John Brown of Edinburgh on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

1784 – 1858

Brown was a Seceder minister in Scotland, a renowned bible commentator and the grandson of John Brown of Haddington.



Expository Discourses on First Peter

p. 485

Unbelieving, impenitent sinner, you are yet within the sphere [of the hearing of the gospel], throughout which the infinite atonement is shedding its saving influence.  Once more, it may be only once more, you hear the sincere, affectionate call of “God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to men their trespasses:” “Be reconciled.” (2 Cor. 5:20)  He who knew no sin, has been made sin in the room of men, that they may be made the righteousness of God in Him.  “Turn ye, turn ye, form your evil ways, for why will ye die?” (Eze. 33:11)  “Behold the Lamb of God bearing, and bearing away, the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)  “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sin.” (Acts 13:18)  “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” even the chief (1 Tim. 1:15); that He came to “give his flesh for the life of the world;” (John 6:51) that “his blood cleanseth us from all sin;” (1 John 1:7) and that “He is able to save to the uttermost all coming to God by Him.” (Heb. 7:25)  Believe, and live.  Persist in unbelief, and absolutely certain, inconceivably dreadful, must be your peridition.  The Divine decree, confirmed with an oath, “the unbeliever shall not enter into my rest,” is unrepealed, unrepealable.

But, blessed be God, not less surely established in the heavens is that faithful saying, “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER,” – whosoever, though his sins in number be infinite, and in heinousness and aggravation beyond all created power to estimate – whosoever, however frequently he has, in resisting the command to believe, and in refusing the offer of mercy, called God a liar, and trampled under foot equally his authority and his grace – whosoever “believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)


page 499

But nothing is plainer than that this reconciliation, and the blessings flowing from it, were intended to be, and are in fact, freely offered to all who hear the gospel; and who that knows anything of the character of Him who makes the offer, dare express or even harbor a doubt as to that offer being a most sincere and unequivocal one?  The satisfaction made was perfect satisfaction.  The law could demand no more.  The atonement is an infinite atonement: Christ, the incarnate, only begotten, suffered for sin, the just One in the room of the unjust.  For every human being, then, however guilty and depraved, to whom the gospel comes, there is reconciliation through Christ, if he will but gladly and gratefully receive what is freely given him of God.



The Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord Jesus Christ

vol. 1, page 42-43, 1856 edition

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

John 3:14,15

The blessings of salvation are thus freely presented to all to whom the Gospel comes; and nothing is necessary to secure participation in these blessings, but the faith of the truth; and that is necessary, not as a meritorious condition, but as an indispensable means.  It is just as if a rich feast were presented to a famishing multitude, and it were said, ‘He that eats of this feast shall be relieved from the pangs of hunger, and shall be refreshed and strengthened.’  The eating is obviously not the meritorious condition; but it is, from the nature of things, the indispensable means of relief from hunger and exhaustion, and of the enjoyment of the refreshing and invigorating effects of the prepared viands.  Many seem to think that the declaration, that whosoever believes shall be saved, is a kind of limitation of the Gospel offer.  But it is just such a limitation as that which we have referred to, ‘Whosoever eats shall be satisfied.’  To say, that whosoever believes shall be saved, is just to say, that the guiltiest of the guilty, and the vilest of the vile, is welcome to salvation, and shall assuredly obtain salvation, if he will but receive it in the only way in which, from the nature of the case, it can be received, in the faith of the truth respecting Jesus Christ, the incarnate only begotten Son of God, as the Savior, the only Savior, the all-sufficient Savior.



page 44

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

 John 3:16,17


V.– Of the Primary Source of the Economy of Salvation, the Love of God to the World

Let us now proceed to consider the primary source of this economy of salvation, as stated by our Lord.  The love of God, the love of God to the world.  ‘God so loved the world.’

Christ did not die that God might love man; He died because God loved man.  ‘God commended his love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’  ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9,10)  The atonement is thus not the cause, but the effect, of the love of God.  It is the wonderful expedient devised by infinite wisdom, to render the manifestation of sovereign kindness to a guilty race, not merely consistent with, but gloriously illustrative of the righteousness of the Divine character, as displayed both in the requisitions and sanctions of that holy law which man had violated.

Having thus endeavored to show that the atonement of Christ is not the procuring cause of God’s love to sinners, but the means which God in his wisdom devised for rendering the display of his love consistent with his righteousness, I go on to illustrate somewhat more particularly, the great truth upon which, in this part of the subject, I wish to fix your attention: that the whole of that wondrous economy of salvation unfolded by our Lord, proceeds from the love of God, from the love of God to the world.

2.  The love of God to the world the origin of the plan of salvation.

There is another idea to which I wish for a little to turn your attention on this part of the subject.  The love in which the economy of salvation originates is love to the world.  ‘God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son.’  The term ‘world’ is here just equivalent to mankind.  It seems to be used by our Lord with a reference to the very limited and exclusive views of the Jews.  They thought God loved them, and hated all the other nations of mankind.  These were their own feelings, and they foolishly thought that God was altogether such an one as themselves.  They accordingly expected that the Messiah was to come to deliver Israel, and to punish and destroy the other nations of the earth.  But ‘God’s ways were not their ways, nor his thoughts their thoughts.  As the heavens are high above the earth, so were his ways above their ways, and his thoughts above their thoughts.’ (Isa. 55:8,9)


[Webmaster’s note:  To understand Brown correctly in what he says below one must understand the majority reformed view of the necessity of the atonement: Absolute Consequent Necessity, which Brown describes on page 46 before the passage below.  God, having freely chosen to save his elect, was necessitated to do it in a way in harmony with his moral attributes, which could only be done by sacrificing his Son for sinners.  The atonement makes salvation possible, whereas salvation is not possible without an atonement.  The atonement of God the Son in human nature is the grounds of the gospel offer to all men and thus makes all men capable of being saved.  Salvation is not possible for the angels, as God the Son did not assume their nature and did note provide an atonement to be offered to them.

Brown below that Christ had a special intention in the atonement in dying for the elect.  He does not describe a general atonement, that Christ meritoriously paid for the sins of all mankind.  He does affirm, as carefully articulated by him below, a general or universal intention of Christ in the atonement to all mankind, in order to provide the grounds of a sincere gospel offer to world.  That the general gospel offer was intended in the atonement to all that should hear of it has also been taught by John Ball, John Preston, Stephen Charnock, Robert Candlish, Robert Dabney, Geerhardus Vos, and many others as documented here]

Some have supposed that the word ‘world’ here, is descriptive, not of mankind generally, but of the whole of a particular class, that portion of mankind who, according to the Divine purpose of mercy, shall ultimately become partakers of the salvation of Christ [that is, the elect].  But this is to give to the term a meaning altogether unwarranted by the usage of Scripture.  There can be no doubt in the mind of a person who understands the doctrine of personal election, that those who are actually saved are the objects of a special love on the part of God; and that the oblation of the Savior had a special design in reference to them.  But there can be as little doubt, that the atonement of Christ has a general reference to mankind at large; and that it was intended as a display of love on the part of God to our guilty race.  Not merely was the atonement offered by Christ Jesus sufficient for the salvation of the whole world, but it was intended and fitted to remove out of the way of the salvation of sinners generally, every bar which the perfections of the Divine moral character, and the principles of the Divine moral government, presented.  Without that atonement, no sinner could have been pardoned in consistency with justice.  In consequence of that atonement, every sinner may be, and if he believe in Jesus certainly shall be, pardoned and saved.  Through the medium of this atonement, the Divine Being is revealed to sinners, indiscriminately, as gracious and ready to forgive; and the invitations and promises warranting men to confide in Christ for salvation, are addressed to all, and are true and applicable to all without exception or restriction.

The revelation of mercy made in the Gospel, refers to men as sinners, not as elect sinners.  Their election, or their non-election, is something of which, when called on to believe the Gospel, they are necessarily entirely ignorant, and with which they have nothing to do.  ‘The kindness and love of God toward man,’ [Titus 3:4] the Divine philanthropy, is revealed.  ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.’ [2 Cor. 5:19]  He appears in the revelation of mercy as the God who ‘has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; [Eze. 33:11] who willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ [1 Tim. 2:4]  ‘The grace of God’ revealed in the Gospel ‘brings salvation to all,’ [Titus 2:11] without exception, who in the faith of the truth will receive it.

I am persuaded that the doctrine of personal election is very plainly taught in Scripture; but I am equally persuaded that the minister misunderstands that doctrine who finds it, in the least degree, hampering him in presenting a full and a free salvation as the gift of God to everyone who hears the Gospel; and that the man abuses the doctrine who finds in it anything which operates as a barrier in the way of his receiving, as a sinner, all the blessings of the christian salvation, in the belief of the truth.  Indeed, when rightly understood, it can have no such effect.  For what is that doctrine, but just this, in other words, ‘It is absolutely certain that a vast multitude of the race of man shall be saved through Christ?’  And it is as certain, that if anyone of those to whom that salvation is offered, remains destitute of it, and perishes eternally, it is entirely owing to his own obstinate refusal of what is freely, honestly, presented to him.  The kindness of God, as manifested in the gift of his Son, is kindness to the race of man; and when as an individual, I credit the kindness of God to man, so strangely displayed, so abundantly proved, I cannot find any reason why I should not depend on this kindness, and expect to be saved even as others.

Whenever a man hesitates about placing his dependence on the mercy of God, because he is not sure whether he be elected or not, he gives clear evidence that he does not yet understand the Gospel.  He does not apprehend ‘the manifestation of the love of God to man.’  When he sees God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, ‘he does not need to ask, Is the plan of mercy such as I am warranted to embrace? may I not somehow be excluded from availing myself of it?  These, and similar suggestions, which draw away his mind from the voice of God to the speculations of his own mind, are no more regarded.’  He sees God rich in mercy, ready to forgive; just, and the justifier of the ungodly.  He cannot but place his confidence in Him.  ‘Jehovah,’ as it has been happily said,

‘by the manifestation of what he has done, especially in sending Christ, and delivering him up, the just in the room of the unjust, [God] pleads his own cause with such subduing pathos, that there is no more power of resistance; but the person, who is the object of the demonstration, yields himself up to the authority and glory of the truth.’  (Hogg of Alyth, Scotland, View of the Economy of Grace, pp. 14-15)

The sinner thus cordially believing the Gospel, gladly and gratefully receives ‘the Savior of the world’ as his Savior, and trusts that by the grace of God he shall partake of ‘the common salvation.’ [Jude 1:3]



vol. 1, page 430, 1856 edition

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

John 7:37

4.  The free unlimited extent of the invitation – “If any man…”

The free and unrestricted nature of the invitation, now deserves notice.  Not only is the descriptive character of those invited, “those who thirst,” common to all human beings, but the invitation is so fashioned, that no human being can find the shadow of a reason for thinking himself excluded.  ‘If any man thirst – any human being, however mean, guilty, depraved, and wretched, wish to be happy – let him, in the belief of the truth about me, exercise the affections which that truth believed naturally produces, and he shall be happy.’  It is not, ‘If any man be deeply sensible of his guilt, depravity, and wretchedness, let him come to me and drink.’  Such are invited; but if that were all, as some have taught, thus, however unintentionally, clogging with conditions the unhampered offer of a free salvation, men might think that till they had brought themselves, or were in some way or other brought, into a state. of deep contrition, and earnest seeking after pardon, and holiness, and salvation, it would be presumption in them to come to Christ, or even look towards the Saviour for salvation.  But the invitation is, ‘Whosoever wishes to be happy, let him come to me, sinful and miserable as he is, and in me he shall find salvation.  If thou art not a brute, if thou art not a devil- however like the one in sensuality, or the other in malignity- thou art invited.  If thou art on earth, not in bell, thou art invited.’ 

The blessings of the christian salvation are thus exactly suitable to our case, absolutely necessary to our happiness, and so abundant in measure, that there is enough for all, and to spare.  The invitation is addressed to us, as well as to those who originally heard it.  Have we complied with it?


page 641

The connection between our Lord’s death and his drawing all men to Him, by the unconditionally free invitations of his Gospel, may be easily stated in a sentence or two.  Had not atonement been made by the death of Christ, there could have been no salvation to offer to any of the fallen race of man.  It is because ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin,’ that to men is proclaimed the forgiveness of sins, and that they are assured that ‘he that believeth in Him shall be justified from all things, from which men could not have been justified by the law of Moses.’  ‘The ministry of reconciliation,’ has for its great subject, the atoning death of Christ, his being made sin in our room, and it is on the ground of this infinite atonement that men are assured that ‘God is reconciling the world to Himself,’ and that they are besought to be reconciled to God.’




Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel