All house and no doors: A Brief Critique of the False Teachings of Hyper-Calvinism - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonHistorical Theology Articles
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This article is directed towards those who may ask, “Doesn’t Hyper-Calvinism teach…?” They are those who may be unsure what the doctrine entails, and why men are called Hyper-Calvinists. It is not intended to be an exegetically extensive rebuttal of Hyper-Calvinistic thought. It is a simple introduction to understanding why Hyper-Calvinism exists, and why it is biblically inconsistent with the Scriptures. It may be likened to a house that does not have any doors. As the saying goes, “Hyper-Calvinism is a house with no doors, while Arminianism is all doors but no house.” This will become more apparent below.
When people undergo a brush with death they become far more paranoid of the regular actions during their daily routines. For instance, a man or woman who may have been involved in a car accident, though they may be classified as a safe driver, will be far more cautious on the road subsequent to the accident. The trauma enacted upon the faculties of their mind from the wreck stimulates their awareness at turns, stops, accelerations, highway lane changes, and the like. Brushes with death are not exclusive to car accidents. This may also be true when theological shifts occur in one’s comprehensive Biblical understanding of the Gospel. This can be classified as a brush with death, especially if one plays with the fire of a false Gospel. When this happens, the Christian becomes much more astute to the dangers of false theological positions.
Hyper-Calvinism propagates a false Gospel. Though my encounter with this monster has spawned a 330 page book explaining why divine sovereignty and human responsibility are good bedfellows in a somewhat unique perspective, I thought it may be beneficial to set forth a very brief critique of the Hyper-Calvinistic system on this site in a paper of this sort. I sit in good company with those who have critiqued the doctrine both knowingly and unknowingly. The Puritans were never Hyper-Calvinists, nor did they have Hyper-Calvinist tendencies. Owen, Watson, Perkins, Love, Turretin, Manton, Goodwin, and the rest, never attended the Hyper-Calvinist dinner table, much less became bedfellows. Actually, the Puritans unknowingly refuted the practice of Hyper-Calvinism quite well through their voluminous works. Little did they know its influence would become greater just a hundred or so years after their time in history.
Hyper-Calvinism is not a movement which has withstood the test of time. It is like Dispensationalism in that it is a fairly new invention in the scheme of Church History. Hyper-Calvinism formally took shape in 1707 at the time of John Hussey and his disciple, John Skepp. Skepp in turn prompted the young, and soon to be well-known Dr. John Gill, down a road that would spawn one of Hyper-Calvinism’s “greater” works, The Cause of God and Truth. Though Hyper-Calvinism had appeared in the writing of Hussey and the preaching of Skepp, Gill’s work far surpassed them both in notoriety and volume. Gill’s Hyper-Calvinist work focused on dismantling the heresy of Arminianism, the opposite extreme on the theological spectrum. However, in doing so, Gill’s result was an unbridled Hyper-Calvinism. (For a more in depth look at the history of these men and the debate surrounding Charles Spurgeon in later years see Iain Murray’s book Spurgeon and Hyper-Calvinism: the Battle for Gospel Preaching.) Later on, William Huntington kept this position alive through his influence and writing. But nowhere do we find scores of theologically astute men contending for this doctrine at any one time, or ever after, this time. The Protestant Reformed Church has recently taken these reigns in current years. They are the only denomination to still rigorously fight for Hyper-Calvinistic theology without calling it Hyper-Calvinism. They would deem it the Gospel. Prof. David Engelsma has written a defense of this in a book called Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. In it he hoped to clear the denomination of the heresy of Hyper-Calvinism, but in my opinion, he did not accomplish that task. A critique of that book can be found at this link.
The Hyper-Calvinist cannot claim one Puritan to their side, nor any weighty theologians through the last 2000 years of church history. They cannot opt for full support from Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Turretin, the English or American Puritans, the Princeton theologians, or any reputable preacher or theologian to date, though they appeal to them. Hyper-Calvinists claim certain theological aspects of these theologians and preachers, but not the system of doctrine which they would fully support. In other words, to gain any help from these by-gone saints, they would have to quote them out of context, which is often the case. For instance, Francis Turretin will be quoted on his work concerning the call of the reprobate and the Hyper-Calvinist will shout “Amen!” However, they will never be consistent with Turretin’s thought and quote his section on the love of God for all men. Turretin was unswerving with himself on these points. Such is the same undertaking with Augustine, Calvin, Rutherford, Edwards, and others. Hyper-Calvinists pick and choose what they would like them to say, but not what they really say in their context. Just about any web-based article you can find on the internet by Hyper-Calvinists engage in this type of bibliographic blunder.
The Teachings of Hyper-Calvinism
What does Hyper-Calvinism teach? Some papers on critiquing Hyper-Calvinism have attempted to sum up this theological monstrosity in 5 easy steps, or 3 concise points. The animal will simply not be caged in this manner. There are a variety of ideas and points which Hyper-Calvinism purports, borrows, twists and skews out of orthodox doctrine. I have attempted to be orderly for the reader by numbering my points, but the avenues which could be taken in any one of the following positions is readily apparent. Thus, I plead forgiveness for my brevity here.
Initially, it is vital to remember that the Hyper-Calvinist mind is in a conundrum. They simply do not understand how to reconcile the Sovereignty of God and the human responsibility of man. That is why Hyper-Calvinism exists. (In essence, that is why Arminianism exists as well!) They desire to tread where theological license has not officiated them to travel. I suppose, then, we could say with the proverb, “Curiosity killed the cat.” For Hyper-Calvinism, unwarranted curiosity in the decrees and counsel of God has caused them to enter a realm where God has not revealed Himself.
Hyper-Calvinism so desires to rescue God from man’s “free” actions (as if God needed rescuing) that at the expense of man’s duty, they reside almost exclusivistically in the house of God’s sovereignty. The difficultly in rescuing these two true theological points, though, is not unique to Hyper-Calvinism alone, but to all theological distinctions which attempt to derive answers from the Bible. The problem arises when one is denied at the expense of the other. Arminianism denies the Biblical picture of God’s complete sovereignty and stresses the “free-will” of man. Hyper-Calvinism stresses the complete sovereignty of God at the expense of the “free-will” man. Thus, instead of remedying the problem, they deny the doctrine instead. Though the Bible is emphatic on the responsibility of men in their duty towards God, Hyper-Calvinism would deny this out rightly.
1. The Problem of a Consistent Hermeneutic
Hyper-Calvinism interprets the Bible through a grid of Supralapsarianism to a fault. They deny passages, or rarely if ever, speak about passages which cause problems for their theological grid to handle. In its essentials, Supralapsarianism teaches that God’s order of decrees do not fall in line with the Biblical record. His decrees, from the foundation of world, are to damn some men and save others by His good pleasure alone. Calvinism believes this, but the “this” is qualified. Hyper-Calvinism believes this without a qualification. The qualification is this – men cannot be saved or damned without being fallen. The Hyper-Calvinist teaches that God saves and damns as a result of God’s pleasure, without consideration of man’s fallen state. This is to hold creatures responsible for sin they have not committed, or have not had imputed to them. Why would this be so? For a number of reasons: 1) Man cannot be the object of predestination without first being a real entity. A non-entity cannot be an object. Supralapsarianism considers man without man being a man, much less a fallen man. 2) Both predestination and reprobation consider man as fallen, not man as a non-entity. Mercy and justice are integral parts of predestination and reprobation. To consider men predestinate, those who are true entities, without considering the fall imputed to them, would be to misuse the ideas of justice and mercy. Neither would be necessary, thus, predestination would not really be a predestination from anything to anything. 3) Francis Turretin makes the point that all men would have been considered predestinate if this was the case since all men were non-entities and there would have been no possible distinguishing unless they had being. (See Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Pages 347ff) No one would have any rational basis to exclude one or the other. 4) Predestination is always linked with affects of the fall – such as calling, regeneration, and the like. 5) God cannot be said to reprobate men unless they had a reason to be reprobatable. 6) God cannot rightly be said to hate those who are not hatable, or have some cause of hatred. 7) Sin is not the result of damnation, but damnation is a result of sin. God cannot be good, nor wise, to damn men for no reason. Without the fall He is doing just that.
Hyper-Calvinism Objects: The Scriptures say that men are chosen and damned “before the foundation of the world…” (Ephesians 1:4). But this text is taken out of the Biblical context of other passages such as 1 Peter 1:18-20 that says Jesus was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. How could Jesus be the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world by God’s good pleasure alone? His cross would be an act to save men with no sin if sin was not taken into account. Furthermore, His death would have been in vain since it would not have been for the sin of anyone, and God would have killed His only Son, before the foundation of the world, for no reason but His good pleasure.
A Neglected Hermeneutic: God has revealed Himself and His works to us into two distinct senses through the Bible. One sense shows us God from a perspective of His decrees. This is where the Hyper-Calvinist desires to live at the expense of the other sense. The other is the perspective of God’s actions and desires in the realm man’s activity. To deny one at the expense of the other is to fall into the extremes of either Hyper-Calvinism or Arminianism. As Spurgeon said, “No one will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines [senses] at once.” A truism.
2. The Noetic Influence of Sin
For the Hyper-Calvinist, at the will and disposition of fallen men is a point of contention – the Noetic influences of man’s fallenness. Genuine Hyper-Calvinism teaches that man is utterly depraved in his mind. The Fall has left man so ruined that his mind is not just totally depraved, but utterly bankrupt. He cannot think about God, nor desires to do so. He cannot understand God, nor desires to do so, and so on. The Hyper-Calvinist quotes Romans 3:10 (all are worthless) at the expense of Romans 1:18ff (men hate God – and they must know Him to hate Him). The Hyper-Calvinist denies that men have any functioning thoughts concerning God. Here, the Hyper-Calvinist would also vehemently fight against the Puritan doctrine of seeking. Men like John Owen and Jonathan Edwards would have appealed to men’s minds as a rational basis towards conversion. The Hyper-Calvinist would never do this. They would say that men are not able to understand God in their fallenness at all. Preaching to them, then, would be in vain. They would first need to be saved before they could ever be told anything about salvation.
A Wrong View of the Noetic Influence: Since the Noetic influences of sin are so complete in the mind of men, Hyper-Calvinism says that preaching must come after regeneration, not before. Thus, Hyper-Calvinism teaches that men do not come to Christ because he is lost, but because He is saved. This is not the Gospel at all. If this was the case the Hyper-Calvinist is left with the age old question, “which came first the chicken or the egg?” If preaching by the word is the instrumental cause of faith, how could a noetically dead man ever come to faith? God always uses means to accomplish His ends. He does not just “zap” people. This idea the Hyper-Calvinist seems to forget. Matthew 11:28-30ff, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Those who are weary and heavy laden are not saved, but know the burden of their sin. They will find rest with Christ, but they do not already have rest with Christ before they come to Christ. The Gospel is intended for sinners who are in need of the Gospel, not those who already have it.
Hyper-Calvinism Objects: The Hyper-Calvinist says that preaching to lost men is a denial of Total Depravity and the Sovereignty of God. But here the Hyper-Calvinist has forgotten that the Sovereign God of the universe always uses means to accomplish His ends. The instrument of regeneration is the hearing of the Word. The external call of the Gospel is the instrument that the actual cause, the Holy Spirit, will use to call men to repentance. The Holy Spirit then applies the blood of Christ (the efficient cause) to the sinner.
Men understand what repentance is before they are converted, not after. (Acts 2:37) The Holy Spirit enables them (which is the internal call) and then they repent. But they would not know what to do at all if the Noetic influences of sin are truly as the Hyper-Calvinist claims. What would be happening is that a dead corpse would stand there, listening to something he does not understand at all, then suddenly is changed, and in an instant fully comprehends the doctrine of repentance in order to repent. This is nonsense. Here we see the Hyper-Calvinist treating men as if they were dead static beings. But the Gospel never treats them in this fashion. The Gospel always appeals to man’s responsibility. Isaiah 45:22 says, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Why would he beckon them to look, unless He desired they look?
3. The Demand for Faith
This, then, leads us into the next problem of Hyper-Calvinism which is their denial that man is responsible to have faith as their duty before they are converted. Hyper-Calvinism neglects human responsibility in this manner because it is unsure how to explain the “apparent contradiction” between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. To deny Biblical texts which teach human responsibility is not the answer to this.
The Bible continually demonstrates a two fold appeal to the call of the Gospel – first doctrine is presented, then the offer of the Gospel or salvation is tendered based on the doctrine given. Here are a few examples of this:
1) Doctrine: John 11:27, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
Offer: John 11:28 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
2) Doctrine: Acts 17:22-23, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”
Offer: v. 27, “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.”
3) Doctrine: Acts 2:30 through v. 36, “…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
effect: v. 37, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Offer: v. 38-39, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
4) Doctrine: Acts 26:26, “For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
Offer: Acts 26:27, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
5) Doctrine: Rev. 22:16, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.”
Offer: v. 27, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
These passages show that man has a responsibility to God even before he is converted. If this is not the case, then the law written on their hearts, the Gentiles being a law to themselves, and other like passages have no meaning whatsoever. To the Hyper-Calvinist, men are only wicked, dead corpses which cannot think about, nor give heed to the revelation of God, which is an unexegetical position to hold in light of special revelation.
The Hyper-Calvinist Objects: Hyper-Calvinism says this is logically inconsistent. How can fallen men be called to exercise faith without regeneration? This would seem as though God desires they repent while at the same time He does not give them the ability to repent. The Hyper-Calvinist thinks this is a contradiction, but it is not. What does the Hyper-Calvinist do when the Biblical passages are quoted? They enter into a “so-called” logical debate at the expense of being fair to the Bible’s statements about duty-faith. In essence, they simply deny it. What does the Bible state? What do the offers listed above show us about the call of God to the unsaved, whoever they may be. We are not squabbling over covenant and non-covenant people, but saved and lost people.
A Problem of Consistency: Hyper-Calvinism cannot escape the problem of sanctification with the same logic they attempt to use for the lost and the Gospel. Men ought not to try and sanctify themselves, since this is the Spirit’s operation – nor should they be told to do so. If the Spirit is the one who sanctifies, then men are not responsible for sanctification. Though they know they should continue to mortify the deeds, they have no power to do so since it is God’s work alone. Phil 2:13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” This is the exact same idea that the Hyper-Calvinist is saying about duty-faith. Men live in the realm of men, not in the realm of God’s decretive counsel. They live under the sense of the Bible that expostulates a preceptive duty for all men everywhere. Even those who are converted are supposed to make their calling and election sure – but this is God’s work! Christians are to mortify the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit, but sanctification is the Spirit’s work. Both lines of thought are true. How they interact with one another is a question for debate all its own. But that should not stop Christians from trying to mortify sin, or lost men to come to repentance.
A problem with Antinomianism: Not only does the Hyper-Calvinist create problems with Christian sanctification, but by their denial of duty-faith, they also make men captives of Antinomianism. If the men of the world, all men for all time, are not under the objective power of the Law, then they have become a lost Antinomian. The Hyper-Calvinist gives them the privilege to disregard the law since they cannot please God. How could the law judge them if they are not bound to obey it? The Hyper-Calvinist says, “They cannot obey it, and are not responsible to it.” This is a fallacy. They are still bound to obey it, and are judged for not obeying it, otherwise God’s judgment for their disobedience would be without justification. (cf. Romans 2:5)
4. The Universal Call of the Gospel, or Free Offer
The Gospel is universal in invitations. It is a gracious command, a tendering of the call, and an invitation to come to Christ. The Gospel ought to involve a universal plea to all men everywhere to repent and come to faith; since the Gospel is universal. Hyper-Calvinism denies this claim altogether. Hyper-Calvinism teaches that the Gospel call is never directed to the reprobate, but only those who are converted, or have been born again by the Spirit. Why? Only converted men can heed the Gospel call to come. They would even say that dead, unconverted sinners know the Gospel is not for them, and would be offended to hear that the directive to be saved is given to them. Preaching is then reserved for the saved and regenerate.
Scriptures abound concerning God’s offer of salvation to those who are dead in sin. There are countless offers of the Gospel, and of salvation through the entire Biblical record. Any time there is preaching, true preaching, this is always the case: Isa 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Isa. 55:1-2, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Isa 65:2ff, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels” John 7:37, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Luke 13:34, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” Isa 55:3, “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” John 6:57, “Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?” Psalm 45:10-11, “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.” John 5:6, “When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?” If these are not offers, then they are meaningless Biblical passages. Any asking, prompting, prodding or examination on men before regeneration is a fool hearty exercise if men must be regenerate to hear and be responsible to obey the command to believe.
A problem with Subjectivity: The Gospel is not free for the Hyper-Calvinist. Actually, there is a prerequisite which must be had before one can heed the Gospel call. Hyper-Calvinism is a closet “works plus grace” salvation. They would like us to believe they are cavaliers for sovereign grace. But this is not true. They do not only believe in sovereign regeneration, but a subjective knowledge of such regeneration. The subjective experience becomes a prerequisite for trusting in the promises of the Gospel. The untainted Sovereign Grace of God is mixed with a prerequisite work of “feeling” before salvation through Gospel preaching may be obtained or even allowed. This is a works plus grace salvation. That which the Hyper-Calvinist desired to guard against, he has been propagating all along! But believing in limiting the Gospel to those with certain subjective experiences is to confuse the Gospel. The inconsistency is readily apparent when we ask, “How does the unconverted man know how to do this? How does a lost man examine himself in this light?” Then comes the problem that the Hyper-Calvinist has in trying to explain this to a man. Possibly the discussion may go like this:
Hyper-Calvinist: Did the message affect you in any way
Man: I am not sure. Should it have?
HC: Only if you are a Christian.
Man: How do I know if I am a Christian?
HC: Do you believe you are converted?
Man: I do not know.
HC: Well, do you believe you are regenerate?
Man: What is regeneration?
HC: Regeneration is the working of the Spirit in your heart. Do you think the Spirit has worked in your heart?
Man: Maybe. How can I tell?
HC: You really cannot tell unless He has, and, as a matter of fact, I cannot tell if he has in you unless you can tell me he has.
Man: I do not know if He has. I am unsure.
HC: Then I suppose our conversation is at an end.
John Owen speaks to this well when he says, “1. Regeneration doth not in order of time precede the soul’s interest in the forgiveness that is with God, or its being made partaker of the pardon of sin. I say no more but that it doth not precede it in order of time, not determining which hath precedence in order of nature. That, I confess, which the method of the gospel leads unto is, that absolution, acquitment, or the pardon of sin, is the foundation of the communication of all saving grace unto the soul, and so precedeth all grace in the sinner whatever. But because this absolution or pardon of sin is to be received by faith, whereby the soul is really made partaker of it and all the benefits belonging thereunto, and that faith is the radical grace which we receive in our regeneration, for it is by faith that our hearts are purified, as an instrument in the hand of the great purifier, the Spirit of God, I place these two together, and shall not dispute as to their priority in nature; but in time the one doth not precede the other. 2. It is hence evident, that an assurance of being regenerate is no way previously necessary unto the believing of an interest in forgiveness; so that although a man have not the former, it is, or may be, his duty to endeavor the latter. When convinced persons cried out, “What shall we do to be saved?” the answer was, “Believe, and ye shall be so.” “Believe in Christ, and in the remission of sin by his blood,” is the first thing that convinced sinners are called unto. They are not directed first to secure their souls that they are born again, and then afterward to believe; but they are first to believe that the remission of sin is tendered unto them in the blood of Christ, and that “by him they may be justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law.” Nor upon this proposition is it the duty of men to question whether they have faith or no, but actually to believe. And faith in its operation will evidence itself See Acts xiii. 38, 39. Suppose, then, that you do not know that you are regenerate, that you are born of God,-that you have no prevailing, refreshing, constant evidence or persuasion thereof,-should this hinder you? Should this discourage you from believing forgiveness, from closing with the promises, and thereby obtaining in yourselves an interest in that forgiveness that is with God? Not at all; nay, this ought exceedingly to excite and stir you up unto your duty herein.” (Owen, Works, Volume 6, pages 597-598.)
The Problem of a Universal Attestation: Hyper-Calvinism could never be a universal attestation to the truth – here it is exclusivistic to a fault. Calvinism is exclusive, and the Gospel is exclusive, but never to a fault or error. The Hyper-Calvinist cannot preach the Gospel to every creature as directed by Christ in Matthew 28. What does this mean? It is not just a speaking or dictating of facts to a crowd, it is summoning the crowd in preaching. It could be argued that the Hyper-Calvinist does not really know what Gospel Preaching really entails. This is also a dilemma. But if Hyper-Calvinism is simply dictating facts, and then does so in a wrong order speaking about reprobation to the unconverted without giving the Gospel, then this could not be called true preaching, or a right representation of the Gospel itself. The thief on the cross did not get a lecture on predestination and God’s utter hatred of the reprobate while he was hanging on the cross next to Christ. He heard the same words of forgiveness, forsakenness, agony and suffering of Christ that we read in the Gospels. There is nothing about predestination, election, reprobation, God’s eternal Decrees, or the like while Christ is hanging on the cross. But the thief believed on Him because of who Jesus was, not because he received a lecture on the 5 points of Calvinism.
The problem of preaching indiscriminately to all men and offering the Gospel to every creature stems from a theological fear. Hyper-Calvinism fears that men may taint the sovereignty of God theologically by offering the Gospel to men who must give an effort of faith. This is a false assertion since the means of God’s salvation is not considered into the equation. It is not that men will taint the sovereignty of God, how could they? Rather, it is the proper relationship between what god desires and what he commands that becomes the theological conundrum. The Hyper-Calvinist believes God cannot desire what He does not decree. This is wrong. God desires that we do not sin, but we do. We must, then make a distinction between the senses of the Bible we are speaking about. Are we speaking decretively, or preceptively? Are we speaking by God’s counsel? Or by His revealed will to us? They are mutually exclusive. The free offer does not operate in the realm of the decree, but in the realm of precept. This is another aspect in which the Hyper-Calvinist has made his error.
Gospel Preaching through the Centuries: The herald of God’s word is not a lecturer but a herald. The Greek word is reserved for those heralding the universal proclamation of the word (karussow) as in Romans 10:14. The herald is not discriminate in that sense; he is open about his preaching. He is not someone who lists facts, but takes the Scriptures and applies them to men to “show men their sin.” The text in Job proves this out well: Job 33:23-24, “If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter [a minister], one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18) Practically, the ministry of reconciliation does not occur prior to the conversion of the sinner. It happens after. If this were not the case, showing men their sin would be foolish – they would already know. The Hyper-Calvinist says preaching does not demonstrate indiscriminate love, it demonstrates specific fact. But this is the difference between being an advocate and a witness. Heralds are witnesses to the truth, not advocates of it.
The Hyper-Calvinist is acting in a disassociated manner from those he is preaching to. Even in the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. Paul in the New Testament was known to weep over men. George Whitefield would never preach in the fields to the miners without weeping at one point or another. I am not saying that emotionalism should be the key to draw men, but the disposition of the preacher over the souls of men is of vital importance in preaching. Can the Hyper-Calvinist weep? Why would the Hyper-Calvinist weep? He would not need to if he believed his own theology. His theology would not allow Him to do so. He is simply a lecturer. That is why Jeremiah, Paul and George Whitefield could never have been a Hyper-Calvinists! Here, the Hyper-Calvinist is set apart from those who are heralds, or the karux, of the Word.
5. The Love of God to the Reprobate and the Hatred of God to the Elect – huh? (Yes, I understand what I wrote in this heading)
No doubt, Hyper-Calvinists believe that God only hates the reprobate, and only loves the elect, in any sense whatsoever. Hyper-Calvinism completely denies that God loves men generally in any way and completely denies that God hates the elect in any way. It may seem at the outset that a general love to all men is not as radical as my inference that God hates the elect in some way. But I will qualify this.
First, God does have a general love for all men. This is usually deemed “common grace” but I am more comfortable with the precise term, God’s indiscriminate providence. God demonstrates intended goodness to the wicked by lavishing upon them worldly goods. Cars, apples, houses, careers, families, etc, all given to them by God. God’s intention in this is to display His glory, and these objects are a means whereby God will draw men unto Himself. If the wicked use them as a means to procure wrath, then they are always living to fill up the measure of their sin. But that does not negate the intended purpose of those gifts. They display the goodness and righteousness of God to those people. To deny this is to deny the blatant texts (Luke 2:8-14; John 3:17; Ezek. 33:7-11; Psalm 145; Isa. 62:1-3)
Second, God does hate the wicked as rebellious sinners. The Bible also teaches this as in Psalm 5:1, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” And also Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” This is not a disputed fact. It is a denial of His general love for all men that is in question. But I do not sit in small company with this. Calvin states, “Proofs of the love of God towards the whole human race exist innumerable, all which demonstrate the ingratitude of those who perish or come to perdition.” (John Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism, A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God, translated by Henry Cole, Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grandville, MI: 1950. Page 268.) Turretin distinguishes them precisely. He says, “Although the goodness of God extends itself to all creatures, yet not equally, but exhibits the greatest diversity in the communication of good. Hence, one is general (by which he follows all creatures, Psalm 36:6-7); and other special (which he has respect to men, Acts 14:17) and another most special (relating to the elect and referred to in psalm 73:1, “God is good to Israel.”)…From goodness flows love by which he communicates Himself to the creature and, as it were, wills to unite himself with and do good to it, but in diverse ways and degrees according to the diversity of the objects. Hence usually is made a threefold distinction in the divine love: the first, that which follows all creatures, called “love of the creature” (philoktisia); the second, that by which He embraces men called “love of man” (philoanthropia); third, which is specially exercised towards the elect called “love of the elect” (eklectophilia).” (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 241) John Owen states, “That God is good to all men, and bountiful, being a wise, powerful, liberal provider for the works of his hands, and in innumerable dispensations and various communications of his goodness to them, and may in that regard be said to have a universal love for them all is granted…” I also quote him as follows, “Love to all mankind in general we acknowledge to be required of us, and we are debtors in the fruits of it to the whole creation of God: for he hath not only implanted the principles of it in nature whereof we are in common partakers with the whole race and kind, whereunto all hatred and its effects were originally foreign, and introduced by the devil, nor only given us his command for it, enlarging on its grounds and reasons in the gospel; but in his design of recovering us out of our lapsed condition unto a conformity with himself, proposeth in a special manner the example of his own love and goodness, which are extended unto all, for our imitation, Matthew 5:44-45.” (John Owen, Works, Volume 15, Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 1966. Page 70, and Works, Volume 12, Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 1966. Page 552.)
God also hates the elect in Adam. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” God’s immutability teaches us that He does not change (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). If He hates or loves it is an eternal hatred or love for sin or good work in Christ. He continually, in Adam, hates our rebellion. Yet, He eternally loves us in Jesus Christ. That is why we are not consumed as Jacob’s sons. Hyper-Calvinism teaches that the elect are not hated in Adam, but only loved in Christ. I suppose, then, Paul was wrong in saying we were children of wrath like the others. Is wrath a form of love? I think not; unless the Hyper-Calvinist would like to admit that God loves all! No, wrath, like the others, is real wrath intended for damnation. If it were not for Christ we would not escape this. The reprobate are only hated in Adam, though generally loved by God seen in His indiscriminate love for all men and the whole world as he upholds it. The elect are exceedingly grateful (though not as they should be) for the deliverance they have in Christ. If God did not, or does not hate their sin, then why are they grateful, and what did Christ die on the cross for?
The Hyper-Calvinist Objects: God cannot love outside of Christ. This is probably the best defense that the Hyper-Calvinist offers on this point, except he does not take into consideration that there may be degrees of love. Humanly speaking, I love my wife different than I love my enemies. There are degrees there. God loves His elect saints, different than he generally loves all men. Does the Bible prove this out? The Hyper-Calvinist says no. Orthodox Christianity disagrees with him. Turretin stated earlier the various types of love which follow, creation, men, and the elect. (Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Owen and the like agree.) These Biblical degrees of self-revelation should be enough to silence the gainsayer. But they are often overlooked. Love by God can be of a chosen nation (which contained reprobates such as Achan) Deut. 7:7; the patriarchs, Deut. 10:19; an individual as in Psalm 91:14; His elect, Jeremiah 31:3, Romans 9:13; God then rejects Israel and does not love them anymore – Hosea 9:15. Is this electing love or not? Psalm 145:9 even shows God’s mercy to all – “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Here we see different types of love, some electing, and some not.
6. The Extent of the Atonement
The last numbered point I would like to make is concerning the knowledge a man possesses concerning the atonement of Christ. Hyper-Calvinism thinks that since Christ did not die for all, then those for whom He did not die have no right in believing in Christ. They have no duty to believe in Him. To be called to trust in Christ in this way is to coax men to believe a lie. What the Hyper-Calvinist is really saying is this: Hyper-Calvinism believes that knowledge of the extent of the atonement is a prerequisite for faith in the work of Christ. Again, the sinner must obtain and understand his subjective experience of the work of Christ for him personally. If he does not have this, then he is commanded to believe something that may not be true at all. The Hyper-Calvinist cannot stomach this.
The Problem of Preaching Limited Atonement: Limited atonement is true. It should be preached. Wild horses could not drag that beautiful theological point from my soul. But the problem lies here: through the entirety of the Bible the concern for sinners to repent and be baptized, or to come and give up their burdens or to believe in Christ, is the substance of Gospel preaching. The actual instances of preaching which includes the doctrine of Limited Atonement formally is no majority case. It is a further theological extension in understanding the gospel, but not necessary in preaching the gospel each time the Gospel is given. No one can say everything about the Gospel every time the gospel is given. In certain discourses of Christ we find His debates with the Pharisees a help in understanding the sheep/Shepherd paradigm. But never do we find Jesus preaching on the hillside His limited atonement for some men in any explicit manner. He never says, “I only died for the elect.” Was it not important to Him? Of course it was! Is it a true theological doctrine? Absolutely! Is it the heart and substance of why men are saved? No doubt whatsoever! Is it a prerequisite for faith in Christ? Here I must give a resounding, NO! Understanding the theological ramifications of the Limited Atonement of Jesus Christ was not the prerequisite for faith in the thief on the cross, the jailer, the Jews listening at Pentecost, and millions of other Christians since their time. Faith and belief in the work of Christ is always a prerequisite for salvation, but that is not the same thing as preaching the Limited Atonement of Christ to the lost. Again, we come to a methodical problem with the Hyper-Calvinist when preaching. A problem of order and necessity. The Hyper-Calvinist requires understanding the theological ramifications of Christ’s cross in detail, after a subjective experience of regeneration, in order to preach the Gospel to men. This is such a quandary for the Hyper-Calvinist. It is as if they are saying, “I cannot preach to them until they know what I am preaching to them about.” And according to the Hyper-Calvinist they must be saved to do this! A quandary indeed.
The yoke of Hyper-Calvinism is heavier than the yoke Christ offers for weary souls! Yet, in return, I am able to make the Hyper-Calvinist’s yoke even heavier than they would like. If a knowledge of the Limited Atonement is necessary, my burden would be this – how much of a knowledge is necessary? Speaking hypothetically, and humbly, what if I made the claim that men could not be saved unless they had a knowledge as complete as my own concerning the Limited Atonement of Christ? Such a prerequisite is preposterous! It is equally preposterous to say this to the recent convert, and the thief on the cross. Jesus did not cross-examine the thief to discover his theological assertion “Lord remember me.” He knew Christ was God, Lord and Savior. But in no way could he articulate the Synod of Dort’s five points against the Remonstrants! What a yoke the Hyper-Calvinist has created!
Conclusion: who is a Hyper-Calvinist?
In summary, a Hyper-Calvinist would be one who holds any of the following points due to their logical extensions. (Those points with asterisks are those who are slowly leading themselves into Hyper-Calvinism.)
*That God elect or damns without considering men as fallen creatures.
That the mind of man, due to the fall, is utterly destroyed.
That fallen men have no duty to believe in the Gospel by faith.
That men must have a subjective theological knowledge of regeneration before they can believe the Gospel.
That the Gospel should not be universally tendered or offered to all men, everywhere.
That the Gospel should not be offered to men except they are regenerate.
That God does not have a general love for all men in His indiscriminate providence.
That Limited Atonement must be believed in order to hear the Gospel, and be saved and converted.
*That God cannot desire things He has not decreed, or decree things He has not desired.
Problems for Hyper-Calvinists: Hyper-Calvinism has many problems which have gone unanswered, though some books and web-sites abound in their attempt to pacify the orthodox. The little adherence to these ideas in today’s church proves this out. No revival has ever been granted by the Spirit or blessed of God except that which attended the free offer of the Gospel and emphasized the love of God for all men. Those, like John Hussey, John Gill and the PRC (both in America and Australia), have attempted to answer some of these questions, but at the expense of the comprehensive biblical picture, and at the misrepresentation of those they rally to their defense from church history. Unless they adopt a biblically comprehensive hermeneutic, they will never escape the conundrums they have created, and will continue to propagate a false and misleading Gospel to the few who will listen – and those who will listen will have to already be regenerate, right? Hopefully those who hear their message, will exhort them in love and sound orthodoxy to change, and then stay far from their pernicious errors.