Reformed Theology

Order of Elective Decrees, Part 3

I promised last month to post some articles on the Order of Elective Decrees, and here’s the final entry, dealing with the topics of Amyraldism and Improved Amyraldism, or Baxterianism. The doctrine of Amyraldism, was formulated by Moise Amyraut, a French theologian who taught at the University of Saumur. A version of it was also held to by English Puritan Richard Baxter, who actually developed the theological framework separately from Amyraut, before he had ever read any of his works (see Timothy Beougher, Richard Baxter and Conversion: A Study of Puritan Concept of Becoming Christian).

Amyraldism can also be described as Four-Point Calvinism, or “hypothetical universalism.” Those who hold to this view hold to traditional reformed views regarding original sin, election, grace, and preservation. The atonement of Christ is only hypothetically universal, since it is efficacious for the elect alone. This is not the same as universal redemption, because Amyraldians know only the elect will be atoned for in the end. Amyraut believed God loved all men in general, but he gave a special, effectual grace to the elect to counteract their moral inability to believe. Amyraldism differs from the statements of most four-point Calvinists in that it is rooted firmly in God’s sovereign, unconditional election. Many people who deny the limited atonement are not so firmly founded in sovereign grace of God, so not everyone who claims to be a “four pointer” should be lumped into this category.

In the argument between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism, the distinction is not chronological, but logical, in the mind of God in eternity past. If Baxter and Amyraut are truly conceiving of hypothetical universalism in the order of decrees rather than in the mind of Christ while he died, then we have no issue. But Amyraldism is not just concerned with something logical in eternity past, but with the nature of the Atonement in its execution. This means that when we discuss Amyraldism vs. Infralapsarianism, the setting of the argument moves from eternity past in the mind of God, to ca. 33 A.D. in the mind of Christ on the cross.

The esteemed Puritan pastor Richard Baxter offers a modified form of Amyraldism, which has been called “Baxterianism”, or “Improved Amyraldism.” Unlike Amyraut, Baxter formulated most of his thoughts in terms of governmental or political method. Christ’s death on the cross not only atoned for the sins of the elect as their Savior, but it also purchased for him the right to reign over all mankind as their Lord. Timothy Beougher writes that his view is “in contrast to the strict Reformed understanding that God’s decree to give faith to the elect precedes his decree to send Christ to redeem them, and that therefore the atonement is limited to the elect.”

Again we see Baxter’s policical theory at work. In Baxter’s system it was critical that one maintain a universal atonement, for it was at the very cornerstone of God’s new design of Government: ‘He [Christ] hat laid the Foundation of his new right of Rectorship…God being minded to change the Government of the World, did lay the whole Foundation of the New Government in Christs Universal Redemption, even as he laid the Foundation of the Old Government, in the Creation of Man after his Image.’ …

Because Christ died for all, if any perish it is only because they did not take the remedy offered in Christ. (51)

So for Baxter, the incarnation and death of Christ was very much like the parable of the evil Tenants with Christ being the son who came to set things in order on behalf of his father, like a prince coming back to a kingdom left under the rule of a viceroy. (In this illustration, you may picture the Vineyard is the whole world, but consider that Calvin in his “Harmony of the Gospels” interprets the parable with the Vineyard as the church and the tenants as evil priests. My use of it here is for illustrative purposes only.)

The Helvetic Consensus was written to fight the Amyraldian teachings. Canon 6 states,

Wherefore, we can not agree with the opinion of those who teach: l) that God, moved by philanthropy, or a kind of special love for the fallen of the human race, did, in a kind of conditioned willing, first moving of pity, as they call it, or inefficacious desire, determine the salvation of all, conditionally, i.e., if they would believe, 2) that he appointed Christ Mediator for all and each of the fallen; and 3) that, at length, certain ones whom he regarded, not simply as sinners in the first Adam, but as redeemed in the second Adam, he elected, that is, he determined graciously to bestow on these, in time, the saving gift of faith; and in this sole act election properly so called is complete. For these and all other similar teachings are in no way insignificant deviations from the proper teaching concerning divine election; because the Scriptures do not extend unto all and each God’s purpose of showing mercy to man, but restrict it to the elect alone, the reprobate being excluded even by name, as Esau, whom God hated with an eternal hatred (Rom. 9:11). The same Holy Scriptures testify that the counsel and will of God do not change, but stand immovable, and God in the heavens does whatsoever he will (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 47:10); for God is infinitely removed from all that human imperfection which characterizes inefficacious affections and desires, rashness, repentance and change of purpose. The appointment, also, of Christ, as Mediator, equally with the salvation of those who were given to him for a possession and an inheritance that can not be taken away, proceeds from one and the same election, and does not form the basis of election.

God wills that things be as they are for his glory. He is infinitely free, and any sense of him binding himself to us, or making him perplexed or concerned about what we might do, we must avoid.

The reason I reject Amyraldism is that I believe the atonement was an actual paying of the penalty for those who were its objects. Think of it in judicial terms: once the debt for a crime has been satisfied, you cannot make someone pay for it again. Scripture tells us that the non-elect go to hell for all eternity as the wages of their sins. This means that their sins were not already paid for. Therefore, the atonement was not for them; Jesus did not pay the penalty for their sins or they would not be in hell.

B.B. Warfield’s Plan of Salvation:

It is impossible to contend that God intends the gift of his Son for all men alike and equally and at the same time intends that it shall not actually save all but only a select body which he himself provides for it. The schematization of the order of decrees presented by the Amyraldians, in a word, necessarily implies a chronological relation of precedence and subsequence among the decrees, the assumption of which abolishes God, and this can be escaped only by altering the nature of the atonement.

Salvation is monergistic. Everything God does in the Plan of Salvation, he does according to his purpose, with ultimate, supreme sovereignty, and His purpose will stand. The sending of Christ to atone, and the sending of the Spirit to apply saving grace, and the keeping of his own hand to hold us firmly and preserve us forever, all proceed “from one and the same election.” The objects of each of these are all the same: the sheep of which the Good Shepherd will lose none.

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