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The Threat of Hyper-Calvinism

The Threat of Hyper-Calvinism

This is an extract from chapter 9 of Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, by David J. Engelsma, pages 193-196, published by the RFPA.


Another betrayal of the spirit of hyper-Calvinism is embarrassment and hesitation, that is, fear, over giving the call “Repent! Believe!” and over declaring the promise “Whosoever believes shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” This language is not suspect. It is not the language of Arminian free-willism. It is pure, sound, biblical language. It is as much a part of the Reformed heritage as is the statement of divine, double predestination. We must take care that we do not concede precious elements of the gospel to the Arminians. Because they have seized on certain elements of the scriptures, have wrenched them out of their proper setting, force them into the service of their false gospel, and thus wrest them to their own destruction, we may not abandon those elements. Rather, we must continue to honor them as part of God’s revelation and must continue to give them their necessary place in the proclamation of the word. There is no Arminian text in the scriptures nor one Arminian word. No more than we renounce love because the liberals abuse it do we downgrade the external call of the gospel and slight the promiscuous publication of the promise because heretics construct a message of salvation by the will of man from a perversion of them.

If the fruit of the preaching of the gospel is that men, pricked in their hearts, cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” or that a Philippian jailor says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” it is not in place, it is not typically Reformed, to launch into a fierce polemic against free will or to give a nervous admonition against supposing that one can do anything toward his own salvation. The answer to such questions, the Reformed answer, is “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” and “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 2:38; 16:31).

Although ordinarily hyper-Calvinism is afraid to call the unconverted to Christ, there may even be a hesitation to preach the call to repentance and faith within the congregation. One feels uneasy about this as if this goes in the direction of works or the altar call. Then, a preacher does grave injustice to the scriptures and great disservice to God’s people. If he dares to preach on Matthew 11:28, the merciful Savior’s tender call to the laboring and heavy laden with its precious promise of rest, the bulk of the sermon is controversy with the Arminian corruption of the text. Little is done with the comforting message of the text. The tender, urgent call to the laboring in the audience is never given. The audience goes home convinced that the Arminian interpretation is wrong but without having heard the gospel themselves.

The Reformed faith condemns, indeed despises, the altar call. It has bad parentage: Finney. It is bad theology: universal grace dependent upon the free will of the sinner. It is bad practice: the transforming of the inner, spiritual activity of the heart into an outward, carnal activity of the body. The scriptures nowhere present repentance or believing as a matter of “coming to the front.” Besides, no Reformed church has an altar. But opposition to the altar call does not in any way imply opposition to the call of the gospel to the spiritually laboring and laden sinner to come to Christ for rest. God forbid!

When hyper-Calvinism has developed somewhat, there is a failure, even a refusal, to preach the admonitions and exhortations of the scriptures to the saints on the ground that good gospel preachers should not tell God’s people what to do. At the very least, the admonitions and exhortations are not proclaimed with the sharpness, urgency, boldness, and freedom that obtain in the scriptures. From this stage, it is but a little way to the disorder and license of open antinomianism: “Let us sin that grace may abound.”

How such a notion can be mistaken for orthodoxy is a mystery. How it can be mistaken for Reformed orthodoxy is a still greater mystery. The scriptures abound with exhortations and warnings to God’s people. Calvin, theologian of holiness that he was, is full of them. The Canons of Dordt expressly warn the Reformed pastor not to interpret sovereign grace as rendering admonitions and discipline unnecessary.17

Luther, peerless defender of the gospel of grace against every encroachment of illicit law and glorious champion of justification by faith only, can be our teacher and guardian here:

“The churchly office of preaching is necessary not only for the ignorant who must be taught, for the simple and stupid populace and the youth, but also for those who well know what they ought to believe and how they ought to live, in order to awaken and admonish them to be daily on their guard, not to grow weary and listless, nor to lose heart in the battle they must wage upon earth against the devil, their own flesh and all vices. Hence St. Paul so diligently admonishes all Christians that he almost seems to be overdoing the thing, by continually dinning it in their ears, as though they were so ignorant as not to know it of themselves or so careless and forgetful as not to perform it without this telling and urging them. But he knows full well that, although they have begun to believe and are in that state in which fruits of faith must appear, the thing is nevertheless not so easily carried out and brought to completion. It will not do to think: ‘’It is enough to have given them the truth; when the spirit and faith are present the fruits of good works will follow of themselves. For while it is true that the spirit is present and is willing, as Christ says, and works in them that believe, it is likewise true that the flesh also is present, and flesh is weak and indolent. The devil, moreover, is not keeping holiday, but seeks by temptation and incitement to cause the weak to fall. Here you dare by no means be negligent or indolent; as it is, the flesh is too indolent to obey the Spirit, nay it is strong to resist it, as Paul says in Galatians 5:17. God, therefore, must deal here as a good householder or faithful regent, who has a lazy man-servant or maidservant or indifferent officials. (They need not be actually wicked or disloyal.) He must not think it enough to tell them once or twice what to do, but must be constantly at their heels and personally urge them on. So, too, we have not reached the point where our flesh and blood go leaping in pure joy and eagerness to do good works and obey God, as the Spirit would gladly have us do and directs us to do. On the contrary, even though faith unceasingly urge and buffet the flesh, it scarce succeeds in accomplishing very much. What would be the result if this admonition and urging were omitted and one were to think, as many Christians think, Well, I know of myself what I ought to do; I have heard it so many years and so often, and have even taught it to others, etc. I verily believe that if we were to cease our preaching and admonishing for a single year, we should become worse than heathen.”18

The Reformed church rejects hyper-Calvinism, not because she hedges on her Calvinism at the last moment but exactly because of her Calvinism. Knowing her salvation as the sovereign, free, gracious calling of God in Christ, she burns with zeal for the glory of her God. In the love of her thankful heart, she desires that his great name, Jesus, be published to the ends of the earth and that his good commandments be obeyed. God’s grace in Jesus Christ has its sovereign way with her so that God’s purpose in the calling of her is realized: “that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

17. Canons 3–4.17, in ibid., 3:592.
18. Martin Luther, quoted in M. Reu, Homiletics (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing
House, 1924), 159–60.


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