Archive for the ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ Category

Dr. James Galyon Against Hyper-Calvinism

April 10, 2010

Dr. James Galyon has an interesting post on the topic of Hyper-Calvinism. He provides a long list of items that he views as Hyper-Calvinism, many of which I would agree with. I may not agree with him in every last detail in his definition. For example, he includes as one form of hyper-Calvinism: “Scripture is to be interpreted only by individuals, not by the Church.” While that position is wrong, I wouldn’t necessarily see it being an error under the umbrella of hyper-Calvinism.

Here’s his post.


– TurretinFan

Hypercalvinism contrasted with Calvinism

March 19, 2010

I was grateful to read an interesting post from Dr. James Galyon on the subject of Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism (link to post). I’m not saying I agree with every aspect of the definitions he provides, but his underlying point – namely that the counter-indication of Hyper-Calvinism is active evangelism is spot-on.


Curt Daniel’s Thesis: Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill

March 14, 2010

Fred Butler had asked for my opinion of Dr. Daniel’s doctoral thesis (March, 1983) on the topic of John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism (the title simply reads: “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill”). As I mentioned to him immediately, I have a copy of the thesis, but I’m not read to give my full opinion of it. Nevertheless, I may be able to provide a few thoughts on it. The thoughts relate to the use of Dr. Daniel’s thesis in two ways: (1) as an alleged demonstration that John Gill is Hyper-Calvinist and (2) as a standard for “Hyper-Calvinism” in discussions of that label.

I. Was Dr. Daniel’s treatise aimed at addressing the issue of whether Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist?

The key question to the dissertation is the question of the definition of Hyper-Calvinism. The preface of the treatise explains, “The immediate aim of this work will be seen to be the definition of what has come to be known as Hyper-Calvinism.” (p. vi) The careful reader will note the odd result of this methodology. “Hyper-Calvinism” is to be treated as a label that is already applied to a nebulous thing, and the aim is simply to help determine the boundaries of that nebulous thing. The aim is not, evidently, to determine whether Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist. Instead, the aim is to determine what “Hyper-Calvinism” must include, given its existing usage against Gill.

We see this same principle of approach explained more clearly in the “Summary” section:

Since the Reformation, there have arisen several varieties of theology associated with John Calvin. One of the most extreme has come to be known as Hyper-Calvinism, but scholars have not been agreed as to what exactly constitutes this school. By a thorough examination of the works of those usually cited as Hyper-Calvinists in the context of the on-going progress of Calvinism in general, a definite pattern can be detected and through an investigation of the pertinent doctrines a definition of the term ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ can be attained.

(p. x)

Notice then that Daniel does not propose to examine whether Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist, but rather proceeds based on the assumption that Gill has been properly labeled a Hyper-Calvinist and seeks to define Hyper-Calvinism based on Gill’s theology.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Daniel is remarkably vague in terms of what constitutes hyper-calvinism for him. In the “Summary” section, Daniel states:

Specifically this means that the most tangible tenet of Hyper-Calvinism has been the rejection of the theology of the Free Offer (with special reference to the word offer’), Duty-Faith (that saving faith in Christ is required by the Moral Law of all who hear the Gospel), and indiscriminate invitations to redemptive privileges and responsibilities.

(p. x)

One wonders whether Daniel means to suggest that Hyper-Calvinism has some intangible tenets in addition to the tangible ones. Nevertheless, let me provide a few comments on this pseudo-definition of “Hyper-Calvinism” as applied to Gill.

It does seem that Gill did not like to use the term “offer” in reference to the gospel and that Gill distinguished carefully between the moral law and the gospel. These points seem (at least on their face) to agree with Daniel’s description of Gill. Finally, it would be hard to imagine that Gill (as a Calvinist) could fail to reject indiscriminate invitations to redemptive privileges and responsibilities, since those privileges and responsibilities belong to the redeemed (and Calvinists reject universal redemption). Gill, however, did teach that the gospel is to be preached to men indiscriminately. Thus, if one were to consider “redemptive privileges and responsibilities” to simply mean the gospel, then Daniel’s description would not appear to be accurate.

My point in this post, however, is not to argue with Daniel’s characterization of Gill (that would require me to do more than state my facial agreement or disagreement with him). Instead, my point is to note that Daniel’s thesis proceeds from the assumption that there is a nebulous thing referred to by the time of Daniel’s writing (1983) as “Hyper-Calvinism” and the assumption that John Gill’s theology is within the boundaries of that theological label.

Thus, in debates over the proper use of the label “Hyper-Calvinism” it would not be appropriate to claim that Dr. Daniel’s lengthy thesis is proof that Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist. It did not aim to provide that proof, and the methodology employed by Curt Daniel guaranteed that Gill would fall within the boundaries of “Hyper-Calvinism” regardless of the details of Gill’s theology.

We have, sadly, seen quite a number of people attempt to argue that Gill must be a Hyper-Calvinist on Dr. Daniel’s authority. As noted above, however, the bulk of Daniel’s thesis is concerned simply with defining “Hyper-Calvinism” on the basis of Gill, not determining whether Gill should be included in the label. There is a brief section (pp. 746-67) that interacts a little with Englesma over whether the label is correct, but that is hardly the focus of Dr. Daniel’s work.

II. If we use Dr. Daniel’s thesis to define Hyper-Calvinism, what is the result?

One obvious result of using Dr. Daniel’s thesis to define “Hyper-Calvinism” is that my beloved brethren in the Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) will end up getting labeled. Dr. Daniel explains:

This could be summarized even further: it is the rejection of the word ‘offer’ in connection with evangelism for supposedly Calvinistic reasons. In all our researches, the only real tangible thing which differentiates the Hyper from the High Calvinists is the word ‘offer’. The Supralapsarians were brought to the very door of Hyper-Calvinism but those who accepted free offers failed to enter into the realm of the most extreme variety of Calvinism that the history of Reformed theology has yet seen.

(p. 767)

The PRC has historically opposed the use of the term “offer” in connection with the gospel, because of the connotations associated with that word. They have rightly noted that in relatively modern times the term has become associated with a synergistic soteriology. There was an older Reformed usage, however, and that usage is reflected in documents like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith. For example:

Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

(London Baptist Confession of Faith 7:2)

Also see:

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

(Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3)

Even see:

The olde Testament is not contrary to the newe, for both in the olde and newe Testament euerlastyng lyfe is offered to mankynde by Christe, who is the onlye mediatour betweene God and man, being both God and man.

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man.

(Thirty Nine Articles, 7)

Thus, those Presbyterians of the Scottish tradition (such as myself) and Reformed Baptists (such as my friend, Dr. James White) have confessional grounds for using the term in a specific way that predates the modern times. In contrast, the three forms of unity (Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism), which reflect the Dutch heritage of the PRC, do not include a similar usage of “offer.”

There is also some Continental precedent for “offer” usage:

What Is the Church? The Church is an assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world; a communion, I say, of all saints, namely, of those who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God in Christ the Savior, by the Word and Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all benefits which are freely offered through Christ.

(Second Helvetic Confession, 17)

See also:

Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who earnestly and sincerely calls. For in his Word he most earnestly and truly reveals, not, indeed, his secret will respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but our responsibility, and what will happen to us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who calls, that they who are called come to him and not neglect so great a salvation, and so he earnestly promises eternal life to those who come to him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, “It is a trustworthy saying: For if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself (2 Tim 2:12Ä13). Neither is this call without result for those who disobey; for God always accomplishes his will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who fulfill their responsibility, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Certainly the spiritual man in no way determined the eternal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally offered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every truth which flows from his counsel, it is correctly said to be his will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life (John 6:40). Although these “all” are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for everyone but only for the elect who were given to him; yet he intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from his special and definite purpose. But that, by God’s will, the elect alone believe in the external call which is universally offered, while the reprobate are hardened. This proceeds solely from the discriminating grace of God; election by the same grace to those who believe, but their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin, who after their hardened and impenitent heart build up for themselves wrath for the Day of Judgment, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God

(Formula Consensus Helvetica, Canon 19)

This precedent, however, is Swiss – not Dutch – and consequently not so persuasive to our Dutch Reformed brethren. Thus, some of the most conservative of them (particularly those in PRC) continue to oppose the use of the term “offer” in connection with evangelism, even while taking the position that this is simply consistent Calvinism, not “hyper-Calvinism.” They continue to oppose that term, even while maintaining the duty of all sinners to repent – and even while continuing to evangelize the lost indiscriminately.


The main point above has been to demonstrate that it is inappropriate to argue that Dr. Daniel’s doctoral thesis is a 900 page demonstration of Gill’s alleged Hyper-Calvinism. Instead, it is a 900 page work that takes Gill’s identity as a Hyper-Calvinist largely as an unproven premise. Pointing that fact out is not the same as providing a demonstration that the premise was wrong.

Secondarily, we have noted that those who are confessional Presbyterians (aside from the Dutch) or Reformed Baptists tend to avoid Dr. Daniel’s definition of Hyper-Calvinism, even if only narrowly. Whether or not we reject his definition as grouping those who truly deny man’s responsibility with those who truly hold to man’s responsibility, we may note that Dr. Daniel’s definition is not broad enough for the purposes of those who have, in recent times, attempted to rely upon him.

One final note before closing. Dr. Daniel seems to vacillate a little over the issue of what constitutes “Calvinism.” At certain times he seems to attempt to use Calvin’s theology to define Calvinism. However, towards the conclusion of the thesis we find an interesting acknowledgment:

In a similar way, it has long been popular to define ‘Calvinism’ in terms of the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’. Without arguing the point that Calvin himself does not speak of ‘Five Points’, it must be acknowledged that these Points were formulated at Dort and are historically and technically more appropriate to defining ‘Calvinism’ than ‘Calvin’s theology’. Whether there is a difference between the two is another matter.

(pp. 760-61)

– TurretinFan

Response to Tony Byrne’s Challenge

March 12, 2010

Tony Byrne (aka Ynottony) is one of the culprits behind the defamation of my friend Dr. White as supposedly being a “hyper-Calvinst.” Tony has suggested, in his own defense, that one could use the following approach:

Step 1: Ask White for specific biblical proof that God desires the eternal salvation of any of the non-elect.

Step 2: Follow Robert Reymond’s advice and consult John Gill’s explanation of the given passage.

Step 3: Use John Gill’s explanation against White’s proof-text.

Step 4: Repeat step 1, 2 then 3 ad infinitum :-)

Will David [Hewitt] do it? No. He wouldn’t last 5 minutes in White’s chat channel. Frankly, I don’t think he will get past step 1.


Let’s be clear about a few things up front: none of the folks that Tony has accused are hyper-Calvinists. John Gill is one of the most eminent Baptist theologians that has ever lived. He was already proficient in Latin and Greek at age 11. There are few equals to him for scholarship and acumen. Dr. Robert Reymond is also a scholar, and has taught at Covenant Seminary for over twenty years. Both Gill and Reymond have written systematic theologies, and Gill has written a commentary on the entire Bible. Dr. White teaches at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (for nearly 15 years) and is one of the leading Reformed apologists (he hasn’t written a systematic theology, although he has written a number of books).

We must also acknowledge that folks sometimes accuse Gill of either being a hyper-calvinist or having “hyper tendencies.” These accusations are unfounded, and folks who make such accusations (even if they are themselves scholars) should be called to task for this. The like accusations against Drs. White and Reymond are similarly unfounded.

But let’s get to Tony’s strategy. Tony’s shibboleth for hyper-calvinism is the erroneous touchstone of whether a person is willing to say that God desires, in any sense, the salvation of the reprobate. This is the wrong touchstone. The serious error of hyper-calvinism lies not in that, but in other areas, as I’ve previously demonstrated.

Nevertheless, even if one were to use that as the touchstone, Dr. White does and would agree that if one uses the term “desire” in the sense of something being God’s revealed will, then God desires the salvation of all men, in that he commands that all men everywhere repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He might cite as support for this:

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

We should note, of course, that “all men” here refers (in context) to both Jews and Greeks, but the point is nevertheless the case that the gospel is presented indiscriminately to Jews and Greeks.

John Gill, in his commentary on the entire Bible, comments thus:

but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent; that is, he hath given orders, that the doctrine of repentance, as well as remission of sins, should be preached to all nations, to Gentiles as well as Jews; and that it becomes them to repent of their idolatries, and turn from their idols, and worship the one, only, living and true God: and though for many hundreds of years God had neglected them, and sent no messengers, nor messages to them, to acquaint them with his will, and to show them their follies and mistakes; yet now he had sent his apostles unto them, to lay before them their sins, and call them to repentance; and to stir them up to this, the apostle informs them of the future judgment in the following verse. Repentance being represented as a command, does not suppose it to be in the power of men, or contradict evangelical repentance, being the free grace gift of God, but only shows the need men stand in of it, and how necessary and requisite it is; and when it is said to be a command to all, this does not destroy its being a special blessing of the covenant of grace to some; but points out the sad condition that all men are in as sinners, and that without repentance they must perish: and indeed, all men are obliged to natural repentance for sin, though to all men the grace of evangelical repentance is not given: the Jews (a) call repentance מצות התשובה, “the command of repentance”, though they do not think it obligatory on men, as the other commands of the law. The law gives no encouragement to repentance, and shows no mercy on account of it; it is a branch of the Gospel ministry, and goes along with the doctrine of the remission of sins; and though in the Gospel, strictly taken, there is no command, yet being largely taken for the whole ministry of the word, it includes this, and everything else which Christ has commanded, and was taught by him and his apostles; Matthew 28:20.

Now, nothing that Gill has said there would create any problem for what someone like Dr. White might say. Yet, perhaps Mr. Byrne would wish to insist that Gill has artfully avoided saying that anyone is commanded to believe. However, Gill was not afraid to use such terminology. Commenting on John 12:39-40 (The Cause of God and Truth, Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 2), Gill wrote:

It is certain, that the impossibility of their after believing, is to be resolved into the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, to which they were justly left, having contemned both the doctrines and miracles of Christ. It is of no great moment whether the he, who is said to blind and harden, be God or Christ, or whether the words be rendered, it hath blinded, etc. that is, malice or wickedness hath blinded, or be read impersonally, their eyes are blinded, etc. Since God, or Christ, blind and harden, not by any positive act, or putting in blindness or hardness, but by leaving and giving men up to the blindness and hardness of their hearts, and denying them grace; which was the cause of these Jews; so as never to be converted, or turned even by external repentance and reformation, that they might be healed in a national way, or be preserved front national ruin. All which is consistent with God’s command, and Christ’s exhortations to them to believe, which were antecedent to the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, and were, with the miracles and doctrines of Christ, aggravations of their unbelief; and therefore, they might he justly objected to them by the evangelist as their great crime, as it certainly was; being owing to the perverseness of their wills, and the evil dispositions of their hearts.

And Gill gets even more explicit regarding the two wills distinction in the same work, at part 3, section 2:

This argument proceeds upon God’s will of command, which does not thwart his will of purpose. These two wills, though they differ, are not contradictory; the purpose of God is from eternity: his command is in time; the one is within himself, the other put forth from himself; the one is always fulfilled, the other seldom; the one cannot be resisted, the other may; the will of command only signifies, what is the pleasure of God should be the duty of man, or what he should do, but not what he shall do. Now admitting that it is God’s will of command, that not only all to whom the Gospel is vouchsafed, but even all mankind, should repent, believe, and obey; it does not follow, that it is the determining will of God to give grace to all men to repent, believe, and obey; nor does it contradict such a will in God, determining to give grace to some, to enable them to repent, believe, and obey, and to deny it to others. Could it be proved, that either God has willed to give this grace to all men, or that there is no such will in God to give it to some, and deny it to others, the controversy would be shut up, and we should have no more to say.

Notice how Gill even uses the word “duty” in relation to the revealed will of God and the connection between the revealed law and the gospel offer. It is the will of command that all men should repent, believe, and obey. It is not the determining will of God that they shall.

And again Gill writes (same book, Part 3, Section 2, VI:2):

It is man’s duty to believe the word of the Lord, and obey his will, though he has not a power, yea, even though God has decreed to withhold that grace without which he cannot believe and obey. So it was Pharaoh’s duty to believe and obey the Lord, and let Israel go; though God had determined to harden his heart, that he should not let them go. However there are many things which may be believed and done by reprobates, and therefore they may be justly required to believe and obey; it is true, they are not able to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls, or to perform spiritual and evangelical obedience, but then it will be difficult to prove that God requires these things of them, and should that appear, yet the impossibility of doing them, arises from the corruption of their hearts, being destitute of the grace of God, and not from the decree of reprobation, which though it denies them that grace and strength, without which they cannot believe and obey in this sense, yet it takes none from them, and therefore does them no injustice.

Notice how Gill explicitly affirms that it is the duty of men generally to believe the word of the Lord and to obey his will.

Still further in the same book, discussing Acts 3:19 (Part 1, Section 32, 2):

Besides, as has been observed, the exhortation to repent here made, is not made unto all men, but to the Jews, on a very remarkable occasion, and was blessed to many of them, to the turning them away from their iniquities; for many of them which heard the word, believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4). If it should be replied, that though the exhortation to repentance is not here made to all men; yet it is elsewhere expressly said, that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Let it be observed, that as this command to repentance does not suppose it to be in the power of man; nor contradicts its being a free-grace gift of God; nor its being a blessing in the covenant of grace, and in the hands of Christ to bestow; so neither does it extend, as here expressed, to every individual of mankind; but only regards the men of the then present age, in distinction from those who lived in the former times of ignorance: for so the words are expressed: and the times of this ignorance God winked at; overlooked, took no notice of, sent them no messages, enjoined them no commands of faith in Christ, or repentance towards God; but now, since the coming and death of Christ, commandeth all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, everywhere to repent; it being his will, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations (Luke 24:47): but admitting that it has been God’s command in all ages, and to all men that they repent; as all men are indeed bound, by the law of nature, to a natural repentance, though all men are not called by the gospel to an evangelical one; yet I see not what conclusions can be formed from hence against either absolute election or particular redemption.

We see it yet again, in the same book, discussing Acts 9:18:

And again, in Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 4, Chapter 7, 5b:

Whether repentance is a doctrine of the law or of the gospel? the answer to which is, that such who sin ought to repent of sin; this God has commanded, the law of nature teaches; and so far as this is to be considered as a duty incumbent on men, it belongs to the law, as all duty does; but then the law makes no account of repentance for sin; nor does it admit of it as a satisfaction for it; nor gives any encouragement to expect that God will receive repenting sinners into his grace and favor upon it; this is what the gospel does, and not the law; the law says not, repent and live, but do and live.

Notice that Gill here is quite explicit that those who sin are commanded to repent of sin. It is a command of the gospel, not the law, but it is a command.

We see this again in the same book, Book 6, Chapter 12, 1a:

Nor is the gospel ministry an offer of Christ, and of his grace and salvation by him, which are not in the power of the ministers of it to give, nor of carnal men to receive; the gospel is not an offer, but a preaching of Christ crucified, a proclamation of the unsearchable riches of his grace, of peace, pardon, righteousness, and life, and salvation by him. Yet there is something in which the ministry of the word, and the call by it, have to do with unregenerate sinners: they may be, and should be called upon, to perform the natural duties of religion; to a natural faith, to give credit to divine revelation, to believe the external report of the gospel, which not to do, is the sin of the deists; to repent of sin committed, which even the light of nature dictates; and God, in his word, commands all men everywhere to repent: to pray to God for forgiveness, as Simon Magus was directed by the apostle: and to pray to God for daily mercies that are needed, is a natural and moral duty; as well as to give him praise, and return thanks for mercies received, which all men that have breath are under obligation to do. They may, and should be called upon to attend the outward means of grace, and to make use of them; to read the Holy Scriptures, which have been the means of the conversion of some; to hear the word, and wait on the ministry of it, which may be blessed unto them, for the effectual calling of them. And it is a part of the ministry of the word to lay before men their fallen, miserable, lost, and undone estate by nature; to open to them the nature of sin, its pollution and guilt, and the sad consequences of it; to inform them of their incapacity to make atonement for it; and of their impotence and inability to do what is spiritually good; and of the insufficiency of their own righteousness to justify them in the sight of God: and they are to be made acquainted, that salvation is alone by Christ, and not other ways; and the fullness, freeness, and suitableness of this salvation, are to be preached before them; and the whole to be left to the Spirit of God, to make application of it as he shall think fit.

We should note that Dr. White does not refuse to use the term “offer” in connection with the gospel (link to example). Consequently Dr. White would not fall prey, as Gill might appear to here, to the “offer” shibboleth that some use who wish to use the label “hyper-calvinist” liberally.

And Gill says the same thing again, with respect to the command to repent, in the same book, Book 1, Chapter 4, 3b2:

Men of all nations, Jews and Gentiles, are the subjects of repentance; for all are under sin, under the power of it, involved in the guilt of it, and liable to punishment for it, and God has commanded “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). During the time of John the Baptist, and of our Lord’s being on earth, the doctrine of repentance was only preached to the Jews; but after the resurrection of Christ he gave his apostles an instruction and order “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47), in consequence of which the apostles first exhorted the Jews and then the Gentiles to repent, and particularly the apostle Paul “testified both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God”, as well as “faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

Now, allow me to make one final important distinction. If Tony means to insist that God’s general desire with respect to salvation should be understood not as to man’s duty, but rather as to God’s desire for his own action, we must insist that it is blasphemy to assert that God desires to save the reprobate and cannot do so. It is the pleasure of God that it is the duty of men who hear the gospel to believe it.

As Gill explains, The Cause of God and Truth, Part 3, Section 3, II (second II):

It should be proved that there is in God a general will that all men should be saved, or that he anywhere wishes for and desires the salvation of all the individuals of mankind. For God to will or wish the salvation of all men, and intend the death of Christ for that purpose, and yet not save all men, is inconsistent with the perfection of his nature and the immutability of his counsel. Nor is this argument, that God wills not what he sees not fit to execute, attended with those dreadful consequences as are suggested; as “that God is not willing any should obey his will who doth not obey it; and that he is not unwilling any one should sin whom he restrains not from it; and that he is not willing any one should repent who doth not repent.” Since God commanding and approving will is one thing, and his determining will another, in the former sense God wills what he does not see fit to execute; it is what he commands and approves of, that men should obey his will, abstain from sin, and repent of it, when he does not see fit to give them grace to enable them to do these things; but God never wills, that is determines, any thing but he sees fit to execute, and does execute, it. Besides, it is one thing for God to will and wish, that is, command and approve, what is entirely man’s duty to do, though he does not see fit to give him grace to execute it, which he is not obliged to do; and another thing to will and wish the salvation of all men, which entirely depends upon himself, and which, if he did wish, he would surely see fit to execute.


Response to C. Michael Patton on the Divine Decrees and Hyper-Calvinism

January 8, 2010

C. Michael Patton has a new post entitled, Calvinism and the Divine Decrees – Correcting a Misunderstanding. Unfortunately, Patton’s post actually promotes a misunderstanding and confuses a few categories.

First, the promotion of a misunderstanding. Patton states: “Supralapsarianism literally means “before or above the fall” (supra=”above”; lapse=”fall”). This is the form of Calvinism that is often called “hyper-Calvinism” (“hyper being an adj not a noun) because of its radical nature. It is held by very few Calvinists, and does not represent so-called “Evangelical Calvinism.””

While it is sometimes called hyper-calvinism, that description is inaccurate. It is also inaccurate to refer to supralapsarianism as having a “radical nature” and while Patton may have met few supralapsarian Calvinists, I have met many. One of the most prominent supralapsarian Calvinists was William Twisse, who served as the Prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly.

While hyper-calvinism (properly defined) is contrary to evangelical Calvinism, supralapsarianism is perfectly consistent with the Gospel. Hyper-calvinism, properly defined, is a position that combines incompatibilism and divine sovereignty. In other words, like Arminians, hyper-Calvinists (properly defined) deny that it is possible for men to be responsible and for God to be fully sovereign. However, instead of denying that God is fully sovereign, hyper-Calvinists deny that man is responsible. Thus, they generally do not proclaim the gospel and do not preach that is the duty of sinners to repent of their sins and trust in Christ.

There are also a number of non-technical definitions of hyper-Calvinism, such as those set forth in Phil Johnson’s primer on hyper-calvinism (link to his primer). Phil Johnson there proposes a five-fold test of hyper-calvinism. Johnson’s five-fold test relates to forms of Calvinism that have particular scruples, such as scruples relating to using the expression “common grace” (opponents say we should use the term “grace” only of saving grace), “free offer” (opponents say we should not call the gospel an “offer”), or “love of God for the reprobate” (opponents say we should not refer to God’s dealings with the reprobate in terms of “love”). While I don’t think calling folks that have such scruples “hyper-calvinists” is very productive (in fact, it tends to generate lots of unnecessary strife among Christian brethren), none of those scruples is inherent in supralapsarianism.

Phil Johnson’s article also notes the following definition of hyper-calvinism (I provide his citation and his editorial note in brackets]:

    1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .
    2. It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, “Hyper-Calvinism,” New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]

This dictionary definition provides what I’ve termed the “proper” definition as the first definition. The second definition is like unto it, and its qualification is emphasized by Johnson. As the second definition indicates, hyper-calvinism (properly defined) is normally a subset of supralapsarianism. While there is nothing intrinsic to supralapsarianism that leads to hyper-calvinism, hyper-calvinism’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty and hyper-calvinism’s lack of consideration of man’s responsibility tends to lead to adopting a supralapsarian order of decrees.

Unfortunately, Patton seems incompletely familiar with the theological usage of the term hyper-calvinism. Thus, he has sadly mislabeled evangelical and confessional Calvinists like Twisse as “hyper-calvinists” without an adequate justification.

Second, the confusion of categories. Patton states:

Most Calvinists have a theology that makes it very clear that God is not responsible for the creation of evil and did not institute the fall in order to accomplish his purpose of reprobation. In other words, he did not create people for hell.

There are several category problems here.

First, “evil” is an idea, not a thing. In its primary sense, evil describes every moral action or omission that is contrary to the law of God. In its secondary sense, evil describes those creatures who do evil or who are inclined toward evil by their nature. Talking about God “creating evil” is to reify evil. God does not do evil, but some of his creation does. On this, all Calvinists (including Supralapsarians) agree.

Second, God is not morally accountable for the evil deeds of his creatures. On that, all Calvinists agree as well. If Patton means by “responsible” that God is morally accountable for the evil deeds of his creatures, all Calvinists (whether supralapsarian or not) agree that God is not. However, if Patton means by “responsible” that God ordained the evils deeds of his creatures (including the Fall), then all Calvinists (whether supralapsarian or not) agree that God has done so. He’s “responsible” in the sense of having ordained that it would occur, though not “responsible” in the sense of being culpable for the wrongdoing.

Third, the supralapsarian position may indeed make the decree of the fall a means to the end of the destruction of the reprobate. However, the supralapsarian position also makes the decree of the fall a means to the end of the glorification of the elect. Furthermore, most of all, the decree of the fall is a means to the end of the glory of God. After all, that is the purpose of the fall in every legitimate form of Calvinism: God’s decrees are all ultimately about God bringing on honor and glory to himself. They sometimes involve men but they are not anthropocentric. The primary end of the fall for supralapsarians is not to send folks to hell, but to bring glory to the Creator.

Fourth, God’s decrees should not be confused with the execution of those decrees. God’s decree of creation was for his own glory. The purpose of the decree within the order of decrees is perhaps disputed among the various -lapsarians, but as to the action itself, it was carried out with full knowledge and intention of what has and will transpire. One cannot be a Calvinist and an Open Theist. Instead, we declare that God created the wicked for the day of evil (whether that refers to temporal evil or eternal judgment makes a difference only on an emotional level). You don’t escape the universality of God’s providence by going infralapsarian.

Patton further states:

In the end, according to supralapsarians, God is glorified in his decree both to elect and to reprobate.

That’s the case for all Calvinists, not just supralapsarians. All of God’s decrees bring God glory. If an infralapsarian wishes to claim that in his position there is no specific decree of reprobation, we simply note that this is a matter of labeling. Even an infralapsarian election of men from among the mass of fallen humanity inherently involves the passing over of the others within that same mass.

In conclusion, I do appreciate Patton’s attempt to add clarity to the distinction between the infralapsarian order of decrees (held by the real Francis Turretin) and the supralapsarian order of decrees (held by William Twisse, among others). Both views are well within the bounds of Calvinism, and both are held by Evangelical Christians. While hypercalvinists may also accept the supralapsarian order of decrees, it is as unfair to refer to all supralapsarians as “hyper-Calvinists” as it is unfair to refer to all Calvinists as “hyper-Calvinists.”

Defining Hyper-Calvinism

September 14, 2009

John Sneed at Ministerial Meanderings provides a good (and much better, imho, than Phil Johnson’s) definition of hyper-calvinism in a recent re-post (link). Also important is his post’s emphasis on the need to be Biblical Christians, recalling that for us the Scripture is not just a rule of faith, but the rule of faith.


UPDATE: Mr. Sneed mentions the “love of God for the non-elect” issue that is sometimes brought into the hyper-Calvinism discussion, normally without warrant. He doesn’t really make that his definition (that I could see) and I didn’t think it worthwhile mentioning that minor issue in his post. That said, plainly the two major points of his definition:

1) Teaching that God attains ends without means; and

2) Teaching that there is no need for evangelism,

hit two of the three main areas of hypercalvinism.

A third area would be teaching providence-favoring incompatibilism: the error of asserting that moral choice and divine Providence are incompatible, accepting Providence and consequently denying moral responsibility.

There are several things that are not properly classified as hypercalvinism:

1) Scrupling over words such as:
a) “Offer” of the Gospel (as long as one proclaims the gospel, refusal to use the word “offer” may make one unconfessional, but it does not make one an heretic);
b) “Common grace” (as long as one proclaims that God’s providential dealings extend to both the elect and reprobate, one is not a heretic simply because one refuses to use the term “grace” for things other than saving grace);
c) “love of the reprobate” (there is no rule that says people have to use the adjective “love” to describe God’s relationship toward those to whom he may give riches in this life but hell forever); and
d) “duty faith” (as long as one does not deny that faith is commanded by God, refusal to use the expression “duty faith” cannot be considered heretical).

2) Denying that non-Calvinists are unsaved. This is a rather extreme view, no doubt, but it is not what hyper-Calvinism is.

3) Being a big meanie. Remarkably, in some circles, I’ve seen this used. Don’t be a big meanie, but if you are one, that doesn’t make you a hyper-calvinist.

John Gill on God’s Love

January 9, 2009

John Gill, sometimes falsely accused (particularly by Amyraldians, and quasi-Amyraldians) of being a hyper-Calvinist, had this to say about God’s love:

2. As to the objects of God’s love, it is special and discriminating. He loves some, and not others. It is true, he has a general love and regard to all his creatures. He is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. They all share in the bounties of his providence. He makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good. He sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. But then, he has chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. Hence he bestows peculiar blessings on those to whom he bears a peculiar love. David says, Psalm 106:4, Remember me with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: very plainly intimating, that it was special and discriminating; of a different nature from that which he bore to others. A full instance of this distinguishing love, we have in Mal. 1:2, 3, I have loved you, saith the Lord; yet ye say, wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and hated Esau. And, as I said before, no other reason can be given of this distinction, which God makes among the lost sons of Adam, but his own sovereign will; who will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, let a wrangling world say what they please.

Read this and more of Gill’s powerful insight into the love of God at the following link (link).


John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism (?)

December 10, 2008

One oft-repeated charge against the great theologian, John Gill, has been that is a “hyper-Calvinist.” Leading the way amongst the crowd of folks levying such a charge would seem to be Dr. Curt Daniel, whose 900 page doctoral thesis was titled “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill.” I was pleased to see that at least one person has found the time to provide a detailed review of the thesis (link). It seems to me that the most valuable part of the book review is found in a few short paragraphs:

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.

Nevertheless, I encourage the reader to check out the entirety of the book review for himself.

Undoubtedly, Gill made errors – but to label Gill a Hyper-Calvinist is really quite imbalanced and inappropriate. I submit as evidence this commentary by John Gill on Matthew 11:28:

Mat 11:28 – Come unto me,…. Christ having signified, that the knowledge of God, and the mysteries of grace, are only to be come at through him; and that he has all things relating to the peace, comfort, happiness, and salvation of men in his hands, kindly invites and encourages souls to come unto him for the same: by which is meant, not a local coming, or a coming to hear him preach; for so his hearers, to whom he more immediately directed his speech, were come already; and many of them did, as multitudes may, and do, in this sense, come to Christ, who never knew him, nor receive any spiritual benefit by him: nor is it a bare coming under the ordinances of Christ, submission to baptism, or an attendance at the Lord’s supper, the latter of which was not yet instituted; and both may be performed by men, who are not yet come to Christ: but it is to be understood of believing in Christ, the going of the soul to him, in the exercise of grace on him, of desire after him, love to him, faith and hope in him: believing in Christ, and coming to him, are terms synonymous, Joh_6:35. Those who come to Christ aright, come as sinners, to a full, suitable, able, and willing Saviour; venture their souls upon him, and trust in him for righteousness, life, and salvation, which they are encouraged to do, by this kind invitation; which shows his willingness to save, and his readiness to give relief to distressed minds. The persons invited, are not “all” the individuals of mankind, but with a restriction,

all ye that labour, and are heavy laden; meaning, not these who are labouring in the service of sin and Satan, are laden with iniquity, and insensible of it: these are not weary of sin, nor burdened with it; not do they want or desire any rest for their souls; but such who groan, being burdened with the guilt of sin upon their consciences, and are pressed down with the unsupportable yoke of the law, and the load of human traditions; and have been labouring till they are weary, in order to obtain peace of conscience, and rest for their souls, by the observance of these things, but in vain. These are encouraged to come to him, lay down their burdens at his feet, look to, and lay hold by faith on his person, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice; when they should enjoy that true spiritual consolation, which could never be attained to by the works of the law.

And I will give you rest; spiritual rest here, peace of conscience, ease of mind, tranquillity of soul, through an application of pardoning grace, a view of free justification by the righteousness of Christ, and full atonement of sin by his sacrifice; and eternal rest hereafter, in Abraham’s bosom, in the arms of Jesus, in perfect and uninterrupted communion with Father, Son, and Spirit. The Jews say (y), that מנוחת תורה, “the law is rest”; and so explain Gen_49:15 of it: but a truly sensible sinner enjoys no rest, but in Christ; it is like Noah’s dove, which could find no rest for the soles of its feet, until it returned to the ark; and they themselves expect perfect rest in the days of the Messiah, and call his world מנוחה, rest (z).

(y) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 39. 3. (z) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 150. 2.


Calvinism Distinguished Historically

December 4, 2008

Nomenclature is important. Generally speaking, Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism is the result of the controversy provoked by the Remonstrants and addressed by the Synod of Dordt. People seem to lose site of this important historical concept. This controversy essentially provided a definition of Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism, characterized by five points.

The “five points” were originally brought forth as the five points of the Remonstrants/Arminians, not the five points of Calvinism. Calvin (1509-64) wasn’t around for the Arminian controversy, and Arminius himself (1560-1609) was not around for the Synod of Dordt (1618-19).

The Synod of Dordt took what has come to be called the “Calvinist” view. The “Canons of Dordt” (link) never make reference to Calvin, but always to Scripture.

The five main points, or “headings” of the Council of Dordt were:

1) Divine Election and Reprobation
2) Christ’s Death and Human Redemption Through It
3 and 4) Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way It Occurs
5) The Perseverance of the Saints

These five points or headings are popularly identified using the acronym TULIP, both because it is a beautiful flower and because it is something of a national symbol for Holland, the place where the controversy took place.

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance of the Saints

Hopefully it is apparent that TULIP does not follow the order of the 5 headings of the Canons of Dordt. The alignment of point to point is as follows:

1 => U
2 => L
3 & 4 => T & I
5 => P

There is an historical sense in which the canons of Dordt may be said to help define what is and what is not Calvinism. This would seem to be the best for understanding the “Continental” brand of Calvinism. In Great Britain and Ireland the definition of what the Reformed view is would come to be known by means of three standards:

I) The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) (link)
II) The Savoy Declaration (1658) (link)
III) The London Baptist Confession (1689) (link)

These three documents, which largely track one another (with issues relating to Baptism and Church Government being notable points of difference), were not addressed primarily to the Arminian controversy. Nevertheless, these documents were presented with the Arminian controversy already having occurred. Each of these documents rejects the Arminian error in favor of the Calvinistic view. None of these documents, however, specifically designates the “five points.”

Nevertheless, the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints are clearly presented in the following sections:

T => WCF Chapter 6, Paragraphs 2-4
U => WCF 3:5
L => WCF 8:8
I => WCF 9:4
P => WCF 17:1

The corresponding sections of the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession have the same chapter and paragraph number, and generally present the same material, albeit sometimes in a slightly modified/expanded form.

It should be pointed out that while the “five points” are old, the acronym “TULIP” is a more modern development. The earliest reference I’ve seen to it is a reference in 1913 to a certain Dr. McAfee (apparently a professor of theology) using the acronym. The acronym was intended as a memory aid to recall the five points. It works.

With or without the acronym, the five points have served as a dividing line between Calvinistic monergism and Arminian Synergism. An example from 1700 can be seen in this work by Christopher Ness (link).

Not everyone is happy with this line.

A number of folks reject the doctrine of Limited Atonement, arguing that Christ died not only for the elect, but for each and every person. These folks are generally lumped into the category “Amyraldian” despite various objections as to differences among those who reject Limited Atonement. This group is the one that most dislikes the use of the five points to define Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism.

Some folks in this category have engaged in a campaign to redefine Calvinism away from the five points. Their apparent reason for doing so, is in order to be included under the Calvinistic umbrella. Whatever the reason, their approach has been to try to divide up Calvinism into various camps, from “Low” to “Moderate” and even “High” Calvinism. Worse still, they create a camp of Calvinism that they confusingly label “Hyper-Calvinism.”

These divisions are rather artificial, to say the least. There is no major controversy to help make the lines bright, but, instead, the divisions tend to be drawn either along the use of certain buzz-words or minor controversies.

Worse yet, the filling of the ranks of the various divisions is done by the use of quote-mining: taking quotations from various authors and removing them from their historical context. Leading the way, of course, is the quote-mining Calvin himself. Essentially, the program is “Calvin vs. the Calvinists.” Despite the fact that Arminius was mere toddler (4 years old) when Calvin died, quotations from Calvin are taken as though spoken in the context of the Arminian controversy.

I’ve dealt with this anachronistic nonsense in other posts already, and I don’t plan to rehash all of that here. The main point to be recognized is that the Calvinism/Arminianism divide is an important one, whereas the “Hyper”/”High”/”Moderate”/”Low” classifications are neither important nor accurate. They are misleading and tend to obscure the important points.

This matter comes to a head under the use of “hyper-Calvinism.”

A useful division between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism exists when Hyper-Calvinism is differentiated from Calvinism on a substantive line, such as:

1) fatalism;
2) refusal to evangelize;
3) denial of human responsibility; or
4) denial that men have wills or make choices.

These bright line errors are rejections of the Synod of Dordt in the opposite direction of Arminians. These errors are serious, and should be avoided.

Other definitions of “hyper-Calvinism” tend to center around buzz-words. These definitions tend to focus on things like whether or not someone is willing to say that God “loves” the reprobate in some sense or whether God gives “common grace” to the reprobate.

I do think that refusing to use the term “common grace” may be the result of a scruple rather than a legitimate objection. To call them “hyper-Calvinists” is, in my view, an unnecessary offense to the brethren. It is simply a pejorative label. The issue of “common grace” does not relate to the gospel – it does not change the way that the men preach the gospel. Furthermore, it muddies the waters.

Here’s a handy way to divide up the three camps:

Arminianism Calvinism Hyper-Calvinism
God’s Sovereignty Denies Affirms Affirms
Man’s Responsibility Affirms Affirms Denies

Calvinism, as illustrated, is the balanced view between Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. It affirms both the real sovereignty of God and the real responsibility of man.

This same chart can be provided another way:

Arminianism Calvinism Hyper-Calvinism
Man’s Will Compatible with Divine Foreordination Denies Affirms Denies

In a nutshell, what this chart aims to show is the philosophical dividing line of compatibilism. Compatibilism is the view that both man making choices and God foreordaining what those choices will be are compatible concepts. In essence, both the Arminian and the Hyper-Calvinist agree that they are not compatible concepts. One picks man’s will, the other picks divine foreordination.

The recent controversy centered around whether to label the Calvinist, Dr. White, as an “hyper-Calvinist” tends to major on the details, obscuring the larger picture. The larger picture is that Dr. White is a consistent Calvinist who affirms monergism and compatibilism. Dr. White is a Calvinist as it would be defined by the relevant sections of the London Baptist Confession of 1689, identified above.

For all but the most contentious or mischievous people, that should be enough. I can understand Amyraldians feeling excluded from such charts. With respect to the Arminian/Calvinist/Hyper-Calvinist division, Amyraldians would normally fall in the Calvinist camp. The problem with Amyraldianism is that it is internally inconsistent. Whether they feel excluded or not, however, creating confusing and unnecessary divisions of “Calvinism” using buzzwords is not productive and not conducive to edification. I would gently but firmly encourage those who have been doing so, to consider desisting.


A Second Testimony to the Obvious

November 19, 2008

Further to my previous post (link) Thomas Twitchell at A Rose by Any Other Name has provided a similar essay demonstrating that Dr. White is not a Hyper-Calvinist.


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