Jared Smith's Bible Doctrine

29 Bible Doctrine – The Two Branches Of Hyper-Calvinism And The Weeds Of Modified-Calvinism

A transcript of the video teaching

I would like to welcome you back to another study in the Word of God. I am returning to our little series on Bible Doctrine, and would like to speak on the subject of Hyper-Calvinism. I wish to begin with some basic definitions. Calvinism, as we know it by this name, emerged during the 16th century with a French theologian named John Calvin. In 1536, he published a systematic theology entitled, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”. This, together with his sermons and commentaries on the books of the Bible, have served for hundreds of years as the benchmark for reformed teachings. Hyper-Calvinism, as you know, has a historic definition, pointing to those who deny the doctrines of duty-faith, the free-offer and the moral law as the rule of conduct for the believer’s life. Based on these denials, the term has also been given a modern definition—if saving faith is not the duty of the unregenerate, then it is argued Hyper-Calvinists must negate the responsibility of sinners; if the gospel is not to be offered, then it is argued Hyper-Calvinists must not believe in preaching the gospel to sinners; if the moral law is not the rule of conduct for the believer’s life, then it is argued Hyper-Calvinists must be Antinomians. Now, isn’t that how you have come to understand this label? You’re told a Hyper-Calvinist is one who magnifies the sovereignty of God at the expense of the responsibility of man; a Hyper-Calvinist is one who doesn’t have a zeal or think it necessary to preach the gospel to sinners; a Hyper-Calvinist is one who turns the grace of God into a license for sin. Well, my dear friends, I can assure you, this modern definition identifies absolutely no one in the world. These are false charges brought against Hyper-Calvinists, based squarely upon the presuppositions of the non-Hyper-Calvinists. This modern definition is nothing other than a caricature of historic Hyper-Calvinism. Having said these things, for the next several studies, I will actually be using the term with a broader meaning. It has been said, and rightly so, that Hyper-Calvinism is any teaching which goes beyond the teachings of Calvin himself. I believe this is a good definition, and it will be in this sense that I use the term for the next several studies. 

I wish to state from the outset, that the name Hyper-Calvinism is only a label given to a set of teachings some people believe represent the true nature and meaning of the gospel. On the one hand, it would be perfectly proper to forego the label, for it is quite easy to explain and understand the teachings without any reference to Calvin or the Protestant Reformation. On the other hand, if it is our goal to understand how these teachings developed within a historic context, then it is required certain names be used in order to distinguish one group of teachings from another. It is for that reason I will be using the label throughout these studies. And it should go without saying, this set of teachings is given the name, not because Calvin invented them, but because he was one of the first in modern times to arrange them systematically.  

An Overview Of 17th and 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism:

(1536-1689) 17th Century Hyper-Calvinism—Calvin’s Institutes to the 1689 Baptist Confession

(1630’s) First Modification of Calvinism—Almyraldism/Baxterism

(1692-1770) 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism—Keach’s Sermons to Gill’s Body of Divinity

(1780’s) Second Modification of Calvinism—Fullerism/Spurgeonism

Hyper-Calvinism emerged in two waves. The first began with the publication of Calvin’s Institutes in 1536, culminating in the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. I have highlighted this branch of Hyper-Calvinism with the color blue. We may refer to this school of teaching as 17th century Hyper-Calvinism. The second wave began with the publication of two sermons preached by Benjamin Keach in 1692, culminating in 1770 with the publication of John Gill’s Body of Divinity. I have highlighted this branch of Hyper-Calvinism with the color green. We may refer to this school of teaching as 18th century Hyper-Calvinism. Both groups were driven by a covenant theology not present in that which came before. That is, the covenant theology of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, epitomized in the major confessional statements of that era, the 1689 confession, for instance, was an enlargement of that taught by John Calvin. The framework looked something like this: eternity past is placed to the left of the timeline, with the first of three major covenants—the covenant of redemption. This was understood to be an eternal agreement between the TriUne Jehovah, marking out the terms and promises of salvation for sinners. However, this covenant was relegated to backdrop of history, never penetrating time. Within the context of time, it was believed God entered into two separate covenants with the human race. The first is the covenant of works, made by God with Adam before he sinned, requiring of him perfect obedience to the law inscribed upon his heart; the second is the covenant of grace, made by God with Adam (or promised to him) after he sinned, requiring of him saving faith in Christ. This, in a nutshell, is the covenantal framework for 17th century Hyper-Calvinism. As for the covenantal framework of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism, it was based on a twofold covenantalism, which was a refinement of that taught by the 17th century Hyper-Calvinists. According to this framework, eternity is placed above the timeline. It was agreed that God made a covenant of works with Adam, prior to his sin, requiring of him perfect obedience to the law inscribed upon his heart. It was also agreed a covenant of redemption was made between the TriUne Jehovah, marking out the terms and promises of salvation for sinners. However, rather than relegating this eternal covenant to the backdrop of history, it was understood to be that covenant which God brings to pass throughout the course of time, therefore negating an additional covenant of grace God makes with sinners in time. These are the only two major covenants which undergird 18th century Hyper-Calvinism.

The whole issue, therefore, around which the subject of Hyper-Calvinism revolves, is that of covenant theology. In fact, each covenantal framework led to opposite conclusions with reference to the nature of saving faith, the method of gospel preaching and the rule of conduct for the believer’s life. According to the threefold covenantalism of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, it is the duty of unregenerate sinners to savingly believe on Christ; the gospel is therefore to be offered, rather than preached; and the rule of conduct for the believer’s life is the moral law (or the ten commandments). But according to the twofold covenantalism of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism, saving faith is the privilege of those who have been born again, and therefore it is not a duty imposed upon the unregenerate; the gospel therefore is to be fully and freely preached, but not offered; and the rule of conduct for the believer’s life is the law of Christ, rather than the ten commandments. In a nutshell, these are the covenantal frameworks, together with the controversial issues, which are associated with 17th and 18th century Hyper-Calvinism.    

Now, in addition to these branches, there were two major modifications that deviated from the mainstream. I will highlight them in the color red. The first was introduced in the 1630’s, revised twenty years later by a man named Richard Baxter. His teachings were based on a set of doctrines, named after the French theologian, Moses Amyraut (1596-1664). In essence, Almyraldism differed from mainstream Calvinism in three major areas: First, double predestination was denied, with election placed after God’s decree of a universal atonement; Second, the redemptive benefits of a universal atonement were to be offered to all on condition of their faith and repentance; Third, the only way for a sinner to exercise his/her will in accepting the offer of salvation, is if the preacher successfully persuades the sinner of the truth. Baxter subscribed to these tenets, making a few alterations of his own. The second modification was introduced in the 1780’s, by a man named Andrew Fuller. Although his teachings were based on that of Amyraut and Baxter, he took matters even further, resulting in an agglomeration of heretical views. Perhaps one of the most famous preachers to follow Fuller’s teachings was a man named Charles Spurgeon, who for thirty-eight years served as pastor for the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. It may surprise you to hear a criticism of this kind brought against one who has come to be known as The Prince of Preachers. After all, Spurgeon has received cult-like status in modern times, many holding up his sermons as specimens of biblical and pastoral theology. The fact is, Spurgeon subscribed to the modified Calvinism of Andrew Fuller, and is responsible in some measure for its resurgence in modern times. On this point, it is worth mentioning that the mainstream Calvinism of our modern era, represented largely by the Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist denominations, subscribes at least in part to the modified Calvinism of the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Andrew Randalls, in his book, “Today’s Gospel and Apostolic Exhortations”, points out how Erroll Hulse, Peter Masters and Iain Murray each subscribe to the modified Calvinism highlighted in this historic overview. 

Erroll Hulse, for instance, one of the founders of the Reformed Baptist movement, praises the modified Calvinism of Richard Baxter and Andrew Fuller in his article, “Add to the Church: The Puritan Approach to Persuading Souls”—“Hyper-Calvinism was dominant among the Baptists until Andrew Fuller published his book in 1785 with the title, The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation.” Well, this is true. That’s what I’ve pointed out in this historic overview—I have marked the starting point for 18th century Hyper-Calvinism to be 1692, culminating in 1770 with John Gill’s Body of Divinity. The Particular Baptists of that time were indeed, historic Hyper-Calvinists. Hulse continues, “Fuller’s book was very effective and accomplished an enormous amount of good in liberating the churches from hyper-Calvinism as well as in sounding the trumpet to call for the evangelization of the world.” That is certainly not true! Rather than liberating the churches from historic Hyper-Calvinism, it introduced theological liberalism into these churches. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Baptist Union had been created with Fuller’s group of churches joining the association. By the end of the century, the churches suffered a steep decline in doctrinal purity, leading to the Downgrade Controversy. It was this battle which eventually caused Spurgeon to remove the Metropolitan Tabernacle from the Union. Spurgeon lost the battle, with the Fullerite churches fading into Arminian and liberal oblivion. When the Reformed Baptist movement began in the 1950’s, the main body of Particular Baptist chapels were those belonging to the historic Hyper-Calvinists. Unlike the Fulleirte churches, the historic Hyper-Calvinist congregations continued in an undisturbed line of continuity. These churches were eventually taken over by the Reformed Baptists during the 1970’s and 80’s, forming what is known today as the Grace Baptists, which are nothing other than Reformed Baptists. Henceforth, Hulse is setting out a false narrative that Fuller rescued the Particular Baptists and that those churches who were led astray with his teachings continued strong from that point until now. The opposite is true! Hulse goes on to write, “Most of the Particular Baptist churches embraced the free offer position from that point onwards…” This also is not true! As I just mentioned, the Fullerite churches faded into oblivion towards the end of the 19th century, whereas the historic Hyper-Calvinists continued strong leading up to the Second World War. The aftermath of the war emptied the chapels of men, leaving vulnerable the churches to wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Reformed Baptists, having revived the dead orthodoxy of Fullerism, exploited the situation by commandeering the historic Hyper-Calvinist chapels. Woe unto Hulse, who asserts one thing when the opposite is true! But he goes on in another article (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility) to praise the modified Calvinism of Richard Baxter—“Sinners also have a responsibility. God commands all people everywhere to repent, and commands them to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23). Richard Greenhill describes the responsibilities of the unconverted person in a sermon entitled. ‘What must and can persons do toward their own conversion?’ Greenhill takes as his text Ezekiel 18:32: ‘Wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye’. The unconverted, he said, should seek to sit under a powerful gospel ministry; they should listen to the voice of God’s judgements; and they should observe the difference the gospel has made in the lives of Christians. Greenhill then presses what the unconverted person must do. He must turn to Christ. He must strive to enter in at the narrow gate. With regard to the free offer of the gospel, the Puritans were not inhibited in the way they addressed the unconverted. Examples are Richard Baxter’s A Call to the Unconverted…” There is no question, Erroll Hulse subscribed to the perversions of Modified-Calvinism.  

Peter Masters, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, also subscribes to the modified Calvinism of Richard Baxter, believing regeneration takes place through the persuasions of a gospel preacher—“Two well-known writers in recent times, on either side of the Atlantic, and both admirable men…One says it is a total waste of time trying to persuade or convince people about the Gospel, because they are incapable of understanding it. Hopefully, as they listen to the Word, God will just regenerate them and they will be fully converted immediately. The other says much the same in (of all things) an evangelistic booklet. Having told readers it was useless trying to persuade them about salvation, they are urged to go and place themselves under preaching in the hope that God would suddenly regenerate them to instant conversion. Now this entirely passive view of regeneration has become extremely popular among Calvinists today. It is not mainline Calvinism, but it is becoming so, and is destroying biblical persuasive Gospel preaching. It says that you should state only the basic facts of redemption and leave everything to the Lord…We are often told that the reason we must make a free offer of the Gospel, a universal tender of salvation, is that we do not know who the elect are. While this is perfectly true, it is not the chief reason for the preaching of the Gospel. We must proclaim the Gospel with persuasive reasoning and urging because it is God’s will that the elect (once enabled by regenerating life) should be personally convinced and persuaded in their conscious minds.” (Regeneration and Gospel Persuasion) Does not Masters’ position on persuasional regeneration fit within Richard Baxter’s modified Calvinism—the only way for a sinner to exercise his/her will in accepting the offer of salvation, is if the preacher successfully persuades the sinner of the truth? This was not the mainstream Calvinism of the 17th or 18th century Hyper-Calvinists!

Iain Murray, another founder of the Reformed Baptist movement, believes that in order to make the gospel more appealing to the unregenerate, one must never speak about the electing love of the Father to them—”In Apostolic preaching to the lost, recorded in the book of Acts, nothing is said of the doctrine of election, while in the Epistles ‘it is scarcely ever omitted’….It ought not to be the business of the Evangelist to teach God’s decrees to the unconverted. It is certainly God’s decree of salvation which is fulfilled in conversion but knowledge of that decree is no part of saving faith.” (Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism) A full gospel begins with the electing love of the Father. Without that information, the redeeming grace of the Son makes no sense. Why did Christ come into the world? Who sent Him? What was His mission? These questions are only answered by the doctrine of unconditional election. Likewise, a full gospel requires the preacher to speak on the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Without that information, the way in which God experientially applies the redeeming grace of Christ is kept secret. And often, in place of the Spirit’s regenerating power, the preacher will insert the will (ability) and works (duties) of the sinner as necessary components in the application of Christ’s redemptive benefits. The preacher’s job is quite clear and straightforward—preach the gospel! Preach (proclaim), not offer; the gospel, in its entirety, the Father’s electing love, the Son’s redeeming grace and the Spirit’s regenerating power. How presumptuous for a messenger (evangelist) to take it upon himself to edit the message of the one Who has sent him!

My dear friends, what I am showing you are modern preachers, each claiming to represent mainstream Calvinism of the past centuries, yet embracing the modified views of men such as Richard Baxter and Andrew Fuller. We must be careful when listening to any preacher, or conversing with any professing Christian, no matter how good they look or pleasing they sound. We must be constantly exercised in a spirit of discernment. Do not take for granted, just because a preacher or person lays claim to a famous theologian, or professes to be in line with historic Christianity, or boasts about having a large library and reads the writings of men such as John Gill, William Gadsby or Robert Hawker, that they are therefore sound in the faith and may be trusted. There is much ignorance swirling around in this day, people knowing neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. Henceforth, the Apostle John exhorted the brethren in 1 John 4:1: ”Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Incidentally, may I point out that the modified Calvinism of Almyraut, Baxter, Fuller and Spurgeon is all based on the threefold covenantalism of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism? You do not get these deviations and modifications from the twofold covenantalism of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism. 

Alright, now that I have given an overview of the two waves of Hyper-Calvinism, together with the two modifications of Calvinism, it is helpful if I provide a historic backdrop for the upcoming studies. I would like to highlight some significant dates, together with the persons or events which make them important to the emergence of 17th and 18th century Hyper-Calvinism. Again, I will use the color blue for the persons associated with 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, the color green for those associated with 18th Hyper-Calvinism and the color red for those associated with modified Calvinism. 

•——1517 (Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to a set of church doors in Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation)

•——1536 (John Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion)

•——1560 (John Knox organized the Presbyterian church)

•——1564 (Theodore Beza expands on several doctrines left open-ended by Calvin in his Institutes)

•——1618 (Synod Of Dort responds to the teachings of James Arminius)

•——1630 (Moses Almyraut, and later, Richard Baxter formulate a modified Calvinism)

•——1630 (Johannes Maccovius sets forth a twofold covenantal framework, the basis for 18th century Hyper-Calvinism)

•——1642 (William Ames sets forth a threefold covenantal framework, in a book published in this year, which becomes the basis for 17th century Hyper-Calvinism)

•——1646 (Westminster Confession of Faith is produced, becoming the doctrinal standard for Presbyterian churches)

•——1658 (Savoy Declaration is published, representing Congregational and Independent churches)

•——1689 (Baptist Confession is published, representing Particular Baptist churches)

•——1690 (Tobias Crisp’s controversial sermon on the rule of conduct for the Christian life is republished)

•——1692 (Benjamin Keach preaches two sermons, subscribing to a twofold covenantal framework)

•——1707 (Joseph Hussey publishes a book denouncing free offers of the gospel)

•——1738 (Lewis Wayman publishes a book arguing against the teachings of Duty Faith)

•——1753 (John Brine publishes a book against the doctrine of duty faith)

•——1770 (John Gill publishes a systematic theology based on a twofold covenantal framework)

•——1780 (Andrew Fuller publishes a book in 1785, promoted by Charles Spurgeon in the 19th century)

•——1785 (William Button publishes a series of letters dismantling Andrew Fuller’s teachings on duty faith and the free of offer)

•——1794 (William Huntington publishes a book against the ten commandments serving as a rule of conduct for the believer’s life)

•——1802 (Charles Buck publishes a theological dictionary setting forth a twofold covenantal framework)

•——1809 (William Gadsby publishes a children’s catechism outlining the reasons why the believer is not duty-bound to the ten commandments as a rule of conduct)

•——1822 (Joseph Irons publishes a book setting forth a twofold covenantal framework)

•——1828 (Robert Hawker publishes a Bible dictionary setting forth a twofold covenantal framework)

•——1835 (Daniel Whitaker publishes a sermon against the free offer)

•——1837 (William Tant publishes a book against the free offer)

•——1841 (William Rushton publishes a book against the free offer)

•——1841 (John Stevens publishes a book against Andrew Fuller’s teachings on duty faith and the free offer)

•——1843 (Job Hupton publishes a book against the free offer)

•——1850 (Israel Atkinson publishes a book against the free offer)

•——1860 (John Foreman publishes a book against duty faith and the free offer)

•——1902 (William Styles publishes a body of divinity setting forth a twofold covenantal framework, therein denouncing the doctrines of duty faith and the free offer)

This, then, is a historic overview of the major dates and persons connected with the emergence of Hyper-Calvinism. Over the next three weeks, I hope to link these dates and names together, explaining how the various teachings were formulated and their significance in modern times. 

Now, before closing this study, seeing I have a few minutes remaining, I would like to bring a little challenge from the Word of God. I am looking at 2 Timothy 4. The Apostle Paul is the author of this letter. Did you know, of the twenty-two letters which make up the New Testament scriptures, Paul wrote fourteen of them? That is almost 65%. 2 Timothy is the last letter he wrote, in the year AD 67, while awaiting his execution from a prison cell in Rome. Shortly after sending the letter to Timothy, Paul was led out of the city gates, on the road that leads to Ostia, where public executions were carried out, his head severed from his body. Thus ended the life of this great preacher of the gospel. With these details in mind, there is a special interest attached to Paul’s second letter to Timothy, as these are the last recorded words of the Apostle not long before his death. 

He, of course, was the spiritual father and chief mentor of Timothy, a young man who had been converted to Christ under the Apostle’s ministry, and who joined the Apostle during his evangelistic travels around the world. That Timothy held a special place in his heart no one can deny, for Paul frequently speaks of him throughout the New Testament scriptures with much affection and fondness. Knowing that he must soon leave this world, and that this letter would be his last, what would be his final words of counsel to his young protégé? 

He writes in 2 Timothy 4:1-8: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” 

Timothy, you are to preach the Word of God; in season and out of season; reproving, rebuking, exhorting and teaching with all patience and longsuffering. You must do it not only when you feel ready for the work, but even those times when you are utterly unprepared for it. Nothing is to hinder your discharge of this duty—preach the Word! You have no business offering the Word. It’s not yours to offer. It’s the Lord’s to give. But your job is to preach it; to proclaim it; to broadcast the glad tidings of good news far and wide; especially to those whose souls are thirsty and hungry and desiring the sincere milk of the Word! And don’t be discouraged by those who turn a deaf ear to your words, or despise you in their hearts, or trample under foot the truth as it is in Jesus. There will be some who have no taste for the gospel of Christ—but rather, their ears will be itching for new things; they will try to scratch that itch by following a broad spectrum of teachers, caring nothing for the truth of the gospel, but following after fables. So don’t be discouraged Timothy! You will surely meet with these type of people throughout the course of your ministry. What you must do under such circumstances is be watchful in all things—you must keep vigilance, as a watchman on the lookout tower, guarding the integrity and preserving the convictions of your heart. You must endure afflictions—not only the persecutions you will suffer for living godly in Christ Jesus, but the manifold tribulations you must pass through as a stranger and pilgrim in this world. You must do the work of an evangelist—for while your main job is that of pastoring the church in Ephesus, you must be looking for opportunities to preach the gospel outside your little fold. You must make full proof of your ministry—as a faithful steward keeping charge over the house of his master, so you must be a faithful steward keeping charge of the gospel that has been committed to your trust. 

I am certain, upon hearing of the Apostle’s death, Timothy cherished these words, perhaps making them the benchmark against which to measure the success of his gospel labors—Am I watching in all things? Am I enduring afflictions? Am I doing the work of an evangelist? Am I making full proof of my ministry? 

How is it with you, my dear friend? Has not the Lord Jesus Christ also entrusted the gospel to your heart? Indeed, you have this treasure (the gospel) imparted to your soul also, insomuch that you, like Timothy, are a steward of the manifold grace of God. The charge is therefore laid upon your heart—preach the gospel, maybe not from a pulpit, but at least within your sphere of social influence; be ready always to give an answer to every person who asks of the hope that is in you; be not afraid to reprove, rebuke, exhort and teach with all longsuffering; do not be discouraged if many in your social sphere turn their ears away from the truth; do not be surprised if they have itching ears chasing after other teachings to satisfy their lust; focus not on them, but on the charge committed to your soul—watch in all things, guard your heart and your gospel convictions; endure afflictions, whether it come in the form of persecution or tribulation; do the work of an evangelist, preaching the gospel when opportunity is given; make full proof of your stewardship. My dear friend, why don’t you make this the benchmark of your earthly pilgrimage with the Lord? 

Well, I must leave it there. Until we meet again for our next study, may the Lord keep you and bless you, and make His presence known as you continue to journey with Him as a stranger and pilgrim in this world.