Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

A Response to Phil Johnson's Article on Hyper-Calvinism

A Response to Phil Johnson’s Article on Hyper-Calvinism

Although the article by Phil Johnson is an old and dated one, I have decided to respond to it again because it is continually used to attack classical Calvinists who are not hyper-Calvinists at all.  Worse, the opening definition of hyper-Calvinism in the article is a quote from a high church Anglo-Catholic named Peter Toon, who is now deceased but was a priest in the Church of England and then transferred to the Anglican Church in North America.  Right from the get go Phil Johnson gives a wrong definition of hyper-Calvinism based on an equivocal definition.  I should also mention that Johnson himself is supposed to be a Baptist and a Calvinist but he is now working for John MacArthur.  Toon defines hyper-Calvinism this way:

1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .

    2. It is that school of supralapsarian 'five-point' Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word "offer" in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, "Hyper-Calvinism," New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]
[From:  A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism, by Phil Johnson].

My first objection to this definition is that it sets up a straw man fallacy in the first sentence.  The Bible nowhere minimizes human responsibility and neither does the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession.  Both of these confessions teach that sanctification is a necessary response to justification by faith alone and even faith is a gift of God, not something that someone can conjure up by their own moral strength.  Secondly, it is false to assert that Evangelism is unnecessary.  The fact of the matter is that Calvinism makes evangelism essential for two reasons.  The first is that God commands it in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Colossians 1:23.  Secondly, the Bible teaches that natural theology and natural revelation provides insufficient information for saving faith.  (Romans 1:18-21; Romans 2:12-16).  And the last sentence in paragraph 1 is an outright deception when Toon asserts that “Christ may be offered only to the elect . . .”  It is impossible to tell an unbeliever that Christ died for them because it might not be true.  If Christ has died for them then the sin of unbelief will be overcome by the irresistible grace of God.  It is not that Calvinists do not preach repentance and the wrath of God to unbelievers.  They certainly do.  But it is also not true that only those who repent are offered Christ.  Even though the general call of the Gospel is preached to all indiscriminately, the fact is that only the elect can respond to the command to repent and believe the Gospel because they alone will be enabled by the monergistic work of God to repent and believe the Gospel.  (Matthew 22:14; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:13; Romans 9:15-16; 1 John 5:1).

In paragraph 2 Toon repeats his accusation that the sovereignty of God makes man not responsible for his sins.  But worse Toon says that in order to “offer” the Gospel or preach the general call of the Gospel the minister must also tell his hearers that they have “the assurance that Christ actually died for them.”  [Ibid.].  This absolutely not what the Bible says at all.  Scripture teaches that Christ died only for the elect and that the atonement is particularly for the elect and the elect only.  To be sure the Westminster Confession of Faith does teach a distinction between the general call of the Gospel and the effectual call of God through the same message.  However, this is not the same thing as defining the free offer as God’s sincere desire to save those for whom Christ did not die and whom God did not unconditionally elect in eternity before creation.

Westminster Confession of Faith:  Chapter VIII.  Of Christ the Mediator.

6.      Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and for ever. (Gal. 4:4–5, Gen. 3:15, Rev. 13:8, Heb. 13:8)

The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

Another implication of Toon’s remarks in the dictionary definition of hyper-Calvinism is that men are not responsible to God if double predestination is true.  This could not be further from the truth.  Even the Muslim who is born in Saudi Arabia is without excuse and will be held responsible and accountable for his or her unbelief.  That’s because even if natural revelation is insufficient information for saving faith, it is enough information to leave the unbelieving pagan of foreign lands without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-21).  There are no rights that God owes to fallen humanity because Adam brought the curse on all mankind.  The whole lump is leavened with sin and guilt and we are all guilty of Adam’s first sin as well as our own inherent sinful hearts and our own actual sins.  On all these accounts we are responsible to God and He will judge us on the basis of the covenant of works unless we are born again of the Holy Spirit and effectually called to saving faith.  There are many other examples I could give from Scripture, including Phineas and Hophni but they were warned by their father Eli and still refused to believe because it was God’s purpose to kill them.  (1 Samuel 2:12-25).  The fact of the matter is that Calvinists are much more motivated to evangelize because we know that unless the unbeliever hears the general call of the Gospel he or she cannot receive the effectual call.  We know this because the apostle Paul says so in Romans 10:9-17.

Now as to Toon’s accusation that emphasizing God’s sovereignty encourages introspection to determine whether or not one is elect of God, I think Toon is again creating a straw man to demolish what the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith does not teach.  It is surely true that there are many hypocrites in the visible churches.  It is also true that many have a false assurance of salvation because they are living a life that is essentially slavery to sin and licentiousness.  But does this mean that no Christian can attain assurance of salvation?  Certainly not!  Even the apostle Peter says that assurance is attainable: 

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; (2 Peter 1:10 NKJV). 

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, 25 To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25 NKJV).

Moreover, the entire epistle of 1 John is about sanctification and how loving God means obeying His commandments.  And toward the end of the epistle in 1 John 5:13 we are told that assurance of salvation is the reason that John is writing to the readers:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJV).

When I first read Johnson’s article years ago I did not realize all the implications of what he was saying.  But now that I am better informed it is shocking to go back and read his remarks.  He starts off by quoting a known Tractarian, namely Peter Toon.  In his opening paragraph he refers to John Piper and Thomas Schreiner.  Both of these men have been associated with the Federal Vision error and Piper went so far as to invite Doug Wilson to one of his theological conferences.  Typical of semi-Calvinists, Johnson appeals to the doctrine that there are two wills in God’s eternal mind.  These two wills appear to be in direct contradiction to the other because God’s eternal will is immutable and unchangeable while God’s permissive will is a well meant desire to save everyone without exception, including the reprobate.  But does the Bible or the Westminster Confession teach that there are two wills in God?  The answer has to be no.  (Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 14:24-27; 46:9-11).  In fact, John Calvin did not teach this doctrine and neither did Martin Luther.  Luther makes it very plain that God’s foreknowledge is immutable and that the human will is in bondage to God’s sovereign will:

Sect. IX.—THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, “Free-will” is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert “Free-will,” must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. But, however, before I establish this point by any arguments of my own, and by the authority of Scripture, I will first set it forth in your words.

Are you not then the person, friend Erasmus, who just now asserted, that God is by nature just, and by nature most merciful? If this be true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and merciful? That, as His nature is not changed to all eternity, so neither His justice nor His mercy? And what is said concerning His justice and His mercy, must be said also concerning His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and His other Attributes. If therefore these things are asserted religiously, piously, and wholesomely concerning God, as you say yourself, what has come to you, that, contrary to your own self, you now assert, that it is irreligious, curious, and vain, to say, that God foreknows of necessity? You openly declare that the immutable will of God is to be known, but you forbid the knowledge of His immutable prescience. Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.

From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills.

And John Calvin is crystal clear as well that God has only one immutable and eternal will:

2. God’s will is the rule of righteousness*

To the pious and moderate and those who are mindful that they are men, these statements should be quite sufficient. Yet because these venomous dogs spew out more than one kind of venom against God, we shall answer each individually, as the matter requires.

Foolish men contend with God in many ways, as though they held him liable to their accusations. They first ask, therefore, by what right the Lord becomes angry at his creatures who have not provoked him by any previous offense; for to devote to destruction whomever he pleases is more like the caprice of a tyrant than the lawful sentence of a judge. It therefore seems to them that men have reason to expostulate with God if they are predestined to eternal death solely by his decision, apart from their own merit. If thoughts of this sort ever occur to pious men, they will be sufficiently armed to break their force even by the one consideration that it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of God’s will. For his will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are. For if it has any cause, something must precede it, to which it is, as it were, bound; this is unlawful to imagine. For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it.5 But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God’s will, which cannot be found. Let men’s rashness, then, restrain itself, and not seek what does not exist, lest perhaps it fail to find what does exist. This bridle, I say, will effectively restrain anyone who wants to ponder in reverence the secrets of his God. Against the boldness of the wicked who are not afraid to curse God openly, the Lord himself will sufficiently defend himself by his righteousness, without our help, when, by depriving their consciences of all evasion, he will convict them and condemn them.

And we do not advocate the fiction of “absolute might”; because this is profane, it ought rightly to be hateful to us. We fancy no lawless god who is a law unto himself. For, as Plato says, men who are troubled with lusts are in need of law; but the will of God is not only free of all fault but is the highest rule of perfection, and even the law of all laws.6 But we deny that he is liable to render an account; we also deny that we are competent judges to pronounce judgment in this cause according to our own understanding. Accordingly, if we attempt more than is permitted, let that threat of the psalm strike us with fear: God will be the victor whenever he is judged by mortal man [Ps. 51:4; cf. 50:6, Vg.].

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. Vol. 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Print. The Library of Christian Classics.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark agreed with Luther and Calvin that all things happen of necessity and that God has only one will.  Clark shocked his detractors by saying that if a man shoots his wife it was God’s will.  This is another reason that Clark was falsely accused of hyper-Calvinism.  But the fact of the matter is that Dr. Clark also recognized that a man is fully accountable to God for what that man does.  As Calvin says above, we must give an account to God and God does not give an account to any creature.  What God does is right because He is God and there is no one to hold God accountable.  Since the law of God is written in man’s heart by way of the image of God it logically follows that man is without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-21; Romans 2:11-16; Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6; John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 11:7).  If a man shoots his wife not only will the civil and criminal courts convict him of murder and sentence him to prison or death, but he will also suffer the penalty of hell should he not repent.  Determinism means that the criminal penalties are also God’s will and criminal laws are meant to deter crime, not to excuse the perpetrator as a victim of an unjust social system.  (Genesis 9:6;  Romans 13:1-5).

Continuing with Johnson’s article he defines the word “offer” in a way that is not in agreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith or any other Reformed creed or confession:

Second, take note of the stress the above definition places on hyper-Calvinists' "denial of the use of the word 'offer' in relation to the preaching of the gospel." This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.  (Ibid.).

The first problem with Johnson’s definition is that he gives no scriptural support for his contention that the preaching of the Gospel includes the term “offer” or any reference to any Reformed confession that the term offer is used.  The second problem is that he makes the proposition that the Gospel “is a sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.”  Framing the issue this way ignores the fact that the Gospel message nowhere promises divine mercy to all sinners without exception.  Jesus certainly did not promise divine mercy to the Pharisees.  He said that they could not believe because they were not His sheep.  (John 10:26-27).  We are not Jesus, obviously.  But even Calvinists today do not tell unbelievers that Jesus died for them or that God sincerely desires to save everyone.  We preach that all who will repent will receive mercy.  But even here we are also not afraid to preach the distinction between the general call of the Gospel and the effectual call of the Gospel which only the elect receive.  (  Matthew 22:14; John 3:3-8; John 6:37-44, 65). 

When the Canons of Dort say that as many as are called are unfeignedly called, the paragraph is in reference to the effectual call, not the general call of the Gospel.  There is no contradiction between the general call and the effectual call because when God calls only the elect are enabled to actually answer the call.   (Canons of Dort, 3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine, Articles 8-14).   Article 9 specifically denies that it is God’s fault if there are those who refuse to believe the general call of the Gospel.  And Article 12 specifically points out that the effectual call is monergistic and not synergistic so that the will does not cooperate in regeneration whatsoever.  Worse, Article 13 says that moral persuasion and the external call of the Gospel is not what causes the message to be effectual.  This makes one wonder why modern proponents of the free offer put so much emphasis on persuasion, emotional appeals, and equivocation in regards to the doctrines of unconditional election, particular atonement, and irresistible grace?  The bottom line here is that Article 14 makes it impossible to consistently profess to be a Calvinist while preaching a general grace:


Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.  (Canons of Dort:  3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine).

Historic Creeds and Confessions. electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997. Print.

These articles alone ought to be enough to silence the critics of classical Calvinists who have been falsely accused of hyper-Calvinism.  The fact that the main definition was written by a semi-pelagian, namely Peter Toon, who falsely claimed to be a Calvinist should raise red flags.  I should also point out to the reader that Peter Toon was a member of the Anglican Church in North America, a decidedly Anglo-Catholic denomination which has little to no tolerance for actual Protestant Evangelicals who believe the five solas of the Protestant Reformation and hold to the 39 Articles of Religion as Protestant and Calvinist confession of faith.  (See also:  The Anglican Way, by Gerald Bray).  Toon is easily proved to be a Tractarian because of his support for the 1928 Book of Common Prayer here in the USA rather than the 1662 Book of Common Prayer which is used by the Church of England.  The 1928 BCP has prayers for the dead among other problems.  (See:  What’s Wrong with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, by Robin Jordan).  To be sure Johnson should be faithful at least to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith instead of quoting a known Anglo-Catholic.

Johnson only digs himself a deeper hole when he says:

Third, mark the fact that hyper-Calvinism "encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect." Assurance tends to be elusive for people under the influence of hyper-Calvinist teaching. Therefore, hyper-Calvinism soon degenerates into a cold, lifeless dogma. Hyper-Calvinist churches and denominations tend to become either barren and inert, or militant and elitist (or all of the above).  (Ibid.).

The first problem here is that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not teach that everyone who has saving faith also has assurance of salvation.  This is easy enough to see in chapter XVIII, Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation.  The first section says that there are many who have false assurance and are hypocrites.  I am taking this to mean that the doctrine of once saved always saved produces many hypocrites who are actually libertines or lawless antinomians rather than believers with a true and living faith who are sincerely endeavoring to walk in obedience to Christ as evidence of their love for Him.  Section 3 specifically says that new believers often do not immediately attain assurance of salvation:

3.      This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: (1 John 5:13, Isa. 50:10, Mark 9:24, Ps. 88, Ps. 77:1–12) yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. (1 Cor. 2:12, 1 John 4:13, Heb. 6:11–12, Eph. 3:17) And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, (2 Pet. 1:10) that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, (Rom. 5:1–2, 5, Rom. 14:17, Rom. 15:13, Eph. 1:3–4, Ps. 4:6–7, Ps. 119:32) the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness. (1 John 2:1–2, Rom. 6:1–2, Tit. 2:11–12, 14, 2 Cor. 7:1, Rom. 8:1, 12, 1 John 3:2–3, Ps. 130:4, 1 John 1:6–7).

The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

Section 4 says specifically that when a true believer falls into a grievous sin he or she may for a time lose the assurance of salvation.  But notice that this is not based on subjective or mystical introspection but rather on the objective revelation of God’s moral law and the Christian’s duty to keep the moral law as evidence before the visible church that he or she has a valid profession of faith.  (James 2:1-26; 1 John 2:3; 1 John 3:14,18–19,21,24; 1 John 5:13).   Presbyterians do not determine who is actually elect or regenerate as a basis for church membership.  Rather the new convert is interviewed by the pastor and the elders to determine if the person has an adequate understanding of the Gospel and whether or not the person has repented of their sins and believes the Gospel.  Baptists often presume to know that a new convert who has been baptized is actually a regenerate and elect believer.  Only God is omniscient and has absolute knowledge of who belongs to him.  (2 Timothy 2:19).  Church discipline is also a matter of deterrence since those who are in open disobedience and grievous sins are to be excommunicated.  (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).

I do not know what Johnson means by the derogatory remarks about Calvinism being a dead orthodoxy.  This is actually an old accusation that has been continually leveled at the Puritans by Arminians, Anabaptists, and Papists.  But since when is an emotional response necessary for saving faith?  Emotions are sensations of the body and completely unnecessary as confirmation of repentance or even faith.  Emotions are not necessarily a sign of holiness either.  I’m sure that fornicators and adulterers and homosexuals all have emotional attachments but does that make their sin holy?  Worse for Johnson the doctrine of total depravity means that every part of the human nature is corrupted by sin, including the human emotions and the physical body.  And what about militant?  Thinking logically and biblically hardly means a person necessarily becomes militant or polemical.  But were not Jesus and the apostles “militant”?  Jesus even said that we should take the kingdom of heaven by force.  (Matthew 11:12).  I find it even more strange that a professing Calvinist would accuse Calvinists of being “elitists”.  Anyone familiar with the Bible or the Reformed confessional standards knows that the doctrine of original sin means that the whole human race is fallen and no one deserves to be saved.  Salvation is by grace and grace alone.  (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Unbelievers often accuse Christians of all stripes of being holier-than-thou.  But does the accusation make the message a message of self-righteousness rather than a message of sovereign grace?  I do not believe it to be so.  Likewise, just because Arminians accuse Calvinists of elitism does not make the accusation true.  It is in fact just the opposite since Arminians can boast that they believed the Gospel while the next guy did not and both have libertarian free will.  The difference between the two according to Arminianism is that the believer did the right thing and the unbeliever did not do the right thing.   Therefore, the Arminian is an elitist who has something to boast about.  (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Johnson outlines his own definition of hyper-Calvinism in five points toward the end of the article.  A minister from the Protestant Reformed Church in America, Martyn McGeown, has already written an article addressing Johnson’s contentious five points.  Rather than addressing them again myself I refer the reader to McGeown’s remarks in this article:  An Answer to Phil Johnson’s “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism”.

The reader is also referred to an article I did on my blog last summer:  Hyper-Calvinism, Common Grace, Libertarianism and the Simplicity of God (Part 1) and Part 2.

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