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Robert Candlish (1806-1873) on John 3:16

November 29, 2007

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 i. 29, iii. 16, iv. 42, xii. 32; 1 John iv. 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 character—especially of the divine compassion and benevolence—they 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 fulness 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 farther 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.

Robert Candlish, An Inquiry into the Completeness of the Atonement with Especial Reference to the Universal Offer of the Gospel, and the Universal Obligation to be believe, (Edinburgh: John Johnstone, 1845), preface, 25-27.

 

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