An Open Letter About
One of the marks of good leadership is to anticipate problems and address them before they hit the fan, that is, before they cause serious problems. It is much better to head them off before they harm serious Christians.
This brings me to the purpose of this letter. It is a historical fact that when true evangelical Calvinism comes alive and active, Hyper-Calvinism will soon raise its ugly head. In the last fifteen years we have witnessed the fact that God has been pleased to raise up many preachers and Christians who are returning to our historical, biblical roots, that is, to the doctrinal roots of the founders of our first seminary. These doctrines are expressed in the Abstract of Principles found in the Fundamental Law of the seminary written into its charter April 30, 1858: "Every Professor of the Institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist Church; and all persons accepting Professorships in this Seminary, shall be considered by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down." (Mueller: History of Southern Seminary; Broadman Press, p. 238).
A more comprehensive expression can be found in Dr. James P. Boyce's Systematic Theology. This doctrinal position can also be found in the writings of Dr. John L. Dagg, the first writing Southern Baptist Theologian. I want to point out that if these founding fathers had true biblical doctrine then it is still true because God has not changed and the Bible has not changed. Truth does not change! There is no question that our founding fathers were, for the most part, committed evangelical Calvinists.
If what I have stated is a correct observation then a logical question is, "What can be done to head off and stifle the monster of Hyper-Calvinism?" I think I have a suggestion that will, at least, be a large step toward heading off our enemy-Hyper-Calvinism. By now, I hope you are asking WHAT IS THIS SUGGESTION?
In 1995 I read a manuscript which has since been published as a little paperback. I have never seen a better tool for our task of fighting Hyper-Calvinism. The author of the book, Iain H. Murray, is an authority on Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The title of the book announces its subject: Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. (see the review in FJ 23).
In Chapter 5 of this little paperback, Spurgeon's four-fold appeal to Scripture against Hyper-Calvinism is discussed. The four areas considered are:
(1) Hyper-Calvinism and Gospel InvitationsChapter 11 contains Spurgeon's sermon on a critical text: 1 Timothy 2:3,4 ("God our Savior, who, will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth"). Here are just a few paragraphs from that sermon:
(2) Hyper-Calvinism and the Warrant of Faith
(3) Hyper-Calvinism and Human Responsibility.
The Heart of the dispute between evangelical Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism concerns the place of man's responsibility or his free agency (which is an equivalent term) and free will. Free will and Free agency should not be confused. Since the fall, men have not lost their responsibility, but they have lost the ability, the will, to obey God, to any spiritual good.
(4) Hyper-Calvinism and the Love of God.
May God the Holy Ghost guide our meditations to the best practical result this evening, that sinners may be saved and saints stirred up to diligence.
I do not intend to treat my text controversially. It is like the stone which makes the corner of a building, and it looks towards a different side of the gospel from that which is mostly before us. Two sides of the building of truth meet here. In many a village there is a corner where the idle and the quarrelsome gather together; and theology has such corners. It would be very easy indeed to set ourselves in battle array, and during the next half-hour to carry on a very fierce attack against those who differ from us in opinion upon points which could be raised from this text. I do not see that any good would come of it, and, as we have very little time to spare, and life is short, we had better spend it upon something that may better tend to our edification. May the good Spirit preserve us from a contentious spirit, and help us really to profit by his word.
It is quite certain that when we read that God will have all men to be saved it does not mean that he wills it with the force of a decree or a divine purpose, for, if he did, then all men would be saved. He willed to make the world, and the world was made: he does not so will the salvation of all men, for we know that all men will not be saved. Terrible as the truth is, yet is it certain from holy writ that there are men who, in consequence of their sin and their rejection of the Savior, will go away into everlasting punishment, where shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There will at the last be goats upon the left hand as well as sheep on the right, tares to be burned as well as wheat to be garnered, chaff to be blown away as well as corn to be preserved. There will be a dreadful hell as well as a glorious heaven, and there is no decree to the contrary.
What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. `All men,' they say,-'that is, some men': as if the Holy Ghost could not have said `some men' if he had meant some men. `All men,' say they; `that is, some of all sorts of men'; as if the Lord could not have said `All sorts of men' if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written `all men,' and unquestionably he means all men. I know how to get rid of the force of the `alls' according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to the truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, `Who will not have all men to be saved, nor come to a knowledge of the truth.' Had such been the inspired language every remark of the learned doctor would have been exactly in keeping, but as it happens to say, `Who will have all men to be saved,' his observation are more than a little out of place. My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself, for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, `God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.'
Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word `wish' gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus- `whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.' As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God's wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are. Then comes the question, `But if he wishes it to be so, why does he not make it so?' Beloved friend, have you never heard that a fool may ask a question which a wise man cannot answer, and, if that be so, I am sure a wise person, life yourself, can ask me a great many questions which, fool as I am, I am yet not foolish enough to try to answer. Your question is only one form of the great debate of all the ages,- `If God be infinitely good and powerful, why does not his power carry out to the full all his beneficence?' It is God's wish that the oppressed should go free, yet there are many oppressed who are not free. It is God's wish that the sick should not suffer. Do you doubt it? Is it not your own wish? And yet the Lord does not work a miracle to heal every sick person. It is God's wish that his creatures should be happy. Do you deny that? He does not interpose by any miraculous agency to make us all happy, and yet it would be wicked to suppose that he does not wish the happiness of all the creatures that he has made. He has an infinite benevolence which, nevertheless, is not in all points worked out by his infinite omnipotence; and if anybody asked me why it is not, I cannot tell. I have never set up to be an explainer of all difficulties, and I have no desire to do so. . . . I cannot tell you why God permits moral evil, neither can the ablest philosopher on earth, nor the highest angel in heaven.
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Sincerely yours in Christ's service according to my light and power,
Ernest C. Reisinger