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Amyraldism (or sometimes Amyraldianism), also known as "hypothetical universalism" or "four-point Calvinism", primarily refers to a modified form of Calvinism which rejects one of the Five points of Calvinism, namely the doctrine of limited atonement in favor of an unlimited atonement similar to that of the Arminians. Simply stated, Amyraldism holds that God has provided Christ's atonement for all alike, but seeing that none would believe on their own, he then elects those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.

Named after its formulator Moses Amyraut, this doctrine is still viewed as a variety of Calvinism in that it maintains the particularity of sovereign grace in the application of the atonement; however, B. B. Warfield termed it an inconsistent and therefore unstable form of Calvinism. <sup>1</sup>

While Amyraldism is sometimes called four point Calvinism due to its rejection of the doctrine of a limited atonement, the latter term is often a self-proclaimed title for many who are even less consistent Calvinists than Amyraut. For instance, many so-called "four point Calvinists" (particularly the dispensational variety) not only reject the doctrine of limited atonement but also deny that regeneration must logically precede faith (a tenet of Calvinism which Amyraut upheld).

Historical background

Moses Amyraut, originally a lawyer, but converted to the study of theology by the reading of Calvin's 'Institutes,' an able divine and voluminous writer, developed the doctrine of hypothetical or conditional universalism, for which his teacher, John Cameron (1580–1625), a Scotchman, and for two years Professor at Saumur, had prepared the way. His object was not to set aside, but to moderate and liberalize Calvinism by ingrafting this doctrine upon the particularism of election, and thereby to fortify it against the objections of Roman Catholics, by whom the French Protestants were surrounded and threatened. 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. His system is an approach, not so much to Arminianism, which he decidedly rejected, as to Lutheranism, which likewise teaches a universal atonement and a limited election.

Amyraut maintained the Calvinistic premises of an eternal foreordination and foreknowledge of God, whereby he caused all things inevitably to pass—the good efficiently, the bad permissively. He also admitted the double decree of election and reprobation. But in addition to this he taught that God foreordained a universal salvation through the universal sacrifice of Christ offered to all alike (également pour tous), on condition of faith, so that on the part of God's will and desire (voluntas, velleitas, affectus) the grace is universal, but as regards the condition it is particular, or only for those who do not reject it and thereby make it ineffective. The universal redemption scheme precedes the particular election scheme, and not vice versa. He reasons from the benevolence of God towards his creatures; Calvinism reasons from the result, and makes actual facts interpret the decrees. Amyraut distinguished between objective grace which is offered to all, and subjective grace in the heart which is given only to the elect. He also makes a distinction between natural ability and moral ability, or the power to believe and the willingness to believe; man possesses the former, but not the latter, in consequence of inherent depravity. He was disposed, like Zwingli, to extend the grace of God beyond the limits of the visible Church, inasmuch as God by his general providence operates upon the heathen, and may produce in them a sort of unconscious Christianity, a faith without knowledge; while within the Church he operates more fully and clearly through the means of grace. Those who never heard of Christ are condemned if they reject the general grace of providence; but the same persons would also reject Christ if he were offered to them. As regards the result, Amyraut agreed with the particularists. His ideal universalism is unavailable, except for those in whom God previously works the condition of faith, that is, for those who are included in the particular decree of election.

Amyraut's doctrine created a great commotion in the Reformed Churches of France, Holland, and Switzerland. Jean Daillé (1594–1670), David Blondel (1591–1655), and others considered it innocent and consistent with the decrees of the Synod of Dort, where German Reformed and Anglican delegates professed similar views against the supralapsarianism of Gomarus. But Peter du Moulin (Molinæus, since 1621 Professor of the rival theological school of Sedan), Friedrich Spanheim (1600–1649, Professor in Leiden), Andrew Rivet (1572–1651, Professor in Leiden), and the theologians of Geneva opposed it as a departure from the orthodox faith and a compromise between Calvinism and Arminianism.

The friends of Amyraut urged the love, benevolence, and impartial justice of God, and the numerous passages in Scripture which teach that God loves 'the whole world,' that he will have 'all men to be saved,' that Christ died 'not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world,' that 'he shut up all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all.' On the other hand, it was objected that God could not really will and intend what is never accomplished; that he could not purpose an end without providing adequate means; that, in point of fact, God did not actually offer salvation to all; and that a universalism based on an impossible condition is an unfruitful abstraction.

The national Synods at Alençon, 1637; at Charenton, 1645; and at Loudun, 1659 (the last synod permitted by the French Government), decided wisely and moderately, saving the orthodoxy of Amyraut, and guarding only against misconceptions. He gave the assurance that he did not change the doctrine, but only the method of instruction. And his opponents were forced at last to admit that the idea of a universal grace, by which no one was actually saved unless included in the particular, effective decree of election, was quite harmless. In this way universalism and particularism were equally sanctioned, and a schism in the French Church was avoided. The literary controversy continued for several years longer, and developed a large amount of learning and ability, until it was brought to an abrupt close by the political oppressions of the Reformed Church in France.

This background section is extracted from Schaff <sup>2</sup>

Amyraldism in 17th century England and Scotland

John Davenant (1576-1641), like Amyraut a student of John Cameron, was a British delegate at Dort and influenced some of the members of the Westminster Assembly. He promoted "hypothetical universalism, a general atonement in the sense of intention as well as sufficiency, a common blessing of the cross, and a conditional salvation. The "root principle of the Davenant School" was the "notion of a universal desire in God for the salvation of all men." <sup>3</sup> In the floor debate on redemption at the Westminster Assembly, Edmund Calamy of the Davenant School attempted to insert Amyraldism into the Catechism. <sup>4</sup>

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) held to a form of Amyraldism, although he was less Calvinistic than Amyraut. He devised an eclectic middle route between Reformed, Arminian, and Roman doctrines of grace: interpreting the kingdom of God in terms of contemporary political ideas, he explained Christ’s death as an act of universal redemption (penal and vicarious, but not substitutionary), in virtue of which God has made a new law offering pardon and amnesty to the penitent. Repentance and faith, being obedience to this law, are the believer’s personal saving righteousness. . . . The fruit of the seeds which Baxter sowed was neonomian Moderatism in Scotland and moralistic Unitarianism in England. <sup>5</sup>

Amyraldism today

Popularized in England by the Reformed pastor Richard Baxter, Amyraldism also gained strong adherence among the Congregationalists and some Presbyterians in the American colonies, during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the United States, Amyraldism can be found among various evangelical groups, perhaps most notably among dispensationalists in independent Bible churches and independant Baptist churches. "Five point" Calvinism remains prevalent especially in conservative groups among the Reformed churches, Reformed Baptists, and some non-denominational evangelical churches; however, the Amyraldian version of Calvinism seems to have gained permanence as a recognized (more moderate) version of classic Calvinist theology.

Footnotes

  1. Warfield, B. B., The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973)
  2. Schaff, Philip (Editor), Creeds of Christendom Vol. 1, (Harper & Brothers, 1877) p. 483ff. Public Domain. [1]
  3. Hanko, Herman. The History of the Free Offer (Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches, 1989), 82-84. [2]
  4. Blunt, David. "Debate of Redemption at the Westminster Assembly," British Reformed Journal, January-March 1996: 5-10.
  5. Packer, J. I., "Introduction," in Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (1656; The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 9-10.

See also

External links

Amyraut and Hypothetical Universalism

Amyraldianism from Elwell Evangelical Dictionary

Theopedia-logo This page uses content from Theopedia, which favors a Calvinistic/Reform POV. The original article was at Amyraldism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion-wiki, the text of Theopedia is under [Creative Commons 3.0 license]

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