Rev. Ronald Hanko
One of our readers
asks: "What is hyper-Calvinism? How would you define it?"
The charge of
hyper-Calvinism is bandied about very much these days. One
would almost think sometimes that there is no other heresy
around nor any so serious as this.
We ourselves are
charged with being hyper-Calvinists, often maliciously and
simply as a matter of hearsay. The New Dictionary of
Theology, for example, gives an accurate description of
the teachings of hyper-Calvinism and then claims that Herman
Hoeksema is the most prominent modern hyper-Calvinist,
though he was not responsible for a single one of the
teachings listed as characteristic of hyper-Calvinism!
Quite often the
charge is brought against those who deny that the gospel is
a well-meant offer of salvation on God's part, that is, that
He expresses in the gospel a sincere love and desire for the
salvation of every one who hears the gospel, and
well-meaningly promises salvation to all without exception.
If not as a matter of mere rumour, then for this reason,
that we deny these things, we are falsely charged with
those who charge others with this error do not really even
know what hyper-Calvinism is. We have come across those who
believe that anyone who teaches limited atonement is a
hyper-Calvinist and others who are convinced that anyone who
teaches any of the Five Points of Calvinism is such. They
mistake true, historic, biblical Calvinism for
hyper-Calvinism (something that goes beyond Calvin and
The same goes for
those who believe that a denial of a universal love of God
and an intention on God's part to save all, expressed in the
gospel, is hyper-Calvinism. It can easily be shown that the
Calvinistic creeds and writers have always taught the
opposite, and that those who do teach these things are
teaching, not true Calvinism, but the Pelagianism of Rome
and the Arminianism of the free-willists.
So, what is
hyper-Calvinism? Is it a serious error?
We would emphasize,
first, that there is such a thing as hyper-Calvinism, though
some would deny this. Historically, the name has been
applied to those who deny that the command of the gospel
to repent and believe must be preached to all who
hear the gospel.
therefore, is not someone who teaches that in
predestination, in the death of Christ, in the preaching and
in the work of the Spirit, God loves only the elect and
intends only their salvation. That is simply biblical
hyper-Calvinist (historically and doctrinally) is someone
who, because all are not chosen and redeemed, will not
command all who hear the gospel to repent and believe. He is
someone who starts from the right premises but draws the
wrong conclusions—who does not believe that "God now
commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30).
hyper-Calvinist, then, is one who believes rightly in
sovereign, double predestination and in particular
redemption—who denies a universal love of God and a will of
God to save all men. Yet he concludes wrongly that because
God has determined who will be saved, sent Christ for them
only, and gives to them salvation as a free gift, therefore
only the elect should be commanded to repent and believe in
the preaching of the gospel.
This, we believe, is
a serious error. It is an error that effectively destroys
both gospel preaching and evangelism—an error that must be
exposed and avoided.
The heart of
hyper-Calvinism, therefore, is a rejection of so-called
"duty faith" and "duty repentance," i.e., that it is the
solemn duty and obligation of all who hear the gospel
to repent and believe. Hyper-Calvinism concludes that,
because men are lost in sin and are unable of themselves to
repent and believe, it is a mistake to command them to do
so. Such a command would imply that they are able to repent
then, makes the same mistake as the Arminians and free-willists,
only he draws a different conclusion. Both think that to
command or demand repentance and faith of dead
sinners must imply that such sinners are not dead and have
in themselves the ability to repent and believe. The free-willist
says, "To command must imply ability, therefore, men have
the ability." The hyper-Calvinist says, "To command must
imply ability, therefore, we will not command any but the
This means that while
a true hyper-Calvinist will preach the "facts" of the gospel
to all who will hear (and insist that he is preaching the
gospel), he will not command a "mixed" audience to
repent and believe. Those commands, he thinks, should be
preached only to those who show evidence of being "sensible
sinners," that is, sinners who have come under conviction by
the work of the Holy Spirit.
We reject these
notions for various reasons. First, it is difficult to
imagine how anyone, without divine inspiration, can ever be
sure that he is preaching only to "sensible sinners" in
order confidently to bring the command of the gospel. In
reality, therefore, the command of the gospel will seldom,
if ever, be heard in hyper-Calvinist preaching.
hyper-Calvinism turns the command to repent and believe into
a command to continue to repent and believe or to
persevere in repenting and believing. So-called
"sensible sinners," the only ones who may be called to
repent and believe are those who have already begun to do
so by the secret operations of the Holy Spirit. The
faith called for, in that case, is not saving faith in the
truest and deepest sense of the word, i.e., faith that
brings a person into communion with Christ, justifies him
and gives him salvation, but only faith as it continues to
manifest itself in its fruits of assurance and hope.
It is in this
connection that true hyper-Calvinists usually teach that the
person is justified completely in eternity and that
justification by faith involves only the assurance of
justification. Thus the faith called for in the gospel does
not in fact justify us before God but only assures of a
justification that has already taken place.
It is in this
connection also that hyper-Calvinists are also accused, and
rightly, of a certain antinomianism (anti-lawism or
anti-commandism) regarding faith. They do not take
seriously the command to repent and believe, exactly
because the call to faith is for them only the call to be
assured of one's faith. It is on these grounds that we
emphatically repudiate hyper-Calvinism.
This denial of “duty
faith” and “duty repentance” is against Scripture. Scripture
says in Acts 17:30 that "God now commandeth all men every
where to repent." John the Baptist in his preaching even
called the unbelieving Pharisees and Saducees to repentance
(Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8). Jesus, too, called all to repentance
in His preaching (Matt. 4:17) and upbraided the cities of
Galilee because they did not repent (Matt. 11:20). When He
sent out the 70, He sent them also to those who would reject
the gospel and even warned them about this rejection (Mark
6:10-11), yet we read that they went out and preached that
men should repent (v. 12).
Nor is there any
evidence that when Peter, in the temple after the healing of
the lame man, preached "repent ye and be converted" (Acts
3:19), that he was preaching only to "sensible sinners."
Certainly, Simon the sorcerer was not a "sensible sinner,"
when Peter said to him, "Repent therefore of this
wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine
heart may be forgiven thee" (Acts 7:22).
Several of the
passages already cited (Acts 3:19; 7:22) also imply that the
gospel calls for faith on the part of all who hear. Faith is
part of conversion and one cannot pray to God for
forgiveness without also praying in faith. So, too, it is
not possible that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for not
believing, if believing was not required of them (Matt.
21:25; Luke 22:67; John 10:25-26).
gets around these verses by speaking of different kinds of
repentance and faith. He speaks of "Jewish repentance,"
"reformation repentance," "circumstantial repentance,"
"collective repentance," etc., and claims that Scripture
also calls for different kinds of faith. So he insists that
many of the verses we have referred to call only for such
kinds of faith and repentance, but not for saving repentance
We do not deny, of
course, that Scripture speaks of "faith" and "repentance"
that are not saving (Acts 8:13; II Cor. 7:10; James 2:19;
Heb. 12:17). But these, as we know, are simply hypocrisy,
and do not find favour with God. They cannot possibly, then,
be something God calls for. How could God, who does not lie,
speaking through the gospel, call men to a repentance or
faith which is not sincere and saving? There is not the
slightest evidence in Scripture that He does so, either.
therefore, that the Word of God in Acts 17:30 must be taken
seriously by those who preach the gospel. We reject the
notion that the command to repent and believe savingly
should be heard only by those who show some evidence of
conviction. That would not only limit the preaching of the
gospel but would in the end destroy true gospel preaching.
The command to repent
and believe is an integral part of the preaching, not only
as far as God's elect are concerned but also as far as the
"reprobate" are concerned. All who come under the preaching
MUST hear that command! Not only is it according to the will
of God that it be preached to all promiscuously but it is
necessary as far as the gospel itself is concerned. To deny
this is to strip the gospel of its power, and make it an
empty and vain show.
The command to repent
and believe must be preached not only to those whom God has
chosen to save but also to those whom He has not chosen,
i.e., to both elect and reprobate. There are two reasons.
First, as far as the
elect are concerned, the call or command of the gospel is
the power by which God brings them to faith and
repentance (according to His purpose and by the sovereign
operations of the Holy Spirit). This is what we sometimes
refer to as the effectual call of the gospel. When
the gospel is preached, it is with saving effect!
Augustine showed that
he understood this when he said of the rebukes of the gospel
that "the rebuke is the grace," the grace, that is, by which
God convicts His elect of sin and begins to draw them to
Himself (John 6:44). In that too the gospel is, then, the
means by which God sovereignly, powerfully, irresistibly
calls to Himself His own.
Psalm 19 speaks of
this when it says that God's law converts the soul,
His testimony makes the simple wise, His commandment
enlightens the eyes (vv. 7-8). Romans 1:16 adds that
the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Romans
10:17-18 tells us that faith comes by hearing the
Word of God. I Corinthians 1:18 says that the preaching of
the cross is the power of God (cf. v. 21).
Preaching is this
because Christ Himself speaks through gospel preaching.
Hyper-Calvinists have said that the call of the gospel as
preached by Christ and the Apostles could be such a power,
but not the preaching of preachers today. Nevertheless
Scripture assures us that all true preaching is the
means by which Christ Himself sovereignly calls His own.
He says in
John 10:27, "My sheep [and there are no exceptions] hear
my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." Indeed,
it is only because they hear Christ's voice that they can be
saved. No other voice has the power to give them life, like
Lazarus, and bring them out of darkness into marvellous
light. So too, we read in Ephesians 2:17, that He
came and preached peace not only to the Jews but to the
Gentiles, to those who were far off.
With respect to those
who are not chosen, the preaching of the call of the gospel
is also important. Because Christ speaks through it
no one can ever come under the preaching of the gospel and
not be affected for good or for ill. To those who are not
chosen and who continue in unbelief, the gospel is the means
for hardening and condemnation.
This is the difficult
part of preaching, the part concerning which Paul is
thinking most of all when he says, "Who is sufficient for
these things?" (II Cor. 2:16). No preacher wants to see this
negative fruit nor does he actually seek to be a means of
hardening, but if He understands Scripture and his own
calling then he cannot avoid it. If the gospel is to be the
power of God unto salvation, it must also be a power unto
speaks of this in Isaiah 6:8-13 (notice Isaiah's response)
and in II Corinthians 2:16, where we read that the gospel is
a savour of death unto death to some.
The sweet savour of
Christ is unto death to some in the preaching of the gospel!
All this is simply to
say that the gospel is its own power. It needs not the
eloquence of the preacher, nor anything else. Its power is
manifested in all that is preached but especially in the
glorious call of the gospel, the call to repent and believe,
the call that brings and gives repentance and
faith to those whom God has chosen.