Universalism and Arminianism at Odds

, posted by

The theology of Moises Amyraut (1596-1664) should not be overlooked, for the simple reason that Amyraldianism (sometimes referred to as four-point Calvinism) was another departure from or reformation of Classical Calvinism.

Amyraut believed that he was the accurate interpreter of Calvin and that the high or strict Calvinists (supralapsarians) were to be blamed for the “Arminian error.” Brian Armstrong shares Amyraut’s thoughts on predestination when he writes:

    • The usual approach to Amyraut’s doctrine of predestination has been to summarize his

Brief Traitte

    • , singling out the doctrines which are at variance with the teaching of Calvinist orthodoxy.

In this way his distinctive teachings relating to this doctrine have been set forth. And the discussions have centered on the problem of the so-called “hypothetical universalism,” for no one has missed his insistence that Christ’s sacrifice was egalement pour tous, that “the salvation that he has received from his Father in order to communicate it to men in the sanctification of the Spirit and in the glorification of the body is destined equally for all. . . .”

Nor has anyone missed his equal insistence that this universal offer was conditional, that God “has necessarily affixed the condition to it, that of believing in His Son,” that “these words God wills the salvation of all men necessarily meets with this limitation, provided that they believe. If they do not believe, He does not will it, this will of making the grace of salvation universal and common to all men being in such a way conditional that without the accomplishment of the condition it is completely inefficacious.”

But at the same time it has also been recognized that Amyraut taught a doctrine of absolute [unconditional] predestination. It has been noticed that alongside his teaching that Christ died equally for all men on condition of faith he taught that our participation in salvation “depends absolutely on this — that God employs His mercy with perfect liberty and concerning which we cannot seek out any cause other than His will:” that “there is no cause whatever in men for this diversity of the favor of God toward them. . . .”1

Amyraut (and all who follow his theology) was seeking to strike a balance between the Synod of Dort and the Arminians, as well as to maintain what he saw explicitly taught in Scripture: that God has unconditionally elected to save some, yet has offered salvation to the whole world. By their very nature, Amyraldians do not mind living with this theological tension. Calvinists and Arminians refuse to live with such tension, believing that there are answers in Scripture as to how God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free will works together — the latter denying exhaustive determinism as unbiblical, and the former denying libertarian free will.

It would, however, be inaccurate to assume that Calvinists deny free will in every sense (though there are certainly exceptions), and that Arminians deny God’s sovereignty (though they certainly deny that God meticulously directs the evil choices people make). Yet, how these two camps define those terms differ.

Amyraut has demonstrated something magnanimous, however. Arminius was not the only one in Reformation Church history to protest Beza’s supralapsarianism and the Synod of Dort’s high Calvinism (though the Dortians compromised with Infralapsarianism). Naturally, both men were considered heretics by the overly-zealous, high or strict Calvinists of the seventeenth century.

What is peculiar about Amyraut was his insistence that he alone aptly interpreted Calvin. If that were true, then it would appear that all other Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists, and true, theological hyper-Calvinists are something entirely different. I do not believe, however, that this is so. I think Beza interpreted Calvin rightly.

Moreover, some Calvinists want to label Amyraldianism as a modified Arminianism, but that will not do at all. Though there are two points with which they both agree (Total Depravity and Unlimited Atonement), Arminians could never admit that God has unconditionally elected to save one person and not another founded merely on an eternal decree. The person God will not save is the person who will not trust Christ Jesus. John writes: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36 NKJV). Also, “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21 NKJV).

But what about this matter of hypothetical universalism? I have heard and read this charge against Arminianism. Someone said to me, “You Arminians believe that Universalism is a possibility.” Thus Arminians are charged with believing that all people could have, hypothetically, been saved — it was at least a possibility. Whosoever will believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that God raised Him from the dead, can and will be saved by this continued faith in Him (Rom. 10:9-10). This is what Scripture explicitly teaches.

The only nature of the hypothetical here is grounded in the extent to whom it is offered: whosoever. This is more than a mere hypothetical. Anyone can be saved. The complications come when we debate about possibilities. From God’s omniscient perspective, there is no hypothetical universalism (dismissing the error of Open Theism, and Molinism’s view of possible worlds, we are concerned with what God knows will inevitably come to pass). Since God knows all who will and will not be saved, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then there can be no actual theology of universalism.

Even from our finite perspective, we know that universalism is not a possibility, because Jesus said that “there are few who find” the narrow gate which leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). Christ’s command to everyone is to enter “through the narrow gate,” but only few will — most people will follow the broad path which leads to hell.

You may ask, Then why must we say that Christ Jesus died for all people, since all people cannot and will not be saved? We must confess that Christ died for all people because Scripture explicitly teaches such (cf. John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2). We must admit that Christ died for all people because Scripture explicitly teaches that it was God’s intention to reconcile all people to Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:19), and to offer eternal life with Him through faith in Christ to all (John 3:16-17), who through the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:11-17) will trust solely in Him, having been completely and personally and experientially reconciled unto God once faith is placed in Jesus.

We must also confess that Christ died for all people because Scripture explicitly indicates that God will hold every person responsible on the Day of Reckoning (Acts 17:30-31). No one will be able to blame God for his or her eternal destiny in hell, because He offered them life through faith in Christ Jesus’ sacrifice (Rom. 3:21-26), through the instrumental power and message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:11-17), and graciously enabled them to believe in Him (John 6:44-45). No one will be able to say to God, I did not believe on Christ because You did not unconditionally elect me unto faith and salvation, and Christ Jesus did not die for me. The sinner is wrong on both counts.

The responsibility to believe in Christ belongs to the sinner, and the responsibility to spread the gospel belongs to the believer, because the Holy Spirit uses both in convicting sinners of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11).

1 Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 169-170.