Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vincent Cheung and 18th century English Hyper-Calvinism: The rise of heresies

Secondly, between 1689 and 1765, High Calvinism was placed in an environment which emphasised the role of reason in religious faith. This meant that the High Calvinists were in danger either of absorbing the rationalism, or of rejecting it completely, or of doing both. It would seem Joseph Hussey fell prey to both temptations. He absorbed the rationalistic tendencies of his day and applied strict logic to Biblical doctrines so that from the doctrines of eternal election and irresistible grace he deduced that Christ should not be offered to all men. And also he deduced from the part which he believed that Christ played in the covenant of grace the doctrine that Christ's humanity was "standing in God" before the creation of the world. One of Hussey's followers, Samuel Stockell, abandoned the doctrine of eternal generation because he could not conceive how "the Begetter and the Begotten" could be of equal date. [Lewis] Wayman, [John] Gill and [John] Brine applied logic to the (hypothetical) covenant of works and deduced the doctrine that it is not the duty of hearers of the Gospel to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet all these men believed that they were not being rationalistic in a human sense but were simply applying "evangelical reason", or reason inspired by the Holy Spirit, to the Bible's teaching. [Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765 (London, UK: The Olive Tree, 1967), 147]

In the 18th century, the orthodox (what Toon called the "High Calvinists") were shocked at the growing apostasy within both Anglican but especially Nonconformist circles. They were appalled and "a group of influential laymen decided to sponsor a series of lectures in defence of what they considered to be the main doctrines of the Protestant faith." (ibid., 42). The upshot was a strong reaffirmation of sound doctrine, yet at the same time danger lurks even within the camp.

The orthodox were not immune to the rationalist zeitgeist. They decided to use what they think is "evangelical reason." Here, we already seen a problem with their hermeneutics. Reason according to sound orthodoxy is a reason that reasons after faith. Fides quaerens intellectum — Faith seeking understanding. Faith provides the premises and manner for the exercise of reason. In this so-called "evangelical reason" however, reason chose the manner of reasoning and faith provides the "premises" through proof-texting. The traditional view is that reason works only after faith has provided the framework for it to function. The new "evangelical" view is that reason provides the framework while faith provides only the premises. That is why we can have biblicists like Samuel Stockell abandoning the doctrine of eternal generation of the Son. His reasoning process is as follows: The premises derived from Scripture are: "The Begetter is from eternity" and "The Begotten is from eternity." "By definition" the Begetter is temporally prior to the Begotten, so in conclusion, the eternal generation of the Son must be denied. Notice that Stockell's reasoning uses biblical truths as mere premises. Instead of understanding the form of reasoning behind the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and evaluating it rationally, he uses a rationalistic form of argument with the input of biblical premises in his form of "evangelical reason."

This 18th century evangelical rationalism resulted in the emergence of two main errors within Noncomformity: Antinomianism and Hyper-Calvinism. Antinomianism is the denial of the third use of the Law, and had its main proponent in Tobias Crisp (d. 1642). It is noted that we are speaking of "Doctrinal Antinomianism" here, as there is no indication that those promoting these teachings were in any way deficient in Christian conduct. As a reaction to Richard Baxter's neonomism, Crisp denied that God's law performed any function at all for a Christian. As Toon wrote:

The basic underlying difference of opinion in the Antinomian controversy concerned the nature of the law of God. Since his purpose was to extol Christ and free grace, Crisp had little to say about the moral law. ... he believed that God's justice is affronted by human transgression of His law, although he never seems to have explicitly stated that God's law is an eternal expression of His righteousness and justice.


He believed that the law served a useful purpose in convincing men of their need of a Saviour; nevertheless, he gave it little or no place in the life of a Christian since he held that "free grace is the teacher of good works." (ibid., 54)

As it can be seen, Crisp's stance is reactionary and directly opposite Baxter's neonomian idea of a salvation that takes account of works in some sense.

Following upon the heels of the antinomian controversy was the hard-shelling of Calvinism into Hyper-Calvinism. First, the doctrine of eternal justification was promoted by Isaac Chauncy (ibid., 61). The embrace of Eternal Justification betrays the flatenning of the imminent and economical Trinity in the theologies of the Hyper-Calvinists as time and eternity begin to be blurred. God's work in time was rationalistically seen to be a mirror portrayal of the imminent workings of the Trinity, and therefore justification must be eternal if it is to be actual for believers. The distinctions between God's being, God's decrees and God's work are burred in this rationalistic theory of eternal justification. Such blurring codified itself in Hyper-Calvinism, its logical conclusion. In 1706 and 1707, Joseph Hussy took this philosophical blurring of the imminent and economical Trinity to its logical conclusion in the denial of the offer of the Gospel (ibid., 74-5). Since God issues forth his irresistible grace only to the elect, this grace (of the economical Trinity) is a reflection of His call only to the elect (imminent Trinity). An offer to the non-elect (economical Trinity) has no reflection at all in God's eternal decree (imminent Trinity) and therefore such is to be rejected. As one of Hussey's 20 propositions states, "We must preach the Gospel as it is most fitted to the display of effectual grace. To offer God's grace is to steal: God saith, Thou shalt not steal." (ibid., 81) From Joseph Hussey to Lewis Wayman, John Gill and John Brine, this rationalistic tendency follows through in their denials of the offer of the Gospel. To be sure, Hussey, Gill and other do not deny that the Gospel ought to be preached to all. Rather, they deny that the Gospel is to be offered to all.

We see thus that rationalism had caused the creation of two heresies within the supposed defenders of the faith. Reacting against Neonomism and Arminianism, they swung to the opposite errors of Antinomanism and Hyper-Calvinism. The rise of heresies oftentimes come out of good intentions, as the case of the devolution of 18th century Noncomformity shows.

The parallels with Vincent Cheung in the early 21st century is not hard to discern. Cheung reasons rationalistically as well, using biblical truths as mere proof-text premises to insert into a priori rationalistically formed syllogisms. The Hyper-Calvinists of the 18th century flattened the distinction between the imminent and the economic Trinity, which resulted in their promotion of Hyper-Calvinism. Cheung likewise flattens the distinction between primary and secondary causation, which results in his monstrous doctrine of God being the author of sin. The 18th century Hyper-Calvinists were reacting to Arminianism and Socinianism, so likewise Cheung reacts against the soft-peddling of Calvinism in the Neo-Amyraldian views of contemporary New [Evangelical] Calvinism. The parallels are striking. And just as the 18th century English Hyper-Calvinists are in error, so likewise Cheung is in error.

[to be concluded]

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