26 February, 2016

What Is Hyper-Calvinism?

Rev. Ronald Hanko

One of our readers asks: “What is hyper-Calvinism? How would you define it?”

The charge of hyper-Calvinism is bandied about very much these days. One would almost think sometimes that there is no other heresy around nor any so serious as this.

We ourselves are charged with being hyper-Calvinists, often maliciously and simply as a matter of hearsay. The New Dictionary of Theology, for example, gives an accurate description of the teachings of hyper-Calvinism and then claims that Herman Hoeksema is the most prominent modern hyper-Calvinist, though he was not responsible for a single one of the teachings listed as characteristic of hyper-Calvinism.

Quite often the charge is brought against those who deny that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation on God’s part, that is, that He expresses in the gospel a sincere love and desire for the salvation of every one who hears the gospel, and well-meaningly promises salvation to all without exception. If not as a matter of mere rumour, then for this reason, that we deny these things, we are charged with hyper-Calvinism.

Usually, however, those who charge others with this error do not really even know what hyper-Calvinism is. We have come across those who believe that anyone who teaches limited atonement is a hyper-Calvinist and others who are convinced that anyone who teaches any of the Five Points of Calvinism is such. They mistake true, historic, Biblical Calvinism for hyper-Calvinism (something that goes beyond Calvin and Calvinism).

The same goes for those who believe that a denial of a universal love of God and an intention on God’s part to save all, expressed in the gospel, is hyper-Calvinism. It can easily be shown that the Calvinistic creeds and writers have always taught the opposite, and that those who do teach these things are teaching, not true Calvinism, but the Pelagianism of Rome and the Arminianism of the free-willists.

So, what is hyper-Calvinism? Is it a serious error?

We would emphasize, first, that there is such a thing as hyper-Calvinism, though some would deny this. Historically, the name has been applied to those who deny that the command of the gospel to repent and believe must be preached to all who hear the gospel.

A hyper-Calvinist, therefore, is not someone who teaches that in predestination, in the death of Christ in the preaching, and in the work of the Spirit, God loves only the elect and intends only their salvation. That is simply Biblical Calvinism.

Rather a hyper-Calvinist (historically and doctrinally) is someone who, because all are not chosen and redeemed, will not command all who hear the gospel to repent and believe. He is someone who starts from the right premises, but draws the wrong conclusions—who does not believe that “God now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).

A true hyper-Calvinist, then, is one who believes rightly in sovereign, double predestination and in particular redemption—who denies a universal love of God and a will of God to save all men. Yet he concludes wrongly that because God has determined who will be saved, sent Christ for them only, and gives to them salvation as a free gift, therefore only the elect should be commanded to repent and believe in the preaching of the gospel.

This, we believe, is a serious error. It is an error that effectively destroys both gospel preaching and evangelism—an error that must be avoided.

The heart of hyper-Calvinism, therefore, is a rejection of so-called “duty faith” and “duty repentance,” i.e., that it is the solemn duty and obligation of all who hear the gospel to repent and believe. Hyper-Calvinism concludes that because men are lost in sin and are unable of themselves to repent and believe, it is a mistake to command them to do so. Such a command would imply that they are able to repent and believe.

The hyper-Calvinist, then, makes the same mistake as the Arminians and free-willists, only he draws a different conclusion. Both think that to command or demand repentance and faith of dead sinners must imply that such sinners are not dead and have in themselves the ability to repent and believe. The free-willist says, then: “To command must imply ability, therefore, men have the ability.” The hyper-Calvinist says: “To command must imply ability, therefore we will not command any but the elect.”

This means that while a true hyper-Calvinist will preach the “facts” of the gospel to all who will hear (and insist that he is preaching the gospel), he will not command a “mixed” audience to repent and believe. Those commands, he thinks, should be preached only to those who show evidence of being “sensible sinners,” that is, sinners who have come under conviction by the work of the Holy Spirit.

We reject these notions for various reasons. First, it is difficult to imagine how anyone, without divine inspiration, can ever be sure that he is preaching only to “sensible sinners” in order confidently to bring the command of the gospel. In reality, therefore, the command of the gospel will seldom, if ever, be heard in hyper-Calvinist preaching.

Second, hyper-Calvinism turns the command to repent and believe into a command to continue to repent and believe or to persevere in repenting and believing. So-called “sensible sinners,” the only ones who may be called to repent and believe are those who have already begun to do so by the secret operations of the Holy Spirit. The faith called for, in that case, is not saving faith in the truest and deepest sense of the word, i.e., faith that brings a person into communion with Christ, justifies him and gives him salvation, but only faith as it continues to manifest itself in its fruits of assurance and hope.

It is in this connection that true hyper-Calvinists usually teach that person is justified completely in eternity and that justification by faith involves only the assurance of justification. Thus the faith called for in the gospel does not in fact justify us before God, but only assures of a justification that has already taken place.

It is in this connection also that hyper-Calvinists are also accused, and rightly, of a certain antinomianism (anti-lawism or anti-commandism) regarding faith. They do not take seriously the command to repent and believe, exactly because the call to faith is for them only the call to be assured of one’s faith. It is on these grounds that we emphatically repudiate hyper-Calvinism.

This denial of “duty faith” and “duty repentance” is against Scripture. Scripture says in Acts 17:30 that “God now commandeth all men every where to repent.” John the Baptist in his preaching even called the unbelieving Pharisees and Saducees to repentance (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8). Jesus, too, called all to repentance in His preaching (Matt. 4:17) and upbraided the cities of Galilee because they did not repent (Matt. 11:20). When He sent out the 70 He sent them also to those who would reject the gospel and even warned them about this rejection (Mark 6:10-11), yet we read that they went out and preached that men should repent (Mark 6:12).

Nor is there any evidence that when Peter, in the temple after the healing of the lame man, preached “repent ye and be converted” (Acts 3:19), that he was preaching only to “sensible sinners.” Certainly, Simon the sorcerer was not a “sensible sinner” when Peter said to him: “Repent therefore of this wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 7:22).

Several of the passages already cited (Acts 3:19; 7:22) also imply that the gospel calls for faith on the part of all who hear. Faith is part of conversion, and one cannot pray to God for forgiveness without also praying in faith. So, too, it is not possible that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for not believing if believing was not required of them (Matt. 21:25; Luke 22:67; John 10:25-26).

The hyper-Calvinist gets around these verses by speaking of different kinds of repentance and faith. He speaks of “Jewish repentance,” “reformation repentance,” “circumstantial repentance,” “collective repentance,” etc., and claims that Scripture also calls for different kinds of faith. So he insists that many of the verses we have referred to call only for such kinds of faith and repentance, but not for saving repentance and faith.

We do not deny, of course, that Scripture speaks of “faith” and “repentance” that are not saving (Acts 8:13; II Cor. 7:10; James 2:19; Heb. 12:17). But these, as we know, are simply hypocrisy, and do not find favor with God. They cannot possibly, then, be something God calls for. How could God, who does not lie, speaking through the gospel, call men to a repentance or faith which is not sincere and saving? There is not the slightest evidence in Scripture that He does so, either.

We believe, therefore, that the Word of God in Acts 17:30 must be taken seriously by those who preach the gospel. We reject the notion that the command to repent and believe savingly should be heard only by those who show some evidence of conviction. That would not only limit the preaching of the gospel, but would in the end destroy true gospel preaching.

The command to repent and believe is an integral part of the preaching not only as far as God’s elect are concerned, but also as far as the “reprobate” are concerned. All who come under the preaching MUST hear that command! Not only is it according to the will of God that it be preached to all promiscuously, but it is necessary as far as the gospel itself is concerned. To deny this is to strip the gospel of its power and make it an empty and vain show.

The command to repent and believe must be preached not only to those whom God has chosen to save, but also to those whom He has not chosen, i.e., to elect and reprobate both. There are two reasons.

First, as far as the elect are concerned, the call or command of the gospel is the power by which God brings them to faith and repentance (according to His purpose and by the sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit). This is what we sometimes refer to as the effectual call of the gospel. When the gospel is preached, it is with saving effect!

Augustine showed that he understood this when he said of the rebukes of the gospel that “the rebuke is the grace,” the grace, that is, by which God convicts His elect of sin, and begins to draw them to Himself (John 6:44). In that too the gospel is, then, the means by which God sovereignly, powerfully, irresistibly calls to Himself His own.

Psalm 19 speaks of this when it says that God’s law converts the soul, His testimony makes the simple wise, His commandment enlightens the eyes (vv. 7, 8). Romans 1:16 adds that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Romans 10:17-18 tells us that faith comes by hearing the word of God. I Corinthians 1:18 says that the preaching of the cross is the power of God (cf. also verse 21).

Preaching is this because Christ Himself speaks through gospel preaching. Hyper-Calvinists have said that the call of the gospel as preached by Christ and the Apostles could be such a power, but not the preaching of preachers today. Nevertheless Scripture assures us that all preaching is the means by which Christ Himself sovereignly calls His own.

He says in John 10:27, “My sheep (and there are no exceptions) hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Indeed, it is only because they hear Christ’s voice that they can be saved. No other voice has the power to give them life like Lazarus and bring them out of darkness into marvellous light. So too, we read in Ephesians 2:17, that He came and preached peace not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles, to those who were far off.

With respect to those who are not chosen, the preaching of the call of the gospel is also important. Because Christ speaks through it no one can ever come under the preaching of the gospel and not be affected for good or for ill. To those who are not chosen and who continue in unbelief, the gospel is the means for hardening and condemnation.

This is the difficult part of preaching, the part concerning which Paul is thinking most of all when he says, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:16). No preacher wants to see this negative fruit nor does he actually seek to be a means of hardening, but if He understands Scripture and his own calling then he cannot avoid it. If the gospel is to be the power of God unto salvation it must also be a power unto condemnation.

Scripture itself speaks of this in Isaiah 6:8-13 (notice Isaiah’s response) and in II Corinthians 2:16, where we read that the gospel is a savor of death unto death to some.

The sweet savor of Christ is unto death to some in the preaching of the gospel!

All this is simply to say that the gospel is its own power. It needs not the eloquence of the preacher, nor anything else. Its power is manifested in all that is preached but especially in the glorious call of the gospel, the call to repent and believe, the call that brings and gives repentance and faith to those whom God has chosen.

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