“Hyper Calvinism” is a term of reproach and condemnation. It is the charge that a theological teaching which claims to be Calvinism has, in fact, so exaggerated and distorted Calvinism that it is not genuine Calvinism at all. The body of doctrines described as hyper Calvinism is accused of having gone beyond true Calvinism, so that, although it has a semblance of Calvinism, it is, in reality, a per version of Calvinism. Indeed, the seriousness of the epithet, “hyper Calvinism,” is that it alleges a theological position to be false doctrine.
In Calvinistic circles, it is common to blacken with this brush all those who deny “the offer of the gospel.” Since the Protestant Reformed Churches are known to deny the offer, we are dismissed, often offhand, as hyper Calvinists. This is persistently done by some who know better. Writing in the Christian Reformed magazine, The Banner (September 28, 1973, p. 15), Rev. C. Boomsma repeats the old canard when he states that the Christian Reformed Church opposed the “doctrinal deviation” of “hyper Calvinism in the Common Grace controversy.”
But there may also be others who misunderstand our denial of the offer and whose suspicion that we are hyper Calvinists is due to honest ignorance. The reason for the misunderstanding is that there have been those who called themselves Calvinists and who denied that the gospel should be preached to all persons promiscuously and without distinction. They especially repudiated the notion that it is the duty of the Church and the preacher to call everyone who comes under the preaching to repent and believe. This, they said, must be limited to those who manifest their election in certain signs of regeneration. They grounded their position in the doctrines of Calvinism. They argued thus: since God has elected some only; since Christ has died only for the elect; since all the unregenerated reprobate are totally depraved, incapable of heeding any call to believe; and since God’s grace is irresistible in the preaching; therefore, there cannot be, may not be, and need not be any call to anyone except the elect. They referred to their position as a “denial of the offer of the gospel.” The position of the Protestant Reformed Churches may, in the minds of some, be confused with this teaching, from which, in fact, it differs radically.
Our denial of the offer of the gospel is in no sense of the word hyper Calvinism. On the contrary, the theory of the offer as currently held in Reformed, or Calvinistic circles is, to coin a word, “hypo Calvinism,” that is, a teaching that falls below the level of true Calvinism and that affects the falling away from Calvinism on the part of the churches that maintain it. It is the purpose of this article, and of several that will follow, to show this. There is need for this today, not so much to convince our enemies who are determined deliberately to misrepresent our doctrine, but to inform and warn others who have recently come to know and embrace some of the main tenets of the Reformed faith, but who have uncritically adopted the offer of the gospel.
Of late, there has been a resurgence of interest in Calvinism, as they call it, both in our country and abroad. This interest is not found in the nominally Reformed denominations, where for the most part one finds either ignorance of or opposition to the great, distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith, but among small groups, mostly Baptist, that spring up here and there. These churches are consciously adopting and defending the conception of the offer that has been developed by the Christian Reformed Church and by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But it seems that they do so, at least to some extent, against the background of the error of the denial that the Church ought to preach to all and sundry to whom God sends her and to call all men to believe. They seem to fear that the only alternative to the offer is the limitation of the call to those who indicate that they are already regenerated. These churches should consider that there is another alternative to the theory of the offer, one that in no way hamstrings preaching or hinders the Church’s ministry of calling all who hear the preaching to repent and believe. They should also consider our warning that the offer is a fatal concession to Arminianism, so that the introduction of it into a Reformed, or Calvinistic Church is, in principle, the ruin of the Church as a Reformed body.
There is another purpose of this short series of articles: to remind ourselves that our denial of the offer has nothing in common with the teaching of some in the past, and some also today, which may, with some right, be called “hyper Calvinism,” and to sound a warning against the danger of slipping off into that error.
In most cases, the charge, “hyper Calvinist,” is nothing but a deceptive attack upon Calvinism itself. Someone hates Calvinism, or the uncompromising, consistent defense of Calvinism, yet he hesitates to attack Calvinism openly and forthrightly, and therefore he disguises his attack as an attack on hyper Calvinism and hyper Calvinists.
An outstanding and clear example of this cowardly, deceitful method of attacking Calvinism is the attack on Calvinism by the self styled evangelist, John R. Rice, in two books, Some Serious, Popular False Doctrines and Predestined for Hell? No!. Chapter 7 of the former is entitled, “Hyper Calvinism—A False Doctrine,” and the cover of the latter explains that the author is busy “correcting the errors of Hyper Calvinism.” Under pretense of opposing hyper Calvinism, Rice fights the truth that men are saved by God’s sovereign grace. alone, and propounds the ancient heresy that man saves himself by the exercise of his free will.
This is obvious in the scurrilous little book,Predestined for Hell? No!.¹ The author’s tactics are the despicable tactics that the Arminians have always used against the Reformed faith. As the title indicates, the attack on election and salvation by sovereign grace alone is launched specifically against the doctrine of reprobation. The crafty Arminians are aware that men have more natural antipathy to reprobation than to any other doctrine, and feel that they can put the Reformed faith in a bad light from the outset, if they succeed in making reprobation the first and main subject of debate. This was exactly what Episcopius and the Arminian party tried to do at Dordt when, having failed in their political maneuverings, they proposed to the Synod that the Synod first take up the doctrine of reprobation.²
Then, the author caricatures reprobation. On the cover is this picture: a disconsolate, unwilling man is forced into the livid flames of hell at the point of a sword tyrannically wielded by the arm of God. Already on the third page of the book, Calvinists are epitomized as people who teach that “there are babes in Hell not a span long.”
The contents of the book are an open, all out assault upon the first four of the well known “five points of Calvinism,” a rejection of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.³ What it is that Rice hates with all his heart becomes plain when he quotes the man who is, for Rice, the quintessential hyper Calvinist, Herman Hoeksema. To illustrate hyper Calvinism, Rice quotes from Hoeksema’s Whosoever Will.4 What does Hoeksema write in the offensive paragraph? That God is a tyrant Who shuts His ears to the pleas of poor sinners to be saved, and thrusts them, willy nilly, into hell? Nothing of the sort. Rather, Hoeksema proclaims these truths: “(salvation) is absolutely divine. Man … cannot possibly co operate with God in his own salvation . . . the sinner is of himself neither capable nor willing to receive that salvation … But God ordained, and prepared this salvation with absolutely sovereign freedom for His own, His chosen ones alone, and upon them He bestows it. . . .” This is all: the total depravity of man by nature; salvation by free, sovereign grace alone; God’s gracious election of some men unto salvation. This, says Rice, is the heights of hyper Calvinism. But, in reality, if is simply Calvinism, the historic Reformed faith.
There is no need to refute Rice’s arguments against Calvinism, nor to expose his defense of Arminianism from Scripture, although a lover of the Reformed faith is sorely tempted to do this, in order to lay bare the utter poverty of modern Arminianism. Rice blunders around in the Bible, as Luther said of Erasmus, the way a pig roots about in a sack of feed.
It serves our purpose to stress two things regarding the war cry, “hyper Calvinism,” that become plain from such works as those of John Rice.
First, the charge, “hyper Calvinism,” masks an attack on Calvinism. Rice is an Arminian and a Pelagian. He admits to holding that every man’s salvation depends on the choice of his own free will this is Arminianism. He also maintains that men only potentially died in Adam, and that the natural man who has nothing more than the testimony of God in creation may be saved by this natural light—this is sheer Pelagianism. Rice is guilty of the one, great, “serious, popular false doctrine”: man saves himself by his own willing and running. As such, he is an inveterate foe of Calvinism, which maintains the true doctrine: man’s salvation is of God Who showeth mercy.
The attack on Calvinism by means of the charge, “hyper Calvinism,” is another of the calumnies heaped upon the Reformed faith, as the Conclusion of the Canons of Dordt puts it. It is reproach for Christ’s sake that Reformed people must suffer in this life. But we do, with the Conclusion of the Canons, warn the calumniators “to consider the terrible judgment of God which awaits them,” and we do call as many as piously call upon the name of Jesus not to judge our faith on the basis of the accusations of our enemies. In light of the fact that foes of the Reformed faith have always misrepresented that faith, men today ought at least to consider that the charge, “hyper Calvinists,” might be a cheap shot at a thorough going, consistent Calvinism.
Secondly, it is significant that the heart of Rice’s opposition to Calvinism is his insistence that the doctrines of Calvinism make preaching, particularly the call of the gospel, impossible. In Rice’s terminology, Calvinism destroys “soul winning.” He writes: “This doctrine (i.e., Calvinism—DE) insists that we need not urge a man to turn to Christ. He cannot turn until God forces him to do so. If God has planned for him to be eternally lost, he will not be turned to God. If God has planned for him to be saved, then ‘irresistible grace,’ the hyper Calvinist says, will force him to be saved.” In the chapter entitled, “The Harm Done by Hyper Calvinism Heresy,” the first two alleged evil consequences of Calvinism are: “I. Hyper Calvinists Actually Hinder and Oppose Gospel Preaching and Soul Winning” and “II. Hyper Calvinism is Either Indifferent to or Opposed to Foreign Missions.”
This was the charge laid against the Reformed faith by the Arminians at the time of the Synod of Dordt. The Arminians argued that election, limited atonement, and sovereign grace ruled out the serious call of the gospel to all who hear the preaching. In the Canons, the Reformed Churches proved that the charge was false, and that the lively preaching, including the serious call to repentance and faith, retains its full rights within the framework of the doctrines of Calvinism. The Reformed faith does full justice to preaching, including the call of the gospel, while holding wholeheartedly and without qualifications to predestination, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. Its response to the monotonous Arminian allegation that it has no place for the call of the gospel is never that it hedges on or compromises predestination (election and reprobation) and sovereign grace.
This is forgotten by many Calvinists today, to the peril of the faith that they profess to love. To the charge that the Reformed faith cannot in the preaching call all who hear to repent and believe, they respond by compromising the essential doctrines of Calvinism. By adopting the theory of the well meant offer of the gospel, these churches begin saying “Yes and No” to the great Calvinistic doctrines of grace: “Yes, God loved and chose only some men, but, no, He also loves and desires to save everybody”; “Yes, God’s grace in the preaching is irresistible, but, no, God’s grace for some in the preaching fails to save them”; “Yes, Christ of the cross is only for the elect, but, no, He is also for the reprobate.” This is the theology of the offer. This is not the way to make place, in the Reformed system, for the serious call of the gospel to all who hear. This is not the way to safeguard the lively preaching. It is the way to surrender the Reformed faith. It is the way to lose the gospel of grace itself.
(to be continued)
¹ Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Sword of the Lord Foundation, 1958.
² The Synod wisely and justly refused to follow this order. It began with election and salvation by God’s free and sovereign grace. The answer to the question, “Are some men ordained by God to hell, sovereignly and eternally?,” is “Yes.” But this is not primary—God’s election of His Church in Jesus Christ is. Nor is reprobation the issue between the Reformed and the Arminians—gracious salvation founded in election is. Today also, we defenders of gracious salvation must not allow the Arminians to set the agenda or to determine what shall be emphasized as primary and central.
³ Rice claims to believe the fifth point of Calvinism, the perseverance of saints, which he calls “eternal security.” This is an insignificant oddity of some in the Arminian camp. Someone has wittily characterized this position of some Arminians as the teaching that “you can get in by yourself (i.e., into salvation), but you can’t get out.” In reality, there is a basic difference between Rice’s teaching of eternal security and the Reformed doctrine of perseverance. For Rice and his ilk, eternal security is the certainty that everyone who makes a cheap decision for Christ will go to heaven, no matter how he lives after he has made the decision. The Reformed doctrine of perseverance is the truth that God preserves the regenerated elect unto eternal life in the my of his faith and faithfulness, i.e., through sanctification of life.
4 Predestined for Hell? No!, p. 11. Cf. also pp. 95ff.