Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill, b y Curt D. Daniel. Privately published, 1983. Pp. xii-912. $60.00 (hard cover). [Reviewed by the editor.]
This massive work, huge in size and bristling with footnotes, is the author’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Edinburgh. It examines the theological error of hyper-Calvinism, particularly in the teaching of the 18th century Calvinistic Baptist, John Gill. Although Daniel concentrates on Gill, he includes in his study other English theologians associated with Gill, e.g., Brine and Hussey, as well as some contemporary theologians whom Daniel regards as hyper-calvinists, notably Arthur Pink and Herman Hoeksema.
In his scholarly attempt to determine exactly what the error of hyper-Calvinism consists of, Daniel considers the views of Gill and the others on the sovereignty of God; predestination; the covenant; justification; faith; “the free offer question”; the atonement; law; and grace. A brief history of hyper-calvinism serves as an introduction. It is Daniel’s contention that there has been, and still is, a hyper- Calvinistic heresy that has bedeviled genuine Calvinism, that is, the gospel of grace. The heart of this error is its rejection of the “offer” of the gospel to all who hear the preaching. With this denial goes a minimizing of the responsibility of man.
Hyper-Calvinism is that school of Supralapsarian “Five Point” Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of Man, notably with respect to the denial of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the Gospel of a finished and limited atonement, thus undermining the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly with the assurance that the Lord Jesus Christ died for them, with the result that presumption is overly warned of, introspection is overly encouraged, and a view of sanctification akin to doctrinal Antinomianism is often approached. This (definition) could be summarized even further: it is the rejection of the word “offer” in connection with evangelism for supposedly Calvinistic reasons (p. 767).
Daniel shows that there was in Gill and in the tradition of English Calvinism that he represents a definite hesitation, if not an express refusal, to call the unconverted sinner to believe on Jesus Christ with true (saving) faith. Daniel says that he was not able to find in Gill “the invitation ‘Come to Christ’ to the unconverted.” Gill restricted this call to “sensible sinners” (pp. 455, 456). Daniel quotes Gill as teaching that the unconverted are obliged merely to believe certain facts about Jesus Christ, e.g., that He is the Son of God. They are not obliged to believe in Him as Savior. Nor are unbelievers who hear the gospel but remain unbelieving condemned for not believing with true (saving) faith.
In his The Cause of God and Truth, Gill wrote: “I do not find that any such are exhorted to believe in Christ for salvation; but as sensible of it” (that is, of their state and condition as sinners, by regeneration – DJE; cited on p. 477; see also pp. 461, 462). Daniel concludes that hyper-Calvinism denies that unbelievers “have the responsibility to believe savingly in Christ, for that belongs to those who have been regenerated” (p. 648).
The reason why hyper-calvinism denies that the unbeliever is called to believe is its fear that this would compromise Calvinism. To call a reprobate unbeliever for whom Christ did not die to believe in Jesus Christ would compromise the doctrines of election and limited atonement. To call any unbeliever to believe would suggest that an unbeliever has the ability to believe, thus overthrowing the doctrine of total depravity. Hyper- Calvinism does not understand that God’s call, or command, to the reprobate sinner sincerely to repent and truly to believe expresses neither God’s purpose nor the sinner’s ability, but only the sinner’s duty in light of the revelation made in the gospel.
This answer to hyper- Calvinism’s basic error, however, is not Daniel’s. Daniel responds to hyper-Calvinism along entirely different lines.
Valuable as Daniel’s study of this important aspect of the development and struggle of Calvinism is, it suffers from two grave faults. These faults both skew the analysis of the controversy and render false the proposed resolution for a pure Calvinism.
The first is that Daniel does not distinguish “offer” as the promiscuous preaching of Christ as Savior with its command to all hearers to repent and believe on Jesus for salvation from “offer” as the declaration to all hearers that God loves them, Christ died for them, and God is now giving them the chance to be saved by believing. This distinction is both biblical and confessionally Reformed. “Offer” as promiscuous preaching with a summons to all to believe in Christ is the external call of the gospel as taught in Matthew 22:1-14 and in the Canons, 11/5. “Offer” as a declaration of universal love and atonement dependent on the sinner’s will is the Arminian heresy that the Reformed and Presbyterian churches condemned at Dordt and Westminster on the basis of the apostle’s doctrine in Romans 9:16.
By failing to make this fundamental distinction, Daniel labels all who deny the “offer” as hyper-calvinists, regardless what specific doctrine of the offer they have in mind. The result is that those whose rejection of the “offer” consists of a denial of universal love dependent on the will of the sinner are tarred with Daniel’s broad brush of hyper-Calvinism, even though they preach to all and call all to believe in Jesus Christ.
The second fault is gross. Daniel argues that genuine Calvinism is the doctrine of a saving love of God and a death of Jesus Christ for all without exception. On this basis, the proper “offer” is, in fact, the “bold declaration” to all who hear the gospel, “God loves you, Christ died for you, and now God pleads with you to believe so that you may be saved” (p. 459). Accompanying this offer is “a sufficient common grace” that enables all to accept the offer, if only they will (pp. 161,162).
It is Daniel’s basic thesis that hyper-Calvinism began to develop when, after Calvin, the Reformed faith adopted limited atonement. This jeopardized the offer. What is necessary for the warding off of hyper-Calvinism is the embrace of universal atonement. This involves repudiating the decree of reprobation.
This is the remedy for hyper- Calvinism! This exotic mixture of Arminianism and Amyraldianism, Daniel calls, with a kind of fetching modesty, “Low Calvinism.” It is, indeed, low – very low. It is abased and debased “Calvinism.” The glory of salvation in this gospel belongs to the sinner. Using his “sufficient common grace” rightly, he not only saves himself by accepting the offer but also makes the death of Christ atoning and the love of God successful.
There is an important warning here. Those professing Calvinists who insist on an “offer” expressing God’s love for all and desire to save all cannot escape universal atonement. When universal atonement is adopted, the eternal, double decree of predestination is rejected.
Running through the work are Daniel’s interaction with and criticism of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). He lumps them with the English Baptist hyper-calvinists, regardless of the protest of the PRC. The Protestant Reformed reader who lacks time and inclination to read the entire work might want to read Chapter VIII, “The Free Offer Question” (pp. 364-495).
As for Daniel’s challenge to the PRC to show where their denial of the “well-meant offer” differs from the English hyper-Calvinists’ rejection of the external call of the gospel, the differences are important and clear. First, the PRC preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as Savior to all indiscriminately, regardless whether they are converted believers or unconverted unbelievers. They do not, as Hussey advocated, preach Christ as priestly Savior to believers, but Christ as threatening King to unbelievers.
Second, the PRC call, or command, or summon, every sinner to believe in Christ for salvation with true (saving) faith, warning all that those who do not believe will be held guilty by God for this worst of all sins. The PRC do not hesitate, or refuse, to give the imperative to all and sundry, “Come to Christ.”
Third, the PRC do not let people think that they can long for salvation and desire to believe, perhaps their life long, and still perish (see p. 359).
In these important matters, the PRC suppose that they are only confessing the historic, creedal Reformed faith.
Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill must be ordered from the author. The address is: 2456 Devonshire Rd., Springfield, IL 62703.