My Review Of Monergism.com’s Earmarks Of “Hyper-Calvinism”
According to the “About Us” page, Monergism.com is:
“A subsidiary of the Christian Publication Resource Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Portland, OR, which exists to aid in the growth and maturation of the worldwide Church by making available a wide array of free resources that support the historic, Reformed Christian faith, combat doctrinal error, and stir the flame of devotion which a right knowledge of the Savior must produce. It serves as a clearinghouse of electronic media addressing all aspects of the Christian faith from a historic, Reformed perspective; it is also a community weblog providing regular devotional and expositional thoughts which highlights various resources and ministries, with contributors from a variety of backgrounds who all share a solidarity in the Reformed faith.”
Indeed, there are many good and helpful resources that have been uploaded to the Site. The aims and objectives are well founded, and all who benefit from the historic resources owe a debt of gratitude to those, who like the editors of Monergism.com, make available digital copies of sovereign grace teachings. The “About Us” page continues:
“The theological stand-point which the author(s) of this website holds should be obvious to any reader. Such an one will quickly discover that we belong to the historic evangelical school of theology. He will see that we hold firmly the doctrinal distinctives the Reformers and English Puritans. We are confessing Christians who affirm Covenant Theology and the five solas of the Reformation. We are Presbyterian, and unabashedly hold to the doctrines of grace…”
Those who make use of Monergism.com should be aware that the editors approach the scriptures and the “historic evangelical school of theology” from a Presbyterian perspective. Their views on Covenant Theology differ widely from the English Particular Baptists, as do their views on the Church of Christ and one’s application of the so-called “five solas of the Reformation”. It should be noted, the Presbyterians represent only one of many branches of historic sovereign grace teachings. The English Particular Baptists are arguably more “reformed” than the Presbyterians, both in their Soteriology and Ecclesiology. The “About Us” page continues:
“But you will indeed find a great deal of resources on this website from other traditions such as the Reformed Baptists, Reformed Anglicans and Conservative Lutherans because we believe we are in agreement with them on most vital matters of our faith.”
Of course, the aforementioned groups are aligned quite closely with the aims and endeavors of Protestantism—the “reformation” of the Holy Mother Church of Rome. It is no surprise, therefore, that the editors of Monergism.com incorporate those writings with their online digital archive. The “About Us” page continues:
“And while, with sadness, we repudiate of the loose and broad theology of many modern “evangelicals”, yet we should add, that in interpreting Scripture or espousing theology, we call no man master or father. We strive, by the grace of God. and your ongoing intercession, to never twist God’s Word in order to make it support our own party’s views. Throughout this Website we have endeavored honestly and conscientiously to ground every statement (and viewpoint) with the authority of the whole counsel of Scripture behind it. In doing so we seek to evade no difficulty and follow Scripture wherever it leads.”
There is a naiveté attached to the above statement. While Monergism.com claims to call no man master or father, yet they devote themselves to the writings and teachings of many masters and fathers of past centuries. While they claim to never twist God’s Word in order to make it support their own party’s view, yet every person belonging to a party (denomination) will inevitably interpret the scriptures based on the presuppositions and conclusions of that party. While they boast of grounding every statement and viewpoint with the authority of the whole counsel of scripture, yet every honest Christian does the same, insomuch that a professing Arminian may be as “honest” as a professing Calvinist. While they claim to evade no difficulty and follow scripture wherever it leads, yet they obstruct their aim by locking themselves into the Presbyterian “party”. Who amongst us are completely free from the hero worship of forefathers, or the twisting of God’s Word to support preconceived ideas, or the narrowness of the party spirit? The “About Us” page continues:
“We do not hesitate to express our disagreement with the views of others when occasion requires; but when we have done so we strive, by God’s grace, to do it with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15).”
I am pleased they nurture a gentle and respectful approach to matters of controversy. Far too many Calvinists are militant and intolerant towards others of different viewpoints. However, one would hope that if they do find disagreement with the views of others, then they would carefully study the others’ views in order to gain a clear and proper understanding of their position on the matters. Case in point, under the heading “Hyper-Calvinism”, the author(s) of the Site insert the following statement:
The following are representative of some beliefs hyper-calvinists may hold. Most classic Calvinists reject as deplorable the following destructive beliefs:
• that God is the first cause and author of sin and of evil
• that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect
• that the number of the elect at any time may be known by men
• that it is wrong to evangelize
• that assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith
• that men who have once “sincerely” professed belief are saved regardless of what they later do
• that God has chosen some races of men and has rejected others
• that God does not command everyone to repent
• that the sacraments are not means of grace, but obstacles to salvation by faith alone
• that saving faith is equivalent to belief in the doctrine of predestination
• that only Calvinists are Christians (Neo-gnostic Calvinism)
It is evident the author(s) of Monergism.com have never met a Hyper-Calvinist in person, nor have they studied the historic and modern resources belonging to the Hyper-Calvinists. Their depiction of Hyper-Calvinism is based squarely on speculation and guessology. If one wishes to know what a Hyper-Calvinist believes, the best course is to speak with a Hyper-Calvinist.
Here is my review to the Guessology of Monergism.com:
Hyper-Calvinism has a technical definition based on the historic controversies of the 18th and 19th centuries between English sovereign grace churches. On the one side of the controversy were those who rejected the doctrines of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer, represented by John Gill. On the other side were those who subscribed to the doctrines of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer, represented by Andrew Fuller. Those in Gill’s camp were called Gillites, or High and Hyper Calvinists. Those in Fuller’s camp were called Fullerites, or Moderate and Mongrel Calvinists. During the height of the controversy, the majority of sovereign grace Baptist churches belonged to Gill’s camp. Today, the majority of sovereign grace Baptist churches belong to Fuller’s camp.
Monergism.com represents and promotes the Moderate Calvinist position. However, rather than dealing directly with the actual doctrines which define Hyper-Calvinism, they use those teachings as a spring board from which to launch into wildly speculative and ludicrous charges against Hyper-Calvinists. Henceforth, what follows is a classic example of the modern definition imposed upon Hyper-Calvinism by those who know little about the historic controversy and understand even less about the doctrines involved.
“The following are representative of some beliefs hyper-calvinists may hold.”
Upon what basis does Monergism.com set forth these “beliefs” as representative of Hyper-Calvinism? They are speaking without knowledge. Interesting, though, that they choose their language carefully so as to give themselves an exit if their charges against Hyper-Calvinists prove to be unsustainable—“representative of SOME beliefs hyper-calvinists MAY hold.” I suppose their tactic is to sling mud at the Hyper-Calvinists, with the hope that while it may not stick, may yet leave a stain.
“Most classic Calvinists reject as deplorable the following destructive beliefs:”
By “classic Calvinists” Monergism.com means Moderate-Calvinists. Because they do not understand the issues connected with the doctrines of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer, they create a straw man against which to wage war. The “destructive beliefs” they set forth in the following list has absolutely nothing to do with Hyper-Calvinism. In fact, the Hyper-Calvinist also rejects as deplorable the straw man created by Monergism.com.
“• that God is the first cause and author of sin and of evil”
This is a monstrous way to frame the issue, and perhaps a dishonest one too. God is the first cause of all things because from eternity He has drawn up a blueprint (decree) for all that He brings to pass in time. Sin and evil are part of His eternal decree, and in this sense, He is the author of it. However, this does not make God the moral author of sin and evil, as if He Himself violates the purity and righteousness of His own nature. God is not subject to the laws by which He upholds and maintains the world, nor is He subject to the laws He writes upon the hearts of angels and humans. God is His own law, and therefore not being subject to laws of angels and men, He cannot be charged foolishly with transgressing those laws. Hyper-Calvinism has never asserted that God is the moral author of sin and evil. No, no! Since God is His own law, everything He does is right because He wills it; He doesn’t will it because it is right (as if He is subject to a law above Himself). The way in which Monergism.com frames the issue reduces God to the stature of a creature, binding Him to the limitations of those laws written upon the hearts of humans.
It was John Gill who encouraged Augustus Toplady to translate into English Jerome Zanchius’ treatise on Absolute Predestination. Therein Zanchius writes:
“The Deity is possessed not only of infinite knowledge, but likewise of absolute liberty of will, so that whatever He does, or permits to be done, He does and permits freely and of His own good pleasure. Consequently, it is His free pleasure to permit sin, since, without His permission, neither men nor devils can do anything. Now, to permit is, at least, the same as not to hinder, though it be in our power to hinder if we please, and this permission, or non-hinderance, is certainly an act of the Divine will. Hence Augustine says, “Those things which, seemingly, thwart the Divine will are, nevertheless, agreeable to it, for, if God did not permit them, they could not be done, and whatever God permits, He permits freely and willingly. He does nothing, neither suffers anything to be done, against His own will.” And Luther observes that “God permitted Adam to fall into sin because He willed that he should so fall.”
Again, Zanchius writes:
“From what has been laid down, it follows that Augustine, Luther, Bucer, the scholastic divines, and other learned writers are not to be blamed for asserting that “God may in some sense be said to will the being and commission of sin.” For, was this contrary to His determining will of permission, either He would not be omnipotent, or sin could have no place in the world; but He is omnipotent, and sin has a place in the world, which it could not have if God willed otherwise; for who hath resisted His will? (Rom 9). No one can deny that God permits sin, but He neither permits it ignorantly nor unwillingly, therefore knowingly and willingly (vide Aust. Enchir. c. 96). Luther stedfastly maintains this in his book de Serv. Arbitr. and Bucer in Rom. 1. However, it should be carefully noticed: (1) That God’s permission of sin does not arise from His taking delight in it; on the contrary, sin, as sin, is the abominable thing that His soul hateth, and His efficacious permission of it is for wise and good purposes. Whence that observation of Augustine, “God, who is no less omnipotent than He is supremely and perfectly holy, would never have permitted evil to enter among His works, but in order that He might do good even with that evil,” i.e., over-rule it for good in the end. (2) That God’s free and voluntary permission of sin lays no man under any forcible or compulsive necessity of committing it; consequently the Deity can by no means be termed the author of moral evil, to which He is not, in the proper sense of the word, accessory, but only remotely or negatively so, inasmuch as He could, if He pleased, absolutely prevent it.”
“We should, therefore, be careful not to give up the omnipotence of God under a pretence of exalting His holiness; He is infinite in both, and therefore neither should be set aside or obscured. To say that God absolutely nills the being and commission of sin, while experience convinces us that sin is acted every day, is to represent the Deity as a weak, impotent being, who would fain have things go otherwise than they do, but cannot accomplish His desire. On the other hand, to say that He willeth sin doth not in the least detract from the holiness and rectitude of His nature, because, whatever God wills, as well as whatever He does, cannot be eventually evil: materially evil it may be, but, as was just said, it must ultimately be directed to some wise and just end, otherwise He could not will it; for His will is righteous and good, and the sole rule of right and wrong, as is often observed by Augustine, Luther and others.”
“• that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect”
Once more, this is a dishonest way to frame the issue. Jerome Zanchius sets out the matter quite clearly:
”In consequence of God’s immutable will and infallible foreknowledge, whatever things come to pass, come to pass necessarily, though with respect to second causes and us men, many things are contingent, i.e., unexpected and seemingly accidental.”
“That this was the doctrine of Luther, none can deny who are in any measure acquainted with his works, particularly with his treatise, “De Servo Arbitrio, or Free-will a Slave,” the main drift of which book is to prove that the will of man is by nature enslaved to evil only, and because it is fond of that slavery: is therefore said to be free. Among other matters, he proves there that whatever man does, he does necessarily, though not with any sensible compulsion, and that we can only do what God from eternity willed and foreknew we should, which will of God must be effectual and His foresight must be certain.” Hence we find him saying, “It is most necessary and salutary for a Christian to be assured that God foreknows nothing uncertainly, but that He determines, and foresees, and acts in all things according to His own eternal, immutable and infallible will,” adding, “Hereby, as with a thunderbolt, is man’s free-will thrown down and destroyed.” A little after, he shows in what sense he took the word “necessity.” “By it,” says he, “I do not mean that the will suffers any forcible constraint or co-action, but the infallible accomplishment of those things which the immutable God decreed and foreknew concerning us.” He goes on: “Neither the Divine nor human will does anything by constraint, but whatever man does, be it good or bad, he does with as much appetite and willingness as if his will was really free. But, after all, the will of God is certain and unalterable, and is the governess of ours.”
“Exactly consonant to all which are those words of Luther’s friend and fellow-labourer, Melancthon: “All things turn out according to Divine predestination, not only the works we do outwardly, but even the thoughts we think inwardly,” adding, in the same place, “There is no such thing as chance or fortune, nor is there a readier way to gain the fear of God, and to put our whole trust in Him, than to be thoroughly versed in the doctrine of predestination.” I could cite, to the same purpose, Augustine, Aquinas, and many other learned men, but, for brevity’s sake, forbear. That this is the doctrine of Scripture every adept in those sacred books cannot but acknowledge. See particularly Psa 135:6; Mat 10:29; Pro 16:1; Mat 26:54; Luk 22:22; Act 4:28; Eph 1:11; Isa 46:10.”
“• that the number of the elect at any time may be known by men”
What person is there, Hyper-Calvinist or otherwise, who can make such a halfwitted claim? How can anyone know the number of God’s elect? This charge against Hyper-Calvinism is balderdash!
“• that it is wrong to evangelize”
If evangelism be understood in its scriptural context, then every Hyper-Calvinist believes it is right to evangelize. However, I suspect Monergism.com does not share the same meaning for evangelism as the Hyper-Calvinists. They assume the Hyper-Calvinists’ rejection of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer equates to their refusal to preach the gospel. However, their deduction is wrong! There is a vast difference between OFFERING the gospel and PREACHING the gospel. The scriptures abound with references to preaching the gospel, but there is not one text which supports the notion of offering the gospel. What is the difference between the two? Well, to offer the gospel is proselyting, an attempt to put saving faith into the unregenerate with emotional appeals, persuasive arguments and ‘gospel’ threatenings; whereas to preach the gospel is evangelizing, the process of drawing out from regenerate sinners the saving faith God has put into them by virtue of their new birth. To offer the gospel says, “You have the spiritual faculties to receive and reject the good news of redeeming grace; the ball is in your court; it is up to you to make the next move!” To preach the gospel says, “You that have ears to hear the good news of redeeming grace, hear what the Spirit of God says to your soul!” Moderate-Calvinists proselyte by offering the gospel, Hyper-Calvinists evangelize by preaching the gospel. One should do a word study on these terms, which will convince every sincere believer in Christ that the scriptural mandate is to preach the gospel, rather than offering it.
“• that assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith”
How exactly does this work? Monergism.com is assuming that because the Hyper-Calvinists believe the sinner must have a warrant to savingly believe and repent, then this means he/she must be given assurance that he/she belongs to God by election, before saving faith can be exercised. Once again, their deduction is wrong! This is a gross misunderstanding of the issue. A warrant to savingly believe and repent is based on the covenant under which one is subject. So long as an unregenerate sinner is under the covenant of works, he/she has a warrant to perfectly obey the law inscribed upon his/her heart. Whereas the sinner who has been brought experientially under the covenant of grace by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit is given the new warrant to savingly believe on Christ. Henceforth, the warrant to savingly believe on Christ is the new birth, and it is through the exercise of saving faith after the new birth that the regenerate sinner will be assured of his/her election.
“• that men who have once “sincerely” professed belief are saved regardless of what they later do”
On the one hand, all Calvinists subscribe to this position, for they believe a regenerate sinner cannot fall from grace. Even Monergism.com believes this doctrine. However, I suspect they are referring to those who reject the moral law as a rule of conduct for the believer’s life. Such rejection, they surmise, must mean the Hyper-Calvinists exploit the grace of God and make a license to sin. Once more, their deduction is wrong! The Hyper-Calvinists believe every covenant has its own law. For instance, the covenant of works is governed by the twofold law inscribed upon the heart, and all unregenerate sinners are responsible before God to obey it. Again, the Mosaic covenant was governed by its own law (moral, civil and ceremonial), and all Israelites were responsible before God to obey it. Again, the covenant of grace, otherwise known as the covenant of redemption, is governed by the gospel law, and all regenerate sinners are responsible before God to walk in it. When the Hyper-Calvinist says the believer is no longer under the law, but is under grace, he/she is not saying the believer is without law. Rather, by “grace”, the Hyper-Calvinist means the law of Christ, which is the rule for the believer’s life. The problem with Monergism.com on this matter, is that they want unregenerate sinners to be responsible unto God for the law of Christ, and regenerate sinners to be responsible unto God for the law inscribed upon their hearts. They are imposing on each of the two groups a law which was designed for the other. By so doing, they undermine the gospel of Christ and go about to establish their own righteousness.
“• that God has chosen some races of men and has rejected others”
“• that God does not command everyone to repent”
Monergism.com assumes that because the Hyper-Calvinist rejects the doctrine of Duty-Faith, this must mean he/she does not believe God commands everyone to repent. Once again, this deduction is wrong! Hyper-calvinists believe God commands all unregenerate sinners to repent of their sins under the terms and promises of the covenant of works. It is under the authority of that covenant they are accountable to God. However, so long as they remain in an unregenerate condition, all such repentance is only natural, having absolutely no saving virtue in it. Hyper-Calvinists also believe God graciously invites all regenerate sinners to savingly repent of their sins under the terms and promises of the covenant of grace. It is under the authority of that covenant they are accountable to God. This type of repentance does have saving virtue in it, for the soul, having been united to Christ, is a recipient of the life and virtues of Christ, among which is saving repentance. Moderate-Calvinists fail to distinguish between the covenants of works and grace, and they fail to rightly understand the distinctions between natural repentance and spiritual repentance.
“• that the sacraments are not means of grace, but obstacles to salvation by faith alone”
This is the only statement on the list which requires no alteration and may indeed represent the beliefs of a Hyper-Calvinist, at least among the Baptist branch of churches. In fact, this statement represents the ethos of all Baptist churches, Arminian and Calvinistic, for they believe Baptism and the Lord’s Table are ordinances, rather than sacraments. It is the Catholics and the Protestants who believe Baptism and the Lord’s Table are sacraments. What is the difference? Ordinances are designed to put the recipient in remembrance of Christ, whereas sacraments are designed to impart to the recipients the virtues of Christ. Baptists maintain the graces of Christ are imparted to the soul through the direct agency of the Holy Spirit, without the aid or means of outer signs and ceremonies. It is surprising Monergism.com has singled out the Hyper-Calvinists on this matter, rather than addressing all Baptist churches who share the same view.
“• that saving faith is equivalent to belief in the doctrine of predestination”
This is another bizarre “belief” Monergism.com has attached to Hyper-Calvinism. It is difficult to know from whence they fetch this strange idea. Perhaps they assume that because Hyper-Calvinists often stress the first branch of the gospel (the electing love of God the Father), they must therefore believe that saving faith equates to a belief in the doctrine of predestination? Well, this is another false deduction. Hyper-Calvinists believe saving faith is a grace of Christ which flows into the soul by virtue of one’s union with Christ at the time of the new birth. Saving faith embraces the whole of God’s gospel, which includes, but is not limited to, the doctrine of predestination. If Monergism.com is calling out the Hyper-Calvinists for over-emphasizing the electing love of the Father, then I would reverse the challenge by suggesting they are under-emphasizing it. There are three branches of the gospel, beginning with the electing love of the Father. Unless the Father’s electing love is properly understood, then the other branches of the gospel—the redeeming grace of the Son and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit—will not be rightly perceived.
“• that only Calvinists are Christians (Neo-gnostic Calvinism)”
The opposite is true! Hyper-Calvinists believe true Christians are those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, which is not determined by one’s creed. There may be regenerate sinners who remain ignorant of deeper gospel truths, identifying even as Arminians, yet are no less Christians than those who are mature in the faith, identifying as Calvinists. There may also be very smart and knowledgeable Calvinists, who could run circles around the ignorant regenerate sinner, yet they have never been born again. It is not the creed which makes the child of God, but the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, I am thankful Monergism.com is archiving many helpful digital resources which otherwise would be unavailable to believers around the world. However, there are topics, such as Hyper-Calvinism, which they would do well to study before opining on the subject. Hyper-Calvinism has a historic definition based on the actual doctrines which distinguish it. It has also a modern definition based on speculation which misrepresents it. Why not choose the historic definition and deal with the actual issues, rather than the modern definition and contend with a straw man?
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.