William Cunningham on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

“Many of the events that take place, — such as the sinful actions of men, — are opposed to or inconsistent with, His will as revealed in His law, which is an undoubted indication of what He wished or desired that men should do.

– Historical Theology, vol. 2, p. 452, from the context of Cunningham’s discussion of the distinction between the will of precept and the will of decree 


“Now, in this state the Christian revelation presents itself to their notice, and challenges their investigation. And in doing so it holds out, as one of its leading recommendations, that it professes to give a full solution of these important and perplexing questions which natural religion could not solve. It confirms indeed all the fears and apprehensions of nature as to the intrinsic difficulties connected with the subject of the pardon of sin, and the insufficiency of repentance; but, at the same time, it fully reveals the mercy of God, assures us of his readiness to pardon, and of his desire to save men, and unfolds to us a great scheme through which God has provided for securing this object, in full consistency with all the attributes of his nature and all the principles of his moral government, and gives us full and explicit instructions as to what we must do in order that we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for our sins, and attain to the enjoyment of his favour and eternal happiness.”

– Theological Lectures, p. 120


In one sense, all men are Called, who live within the sound of the Gospel, who have in God’s providence an opportunity either of reading His Word or of hearing it preached.  All such persons are outwardly called, that is, they are all indiscriminately invited and besought to come to God through Christ, to believe in the Lord Jesus; they have all set before them to come to Him, and they are informed  that, if they do come to God through Christ and believe in Him, they will assuredly be saved.”

Sermons: from 1828-1860, God Manifested by the Cross of Christ, p. 143, a sermon on 1 Cor. 1:23,24


“While the offered consolations of the Gospel are addressed indiscriminately to all, the promises are restricted to persons of a particular character and in special circumstances…  There are many who make a profession of Christianity who have not believed in Christ, and who therefore have no warrant to take encouragement and comfort from the word of the Lord.  Even such persons are freely invited…”

– Sermons: from 1828-1860, “The Inference Believers should Draw from the Death of Christ,” p. 185,186, a sermon on Rom. 8:32


“From what has already been said, it must be evident that, if men are to be pardoned and accepted, it must be entirely through God’s free grace in Christ, without any merit or desert on their part; and as this is the only way in which they can receive it, so this is the very way in which it is offered.  A free, unconditional offer of pardon, and acceptance, and eternal life is made to us in the Gospel;  no qualification is required on our part to warrant us to accept it; the offer is absolute; and as we could never have merited to have such an offer made to us, so nothing but the mere fact that the offer is made is necessary to warrant us to claim it.

The offers and invitations of the Gospel come addressed to men just in their natural character as guilty and depraved creatures, and they are therefore not only Warranted but Called to accept of them even as they are

By the Constitution which God has appointed, and which alone can be available for the salvation of sinners, men must not look to their own hearts or conduct for any warrant or encouragement to come to Christ and embrace Him as their Savior.  The warrant and encouragement to do so, rests exclusively upon the Statements of God’s word; and if the case is rightly understood, it must be clearly seen that there is no room whatever for going about to establish our own righteousness, but an imperative call upon every one, and without delay, to submit themselves to the righteousness of God, to close with the Divine method of justification through faith in the righteousness of Christ, immediately to accept of the Gospel offer, and to believe in the name of God’s Son.

Let sinners reflect on this, and keep not back from God, who so freely invites them through Jesus Christ; nor let them stay away from Christ, who will accept them all who come to Him, if they come with no idea of merit, or attempt at preparation.”  

– Sermons: from 1828-1860, “The Folly of Self-Righteousness,” p. 222-223, a sermon on Rom. 10:3


See Also

Cunningham’s, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, p. 591-596

Where Cunningham discusses the 17th of the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church, which says, “Furthermore, we must receive God’s promises in such wise as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture; and in our doings, that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.”

Cunningham’s, Historical Theology, vol 2, “Extent of Atonement and Gospel Offer,” p. 332-334, 343-348

Here is a select quote, amongst many others:  

“Secondly, It is not denied by the advocates of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, that mankind in general, even those who ultimately perish, do derive some advantages or benefits from Christ’s death; and no position they hold requires them to deny this.  They believe that important benefits have accrued to the whole human race from the death of Christ, and that in these benefits those who are finally impenitent and unbelieving partake

Many blessings flow to mankind at large from the death of Christ, collaterally and incidentally, in consequence of the relation in which men, viewed collectively, stand to each other.  All these benefits were of course forseen by God, when He resolved to send His Son into the world; they were contemplated or designed by Him, as what men should receive and enjoy.  They are to be regarded and received as bestowed by Him, and as thus unfolding His glory, indicating His character, and actually accomplishing His purposes; and they are to be viewed as coming to men through the channel of Christ’s mediation, of His sufferings and death. [There is a footnote to Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, Book 2, Ch. 9, Section 4]

The truth of this position has been considered as affording some warrant for saying, in a vague and indefinite sense, that Christ died for all men; and in this sense, and on this account, some Calvinists have scrupled about meeting the position that Christ died for all men with a direct negative, as if they might thus be understood as denying that there was any sense in which all men derived benefit, and in which God intended that they should derive benefit from Christ’s death…

The advocates of universal atonement, then, have no right to charge us with teaching that none derive any benefit from Christ’s death except those who are pardoned and saved; we do not teach this, and we are not bound in consistency to teach it.  We teach the opposite of this; and we are not deterred from doing so by the fear lest we should thereby afford to those who are opposed to us…”

From p. 348:

“…it cannot be proved [from Limited Atonement] that there is any inconsistency or insincerity [in the Gospel offer and call], that there is any injustice or deception, on God’s part, in anything which He says or does in this matter, even though the intended destination of the atonement was to effect and secure the forgiveness and salvation of the elect only, even though He did not design or purpose, by sending His son into the world, to save any but those who are saved.”


These quotes were compiled by Rev. Rob McCurley and Rev. Sherman Isebll

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The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel