Book Reviews

"Calvin v. Hyper-Spurgeonism: The Battle for the Preaching of the One Scriptural and Reformation Gospel," by John Calvin and others. Lewes, E. Sussex, England: Berith Publications, 1997. 35 pp. $4 (surface mail)/$6 (airmail) (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

This booklet is genuine Calvinism's response to the recent Banner of Truth's publication, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching. In the 1995 Banner of Truth book, Iain H. Murray wheeled out the English Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, to defend Murray and the Banner's doctrine that God in Christ loves and desires to save every human without exception. With astounding disregard for Calvin's own writing in the Institutes, 3.21-24 and in "A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God" (to say nothing of Dordt and Westminster), Murray charged the teaching of particular saving love and a discriminating will to save with hyper-Calvinism. The Standard Bearer examined Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism in the editorial of the April 15, 1996 issue ("Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism: the Alternatives?").

The English response to Murray's book consists of a significant evaluation of Spurgeon by a contemporary, A. J. Baxter; the reprint of a critique of Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism by the editor of the British Reformed Journal, Hugh L. Williams; and John Calvin's sermon on I Timothy 2:3, 4. 

The sermon by Calvin is the heart of the brief rebuttal of Murray's universal, ineffectual love and will to save, just as Spurgeon's sermon on the same text was the centerpiece of Murray's work. Murray entitled the chapter in which he reprinted Spurgeon on I Timothy 2:3, 4, "A Crucial Text." Murray approved Spurgeon's interpretation of "all men" in I Timothy 2:3, 4 ("God ... will have all men to be saved") as every human without exception. This is the "crucial" basis in Scripture for Murray's universalism. According to Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth, the doctrine that God wills to save every human without exception is Calvinism. Denial of this doctrine brands one as a hyper-Calvinist. 

But John Calvin himself rejected Spurgeon and Murray's interpretation of the "crucial text." Calvin denied that "all men" means every human without exception. Calvin taught that "all men" means elect persons from all classes of humans.

We must mark that Saint Paul speaks not here of every particular man, but of all sorts, and of all people. Therefore, when he says that God will have all men to be saved, we must not think that he speaks here of Peter, or John, but his meaning is this, that whereas in times past he chose out one certain people for himself, he means now to show mercy to all the world, yea to them that were, as it were, shut out from the hope of salvation. ... Therefore, Saint Paul's meaning is not that God will save every particular man, but he says that the promises which were given to one only people, are now stretched out through all the world. ... As Saint Paul speaks now of all nations, so he speaks also of all estates, as if he should say, that God will save kings and magistrates, as well as the least and baser sort. ... True it is, that at the first blush, they think they have fair show, and some good resemblance (for explaining "all men" as every human without exception—DJE). ... You say well, if we knew not Saint Paul's meaning: but the very asses may have a bit there, as we say in common proverbs. If a man will read but three lines, he shall easily perceive, that Saint Paul speaks not here of every particular man; ... but he speaks of all people, and of all states, and shows the case stands not as it did before the coming of Christ, when as there was but one chosen people; but now God shows himself a Saviour of all the world ("Calvin v. Hyper-Spurgeonism," pp. 13-15).

Calvin also pointed out, in the blunt language that our compromising age desperately needs to recover, what the real issue is in the controversy, whether God wills every human without exception to be saved. Those who explain "all men" in I Timothy 2:3, 4 as every human without exception oppose God's election of grace:

It is good to beat down the folly, or rather the beastliness of them that abuse this place of Paul, to make the election of our God, a thing of nought, and utterly take it away. For see what they say: if God will have all men to be saved, it follows that he has not chosen a certain number of mankind, and cast away the rest, but that his will remains indifferent. So then, these beasts which are nothing exercised in holy writ, and will, notwithstanding, play the Doctors, pretend that it stands in the choice of men to save themselves, and that God leaves us alone, and waits to see whether we will come to him or not, and so receives them that come unto him (pp. 14, 15).

Truly, ours is an odd age. Men of scholarly and theological renown embrace and propound a doctrine that Calvin attributed to asses, beastliness, and enmity against the gospel, and call it Calvinism. Calvin's own doctrine, they condemn as hyper-Calvinism. Virtually the entire Reformed and Presbyterian church-world vigorously assent. The reviews of Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism in the Reformed and Presbyterian periodicals have been glowing.

Who can understand this?

"Calvin v. Hyper-Spurgeonism" can be ordered from Berith Publications, 6 Orchard Road, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2HB, UK. The phone/fax is 01273 472279.