annual Sermon, Sandy Creek Association, 1981 Lecture: "The Genius of Orthodoxy: Eldresses." BSCNC. Delivered as Chairman of the Committee Fall of '85. Play: The Mirror of Our Past. Visual History of Jersey Baptist Church
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