February 10, 2008

Mitchell and Struthers on the Westminster Debates on Redemption

The debates of the Assembly clearly show that its members did not wish to determine several particulars decided by the Synod of Dort, far less to determine them more rigidly than it had done. They even intentionally left open one point which the Irish divines thought fit to determine. They spoke indifferently of the ‘decree’ and of the ‘decrees’ of God, while the Irish divines speak of only one and ‘the same decree;’ and from the notes of their debates given below,[1] it will be seen that this was done because all were not agreed upon the point, and in order that every one might enjoy his own sense! The same care was taken to avoid the insertion of anything which could be regarded as indicating a preference for supralapsarianism;[2] and for this purpose, the words, ‘to bring this to pass, God ordained to permit man to fall,’ were changed into ‘they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ,’ etc. Did these divines mean to follow an opposite policy in regard to the point on which Calamy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman, and other disciples of Davenant, or according to Baillie of Amyraut, differed from the more exact Calvinists? After repeated perusal of their debates, I cannot take upon myself certainly to affirm that they did, though I admit that this matter is not so clear as the others above referred to. No notes of the debate in its latest stage are given, nor is any vote or dissent respecting it found in these Minutes. Calamy, who spoke repeatedly in the debate on the Extent of Redemption, avowed that he held, in the same sense as the English divines at the Synod of Dort,[3] ‘that Christ by his death did pay a price for all, with absolute intention for the elect, with conditional intention for the reprobate in case they do believe; that all men should be salvabiles non obstante lapsu Adami . . .; that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving of Christ, and Christ in giving himself did intend, to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe.’ Seaman, Vines, Marshall, and Harris in part at least, agreed with him.[4] And though I cannot find that Dr. Arrowsmith took part in this debate, yet he was attending the Assembly, was a member of the Committee on the Confession, and in his writings has repeatedly expressed his leaning towards the same opinion.[5] In the progress of the debate, the proposition that Christ redeemed the elect only, was exchanged for this other, that Christ did intend to redeem the elect only. The final decision of the Assembly, as has just been stated, is not inserted in these Minutes; and though at first sight it may not seem easy to reconcile the opinions of these divines with the language of the sixth section of this chapter of the Confession, it would be rash for me to say it is impossible. They certainly did not succeed in getting any positive approbation of their opinions inserted; but it is just possible that the language of this section may have been so arranged, that they felt warranted in accepting it as not positively condemning them. Those who in modern times have pronounced most confidently that the more restricted view is exclusively intended, seem to me to have unconsciously construed or interpreted the words, ‘neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only,’ as if they had run, ‘neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, or justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.’ But these two statements do not necessarily bear the same meaning. Calamy, Arrowsmith, and the others who agreed with them, may have felt justified in accepting the former, though they might have scrupled to accept the latter.[6]

It may be argued, however (and it is better to advert to it here), that even if the opinions of these divines were not positively excluded by the language of this section, they must be held to be so by that used in chap. viii. sec. 8: ‘To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption he doth certainly and effectually communicate and apply the same.’ It is quite possible that, in the progress of the debate, they may have yielded somewhat, especially after having secured, in chap. vii. sec. 3, words sufficient to guard the truth they were mainly anxious to conserve, that under the covenant of grace, and by the preaching of the gospel, the Lord ‘freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they may be saved.’ Besides, they had admitted (p. 159) a distinction between the propositum morientis and the meritum mortis. Still, it is also just possible that they may have accepted the words ‘purchased redemption,’ in the eighth chapter, as Baxter was willing to do, not of every fruit of Christ's death, but of ‘that special redemption proper to the elect,’ ‘which was accompanied with an intention of actual application of the saving benefits in time.’ Ussher and some of his immediate disciples, of whose own position there seems to be little doubt, appear occasionally to have used the phrase in the same sense,[7] and speak of the differences between Spanheim and Amyraut, the representatives of the two continental Calvinistic schools, as παρεργα quædam, which should not alienate those who in common rejected Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism.[8] Dr. Ames, again, who himself belonged to the stricter school, and who may be regarded as in fact one of the English Puritans, maintains that the chief cardo controversiæ between Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants was not an pro omnibus et singulis mortuus sit Christus? sed quis finis et fruetus sit Christi in eis pro quibus est mortuus, not whether he died for all in some way, but whether he died for all equally, and whether the end and fruit of his doing so was merely to remove legal obstacles, and render salvation possible; or whether it did not also secure the salvation of a certain definite number, and that not a small, but large, number of our lost race.[9] But at any rate, the adoption of the eighth paragraph in chap. viii. of the Confession did not end the contest between the divines, and set them altogether at one. These Minutes show that, when the Larger Catechism was being prepared, another effort was made by the representatives of the Davenant school to get their opinions distinctly sanctioned and positively expressed in that formulary. A committee, apparently of English members only, prepared and brought up for discussion (p. 369) the following questions and answers:― ‘Q. Do all men equally partake of the benefits of Christ?―A. Although from Christ some common favours redound to all mankind, and some special privileges to the visible Church, yet none partake of the principal benefits of His mediation but only such as are members of the Church invisible. Q. What common favours redound from Christ to all mankind?―A. Besides much forbearance and many supplies for this life, which all mankind receive from Christ as Lord of all, they by him are made capable of having salvation tendered to them by the gospel, and are under such dispensations of Providence and operations of the Spirit as lead to repentance.’[10]

These questions and answers were first agreed to be discussed, and then referred back to a Committee with which the Scotch Commissioners were associated. The questions and answers adopted in session 873 (pp. 392, 393) are probably to be regarded as their report; and the answer to the question, Are all they saved by Christ who live within the visible Church and hear the gospel? wears the look of an attempted compromise, admitting on the one side that ‘the gospel, where it cometh, doth tender salvation by Christ to all, testifying that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excludeth none that come unto him;’ and affirming on the other, that ‘none do or can truly come unto Christ, or are saved by him, but only the members of the invisible Church.’ This affirmation is warranted both by the Lambeth and the Irish Articles; but there are few nowadays who will not grant that it was more cautiously expressed in the shape in which it ultimately appeared in the answer to the sixty-eighth question of the Larger Catechism: ‘All the elect, and they only, are effectually called, although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit, who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered them, being justly left to their unbelief, do never truly come to Christ.’

*I had to change the numbering of the footnotes from the original in order to prevent confusion.

1Mr. Rutherford― All agree in this, that God decrees the end and means, but whether in one or more decrees is not agreed. Say, "God also hath decreed." It is very probably but one decree, but whether fit to express it in a Confession of Faith . . .
Mr. Gillespie― When that word is left out, is it not a truth ? and so every one may enjoy his own sense.
Mr. Reynolds― Let us not put in disputes and scholastical things into a Confession of Faith. I think they are different decrees in our manner of conception.
Mr. Calamy―That it may be a truth, I think, in our Prolocutor's book, he gives a great deal of reason for it ; but why should we put it in a Confession of Faith?’ Notes of Speeches in Minutes―see pp. 150, 151.

2 ‘I desire that nothing may be put in one way or other.’ Calamy's Speech, Ibid. p. 151. See also p. 152.

3 See entries on p. 160 of these Minutes in sessions 526, 527.

4 See the notes of the debate (pp. 152, I53, etc.) during sessions 522, 523, and 524. The following are the passages in the theses of the English divines at the Synod of Dort, to which reference is made by Calamy and Marshall: ‘Sic ergo Christus pro omnibus mortuus est, ut omnes et singuli, mediante fide, possint άντίλυτρου hujus remissionem peccatorum et vitam eternam consequi. Sic pro electis mortuus est ut, ex merito mortis ejus secundum æternum Dei beneplacitum specialiter illis destinato, et fidem infallibiliter obtineant et vitam æternam.’ Acta Synodi Dordtrechtanæ, p. 603. ‘Nemo mortalium est qui non possit vere et serio per ministros evangelii vocari ad participationem remissionis peccatorum et vitæ æternæ per hanc mortem Christi. . . . Evangelio autem nihil falsum aut simulatum subest, sed quicquid in eo per ministros offertur aut promittitur hominibus, id eodem modo ab autore evangelii offertur et promittitur iisdem.’―Ibid. p. 602.

5 He says of Davenant, ‘Cujus memoria apud orthodoxos in benedictione sempiterna permanebit;’ and of himself, ‘Rev admodum Davenantii, prælectiones et determinationes imbiberam, exegetica, polemica et Synodica scripta perlegeram et ipsius dogmata fere quidem omnia in succum et sanguinem vertere conatus sum’ (Tactica Sacra, p. 223); and of the particular question here discussed, ‘sanguinem fœderis pro eis (i.e. electis) effusum, si non solis, modo, saltem, et intentione speciali.’

In his sermon on Rev. xii. 1, 2, making a comparison between the natural sun and Christ the Sun of righteousness, he thus expresses himself: ‘No visible creature but shares more or less in the benefit of this influence. So Christ, being the light that lighteth every one that cometh into the world, there is no man but partakes of his goodness in one kind or other, though with much variety in the success.’

In his Chain of Principles (p. 182), Arrowsmith, like Calamy, interprets John iii. 16 not of the ‘elect world,’ but of ‘the undeserving, yea ill-deserving world of mankind.’ Gataker, in his book, de Stylo Novi Testamenti (p. 56), adopts a similar interpretation of this passage. Of course Caryl, Burroughs, and Strong, the members who recommended the Marrow of Modern Divinity, may fairly be held as concurring in this interpretation, though, like several who did so in the succeeding century, they may not have accepted the detailed theory which the author of that book has built on it. Calvin himself has been held by Overall, Hall, and others, to have countenanced the same interpretation, when he says, in his commentary on the passage, ‘Universalem notam apposuit, tum ut promiscue omnes ad vitæ participationem invitet, tum ut præcidat excusationem incredulis. Eodem etiam pertinet nomen mundi quo prius usus est. Tametsi, enim, in mundo nihil reperietur Dei favore dignum, se tamen toti mundo propitium ostendit, quum sine exceptione omnes ad fidem Christi vocat, quæ nihil aliud est quam ingressus in vitam. Cæterum meminerimus ita communiter promitti omnibus vitam in Christo, qui crediderint, ut tamen minime communis omnium sit fides. Patet enim omnibus Christus ac expositus est, solis tamen electis oculos Deus aperit.’

6 This concatenation may be what Gillespie points at in his speech, p. 153, when he says they must look beyond the proposition, and see what they held concerning that which in order goes before and what in order follows after. He himself did not accept even their view of John iii. 16.

7 This may be seen in his letter on the intent and extent of the death of Christ, and in his vindication of that letter (Works, vol. xii. ). In the former he dwells chiefly on the point on which he and Davenant differed from the older school; but in the latter he gives greater prominence to the point in which he differed from the Arminians, and says that impetration, in the sense these attached to the term, was not of wider extent than application, and that ‘forgiveness of sins is not impetrated for any unto whom the merit of Christ's death is not applied.’ Some suppose that Ussher's views changed a good deal in his later days; but if Baxter's, or even Hammond's, account of interviews with him shortly before his death are carefully compared with this letter, and the vindication of it, his later opinions will be found to be as nearly as possible identical with his earlier. To the last he denied that Christ died for all men έξ ίσου. For his latest views on predestination and reprobation, see p. liv.

8 See his letter to Spanheim in vol. xvi. p. 95 of his Works.

9 Si vago sensu quæratur an Christus aliquo modo recte dicatur mortuus pro electis; an vero aliquo modo pro omnibus, nulla est hie una certa et determinata quæstio. Neque etiam potest vel posterior pars a nostris vel prior a Remonstrantibus absolute negari. Sunt inter nostros, quod Remonstrantes non latet, qui simul utramque parterri defendunt: ‘Christum scilicet pro electis mortuum esse quoad efficaciam, et tamen pro omnibus quoad sufficientiam. Non desunt etiam qui utramque partem simul negant, Christum scilicet mortuum esse pro eis qui (ordine intuitus divini) prius fuerunt electi et mortuum eum esse pro omnibus (collective sumptis) ex æquo. Docent enim Christum Dominum, in præscientia Dei, antequam intelligatur electio hominum, satisfactionem suam obtulisse Patri ut aliqui designarentur a Patre in quibus illa satisfactio salutis effectum consequeretur, materialem tamen designationem, illorum eligendorum voluntati Dei reliquisse.’ Amesii Antisynodalia Scripta, p. 176.

10 The answers to these questions have rather a marked similarity to
the following paragraph (pp. 205, 206) of Ball's Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, a work published in 1645, which was held in high esteem by the Puritans, and recommended by Reynolds, as well as Calamy and several other members of the Westminster Assembly: ‘The second sort of divines (Contra-Remonstrants) distinguish the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ's death. In respect of the worth and greatness of the price, he died for all men: because it was sufficient for the redemption of every man in the world if they did repent and believe; and God might, without impeachment of justice, have offered salvation to every man in the world had it been his pleasure. In the efficiency, as every man or any man hath fruit by the death of Christ, so Christ died for him. But this is not of one kind: some fruit is common to every man; for as Christ is lord of all things in heaven and earth, even the earthly blessings which infidels enjoy may be termed fruits of Christ's death. Others proper to the members of the visible Church, and common to them, as to be called by the word, enjoy the ordinances of grace, live under the covenant, partake of some graces that come from Christ, which, through their fault, be not saving; and in this sense Christ died for all that be under the covenant. But other fruits of Christ's death, according to the will of God and intention of Christ as Mediator, be peculiar to the sheep of Christ, his brethren, them that be given unto him of the Father, as faith unfeigned, regeneration, pardon of sin, adoption, etc.; and so they hold Christ died efficiently for his people only, in this sense, namely, so as to bring them effectually to faith, grace, and glory.’
Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, eds. Alexander F. Mitchell & John P. Struthers (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1874), liv–lxi.


John said...


If I am reading this correctly, the author whom you are quoting regarded there to be two schools of calvinistic thought. One would be the "stricter school" associated with Spannhelm. The other (if I may call it) the "less strict school" associated with Amyrault. I read him as saying that the English Puritans were associated more with the stricter school. This was an extremely interesting post to me and I will be printing out a hard copy to read and consider at a slower pace. My question is ... am I reading this correctly so far in the couple of points I have mentioned?


Tony Byrne said...

Hi John,

I hope you're feeling better and over the flu now.

Yes, there were, at least, two schools present at the assembly. Mitchell and Struthers calls some the "disciples of Davenant, or according to Baillie of Amyraut." According to this report in the Minutes, Calamy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman and others described themselves in relation to Ussher and Davenant [along with the other English delegates to the Synod of Dort]. These moderate Westminster divines were aware of the differences of opinion during that Synod, and they were well-aware of the teaching of Ussher and John Davenant. Ussher himself was requested to attend at the Westminster Assembly but declined. Anyway, I say all of this because I think the moderate Synodists were actually influential with these men, and not so much Amyraut, even though they [the moderate Westminster divines] were familiar with the teaching of John Cameron and of his disciple Amyraut. It needs to be pointed out that there were even varieties of moderate Calvinism at that time. Davenant, in his Dissertation on the Death of Christ dealing with the Gallican Controversy, expresses some slight differences with John Cameron and his language, which establishes the point.

The English puritans, like Perkins and Ames, were definitely of the "stricter school" and very influential. Nevertheless, there were diverse views among the English puritans as well.

As for Spanheim, he was a staunch anti-Amyraldian, like Turretin. The modern version of this school of thought is called "the more restricted view" by Mitchell and Struthers.

I hope that helps,

p.s. Thanks for leaving a comment, John. Feel free to ask more questions or to email me [info in profile] with any other matters you would like to discuss, particularly to continue the conversion from the MSN forum.