A Critical Examination of the
Amyraldian View of the
Martyn J. McGeown
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Brief Traitté, Amyraut taught that Christ died for all men without
exception. He taught that clearly:
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
[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
taught predestination of some to eternal salvation:
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
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
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
is hypothetical universalism, a term derived from a nickname, les
hypothétiques ("the hypotheticals"), which the orthodox gave to the
(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
response of the French Reformed Church
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
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
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
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
against the Canons?
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
"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.
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,
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
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,
Head II, Article 8 teaches that Christ died only for the elect according
to the express will of God:
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.
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.
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
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).
Formula Consensus Helvetica
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
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
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.
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
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
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"
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
Amyraut’s "favourite theologian" gives Amyraut no support here. Against
Pighius he had written:
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:
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
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:
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
justice of God
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
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
intention in sending Christ
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,
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
"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:
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.
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
Christ accomplished by His death
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
scripturally-designated objects of Christ’s death
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
himself admitted that the Bible speaks in such terms. He wrote,
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
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."
"Universalistic" language in Scripture
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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
Regarding Calvin’s understanding of one of Amyraut’s favourite passages,
I John 2:1-2, Rainbow writes,
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
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
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
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
high priestly office
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.
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
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
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
another powerful argument against the "Amyraut thesis," the theory that
Amyraut rediscovered the "real Calvin" whose theology had been corrupted
by later Protestant "scholastics:"
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
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
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
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
Sufficient for all; effectual for some?
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
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
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
nature of redemption
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
theory bore bitter fruit in the French Reformed churches. George Smeaton
gives this chilling analysis:
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
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.
Rainbow’s conclusion is correct:
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
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
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
(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.
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).
Brief Treatise, p. 38; italics mine.
Brief Treatise, p. 66.
Treatise, p. 43.
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
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
Stam, The Controversy, p. 203.
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.
Calvinus, p. 18.
Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 73.
Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (Winona Lake,
IN: Alpha Publications, 1979), p. 540.
Stam, The Controversy, p. 438.
C. Hoeksema, The Voice of Our Fathers: An Exposition of the Canons of
Dordrecht (Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1980), pp. 373-374.
example, van Stam notes that the churches in Zurich stopped sending
their theological students to Saumur, The Controversy, p. 315.
Schaff, Creeds, vol. 1, p. 478.
Schaff, Creeds, vol. 1, p. 486.
A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter and
Brothers, 1878), p. 660.
Outlines, p. 660.
Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 184.
Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, p. 183.
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).
Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism
(Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1987), p. 179.
Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg,
NJ: P & R Publishing, 1994), p. 460.
Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh:
Banner, repr. 1985), p. 122.
B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1973), p. 95.
Death of Death, p. 97.
The Will of God and the Cross (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick
Publications, 1990), p. 62.
Brief Treatise, p. 82.
Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner, repr. 2003), p,
The Will of God, p. 156.
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.
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.
The Will of God, p. 123.
The Will of God, p. 134.
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.
56Rainbow, The Will of God, p. 147; italics Rainbow’s.
The Will of God, p. 120.
Death of Death, p. 64.
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.
The Will of God, p. 104.
Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, pp. 165-166.
Systematic Theology, p. 395.
Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, p. 463.
Owen, Death of Death, p. 123; italics Owen’s.
Calvinus, p. 18.
Hanko, The History of the Free Offer ( Grandville, MI:
Protestant Reformed Seminary, 1989), p. 72.
Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (London: Banner, 1958),
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).
The Will of God, p. 185.
Owen, Death of Death, p. 178.