Robert Candlish on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel


Candlish was an influential leader and theologian in the Free Church of Scotland.



The Cross of Christ; The Call of God; Saving Faith: An Inquiry into the Completeness and Extent of the Atonement, with Especial Reference to the Universal Offer of the Gospel, and the Universal Obligation to Believe, 1845, the later book below is an expansion of this earlier one.  See especially Chapter 1, pp. 3-12.

Preface xxv-xxvii, this excerpt was compiled by David Ponter 

There is one other series of texts in which, as we freely admit, the universal bearing on mankind at large, of the exhibition of the cross, and the proclamation of the gospel, is graciously and gloriously attested.  These are such as John 1:29, 3:16, 4:42, 12:32; 1 John 4:14.  Generally, these passages coincide, in substance, with those of the class first cited, which assert the indiscriminate applicability of Christ’s work, without respect of persons, or distinction of “Jew or Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free;” and they equally, with the former, fall under the remark of Professor Moses Stuart, in the extract which we have given from his book.  But they seem to go a little farther; and having respect, not to the design and efficacy of the atonement, in its accomplishment and application, nor even, strictly speaking, to its sufficiency, but solely to the discovery which, as a historical transaction, it is fitted to make of the divine characterespecially of the divine compassion and benevolencethey are to be regarded as giving intimation of the widest possible universality.

This is particularly the case in that most blessed statement: “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 we would be little disposed to qualify or explain away the term “world,” as here employed.  We rather rejoice in this text, as asserting that the gospel has a gracious aspect to the world, or to mankind, as such. “God so-loved the world”—that is, of mankind in opposition to angels—mankind as such, without reference to elect or non-elect; the giving of his Son was a display of goodwill towards men.  Let it be observed, however, that even here nothing is said about God’s giving his Son for all; on the contrary, the very terms in which the gift of his Son is described, imply a limitation of it to them that believe; on which limitation, indeed, depends the fullness of the blessing conveyed by it.  The design of Christ’s death is very pointedly restricted, as to its extent, to them that believe; while, on that very account, this gift of God is amplified, and expanded, and stretched out, in regard to the amount of benefit intended to be communicated, so as to take in not only escape from perishing, but the possession of everlasting life.  It is the gift of his Son, with this limited design, which is represented as being an index and measure of his love to the world at large, or to mankind as such; and it is so, through the manifestation which the cross gives to all alike and indiscriminately, of what it is in the mind and heart of God to do for a race of guilty sinners.  As to any further meaning in that text, it can only be this: that it is a testimony to the priority or precedency of God’s love to man, as going before, and not following from, the mediation and work of Christ.  We speak, of course, of the order of nature and causation, not of the order of time.  In the counsels of eternity there can be no comparing of dates: but it is important to adjust the connection of sequence or dependence between the love of God to man, and the work of Christ for man, as cause and effect, respectively.  And one main object of this statement of our Lord undoubtedly is, to represent the Father’s good-will to men as the source and origin of the whole scheme of salvation, in opposition to the false and superstitious idea of God’s kindness being, as it were, purchased and reluctantly extorted by the interposition of one more favourable and friendly than himself, to our guilty and perishing world.


p. 4-6

I.  In point of fact, the death of Christ, or his work of obedience and atonement, has procured for the world at large, and for every individual–the impenitent and unbelieving as well as the chosen, and called, and faithful–certain definite, tangible, and ascertainable benefits (if we may use such words to designate their reality and their specific character), among which, in particular, may be noted these two: 

first, A season of forbearance–a respite or suspension of judgment–a period of grace (Rom. 3:25); and that, too, in subserviency, and with direct reference, to the plan of saving mercy (ibid., and Rom. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:15); and,

secondly, A system of means and influences fitted to lead men to God, and sufficient to leave them without excuse (Acts 14:15-17, and 17:22-31; Rom. 1:18, and 2:15).  This, since the promulgation of the gospel includes all the ordinances of God’s worship, with the accompanying common operations of the Spirit in them.

Nor does it affect this statement, as to the actual obligation under which mankind at large, including the finally lost, lie to Christ and his work, for benefits, in point of fact, real and valuable, that this season of long-suffering, and this system of means, are extended to them all indiscriminately, mainly and chiefly for the sake of the elect who are among them.  For

in the first place, It does not appear that this can be established from scripture, to be the only reason which God has for such a mode of dealing with the world.  It is true, indeed, that the elect are the salt of the earth, whose presence would procure a respite even for a Sodom; and when they are gathered in, and not a soul remains to be converted, the end will come.  But this does not prove that God may not have other ends to serve, besides the salvation of his elect people–and ends more closely connected with the individuals themselves who are thus spared and subjected to salutary influences, though in vain–when He extends to them his goodness for a time.  And,

secondly, whether directly or indirectly–mediately or immediately–for their own sake’s or the elect’s–the fact, after all, is the same–and it is important and significant–that the forbearance granted to every sinner, and the favor shown in such a way as should lead him to repentance, must be ascribed to the interposition of Christ, and his sacrifice on the cross.  May not this consideration, of itself, go far to explain not only the strong and touching appeals made generally to sinners, as forsaking their own mercies (Jonah 2:8), but even such awful denunciations as that uttered by the Apostle Peter respecting apostates bringing in damnable heresies, that they deny the Lord that bought them? (2 Pet. 2:1)–not to speak of a still more terrible sense in which even the reprobate may be truly said to be bought by Christ, inasmuch as, for his obedience unto death, he has received the right, and power, and commission to dispose of them, and deal with them, as it may seem meet, for the honor of his Father’s name, and the salvation of his people.  (Ps. 2; John 17:2 [see also Col. 1:20]) 

It may be observed, in passing, that there is a double sense in which we may speak of Christ’s purchase;

first, Strictly and properly, when we regard Him as purchasing men; and

secondly, More improperly, when we consider Him as purchasing benefits for men.  

This last view [the second], as we have hinted, is rather figurative and metaphorical than real and literal; for the idea of his purchasing benefits from the Father for mankind, must ever be understood in consistency with the Father’s sovereignty, and his pre-existing love to the children of men.  The Father is not induced or persuaded to bestow benefits on men by a price paid to Him; but being antecedently full of compassion to all, and having a purpose to save some, He appoints and ordains–He decrees and brings in–this death of his Son as a satisfaction to divine justice, and a propitiation for human guilt, that He may be justified in showing forbearance to and kindness to the world, as well as in ultimately and gloriously saving his one elect.  In this view, as it would seem, it may be said, with equal fitness, and equal truth, that Christ purchased the benefits implied in the long suffering of God for all, and that He purchased the blessings of actual salvation for his elect; inasmuch as, so far as appears from Scripture, his death is no less indispensable a condition of any being spared for a season, than it is of some being everlastingly saved.

In regard, again, to the other light in which Christ’s purchase may be viewed as a purchase, not of certain benefits for men, but of men themselves [the first view], there is room for an important distinction.  In right of merit, his service, and his sacrifice, all are given into his hands, and all are his.  All, therefore, may be said to be bought by him, inasmuch as, by his humiliation, obedience and death, He has obtained, as by purchase, a right over all–He has got all under his power.  But it is for very different purposes and ends.  The reprobate are his to be judged; the elect are his to be saved.  As to the former, it is no ransom or redemption, fairly so called.  He has won them–bought them, if you will–but it is that He may so dispose of them as to glorify the retributive righteousness of God in their condemnation; aggravated, as that condemnation must be, by their rejection of Himself.  This is no propitiation, in any sense at all–no offering of Himself to bear their sins–no bringing in of a perfect righteousness on their account; but an office or function which He has obtained for Himself by the same work–or has had entrusted to Him for the sake of the same shedding of blood–by which He expiated the sins of his people, as their true and proper substitute, and merited their salvation, as their representative and head–an office or function, moreover, which He undertakes solely on his people’s behalf, and which He executes faithfully for their good, as well as for His Father’s glory.

II.   In addition to this general benefit, in point of fact, resulting to mankind at large from the interposition of Christ, or rather, perhaps, as included in it, may be mentioned the manifestation which the death of Christ is fitted to give to all men, universally, and to every individual alike, of the divine character and the divine plan of salvation.  In this view, Christ is the light which, coming into the world, lights every man [John 1:9].  Lifted up upon the cross, Jesus reveals the Father, and the Father’s provision for reconciling the exercise of mercy towards the guilty with the maintenance of law and justice; and this service is rendered, not to the elect specially, but to men generally and universally.



The Atonement, Its Efficacy and Extent, 1867

This an expansion of the earlier book above. The first half of this work defends Limited Atonement and the second half defends the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel.

Part 2 – The Question Viewed in its Practical Relation to the Gospel Call and the Acceptance of it by Faith, see especially Chapters 1 & 2 of Part 2, pp. 169-208.  Here are a few quotes:


p. 196-201

II.  But not only is the cross of Christ a manifestation equally to all of the name or nature of God,– it is the proof and measure of that infinite compassion which dwells in the bosom of God towards each and all of the lost race of Adam, and his infinite willingness, or rather longing and yearning desire, to receive each and all of them again into his favor.  Even the cross itself would almost seem to be an inadequate expression–thought it is a blessed confirmation–of what is in his heart;--of the feeling, so to speak, to which He gives utterance, when, enforcing his appeal by an oath, He swears: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked;’–and of the deep, ineffable sincerity of his assurance, that He would rather–how much rather!–‘that the wicked should turn from his way and live‘ [Eze. 18]

Here, once more, I must ask the thoughtful student of scripture to discriminate.

There is a well known theological distinction between God’s will of decree (voluntas decreti) and his will of desire or of good pleasure (voluntas beneplaciti)–between what his mind, on a consideration of all interests, actually determines, and what his heart, from its very nature, if I may venture to use the expression, cannot but decidedly prefer or wish.  The types, or expressions, of these two wills respectively, are to be found in two classes of texts which are commonly quoted as proofs and instances of the reality of the distinction between them…

Of the other class of texts, indicating the other aspect of the will of God,–his will, if one may so speak, of nature, or of natural preference and desire,–examples in abundance might be quoted; but one may suffice.  That that in which the Lord pours forth his earnest longing, almost in a burst of pathetic and passionate regret: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!  I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned my hand against their adversaries”–“He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (Ps. 81:13-14,16).

This latter will of desire or good pleasure, as distinguished from the former will of determination or decree, denotes the pure complacency with which God approves of a certain result as just and holy and good in itself.  On that account He delights in it, and therefore wills to enjoin it on the creature, as his most bounden duty.  And for the same reason, in enjoining it, He cannot but add the assurance of his most willing acceptance of it, whensoever, and howsoever realized.

Even in a human agent, some such distinction as is here contended for must be recognized.  Knowing the character–knowing his very heart,–you can at once specify, promptly and most confidently, what would be most agreeable and welcome to him,–what sort of scene or spectacle he would most delight to contemplate.  But you must know a great deal more respecting his opinions, and the circumstances with which these opinions come into contact–or, in a word, respecting his mind,–his judgment as to what, in certain contingencies, he is to do, and the reasons of his judgment,–before you can be qualified to understand the whole of his procedure.  Still, if he were a straightforward man, you would act without hesitation, in any case in which your personal interest was concerned, on what you knew of his heart, although you might have much perplexity in discerning, or even conjecturing, all the views which, in certain difficult cases, must enter into the making up of his mind.

So is it with God.  His will, as determining what, in any given case, is to be the actual result realized, is an act of his omniscient mind, which He need not explain to us.  But his will, as defining what, in every conceivable case, would be the result most agreeable and welcome to Him, is an inherent part of his nature, and, as it were, a feature of his heart.  In the one view, his will is consistent with many being impenitent and lost; in the other, his will, or rather He Himself, would have all men everywhere to repent and be saved.

Now, it is into this latter will, this will of the DIVINE HEART, and not into the former, the will of the DIVINE MIND,–it is into what God, from his very nature, must and does desire, in reference to lost sinners, and not into what God, for ends and on principles as yet unknown, has decreed,–that the cross of Christ gives mankind at large, and every individual, if he will but look, a clear, unequivocal, and most satisfying insight.  To every individual, believer or not, elect or not, it is a proof and pledge of the Father’s bowels of compassion yearning over him, and the Father’s eye looking out for him, and the Father’s arms open to embrace him freely, if he will but be moved to return

This alone is sufficient to lay a foundation for the universality of the gospel offer or call; to vindicate its sincerity or good faith on the part of God; and to demonstrate its sufficiency as regards men.

p. 211

3.  To all alike, it [the work of Christ] is a proof and pledge of the desire, the earnest and strong desire, subsisting in the divine heart, to see every sinner return to Himself, and to welcome every one so returning.  That desire is involved in the very nature of God, considered as originating such a plan of salvation at all,–whatever, on grounds and reasons unknown to us, his decree may be, as to its extent, or as to its actual issue and result.




Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel