Someone once wrote an important axiom which we must never forget: “Ideas have consequences.” And in the history of the Church, the truth of this principle can be seen fleshed out in spades for either good or ill. One such example is with the theological system called “Hyper-Calvinism.” Musing on the consequences left in the wake of this theology for nearly a century in English Calvinistic Baptist history, one Baptist minister lamented in 1889: “They did not give up Calvinism [‘they’ being the Hyper-Calvinists], or, in other words, renounce the Confession of 1689, but they overlaid it with an encrustation of something which approached Antinomianism, and ate out the life of the churches, and of the gospel as preached by many ministers. Divine Sovereignty was maintained and taught, not only in exaggerated proportions, but to the practical exclusion of moral responsibility; the obligation of sinners to ‘repent and believe the gospel,’ was ignored, and even denied, and all gospel invitations and pleadings were restricted to those who were supposed to give evidence of a gracious state.”
To sum up this lamentation: the consequences of Hyper-Calvinism left the churches chilled with a dead orthodoxy because it gave more attention to doctrinal theory than holding a real concern for the salvation of sinners. This is not to say that a Christian should downplay or set aside the importance of being faithful to what the Bible teaches – and therefore sound and correct in their doctrine. Far from it! But while we “follow the pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13), we must not neglect the application these words of truth teach.
It might be helpful though, at this point, to raise the question: How did Hyper-Calvinism become Hyper-Calvinism? When, where, and with whom did this dangerous theology originate? I call it “dangerous” because it eclipses the saving Gospel on the one hand; and on the other hand, it circumvents God’s commands for a believer to live a holy life in service to others. So then, where Arminianism (the polar-opposite of Hyper-Calvinism) always leads to legalism (and in some cases, liberalism); Hyper-Calvinism tends to trail off toward antinomianism. It is therefore a dangerous theology one must avoid.
But what is the history behind Hyper-Calvinism? The pioneer of Hyper-Calvinist doctrine was a Congregationalist minister named Joseph Hussey (1660-1726). In 1707, Hussey wrote and published a book entitled God’s Operations of Grace but No Offers of Grace. This book put in print for the first time what would become the hallmark of Hyper-Calvinism – that preachers should not give invitations for all to believe on Christ for salvation. Hussey argued that since God has already chosen who will be saved, then salvation should only be “offered” to the elect. In other words, the Gospel should be preached to only those sinners whom God has chosen to save, because it is to them alone that the redeeming grace of God is intended for anyway. To preach the Gospel then to all sinners without exception, Hussey reasoned, would be to deny and undermine the eternal purpose of God in saving His elect. Moreover, it called on the non-elect sinner to do what he was incapable of doing, namely, repent and believe on Christ.
Now to be fair to Joseph Hussey, we must appreciate the times in which he lived to have a better grasp as to why he came to his conclusions that spawned Hyper-Calvinism. For one thing, by the end of the 17th century, the crippling effect of rationalism was gaining much ground among Protestant churches in England. This took form in the belief called Deism. Furthermore, the man-centered theology of Arminianism was becoming more acceptable as well. Thus, for Hussey, his development of Hyper-Calvinism grew out of his own reaction to the pervasive doctrinal errors and heresies which he saw as destroying a faithful Christian witness. Yet, his reaction was a system of belief into which the spirit and temper of his rationalistic age entered. Taking as his starting point the biblical truth of God’s eternal decree, Hussey reasoned from human logic rather than the Divine revelation of Scripture. And the result of his own rationalization were erroneous deductions based on what could not be known in the secret purposes of God’s will (Rom. 11:33-36). But worse, Hussey’s theology did not remain in a quiet corner of his mind. His ideas took root among the Calvinistic Baptists in the early 18th century, nearly silencing a Gospel witness for a whole generation. Ideas therefore do indeed have consequences!