Short Account of the Life of the Rev. David Dickson
Biography by the Rev. Robert Wodrow
The following account is the production of Wodrow the historian, and was originally prefixed to an edition of a work entitled Truth's victory Over Error first published in 1684. This edition is editied by Rev. W.K.Tweedie, in 'Select Biographies' printed for the Wodrow Society, 1847.
The following account is the production of Wodrow the historian, and was originally prefixed
to an edition of a work entitled Truth's victory Over Error first published in 1684.
This edition is editied by Rev. W.K.Tweedie, in 'Select Biographies' printed for the Wodrow Society, 1847.
SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE LIFE OF THE REV. DAVID DICKSON.
If ever a Scots biography, and the lives of our eminent ministers and Christians, be published, Mr Dickson would shine there as a star of the first magnitude. Till such necessary work appear, which would require able hands, and much help from such as have the remains of our worthies in possession, I shall drop a few hints of what I have met with as to this good man.
Mr David Dick or Dickson was the only son of John Dick or Dickson, merchant in Glasgow, whose father was an old feuar, and possessor of some lands in the Barony of Fintry, and Parish of St Ninian's, called the Kirk of the Muir.(He is supposed to have been born about the year 1583) His parents were religious persons, of considerable substance, and many years married before they had this child, and he was the only one ever they had, as I am informed. As he was a Samuel, asked of the Lord, so he was early devoted to Him and the ministry; yet, afterwards, the vow was forgot, till Providence by a rod, and sore sickness on their son, brought their sin to remembrance; and then he was put to renew his studies which he had left, and at the University of Glasgow he made very great progress in them.
Soon after he had received the degree of Master of Arts, he was admitted Regent, or Professor of Philosophy in that college, where he was very useful in training up the youth in solid learning; and with the learned Principal Boyd of Trochridge, the worthy Mr Robert Blair, and other pious members of that learned society, his pains were singularly blessed in reviving decayed serious piety among the youths, in that declining and corrupted time, a little after the imposing of Prelacy upon us.
By a recommendation of the General Assembly, not long after our reformation from Popery, the regents were only to continue eight years in their profession, after which, such as were found qualified were licensed, and upon calls, after trials, admitted to the holy ministry. By this constitution, this Church came to be filled with ministers well seen in all the branches of useful learning. Accordingly, Mr Dickson was, 1618, ordained minister to the town of Irvine, where he laboured about twenty-three years.
That very year the corrupt Assembly at Perth agreed to the five known articles, palmed upon the Church by the king and prelates.( They were--1. Kneeling at the Communion. 2. Observance of Holy-days, Christmas, Good Friday, and the like. 3. Confirmation by a Bishop. 4. Private Baptism; and, 5. Private Communion.) Mr Dickson had not much studied these questions till the articles were imposed by this meeting; then he closely examined them, and the more he looked into them, the more aversion he found to them; and when, some time after, by a sore sickness, he was brought within views of death and eternity, he gave open testimony of their sinfulness.
When this came to take air, Mr James Law, Archbishop of Glasgow, summoned him to appear before the High Commission, January 29, 1622. Mr Dickson, at his entrance to his ministry at Irvine, had preached upon 2 Cor. v 11, the first part, "Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men ;" when at this juncture he apprehended a separation, at least for a time, the Sabbath before his compearance, he chose the next words of that verse, "But we are made manifest unto God." Extraordinary power, and singular moving of affections, accompanied that parting sermon.
According to the summons, Mr Dickson appeared before the Commission the day named. His prudent carriage, the declinature he gave in, the railing of Archbishop Spotswood thereupon, the sentence of deprivation and confinement to Turriff passed upon him, with his Christian speech upon the intimation of it, are to be found in Mr Calderwood's History.
After much intercession with the bishops, and various turns in this affair, narrated by the last named historian, he got liberty to quit Turriff; and returned to his longing flock July 1623, where his ministerial work was no more interrupted until he was called to a more important station, as we shall hear.
At Irvine Mr Dickson's ministry was singularly countenanced of God. Multitudes were convinced and converted; and few that lived in his day were more honoured to be instruments of conversion than he. People, under exercise and soul concern, came from every place about Irvine, and attended upon his sermons; and the most eminent and serious Christians, from all corners of the Church, came and joined with him at his communions, which were indeed times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord of these amiable institutions; yea, not a few came from distant places and settled in Irvine, that they might be under the drop of his ministry. Yet he himself used to observe, that the vintage of Irvine was not equal to the gleanings, and not once to be compared to the harvest at Ayr, in Mr John Welch's time, when indeed the gospel had wonderful success, in conviction, conversion, and confirmation.
Mr Dickson had his week-day sermons upon the Mondays, the market days then at Irvine. Upon the Sabbath evenings many persons, under soul distress, used to resort to his house after sermon, when usually he spent an hour or two in answering their cases, and directing and comforting those who were cast down, in all which he had an extraordinary talent; indeed, he had the tongue of the learned, and knew how to speak a word in season to the weary soul. In a large hall he had in his house at Irvine, there would have been, as I am informed by old Christians, several scores of serious Christians waiting for him when he came from the church. Those, with the people round the town, who came into the market at Irvine, made the church as throng, if not thronger, on the Mondays as on the Lord's Day. By those week-day sermons, the famous Stewarton sickness was begun about the year 1630, and spread from house to house for many miles in the Strath, where Stewarton water runs, on both sides of it. Satan, indeed, endeavoured to bring a reproach upon the serious persons who were at this time under the convincing work of the Spirit, by running some, seemingly under serious concern, to excesses, both in time of sermon and in families. But the Lord enabled Mr Dickson, and other ministers who dealt with them, to act so prudent a part, as Satan's design was much disappointed, and solid serious practical religion flourished mightily in the West of Scotland about this time, under the hardships of Prelacy.
About the year 1632, some of our Scots ministers, Mr Robert Blair, Mr John Livingston, and others, settled among the Scots in the North of Ireland, were remarkably owned of the Lord, and their ministry and communions, about the Six-Mile-Water, were made useful for reviving religion in the power and practice of it. The Irish prelates, at the instigation of ours, got them removed for a season, much against excellent Bishop Usher's mind. When silenced, and come over to Scotland, about the year 1638, Mr Dickson employed Messrs Blair, Livingston, and Cunningham, at his communion: for this he was called before the High Commission. He soon got rid of this trouble, the prelates' power being now on the decline.
I have some of Mr Dickson's sermons at Irvine, taken from his mouth. They are full of solid substantial matter, very scriptural, and in a very familiar style, not low, but extremely strong, plain, and affecting. It is somewhat akin to Mr Rutherford's, in his admirable Letters. I have been told by some old ministers that scarce any body of that time came so near Mr Dickson's style and method in preaching, as the Reverend Mr William Guthrie, minister of Fenwick, who equalled, if not exceeded him here.
As Mr Dickson was so singularly useful in his public ministrations, so I could give many instances of his usefulness more privately, both to Christians in answering their perplexing cases of conscience, and students who had their eye to the ministry, while he was at Irvine: his prudent directions, cautions, and encouragements, given them, were extremely useful and beneficial. I could also give examples of his usefulness to his very enemies, and the Lord's making, what he spoke to one that robbed him in the road to Edinburgh of a considerable sum of money, the occasion of the poor youth's change of life, and at length of real conversion. The account of which I have from a worthy person, who had it from himself. But there is not room here to enlarge on these things.
It was Mr Dickson who brought the Presbytery of Irvine to supplicate the Council, 1637, for a suspension of a charge given to ministers to buy and use the Service-Book. At that time, four supplications from different quarters, without any concert in the supplicants, met at the Council-house door, to their mutual surprise and encouragement. These were the small beginnings of that happy turn of affairs, that and next years, of which it were to be wished we had fuller and better accounts than yet have been published.
In that great revolution, Mr Dickson bore no small share. He was sent to Aberdeen with Messrs Henderson and Cant, by the Covenanters, to persuade that city and country about to join in, renewing the land's covenant with the Lord. This brought him to bear a great part in the debates with the learned Doctors Forbes, Barron, Sibbald, and others, at Aberdeen, which being in print, I say no more of them.
When the king was prevailed with to allow a free General Assembly at Glasgow, November 1638, Mr Dickson and Mr Bailey, from the Presbytery of Irvine, made a great figure there. In all the important matters before that grave meeting, he was very useful; but Mr Dickson signalised himself in a seasonable and prudent speech he had when his Majesty's Commissioner threatened to leave the Assembly. It is in mine eye, but too long to stand here, and too important and nervous to abridge. In the eleventh session, December 5, he had another most learned discourse against Arminianism, which I also omit. (but see Appendix to this biography)
The reports of the Lord's eminent countenancing Mr Dickson's ministry at Irvine had ere this time spread through all this Church; but his eminent prudence, learning, and holy zeal, came to be universally known, especially to ministers, from the part he bore in the Assembly at Glasgow; so that he was almost unanimously chosen Moderator to the next General Assembly at Edinburgh, August 1639. Many of his speeches, and instances of his wise management at so critical a juncture, are before me in a MS. account of that Assembly. In the tenth session, the city of Glasgow presented a call to him, but partly because of his own aversion, and the vigorous appearances of the Earl of Eglinton and his loving people, and mostly from the remarkable usefulness of his ministry in that corner, the General Assembly continued him at Irvine.
But not long after, 1641, he was transported to be Professor of Divinity in the University of Glasgow, where he did great services to the Church and interests of real religion, by training up many youths for the holy ministry. Notwithstanding of his laborious work amongst them, he preached every Lord's day forenoon in the High Church there; and got in, and I think had for his colleague, the learned and zealous Mr Patrick Gillespie.
In the year 1643, the Church laid a very great work on him, Mr Henderson, and Mr Calderwood, to form the draught of a Directory for Public Worship, as appears by the acts of Assembly. When the pestilence was raging at Glasgow, 1647, the masters and students of the University removed to Irvine upon Mr Dickson's motion. There the holy and learned Mr Durham passed his trials, and was earnestly recommended by the professor to the presbytery and magistrates of Glasgow, and in a little time ordained minister to that city. Great was the friendship and familiarity between these two eminent lights of the Church there; and among other effects of their familiar conversation, which still turned upon profitable subjects and designs, we have the Sum of Saving Knowledge, which hath been so often printed with our Confession of Faith and Catechisms. This, after several conversations, and thinking upon the subject and manner of handling it, so as it might be most useful to vulgar capacities, was by Messrs Dickson and Durham dictated to a reverend minister, who informed me, about the year 1650. It was the deed of these two great men, and though, never judicially approven by this Church, deserves to be much more read and considered than I fear it is.
About this time, Mr Dickson had a great share in the printed pamphlets upon the unhappy debates betwixt the Resolutioners and Protesters. He was in his opinion for the public Resolutions, and most of the papers upon that side were written by him, Mr Robert Bailey, and Mr Robert Douglass; as those on the other side were written by Mr James Guthrie, Mr Patrick Gillespie, and a few others. I have not inquired into the exact time when Mr Dickson was transported from the profession of divinity at Glasgow to the same work at Edinburgh; but I take it to have been about this time (1650). It was, I think, at Edinburgh, he dictated in Latin to his scholars what is here presented to the reader in English. (Originally Truth's Victory over Error - 1684). There he continued his laborious care of students of divinity, the growing hopes of a Church; and either at Glasgow or Edinburgh, most part of the Presbyterian ministers, at least in the west, south, and east parts of Scotland, from the year 1640 to the happy Revolution, were under his inspection. And from this very book we may perceive his care to educate them in the form of sound words, and to ground them solidly in the excellent standards of doctrine agreed to by this Church. May it still be the care and mercy of the Church of Scotland, to preserve and hand down to posterity the Scriptural pure doctrine delivered by our first reformers to Mr Dickson and his contemporaries, and from him and the other great lights in his day, handed down to us now upon the stage, without corruption or declining to right or left hand.
Mr Dickson continued at Edinburgh, discharging his great trust with faithfulness and diligence, until the melancholy turn by the restoration of Prelacy upon King Charles' return, when, for refusing the oath of supremacy, he was, with many other worthies, turned out. His heart was broke with the heavy change on the beautiful face of this reformed Church. He was now well stricken in years, his labour and work was over, and he ripe for his glorious reward.
Accordingly, in December 1662, he fell extremely weak. Mr John Livingston, now suffering for the same cause with him, and under a sentence of banishment for refusing the foresaid oath, came to visit Mr Dickson on his death-bed. They had been intimate friends near fifty years, and now rejoiced together as fellow confessors. When Mr Livingston asked the professor how he found himself, his answer was, "I have taken all my good deeds, and all my bad deeds, and cast them through each other in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both, and betaken myself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in him I have sweet peace." Mr Dickson's youngest son gave my informer, a worthy minister yet alive, this account of his father's death. Having been very weak and low for some days, he called the family together, and spoke in particular to each of them, and when he had gone through them all, he pronounced the words of the Apostolical blessing, 2 Cor. xiii. 14, with much gravity and solemnity, and then put up his hand and closed his own eyes, and without any struggle or apparent pain, immediately expired in the arms of his son, my brother's informer.' (This took place in the year 1662, soon after Dickson was driven from his professorial chair by the success of the unprincipled monarch for whom he had so zealously but blindly struggled.)
Mr Dickson married Margaret Roberton, daughter to Archibald Roberton of Stonehall, a younger brother of the house of Ernock, in the shire of Lanark. By her he had three sons, John Dickson, Clerk to the Exchequer in Scotland, Mr Alexander Dickson, professor of the Hebrew tongue in the College of Edinburgh, and Mr Archibald Dickson, who lived with his family in the parish of Irvine. By these he hath left a numerous posterity.
It remains only now that I give some account of Mr Dickson's writings and works he hath left behind him in print and in manuscript, which speak when he is dead. He was concerned in, and I am ready to think one principal mover of, that concert among several worthy ministers of this Church, for publishing short, plain, and practical expositions upon the whole Bible. I cannot recover all their names who were engaged in this work, but I know Messrs Robert Douglass, Rutherford, Robert Blair, George Hutcheson, James Ferguson, Alexander Nisbet, James Durham, John Smith, and some others, had particular books of holy Scripture allotted to them. The labours of the most of these are published, and the works of others of them yet remain in manuscript. Mr Dickson with whom at present I am only concerned, published
His Commentary on the Hebrews, 8vo. on Matthew, 4to. on the Psalms, 8vo. on the Epistles, Latin and English, 4to and folio. His Therapeutica Sacra: or Cases of Conscience resolved, Latin 4to, in English 8vo. A Treatise of the Promises, l2mo. Dublin, 1630.
Besides these,he wrote a great part of the answers to the demands, and duplies, to replies of the doctors of Aberdeen, 4to, and some of the pamphlets in defence of the public Resolutions, as hath been observed; with some short poems on pious and serious subjects, which I am told have been very useful when printed and spread among country people and servants, such as, The Christian Sacrifice; O Mother dear Jerusalem! and one somewhat larger, 8vo, 1649, entitled, True Christian Love, to be sung with the common tunes of the Psalms. This is all of his I have seen in print.
There is also a poem ascribed to Dickson, entitled "Honey Drops, or Crystal Streams," and sometimes printed along with the others. His poetry is just Scripture rudely versified, and though it is often characterized by much pathos and beauty of sentiment, it is by no means equal to his prose productions.
Several of his MSS. remain unprinted. Besides some of his orginal letters, I have his Preparatio Tyronis Concionaturi, which I suppose he dictated to his scholars at Glasgow,--his Summarium Libri Jesaiae,--his Letter on the Resolutions,--his First Paper upon the Public Resolutions,--his Reply to Mr Patrick Gillespie and Mr James Guthrie,--and his No Separation of the well-affected from the Army. I am not sure but some of these may be in print. They are generally pretty large papers, of several sheets in writing. His sermons at Irvine upon 1 Tim. i. 5, I have mentioned already. I doubt not but many more of his valuable papers are in the hands of others, such as his Precepts for a daily Direction of a Christian's Conversation - The Grounds of the true Christian Religion, by way of catechism for his congregation of Irvine - A Compend of his Sermons upon Jeremiah and the Lamentations, and the first nine chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. These I have not seen, but I know they are in the hands of ministers.