There is much talk of ‘hyper-Calvinism’ – even though one rarely comes across hyper-Calvinists anywhere in the world. It is like the references to those who are ‘dead orthodox’ while, though they exist, meeting one is a rare encounter. So, there is some ignorance of what are the tenets and consequences of ‘hyper-Calvinism.’ It is essential – if I am to take my life in my hands and spill the beans about ‘hyper-Calvinism’ – that also I add some positive explanations of true biblical teaching and piety. Here goes . . . ten tenets of ‘hyper-Calvinism.’
1. ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ denies the doctrine of God’s common grace enjoyed by all men without exception. All people are made in the image and likeness of God – though that image has been marred by the fall of Adam and our own sin. God is good to everyone, the converted farmer and the pagan farmer alike receive sunshine, rain and prosperity for their crops and herds. He is good to everyone, blessing them with happy marriages and children. Isn’t that an expression that He is love and loves? Through the powers-that-be that He appoints to their office and authority, God rewards well-doers and punishes evil-doers. God in grace prevents the world becoming a hell on earth so that His own people might live lives of peace and righteousness. “The Lord is good to you,” is the message we can give to every single person.
2. There is in ‘hyper-Calvinism’ a denial of the two wills in God, a secret will whereby he has given to his Son a vast and innumerable company of people whom he sends into the world to seek and save. Each one of these elect sinners will certainly be saved through the love of God for them, and the work of Christ in redemption, and the Holy Spirit regenerating them in the new birth and gift of faith. But there is also God’s revealed will that the Christian is a watchman who is set sincerely to warn all men and urge them to find a refuge and safety in Jehovah Jesus. His revealed will is that He takes no pleasure in the judgment of sinners. He would spread his wings over them in safe keeping, but they are refusing to hide in Christ. “Why do you choose death?” He says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” There is a sincere divine invitation to all men and women to come to Jesus Christ. He will in no way cast them out. That is the good news we have for everyone we meet. That is the divine warrant for any sinner to trust in God today.
3. In ‘hyper-Calvinism,’ there is an aversion to the term ‘offer.’ It suggests to them a ‘hawking’ of the gospel – “What are you prepared to offer to have Christ?” – lowering the preaching of salvation through Jesus Christ to the lowest willingness of men to receive him, on their own terms, for some a mere decision of the will. “It is far more than an offer of ‘trying Jesus’” the ‘hyper-Calvinists’ insist. Of course, but there is more to the word ‘offer’ than a bargain hunt. The term has a noble background, for example, in the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession. Question 31 is “What is effectual calling?” And the answer is, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.” There is the smallest distinction between the offer and the invitation to come to the King’s wedding banquet when the promise is proclaimed by His heralds that all who respond to the invitation are guaranteed a place at the feast. Isn’t that the same as an offer? If there is the ‘hyper-Calvinist’ suspicion of the phrase ‘offer’ surely there can be no suspicion of Jesus’ own use of this concept of ‘invitation’ to those who are on the highways and byways of life, that they are all without exception invited by the King’s heralds, “Come to the feast today!”.
4. ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ denies the universal love of God for all. His saving love is limited to his elect, they insist, not to the sinners who are now in hell, for example, not to those who perished in Noah’s flood. But the Calvinist can say confidently and tenderly to a mixed congregation, “God has loved each of you so much that he has brought you here today to hear of his love for us in Jesus Christ so that while we were yet sinners He died for us. We all deserve eternal death, but Jesus because he loved sinners died in their place, taking their judgement on the cross that there might be for all who believe in him no condemnation.”
5. ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ encourages a sense of pulpit reserve, a caution, an over-sensitive desire to be theologically ‘correct’ in our evangelistic preaching, lest we suggest to an unbeliever he might be in a state of salvation when he is not, or that the limits of an encouragement to believe are to produce some mindset in which church attenders are encouraged to go on and on waiting on the Lord until some future moment when God might decide to save him. Thus, there is a lack of urgency and a diminishing of each living preaching ‘encounter.’ But God is calling on men and women while it is ‘today,’ that the appointed time is ‘now,’ that they can guarantee no other time than the present encounter with Jesus Christ who is Himself through the word preaching and also being preached to them. God is summoning them to entrust themselves to Christ now. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God ”(2 Corinthians 5:20).
6. In ‘hyper-Calvinist’ preaching there are few notes of beseeching, imploring and pleading with sinners to wake up and cry to God for mercy, to seek him at this very moment as he can be found in the place where they meet now, if only two or three, who are gathered in his name. There he is speaking to them at that time through his word. “Do not harden your hearts!” They are being presented with two stark alternatives, opening their hearts to receive him or hardening their hearts against him.
7. In hyper-Calvinist preaching there is no calling for a decision from every member of the congregation. Even Christians again and again are being summoned to such dutiful responses such as once again presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to God, and to be asking God to fill every part of themselves with the Spirit. To the unbelievers hearing the word they are being urged to determine that this very day they are going to come off the fence, and enter the Kingdom of God and own Christ as their Lord. “Choose ye this day whom you will serve!” Of course, many Christians are suspicious of mere decisions (from an analysis of figures of those who continue to going on with Christ who had once been assured they had Him by responding to an altar call in an evangelistic crusade, in getting out of their seats and walking to the front. For many of them there is cause for questioning the helpfulness of employing such an invitation system of a physical response to a wholly spiritual and divine transformation. We are shown that the vast majority of those so-called ‘converts’ actually appear to be nowhere spiritually just a few months later. Certainly, they are not attending church). But the reverse of this, the absence of any expectation or a preacher’s summons to an act of the will – “Turn or burn!” – based on the warrant of the invitation extended to all to come to Christ, its constant absence from preaching is not going to encourage anyone to costly surrender all to the King of kings. That fear of making a decision “in the flesh” can result in years of uncertainty as to whether or not they could be Christians. Where else do you occasionally meet people who choose to identify themselves as Bunyan’s man in the iron cage unable to get out, or who believe that they have committed the unforgivable sin? Others, who live holy lives, yet will never take the Lord’s Supper because of a dreadful fear of the sin of presumption.
8. In hyper-Calvinism there is little emphasis on dutiful personal, one to one, evangelism. But Peter tells us that we are always to be ready to tell the despairing inquirers who ask us the reason for our hope how and why Jesus found us and how he saved us and that he could save them too.
9. There can also be very strong rejection of free offer teaching. Iain Murray has written a paperback on Spurgeon’s confrontation with hyper-Calvinism amongst the Baptists of the 19th century in England (Spurgeon and Hyper Calvinism, Banner of Truth). Those ‘hypers’ took no survivors! Spurgeon was fiercely attacked. There is very little of such venom today. Ben Ramsbottom in his fine biography of the life of the Baptist preacher William Gadsby informs us bravely in a footnote of a foolish remark of Gadsby’s indicating his hostility to Andrew Fuller and his book The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, Gadsby claiming to effect that Fuller was the most wicked man in England. Free-offer men can be pilloried as being mere “inconsistent Arminians” who are grieving the Spirit of God and cheapening grace.
10. The rejection of the free offer is usually accompanied by other features, the exclusive use of the King James translation of the Word of God, the finality of the Textus Receptus Greek text, women wearing hats, a rejection of modern hymn tunes and writers. However, the Presbyterian and Reformed congregations who are exclusive singers of metrical psalms, where the women still feel most at peace wearing a hat in worship, are churches which most strongly affirm the free offer of the gospel.
About the Author
Geoff Thomas was the Pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales for over 50 years. A ministry in which he preached through (almost) every verse in the Bible. The complete text of over a thousand of these sermons is found on this website, along with links to many, many recordings hosted on Sermon Audio.
Geoff received his theological training at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, being especially influenced by the teaching of Professor John Murray, as well as Cornelius Van Til and E.J. Young. They awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2011.
Geoff still contributes regularly to the Banner of Truth Trust website and is the author of several books including The Holy Spirit, published by Reformation Heritage Press. He is a frequent conference speaker all over the world. He also holds the position of Visiting Professor of Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.