Packer: Owen Wrote Death Of Death Against Amyraut, Arminius, And An Anglican

The Death of Death is a solid book, made up of detailed exposition and close argument, and requires hard study, as Owen fully realised; a cursory glance will not yield much. (“READER…. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again—thou has had thy entertainment; farewell!”) Owen felt, however, that he had a right to ask for hard study, for his book was a product of hard work (“a more than seven-years’ serious inquiry…into the mind of God about these things, with a serious perusal of all which I could attain that the wit of man, in former or latter days, hath published in opposition to the truth”), and he was sure in his own mind that a certain finality attached to what he had written. (“Altogether hopeless of success I am not; but fully resolved that I shall not live to see a solid answer given unto it.”) Time has justified his optimism.

Something should be said about his opponents. He is writing against three variations on the theme of universal redemption: that of classical Arminianism, noted earlier; that of the theological faculty at Saumur (the position known as Amyraldism, after its leading exponent); and that of Thomas More, a lay theologian of East Anglia. The second of these views originated with a Scots professor at Saumur, John Cameron; it was taken up and developed by two of his pupils, Amyraut (Amyraldus) and Testard, and became the occasion of a prolonged controversy in which Amyraut, Daillé and Blondel were opposed by Rivet, Spanheim and Des Marets (Maresius). The Saumur position won some support among Reformed divines in Britain, being held in modified form by (among others) Bishops Usher and Davenant, and Richard Baxter. None of these, however, had advocated it in print at the time when Owen wrote.

Goold’s summary of the Saumur position may be quoted. “Admitting that, by the purpose of God, and through the death of Christ, the elect are infallibly secured in the enjoyment of salvation, they contended for an antecedent decree, by which God is free to give salvation to all men through Christ, on the condition that they believe on him. Hence their system was termed hypothetic[al] universalism. The vital difference between it and the strict Arminian theory lies in the absolute security asserted in the former for the spiritual recovery of the elect. They agree, however, in attributing some kind of universality to the atonement, and in maintaining that, on a certain condition, within the reach of fulfilment by all men…all men have access to the benefits of Christ’s death.” From this, Goold continues, “the readers of Owen will understand…why he dwells with peculiar keenness and reiteration of statement upon a refutation of the conditional system…. It was plausible; it had many learned men for its advocates; it had obtained currency in the foreign churches; and it seems to have been embraced by More.”

—J. I. Packer, Introductory Essay to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I have read through Death of Death several times, and it is, indeed, tough sledding, but worthwhile.

    Pastor Ron Beabout
    Trinity Reformed Church (OPC)
    Gaithersburg, Maryland

  2. The only Thomas More, theologian I can find either on Wikipedia or by googling, was indeed a layman, but was neither an Anglican, nor from East Anglia. Furthermore, I find it difficult to fit him into what Packer says about him. Can you please educate me a little about the one I can’t find?

  3. Dr. Clark,

    How close was the hypothetical universalism of Ussher and Davenant to that of Amyraut? Also, what do you make of Dr. Muller’s statement in his essay on Amyraut in “Theology of the French Reformed Churches” when he says, “Set into his context, Moise Amyraut ought to be identified as a thinker representative of one particular branch of Reformed orthodoxy. His controversies over hypothetical universalism and universal grace, albeit bitter, did not place him outside the bounds of confessional orthodoxy” (p. 216)? Many thanks for your labors.

    • Neil,

      Cannot comment on Ussher. I’m still working on it.

      I’m not convinced by Richard’s argument that Amyraut was just another orthodox French Reformed theologian. His theology was too controversial. That the French were unable or unwilling to condemn him says something about the the relative weakness of the French churches in the mid-17th century and perhaps about the politics of the age. Amyraut was difficult to understand—though Turretin and Heidegger figured him out well enough. I think the picture was clearer by the end of the 17th century than it was in the middle. By that time, however, the churches were in trouble across the board. The window of opportunity to reject his revisions came and went. Still working on Davenant too. I think his views are related but probably not identical to Amyraut’s.

Comments are closed.