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As indicated in a previous article (Sept. 15, 2005) we intend in this (and a couple of following articles) to make some comments on the free offer of the gospel as that came to our attention through reading some articles found on the website—www. monergism.com. On that website the issue of the free offer is dealt with at length in the section dealing with hyper-Calvinism. There the name of the Protestant Reformed Churches (and of H. Hoeksema and some of his ‘disciples’) appears, labeled by various contributors as the foremost remaining specimen of the error (not to say evil) of hyper-Calvinism.

While our interest is piqued by reference to the PRC as proof that hyper-Calvinism is alive and well these days, that is not our primary concern. That is how we are labeled out there, and amongst the ‘initiated’ nothing is going to change their assessment.

Our primary concern is with the free or well-meant offer of the gospel (WMO from here on). This has become the popular brand of preaching in most of what today goes by the name of Calvinism, Calvinism that has become more and more embarrassed by the doctrine of predestination, finding little place for the wonder of election in any significant way either in its preaching or in its theology (vis-à-vis the doctrine of God’s everlasting covenant, theologians reducing the truth of election to a non-factor for all intents and purposes). And they certainly cannot bring themselves to say the word reprobation anymore, speaking rather of the “non-elect.” That in itself is telling. The question is, why is that? Could it be that speaking of “God’s love for each and every one” and then mentioning the word “reprobate” in the same breath does tend to give any sane man pause?

It becomes apparent that maintaining that there is such a thing as reprobation is enough in and of itself to make one a “hyper-Calvinist” these days. But does it, really? Or does the clear uneasiness with this biblical (and necessary) corollary of election rather betray something that is sub-Calvinistic? Will the real Calvinist on this matter, true to Calvin’s Calvinism, please step forward. Election without reprobation? How is it possible? Another one of those things ‘explained’ by dismissing it in the name of “It’s a paradox.” How convenient to have this magic wand around when something one does not like pops out of Calvinism. But is it (an election unconnected with a decree of reprobation) true Calvinism? That’s the question. Any number of the adherents to the WMO want nothing to do with that part of the Calvinist’s system of doctrines. Yet they claim the right to the name of Calvin without having anything hyphenated in front of their ‘Calvinism.’ We beg to differ.

The WMO is, we are convinced, unbiblical, a mutant form of the gospel, and, having infected most of Reformed preaching and teaching, is what has left Presbyterian and Reformed churches with little immunity to the real and most deadly theological infections of the last several centuries, namely, full-blown Arminianism, and its stepsister, Modernism.

One of the first articles listed in the section under “Hyper-Calvinism” is by a certain Phil Johnson, who, in a section he classifies as “Bad Theology,” gives a list of what he judges to be the earmarks of “this deadly error” of hyper-Calvinism. In his treatment of this error (and its primary present-day representative) he makes reference to the PRC and H. Hoeksema and to Prof. D. J. Engelsma’s book Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, as well.

Before we list what Johnson deems to be the earmarks of hyper-Calvinism, it is worthwhile noting how dangerous, he is convinced, the error of hyper-Calvinism is.

The blurb to his article quotes his perspective on hyper-Calvinism.

History teaches us that hyper-Calvinism is as much a threat to true Calvinism as Arminianism is. Virtually every revival of true Calvinism since the Puritan era has been hijacked, crippled, or ultimately killed by hyper-Calvinist influences. Modern Calvinists would do well to be on guard against the influence of these deadly trends.

This is no small historical indictment.

Our concern with the above statement is not Johnson’s assessment that the error of hyper-Calvinism is as great an evil and threat to the gospel as Arminianism ever was. Hyper-Calvinism is to be discarded root and branch (when properly identified). Couldn’t agree more. The heresy was and is real.

But with the statement we do have a twofold concern.

First, as one might expect, our concern is with the seriousness of the charge that Johnson lays against hyper-Calvinism—note Johnson’s charge, namely, that hyper-Calvinism is what has killed virtually every (sic!) revival of true Calvinism since the Reformation, at least in England. (“Virtually” is a wiggle word, and Mr. Johnson knows it. The difference between “virtually every revival” and “every revival” is virtually nothing.) And then into this camp he throws the PRC and those who oppose the free offer of the gospel. That is quite an indictment. To oppose the WMO means you are numbered with the chief instruments the devil has used to cool off, deaden, and hinder the triumphs of the gospel and its spread since the days of the Reformation. Opposing the WMO has been the chief instrument of the devil in hindering the preservation of Calvinism and the true note of the gospel truth within Christ’s church. Not sins, weakness, and excesses found within those rallying to these revivals; not perhaps unscriptural means and methods being used; not the error of Arminianism has been the chief agent. No. But hyper-Calvinism! So this defender and promoter of the free offer claims.

You understand why it is that, though we have no interest in being knee-jerk reactionaries every time our name is mentioned in a critical fashion, we do take this particular charge seriously.

But we also have a second concern (make it an allegation if you like). It is this: while Brother Johnson declares that hyper-Calvinism is as great an evil and threat to the gospel as Arminianism is or ever was, we are not at all convinced that those who hold to the WMO these days really believe that Arminianism is as much a threat to true Calvinism and the gospel as hyper-Calvinism is or ever has been. Where is such evidence? The question is whether they see Arminianism as much of a threat at all. This is where our grievance and concern really lies. We read where defenders of the WMO take hyper-Calvinists (real and imagined) sharply to task—by name, with quotes. But now, good brothers, the question must be asked, where in the writings of the promoters of the WMO have there been these same sharp words of warning, alarm, and condemnation of those of the Arminian conviction?

Here there is a silence that speaks louder than words.

Shall I name just one such Arminian? Mr. John Wesley. Does any dare dispute his pedigree? And it ain’t Calvinistic, I will tell you that. Where in the writings of the ardent defenders of the WMO is there warning against the writings and teachings of this man (a man known for his strident, one might even say “vile,” accusations against Calvin and Calvinism)? After all, Arminianism is as much a threat to true Calvinism, and is as deadly, as hyper-Calvinism ever was. So it is stated. But where is the hard-copy evidence that the WMO men actually believe this?

The only words I read about John Wesley from WMO men are words that describe him in terms of “that most useful and faithful servant of God.” Perhaps they can bring themselves to criticize him for a tendency towards one sidedness—emphasizing “freewillism” too much—but that is about it. The Banner of Truth comes to mind. I have read its publications with profit (and my all too frequent contributions in purchasing their books have profited them somewhat too). It is no secret that they unabashedly promote the WMO as the very marrow of divinity. Recently (The Banner of Truth, Aug.-Sept. 2005, pp. 39-46), they have once again raised warning against hyper-Calvinism (almost certainly because a certain small PRC affiliate is making a small noise in the fair Isles of Great Britain). But concerning John Wesley (that rascal of the strongest Arminian stripe) and his gospel preaching, not a word of condemnation or serious warning do we ever read. Concerning John Wesley in their publications it is always “magna cum laude.” And yet we are to believe that those of the WMO persuasion perceive Arminianism to be as great a threat and deadly danger to the gospel as hyper-Calvinism is.

We trust you understand if our skepticism remains in place.

Every evidence, including the numerous joint-conferences headed by men committed to the WMO over the past 50 years in both England and the States in the name of ecumenicity, indicates that there is something deeply rooted that the WMO men have in common with Arminians of various stripes. And that something has to do with the marrow of these men’s divinity, namely, the well-meant offer itself—or they would not get along so well. And this all while men are insisting that the WMO is true Calvinism when it comes to gospel preaching. Surely, something does not add up.

This brings us to Mr. Johnson’s list.

He supplies the following categories of identification (and then goes on to give a brief commentary on each of his points).

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear; or

2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner; or

3. Denies that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal); or

4. Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace”; or

5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

What Johnson lists under points 1 and 2 describes, of course, what characterizes historic hyper-Calvinism. He acknowledges that these first two are the more extreme forms of hyper-Calvinism and does inform the reader that these cannot be laid at the door of the PRC.

We appreciate at least that declaration.

But the list goes on. In points 3 and 4 direct reference is made to writers of the PRC and their positions. And point 5 applies by necessary inference. Points 3 through 5 clearly have to do with opposition to the free offer. And it is apparent from the article that it is with the critics of the WMO that Johnson is most concerned.

To give the reader a flavor of what Johnson has to say about the WMO and the PRC we will quote part of what he has written in connection with point 3.

3. The denial of the gospel offer. Type-3 hyper-Calvinism is based on a denial that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect. An alternative of this view merely denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal. For an excellent discussion of this issue, see The Free Offer of the Gospel, by John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse. . . . 

If the hyper-Calvinists in England tend to be Baptists, in America the Presbyterian variety seems more common. The best-known American hyper-Calvinists are the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). They deny that there is any sort of “offer” (in the sense of a proffer or tender or proposal of mercy) in the gospel message. They also deny that they are hyper-Calvinist, because they insist that the only variety of hyper-Calvinism is that which denies the gospel call (Type-1 above).

A few things before we end this article.

First, there are things that must be said about the use of the word “offer,” and about the charge that those who deny the free offer want nothing to do with a gospel offer in any sense. It is not only Johnson who suggests this, but it is the language of other WMO men as well (as we shall demonstrate in the next issue). It is not true. This must not be allowed to stand unchallenged. Something important is at stake here, as we intend to point out.

Second, Mr. Johnson is not correct in the last statement he makes in the above quote. It is not true that the PRC insist that the only form of hyper-Calvinism is what he lists as Type-1. We also condemn as hyper-Calvinism what he calls Type-2, the denial that faith is the duty (the solemn calling) of every sinner. To put it simply, we too insist that it is the duty of every sinner to whom the gospel comes to repent and believe. One’s inability to comply with the commands and overtures of the gospel call no more excuses the preacher from calling such a one to faith, than the hearers’ inability to obey God’s law excuses a preacher from calling all in his congregation to keep that law. We had thought Mr. Johnson was clear on that. If not, we assure him it is so.

And now one more thing in conclusion. I cannot refrain from noting that in point 5, which has to do with denying that God has any sort of love for the non-elect (sic!—kk), Johnson brings up the name of A.W. Pink. This is interesting—interesting enough to warrant saying more about it next time. To this we intend to return in our next article, D. V.