Arminianism, as a whole, sets aside the biblical teaching of God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation. Essentially, it presents man’s will as sovereign, and divides the credit for salvation between God and man. The Arminian therefore denies the clear and unmistakable testimony of Scripture that all men are equally condemned in sin but, for reasons unknown to us and to the praise of His grace, God does not deal equally with those who are equally undeserving. As the apostle Paul argued in Romans 9:11-18, God’s “purpose of election” does not depend “on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.” Therefore, when it comes to why anyone is saved, it is due to the sovereign will of God alone. For He “has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills” (italics mine).
But despite the errors of Arminianism, we must ask: If we deny Arminianism, does this mean that we deny God’s love for all men? Does it mean that we refuse to proclaim Christ as Savior, and the only one in whom all sinners should call upon for salvation? And since God’s grace in salvation is a “distinguishing grace” (choosing some to be saved rather than all), does this truth overturn and rule out the universal proclamation of the Gospel?
Sadly, there have been certain people in the Church who would answer “yes” to each of these questions. That while affirming strongly and rightly the sovereignty of God’s grace in saving sinners, their zeal for this biblical truth actually hinders and impedes the progress of evangelism. In fact, not only is the work of evangelism encumbered, but its obstruction is both justified and encouraged. “Since God is sovereign in salvation,” it is reasoned, “then to call upon all sinners without exception to receive Christ is to deny divine sovereignty. Indeed, no sinner should be publicly urged to trust in Christ since they may not be one of God’s elect.”
The historic and technical name for this belief is called “Hyper-Calvinism.” Like the error of Arminianism, which presses the biblical truth of man’s responsibility beyond the scope of Scripture, Hyper-Calvinism does the same thing with God’s sovereign grace. The Hyper-Calvinist therefore reads the Bible with one eye open. He sees nothing but God’s sovereignty on every page of Scripture without ever seeing that the sinner is accountable to God for what he does and how he responds to the Gospel. Hence, the Hyper-Calvinist ends up rationalizing evangelism out of God’s plan of redemption. So, with one eye open, all he can see is Romans 9, which clearly attests to God’s sovereign election in saving sinners – but with the other eye closed, he misses Romans 10, which declares that saving faith in Jesus Christ will only come by hearing and responding to the preaching of the Gospel (Rom. 10:13-17).
Hyper-Calvinism then, is what John Duncan (1796-1870) once called, “a beautiful palace without a door; the house is perfect, but there is no getting into it.” What Dr. Duncan meant by this memorable analogy was that while Hyper-Calvinism affirms the truth of God’s sovereignty in salvation (hence, it is a “beautiful palace”), yet tragically, it sees no need to take the Gospel to sinners and call them to the Savior (thus, “there is no getting into” this “beautiful palace”). This is why whenever Hyper-Calvinism has settled down in a local church, usefulness for God’s Kingdom and active compassion for the souls of men soon evaporates from the life of that believing body.
But, in the light of this, a crucial clarification must be made: Hyper-Calvinism is an aberration of true Calvinism. To say this another way: there is a real difference between a Calvinist and a Hyper-Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinism is false Calvinism. It is a deviation from what is true orthodox Calvinism. A true Calvinist sets forth the sovereignty of God in salvation without denying or detracting from man’s responsibility. He reads the Bible with both eyes open. He affirms with all his might that no one is saved unless God has chosen to save them apart from any foreseen merit in the sinner (Rom. 9:16; 2 Tim. 1:9); and yet, he also maintains with utmost clarity, that unless a sinner believes on Christ and repents he will not be saved (Acts 16:31; 17:30). Thus, he urges all sinners to lay hold of Christ and trust in Him alone for salvation. A Hyper-Calvinist however will not make such a Gospel appeal.
So then, to deny Arminianism, we must be careful that we do not react to the opposite extreme in the quagmire of Hyper-Calvinism.