What Is Hyper-Calvinism? This same question appears as the title for an article written by Ronald Hanko for the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA). You may view the full article here.

Hanko admits that his group (PRCA) is often maliciously charged with being hyper-Calvinists, because it rejects the well-meant offer of the gospel. However, he argues the historic definition for hyper-Calvinism[1] is restricted to those who deny the doctrine of duty-faith, rather than those who reject the free-offer. He writes,

“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.”

He goes on to explain:

“A hyper-Calvinist (historically and doctrinally) 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 avoided.”

My Response:

First, I appreciate Hanko’s effort to distance himself from a fringe group of Calvinists often maligned as “hypers”. After all, who would want to be identified with those who have presumably pushed the gospel beyond the boundary? Having said that, the article leaves me questioning whether Hanko has a clear enough understanding to write against hyper-Calvinism.

Second, if it be true that mainstream Calvinism has historically rejected the well-meant offer of the gospel, then he makes a strong case that the PRCA cannot be called hyper-Calvinists. However, I do not believe he is correct on the matter. Mainstream Calvinism, especially that of the last few hundred years, has subscribed in one form or another to the well-meant offer of the gospel. Henceforth, by rejecting the free offer, Hanko and the PRCA place themselves on a higher tier of Calvinism than that which is widely accepted. It is for this reason they are often charged with hyper-Calvinism.

Third, if it be true that hyper-Calvinism is confined “to those who deny that the command of the gospel to repent and believe must be preached to all who hear the gospel”, then he makes another strong case that he and the PRCA cannot be called hyper-Calvinists. He goes so far in his defense of duty faith, to call out those who reject it as being in serious error. He warns, a rejection of duty faith “destroys both gospel preaching and evangelism—an error that must be avoided.” Well, I am pleased to defend Hanko and the PRCA—they are certainly not hyper-Calvinists. But neither are they moderate-Calvinists. They appear to be a hybrid of the two—on the one hand, they are hyper-Calvinists for rejecting the free offer, but on the other hand, they are moderate-Calvinists for subscribing to the doctrine of duty faith. And, it has long been the observation of some, that because they belong to neither group, they have created a sub-group, which has become fiercely independent and jarringly exclusive.

Fourth, I do not appreciate the way in which Hanko has framed the issues surrounding the doctrine of duty faith. He asserts, the hyper-Calvinist rejects duty faith based on a flawed chain of reasoning—that, since God has determined who will be saved, and having sent Christ for them only, therefore salvation is given to them as a free gift. Now, anyone remotely familiar with the issues surrounding the duty faith controversy will understand that this chain of reasoning is not the basis on which the hyper-Calvinist rejects the doctrine of duty faith.

What Is The Doctrine Of Duty Faith?

There are two branches: (1) That faith is the saving duty of all unregenerate sinners as a condition for the new birth—this branch represents free will religion; (2) That faith is the moral duty of all unregenerate sinners despite their inability to believe—this branch represents moderate-Calvinism and the PRCA. This second branch argues, although the unregenerate are unable to exercise saving faith until after the new birth, yet it remains their moral duty to do so. In other words, a sinner’s inability does not inhibit or negate his/her responsibility to savingly believe. It is for this reason, Hanko charges those who reject duty faith with destroying both gospel preaching and evangelism.

Why Is The Doctrine Of Duty Faith In Error?

The whole issue revolves around the subject of covenants. A covenant is an agreement between two or more people with certain obligations binding them together. Every relationship is based upon the authority of a covenant—one’s responsibility in the relationship is determined by the covenantal authority of that relationship. Throughout the course of history, there have been only two perpetual covenants under which the members of the human race are held accountable unto God. There is the covenant of works, made between God and Adam, on behalf of the entire human race; and there is the covenant of grace, made between the three persons of the Godhead, on behalf of the elect. All unregenerate sinners are experientially in relationship to God under the authority of the covenant of works, whereas all regenerate sinners are experientially in relationship with God under the authority of the covenant of grace.

Under the covenant of works, unregenerate sinners are responsible to (1) believe in the one true and living God, (2) perfectly obey the law inscribed upon their hearts and (3) repent of their sins. However, unregenerate sinners are only able to exercise a natural faith, natural obedience and natural repentance, none of which is acceptable to God or possesses any saving virtue. This type of faith, obedience and repentance flows out of a sinful heart cut off from the life and graces of Christ.

Under the covenant of grace, regenerate sinners are delivered from the authority and responsibilities of the covenant of works, and are brought experientially under the authority and responsibilities of the covenant of grace. In regeneration, the Spirit of God unites the soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, as a branch is engrafted to a vine, whereby (1) the life of Christ flows into the soul, making the sinner alive unto God through the Lord Jesus Christ; and (2) the graces of Christ flow into the soul, enabling the sinner to bear the fruit of his/her new nature in Christ, among which is saving faith, obedience and repentance. This type of faith, obedience and repentance flows out of a righteous nature in Christ, and is therefore acceptable to God and is full of saving virtue.

Henceforth, we say that since it is only the regenerate sinner who has been brought experientially under the covenant of grace, so only he/she has been given the warrant or authority to savingly believe on Christ. So long as the sinner remains in an unregenerate condition, he/she does not have the ability (saving duty) or the authority (moral duty) to believe on Christ to the saving of the soul. It is for this reason we do not “command” unregenerate sinners to savingly believe on Christ or savingly repent of their sins. We do, however, exhort them to fulfill their responsibilities toward God under the authority of the covenant of works—they are commanded to believe on the one true and living God, to perfectly obey the law inscribed upon their hearts and to repent of their sins. But we warn them that these things cannot earn favor with God, or appease His wrath or save them from their sins or coming judgement. The only way for a sinner to see or enter into the kingdom of God is to be born again. That is what we tell the unregenerate! You must be born again! Not by working for it; not by willing it; not by believing for it; not by repenting for it—but by the effectual power of the Holy Spirit whereby He imparts new life to the soul and the fruits of a new nature. And it will be after that experience, the sinner will see how the precious blood of Christ has atoned for his/her sins, and he/she will be enabled to exercise a faith in Christ to the saving of his/her soul.

And so, rather than destroying gospel preaching and evangelism, the rejection of duty faith purifies gospel preaching and energizes evangelism. It is the hyper-Calvinist who rightly distinguishes between the two perpetual covenants, preaching a clear and decisive message of the law on the one hand, and grace on the other. It is Hanko and the PRCA who conflate the covenants, imposing on the unregenerate what belongs only to the regenerate. To be clear, what is the responsibility of the unregenerate? To exercise natural faith in the one true God, natural obedience to the heart law and natural repentance toward God. What is the responsibility of the regenerate? To exercise saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, saving obedience to the law of Christ and godly repentance towards Christ. When the covenants are distinguished, then the responsibility of sinners is rightly defined.

As a final note, I wish to say something about the inconsistency of rejecting the well-meant offer of the gospel, while subscribing to the doctrine of duty faith. The two doctrines actually go hand-in-hand; they are two sides of the same coin. Duty faith refers to the responsibility of the unregenerate sinner to believe savingly on Christ, whereas the free offer refers to the responsibility of the preacher to offer Christ to the unregenerate sinner. If it be the saving or moral duty of the sinner to believe on Christ to salvation, then there must be an offer of the gospel in one form or another, in order that he/she be given that opportunity. Well, Hanko and the PRCA attempt to have one without the other. In that effort, they have replaced an invitation to believe on Christ (free offer) with the obligation to believe on Christ (gospel command). Incidentally, this idea of gospel command is set forth by a popular sovereign grace preacher named Henry Mahan. Of course, while Mahan and the moderate-Calvinists share a similar view of duty faith as that of the PRCA, yet they differ on the subject of the free offer.

My dear friends, the gospel is designed for God’s elect people, and it will only be received by them after the new birth. Henceforth, to offer it to the unregenerate, or demand the unregenerate receive it, is all in vain. Not only does the duty faith and free offer gospel mass produce man-made converts, but it also undermines the gracious covenant and dishonors the God of all grace. The Bible mandate is for the gospel to be preached (proclaimed), not offered or commanded. If the preacher were to forego these proselyting tactics, giving his attention to those whom the Spirit of God has regenerated, then he will find a group of soul-thirsty, heart-hungry and sin-burdened souls, unto whom he may legitimately say, You that labour and are heavy laden, come unto Christ, and He will give you rest! Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him! For He is meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest unto your souls! His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, for He has made you free in the liberty of new life in Him!

Regenerate sinners have a warrant to believe savingly on Christ, because they have been brought experientially under the authority of the gracious covenant.

Glory to God the Father’s name,
Who, from our sinful race,
Chose out His favourites to proclaim,
The honours of His grace.

Glory to God the Son be paid,
Who dwelt in humble clay,
And, to redeem us from the dead,
Gave His own life away.

Glory to God the Spirit give,
From Whose almighty power,
Our souls their heavenly birth derive,
And bless the happy hour.

Glory to God that reigns above,
The eternal Three-in-One,
Who, by the wonders of His love,
Has made His nature known.

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Historically and doctrinally, a hyper-Calvinist is one who rejects (1) the doctrine of duty faith, (2) the well-meant offer of the gospel and (3) the moral law as the rule of conduct for the believer’s life. A rejection of one or more of these doctrines is enough to earn from detractors the label hyper-Calvinist. So long as this remains the definition, I am not bothered by the label. However, it is common for people to attach much more to the name, which only creates a caricature of hyper-Calvinism. For instance, based on the foregoing three-part definition, Arminians and moderate-Calvinists speculate that the hyper-Calvinist must not nurture a passion for the lost, or does not preach the gospel to the non-elect, or does not actively evangelize in the community, or does not live a godly life in Christ Jesus. The only time I have met such people is when the Arminians and moderate-Calvinists talk about them—I have never met one in person. This is because they exist only in the imagination of those who theorize. If you would like to know what a hyper-Calvinist believes, then ask a hyper-Calvinist. Don’t waste your time listening to those who specialize in guessology. You will discover we are not the scary monsters they make us out to be.



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