Robert Smith Candlish

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Robert S. Candlish.

Robert Smith Candlish (March 23, 1806 – October 19, 1873) was a Scottish minister.


He was born at Edinburgh, and spent his early years in Glasgow, where he graduated in 1823. During the years 1823-1826 he went through the prescribed course at the divinity hall, then presided over by Dr Stevenson MacGill. On leaving, he accompanied a pupil as private tutor to Eton College, where he stayed two years.

In 1829 Candlish entered upon his life's work, having been licensed to preach during the summer vacation of the previous year. After short assistant pastorates at St Andrews, Glasgow, and Bonhill, Dumbartonshire (now Dunbartonshire), he obtained a settled charge as minister of the parish of St George's, Edinburgh. He attracted the attention of his audience by his intellectual keenness, emotional fervour, spiritual insight and power of dramatic representation of character and life. His theology was that of the Scottish Calvinistic school, but he gathered round him one of the largest congregations in the city.

Candlish took an interest in ecclesiastical questions, and he soon became involved in the struggle which was then agitating Church of Scotland. His first Assembly speech, delivered in 1839, placed him among the leaders of the party that afterwards formed the Free Church, and his influence in bringing about the Disruption of 1843 was inferior only to that of Thomas Chalmers. He took his stand on two principles: the right of the people to choose their ministers, and the independence of the church in things spiritual. On his advice Hugh Miller was appointed editor of the Witness, the Free Church organ. He was actively engaged at one time or other in nearly all the various schemes of the church, but particularly the education committee, of which he was convener from 1846 to 1863, and in the unsuccessful negotiations for union among the non-established Presbyterian denominations of Scotland, which were carried on during the years 1863-1873. In the Assembly of 1867 he filled the moderator's chair.

In 1841 the government nominated Candlish to the newly founded chair of Biblical criticism in the university of Edinburgh. Owing to the opposition of Lord Aberdeen,[1][2] however, the presentation was cancelled. In 1847 Candlish, who had received the degree of D.D. from Princeton, New Jersey, in 1841, was chosen by the Assembly of the Free Church to succeed Chalmers in the chair of divinity in the New College, Edinburgh. After partially fulfilling the duties of the office for one session, he was led to resume the charge of St George's, the clergyman who had been chosen by the congregation as his successor having died before entering on his work. In 1862 he succeeded William Cunningham as principal of New College with the understanding that he should still retain his position as minister of St George's.


Candlish made a number of contributions to theological literature. In 1842 he published the first volume of his Contributions towards the Exposition of the Book of Genesis, a work which was completed in three volumes several years later. In 1854 he delivered, in Exeter Hall, London, a lecture on the Theological Essays of the Rev. F. D. Maurice, which he afterwards published, along with a fuller examination of the doctrine of the essays. In this he defended the forensic aspect of the gospel. A treatise entitled The Atonement; its Reality, Completeness and Extent (1861) was based upon a smaller work which first appeared in 1845. In 1864 he delivered the first series of Cunningham lectures, taking for his subject The Fatherhood of God. Published immediately afterwards, the lectures excited considerable discussion on account of the peculiar views they represented. Further illustrations of these views were given in two works published about the same time as the lectures, one a treatise On the Sonship and Brotherhood of Believers, and the other an exposition of the first epistle of St John.


  • William Wilson, Memorials of R. S. Candlish, D.D., with a chapter on his position as a theologian by Robert Rainy.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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