Orthodox Christianity goes hand in hand with labels that define what a particular group of people believe in.    Some    labels    (e.g.    covenant    theology    and dispensational theology) are broad while others (e.g. Calvinism and Arminianism) are narrow and apply to specific issues. Though labels often create problems,

they are a necessary evil as they help to draw parameters pertaining to what one
believes and teaches.

In  the  doctrine  of  salvation,  the  major  labels  are  Arminianism  and Calvinism. Each of these labels have various distinctions but they both can be summarised  by  how  they  answer  the  question,  “Who  is  responsible  for  our salvation?”  The  Arminian  believes  that  salvation  is  dependent  on  man’s willingness and choice to repent.  The Calvinist  believes that  salvation is the work of God. He believes that man is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1–3) and unable to  seek  God  (Rom.  3:9–18).  It  is  because  of  this  hopeless  reality  that  man desperately needs God to awaken him from the dead and give him newness of life  (Eph.  2:4; Acts  16:11).  The  Calvinist  has  a  iblical  understanding  of  the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of life, including salvation.

Charles Spurgeon was right when he said, “I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless we preach what  nowadays  is  called  Calvinism.  It  is  a  nickname  to  call  it  Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do  I  think  we  can  preach  the  gospel  unless we  base it  upon the special  and particular redemption of his elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross.”

The fact that salvation is the work of God is clearly laid out in the first chapter of Ephesians. God the Father chose and predestined us unto salvation before the foundations of the world (v.4–5). God the Son died and redeemed those whom the father chose (v.7–12) and God the Holy Spirit  convicts and seals those whom the Father chose, whom the Son redeemed (v.13–14) and all this God did to the praise of his glory (v.6,12,14). The hymn writer summed up this truth by saying:

“That for a wilful outcast such as I,

The Father planned, the Saviour bled and died; Redemption for a worthless slave to buy,

Who long had law and grace defied.”

In  the  recent  years  there  has  been  a  rise  in  Calvinistic  thinking  and preaching in Christendom as many people have rediscovered the great teachings of the Bible. While this is to be encouraged and we pray that more and more people  will  be  enlightened  to  these  truths,  we  also  need  to  remember  that whenever Calvinistic thinking has come to the fore in history it has given rise to an extreme called Hyper-Calvinism.

Iain Murray makes this observation when analysing Spurgeon’s battles

with Hyper-Calvinists: “Hyper-Calvinism only arises whenever and wherever the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is firmly believed. The reason why  Spurgeon’s  first  controversy  has  been  so  little  thought  of  in  these  last hundred years is not that the subject is insignificant. It is rather that doctrinal Christianity as a whole has been too largely ignored. At the present time, when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger  of  Hyper-Calvinism  is once  more  a  possibility  and  the  lessons  to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant.”

What is Hyper-Calvinism?

It  would  be  amiss to  continue  discussing  Hyper-Calvinism  without  defining what it is. Defining of the terms is not straight forward business because of the different nuances that particular systems tend to take up and Hyper-Calvinism is no different. Part of the problem stems from the confusion that abounds in many circles. As Sam Storm observes;

“Unfortunately,  the  label  ‘Hyper-Calvinist’ is  used  frequently  in  our day to insult or ridicule anyone who is more Calvinistic than oneself. As far as the  Pelagians  are  concerned,  semi-Pelagians  are  Hyper-Calvinists.  As  far  as semi-Pelagians  are  concerned,  Arminians  are  Hyper-Calvinists.  As  far  as Arminians are concerned, four-point Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists. As far as four-point Calvinists are concerned, five-point Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists. Depending on where you find yourself on the theological spectrum, everyone (except  the  Pelagian)  is  a  Hyper-Calvinist.  Oh  yes,  and  as  far  as  authentic Hyper-Calvinists are concerned, everyone else is just confused!”

As a result of this confusion, the term Hyper-Calvinism has become a

derogative term that is used toward people who are passionate Calvinists. If we are to understand this system of belief we have to look at it from its historical roots.  It  is  this  understanding  that  will  help  us  differentiate  Calvinism  from Hyper-Calvinism. Phil Johnson gives a fivefold definition of Hyper-Calvinism. According to Phil Johnson, a Hyper-Calvinistic is one who is characterised by denial in the following spheres:

(a)   The denial of the gospel call: Hyper-Calvinism denies that the gospel calls all sinners to repentance and faith. The gospel call (the invitation to come to Christ for salvation—Rev. 22:17; Matt. 11:28–29; Isa. 45:22, 55:1–7) is denied to all but the elect.

David  Engelsma  supports  this  description  of  Hyper-Calvinism  by

adding that “it is a denial that God, in the preaching of the gospel, calls everyone who hears the preaching to repent and believe. It is the denial that the church should call everyone in the preaching. It is the denial that the unregenerate have a duty to repent and believe. It manifests itself in the practice of the preacher’s addressing the call of the gospel—‘repent and believe on Christ crucified’—only to those in his audience who show signs of regeneration, and thereby of election, namely, some conviction of sin and some interest in salvation.

The most  well-known example of this kind of Hyper-Calvinism  was when John Ryland responded to William Carey’s desire to go to India for mission work. John Ryland told him, “Sit down, young man. When God decides to save the heathen, he will do it without your help.”

(b)   The denial of faith as a duty: Hyper-Calvinism here suggests that since

unbelievers are incapable of faith apart from enabling grace, believing in

Christ must never be presented to them as a duty. This is clearly expressed in the articles of faith of the Gospel Standard Aid and Poor Relief Societies, i.e.  the  statement  of  faith  of  the  Hyper-Calvinistic  Gospel  Standard (Baptist) churches.

(c)   The denial of the gospel offer: Hyper-Calvinism denies the gospel offer

of mercy to the non-elect. It denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and   universal.   An   article   in   the   Gospel   Standard   Articles   records, “Therefore,  that  for ministers in the present  day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Ghost, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption.”

(d)   The denial of common grace: The doctrine of common grace has a long history that  goes all the way back to Calvin and Augustine. But  Hyper- Calvinism  denies  the  concept,  insisting  that  God  has  no  true  goodwill toward the non-elect and, therefore, shows them no favour or grace of any kind. The distinction between common grace and special grace parallels the  distinction between  the general  call  and the effectual  call. Common grace is extended to everyone. It is God’s goodness to humanity in general whereby God graciously restrains the full expression of sin and mitigates sin’s destructive effects in human society.

Common  grace  imposes  moral  constraints  on  people’s  behaviour,

maintains a semblance of order in human affairs, enforces a sense of right and  wrong  through  conscience  and  civil  government,  enables  men  and women to appreciate beauty and goodness, and imparts blessings to elect and non-elect alike. God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).

(e)   The denial of God’s love toward the reprobate: Hyper-Calvinism denies God’s love for the reprobate. To deny that God loves the reprobate is to suggest that God holds us to a higher standard than he himself follows, for he instructs us to love our enemies—and Scripture teaches that when we love our enemies we are behaving like God, who shows lovingkindness even  to  the  reprobate  (Deut.  10:18;  Matt.  5:44–45).  One  example  of preachers who held to such a view is John Rabbi Duncan who is quoted

saying, “I believe that God does hate some of you and that he always will! Do what you will he will hate you, whether you believe or not—whether you pray or not—whether you repent or not—God hates you and will hate you!”

As one can observe, Hyper-Calvinism carries a variety of nuances but

it is helpful to keep this description in mind as one thinks of this heretical system of belief. Phil  Johnson sums up the problem  with Hyper-Calvinism  when he writes, “All five varieties of Hyper-Calvinism undermine evangelism or twist the  gospel  message.”  Hyper-Calvinists  are  notorious  for  their  refusal  to evangelise the lost and for drawing conclusions springing from their belief of the sovereignty of God that are contrary to the teachings of Scripture.

A brief response

The  denials  discussed  are  damaging  to  the  teachings  of  the  Bible.  Hyper- Calvinism presents a God who is unjust and unloving. Is this what the Bible teaches? We respond to these beliefs with two questions:

Should the gospel be offered to all? Hyper-Calvinists believe that the gospel should not be preached to the unbeliever as they are totally unable to believe  and  that  since  God  is  sovereign  in  election,  the  elect  will  be  saved regardless.  What  they  fail  to  see,  however,  is  that  human  inability  does  not negate responsibility just as sovereign election does not negate evangelism. The apostle Paul was the greatest proponent of man’s total depravity (Rom 1:18–

3:18) and God’s sovereign election (Eph. 1:3–14; Rom 8:28–9:29), and yet his

evangelistic  fervour  and  missionary  passion  are  unrivalled.  He  pleaded  with people to be saved from their sins and the wrath to come.

Hence, Paul preached the gospel and suffered for its cause (Rom 1:16;

Acts 9:15–16; Rom 9:1–3, 10:9–17) while acknowledging that salvation is the sovereign work of God. The Canons of Dort’s statement sums it up well when they  affirm  that  Christ’s  death  “is  of  infinite  worth  and  value,  abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (Second Head, Article 3). They go on to say, “the promise of the gospel … to all persons … without distinction

….”  Although  many  do  not  embrace  it,  this  “is  not  owing  to  any  defect  or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves” (Second Head, Articles 5–6).

Is God good to everyone? The Hyper-Calvinist argue that the non-elect does not experience the goodness of God in any way because God does not love them. They reject any notion that distinguishes between God’s saving gracing towards his chosen people and his common grace towards his entire creation. The problem with such a position is that one has to do away with a lot of verses in the Bible. Michael Horton’s comments are helpful here: “Scripture is full of examples of God’s providential goodness, particularly in the Psalms: ‘The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made …. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing’ (Ps. 145:9, 16). Jesus calls upon his followers to pray for their enemies for just this reason: ‘For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matt. 5:44). Christians are supposed to imitate this divine attitude.

Conclusion

A church that has a shallow understanding of the sovereignty of God is a church that will be spiritually weak and will not make gospel proclamation central to its life. When such a church proclaims the gospel, it is unclear and manipulative. We must heed the caution of Iain Murray: “While I know of no evidence that Hyper-Calvinism is recovering strength, it would appear that the priority which soul-winning  had  in  Spurgeon’s  ministry  is  not  commonly  seen  to  be  our priority.  The  revival  of  doctrine  has  scarcely  been  matched  by  a  revival  of evangelism… Doctrine without usefulness is no prize.(xiv)

Bibliography

Englesma, David. 1980. Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. Grand

Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association.

Murray, Iain. 2002. Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel

Preaching. Banner of Truth.

Spurgeon, Charles. 1856. The New Park Street Pulpit Vol. 1.

2010. The Canons of Dort. Chapel library. Pensacola, Florida.

2008. The articles of Faith and Rules. Gospel standard trust publications. http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/what-is-hyper-calvinism http://www.romans45.org/articles/hypercal.htm https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/reformed-theology-vs-hyper-calvinism/