The reality of the threat of hyper-Calvinism is also indicated by the Scriptures. Scripture warns that the gospel of grace has two outstanding enemies: the teaching that man saves himself by his own working or willing, and the teaching that salvation by grace alone implies carelessness of life or even licentiousness. As Toplady wrote somewhere, in his characteristically vivid manner: “Christ is always crucified between two thieves. Antinomianism and Pharisaism. ” Those who know and love the truth must beware of the former error, as well as the latter.
Strictly speaking, antinomianism is the heresy that denies that the believer ought to obey the law of God. The word itself is composed of two Greek words: anti, which means “against,” and nomos, which means “law.” It refers to a teaching that is opposed to the law of God. Specifically, the teaching is opposed to the law of God as the rule of the thankful life of the redeemed child of God. Since God’s people are saved by grace alone, the antinomian argues, they need not obey the law; indeed, it is treason to the gospel to command God’s people to keep the commandments. Although the antinomian would allow for the law’s function of teaching men their misery, he opposes that use of the law which consists of its being a positive standard for holy living. When he appears in the Reformed tradition—as he does!, he is very strong on the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism and very weak on the third part. Essential to this false doctrine is its opposition to the law in the name of the gospel. It does not simply reject the law, as the ungodly world also rejects the law, but it rejects the law because the people of God are saved by grace without the works of the law. Thus, the gospel of grace itself is made the ground of laxity and immorality.
Scripture both warns that this error will always harass the gospel and passes judgment upon it as false doctrine. Already in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah had to contend with Israelites who declared, “We are delivered to do all these abominations,” i.e., steal, murder, commit adultery, and practice idolatry (Jer. 7:9, 10). The Word of the Lord condemned this doctrine as “lying words, that cannot profit” (Jer. 7:8).
Antinomianism is explicitly repudiated by Paul. InRomans 3:31, he asks, “Do we then make void the law through faith?” His reply is a vehement “God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Having proclaimed a righteousness by faith only, altogether apart from man’s works, he asks, in Romans 6:1, whether this doctrine implies wickedness of life: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Again, his answer is a ringing renunciation of the antinomian error: “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (vs. 2) He admonishes the Galatian saints not to use the liberty of grace for an occasion to the flesh, but to exercise liberty in the only appropriate way, namely, by the keeping of God’s law (Gal. 5:13, 14).
In a broader sense, antinomianism is the error that interprets God’s sovereignty as the weakening, or denial, of man’s responsibility and that applies the truth of sovereign grace in such a way as to minimize, or deny, the calling of the church and of the saved sinner. It is this that constitutes the error of hyper- Calvinism. Many would-be critics of hyper-Calvinism fail to see this. They think to find hyper-Calvinism’s essential error in an over-emphasis on the sovereignty of God, especially in the work of salvation. Accordingly, one alleges that it is Supralapsarianism that constitutes hyper-Calvinism; another puts the finger on eternal justification; and still another identifies the culprit as the doctrine of an unconditional covenant. The effect of these critics’ going to war against “an over-emphasis on the sovereignty of God” is that they become foes, not of hyper-Calvinism, but of Calvinism itself.
For one cannot emphasize the sovereignty of God strongly enough! The all-out emphasis on the almighty sovereignty of Jehovah God is the truth and beauty of Calvinism. Nor can one stress sufficiently that the salvation of God’s elect is, from beginning to end, a matter of sovereign, free grace! The emphatic proclamation of sovereign grace is the power and comfort of Calvinism. Touch this, and you are not guarding against hyper-Calvinism, but rather are creating Pelagianism and Arminianism. Not in an emphasis on God’s sovereignty, but in a denial of man’s responsibility must the characteristic flaw of hyper-Calvinism be located.
It must be quickly added that the mere fact that a man, or a church, is charged with hyper-Calvinism does not prove that the man, or the church, is, indeed guilty of the heresy. Hyper-Calvinism, we have said, is a form of antinomianism, and Scripture teaches that every defender of the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation will be falsely accused of antinomianism. Of Paul himself, it was reported, though slanderously, that he taught the doctrine, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Rom. 3:8), the sheer falsity of which slander is shown in Romans 6, 8, and Romans 12-16. Such has ever been one of Rome’s main attacks on the Reformed faith: the preaching of sola gratia makes men careless and profane. Again and again, the Reformed creeds refer to this charge in order to repudiate it. Question 64 of the Heidelberg Catechism is an instance. Regarding the truth of justification by faith alone, the Catechism asks: “But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane?” The answer: “By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.”
In a way, the label, “Antinomian—Hyper-Calvinist,” tagged on the staunch Calvinist by Calvinism’s open or secret enemies, is a badge of honor—much as the Calvinist repudiates the charge. So labeled (libelled, really!), he stands in good company, the company of all those who have even consistently and uncompromisingly stood for the sovereignty of God and salvation by pure grace.
We cannot ignore, in this connection, the allegation that a denial of human responsibility appeared in the theology of Herman Hoeksema. A.C. De Jong supposed that he saw this in a well-known and much-reported statement by Hoeksema: “I always say, beloved: Give me God, if I must make a choice. If I must make a choice to lose God or man, give me God. Let me lose man. It’s all right to me: no danger there. Give me God! That’s Reformed! And that’s especially Protestant Reformed!”¹
But this dramatic “here I stand” in no way represented a denial, or even a weakening, of the Biblical truth of man’s responsibility. The statement occurred in an address given in June, 1953, in the heat of the battle of the Protestant Reformed Churches against the doctrine of a conditional covenant and a conditional promise. The doctrine with which Hoeksema was contending was not an affirmation of man’s responsibility, not even a strongaffirmation of man’s responsibility, but a denial of sovereign grace. However, the denial of God’s sovereignty was being introduced in the guise of a defense of man’s responsibility. In that context and in the heat of that battle, when not only the Protestant Reformed Churches, but also the truth of sovereign grace were at stake, Hoeksema cried out, “Give me God, if I must make a choice. If I must make a choice to lose God or man, give me God.” The man who does not recognize in this trumpet blast the call to give glory to God in the face of another assault on that glory by man, and thrill to it, is to be pitied.
The sentence that immediately precedes—not quoted by De Jong—refers to “the Pelagian, the very superficial, the individualistic, the modernistic Pelagian, that always emphasizes man rather than God” (my emphasis—D.E.).² In contrast to the Pelagian, Hoeksema will emphasize God rather than man. In no way is the statement a denial of human responsibility. The entire address is exactly the presentation, in clear, strong terms, of the historic Reformed teaching of the full responsibility of both fallen and saved men—and is well worth reading on this account.
Fact is, Reformed theologians have made the very same point, in almost the very same language, down through the ages. Abraham Kuyper is an example. In the course of his defense of particular grace, he writes that “those who reject particular grace, on their part, give man his due, but only so that they may detract from that which is God’s due . . . In order to maintain the moral attributes of man inviolate, they abandon part of the attributes of the Being of the living God. Over against this, we would now allow ourselves this question: If you are not able to harmonize the activity of men and the activity of God in the work of salvation, and for this reason you suppose that you have to take away something either from man or from God, would it then not be more humble for man, more appropriate, and safer, rather to give himself up than in the slightest to detract anything from the inviolability of the Being and the attributes of God? And if this would appear advisable to you in general, does this not become a yet much stronger obligation, when there is mention no longer of man’s inviolability, but of the activity of a sinner, i.e., of a human being, which is no longer sound and undamaged? This leads to the conclusion that if something must be abandoned, either from our side or from God’s side, the man who fears God is always inclined rather to give up everything of himself than to take away even one thing from the full and inviolate Majesty of his God.”³
This sounds familiar—”, . .the modernistic Pelagian always emphasizes man rather than God. I always say, beloved: Give me God, if I must make a choice. If I must make a choice to lose God or man, give me God . . . Give me God: there is no salvation in man! “
This is Reformed language. It is the language, as Kuyper says, of the man who fears God. To interpret this language, now, as a denial of man’s responsibility is enough to make one who knows Abraham Kuyper and Herman Hoeksema, smile.
Nevertheless, a denial of man’s responsibility has appeared, again and again, in the Calvinistic camp; antinomianism’s dirty head has protruded, again and again, to strike at the heel of the gospel of grace. And hyper-Calvinism is antinomianism with reference to the preaching of the gospel, especially to the imperative of the gospel, and with reference to the duty of men so addressed.
(patience, gentle reader: the end is in sight—to be concluded)
¹Quoted by A.C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel-Offer, p. 81.
²The’ Standard Bearer, Vol. 29, “Man’s Freedom and Responsibility,” p. 415.
³Uit Het Woord, Vol. 1 (Dat de genade particolier is), pp. 326, 327.