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Amyraldianism is the system of Reformed theology propounded by the French theologian Moise Amyraut and associates at the Saumur Academy in the seventeenth century. Its distinctive teachings vis-a-vis other systems (e.g., orthodox Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism) focused on the doctrines of grace, predestination, and the intent of the atonement.

Fundamentally Amyraut took issue with contemporary Calvinists who shaped their system of theology around the decree of predestination. The entire body of divinity in much of seventeenth century Reformed theology was subsumed under the doctrines of sovereign election and reprobation. Amyraut insisted that the chief doctrine of Christian theology is not predestination but the faith which justifies. Commitment to justification by faith as the overarching theme denoted a theology as truly reformational. Moreover, Amyraut rightly argued that Calvin discussed predestination not under the doctrine of God but following the mediation of salvation blessings by the Holy Spirit. For Amyraut predestination is an inscrutable mystery, which offers an explanation of the fact that some accept Christ whereas others reject him.

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Amyraut also developed a system of covenant theology alternative to the twofold covenant of works, covenant of grace schema propounded by much of Reformed orthodoxy. The Saumur school postulated a threefold covenant, viewed as three successive steps in God's saving program unfolded in history. First, the covenant of nature established between God and Adam involved obedience to the divine law disclosed in the natural order. Second, the covenant of law between God and Israel focused on adherence to the written law of Moses. And finally the covenant of grace established between God and all mankind requires faith in the finished work of Christ. In Amyraldianism the covenant of grace was further divided into two parts: a conditional covenant of particular grace. For actualization the former required fulfillment of the condition of faith. The latter, grounded in God's good pleasure, does not call for the condition of faith; rather it creates faith in the elect.

Amyraut's covenant theology, particularly his division of the covenant of grace into a universal conditional covenant and particularly undiconditional covenant, provided the basis for the unique feature of Amyraldianism, namely, the doctrine of hypothetical universal predestination. According to Amyraut there exists a twofold will of God in predestination, a universal and conditional will, and a particular and unconditional will. Concerning the first, Amyraut taught that God wills the salvation of all people on the condition that they believe. This universal, conditional will of God is revealed dimly in nature but clearly in the gospel of Christ. Implicit in this first will is the claim that if a person does not believe, God has not, in fact, willed his or her salvation. Without the accomplishment of the condition (i.e., faith) the salvation procured by Christ is of no avail. Amyraut based his doctrine of hypothetical universal predestination on such biblical texts as Ezek. 18:23; John 3:16; and 2 Pet. 3:9.

Amyraut contended that although man possesses the natural faculties (i.e., intellect and will) by which to respond to God's universal offer of grace, he in fact suffers from moral inability due to the corrupting effects of sin upon the mind. Thus unless renewed by the Holy Spirit the sinner is unable to come to faith. Precisely at this point God's particular, unconditional will, which is hidden in the councils of the Godhead, comes to bear. Since no sinner is capable of coming to Christ on his own, God in grace wills to create faith and to save some while in justice he wills to reprobate others. Amyraut underscored the fact that God's particular, unconditional will to save is hidden and inscrutable. Finite man cannot know it. Hence the creature must not engage in vain speculation about God's secret purposes of election and reprobation. In practice the Christian preacher must not ask the question whether a given individual is elect or reprobate.

Rather he must preach Christ as the Savior of the world and call for faith in his sufficient work. Only the universal, conditional will of God is the legitimate object of religious contemplation. Amyraldianism thus involves a purely ideal universalism together with a real particularism.

The issue of the intent or extent of Christ's atonement is implicit in the foregoing discussion. Amyraldianism postulated a universalist design in the atonement and a particular application of its benefits. The salvation wrought by Christ was destined for all persons equally. Christ legitimately died for all. Nevertheless only the elect actually come into the enjoyment of salvation blessings. Amyraldianism thus upheld the formula: "Jesus Christ died for all men sufficiently, but only for the elect efficiently."

Amyraut believed that his teachings on the twofold will of God and twofold intent of the atonement were derived from Calvin himself. He viewed his theology as a corrective to much of seventeenth century Calvinism, which denied the universal, conditional will of God in its preoccupation with the unconditional decree. And he disputed with Arminianism, which failed to see that a person's salvation was effectively grounded in the absolute purpose of God conceived on the basis of his own sovereign pleasure. And finally Amyraldianism provided a rapprochement with Lutheranism and its interest in justification by faith and the universality of Christ's atoning work. Some later Reformed theologians such as Charles Hodge, W G T Shedd, and B B Warfield insisted that Amyraldianism was an inconsistent synthesis of Arminianism and Calvinism. Others, however, such as H Heppe, R Baxter, S Hopkins, A H Strong, and L S Chafer maintained that it represents a return to the true spirit of Holy Scripture.

B A Demarest
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

B G Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy; R B Kuyper, For Whom Did Christ Die?; B B Warfield, The Plan of Salvation; Encylopedia of Christianity, I.


Additional Information

(We received the following two texts from Dr. Alan C. Clifford, an author who has published works on Amyraldianism. These two texts are letters in response to inquiries on Amyraldianism, which we feel are enlightening.)


The Editor, English Churchman
6 June 2000

Sir, - In an otherwise valuable sermon (parts of which I thank him for), the Revd Edward J. Malcolm has supplied some highly flawed information ('The Death of Christ', The Journal, May 2000, pp. 23-8). I refer to his dubious assessment of Amyraldianism. Concerned to reaffirm John Calvin's authentic teaching in the face of ultra-orthodox 'high' Calvinism', the French Reformed theologian, Mo´se Amyraut (1596-1664) also distanced himself from semi-Pelagian Arminianism. His concern was to avoid unbiblical extremism. Had his teaching been as compatible with Rome's as is suggested, the Edict of Nantes (1598) might possibly have stood. It was revoked by Louis XIV (in 1685) precisely because of the continuing incompatibilities between the Reformed churches and Rome! The internal Reformed debates over the extent of the atonement had nothing to do with it (for further information, see my book Calvinus: Authentic Calvinism, A Clarification).

As for the Huguenot refugees who settled in this country [England], those who agreed with Amyraut simply reinforced the original sixteenth-century 'Anglican Calvinism' of the Prayer Book and the Thirty-nine Articles (see Arts. 2, 15 and 31). Notwithstanding clear teaching on predestination (see Art. 17), the doctrine of limited atonement is as alien to Reformation Anglicanism as it is to the teaching of Amyraut and Calvin. In the seventeenth century, scholastic influences in Reformed theology affected this country as well as France. Thus the 'over-orthodox' distorted Calvinism of Dr John Owen and many (but not all) of the Westminster divines was rejected by Richard Baxter and others. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the balanced biblicism of Calvin, the other Reformers, Amyraut and Baxter was maintained by the Nonconformists Matthew Henry, Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge, and the Anglicans John Newton, Charles Simeon and Bishop Ryle. While I regret Ryle's espousal of episcopacy, his authentic Calvinism is unquestionably on target! According to this view of the New Testament, while ultimately only the elect effectually partake of salvation, the universally designed and sufficient atonement of Christ makes the gospel available to the whole world. This is true Christianity and true Calvinism!

A C Clifford


The Editor, English Churchman
3 July 2000

Sir, - Dr George Ella asks me, "Which Anglican reformer did not believe in limited atonement?" Apart from John Bradford who clearly did, several may be listed.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer stated that Christ 'by His own oblation...satisfied His Father for all men's sins and reconciled mankind unto His grace and favour...' Bishop John Hooper affirmed that Christ died 'for the love of us poor and miserable sinners, whose place he occupied upon the cross, as a pledge, or one that represented the person of all the sinners that ever were, be now, or shall be unto the world's end.' Bishop Nicholas Ridley declared that the sacrifice of Christ 'was, is, and shall be forever the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.' Bishop Hugh Latimer preached that 'Christ shed as much blood for Judas, as he did for Peter: Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe, and therefore he was condemned.' Even Bradford admitted that 'Christ's death is sufficient for all, but effectual for the elect only.' The Elizabethan Anglicans were no different in their understanding. Bishop John Jewel wrote that, on the cross, Christ declared "It is finished" to signify 'that the price and ransom was now full paid for the sin of all mankind.' Elsewhere, he made clear that 'The death of Christ is available for the redemption of all the world...' Richard Hooker stated an identical view when he said that Christ's 'precious and propitiatory sacrifice' was 'offered for the sins of all the world...' (Parker Society details witheld to save space).

As for Amyraut's supposed semi-Pelagian denial of the Canons of Dordt, Dr Ella is simply misinformed. The French Reformed professor specifically affirmed the teaching of Dordt at the National Synod of Alenšon (1637), his orthodoxy being confirmed in his 'Defensio doctrinae J. Calvini' (1641). As for the canons themselves, they are more moderate than many realise. Indeed, the word 'limited' nowhere appears, thus making the mnemonic TULIP rather doubtful! They state that 'death of the Son of God is...abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world...many perish in unbelief [not] because of any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ...but through their own fault...the saving efficacy of the most precious death of [God's] Son...extend[s] to all the elect' (Second Canon, Arts. 3, 6, 8).

The Revd Edward Malcolm virtually concedes that Articles XV and XXXI are universalist when he admits that the compilers 'are merely quoting Scripture'. He then charges with having a 'preconception' those who take them in their natural sense! If he thinks this is an Arminian view, the Anglican Clement Barksdale objected in 1653 that 'You are mistaken when you think the doctrine of Universal Redemption Arminianism. It was the doctrine of the Church of England before Arminius was born. We learn it out of the old Church Catechism: 'I believe in Jesus Christ, who hath redeemed me and all mankind.' And the Church hath learned it out of the plain scripture, where Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.' Richard Baxter surely hit the nail on the head when he wrote, 'When God saith so expressly that Christ died for all [2 Cor. 5:14-15], and tasted death for every man [Heb. 2:9], and is the ransom for all [1 Tim. 2:6], and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world [1 Jn. 2:2], it beseems every Christian rather to explain in what sense Christ died for all, than flatly to deny it.' As for Mr Malcolm's citation of Calvin's seeming support for limited atonement, his partial quotation of this isolated statement ignores the fact that the reformer is discussing the implications of the Lutheran theory of consubstantiation rather than the extent of the atonement. Numerous other statements are consistently universalist (see my 'Calvinus').

Before the Revd Peter Howe gets too excited by Carl Trueman's 'The Claims of Truth', he should know that the author - apart from resorting to the kind of triviality mentioned - misunderstands and misrepresents my case against Dr John Owen's scholastic high Calvinism (as my forthcoming reply will make clear). Dr Trueman actually admits that Owen did not rely on the sola scriptura principle in his theological polemics, a point which rightly disturbed Ewan Wilson (see his EC review, June 4, 1999). Since he disclaims any attempt to decide whether Owen is right or wrong, the title of Dr Trueman's book is a misnomer. It should be 'The Claims of Scholasticism.' Owen's Aristotelian rationalism also ruins the exegesis of John 3:16. He tampers with the text in a manner Calvin would anathematise. As for C. H. Spurgeon's sermon 'Particular Redemption', the same doubtful exegesis emerges. On the other hand, Bishop Ryle - rightly described by Spurgeon as 'the best man in the Church of England' - handled Scripture with greater integrity. Having little sympathy for Arminianism, Ryle was equally aware of the threat posed by high Calvinism. Commenting on John 1:29, he wrote that 'Christ's death is profitable to none but to the elect who believe on His name...But...I dare not say that no atonement has been made, in any sense, except for the elect...When I read that the wicked who are lost, "deny the Lord that bought them," (2 Pet. 2:1) and that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," (2 Cor. 5:19), I dare not confine the intention of redemption to the saints alone. Christ is for every man.' Commenting on John 3:16 and appealing to Bishop Davenant, Calvin and others, he concludes: 'Those who confine God's love exclusively to the elect appear to me to take a narrow and contracted view of God's character and attributes....I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system' (Expository Thoughts on John's Gospel, Vol. 1). In short, all that Christ is and did was for all mankind conditionally though for the elect effectually. Mr Howe will be pleased to know that this truly biblical Calvinism motivates Norwich Reformed Church to reach out to the people of the city every Saturday through its all-weather, all-season, city-centre evangelistic bookstall.

A C Clifford

A C Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790 - An Evaluation (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1990); A C Clifford, Calvinus: Authentic Calvinism, A Clarification (Charenton Reformed Publishing, 1996); A C Clifford, Sons of Calvin: Three Huguenot Pastors (Charenton Reformed Publishing, 1999)

See also:
Writings of John Calvin Which Support Amyraldianism

Also, see:
Soteriological Ordering. Various Attitudes

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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