Canons Of Dort (19): Unconditional Atonement

In 1611, Franciscus Gormarus (1563–1641), one of the principals in the controversy surrounding Arminius resigned his position in the theology faculty in the University of Leiden. He was frustrated by the fact that after Arminius’ death, the governors of the University had appointed Conrad Vorstius (1569–1622), whom Gomarus suspected of being a Socinian. They professed to believe Scripture but interpreted it in such a way as to deny the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and the Trinity among other things. Their method of interpretation and theology has been correctly called “biblicism.” It was not that they followed Scripture but that they proposed to read the Bible as if no one had ever done it before. They rejected the ancient ecumenical creeds (e.g., the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, the Athanasian Creed) and they rejected the Protestant confessions. Further, underneath their biblicism lay rationalism, the elevation of reason over Scripture. It is worth knowing a bit about the Socinians since there are many erstwhile evangelicals and even some who identify as Reformed who share some of their convictions and methods. Despite his assertions of his orthodoxy, the Synod of Dort condemned him and banished him from the Dutch Republic.

From Leiden Gomarus went to Middleburg where he served as minister of the congregation and gave theological lectures for four years until he went to Saumur, where he taught from 1615–18. His successor, however, marked in important ways, a sharp departure from Gomarus’ theology. John Cameron (c. 1579–1625) taught in Saumur from 1618–20 and again in 1623. He developed a doctrine of salvation that argued that God the Spirit does not regenerate the human will in the way that the Augustinian and Reformed theologians and churches had hitherto taught. It was more a matter of moral persuasion than a realistic renewal of the will. Cameron, along with Moïses Amyraut (1596–1644) and Josué La Place (1596–1665) taught, according to B. B. Warfield (Works, 5.364–65)

…that election succeeds, in the order of thought, not merely the decree of the fall but that of redemption as well, taking the term redemption here in the narrower sense of the impetration of redemption by Christ. They thus suppose that in His electing decree God conceived man not merely as fallen but as already redeemed. This involves a modified doctrine of the atonement from which the party has received the name of Hypothetical Universalism, holding as it does that Christ died to make satisfaction for the sins of all men without exception if—if, that is, they believe: but that, foreseeing that none would believe, God elected some to be granted faith through the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit.

In short, the Hypothetical Universalists removed the limit from the atonement and pushed it back a step to the application of redemption. This allowed them to say that “Christ died for all men and every man” (to use the language of the Remonstrants). One reason to adopt such language was to appease the Lutherans, since some held out hope through at least part of the 17th century of some kind of a reunion (so Nicholas Fornerod, “A Reappraisal of the Genevan Delegation,” in Revisiting the Synod of Dort, 213). Another was that such language was said to give a better account of some passages of Scripture.

Well before the Amyraldian Controversy broke out in Saumur, however, there were Reformed theologians, including at least two delegates to the Synod of Dort, who were toying with alternative language concerning the atonement. In his 1627 Dissertation on the Death of Christ John Davenant (1572–1641) argued for a kind of hypothetical universalism. Davenant apparently held some version of this view while he was a delegate to Dort. His colleague, Samuel Ward (1572–43) also held some version of this position. I say “some version” because even in Davenant’s Dissertation it thesis is not always entirely clear. As a teacher, should a student have submitted this as a Master’s Thesis I should have returned it with a demand that he state unequivocally his position and clearly contrast it with other views. Still, he agreed with the Synod of Dort (more on this in a moment) that the inherent dignity and power of the atonement was sufficient for the sins of all men and every man. He repeatedly argued that Christ’s death was “applicable” to all men. He argued more than this, however. There is a sense, he argued, in which Christ may be said to have died for all men but that he did not actually obtain salvation for all. The limit then is not in the atonement but in the will of God to apply salvation to all. God, he argued, has not determined to apply the work of Christ to all. That Christ died for all is the necessary foundation to the universal offer of the gospel (see e.g., pp. 344–45). He used the analogy of a physician offering salvation to a plague ravaged village. The medicine is efficacious but the villagers must be willing to take the medicine. If they refuse the fault is not with the physician nor with the medicine.

A few years after Davenant’s Dissertation Amyraut would argue in his Brief Treatise (1531), as Turretin summarized it, that “Christ died conditionally for each and every one and absolutely only for the elect” (Institutes, 14.14.7) Davenant and Amyraut were on a continuum of hypothetical universalism. They applied a twofold distinction in the divine decree (the absolute will of God and the antecedent will of God) to the atonement and they made the atonement conditional. Christ died for all to make salvation possible but he died “for you” if you believe.

It is fashionable in some circles now to argue that because Davenant and Ward were delegates to the Synod of Dort and because no French synod ever succeeded in condemning Amyraut (never mind the religious and civil politics in France in the early to mid-17th century)  therefore hypothetical universalism is a view within the pale of Reformed orthodoxy and evidence of the diversity within orthodox Reformed theology. So fashionable has Davenant become that an organization based in Moscow, ID and closely associated with the de facto head of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches and one of the more prominent Federal Visionists has named themselves after him.

Of course the argument for the orthodoxy of Cameron, Davenant, and Amyraut is circumstantial and from silence, i.e., from what did not happen. The ecclesiastical prosecution of theological error is quite difficult. From a historical perspective, the Synod of Dort itself might never have happened. There was a small window during which it was able to take place. Had the orthodox missed that window, had Prince Maurice not been allied with them and willing to work around the States General, there might well be writers today touting Arminius’ credentials as an orthodox Reformed theologian who was controversial but who was never prosecuted for his views. The same has been argued of Norman Shepherd today. He flatly contradicted the Word of God as confessed by the Reformed churches by teaching justification “through faith and works.” Nevertheless, quite remarkably he was never successfully in any church court and retired as a minister in good standing. Still it would be grossly misleading to say that, absent a formal prosecution, his views are therefore orthodox. So it is with a conditional doctrine of the atonement or “universal grace” or hypothetical universalism.

The views of Cameron, Amyraut, LaPlace et al were rejected by many orthodox theologians in the period. It was explicitly and thoroughly rejected in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675) which was adopted by the Swiss Churches until it was revoked under the influence of a broadening, latitudinarian evangelical movement in the first quarter of the 18th century. John Owen rejected it. Of course Heidegger and Turretin rejected it as did Friedrich Spanheim, the Rivet brothers and many others. Warfield’s judgment “This modification [hypothetical universalism] also received the condemnation of the contemporary Reformed world…” (Works, 5.363) is surely correct. Certainly it would be surprise to see one articulating hypothetical universalism sustained as a candidate for the ministry in a NAPARC denomination or federation.

Leading up to Synod and at Synod itself, the Remonstrants, of course, argued not for a hypothetical universalism but for a universal atonement. Christ, they argued, died “for all men and every man.” So the hypothetical universalism of Davenant and Ward might be considered a sort of mediating view, between that adopted by the Synod and that of the Remonstrants. Both the Remonstrants and the Hypothetical Universalists make the atonement conditional. Davenant, however, still held that the Spirit grants faith to the elect to receive the benefit of the atonement. For the Remonstrants, we have it within ourselves, by common grace, to believe and to appropriate the benefit of the atonement. In neither case, however, is the atonement said to be unconditional. In that neither the hypothetical universal view nor the Remonstrant view agree with the Canons of Dort.

Who teach: That Christ neither could die, nor needed to die, and also did not die, for those whom God loved in the highest degree and elected to eternal life, since these do not need the death of Christ. For they contradict the apostle, who declares, Christ “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Likewise: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died” (Rom 8:33-34), namely, for them; and the Savior who says: “I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:15). And: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13) (CD, RE 2.7)

In their rejection of errors the Reformed Churches explicitly rejected the Remonstrant criticism that unconditional election makes the atonement superfluous. They re-constructed the doctrine of the atonement so as to make conditional election and conditional atonement of the essence of the faith. For the Reformed, it is of the essence of the faith to say: “Christ loved me and gave himself for me ” (Gal 2:20). On the premise of a universal atonement, whether hypothetical (Davenant) or absolute (Remonstrants), one cannot say that “Christ love <em>me</em> and gave himself for <em>me</em>. The premise of Paul’s comfort is that Christ knew him personally, came for him personally, intentionally, and acted as his substitute personally. On any sort of universal view of the atonement, Christ died for all to make salvation possible for all under certain conditions. Under the Reformed view, as confessed at Dort, it was the intention of the Father and the Son that the Son should accomplish redemption for those whom the Father gave to the Son, for whom the Son came as a substitute and a Mediator. It was the eternal will of the Holy Spirit efficaciously and infallibly to apply that redeeming work to those for whom Christ died. Christ died to justify his elect. All those for whom he died are justified. There are those who are not justified and who never will be justified, therefore Christ did not die for them. Christ laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:15). There are goats (e.g., Judas) for whom Christ did not lay down his life. Therefore the atonement was not universal.

Thus, Synod taught positively:

‪Art. IX. This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has, from the beginning of the world to this day, been powerfully accomplished, and will, henceforward, still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell; so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a Church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love and faithfully serve him as their Saviour, who, as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross; and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity.

Christ did not die in order to create the mere possibility or the potential of salvation. He died to accomplish salvation. On any sort of universalist view of the atonement, Christ cannot be said to have accomplished salvation. At best he may be said to have facilitated salvation. On a hypothetical view, the Spirit becomes the one who accomplishes salvation insofar as salvation is postponed until it is actualized by the regenerate, through faith. The Reformed would rather say that salvation was accomplished and it is appropriated or received through faith alone. On the Remonstrant view, salvation is always in doubt because it is always conditioned upon our faith (which, they argued, is imputed to us for righteousness), upon our obedient cooperation with grace, and our perseverance. In short: in the Remonstrant scheme, one is never saved until after the final judgment because apostasy, as the Federal Visionists confess, is a “terrifying reality” for many “baptized Christians,” who, they confess really are united to Christ, by the Spirit, in baptism. In all such schemes, as with the medieval theology repudiated in the Reformation, assurance is vitiated.

The atonement was not conditional. Like election, it was unconditional because the love of God is unconditional. Christ did not atone for those who do their part. The atonement is not effective when we meet a condition. Rather, Synod celebrated Christ the Bridegroom who came for his bride, who redeemed her, who sent his Holy Spirit to regenerate his Bride and unite her to himself and who will certainly take her to himself at the last day. We may be sure of that because he sealed our redemption with his own blood when he laid down his life for his elect.

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  1. This has been a wonderful series. I find not only the doctrinal issues compelling, but the history as well. Thank you Dr. Clark for your efforts in putting this series together.

    • I agree. We are beneficiaries of the Synod of Dort’s efforts in describing, in minute detail what it means to be saved by faith alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. Had they not taken this strong stand against the Remonstrants, the church was in danger of returning to the medieval theology of Rome that the Reformation had saved her from. It taught that we contribute to our final salvation by doing our part. Of course that is a false gospel of works righteousness that cannot save because it makes Christ only a partial Savior. It is alarming that there are modern Remonstrants, who share the same false gospel of their forebears, active in our churches. One hopes that the leadership of our churches, will make use of the Canons to identify them, and apply the corrective discipline that should be one of the marks of the true church. Sadly, the will to do so seems to be weak these days.

  2. In recent discussions with Lutherans who reject particular redemption yet claim to affirm monergism and unconditional election I said since they affirm the elect will finally be saved it is erroneous to believe in objective justification for the whole world. They teach all are objectively justified by Christ because of the atonement but are only subjectively justified by faith. This is erroneous because all of the benefits of Christ (atonement being a part of those) are tied inexorably to his sovereign election. Only those given to Him by the Father, those he fore knew,
    Predestined, called, justified and glorified. Only those partake of Christ and his benefits. There is no other tertium quid that receive all those benefits but perseverance. It’s a package deal. It’s monergism from start to finish. Whatever efficacy baptism has must also be rooted in sovereign election for the elect.

    • Well, my work on HU is a work in progress. I have recently read Davenant for myself, whose views I cannot reconcile with Dort.

      Michael and I read the Reformed tradition(s) differently so we’re not likely to agree on some things. Nevertheless, I am happy to be corrected on matters of fact.

    • Maybe I just don’t get it, but it seems to me to be a strange idea that the hypothetical universalists were trying to sell: that while the Father chose the elect from the mass of fallen humanity, all are savable because of what Christ has done, but that those that are actually saved are limited by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. It raises the question of how it is, that if Christ made all savable, on what CONDITION does the Holy Spirit regenerate only certain people if Christ’s death was for all of mankind.

  3. It sort of makes sense to me that some HU resolved this inconsistency by becoming actual universalists. On the other hand the Lutherans, who shared with the HU the idea that Christ died for all, ended up by rejecting Luther’s teaching on predestination and introduced conditions for maintaining salvation. It seems like a patent denial of the Reformed teaching on limited atonement.

  4. Dr. Clark writes, “On the Remonstrant view, salvation is always in doubt because it is always conditioned on our faith (which they argued, is imputed to us for righteousness) upon our obedient cooperation with grace and our perseverance).” In the final quote from Davenant, in Michael Lynch’s essay, “He decreed to effectively merit for them by His death, faith and eternal life.” That statement, from Davenant seems odd. Does he mean, like the Remonstrants, faith that is imputed to us for righteousness, so that faith becomes a condition, not just an instrument, for receiving salvation? Might that explain why certain people in Moscow, Idaho are so fond of Davenant?

    • Angela,

      It is a challenging work in that Davenant says different things in different places. That sentence does not reflect what I usually see in the Reformed writers in the period.

    • Angela,
      Here is a quote from Davenant that answers your question and also shows that Davenant did not assert along with the Arminians that faith completes the work of salvation but that faith is given to the elect from his “good pleasure.”

      /Therefore we attribute ti that common love, with which God waits upon the human race, that he was willing to appoint such a Redeemer, through whose death and satisfaction any one provided he should believe in him, might be absolved from his sins, Acts 13. 38. But we think that is to be attributed to his special good pleasure, with which he embraces the elect alone, that from the death and merit of this appointed and ordained Redeemer, he should determine to give to certain individual persons effectually and infallibly, faith, and eternal life./

      • Mark,

        I don’t think that he was an Arminian but he did introduce a degree of conditionality into Reformed soteriology evident in the subordinate clause, “provided he should believe in him.”

        There was tension between Synod’s doctrine that Christ died intentionally to accomplish the redemption of the elect and Davenant’s theory that Christ’s death is, as he wrote repeatedly, “applicable” to all men. According to Synod, the gospel is to be announced to all, its inherent power is sufficient for all, but it was never intended for all.

  5. Mark, what troubles me is that, again in your quotation from Davenant, is this idea that eternal life, as the benefit of salvation, is preceded by the benefit of faith, and as Dr. Clark points out, it is therefore the condition, according to your quotation, even though Christ’s atonement is applicable to all men. The difference between those that are saved and those that are not, is not that Christ died for them because they were given to Him by the Father but rather the condition that separates those who actually receive the benefit of Christ’s universal atonement is faith! Faith becomes, not the empty, open hand that receives the gift of salvation, but the condition on which salvation depends! I think it is very similar to the confusion over the need for Christians to have good works which are also a gift of God. Christians do good works but the good works do not make them Christians. Similarly, Christians, have faith in Christ as their Savior, but it is not their faith but Christ that saves them! But if all have the benefit of Christ’s atonement, and faith makes the difference, then faith, as the condition, saves them! Both faith and good works are fruit and evidence of regeneration through God’s electing grace, but as soon as they become conditions, grace is no more grace!

    • Dr. Clark, The helps to know that you agree Davenant was not Arminian. He did agree to the CoD after all.

      Angela, Faith is indeed a condition, but I think you’re either missing what Davenant said or you are reading an Arminian interp into what he said. Notice his expression, “…he [God] should determine to give to certain individual persons effectually and infallibly, faith, and eternal life.” This concurs with Dort. Notice the First Head, art 7: “God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith…” Faith is *a* condition which God himself provides to the elect through the Spirit. This the Reformed agree upon, Davenant included.

  6. Mark, the problem that I see with Davenant is that he denies limited atonement. He insists that Christ died for all men and that therefore our faith itself is the necessary condition of salvation. Our confessions state that we are not saved by faith, but by grace, through faith. Faith is the instrument that grasps the gift of salvation in Christ a!one, and not the cause of our salvation. Canons Divine Election and Reprobation Art. 9, Belgic 22 If Christ died for all, but all are not saved unless they have faith, then faith is ultimately the cause and not just the instrument of salvation. The Canons insist that Christ died not for all but only for the elect of God that were given to Him by the Father. See Canons Article 7 Election The First Head of Doctrine and specifically Rejection of Errors III : “Who teach that God’s good pleasure and purpose, which Scripture mentions in its teaching of election, does not involve God’s choosing certain particular people, rather than others, but involves God’s choosing, out of all possible conditions (including the works of the law) or out of the whole order of things, the intrinsically unworthy act of faith, to be a condition of salvation; and it involves his graciously wishing to count this as perfect obedience and to look upon it as worthy of the reward of eternal life.”
    God’s gift of faith is not a condition of salvation but a fruit of God’s eternal election, God’s gift to those He chose to be given to Christ, and to be saved by the work of Christ on their behalf. “… election is the source of each of the benefits of salvation. Faith, holiness, and other saving gifts, and at last eternal life itself, flow forth from election as its fruits and effects.” Canons Election and Reprobation: Art. 9

    • Angela,
      Yes, Davenant’s absence on “limited atonement” is worth noting, but so is that of the Canons. The words “limited” nor “limited atonement” do not appear in the Canons (glad to be corrected if so). Also one of the biggest proponents of “limited atonement” in the minds of we modern Reformed, John Owen, was probably still in diapers when the Canons were issued. Davenant agreed to essential matters on Particular Redemption and I’ll say again, Bishop Davenant did sign on to the Canons. As for faith as a condition, I’ve already made that clear, but up to you whether to take Davenant straight up on that or to read him as an Arminian. Dr. Clark, however, agrees that Davenant wasn’t Arminian.

      • Mark,

        Synod certainly confessed a definite, particular atonement limited by divine intention from all eternity. Davenant taught a different, universalizing, doctrine of the atonement. He, like Amyraut, pushed the limit back a step to the application of redemption. Again, this was not Synod’s doctrine.

        This what I argued above in the article.

    • Mark, the refutation of errors, I quote above, directly contradicts the idea that faith is a condition of salvation. Faith is simply the empty hand that grasps the gift of salvation in Christ alone, and Article 9, which I also quote above, tells us that election is the source of the benefits of salvation, not our faith which is only a fruit and effect. Faith is a consequence, not a condition as a cause, of the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of a particular people that God chose from eternity past, to be redeemed by Christ. Again, that is the problem with Davenant, while he agrees that election is what determines who is saved, he must insist that the condition of God given faith is the determining factor, because he insists that Christ’s atonement was for all of mankind. This is soundly refuted in rejection of errors III, as I quoted above. I quoted the first paragraph, now I’ll quote the second paragraph to show why making faith a condition of salvation, is such a serious error:
      “For by this pernicious error the good pleasure of God and the
      merit of Christ are robbed of their effectiveness and people
      are drawn, away by unprofitable inquiries, from the truth of
      undeserved justification and from the simplicity of scripture.
      It also gives the lie to these words of the apostle: ‘God called
      us with a holy calling, not by works, but by virtue of his own
      purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before
      the beginning of time.’ 2Ti 1:9
      While the term, “Limited Atonement” is not used in the Canons, the concept that the atonement was limited to God’s elect certainly is. It is Devenant’s denial that the atonement is limited to the elect that is the problem, because the consequence is that he makes salvation conditional on God’s gift of faith, which I have shown above, is an error that the Canons refute.

      You accuse me of calling Davenant an Arminian. I have not done this at all. I have said that he makes faith a condition of salvation, and you defend him in that. Yet he signed the Canons which refute the idea that Christ’s death atoned for the sins of all mankind, and the claim that faith is necessary as a condition and cause, rather than as a fruit and effect of salvation determined by God’s limiting the atonement to God’s elect. I think this is inconsistent, but I’ll leave that for the Lord to sort out.

      • Angela,

        In the history of Reformed theology The word condition was often used in this context but after the Remonstrance our theologians became more cautious about it. E.g., Witsius wrote that we may a call it a condition only loosely because that language is prone to be misunderstood. It is instructive that our Belgic Confession (art 22) says:

        However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

        From a Theological point of view, the move by the hypothetical universalists to limit the atonement by the divine will to apply it only to the elect, rather than limiting it in the atonement, seems like a shell game.

        Further, as HU developed under Amyraut, universalism did not remain hypothetical. Both the Remonstrants and the hypothetical universalists came to embrace forms of universalism. They also proposed revisions our doctrine of imputation (mediate v immediate) and to our covenant theology (really just the reading of redemptive history) that were problematic.

  7. Dr Clark, thank you for this clarification. I think this is similar to the Marrow controversy. Fisher and Boston saw that adding any condition to justification destroys salvation by grace alone. Faith might be called a “condition”, but as the Canons make clear, only in the sense that faith, like all other good works, are the necessary consequence, the fruit and effect of justification, not the cause. As the Canons also point out in the refutation of errors III under election and reprobation, to make faith the condition, as cause rather than effect of justification, is to actually make it a condition, as a work that is necessary for justification.

    • “Salvation, indeed, is bestowed conditionally; but faith, which is 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧, is absolutely procured.”
      John Owen (1616–1683), The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

      • Mark,

        As I said, lots of reformed writers have used the language of condition relative to faith in the application of redemption. The difference between Owen’s use and Davenant’s is context.

        Owen used it as a defender of particular redemption, as an opponent of both Arminianism and hypothetical universalism. Davenant’s introduces conditionality into the atonement itself. Further, he repeatedly wrote of it being “applicable to all.”

        Owen, in the passage you cite, makes faith a divinely-wrought condition in the application of redemption. The atonement is not applicable to all. It was accomplished for the elect and is applicable to them.

        There is some difference in the substance of the positions taken by Owen and Davenant respectively even though there is a formal similarity in their language.

          • Dr. Clark, I agree there is going to be a difference in how we read Owen and Davenant on faith and it’s condionality. That is a worthwhile line of inquiry to follow. I’m interested in that as well.

            I posted the quote from Owen to give evidence contra Angela’s claim that for the Reformed “Faith…not a condition…” I should have addressed that to her by name. Thank you, however, for further clarification on that point.

            As for how Davenant and Owen (or others) worked out the placement of faith in the accomplishment and application of Redemption, that is something I (and others no doubt) are interested in. Thanks for allowing discussion on that and related matters.

  8. Mark, here is a quotation from Owen about the error of making faith a condition as a cause of justification:
    “But it may be said, that if faith be the INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE of justification, it is either the instrument of God, or the instrument of believers themselves. That it is no the instrument of God is plain, in that it is a duty which he prescibeth unto us: it is an act of pur own; and it is we that believe, not God; nor can any any act of ours be the instrument of his work. And if it be our instrument, seeing an efficiency is ascribed unto it, then we are the efficient causes of our own justification in some sense, and may be said to justify ourselves; which is derogatory to the grace of God and the blood of Christ.” Owen’s Works, book 5, p. 110. Faith is not a condition, as a cause, but only as a result of justification. If all men are included under the atonement, then the atonement of Christ cannot account for the salvation of God’s elect.
    Then there is another conditional cause. Davenant falls in the error Owen describes by making that causal condition faith.

    • The more I think about this, the more I am concerned about the dangerous implications of what Davenant seems to be trying to do. If the atonement was not limited in its efficacy to God’s elect, but only made all men savable, then it is not Christ’s atonement that actually saves. That seems to be why in the quotations from Davenant we have looked at, he always precedes eternal life with the benefit of faith. The idea is that the gift of faith is the unique, decisive factor on which eternal life depends, and not the atonement of Christ, which is just common to all men. So the actual cause of justification\salvastion must be doing my part by exercising faith. Of course that leads to the inevitable uncertainty of trusting in something I must do for my part, because I can never be certain that I have performed my part, of exercising faith, well enough. One might argue that this faith is a gift of God, but even the Roman Catholics say, that we do our part with the assistance of God’s grace. But it is still a work, a covenant of works! The danger is that it shifts our confidence from the object of faith, Christ’s atonement, to faith itself.

      • Angela, I suggest getting a clearer distinction between “instrumental cause” and “condition.” As Dr. Clark confirmed it is not much disagreed upon by the Reformed that faith is a “condition.” As in the Davenant quote below faith is a condition that “must be in them” but unlike the Arminian view faith to the elect is “given on account of the merits of Christ.”

        “Therefore, since saving faith itself, which is peculiar to the elect, is to be placed among the chief spiritual blessings, it ought to be granted, that it is given on account of the merits of Christ, to all those to whom it is actually given. Therefore, what Divines commonly say, that faith is the instrument, by means of which the merits of Christ are applied to us, is to be understood of its application, as it is considered on the part of men: For the elect cannot apply to themselves the merits of Christ in order to the reception of any spiritual benefits whatever, unless through faith being first supposed to be in them.” (Davenant, Death of Christ)

        This fits broadly in the Reformed view on salvation. Seems to me you are trying to place Davenant on the Arminian side of the issue. He was at Dort not as an observer. He was invited. He participated. He signed on to Dort. So that Davenant was Reformed is not in question. He just happened to not be an Owenist and to be frank not all Reformed were and even now not all Reformed are Owenist. In the scope of Reformed catholicity that is allowable. You nor any Reformed should think of themselves as “truly reformed” because you are Owenist and therefore we of a Davenant view are not “truly reformed.” TULIP has obscured the historical reality of a range of views on the Atonement among Reformed.

        • Mark,

          In the interests of historical precision, it’s anachronistic to juxtapose Owen with Davenant in 1618–19. When Synod concluded Owen was about 3 years old. Further, it’s misleading to characterize opposition to Hypothetical Universalism as “Owenist” since, as I noted in this article, hypothetical universalism came to be opposed by a wide-range of writers, not just John Owen. I wrote:

          The views of Cameron, Amyraut, LaPlace et al were rejected by many orthodox theologians in the period. It was explicitly and thoroughly rejected in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675) which was adopted by the Swiss Churches until it was revoked under the influence of a broadening, latitudinarian evangelical movement in the first quarter of the 18th century. John Owen rejected it. Of course Heidegger and Turretin rejected it as did Friedrich Spanheim, the Rivet brothers and many others. Warfield’s judgment “This modification [hypothetical universalism] also received the condemnation of the contemporary Reformed world…” (Works, 5.363) is surely correct. Certainly it would be surprise to see one articulating hypothetical universalism sustained as a candidate for the ministry in a NAPARC denomination or federation.

          I have never heard a candidate for ministry espouse HU during his ordination trials but I have myself opposed a candidate for ministry in our Classis who, during his ordination exam, advocated mediate imputation.

            • Mark,

              Well, having read Davenant and Amyraut on the atonement, it seems to me that they were both advocating essentially the same doctrine of hypothetical universalism. I agree that Davenant was more orthodox than Amyraut, that the latter reached conclusions that Davenant did not.

              • Dr. Clark, I’ll take orthodox for Davenant as a good sign. Thanks for the fairness in analysis.

                Angela, Not sure what else to say at this point on the conditionality of faith as spoken of in the Reformed writers. Tried to be a clear as possible. I suggest reading across a more diverse bibliography among the Refomed writers. That has helped me a great deal so I commend that approach to you as well. Best wishes.

  9. Mark, Dr. Clark has explained that there are two ways in which faith might be considered a “condition” of salvation. Is it loosely called a condition in as much as it is a necessary consequence, fruit and effect of regeneration because of the particular redemption of God’s elect, or is it the causal condition and prerequisite required for salvation? As Dr. Clark, and I have pointed out to you, the Canons and the Reformed Standards, and so the vast majority of the Reformed world affirm the first view. As your quote from Davenant shows, he affirms the second view: “For the elect cannot apply to themselves the merits of Christ in order to the reception of any spiritual blessings whatever, unless through faith first supposed to be in them.” He makes faith the saving condition rather than the atonement of Christ. Interesting choice of words, “apply to themselves.” But with prerequisite faith they can, “apply to themselves?”

    • I did mean to comment on one other issue. I do not see widespread substantial disagreement among the Reformed on the role faith as a condition. There was some disagreement later in the 17th century about how to speak of faith as a condition, but that was in light of the debate with the Remonstrants. I don’t doubt that, among the orthodox, the substance of the doctrine of faith as the instrument was widely shared.

      Because I teach annually through a wide-range of Reformed orthodox literature, I am impressed by the relative unity of Reformed theology from the late 16th century through the early 18th century. I am also a little suspicious of the “diversity” narrative especially since it often seems to be driven less by history (what actually was) and more by theological and ecclesiastical interests.

      There is a strong bias in the academy presently to emphasize “the many” (diversity) rather than “the one” (unity). I understand and sympathize with aspects of the diversity narrative but a sound story about the past should account for both unity and diversity. The confessions and catechisms are prima facie evidence for unity in Reformed theology. I teach through the Three Forms annually and spend a lot of time with the Reformed confessions. I am impressed with how often they agree with each other despite the differences in location, language, culture etc.

      The attempt to make hypothetical universalism “orthodox” is one area where I am skeptical for the reasons I gave in the article above.

      The difficulty in interpreting Davenant is that simply was not very clear. To some degree it might come down to trust. When we face ambiguous expressions in a writer, what do we do? If we trust him/her, we take it one way. If we’re suspicious, we tend to take it another way.

      There are certainly orthodox expressions in Davenant but there are also, to put it neutrally, difficult expressions.

      For my part, for the moment, I’m content to allow Davenant to remain ambiguous pending further reading.

      • This passage from Muller vis a vis Calvin and Amyraut on Ezekiel 18:23 is instructive:

        As to Amyraut’s reading of Calvin’s exegesis, it stands, quite clearly as a use of Calvin’s text that observes its basic pattern of a promise of salvation or reconciliation on condition, the qualification that hovers in the back- ground of the promise that the condition can only be met by a divine act of creating it in the individual, and the eternal decree or counsel to bring about this condition and, consequently, salvation in the elect alone. It mat- ters little to the argument that the condition in Calvin’s interpretation of Ezekiel is repentance and obedience and Amyraut’s condition is faith, although this is an easily identifiable difference of interpretation. Amyraut, however, builds on Calvin’s argument and, indeed, claims to be interpret- ing and clarifying it by arguing two mercies and two wills in God where Calvin did not; in fact where Calvin had specifically stated that the will of God is one and simple, albeit with distinctions that can be observed in its revelation. Where Calvin resolved the issue of the universal call and partic- ular election by simply declaring a resolution in the fact that, as promised, the repentant are saved, Amyraut indicated a double divine intentionality. Still, the way in which Amyraut develops the covenantal argument in his exegesis does stand in positive relation to Calvin’s language of a legal and an evangelical covenant, of which it is not a duplication but a development. Even if Amyraut had added, as he would do at the Synod of Alençon, that his language of two decrees was by rational distinction and intended “with- out any succession of Thought, or Order of Priority and Posteriority” in God,51 his exegesis still would differ from Calvin’s in its postulation of two divine mercies and two intentions.

        Inasmuch as Davenant was influenced by the same sources as Amyraut would be, and inasmuch has he reached some of the same conclusions, the possible tension between Calvin view of the divine will and Davenant’s must be considered.

        This is not to set up Calvin as the arbiter of orthodoxy but, on this issue, the Reformed followed him and not Amyraut.

  10. Thank you Dr. Clark, this discussion has been quite a theology work out, and I’ve learned a lot. Our confessions are like a theological anchor in the storm. What a blessing we have Belgic 22 which confirms: “we do not mean, properly speaking that it is faith itself that justifies us–for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

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