Here are the essential lines from Cameron:
Accordingly, ther are two kinds of decrees, one of them requires a condition, the other not. Those may be termed conditional, and the last absolut. Upon the first sort depends justification, and so that requires necessarily faith and repentance. On the last sort hangs effectuall calling, and that requires no conditions and dispositions. . . . The first decree, then, is to restore the divine image upon the creature, in a way wherein the rights of justice may be safe. The second is to send God’s Son into the world to save every one who believes in him, that is, are his members. The third is to render men fit and able to believe. The fourth is to save those who believe. The first two are generall, the last two speciall and particular. In our method of considering things, the principall are before the less principall. . . . But all this is to be understood as spoken of God, in a way accomodated to the infirmity of the human mind.
Essentially there are two kinds of decrees. The first two are conditional general decrees, and the second two are absolute particularist decrees. For Cameron, Amyraut, and Davenant, et al, conditional decrees were always subsumed under the revealed will of God. Conditional decrees never refer to ineffectual absolute or secret will decrees. For example, see Davenant on the meaning of conditional decrees here or here for more examples and explanations.
This now helps us to understand Amyraut:
21. And whereas they have made distinct Decrees in this Counsel of God, the first of which is to save all men through Jesus Christ, if they shall believe in him; the second to give Faith unto some particular Persons: they declared, that they did this upon none other account, than of accommodating it unto that Manner and Order, which the Spirit of Man observeth in his Reasonings for the Succour of his own Infirmity; they otherwise believing, that though they considered this Decree as diverse, yet it was formed in God in one and the self-same Moment, without any Succession of Thought, or Order of Priority and Posteriority.
The first decree there corresponds to Cameron’s conditional decree, and the second to his absolute decree.
So where does that lead us? It leads us to the fact that this “ordering” is in no way comparable to the standard infrar- or supralapsarian ordering. In both of those the standard orderings there is a string of absolute decrees; eg to create, permit the fall, election, to send the Son (for the elect), etc.
When folk like Warfield juxtapose the standard infra or supra ordering over and against Cameron’s or Amyraut’s, they are engaging in a simple category fallacy, comparing apples with oranges, or chalk with cheese as we say in Australia.
The two types of orderings should not be set side by side as if they are univocal orderings with the same univocal concept of decree.
And further, the Cameron-Amyraut order is purely set out as perceived from the human point of view, the ordo historia. We “see” creation, fall, and the public work of Christ (including “incarnation”), but we see” election and salvation as effectually enacted and applied to believers, after the fact. But such “after the fact” seeing is “secondary” to our starting point, which is creation, fall, and redemption, ie the public work of Christ.
This confirms my thought all along, that Amyraut’s detractors so framed his language to suggest that there were absolute decrees, what we today call the decretive will, being conditioned by the actions of men. In effect, ineffectual decretal volitions. But this is not what Cameron and Amyraut were saying at all.
Further, Warfield in his chart on the plan of salvation is just plain wrong in his wording of the second decree as being, “Gift of Christ to render salvation of all men possible.”1 That smacks of an absolute decree and does not mirror Cameron or Amyraut’s version at all.
Smeaton also is interesting:
When we examine the theory minutely, it will not hang together. Its advocates speak of a universal decree, in which God was supposed to have given Christ as a Mediator for the whole human race; and of a special decree, in which God, foreseeing that no one would believe in his unaided strength, was supposed to have elected some to receive the gift of faith. Unquestionably it differs from the Arminian positions in this respect, that the faith was not referred to man’s free will, but was supposed to be derived from God’s free grace. The theory acknowledged the sovereign election of God, according to His good pleasure. But it laboured under the defect of supposing a double and a conflicting decree; that is, a general decree, in which He was said to will the salvation of all, and a special decree, in which He was said to will the salvation of the elect. To Christ also it ascribed a twofold and discordant aim, viz. to satisfy for all men, and to satisfy merely for the elect. As a reconciling system, and an incoherent one, it aimed to harmonize the passages of Scripture, which at one time seem to extend Christ’s merits to the world, and at another to limit them to the church; not to mention that God is supposed to be disappointed in His purpose.2
If the decrees are different kinds of decrees, then there is no conflict, unless we want to assert, apriorily, that the revealed will contradicts the secret will. And a decree based on foreknowledge? This suggests that bare foreknowledge is operative, as some sort of sequential connector, when in fact, Amyraut in his Brief Tract, expressly denies such an idea. And in classic Thomism there is no relationship of succession, of any kind, between the antecedent and consequent will [see Answers to Difficulties, sect 8].
And so, for Cameron and Amyraut, the first two are revealed conditional legislative decrees, the second are what God will freely do in himself. The third decree is not logically dependent upon the prior decree as if by some sort of linear causality, logical or otherwise; which is the case in the standard infar- or supralapsarian orderings.
And this is confirmed by the fact that Davenant knew of two sets of orderings. The one which has election before appointing Christ for the elect, which fits either the standard infra or supra system, and the order which has the appointment of Christ to the world, then election, which mirrors the Cameron-Amyraut order.
So the lesson is, the so-called Amyraldian order of the decrees is actually not even properly comparable to the standard infar- supralapsarian ordering (in the way that the infra ordering can be compared to the supra ordering). The Salmurians were playing a completely different game here, like how Cricket is different to Baseball.
Also, one may not agree with the Cameron-Amyraldian order, yet be a classic-moderate Calvinist and still hold to an infra- or supralapsarian (eg,. Twisse), simply because the two main types of ordering are equivocal. Or, theoretically, you could even agree with the Cameron-Amyraut order and still also hold to either an infra or supra ordering.
When one understands Cameron and Amyraut’s (or Davenant’s) meaning of conditional decree, I do not think the contents of their ordering are that problematic. Nor is the ordering itself that problematic. Personally, I would prefer to reject all forms of ordering the redemptive logic of the divine mind. Indeed, Cameron and Amyraut, for their part, explicitly sought to avoid all speculations about the order of the absolute decrees in the divine mind. There goal was to not engage in that sort of speculative activity.
However, if push came to shove, the so-called Amyraldian order looks fairly attractive because it makes for its starting point the revelation of Christ as the appointed saviour of the world, which directs us to his public office and to the revealed will; whereas for both infra- and supralapsarianism, one has pressed into the secret decrees for their theological and epistemological starting point (which has resulted in a tragedy for the Reformed in my opinion).
1BB Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 31.
2George Smeaton, The Apostles’ doctrine of the atonement, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), 541. [Italics mine.]