2. Next I shall say somewhat to prove the soundness of it, which is therefore necessary, because some ignorant persons laugh at it; as if we feigned two wills in God, and one of them contrary to the other. Otherwise, to men of understanding it is not very needful: And therefore I shall say but this briefly. It is not two Wills in God, as two distinct Essences or Faculties that I assert; but only two distinct Acts: Distinct, I say, in regard of their distinct products or Effects, and so to mans apprehension, though in God, we say there, is no diversity or distinction. Yet as we cannot handsomely conceive of his will to save Peter, and his will to damn Judas, as one act, having such different Effects; so it is here. Who knows not that Naturality and Morality. Physicks and Ethicks, Event and Right are different things, and consequently we may and must distinguish of Gods willing them accordingly. When a Man saith, [You shall do this,] preceptively, he doth only say [It shall be your duty to do it] but saith not that eventually you shall do it. Nor are his words false if you never do it. He that faith prophetically or by prognostication [you shall do this] means that it shall so come to pass; and if it do not his words are false: But he doth not say, [It is or shall be your Duty.]

12. Accordingly we must distinguish between the antecedent and consequent Acts and Will of Christ as Ruler of Mankind. For the understanding of which and avoiding mistakes, observe, 1. That we speak not now of Eternal Decrees, but of the will of Christ in this Relation as he is the Ruler of the World and Church, and as he is the conveyer of his mercies according to and by his Covenant, and as he judges the World according thereunto. 2. That by his Antecedent will, and acts, we mean only that which in his Government is Antecedent to Mans Obedience or Disobedience; which is principally Legislation, and and making his new Covenant; and also the giving of Preachers, and other acts, which are the first part of his Administration. And by his consequent Acts and Will, we mean only that second part of Government, which finds Man Obedient or Disobedient, and is commonly called Judgment and Execution. And when we say that by his Antecedent Acts and Will Christ gives Pardon, Justification and Right to Glory, equally to all; we mean that as Legislator and Promiser, he hath antecedently made an Universal Act of Oblivion or Deed of Gift Conditionally Pardoning, &c. all, and no farther than Conditionally Pardoning any. And when we say that he consequently justifies and saves none but true Christians, and in that Since died for no other according to his consequent will, we mean that as Judge of Mankind he will give Justification and Salvation to Believers and to no others; nor ever intended to do otherwise. (Let the Reader know, that the foresaid Scheme of the Effects of Christ’s Death, is more accurately, and yet more briefly done in my Methodus Theologiæ: And therefore let him that dislikes the Number or Order of Distributions pass it by: But I have not time to reform it here.

Richard Baxter, Universal Redemption of Mankind by the Lord Jesus Christ, (London: Printed for John Salusbury at the Rising Sun in Cornhill, 1694), 31-33. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

[Note: there may be some possible comparisons between Baxter and Cameron with regard to the antecedent act of giving Christ to the world, and also with Ezekiel Culverwell with regard to Christ as a deed of gift to mankind.]


The doctrine of Davenant and a number of other Anglican divines represents a strand of historic hypothetical universalism, which developed in England independently of, and earlier than, the Amyraldian version. Although it informed theological debate in the early-modern period of English theology, it was not censured in synods and was not repudiated by the major post-Reformation symbol of Great Britain after the Articles of Religion, namely, the Westminster Confession.12 This is significant, given the influence of the Westminster Confession in subsequent Presbyterianism as a subordinate doctrinal standard, Chapter 8.5, of the Confession, entitled “Of Christ the Mediator,” states,

The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, bur an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given unto Him.

But this is commensurate with hypothetical universalism, because one could claim that Christ’s work is sufficient for the world but efficacious for only “those whom the Father has given” to Christ. Section 8 of the same chapter reads,

To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them. and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by His word and Spirit.13

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In fact, hypothetical universalism has never been repudiated by a Reformed synod or council. The French theologians of the Academy of Saumur, where one version of the doctrine flourished in the seventeenth century, were never formally condemned for their views on this matter.6 The only confessional symbol that does take issue with hypothetical universalism in its Saumurian guise is the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675). But this is a late document, written m large part by the Swiss theologian Johann Heinrich Heidegger, and its influence was short-lived.7 It is not a subordinate standard for any Reformed communion, and even in its criticism of the doctrine does not label it heretical. It is not beyond the bounds of confessional orthodoxy in the Reformed tradition. In this way, it is quite different from, say, the Remonstrant doctrines that called for the condemnations of the Synod of Dort. The Three Forms of Unity–the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort–as well as the Anglican Articles of Religion, which do have the status of subordinate standards or confessions for many Reformed and Anglican communions, are consistent with hypothetical universalism.8

Of these symbols, the condemnations of Dort have the most pointed things to say about the scope of Christ’s atonement. However, and contrary to some popular presentations on the matter, there is no good reason to think that Dort affirmed a doctrine of atonement that excludes hypothetical universalism, In fact, some of the most prominent delegates at the synod, including the German Reformed Martinius, and several members of the British delegation, including its leader, Bishop John Davenant, were in favor of hypothetical universalism.9 This can be seen in the relevant article of the synod, 2.8, "Christ’s Death and Human Redemption through It," which deals with the scope of the atonement thus:

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all the elect, in order that God might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that Christ should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death). It was also God’s will that Christ should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.10

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The most learned Belgic Professors, in their judgment exhibited at the Synod of Dort, confess the same thing (Act. Synod. Dordt. p. 88). “We confess, say they, that the merit and value of the death of Christ is not only sufficient to expiate all, evert the greatest sins of men, but also those of the whole posterity of Adam, although there should be many more to be saved, provided they embraced it with a true faith.” But it would not be sufficient to save all, even if all should believe, unless it be true that by the ordination of God this death is an appointed remedy applicable to all. If it be denied that Christ died for some persons. it will immediately follow, that such could not be saved by the death of Christ, even if they should believe. What is usually answered to this argument by some, viz. “That God has not commanded his ministers to announce that Christ died for every individual, whether they believe or not, but only for believing and penitent sinners, and therefore it cannot be demonstrated from the universality of the call, that the death of Christ is. according to the ordination of God, an universal remedy applicable to all” seems to me to be said very inconsiderately. For faith is not previously required in mankind, as a condition, which makes Christ to have died for them, but which makes the death of Christ, which is applicable to all from the Divine loving-kindness to man, actually applied and beneficial to individuals. The death of Christ was a sacrifice established in the Divine mind, and ordained for men from the beginning of the world; nor could it profit any one if he should believe, unless it had been offered for him before he believed. When therefore we announce to any one, that the death of Christ would profit him if he believed, we presume that it was destined for him, as applicable before he believed.

John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 358-359.


[407] Although vicarious atonement as the acquisition of salvation in its totality cannot therefore be expanded to include all persons individually, this is not to say that it has no significance for those who are lost. Between the church and the world there is, at this point, not just separation and contrast. It is not the case that Christ has acquired everything for the former and nothing for the latter. In rejecting universalism one may not forget that Christ’s merit has its limits even for the church and its value and meaning for the world. In the first place, it must be remembered, after all, that though Christ as such is indeed the Re-creator, he is not the Creator of all things. Just as the Son follows the Father, so re-creation presupposes creation, grace presupposes nature, and regeneration presupposes birth. Not included in Christ’s merits, strictly speaking, is the fact that the elect are born and live, that they receive food, shelter, clothing, and an assortment of natural benefits. One can say that God would no longer have allowed the world and humankind to exist had he not had another and higher purpose for it. Common grace is indeed subservient to special grace, and along with salvation God also grants the elect many other, natural, blessings (Matt. 6:33; Rom. 8:28, 32; 1 Tim. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:3). Still it is wrong, with the Herrnhuter and Pietists, to erase the boundaries between nature and grace, creation and redemption, and to put Christ in the Father’s place on the throne of the universe. Even election and the covenant of grace, presupposing as they do the objects of the one and the participants of the other, were not acquired by Christ but precede his merits. With his creation the Father lays the groundwork for the work of re-creation and leads toward it. With his work, on the other hand, the Son goes back deeply–as far as sin reaches–into the work of creation. Still the two works are distinct and In the second place, Christ did not, for each of his own, acquire the same thing.

There is diversity among believers before they come to the faith, difference in gender, age, class, rank, character, gifts, and so on, and also in the measure and degree of wickedness and corruption. And when they come to the faith, there is diversity in the grace given them. Grace is given to each according to the measure Christ has bestowed (Rom. l2:3; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 3:7; 4:7). The natural diversity among people, though cleansed by grace, is not erased. By the diversity of spiritual gifts, it is even increased, for the body of Christ consists of many members in order that it may be one organism, God’s own creation and masterpiece.

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