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A Critical Examination of the
Amyraldian View of the Atonement

Martyn J. McGeown


I. Introduction
II. Historical Sketch
III. The Creeds
IV. Analysis of Amyraut's Errors
V. The Legacy of Amyraldianism


I. Introduction

The cross of Christ stands at the centre of the Reformed faith. With Paul, the Christian says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14). The confession of the Reformed faith concerning the cross is simple: the cross saves! The cross saves because on the cross a full, effectual atonement was made which covered the sins of all those for whom Christ died. Jesus Christ paid the penalty and took upon Himself the guilt of all the sins of all the elect. Christ’s death was a substitutionary satisfaction which reconciled the elect sinner to God, and effectually redeemed him from the bondage of sin. In the Bible the cross is presented as having actually accomplished everlasting salvation for God’s people. In this way the gospel is very simple. Christ died to save all those who were given Him by the Father, all those who are His sheep, all the members of His body, the church.

In the history of the church, men have arisen who have sought to corrupt the Gospel and lead the people of God away from "the simplicity that is in Christ" (II Cor. 11:3). With reference to the atonement the Arminians denied that Christ’s death was a real satisfaction of the justice of God. They insisted that Christ died for all men without exception, including those who perish. Since, clearly, not all are saved, the death of Christ cannot be a true satisfaction of God’s justice, for if Christ satisfied God’s justice and bore the wrath of God due the sins of all, God cannot be just in damning any. Therefore the Arminians were forced by the logic of their own position to teach that Christ died for nobody in particular, but for all in general, and that by His death made salvation a mere possibility for all on the condition of faith and perseverance in good works. The Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) condemned the Arminian view of the atonement as heresy and insisted that the cross was for the elect only.


II. Historical Sketch

A. A new heresy in France

The Arminian heresy had just been refuted by the fathers at Dordt when a new heresy arose, more subtle than the last. The promoter of this heresy was Moise Amyraut (1596-1664), a French pastor, theologian and professor at the Academy of Saumur in France. Amyraldianism, as this heresy has come to be known, unchecked by discipline, flourished in France and infiltrated many parts of Europe. A long and bitter controversy in the French churches resulted in which the orthodox men in the churches sought in vain to have Amyraldianism condemned by the French synods.1 The leaven of false doctrine spread. Today the teaching of Amyraut is popular among many professing Calvinists.2 Followers of Amyraut’s teachings claim that they are the true successors of John Calvin (1509-1564) whose doctrine Amyraut himself claimed to be faithfully reflecting.

The poison of what came to be known as Amyraldianism or hypothetical universalism was instilled into Amyraut when he himself was a student at the Academy of Saumur. The teaching really originated with a Scot named John Cameron (1580-1625). Amyraut was enamoured with Cameron’s teachings, and became a devoted disciple of the Scottish theologian. He came under Cameron’s spell,3 so much so that he even went as far as to mimic Cameron’s accent and pulpit mannerisms.4

Cameron taught that the decree of God "to redeem the world in Christ is first and universal. Therefore in the work of Christ God has redeemed all men—hypothetically or potentially."5 In addition, Cameron distinguished between a natural ability to believe on Christ, and a moral inability to believe. By this he meant that, because man is a moral creature and possesses rational faculties, he is able to respond to the offer of grace, but since he is corrupted and depraved he will not.6 Amyraut, enamoured with these notions, published a treatise in which he presented his version of them to the world. Just fifteen years after the end of the Synod of Dordt, Amyraut’s Brief Traitté de la Prédestination appeared.

B. The Brief Traitté (1634)

In his Brief Traitté de la Prédestination (1634) Amyraut claimed to be writing out of concern for Roman Catholic converts to the Reformed faith who found the doctrines of absolute predestination and limited atonement unpalatable. He hoped, so was his claim, that if he clarified these doctrines, more Roman Catholics might be won to the Reformed faith.7 Absolute predestination with the related doctrine of limited atonement was a stumbling block.8 Amyraut himself was highly esteemed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.9 In addition, he claim to be following John Calvin, who, he alleged, agreed with his theological position. He argued, as have Amyraldians since his time,10 that limited atonement was a product of the so-called scholastic development of Protestantism, beginning with Theodore Beza and his successors.11

In the Brief Traitté, Amyraut taught that Christ died for all men without exception. He taught that clearly:

The grace of redemption which [Christ] has procured and offered to them ought to be equal and universal, provided that they are found to be equally disposed to receive it … The sacrifice that He has offered for the propitiation of their offenses has been equally offered for all, and the salvation that he has received from His Father to communicate to men in the sanctification of the Spirit and in the glorification of the body is intended equally for all, provided, I say, that the disposition necessary to receive it is in the same way equal.12

Truly [God] has resolved to send His Son to the earth and abandon Him to the death of the cross for the universal salvation of the world.13

He also taught predestination of some to eternal salvation:

God knows certainly and undoubtedly who will be saved because he has resolved to provide for them to believe, and who will not believe, because he has ordained not to undertake in the same way for them. Thus, with respect to God, the knowledge of the outcome is clear and infallible.14

Amyraut attempted to reconcile these two contradictory ideas. First of all he taught a general love of God towards all men. "God desires," wrote Amyraut, "that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, provided they believe. "Consequently," Amyraut continued, "these words, ‘God desires the salvation of all men’ (I Tim. 2:4) receive this necessary limitation, ‘providing that they believe.’ If they do not believe, he does not desire it."15

In this universal decree of salvation the condition is faith. Christ therefore died hypothetically or potentially for all men without exception, if they believe. If they do not believe Christ’s death avails them nothing. This universal, hypothetical, potential decree of predestination with a hypothetical, universal atonement saves nobody because none fulfil the condition of faith. Therefore, God, foreseeing this, by a second decree in which he predestines only some to salvation, purposes to give them the faith to believe and fulfil the condition:

Therefore it is true that the mercy of God toward men with regard to His counsels to procure salvation for them has two degrees – one which, as it is said, does not go beyond presenting to us the remission of our offenses in the Redeemer and takes sovereign pleasure in our salvation, providing that we do not reject this grace through unbelief, and another which goes so far as to make us believe and prevents salvation being rejected by us.16

This system is hypothetical universalism, a term derived from a nickname, les hypothétiques ("the hypotheticals"), which the orthodox gave to the Amyraldians.17

Two years (1636) later Amyraut published his Eschantillon de la Doctrine de Calvin ("Sample or Selection From the Doctrine of Calvin"), which consisted of numerous quotations from Calvin’s writings, which supposedly demonstrated that Calvin had been in full agreement with Amyraut’s position. Amyraut also later wrote a book in defence of Calvin’s doctrine of reprobation (1641) but in that work he describes reprobation as conditional!18

C. The response of the French Reformed Church

The publication of Amyraut’s book caused immediate controversy.19 The national Synod of Alençon (1637) examined the doctrine of Amyraut and his colleague, Testard, but apart from some mild censure concerning inappropriate language, no discipline was brought against them. The synod decreed,

that for the future, that phrase of Jesus Christ’s dying equally for all, should be forborn, because that term equally was formerly, and might be so again, an occasion of stumbling unto many.20

Roger Nicole, notes that, although the synod were satisfied with Amyraut and Testard’s explanations, it is "difficult to maintain that they were wholly free from dissimulation in this matter."21 One marvels at the blindness of the synod.22

Amyraut’s book contains statements which clearly contradict the Canons of Dordt, which were binding upon all French office-bearers. Furthermore, Amyraut’s position as theological professor gave him ample opportunity to transmit his heretical theology to the next generation of ministers. For this reason alone the synod ought to have been stronger in correcting error. Sadly, Amyraut had many supporters who wanted to see toleration for various views within the church. A second synod in Charenton (1644) exonerated Amyraut again and sent him back "with honor to fulfill his office, and exhorted him to occupy himself in this with joy and courage."23 But there is evidence that the French Church was weak from the start. Some of the displaced Arminians (who had been ejected from the Netherlands after the Synod of Dordt) had already been permitted to join the church in Paris without abjuring their heretical opinions.24 In such an atmosphere of false tolerance the Amyraldian heresy could spread unchecked. The French church was further weakened by the political situation in which she found herself. In France the Reformed faith was barely tolerated and the Protestants could not afford a schism in the church.


III. The Creeds

A. Amyraut against the Canons?

Frans Pieter van Stam, whose comprehensive historical study of the Amyraut controversy leans heavily in favor of the Amyraldians, affirms that the French Reformed Church "endorsed the doctrine as formulated by the Synod of Dordt" in 1620.25 Philip Schaff confirms this when he writes that all ministers and elders were bound to the Canons of Dordt "by a solemn oath to defend them to the last breath."26 Armstrong, another writer favourable to Amyraut, speaks of a "strict subscription clause" to the Canons binding upon Amyraut.27 John Cameron too was involved in a dispute concerning the Canons, although he managed to clear himself of suspicion of being sympathetic toward Arminian theology.28 Subsequent events lead one to suspect that he was cleared without good reason.

Opinions regarding whether Amyraut was faithful to the Canons of Dordt are divided. Alan Clifford, the United Kingdom’s leading proponent of Amyraldianism, unsurprisingly, maintains that Amyraut was characterized by a "clear commitment" to the Canons.29 Armstrong also believes that Amyraut’s teachings "remained faithful to the Reformed Confessions."30 However, George Smeaton argues that Amyraldianism was "a revolt from the position maintained at Dordt under the guise of an explanation."31 Van Stam, in spite of his high regard for the Amyraldian party, reveals that they were not really committed to the Canons. He writes,

A weak point on the side of the Amyraut group was their failure to say frankly that they had problems working with the doctrinal pronouncements of the synod of Dordt. They were probably awed by the authority which this synod had among their contemporaries and deemed it imprudent to open it up for discussion.32

Although the Canons were not written as a direct response to Amyraut, whose opinions only came to light after their completion, they nevertheless contain statements which oppose Amyraut’s theological position. For example, Amyraut’s doctrine of predestination is ruled out by Head I, Article 8, which teaches that "there are not various decrees of election, but one and the same decree respecting all those who shall be saved" and the idea that "there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite … one election unto faith and another unto salvation, so that election can be unto justifying faith without being unto salvation" is rejected decisively by Dordt as "a fancy of men’s minds, regardless of the Scriptures, whereby the doctrine of election is corrupted" (Head II, Rejection 2).

Similarly, Head II, Article 8 teaches that Christ died only for the elect according to the express will of God:

For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly unto salvation; that is, 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, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death.

This article leaves no room for the Amyraldian notion that God willed that Christ die for more than just the elect, or that Christ purchased salvation for some to whom it is not applied by the Holy Spirit.

Homer C. Hoeksema writes,

God never intended anything else than that the quickening (life-giving) and saving efficacy … should extend to the elect only … Any other conception of election than that which is maintained by the Canons, that is, a sovereign, eternal, unchangeable, definite, personal election, vitiates and makes null and void any real saving efficacy in the death of Christ. And it is worthy of note not only that the Canons here make the limitation of the atonement a divinely sovereign limitation, but that they literally speak of the purpose of God in the sense of intention … God’s counsel, His will and His intention are identical in this article. There is absolutely no room left for another purpose, will, intention or counsel of God according to which He after all desires the salvation of all men.33

In addition Head II, Rejection of Errors 6 refutes Amyraut’s distinction between "meriting and appropriating" and does not allow for the idea that Christ merited pardon for all men on condition of faith, but then only applies the merits to some. Head II, Rejection of Errors 3 is written to oppose those who teach that "Christ by His satisfaction, merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated." Amyraut was guilty of teaching that error. The Canons counter it with these words, "These adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error" (Head II, Rejection 3).

B. The Formula Consensus Helvetica

Although in France the response to Amyraldianism was weak the Reformed churches in Switzerland opposed the theology of Saumur.34 In 1675, eleven years after Amyraut’s death, John Henry Heidegger (1633-1698) and Francis Turretin (1623-1687), published the Formula Consensus Helvetica which Schaff describes as

a defense of the scholastic Calvinism of the Synod of Dordt against the theology of Saumur (Salmurium), especially against the universalism of Amyraldus. Hence it may be called a Formula anti-Salmuriensis, or anti-Amyraldensis.35

Schaff is sharply critical of this creed, describing it in these terms, "It is the product of scholasticism, which formulated the faith of Calvin into a stiff doctrinal system, and anxiously surrounded it with high walls to keep out the light of freedom and progress,"36 but the Reformed believer, while not agreeing with every statement in this creed, should be thankful to God for it since it is the only creed which was written specifically against Amyraldianism.

The Helvetica Consensus Formula disapproves of those who teach "that of his own intention, by His own counsel, and that of the Father who sent Him, Christ died for all and each upon an impossible condition, provided they believe" (Canon XVI).37 Clearly Amyraut’s teaching is meant here. It is absurd to suggest that God would send Christ to die for someone on condition that they do something which He knows they will not and cannot fulfil and which He Himself has determined not to fulfill in them. Such teachers, according to the Helvetica Consensus Formula, "make His cross of none effect, and under the appearance of augmenting His merit, they really diminish it" (Canon XVI).38


IV. Analysis of Amyraut's Errors

A. The will of God

Amyraut posited a contradiction in the will of God. Amyraut was content to espouse a paradoxical theology:

Although my reason found there some things which seemed to be in conflict, although whatever effort I exert I am unable to harmonize or reconcile them, still I will not fail to hold these two doctrines as true.39

These two contradictory ideas are of course that "God willed the salvation of all men" while at the same time "God willed that only a select few would enjoy participation in this universal salvation procured by Christ".40 To deny such contradictions in God’s decree is to be contemptuously dismissed as rationalistic or scholastic.41 However, the Bible teaches that God’s will is one: "He is of one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth" (Job 23:13). God does not only have the ability and power to accomplish his will, but He actually does what He wills: "he doeth [not merely, "he can do"] according to his will" (Dan. 4:35). "Our God is in the heavens: he hath done (not, simply, "he is able to do") whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3). "Whatever the LORD pleased, that did he [not, "that he could do"] in heaven, and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places" (Ps. 135:6). "My counsel shall stand and I shall do all (not "some of") my pleasure" (Isa. 46:10). Finally, "he worketh [not merely "is able to work if he so chooses"] all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11).

Amyraut, who was bound to the creeds, ought to have known better. The Canons state that "the Scripture declares the good pleasure, purpose and counsel of the divine will to be one" (Head I, Article 8, italics mine).

Calvin, Amyraut’s "favourite theologian" gives Amyraut no support here. Against Pighius he had written:

We, however, with greater reverence and sobriety, say ‘that God always wills the same thing; and that this is the very praise of His immutability.’ Whatever He decrees, therefore, He effects; and this is in Divine consistency with His omnipotence. And the will of God, being thus inseparably united with His power, constitutes an exalted harmony of His attributes.42

If God’s word criticizes the double minded man (James 1:8) what are we to make of Amyraut’s double minded god? Is it conceivable that God could have two opposite purposes in the cross of His beloved Son? Turretin certainly viewed such an idea as absurd:

Who can believe that in the one and simple act by which God decreed all things (although we have to conceive of it by parts), there were two intentions so diverse (not to say contrary) that in one manner Christ should die for all, and in another only for some?43

In addition, Amyraut taught that salvation is available to all if they believe. God has procured salvation, he taught, through the work of Christ and anyone can enjoy the benefits if they believe. Indeed God earnestly desires that all receive this salvation, although He has determined not to give the requisite faith to all. John Owen expressed the absurdity of this notion in these words:

God intendeth that he shall die for all, to procure for them remission of sins, reconciliation with him, eternal redemption and glory; but yet so that they shall never have the least good by these glorious things, unless they perform that which he knows they are in no way able to do, and which none but himself can enable them to perform, and which concerning far the greatest part of them he is resolved not to do. Is this to intend that Christ should die for them for their good? or rather, that he should die for them to expose them to shame and misery? Is it not all one as if a man should promise a blind man a thousand pounds upon condition that he will see?44

B. The justice of God

If Christ died equally for all, why are not all equally saved? The Bible teaches that God "set forth [Jesus Christ] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to declare his righteousness … that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26). If Christ died for a person, the sins of that person have been blotted out and, according to God’s justice, that person must be pardoned of all his iniquities.

Amyraldianism cannot explain how God can be just in punishing unbelievers eternally for the same sins for which Christ supposedly offered Himself. B. B. Warfield asks, "if this obstacle [i.e., their sin] is removed, are they not saved? Some other obstacles must be invented."45 The Amyraldian cannot answer that they are damned on account of their unbelief, for, if Christ died for all their sins, that includes their unbelief.

C. God’s intention in sending Christ

What was God’s intention in sending Christ and Christ’s intention in coming into the world? The Scriptures are clear that God sent Christ into the world with a definite purpose in mind. That purpose was to "save sinners" (I Tim. 1:15), that is, as Owen writes,

not to open a door for them to come in if they will or can; not to make a way passable, that they may be saved; not to purchase reconciliation and pardon of His Father, which perhaps they shall never enjoy; but actually to save them from all the guilt and power of sin, and from the wrath of God for sin: which if he doth not accomplish, he fails of the end of his coming; and that ought not to be affirmed.46

The name "Jesus" reveals Christ’s purpose, "to save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). He did not intend to save everyone from their sins, but His own people. In other places Christ is said to have given himself to the death of the cross "that he might redeem us from all iniquity" (Titus 2:14) and in order to "deliver us from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). His purpose is very clearly expressed in John 6:39-40:

For I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

Christ did not, therefore, come from heaven and suffer on the cross, to attempt to save all men without exception, including those whom God hates and had rejected from eternity, but He came to save a certain definite number of people.

D. What Christ accomplished by His death

What was accomplished by the cross? The Scriptures are clear that Christ did not accomplish the mere possibility of salvation for all without exception but actual salvation for some. Hebrews 1:3 teaches that Christ "purged" our sins. It was an actual purging of them, not a mere potential purging. Acts 20:28 declares that Christ "purchased" His church with His own blood. It was not a potential but a real purchase that Christ made with the result that the Church is His property. Hebrews 9:12 announces that Christ has "obtained eternal redemption for us;" that is a real obtaining. Colossians 1:14 and Ephesians 1:7 both proclaim that "we have redemption in His blood." We have it; we do not merely have it hypothetically. I Peter 2:24 teaches that Christ "bare our sins in his own body on the tree," that is he truly bore the punishment for them and "healed" us by his stripes. In other places, Christ is said to have "reconciled" us (Col. 1:21), "delivered us" (Gal. 3:13) and "made us nigh" (Eph. 2:13) by His cross. There is no hypothetical language here. Jonathan Rainbow rightly sees the contrast between particular redemption and hypothetical redemption as the difference between teaching that "the death of Christ brought all men to the gates of heaven, but none into heaven" or "the death of Christ brought the elect, and none but the elect into heaven."47

E. The scripturally-designated objects of Christ’s death

Scripture has various ways of speaking about the objects of Christ’s atoning work. The outstanding passage is John 10. In verse 11, Christ declares that as the good shepherd He lays down His life for His sheep. That not all men are Christ’s sheep is clear from verse 26 where Christ tells the Pharisees in the plainest possible language: "Ye are not of my sheep." In other words, Christ did not lay down His life for those Pharisees, and by extension, He did not lay down His life for any of the reprobate who are not included in the number of His sheep. In addition, Jesus says in Matthew 20:28 that He gives His life a ransom for many, not all without exception. In Acts 20:28 and Ephesians 5:25 the object of Christ’s redemption is the church. Not all men are part of the church for whom Christ died.

Amyraut himself admitted that the Bible speaks in such terms. He wrote,

The same Scripture which teaches us so eloquently that Christ died universally for all the world, speaks sometimes in such manner that it seems to approach saying that he died for the small number elected to faith only, as if he had suffered only for those who feel the fruit of his death and not for those whose own unbelief renders this death frustrated.48

However, Amyraut was not deterred, nor was he bridled by the Reformed confessions. He insisted that the Bible teaches that Christ died for "all men" and the "world."

F. "Universalistic" language in Scripture

Both Arminians and Amyraldians insist that such texts must mean that every member of the human race without exception is included in the cross of Christ. However, we must identify how Scripture uses the word "world" (Greek: kosmos). If we study the use of this word, we will discover that it has a variety of meanings and does not always refer to the entire human race. In John 7:4, Jesus’ brethren urge him, "Shew thyself to the world [kosmos]." Clearly, Jesus’ brothers did not mean that he should reveal himself to all men without exception. In John 12:19 the Pharisees lament Jesus’ popularity with the people, "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold the world [kosmos] is gone after him." Jesus was not universally known, and certainly not universally followed.

The word "world" is used in Scripture to describe the objects of Christ’s redemption for two main reasons.

In the first place, the word contradicts the idea of the Jews that God’s love is only for their nation while all other nations lie under God’s curse. For men like Nicodemus, it was inconceivable that God could love Gentiles and send the promised Messiah to save them (John 3:16). Jesus uses the word "world" deliberately to correct his false sectarian ideas in this regard. The New Testament Church is catholic and includes people from every nation, not just Israel. The Jews had to learn this. Even wicked Caiaphas was made to declare this: "He prophesied that Christ should die for that nation, but not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad" (John 11:51-52). The text does not say, "not for that nation only, but for the entire human race or all men without exception." Jesus died for the Jewish nation (but not every individual Jew) and for all the elect Gentiles who, being Jesus "other sheep" (John 10:16), must also be gathered by Him. Similarly, Revelation 5:9 states that Christ "redeemed us to God by [His] blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation." But this does not refer to every individual member of every nation. Louis Berkhof notes that the word "world" is employed "to indicate that the Old Testament particularism belongs to the past, and made way for New Testament universalism."49

In the second place, Scripture speaks of Christ dying to save the world because of the organic nature of salvation. Christ’s intention is not to save individuals but an elect human race. Christ has redeemed the entire creation. This was also Calvin’s view as Rainbow explains it,

Calvin’s universalistic language expressed the theological conviction that the elect, chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and gathered through the Spirit from all places and peoples, constitute a new and representative humanity. Calvin was not content to think of the elect as a scrap of mankind or of Christ’s redemptive work as a desperate salvage operation. It was in fact a construction of a glorious perfected humanity.50

Similarly the phrase "all men" may have many meanings depending on the context. Often the word "men" is not in the original Greek where a form of the adjective, pas (all) is used. For example, Matthew 10:22, "And ye shall be hated of all [pas] men for my name’s sake," does not teach that every human being without exception shall hate the disciples. When it is said in Matthew 21:26, "All [pas] hold John as a prophet," not the entire human race is meant, and the disciples’ remark to Jesus is Mark 1:37, "All [pas] men seek thee" cannot be stretched too far. Examples could be multiplied (John 3:26; 11:48; Acts 19:19; 22:15; Rom. 16:19). The principle is that "all men" in the Bible refers to all of a specific group but rarely the entire human race. An illustration from idiomatic English may be appropriate. If I say, "Everybody is coming to my house for a meeting tonight," I obviously do not mean by the word "everybody" to invite the entire city, never mind the entire human race.51 I have a certain group of people in mind and I mean every member of that group. The phrase "all men" in addition means "all kinds of men," not just Jews or rich people or old people, but people from every part of society and every nation under heaven.

In addition, the Bible often speaks of Christ’s death in these terms: "The LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6) or God "delivered him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32). Clearly, the key to understanding these texts is to consider that the "us" refers to God’s covenant people. The "us" of Scripture refers to all the members of the church, the elect, the sanctified, the beloved and none else.

Hebrews 2:9 teaches that Jesus "tasted death for every man." If the verse is wrested from its context it seems to teach a death of Christ for all head for head. Verse 10 teaches that Christ’s intention as "captain of their salvation" was to "bring many sons to glory." If we take verse 10 into consideration the obvious meaning is that Christ tasted death for every son whom He brings to glory of whose salvation He is the captain (the word "man" is not in the Greek of verse 9). Christ did not taste death for those who must drink the cup of God’s wrath for all eternity (Ps. 11:6).

G. Calvin’s "universalistic" language

Although Calvin did use universalistic language when speaking of the death of Christ, something modern Amyraldians love to emphasize,52 it is necessary to understand what Calvin meant by such expressions. Rainbow has done extensive research on this issue. He writes, "Calvin understood ‘human race’ as the assembly of the elect from every kind of humanity."53 Regarding Calvin’s understanding of one of Amyraut’s favourite passages, I John 2:1-2, Rainbow writes,

That settles it. So John’s words, ‘the whole world,’ mean ‘the whole church,’ ‘the faithful,’ and ‘the children of God.’ Like Bucer, Calvin bypassed the subtleties of the scholastics and returned to the straightforward particularism of Augustine and Gottschalk.54

Concerning I Timothy 2:1-6, Rainbow writes,

Calvin saw the whole passage as a unit. The Holy Spirit commands us to pray for all, because our only Mediator admits all to come to him; just as by his death he reconciled all to the Father.’ And he referred the universal term ‘all’ throughout the passage to kinds of men, not individuals. Christ’s death, like God’s saving will, is directed not to every human being but to human beings from every segment of humanity. The whole case for Calvin as a limited redemptionist could well rest on this one place.55

In conclusion, after having discussed the views of Augustine, Gottschalk, Aquinas, Wycliffe, Bucer and Calvin, Rainbow writes, "The Augustinian dike stood firm: In his exposition of salvation texts, Calvin never allowed all to mean every."56

Indeed, Calvin very clearly denied that Christ died for all men. Rainbow notes,

Calvin said: "I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them." No intelligent universal redemptionist would have said this, even in a hyperbolic flurry, far less a theologian like Calvin, who weighed every word.57

H. Christ’s high priestly office

As high priest, Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for, intercedes for, and blesses His people. Amyraut’s Christ offers Himself for all men without exception, but only intercedes for some (John 17:9). Scripture teaches that Christ intercedes on the basis of His atonement. Romans 8:34 links Christ’s atonement to His intercession: "It is Christ that died … who also maketh intercession for us." Paul takes it as a settled fact that those for whom Christ died are guaranteed salvation. Otherwise his rhetorical question ("Who is he that condemneth?" [Rom. 8:34]) makes no sense. On the basis of Christ’s death and intercession, there is no charge against God’s elect (Rom. 8:33).

I John 2:1-2 also links inextricably Christ’s atonement and His intercession: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins." When Christ enters the presence of the Father to plead for His people, He does so on the basis of the accomplished redemption (Heb. 7:25-28, 9:11-12, 24). If Christ died for all men, then He must plead for all men.

Owen writes,

He did not suffer for them and then refuse to intercede for them; he did not do the greater and omit the less. The price of our redemption is more precious in the eyes of God and His Son than that it should, as it were, be cast away on perishing souls, without any care taken of what becomes of them afterward.58

Turretin writes, "It is gratuitously supposed that a universal intercession can be granted. For as he is always heard by the Father (John 11:42), if he would intercede for all, all would be actually saved."59

Owen concludes,

These two acts of his priesthood are not to be separated; it belongs to the same mediator for sin to sacrifice and pray. Our assurance that he is our advocate is grounded on his being a propitiation for our sins. He is an "advocate" for every one for whose sins his blood was a "propitiation," I John ii. 1, 2. But Christ does not intercede and pray for all, as himself often witnesseth, John xvii.; he "maketh intercession" only for them who "come unto God by him," Heb. vii. 25. He is not a mediator of them that perish, no more than an advocate of them that fail in their suits.60

This is another powerful argument against the "Amyraut thesis," the theory that Amyraut rediscovered the "real Calvin" whose theology had been corrupted by later Protestant "scholastics:"

To recapitulate briefly what we have seen so far: Christ chose the elect, was sent by the Father to save the elect, rose from the dead for the elect, intercedes in heaven for the elect, rules for the sake of the elect in the present age, and will return for the elect at the end of the age. The Amyraut thesis calls upon us to believe that according to Calvin, among all the works of the Redeemer, his death, in lonely isolation from everything else, was intended for everyone.61

I. The application of the merits of Christ’s atonement

One of the pillars of Amyraldianism is Amyraut’s insistence that "Scripture taught both a universalist design in Christ’s atonement and a particularist application of its benefits.’62 That makes nonsense of Paul’s triumphant question in Romans 8:32, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?" If there are some for whom Christ was delivered up, who nevertheless perish everlastingly, how can he have freely given them all things? The "all things" must include forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, faith, repentance, the Holy Spirit and everything necessary for salvation.

Berkhof writes,

And if the assertion be made that the design of God and of Christ was evidently conditional, contingent on the faith and repentance of man, attention should be called to the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ by His death purchased faith, repentance, and all the other works of the Spirit for His people.63

Amyraut dishonours Christ when he says that Christ was given for all men, but that God does not give all men faith. Why would the Holy Spirit not apply the benefits of salvation to all those for whom the Son died? Does the Holy Spirit, who like the wind "bloweth where it listeth" (John 3:8), have a will contrary to the Son? Such an idea is absurd. The Bible teaches that the salvation procured by Christ is applied to all those for whom it was procured. Turretin writes, "It is gratuitous to say that Christ is the Savior of those for whom salvation is indeed acquired, but to whom it is will never be applied."64 And, as has been demonstrated, the Canons of Dordt declare that Christ purchased faith for the elect on the cross, and that it is the will of God that faith be conferred upon them (Head II, Article 8). Similarly, Owen summarizes the orthodox position in these words: "Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe, but he died for all God’s elect, that they should believe, and believing have eternal life."65

J. Sufficient for all; effectual for some?

The constant refrain of Amyraldianism is that Christ died sufficiently for all, but effectually for some. We do not deny that Christ’s atonement, as far as the infinite value of it is concerned, is sufficient to redeem the whole world, but the contention is, what was God’s purpose in sending Christ? Alan Clifford makes the following astounding claim,

Amyraut’s clear commitment to the Canons of Dordt suggests that the Amyraldians are the true ‘five point’ Calvinists. If anything, the high orthodox may be styled ‘four and a half pointers,’ since they virtually deny the universal sufficiency of the atonement clearly expressed in the second canon.66

We have seen that Amyraut was not committed to the Canons of Dordt. Head II, Articles 3-4 do indeed teach, and we affirm, that Christ’s death "is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world." The Canons, however, do not mean by this that therefore God intended that the atonement expiate the sins of the whole world, or that it was offered for the whole world. Rather they explain that the atonement is infinite in value because of the dignity of the one who died, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God made flesh. Of course, His death was of infinite value. In addition, none deny that faith is necessary to enjoy the salvation purchased by Christ. But faith is part of that salvation purchased for the elect (Canons, Head II, Article II. 8), not a condition of salvation. As Herman Hanko writes,

Is faith a part of salvation or is it a condition to salvation? It cannot be both. If it is a condition to salvation then it is not a part of salvation. And if it is not a part of salvation then it is not worked by God but by man. To maintain both at the same time is patent nonsense and impossible for any intelligent person to believe.67

K. The nature of redemption

Amyraldianism is refuted when we consider the words used in theology to describe Christ’s work on the cross. Christ made satisfaction to the justice of God against the sins of all those for whom He died. Christ having died for a sinner, that sinner must be released from the guilt and punishment of sin. If he is not saved then the death of Christ is ineffectual. But such a conclusion is intolerable. If all that Christ did was insufficient to save the sinners for whom He died, what hope is there for any sinner? The Bible makes clear that the death of Christ was effectual. It was the purpose of God that it be effectual.

Christ’s death was redemption. To redeem means to buy back with a price. The price was Christ’s blood. Christ purchased the sinners for whom He died (I Cor. 6:20). They belong to Him. They belong to Him first by election. Jesus makes clear in many places that God has given to Him certain sinners and that He has a charge from the Father to save them (John 6:38; 10:29; 17:2). He never speaks of a supposed secondary purpose in His death. Jesus insists that He shall certainly save all those who have been given to Him, that is, all the elect. It is an insult to Christ to suggest that He does not receive all whom He purchased.

Christ’s death was atonement which means that He covered the sins of His elect people. He blotted them out. He took them away. Hence John can speak concerning Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The important word is the verb. Christ takes away the sins of the world. He does not merely try to take them away. Either all sins (including unbelief) are taken away, with the result that all are saved, or the word "world" here does not mean all mankind.

Christ death was reconciliation. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (II Cor. 5:19). Since it is evident that God does indeed impute trespasses unto many who must suffer punishment for those sins eternally, it follows that such do not belong to the world of this text. Similarly, in Romans 5:10 the Scripture says that "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son," an accomplished fact, not conditional on us, but wrought by Christ "while we were yet sinners" (5:8). Furthermore, verse 10 links the accomplished reconciliation with a certain, guaranteed, future salvation.

Christ’s death is propitiation or the turning away of God’s wrath by means of a sacrifice. Christ is the propitiation for our sins. This is the key to understanding the "proof text" of Amyraldianism, I John 2:2, where we read that Christ is the propitiation for "the whole world." The issue is not, what does the whole world mean, but rather what does "propitiation" mean? Since propitiation is a turning away the wrath of God, it is inconceivable that Christ can be a propitiation for somebody who remains for all eternity under the wrath of God.

Christ uses the word ransom to describe what He accomplishes on the cross in Matt. 20:28. A ransom is a price paid to release a captive. The price having been paid, justice demands that the ransomed one be set free. A ransom is not paid on condition that the one in bondage accept it. It is paid for the one in bondage but it is paid to the one who has enslaved him. The transaction occurs outside of the consciousness, cooperation or contribution of the one in bondage. When Christ paid the price to the justice of God, the sinner was not consulted. Neither is the sinner consulted or asked for his consent when it comes to the matter of accepting or rejecting the ransom. God has accepted the ransom. This is evident in that He raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 4:25). The price was paid in full and God is satisfied. None of this fits with universal redemption.


V. The Legacy of Amyraldianism

Amyraut’s theory bore bitter fruit in the French Reformed churches. George Smeaton gives this chilling analysis:

In the last degree [it was] disastrous to French Protestantism before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes … it was a death-blow … the majority of the theologians and pastors soon adopted [Amyraut’s] opinions. The French Reformed Church virtually ceased to be a witness to the doctrines of grace … a few years later a terrible storm of persecution broke out, and scattered the French Protestants over the globe. It is not for us to call this a divine retribution or visitation in wrath, but few will deny that a deep declension had begun.68

We cannot agree with Amyraut’s supporters that the debate which raged in French Protestantism was a storm in a teacup.69 In the controversy we see the subtle nature of heresy and the sad failure of church discipline. The nature of God, His decrees, the spiritual condition of natural man, the efficacy of the atonement of Christ and the salvation of sinners, were, and are still at stake.

Surely Rainbow’s conclusion is correct:

In fact it seems much more accurate to say that Amyraut was the real Reformed "scholastic," and "Reformed Thomas Aquinas," the balancer, the synthesizer, the creator of new categories, and structures. And Reformed orthodoxy, with its insistence on limited redemption, was actually a primitive throwback to the rigorous and markedly non-rationalistic particularism of Augustine and Gottschalk. Under whatever label, John Calvin, as a limited redemptionist, belongs historically with Augustine, Gottschalk, Bucer, Beza and Reformed orthodoxy–not with Amyraut.70

Amyraldianism posits a redemption which does not redeem, an atonement which does not atone, a propitiation which does not propitiate and a reconciliation which does not reconcile, unless man does something to make the work of Christ effectual for him personally. As Owen so cogently writes, "To affirm that Christ died for all men is the readiest way to prove that he died for no man, in the sense Christians have hitherto believed."71

Click here to read an article on "Amyraldianism and the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675)"

End Notes

1Men like Pierre du Moulin (1568-1658) and Friedrich Spanheim (1600-1649) wrote tomes in refutation of Amyraldianism. Indeed, Spanheim was in the middle of his second major work against Amyraut’s heresies when he died suddenly in 1649.
2In the United Kingdom, Alan C. Clifford, pastor of Norwich Reformed Church, is the most prominent proponent of Amyraldianism, through his various publications and his annual "Amyraldian Association Conference." Amyraldianism is far from being an old French heresy that can be ignored by modern Reformed theologians and office bearers.
3Frans Pieter van Stam, The Controversy over the Theology of Saumur, 1635-1650, Disrupting Debates Among the Huguenots in Complicated Circumstances (Amsterdam and Maarssen: APA-Holland University Press, 1988), p. 38.
4Brian G. Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth Century France (Madison, Milwaukee, and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), p. 61.
5Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, pp. 58-59.
6Moise Amyraut, Brief Treatise on Predestination and its Dependent Principles, trans. Richard Lum (place of publication and publisher unknown, 1985), p. vii of translator’s preface, "The assumption that the fallen will, apart from any immediate work of the Spirit, cannot reject the Gospel when the understanding grasps it clearly is the most disturbing of the elements in Amyraut’s thought."
7Roger Nicole, reviewing van Stam’s book, writes, "Amyraut thought he could establish a bridge that would make it easier for Roman Catholic people to embrace the Reformed Faith. He seemed to remain oblivious to the fact that most bridges carry two-way traffic: he unwittingly made it easier for Reformed people to turn to Roman Catholicism" ("Book Review: The Controversy over the Theology of Saumur, 1635-1650, Disrupting Debates Among the Huguenots in Complicated Circumstances," Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 54, no. 2 [Fall, 1992], p. 396).
8To Amyraut "the limitation of the extent of the atonement was a liability in the endeavor to make and keep Catholic converts" (G. M. Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement. A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus [Carlisle: Paternoster, 1997], p. 201.
9Schaff writes, "The French Protestants were surrounded and threatened [by Romanists]. Being employed by the Reformed Synod in important diplomatic negotiations with the government, he came in frequent contact with bishops, and with Cardinal Richelieu, who esteemed him highly" (Creeds of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983], vol. 1, pp. 480-481; italics mine). Armstrong notes that Amyraut was infused with a "broad and irenic spirit" and that "Cardinal Richelieu and Mazarin paid Amyraut frequent visits" (Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 72).
10Clifford claims that Calvin’s "finely tuned biblical balance was effectively destroyed by the ultra-orthodoxy of Theodore Beza (1519-1605)" and that "the high Calvinists (after Calvin) squeezed the universal language of Scripture into a rigidly particularist mould" (Alan C. Clifford, Calvinus: Authentic Calvinism, a Clarification [Norwich: Charenton Reformed Publishing, 1996], pp. 11-12).
11This claim, made by many modern Amyraldians, that Calvin and Beza had fundamentally different theologies, lacks evidence. That the two men were one doctrinally is evident in a polemical work which Calvin wrote in defence of absolute predestination against "certain slanders." In this work Calvin recommends a little book "that our brother master Beza hath made" on the subject of predestination (John Calvin, Sermons on Election and Reprobation [Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1996], p. 310).
12Amyraut, Brief Treatise, p. 38; italics mine.
13Amyraut, Brief Treatise, p. 52.
14Amyraut, Brief Treatise, p. 66.
15Amyraut, Brief Treatise, p. 43.
16Amyraut, Brief Treatise, pp. 84-85; italics mine.
17van Stam, The Controversy, p. 277.
18van Stam: "In his book, in defense of Calvin’s doctrine of reprobation, Amyraut had referred to God’s ‘conditional will’ whereas that Synod had disqualified, as being open to misunderstanding, the term ‘conditional decree.’" He goes on to say that Rivet, another one of Amyraut’s opponents, argued for the position that "God had never included in his eternal plan of salvation those who are eternally lost. Amyraut deemed it better to say that God’s will was that they should be saved but that man was not interested. In Amyraut’s view of things, substitution of the term ‘the conditional will of God’ for ‘the conditional decree of God’ served to clarify the issue, for ‘conditional’ means to him: ‘provided man wants to accept God’s salvation in faith.’ Rivet, however, considered all this talk of conditional this or that a violation of the awesome truth that the decision over eternal life or eternal death lies only with God" (The Controversy, pp. 171-172; italics mine).
19Armstrong writes that the Brief Traitté "did precipitate a ‘civil war’ within Reformed Protestantism" (Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 82) and van Stam states, "The conflict of Saumur assumed the harshness of trench warfare: people opposed each other in publications without seeing each other’s faces, each from behind his own defenses" (The Controversy, p. 276).
20Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, pp. 92-93.
21Roger Nicole, Moyse Amyraut, A Bibliography with Special Reference to the Controversy on Universal Grace (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1981), p. 11.
22Schaff is clearly mistaken when he claims that the Synod acted "wisely and moderately, saving the orthodoxy of Amyraut and guarding only against misconceptions." In Schaff’s view, Amyraut’s doctrine was "quite harmless" (Creeds, vol. 1, p. 483). Schaff’s defence of Amyraut ought to be of no comfort to Amyraldians because Schaff was not a Calvinist.
23van Stam, The Controversy, p. 203.
24van Stam, The Controversy, pp. 20-21.
25van Stam, The Controversy, p. 18
26Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1, p. 478.
27Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 84.
28van Stam, The Controversy, p. 18.
29Clifford, Calvinus, p. 18.
30Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 73.
31George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (Winona Lake, IN: Alpha Publications, 1979), p. 540.
32van Stam, The Controversy, p. 438.
33Homer C. Hoeksema, The Voice of Our Fathers: An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht (Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1980), pp. 373-374.
34For example, van Stam notes that the churches in Zurich stopped sending their theological students to Saumur, The Controversy, p. 315.
35Philip Schaff, Creeds, vol. 1, p. 478.
36Philip Schaff, Creeds, vol. 1, p. 486.
37A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1878), p. 660.
38Hodge, Outlines, p. 660.
39Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 184.
40Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 183.
41Armstrong writes, "Orthodoxy manifested an almost neurotic fear that somehow a sacred theological system might crumble if certain interpretations were allowed" and "although Amyraut indicated that, if necessary, he was perfectly willing to leave these two wills in tension, such an idea was utterly inconceivable to the orthodox" (Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, pp. 166, 185).
42John Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism (Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1987), p. 179.
43Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1994), p. 460.
44John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner, repr. 1985), p. 122.
45B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), p. 95.
46Owen, Death of Death, p. 97.
47Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1990), p. 62.
48Amyraut, Brief Treatise, p. 82.
49Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner, repr. 2003), p, 396.
50Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 156.
51Incidentally, French for everybody is tout le monde, which literally means "all the world." Tout le monde does not have a strictly universal meaning in French any more than "everybody" has in English.
52For example, Clifford’s book, Calvinus, consists almost exclusively of long lists of quotations from Calvin where the Reformer speaks of Christ’s dying for the whole world.
53Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 123.
54Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 134.
55Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 142. Calvin writes, "But since it clearly appears that he [Paul] is there concerned with classes of men, not men as individuals, away with further discussion!" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles [Philadelphia: Westminster Press and S. C .M. Press, 1960], 3.24.16; p. 984).
56Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 147; italics Rainbow’s.
57Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 120.
58Owen, Death of Death, p. 64.
59Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, p. 464.
60John Owen, A Display of Arminianism, Calvin Classics, vol. 2 (Still Waters Revival Books: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, repr. 1989), p. 91.
61Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 104.
62Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, pp. 165-166.
63Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 395.
64Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, p. 463.
65John Owen, Death of Death, p. 123; italics Owen’s.
66Clifford, Calvinus, p. 18.
67Herman Hanko, The History of the Free Offer ( Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Seminary, 1989), p. 72.
68George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (London: Banner, 1958), pp. 323-233.
69van Stam asserts, "It does seem, however, that in the years between 1635-1650 some of the Reformed were prepared, in the words of Jean Daillé [one of Amyraut’s supporters, MMcG], to set their house on fire to get rid of a spider" (The Controversy, p. 454).
70Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 185.
71John Owen, Death of Death, p. 178.