08 November, 2016

Chapter Four

The Teachings of Moises Amyraut

As we have already observed, controversy concerning the extent of the atonement did not cease with the Synod of Dort. Due to the ambiguities contained in some of the statements which issued from Dort concerning the extent of the atonement, further debate ensued and this occurred predominantly within the Reformed Church of France.68 Following Dort, the more conservative members of the Reformed Church of France sought to construe the Canons in such a way as to exclude unlimited or universal atonement. However, the liberals in France, and particularly those at Saumur, rejected that approach and felt at liberty to contend that Dort had not excluded universal atonement. Consequently, a storm of controversy emerged in France centered around Moises Amyraut, a Professor of Theology at Saumur. In 1634, only 15 years after Dort, Amyraut penned his controversial epistle entitled Treatise of Predestination in which he stated that:

the Sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered was equally for all; and the salvation which he received from His Father, in the sanctification of the spirit and the glorification of the body, was destined equally for allprovided the necessary disposition for receiving it was equal.69

The publication of this work caused considerable disputation among the Protestant divines in France, a dispute which escalated to embrace the rest of Europe by the middle of the 17th century.

Before examining the position adopted by Amyraut, it is important to note from the point of view of our inquiries, that the views of Amyraut had their origins in those of John Cameron.70 Cameron was born in Scotland in 1580. He subsequently moved to France where he was eventually appointed to the Chair of Divinity at the University of Saumur. It was his system of universal grace and unlimited atonement which Amyraut, who was his student at Saumur, imbibed and developed.71

Cameron developed the doctrine of hypothetical universalism, namely that God wills the salvation of all men, on condition of faith, and that Christ’s death was for all men, on condition of faith. Cameron declared that Christ died for no man simply, but on condition that men should be delivered from the world, and engrafted into Christ by true faith.72

As is evident, Cameron taught a dichotomy in the divine will of God, that is, between God’s conditional and unconditional wills. As regards his conditional will, Cameron contended that God had universally determined to restore the image of God in mankind, and therefore purposed to send His Son to each and every man who believes in Him. As regards His unconditional will, God had specifically decreed to restore a select number to faith and it is they only whom He purposes to save. Furthermore, he taught that because of God’s universal love and desire to bring all men to salvation, God had promised salvation to each and every man, on the condition that they believe. Consequently, he taught that the death of Christ was equally applicable to all men. However, that death was only efficacious to those who exercised faith.

Amyraut followed this same blueprint. In an attempt to fend off the charges which were frequently cast upon the Reformed faith, that it presented God as arbitrary, unjust, and insincere in that He created the reprobates for sin and then punished them for sinning; in offering in the gospel a salvation which He had no intention of conveying, Amyraut followed in the footsteps of Cameron and developed an extensive system concerning the extent of the atonement.73

In his teachings on the atonement, Amyraut, like Cameron, emphasized the dual nature of the divine will. His teachings were developed around the same distinction which Cameron made concerning the will of God, namely, that God has a universal, conditional will to save all men upon the condition of faith, but that He also has an absolute and irresistible will which leads men to that faith.74 According to Amyraut, God, in accordance with His first will, desired the salvation of the whole human race. God, he said, desired to give them redemption upon the condition of faith.75

God procured the necessary means of salvation by sending His own Son to die for their sins. Therefore, Christ’s death on the cross was universal. No one was excluded from its scope. All were invited to share in its fruits, provided they did not prove to be unworthy. However, the absolute will of God was of a different character. In accordance with that will, He determined to produce only in the elect the requisite faith for salvation.76

In conjunction with his teachings on the two wills of God, Amyraut advocated two decrees of God, a universal decree, in which God gave Christ as a Mediator for the whole human race and another decree in which He determined to give saving faith to a select number. In Amyraut’s teaching, God foresaw that no one would believe in His unaided strength, and therefore a special decree was required whereby God determined that some should receive the gift of faith.77 It is from these views that the notion of a hypothetical universalism has arisen. To put it in slightly different terms, Amyraut asserted that God willed by an antecedent decree that all men should be saved on condition of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, God sent Christ into the world to die for all men. However, foreseeing that men of themselves would not repent and believe, God by a subsequent decree elected to bestow His grace upon a select number. These and only these will actually be saved.78

Amyraut’s views have been summarized as follows:

1. Sin is the result of the darkening of the understanding.

2. God, moved by an earnest desire to save all mankind, decided to give in ransom His Son Jesus Christ, who died “equally for all men” and to make a universal offer of salvation to all men.

3. This offer is made sometimes more clearly, as when the gospel is preached; sometimes more obscurely, as in the case of the witness of nature to the heathen unreached by the gospel. Nevertheless God has predestined all men and every man unto salvation, provided they believe; and in nature there is sufficient presentation of the truth so that men may exercise faith if they will only do so.

4. Although man is not precluded from believing by any external constraint, his corruption has rendered him morally unable to accept God’s offer. It is therefore necessary that God Himself should produce faith in the hearts of those whom He has chosen to redeem.

5. This He does for the elect, by a supernatural enlightenment of mind or by sweet moral sausion, which leaves intact the operation of the will.79

It is worthwhile noting that Amyraut sought to steer a course between the Arminian position and that adopted by the Synod of Dort. He attempted to tone down what he perceived to be the severity of the Calvinism enunciated at Dort. This was also Davenant’s desire.


68. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore in any depth the development of this controversy within the Reformed Church of France. However, it will be necessary to touch briefly upon the work of John Cameron and Moises Amyraut but only for the purpose of identifying those things taught by Amyraut and his school.

69. Moise Amyraut, Treatise on Predestination, in George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement According to the Apostles (1870: Peabody, MA: Hendrikson, 1988), p. 540.

70. Ibid.; Some have suggested that early in his life Davenant came into contact with and was influenced by the Amyraldian heresy through contact with John Cameron. This is said to have occurred when Cameron became principal of Glasgow University. Cf. Hanko, Op. cit., p. 82; Daniel Kleyn, Davenant’s Amyraldianism (Grandville: Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches, 1994), p. 2. This contention has been challenged by George Ella. Cf. Ella, Op. cit., p.12.

One of the interesting assertions made by Ella is that Davenant could never have been tutored by Cameron. He bases this assertion on two reasons, namely, that Cameron taught at Bergues, Sedan, Bordeaux, Saumur and Glasgow, colleges which Davenant never attended. Secondly, he observes that the relative ages of Cameron (c. 1580-1626) and Davenant (1572-1641) would have precluded their having occupied the relationship of student and tutor.

The literature on the life of Davenant makes it doubtful that he was ever a student of Cameron.

71. Peter Bayle, The Dictionary (London, 134-38) Vol. 1, p. 261, speaking of Amyraut says:

He went to study at Saumur, under Cameron, who loved and esteemed him in a particular manner; and he was for a considerable time a Student in Divinity ... It was from him Mr. Amyraut had the doctrine of Universal Grace, which made so much noise in France ... Never was a scholar filled with greater Veneration for his Master, than Mr. Amyraut was for Cameron. It is said he imitated him even to the Tone of his Voice and a certain Motion of his Head;

Amyraut writing of Cameron (cited in Armstrong, Op. cit., p. 43.) says:

I declare to you that whatever little I am able to offer in the explanation of theology, I owe this, after the reading of Scripture, to the insights that this great man has taught me. And after the grace that God manifested in giving the knowledge of His saving truth, I bless Him particularly that He has allowed me the close fellowship of this man, who, beyond the other excellent gifts that he had (and everyone has his strengths and weaknesses in this life), I judge that in his time he has not been surpassed in that part of theology which consists in the understanding of the Bible.

72. Smeaton, Op. cit., p. 540.

73. Riger Nicole Moyse Amyraut: A Bibliography (Garland Publishing, Inc. New York & London, 1981), p. 9.

74. Armstrong, Op cit., pp. 158, 192.

75. Stephen Strehle, “Universal Grace and Amyraldianism” Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 51, Fall 1989, p. 348.

76. Ibid., p. 349.

77. Smeaton, p. 541.

78. Berkhof, Louis. The History of Christian Doctrines (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975), p. 188.

79. Roger Nicole, Moyse Amyraut: A Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1981), pp. 9-10. Others have also attempted to summarise the Amyraldian position. Cf. Universalism and the Reformed Churches. Op. cit., p. 36.

1. The motive impelling God to redeem men was benevolence, or love to men in general.
2. From this motive He sent His Son to make the salvation of all men possible.
3. God in virtue of a universal hypothetical decree, offers salvation to all men if they believe in Christ.
4. All men have a natural ability to repent and believe the gospel.
5. But as this natural ability was counteracted by a moral inability, God determined to give His efficacious grace to a certain number of the human race, and thus secure their salvation.

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