by Curt Daniel
The controversy [about hyper-Calvinism] revolves around four main issues. First, all Hyper-Calvinists reject the idea of the free offer (of the gospel, grace, and/or Christ). All Calvinists before 1700 and the vast majority since then have accepted the free offer. Hyperists sometimes claim Calvin for their cause, but the evidence is heavily against them. This is the main distinctive tenet of Hyper-Calvinism and has been identified as such by mainline Reformed writers for centuries.
Hyper-Calvinists argue that free offers are Arminian and contradict Reformed teaching on total depravity, limited atonement, and unconditional election as well as other teachings. They say we can preach but not offer. The Gospel Standard Baptists say that we can invite only ‘sensible sinners’ who have been convicted of sin to come to Christ. The word offer is never used in the Bible of preaching the gospel, they say, and the practice implies that salvation is for sale and is not free. They often say free offers make salvation conditional upon man rather than God. Some agree that the Latin word offero was used by Calvin and others as well as the English word offer by the Puritans and others, by then say that the word underwent a change and came to mean something different, so it should not be used today.
Mainline Calvinists respond as follows. First, the teaching of the free offer is indeed biblical. The word offer is used in several reputable translations of 1 Corinthians 9:18 (e.g., the NIV and NASB). We offer by presenting and setting forth the gospel to lost sinners in general with the call for them to repent and believe in Christ. We invite all lost sinners, not just ‘sensible’ sinners. The offer is free. God both offers and gives; the two are not contradictory. Lost sinners are unable to accept the offer, but this in no way contradicts either election or particular redemption. There has been no substantial change in the meaning of the words offero or offer. By far most leading Reformed theologians and preachers have believed in free offers — Calvin and all the Reformers, the Puritans, the Reformed Scholastics, the Nadere Reformatie divines, Jonathan Edwards, the Princetonians, Spurgeon, and thousands of others. It is the non-offer men who are out of step with historic Calvinism, not those who believe it.
Second, John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse wisely note: “It would appear that the real point in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men.”6 Mainline Calvinists almost unanimously say yes; all Hyper-Calvinists say no. The free offer expresses a universal saving desire in God as part of His revealed will. It is well-meant and sincere. This does not nullify or contradict the secret will, for as Calvin said, it concerns the will of God in the gospel and not that of predestination.7 Calvin certainly taught the universal saving desire of God. For example: “God declares that he wills the conversion of all, and he directs exhortations to all in common.”8
Hyper-Calvinists deny that God desires all men to be saved, for that would include the reprobate and would contradict the doctrine of election. But mainline Calvinists argue that Scripture portrays God as holding out His hands all day long to sinners in general (Romans 10:21; Isaiah 65:2; Proverbs 1:14). He takes no pleasure in the death of the lost sinner but rather desires that he repent and be saved (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). Paul echoes this in Romans 10:1: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they many be saved” (see also Acts 26:29). God commands faith unto salvation (Acts 16:31), and that certainly indicates a well-meant desire. The eternal decrees never fail, but the revealed will of law and gospel are usually rejected by sinners. Lastly, historic Calvinists differ on the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Some apply both to predestination, others to the gospel. But even so, the vast majority of historic Calvinists believe in the universal saving will of God. In this the Hyper-Calvinists are in the tiny minority and go beyond biblical truth.
The third issue is Duty Faith. The English Hypers usually reject it, but it appears that the PRC tends to accept it in some form. The state of the question, known as the Modern Question, is this: “In the preaching of the gospel, do all lost sinners have the duty to savingly [i.e. evangelically] believe in Jesus Christ?” [John] Gill and [John] Brine said that sinners have only the duty to believe the report of the gospel, not the duty to savingly [i.e. evangelically] believe personally in Christ. [Evangelical] Faith is a gift, they contended, and therefore [that sense of faith is] not a duty. ‘Duty faith’ implies that sinners are able to [evangelically] believe, for responsibility assumes ability.
Historic Calvinists have replied that saving [i.e. evangelical] faith is both a duty and a gift. Spiritual inability does not negate one’s responsibility. Sinners are commanded to both believe the report of the gospel (Mark 1:15) and savingly believe in Christ (Acts 16:31). First John 3:23 clearly states, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” A commandment is a duty on us. Christ commanded saving faith in John 12:36, 14:1, and 20:27, as did John the Baptist (Acts 19:4). God commands all men to believe (Isaiah 45:22). Paul commanded that we obey the gospel in “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 6:17; 10:16; 16:26). The same goes for duty repentance — which is both a duty and a gift (see Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). Failure to repent and believe [in an evangelical sense] is a great sin (Mark 16:16; John 3:18, 36; 5:38; 16:8–9; Romans 14:23; 1 John 5:10; Hebrews 3:12). Unbelief would not be a sin if faith were not a duty, contrary to [W. J.] Style’s extreme notion. Therefore, the Hyper-Calvinists who deny Duty Faith are both unbiblical and out of the mainstream of Reformed teaching.
The fourth point in dispute is common grace. Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Church utterly reject it, but some others such as Gill accept a modified form of it. Mainstream Calvinists before and after Kuyper have taught that, yes, God does indeed have a general love, mercy, and favor for all men (e.g., Psalm 145:8–9), including the reprobate. Out of this general love, God gives good gifts to all men (Acts 14:17; James 1:17), even to the reprobate who end up in Hell (Luke 16:25). Christ, the perfect revelation of God, had compassion on the multitudes of thousands, not all of whom were elect (Matthew 14:14). This was not just in His humanity, as argued by some Hyper-Calvinists, for His holy humanity was in perfect harmony with His deity. He “loved” the lost rich young ruler (Mark 10:21). God commands us to imitate Him by loving all men in general, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43–48; Luke 6:35–36).
Contrary to Hoeksema’s contention, historic Calvinists have taught the Three Points of 1924, namely: (1) out of general mercy God restrains sinners (Genesis 20:6); (2) God enables the unconverted (including the reprobate) to do outwardly good things such as giving good gifts to their children (Matthew 7:11); and (3) God has a general love for mankind and provides for the development of culture, science, medicine, government, and the family (Acts 14:17). Out of this common grace there is a delay of judgment, as it were — anything short of Hell is a mercy. Referring to these and other verses, Louis Berkhof commented: “If such passages do not testify to a favourable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and that God’s revelation is not dependable on this subject.”9
Those such as Herman Hoeksema are well out of the mainstream of the Reformed tradition to deny that God has any love, grace, mercy, kindness, or favor of any kind on all men in general, including the reprobate. Some Hyperists say that God is only fattening the reprobate up for the slaughter and has no remorse whatsoever for their lost state. That is supralapsarianism with a vengeance. It implies that the reprobate are never under grace but only wrath, and conversely, the elect are always under grace and never under wrath (contrary to Ephesians 2:3).
6. John Murray, The Free Offer of the Gospel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 3.
7. John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 364 (on 2 Peter 3:9).
8. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3:3:21, (p. 615).
9. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 446.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2019), 104–107
From Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2019), 104–107.