In its classic, developed form, hyper-Calvinism denies that it is the duty of the Church to preach the gospel of salvation to all men and to, call all men to believe on Jesus CIirist. The gospel is to be preached only to the elect, and, only they are to be called to faith. The grounds put forward for this position are the doctrines of election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace, i.e., Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism also denies that it is the duty of every sinner, without exception, to believe on Jesus Christ. Only the regenerated elect is required to believe, The ground for this position is the doctrine of total depravity. i.e., Calvinism.
The English Baptist, Joseph Hussey (1660-1726), 1 taught this hyper-Calvinism. A preacher must preach a different message to unregenerated sinners than he preaches to the converted elect: “you must preach the Gospel of the kingdom to them: exalt Christ (i.e., preach that Christ is a special king to crush gainsayers—DE). Do this, then, when you do not preach the Gospel of the blood of Christ to them.”¹ A preacher mand. . . .”² As regards infidels and Jews, a preacher our duty to preach the mere form of the commind. . . .”2 As regards infidels and Jews, a preacher that they should believe on Christ with true faith—for this is not their duty, but that they should believe in Christ with “natural faith”—something, according to Hussey, that lies within their natural power.³ All of this is set forth as if it were the Calvinistic repudiation of the Arminian offer.
Calvinism becomes the ground for a restriction of the preaching of the gospel, a silencing of the gospel-call, and a denial of human responsibility. The very errors with which Calvinism has always been charged by its foes and from which Calvinism has always had to disassociate itself are here acknowledged as an integral part of Calvinism.
Even though such a fully developed, hardened hyper-Calvinism does not threaten, a Reformed church must guard against the subtle inroads of the hyper-Calvinism heresy with all vigilance. She must resist every manifestation of the spirit of hyper-Calvinism, for it is not the spirit of Reformed Christianity. To guard against hyper-Calvinism is peculiarly the urgent task of the Reformed church which, in keeping with the Reformed tradition, has rejected the Arminianism of the well-meant offer of the gospel. Against this church, the favorite wile of the father of lies is the antinomism of hyper-Calvinism. Although she may never become suspicious or fearful, a Reformed church must watch against hyper-Calvinism with the keen awareness that this evil, like the opposite, evil of Pharisaism, is not far from her, since it is ingrained in sinful human nature.
What are the manifestations of the spirit of hyper-Calvinism? How does this fundamental enemy of the gospel attempt to subvert the truth, ruin a church, and dishonor the God of grace?
One such manifestation is a minimizing of Christ’s mission-mandate to His Church with an appeal to election as the guarantee that God will save His people. There need not be an outright denial of the mission-calling of the Church; it is enough that there be unconcern and negligence. The justification, or excuse, is that no elect will ever perish, even though the Church sits on her hands. Arminianism’s emotional motivation for missions, “Many will perish, who otherwise might have been saved,” is in error; equally erroneous is hyper-Calvinism’s cold defense of its failure to engage in missions. Indeed, God will save His elect, all of them; but it pleases God—and He has revealed ‘this to us in His Word—to save them by the preaching of the gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation: to every one that believeth . . .” (Rom. 1:16). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:13, 14)
The Reformed faith has a lively knowledge of, and healthy respect for, the fact that the sovereign God is a God Who uses means, thus establishing and maintaining human responsibility. It knows God as a God Who gives men their daily bread—in the way of their working at a job; therefore, the Reformed faith demands that men work and refuses to feed anyone who will not work. It knows God as a covenant God Who saves the children of believers—in the way of believers faithfully rearing their children; therefore, the Reformed faith does not counsel parents to inaction, but calls them to establish sound homes and good, Christian schools. It knows God as a faithful God Who infallibly preserves every saint—in the way of his diligent use of the means of grace in the church; therefore, the Reformed faith does not conclude from preservation to carelessness, but exhorts believers to frequent the house of God every Lord’s Day, to hear the Word and receive the sacraments. Just so, it knows God as a God Who will save all of His chosen people in all nations—in the way of calling them to Jesus Christ in faith by the gospel; therefore, the Reformed faith cannot recommend passivity or excuse negligence in the matter of missions, but calls the Church to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, commanding all men everywhere to repent and believe.
To separate what God has joined together, to divorce God’s decrees and purposes from God’s means, is no honoring of God’s sovereignty, but a tempting of the Most High. “As the almighty operation of God, whereby he prolongs and supports this our natural life, does not exclude, but requires the use of means, by which God of his infinite mercy and goodness: hath chosen to exert his influence, so also the before-mentioned supernatural operation of God, by which we are regenerated, in no wise excludes, or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has. ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of, the soul. Wherefore, as the apostles, and teachers who succeeded them, piously instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to his glory, and abasement of all pride, and in the meantime, however, neglected not to keep them by the sacred precepts of the gospel in the exercise of the Word, sacraments and discipline; so even to this day, be it far from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the church by separating what he of his good pleasure hath most intimately joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work advanced; to whom alone all the glory both of means, and of their saving fruit and efficacy is forever due. Amen” (Canons of Dordt, III, IV, 17).
Another betrayal of the spirit of hyper-Calvinism is embarrassment and hesitation, i.e., fear, over giving the call, “Repent! Believe!,” and over declaring the promise, “Whosoever believes shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” This language is not suspect; it is not the language of Arminian “free-willism.” It is pure, sound, Biblical language; it is as much a part of the Reformed heritage as is the statement of divine, double predestination. We must take care that we do not concede precious elements of the gospel to the Arminians. Because they have seized on certain elements of Scripture, have wrenched them out of their proper setting, force them into the service of their false gospel, and, thus, wrest them to their own destruction, we may not abandon those elements. Rather, we must continue to honor them as part of God’s revelation and must continue to give them their necessary place in the proclamation of the Word. There is no “Arminian text” in Scripture, nor one Arminian word. No more than we renounce love because the “Liberals” abuse it, do we downgrade the external call of the gospel and slight the promiscuous publication of the promise because heretics construct a message of salvation by the will of man from a perversion of them.
If the fruit of the preaching of the gospel is that men, pricked in their hearts, cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?,” or that a Philippian jailor says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?,” it is not in place, it is not typically Reformed, to launch into a fierce polemic against free will or to give a nervous admonition against supposing that one can do anything towards his own salvation. The answer to such questions—the Reformed answer—is: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . .”; and: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 2:38; Acts 16:31).
Although, ordinarily, hyper-Calvinism is afraid to call the unconverted to Christ, there may even be a hesitation to preach the call to repentance and faith within the congregation. One feels uneasy about this, as if this goes in the direction of “works” or the altar-call. Then, a preacher does grave injustice to Scripture and great disservice to God’s people. If he dares to preach on Matthew 11:28, the merciful Savior’s tender call to the laboring and heavy laden with its precious promise of rest, the bulk of the sermon is controversy with the Arminian corruption of the text. Little is done with the comforting message of the text; the tender, urgent call to the laboring in the audience is never given; the audience goes home convinced that the Arminian interpretation is wrong, but without having heard the gospel themselves.
The Reformed faith condemns, indeed despises, the “altar-call.” It has bad parentage: Finney. It is bad theology: universal grace dependent upon the free will of the sinner. It is bad practice: the transforming of the inner, spiritual activity of the heart into an outward, carnal activity of the body—Scripture nowhere presents repentance or believing as a matter of “coming to the front”; besides, no Reformed church has an altar. But opposition to the altar-call does not, in any way, imply opposition to the call of the gospel to the spiritually laboring and laden sinner to come to Christ for rest. God forbid!
When hyper-Calvinism has developed somewhat, there is a failure, even a refusal, to preach the admonitions and exhortations of Scripture to the saints, on the ground that good gospel-preachers should not tell God’s people what to do. At the very least, the admonitions and exhortations are not proclaimed with the sharpness, urgency, boldness, and freedom that obtain in Scripture. From this stage, it is but a little way to the disorder and license of open antinomism—”let us sin that grace may abound.”
How such a notion can be mistaken for orthodoxy is a mystery. How it can be mistaken for Reformedorthodoxy is a still greater mystery. The Scripture abounds with exhortations and warnings to God’s people; Calvin, theologian of holiness that he was, is full of them; the Canons of Dordt expressly warn the Reformed pastor not to interpret sovereign grace as rendering admonitions and discipline unnecessary (III, IV, 17). Luther, peerless defender of the gospel of grace against every encroachment of illicit law and glorious champion of justification by faith only—Luther can be our teacher and guardian here:
The churchly office of preaching is necessary not Only for the ignorant who must be taught, for the simple and stupid populace and the youth, but also for those who well know what they ought to believe and how they ought to live, in order to awaken and admonish them to be daily on their guard, not to grow weary and listless, nor to lose heart in the battle they must wage upon earth against the devil, their own flesh and all vices. Hence St. Paul so diligently admonishes all Christians that he almost seems to be overdoing the thing, by continually dinning it in their ears, as though they were so ignorant as not to know it of themselves or so careless and forgetful as not to perform it without this telling and urging them. But he knows full well. that, although they have begun to believe and are in that state in which fruits of faith must appear, the thing is nevertheless not so easily carried out and brought to completion. It will not do to think: ‘It is enough to have given them the truth; when the spirit and faith are present the fruits of good works will follow of themselves.’ For while it is true that the spirit is present and is willing, as Christ says, and works in them that believe, it is likewise true that the flesh also is present, and the flesh is weak and indolent. The devil, moreover, is not keeping holiday, but seeks by temptation and incitement to cause the weak to fall. Here you dare by no means be negligent or indolent; as it is, the flesh is too indolent to obey the Spirit, nay it is strong to resist it, as Paul says in
God, therefore, must deal here as a good householder or faithful regent, who has a lazy man-servant or maid-servant or indifferent officials. (They need not be actually wicked or disloyal.) He must not think it enough to tell them once or twice what to do, but must be constantly at their heels and personally urge them on. So, too, we have not reached the point where our flesh and blood go leaping in pure joy and eagerness to do good works and obey God, as the Spirit would gladly have us do and directs us to do. On the con contrary, even though faith unceasingly urge and buffet the flesh, it scarce succeeds in accomplishing very much; What would be the result. if this admonition and urging were omitted and one were to think, as many Christians think, ‘Well, I know of myself what I ought to do; I have heard it so many years and so often, and have even taught it to others, etc.’? I verily believe that if we were to cease our preaching and admonishing for a single year, we should become worse than heathen” (sermon on the epistle for the XIX. Sunday after Trinity).
The Reformed Church rejects hyper-Calvinism, not because she hedges on her Calvinism at the last moment, but exactly because of her Calvinism. Knowing her salvation as the sovereign, free, gracious calling of God in Christ, she burns with zeal for the glory of her God. In the love of her thankful heart, she desires that His great Name, Jesus, be published to the ends of the earth and that His good commandments be obeyed.
¹ Joseph Hussey, God’s Operations of Grace But No Offers of Grace (Elon College, N.C.: Primitive Publications, 19731, p. 87.
² Ibid., p. 153.
³ Ibid., pp. 156, 157.