According to the common doctrine of Augustinians, as expressed in the Westminster Catechism, “God, having … elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.” In opposition to this view some of the Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century introduced the scheme which is known in the history of theology as the doctrine of hypothetical redemption. The principal advocate of this doctrine was Amyraut (died 1664), Professor in the French Protestant Seminary at Saumur. He taught, (1.) That 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 decretum universale hypotheticum, offers salvation to all men if they believe in Christ. (4.) All men have a natural ability to repent and believe. (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 to secure their salvation.
This scheme is sometimes designated as “universalismus hypotheticus.” It was designed to take a middle ground between Augustinianism and Arminianism. It is liable to the objections which press on both systems. It does not remove the peculiar difficulties of Augustinianism, as it asserts the sovereignty of God in election. Besides, it leaves the case of the heathen out of view. They, having no knowledge of Christ, could not avail themselves of this decretum hypotheticum, and therefore must be considered as passed over by a decretum absolutum. It was against this doctrine of Amyraut and other departures from the standards of the Reformed Church that, in 1675, the “Formula Consensus Helvetica” was adopted by the churches of Switzerland. This theory of the French theologians soon passed away as far as the Reformed churches in Europe were concerned. Its advocates either returned to the old doctrine, or passed on to the more advanced system of the Arminians. In this country it has been revived and extensively adopted.
At first view it might seem a small matter whether we say that election precedes redemption or that redemption precedes election. In fact, however, it is a question of great importance. The relation of the truths of the Bible is determined by their nature. If you change their relation you must change their nature. If you regard the sun as a planet instead of as the centre of our system you must believe it to be something very different in its constitution from what it actually is. So in a scheme of thought, if you make the final cause a means, or a means the final cause, nothing but confusion can be the result…
1. It supposes mutability in the divine purposes; or that the purpose of God may fail of accomplishment. According to this scheme, God, out of benevolence or philanthropy, purposed the salvation of all men, and sent his Son for their redemption. But seeing that such purpose could not be carried out, He determined by his efficacious grace to secure the salvation of a certain portion of the human race. This difficulty the scheme involves, however it may be stated. It cannot however be supposed that God intends what is never accomplished; that He purposes what He does not intend to effect; that He adopts means for an end which is never to be attained. This cannot be affirmed of any rational being who has the wisdom and power to secure the execution of his purposes. Much less can it be said of Him whose power and wisdom are infinite. If all men are not saved, God never purposed their salvation, and never devised and put into operation means designed to accomplish that end. We must assume that the result is the interpretation of the purposes of God. If He foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, then events correspond to his purposes; and it is against reason and Scripture to suppose that there is any contradiction or want of correspondence between what He intended and what actually occurs. The theory, therefore, which assumes that God purposed the salvation of all men, and sent his Son to die as a means to accomplish that end, and then seeing, or foreseeing that such end could not or would not be attained, elected a part of the race to be the subjects of efficacious grace, cannot be admitted as Scriptural.
2. The Bible clearly teaches that the work of Christ is certainly efficacious. It renders certain the attainment of the end it was designed to accomplish. It was intended to save his people, and not merely to make the salvation of all men possible. It was a real satisfaction to justice, and therefore necessarily frees from condemnation. It was a ransom paid and accepted, and therefore certainly redeems. If, therefore, equally designed for all men, it must secure the salvation of all. If designed specially for the elect, it renders their salvation certain, and therefore election precedes redemption. God, as the Westminster Catechism teaches, having elected some to eternal life, sent his Son to redeem them.
3. The Scriptures further teach that the gift of Christ secures the gift of all other saving blessings. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32.) Hence they are certainly saved for whom God delivered up his Son. The elect only are saved, and therefore He was delivered up specially for them, and consequently election must precede redemption. The relation, therefore, of redemption to election is as clearly determined by the nature of redemption as the relation of the sun to the planets is determined by the nature of the sun.
4. The Bible in numerous passages directly asserts that Christ came to redeem his people; to save them from their sins; and to bring them to God. He gave Himself for his Church; He laid down his life for his sheep. As the end precedes the means, if God sent his Son to save his people, if Christ gave Himself for his Church, then his people were selected and present to the divine mind, in the order of thought, prior to the gift of Christ.
5. If, as Paul teaches (Rom. 8:29, 30), foreknowledge precedes predestination, and if the mission of Christ is the means of accomplishing the end of predestination, then of necessity predestination to eternal life precedes the gift of Christ. Having, as we are taught in Eph. 1:4, 5, predestinated us to the adoption of sons, God chose us before the foundation of the world, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This is the order of the divine purposes, or the mutual relation of the truths of redemption as presented in the Scriptures.
6. The motive (so to speak) of God in sending his Son is not, as this theory assumes, general benevolence or that love of which all men are equally the objects, but that peculiar, mysterious, infinite love in which God, in giving his Son, gives Himself and all conceivable and possible good. All these points, however, as before remarked, ask for further consideration when we come to treat of the nature and design of Christ’s work.
—Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 321–24.