The term Hyper-Calvinism refers primarily to a theological position that historically arose from within the Calvinist tradition among the early English Particular Baptists in the mid 1700's. It can be seen in the teachings of men like Joseph Hussey (d. 1726), Lewis Wayman (d. 1764), John Brine (d. 1765), and to some extent in John Gill (d. 1771).
It is called Hyper-Calvinism by its critics, who maintain that it deviates from the biblical gospel by (1) denying that the call of the gospel to repent and believe is universal, i.e. for all alike, and (2) denying that the unregenerate (natural) man has a duty to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.
This theological position was labeled Hyper-Calvinism in the mid 1700’s as the issue was argued and debated among English Baptists and others. It should be noted that, although Hyper-Calvinism became fairly widespread among the English Particular Baptists of that day, not all Particular Baptists agreed with the extremes of Wayman and Brine.
While this doctrine has always been a minority view, it has not been relegated to the past and may still be found in some small denominations and church communities today.
Non-technical usage of the term
The prefix “hyper” may be used generically to refer to anything that is considered “extreme” or which goes beyond the accepted norm. There is therefore a sense in which one may refer to Calvinistic views regarded as going beyond normal Calvinism as “hyper.” This non-technical use, usually as a pejorative term, has been applied to a variety of theological positions which fall outside mainstream Calvinism:
- that God is the source of sin and of evil
- that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect
- that it is wrong to evangelize
- that God does not command everyone to repent
- that there is no common grace, i.e. God only cares for his elect and has nothing but hatred for the non-elect.
- that no government is to be obeyed which does not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord over it, or that Biblical Law is its source of authority
- that only Calvinists are Christians
The archetypal Hyper-Calvinist position may be found explicitly set forth in the confessional articles of the Gospel Standard (Baptist) Churches, specifically: Articles of Faith of the Gospel Standard Aid and Poor Relief Societies, (Leicester, England: Oldham & Manton Ltd., n.d.) -- most recently seen online here.
Article XXVI of the Gospel Standard articles: "We deny duty faith and duty repentance – these terms suggesting that it is every man’s duty spiritually and savingly to repent and believe. We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that man in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God."
Article XXXIII of the Gospel Standard articles: "Therefore, that for ministers in the present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Ghost, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption."
Example Logic of the Hyper-Calvinist
Wayman contends that saving faith was not in the power of man at his best before the fall and therefore makes the following deduction, "What Adam had, we all had in him; and what Adam lost, we all lost in him, and are debtors to God on both accounts; but Adam had not the faith of God’s elect before the fall, and did not lose it for his posterity; therefore they are not debtors to God for it while in unregeneracy." Lewis Wayman, A Further Enquiry after Truth, (London: J & J. Marshall, 1738), p. 51.
John Brine gives some insight into Wayman’s statement. Brine taught that every duty incumbent on Adam in his unfallen state he also had the ability to perform, and this duty extends to all men in their fallen state regardless of their lack of ability. Brine maintained that a lack of ability does not release a man from duty (with which most Calvinists would agree). Yet, somehow he sees salvation in a different category; for "with respect to special faith in Christ, it seems to me," says Brine, "that the powers of man in his perfected state were not fitted and disposed to that act." John Brine, A Refutation of Arminian Principles (London, 1743), p. 5.
Accordingly, saving faith lay not within the powers of man in his unfallen state, because there was no necessity for it. Since, therefore, it was not part of his powers in his unfallen state, it could not now be required of him in his fallen state. On this basis, duty-faith and duty-repentance are denied by the hyper Calvinist.
Historic Calvinist position compared to Hyper-Calvinism
Historic Calvinists regard repentance and faith as the means by which the great commandment to love God and love our neighbor finds fulfillment. This duty to love God and neighbor existed before the fall and Adam certainly enjoyed the ability to do so. Man's love of God is therefore still obligatory, and the means through which it is to be realized, namely repentance and faith, are likewise obligatory. Man owes God his love and trust by the very fact that he is God's rational creature. Adam had the ability to love and trust God before the Fall. Man is still responsible to love and trust God even though, because of the Fall and while in an unregenerate state, he has lost the moral ability to do so. Therefore, contrary to hyper-Calvinism, fallen man is indeed duty-bound to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.
- Sinclair Ferguson, et. al., editors, The New Dictionary of Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. Hyper-Calvinism. ISBN 0830814000
- Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Conformity, 1689-1765 (London: The Olive Tree, 1967).
- David J. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel, (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1994). ISBN 0916206505
- Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1986). ISBN 0801067421
- A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism, by Phillip R. Johnson
- What Do Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism Share in Common?, by John W. Hendryx
- Hyper-Calvinism (Monergism)
- "Half-Truth Hyper-Calvinism" by Greg Gibson