I am struggling with an issue concerning Calvinism and those who call themselves Calvinists. I affirm Reformed theology; I believe it most accurately represents Biblical doctrine (thus, historic, Biblical Christianity).
The specific issue in part is something called “hyper-Calvinism.” I know having a thorough understanding and knowledge of Scripture is mandatory when it comes to the doctrines of the Bible, but I was wondering if you could either send me some information on hyper-Calvinist doctrine concerning soteriology along with ways to recognize hyper-Calvinism when I encounter it.
“Hyper-Calvinist” is an epithet – an abusive nickname – thrown about by some people against others whose views they think amount to fatalism – God ordained everything, so we don’t need to do anything. People are going to be saved or damned whether we do anything or not.
For example, to the thorough Arminian, any Calvinist is a hyper-Calvinist because Calvinism is simply extreme predestinarianism, and predestinarianism is necessarily fatalism – to their way of thinking.
The people who make this charge are generally negligent about actually learning what the object of their ad-hominem attack actually believes or practices. They resort to name-calling instead of intellectually engaging the matter.
It is one thing for us to believe that someone’s views, if carried out to their logical end, lead inevitably to fatalism … or anti-trinitarianism … or libertinism … or what have you. It is fair to say that we think that is where someone else’s views lead, and it is fair to try to demonstrate that such is the case. However, it is not at all fair to say that the someone whose views we criticize actually believes what we say his views logically lead to. He may not have thought it through as well as us, or we may be misunderstanding him, or he may have a better line of reasoning which we are unaware of or cannot follow or reject because of our own biases or the like. In fact, our personal bias may keep us from admitting the possibility that the one we criticize may be on to something valid. In other words, we may be blinded by the idol of our own point of view.
John Gill is a perfect case in point. It seems I have heard the charge of hyper-Calvinist against him many more times than against anyone else. I happen to believe that John’s Gill’s views are Biblical, and that they are not fatalistic at all – indeed, I believe they set evangelism on a right footing. He believed that the knowledge that God has chosen some absolutely to be saved is a great encouragement to preaching the gospel, knowing the preaching would be used to outwardly call to faith some who are inwardly and effectually called; and the knowledge that God has also left some in their sins was a great sobering thought, knowing that God has also ordained that the preaching of the gospel is a savor of death to death as well as a savor of life to life, and that we are not sufficient in ourselves to determine these things, but must leave it to the work of the preaching itself. These views do, however, rub against many people who charge him with being a “hyper-Calvinist” because he does not embrace certain things they are convinced are necessary to evangelism. “He doesn’t do what we do, so he can only be a hyper-Calvinist.”
John Gill’s writings and actions do not support this charge.
From an article entitled, “John Gill and the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism” by George M. Ella
It is very difficult to conceive that anyone familiar with the ministry of John Gill could accuse him of being without vigour in preaching the Gospel to sinful man. Gill’s church at Carter Lane was renowned throughout the country for the power of Gospel preaching which was maintained in it and John Rippon, who succeeded Gill in the pastorate and William Button who published his sermons tell of the influence of his message of joyful Christian experience which spread far and wide amongst the Baptists and influenced “all the evangelical denominations at home and abroad”. Furthermore Gill was one of the very few Baptist preachers who took a very active part in working with Anglican Calvinists who were pioneering the Great Awakening in the middle 18th century. James Hervey, who is attributed with pastoring the first evangelical Anglican parish in the Midlands, received ever new impulses from Gill`s sermons and theological works and snatched up his books with the print fresh on them whenever he could. To him, Gill’s message was ‘such a rich and charming displays of the glories of Christ’s person, the freeness of his grace to sinners, and the tenderness of his love to the church, as cannot but administer the most exquisite delight to the believing soul.’ Hervey highlights the beauty of Gill’s language in spreading the good news of Christ’s love for sinners. Judging by the way modern writers speak of Gill one would imagine that he was as dry as dust and boringly analytical and systematic. Nothing could be further from the truth! Gill’s language is indeed often a warm, even poetic, appeal to the heart. …
… Those critics who imagine that Gill refused to preach repentance and conversion need take note of what Gill actually did preach and teach on the subject. Two of Gill’s favourite texts were Isa. 24:16 “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth”, and 2 Chron. 16:9 “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him.” Time and time again he refers to his duty to gather together Christ’s sheep who were scattered abroad. Preaching at the induction of John Davis, Gill told him, “Souls sensible to sin and danger, and who are crying out, What shall we do to be saved? you are to observe, and point out Christ the tree of life to them; and say, . . . . Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, Acts XVI: 31.” He goes on to stress, “Your work is to lead men, under a sense of sin and guilt, to the blood of Christ, shed for many for the remission of sin, and in his name you are to preach the forgiveness of them.” Who can mistake his evangelical objectives when he urges the Gospel minister to, “Be faithful, labour to shew the one and the other their wretched state by nature; the necessity of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, in his blood, righteousness, and atoning sacrifice, for peace, pardon, justification, and salvation?”
At the ordination of George Braithwaite of Devonshire Square, Gill says solemnly, “Ministers are Instruments by whom Souls believe, and so are saved; the Word preached by them being by the Grace of the Spirit, an engrafted Word, is able to save them; and the Gospel being attended with the Demonstration of the Spirit, is the Power of God unto Salvation. What can, or does, more strongly engage Ministers to take heed to themselves, to their Doctrine, and abide therein, than this? That they may be useful in the Conversion, and so the Salvation of precious and immortal Souls. ‘He that converteth a Sinner from the Error of His Ways, shall save a Soul from Death, and shall hide a Multitude of Sins (James 5:20)’”
Preaching to his congregation which often included some hundreds of unconverted ‘hearers’, Gill could plead from Matthew 11:28: “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, John vi.35. Those who come to Christ aright, come as sinners, to a full, suitable, and 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.”
… Gill has many such direct addresses to sinful man as in his sermon on The Character and End of the Wicked where he closes with the exhortation, “There is no way of escaping the wrath to come, due to the sons of Belial, but by fleeing for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before you in the everlasting gospel; by fleeing to Christ, turning to him, the strong hold, as prisoners of hope; and, being justified by his blood, you shall be saved from wrath, through him. It is he, and he only, who delivers from wrath to come.”
… [Augustus Toplady, author of the hymn “Rock of Ages,” said of Gill] “While true Religion, and sound Learning have a single friend remaining in the British Empire, the works and name of Gill will be precious and revered.”
If I had time, I’d inscribe portions from the articles I’ve read about his many evangelistic campaigns throughout London. He was a leading – if not THE leading – evangelist of his day.
So much for that worthless and hated fatalistic hyper-Calvinist John Gill!
My wife says we can distinguish two kinds of hyper-Calvinists: the theological hyper-Calvinist and the practical hyper-Calvinist. The theological hyper-Calvinist actually believes God does not lay on him any duty to do anything by way of calling men to repentance and faith. This kind is extremely rare, but it does exist – I’ve met one or two in my life. The practical hyper-Calvinist may believe in the task of calling men to repentance and faith, but in reality he just goes to church, listens to sermons, nods his head in agreement, then goes out and lives as if he was a theological hyper-Calvinist – he does nothing. This kind is much greater in number, and no doubt you’ve met a few yourself.
The theological hyper-Calvinist is in a loop of false reasoning. He has divorced the sovereignty of God from the character and purpose of God. The practical hyper-Calvinist is in a loop of false assurance. He has divorced his practical life from his agreement with salvation doctrines.
I hope this helps.