Prof. Hanko is professor emeritus of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Moïse Amyraut held to a position in France that was a serious and significant modification of Calvin’s teachings and a rejection of the strong pronouncements of the Synod of Dordt. His views were never consistently condemned by the French Reformed Churches, and Amyraut himself was never censured. The result was the demise of the Reformed Church in France as a truly Calvinistic church.
Amyraut’s teachings had wide influence. We briefly turn to this matter in this article.
John Cameron was Amyraut’s teacher and mentor. Although born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1579, Cameron spent the years 1600-1621 in France. Because of his vast knowledge, he was appointed professor of theology at Saumur, the school where Amyraut obtained his degree. It was at the feet of Cameron that Amyraut became acquainted with the universalism that he later popularized.
In 1621 the school of Saumur ceased to exist because of the civil wars in France, and Cameron returned to Glasgow. He remained in his hometown for only three years before returning to France, where he was killed in 1625 during political rioting.
John Cameron is important because he carried Amyraldianism to Scotland, although similar teachings may very well have come earlier and from a different source. Some claim that Bishop Ussher, from Armagh in Ireland, the author of a widely accepted chronology of the Bible, may have held similar views. John Davenant was already infected with errors similar to Amyraldianism prior to the Synod of Dordt. Four delegates to Dordt were sent by the English king: Davenant, Balcanqual, Carleton, and Goad. The latter three were sound men; Davenant was not. His ideas were so inimical to his colleagues at Dordt that there was constant debate within the English delegation. Davenant frequently agreed with the Dordt delegates from Bremen, who openly sided with the Arminians during the deliberations of that synod. Amyraldianism, or an earlier form of it, was represented at Dordt—although it could hardly be called by that name and could better be known as Camero-nianism, after its founder.
However that may be, the views of Cameron came to England, and the influence of his views was widespread. At the Westminster Assembly, Amyraldianism was represented by a party consisting of nine men, among whom was especially Seamen, Arrowsmith, and Sprigge. The particularism of Calvinism was also defended on the floor of the Assembly, especially by the Scottish theologians Rutherford and Gillespie. The debates were long, but never anything else but amiable. (See Universalism and the Reformed Churches, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, 5).
Although Amyraldianism was defended on the floor of the Assembly, the Confession itself does not include Amyraldian statements. Nevertheless, there is some reason to believe that the Confession is not as strong as it could have been on this point.
In Universalism and the Reformed Churches the statement is made that the “attitude of the Assembly to the Davenant School (an amiable attitude is referred to here, HH) was confirmed later in the same year on 4th December, when the Assembly defended the reputation of Moses Amyraut against the complaints of one Andrew Rivett.” However, an examination of the minutes does not seem to support this contention. The pertinent part of the minute of December 4, 1645 reads: “Upon a motion made by Mr. Dury, according to the desire of Mr. Rivett, that the Assembly would purge him from a charge of complaining against Amyrauldus to this Assembly. Ordered—The Prolocutor and scribes do sign a certificate that neither in his name nor in any other man’s name any such complaint hath been brought into this Assembly.”
This minute is not entirely clear. Apparently the Assembly had received a charge against Amyraut in the name of Andrew Rivett, whether he brought the charge himself or whether it was brought by someone else in his name. This charge was, at the request of Rivett himself, withdrawn from the Assembly and the record of it was expunged. How all that happened is not clear from the minutes. It is true, however, that the Assembly had an opportunity to condemn the views of Moïse Amyraut and did not do it. The Assembly did not approve of Amyraldianism by incorporating Amyraldian phrases in its final adopted confession. But it did not condemn or exclude the Amy-raldian heresy either. This is evident from the article concerning the atonement. Chapter 8, 5 reads: “The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.”
That is, of course, a good article. But it did not exclude or condemn the universalism of the Amyraldian conception of the atonement of Christ. Compare this, for example, with the statement of the Synod of Dordt: “…it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and those only (emphasis mine, HH), who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given Him by the Father …” (2, 8). Westminster does have an exclusionary expression in it in 3, 6, an article dealing with election: “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, fore-ordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved, but the elect only” (italics ours). But this article speaks primarily of election. The exclusionary statement of Dordt was omitted by West-minster even though the divines at Westminster were well aware of Dordt’s statement.
Room was thus left for the Amyraldian position, which taught a universal atonement in some sense. Indeed, the Amyraldians interpreted the article as leaving room for their position. Richard Baxter, author of The Reformed Pastor, was an Amyraldian who refused to sign the Westminster Confession unless room was left for his view of universal atonement. He did eventually sign the creed. (Information on this point can be gained from Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith [Philadelphia, 1847] 71, 143ff.; Benjamin Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work [Cherry Hill, Mack Publishing Co., 1971] 141; Philip Schaff also discusses this problem in his Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1.)
In connection with this latter point, Philip Schaff takes the position that the Westminster Assembly was equivocal on the point. He writes: “Nevertheless, behind the logical question is the far more important theological and practical question concerning the extent of the divine intention or purpose, viz., whether this is to be measured by God’s love and the intrinsic value of Christ’s merits, or by the actual result. On this question there was a difference of opinion among the divines, as the ‘Minutes’ will show, and the difference seems to have been left open by the framers of the Confession.”
After pointing out the statements in the Confession that point to the fact that the divines at Westminster incorporated strong statements defending particular redemption, Schaff goes on to say, “On the other hand, Ch. VII.3 teaches that under the covenant of grace the Lord ‘freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.’ This looks like a compromise between conditional universalsm taught in the first clause, and particular election taught in the second. This is in substance the theory of the school of Saumur, which was first broached by a Scotch divine, Cameron (d. 1625), and more fully developed by his pupil Amyrault, between A.D. 1630 and 1650, and which was afterwards condemned in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675).”
Schaff’s argument here is not strong. He in effect claims that the Assembly left the door open to Amyraldianism by the use of the word “offer” — “the Lord ‘freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation.'” But what was in the mind of the Assembly when it approved this article is another question. The Assembly might very well have meant (and it is clear from the minutes that many did mean) “offer” in the sense of “present” or “set forth.” It may also have meant “offer” in the sense of graciously offer as an expression of God’s intent and desire to save all who hear. Subsequent events revealed that it was eventually taken both ways.
Amyraldianism took deeper root in England than Calvinism.
One more interesting aspect of the influence of Amyraldianism is to be found in the Marrow Controversy, which troubled the churches in Scotland in the early part of the eighteenth century.
In 1645 a rather obscure writer by the name of Edward Fisher wrote a book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity. It attracted very little notice at the time, but it had in it a strong bias towards Amyraldianism. A few quotes from the book will demonstrate this. “Christ hath taken upon him the sins of all men.” “The Father hath made a deed of gift and grant unto all mankind.” Whatsoever Christ did for the redemption of mankind, He did it for you.” “Go and tell every man without exception, that here is good news for him, Christ is dead for him.”
These views were later picked up by men who were influenced by Edward Fisher’s book and who began to promote these views in the churches. While the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland condemned the views of the Marrow men, it did not exercise discipline. Eventually, these men and others separated from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to form their own denomination, in which Amyraldianism continued to be taught.
Theologians in Switzerland were not as charitable to Amyraut as England’s theologians were. There these views were rejected out of hand, and whatever students in Switzerland who were studying under Amyraut were withdrawn. In addition to this withdrawal, the Formula Consensus Helvetica was drawn up. It was
composed at Zurich, A. D. 1675, by John Henry Heidegger, of Zurich, assisted by Francis Turretine, of Geneva, and Luke Gernlet, of Basle, and designed to condemn and exclude that modified form of Calvinism, which, in the seventeenth century, emanated from the theological school at Saumur, represented by Amyraut, Placaeus, and Daillé; entitled “Form of Agreement of the Helvetic Reformed Churches Respecting the Doctrine of Universal Grace, the Doctrines Connected Therewith, and Some Other Points.”
There are various pertinent articles dealing with the error of Amyraldianism, but we quote here a few of the more pertinent ones.
As Christ was from eternity elected the Head, Prince, and Lord of all who, in time, are saved by His grace, so also, in time, He was made Surety of the New Covenant only for those who, by the eternal Election, were given to Him as His own people, His seed and inheritance. For according to the determinate counsel of the Father and His own intention (italics ours), He encountered dreadful death instead of the elect alone, restored only these (italic ours) into the bosom of the Father’s grace, and these only he reconciled to God (italics ours), the offended Father, and delivered from the curse of the law. For our Jesus saves His people (italics in the original) from their sins (Matt. I. 21), who gave His life a ransom for many sheep (italics in the original) (Matt. Xx. 28; John x. 15), His own, who hear His voice (
John 10:27, 28),
and for these only (italics ours) He also intercedes, as a divinely appointed Priest, and not for the world (John xvii. 9). Accordingly in the death of Christ, only the elect, who in time are made new creatures (2 Cor. V. 17), and for whom Christ in His death was substituted as an expiatory sacrifice, are regarded as having died with Him and as being justified from sin; and thus, with the counsel of the Father who gave to Christ none but the elect to be redeemed, and also with the working of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and seals unto a living hope of eternal life none but the elect, the will of Christ who died so agrees and amicably conspires in perfect harmony, that the sphere of the Fathers election, the Son’s redemption and the Spirit’s sanctification is one and the same.
In Article XVI we have a sharp condemnation of the views of Amyraut. We quote the article in full.
Since all these things are entirely so, surely we can not approve the contrary doctrine of those who affirm that of His own intention, by His own counsel and that of the Father who sent Him, Christ died for all and each upon the impossible condition, provided they believe; that He obtained for all a salvation, which, nevertheless, is not applied to all, and by His death merited salvation and faith for no one individually and certainly, but only removed the obstacle of Divine justice, and acquired for the Father the liberty of entering into a new covenant of grace with all men; and finally, they so separate the active and passive righteousness of Christ, as to assert that He claims His active righteousness for himself as His own, but gives and imputes only His passive righteousness to the elect. All these opinions, and all that are like these, are contrary to the plain Scriptures and the glory of Christ, who is Author and Finisher of our faith and salvation; they make His cross of none effect, and under the appearance of augmenting His merit, they really diminish it.
These are only two articles in a confession that repudiates in unambiguous language the whole of the Amyraldian system, even condemning the view that
the call unto salvation is so indefinite and universal that there is no mortal who is not, at least objectively, as they say, sufficiently called…, and finally denying that the external call can be said to be serious and true, or the candor and sincerity of God be defended, without asserting the absolute universality of grace.
This latter statement is especially important in our day. The PRC and others repudiate the gracious well-meant gospel offer, but insist, in keeping with our Canons, that the external call is serious and true on God’s part. Those who take this position are accused of denying the sincerity of the external call, which is heard by all, and are scornfully called Hyper-Calvinists. The same charge was made by Amyraldians against the Reformed, although the pejorative term “hyper-Calvinist” was not yet invented. This confession throws that charge far away from the Reformed position.
Most Scholars insist that Amyraldianism is not Arminianism and that the two are so different that they must be sharply distinguished. One wonders sometimes whether such a distinction is insisted upon by those who wish to be Amyraldian in their theology, but cringe at the charge of being Arminian. The Canons condemn Arminianism so sharply as to call it Pelagianism resurrected out of hell. One can, I suppose, attempt to dodge such sharp condemnation by repudiating Arminianism and adopting Amyraldianism.
But it won’t work. There are differences in details, obviously. But on the essentials both are in fundamental agreement. Both hold to a universal grace shown by God to all men. Both hold to a well-meant gospel offer as a manifestation of that grace. Both speak of a universal atonement of our Lord that makes salvation possible for all. Both insert conditions into the work of salvation, conditions that must be fulfilled for a salvation merited for all to be given to those who fulfill the conditions. Both take the work of salvation out of the hands of a sovereign God and put the work into the hands of man. And both are, therefore, compelled to introduce conflict and contradiction into God’s eternal will and purpose, which He determined from all eternity. This is a deadly error in whatever form it appears and has been the death of true gospel preaching throughout the following centuries.
It is good to know that those who repudiate such error are in good company throughout the ages. They and they alone are in the company of Augustine, the opponents of Rome, the reformers, the fathers of Dordt, and the Swiss theologians. These are the faithful who hold uncompromisingly to the sovereign and particular grace of almighty God.