Moderate Calvinism in England

The personal views of the Reformers are no less convincing. John Hooper (1495-1555) affirmed that Christ died “for the love of us poor and miserable sinners, whose place he occupied upon the cross, as a pledge, or one that represented the person of all the sinners that ever were, be now, or shall be unto the world’s end.” Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) could preach that “Christ shed as much blood for Judas, as he did for Peter: Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe, and therefore he was condemned.” Thomas Cranmer (1489- 1556) also says that Christ “by His own oblation… satisfied His Father for all men’s sins and reconciled mankind unto His grace and favour.” John Bradford (1520-55) explains these universalist statements with reference to election when he asserts that “Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but effectual for the elect only.”The Elizabethan Anglicans were no different in their understanding. John Jewel (1552-71) wrote that on the cross Christ declared “It is finished” to signify “that the price and ransom was now full paid for the sin of all mankind.” Elsewhere he proclaimed that “The death of Christ is available for the redemption of all the world” Richard Hooker (1553-1600) states an identical view when he says that Christ’s “precious and propitiatory sacrifice” was “offered for the ins of all the world.” Against this theological background, John Davenant (1570-1641) argued that, notwithstanding God’s secret decree of predestination, “The death of Christ is the universal cause of the salvation of mankind, and Christ himself is acknowledged to have died for all men sufficiently… by reason of the Evangelical covenant confirmed with the whole human race through the merit of his death.” This “evangelical covenant,” he adds is the basis on which “Christ sent his Apostles into all the world, (Mark 16:15, 16)… On which words of promise, the learned Calvin has rightly remarked, That this promise was added that it might allure the whole human race to faith.”

~ Alan Clifford Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790 pg. 79-80

A few pages earlier he records Edmund Calamy’s words on the floor of the Westminster Assembly:

I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense; but that that I hold is in the sense of our divines in the Synod of Dort, that Christ did pay a price for all… that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe. (75)

When Calamy says “our divines” he has in mind folks like Davenant. This is important to remember when we talk about Westminster. The majority of delegates at Westminster considered themselves Anglicans. There were some independents, to be sure, but the general self-identification was with the Church of England. There was no notion that the historic Church of England was somehow opposed to Calvinism or Reformed Theology.

We have to understand that this “Moderate Calvinism” was very much the background for the Westminsterians, even though there was an incredible influence coming from Beza, Perkins, and finally John Owen. If we start adding to the list of Moderates Ussher, Polhill, Arrowsmith, Scudder, Sibbes, Charnock, Howe, and Bunyan the landscape becomes even clearer. In the 19th century, Dabney is critical of Amyraut and the “hypothetical universalists,” but what does he give us? Something very similar to what I’ve quoted above.

The liberals were the High Calvinists and the Arminians. Those two streams departed from the tradition, and however popular they may have become, and trust me, both became very popular, they must be understood as the aberrations.

This entry was posted in atonement, church history by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

3 thoughts on “Moderate Calvinism in England

  1. History is full of ironies.

    The Scottish delegates to Westminster were hit by a storm as they were sailing down to London. They were forced to stop off in Holland for a few days. Some of the anti-Amyraut campaigners were met Rutherford, Bailey and co, and asked them to have Twisse have the Westminster assembly make a pronouncement against Amyraut.

    So now on the floor of the debating room, you have Calamy using this language:

    Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe.

    The irony is, the man who was to have been asked to condemn this language was himself using it freely:

    But seing pardon of sinne and salvation are benefites merited by Christ, not to be conferred absolutely but conditionally, to witt, upon condition of faith; we may be bold to say, that Christ in some sense dyed for all and every one, that is, he dyed to procure remission of sinnes, and salvation unto all and everyone in case they believe; and as this is true, so way we well say, and the Councell of Dort might well say; that every one who heares the Gospel is bound to believe that Christ dyed for him in this sense, namely, to obtayne salvation for him in case he believe.

    William Twisse, The Doctrine of the Synod of Dort and Arles, 165.

    Twisse had been making these statements all over the place.

    How could one say that Calamy should be excluded from Westminsterian orthodoxy on this point, but not Twisse? Would such a move to exclude one, but condemn the other even begin to make sense?

    Thus history is ironic at times.

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