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Biographia Scoticana Scots Worthies by John Howie

The Life of Mr. JOHN DICKSON.

Mr. John Dickson born of creditable parents (as some say, related to Mr. David Dickson) was sent to the grammar-school, and from thence to the university; where, after he had gone through his courses of learning, he studied divinity, and then passed his trials for the ministry; and, being found duly qualified for that office, he was licensed. And, some time before the restoration, was ordained and settled minister at Rutherglen, where he continued for some time a most faithful, diligent and painful preacher of the gospel.

But very soon after the restoration of Charles II. (prelacy beginning to advance in Scotland) he was, upon the 13th of October 1660. brought before the committee of estates, and by them imprisoned in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, information having been given in against him by Sir James Hamilton of Elistoun, and some of his parishioners, of some expressions he had used in a sermon alledged to reflect upon the government and the committee of estates, tending to sedition and division. For which he was kept in prison till the parliament sat down, and his church vacated; and though he got out at this time, yet he was exposed to much trouble and suffering afterwards, as now comes to be observed.

After this, Mr. Dickson was obliged to wander from place to place with the rest of those who could not in conscience comply with the current of defection and apostacy at that time, preaching to such as employed him; wherein he ceased not, in shewing the sinfulness of bonding, cess paying, and of the indulgence, and likewise wrote a faithful warning to the shire of Fife against the same, shewing in the most affecting and striking manner the hazard and evil of such compliance.

In 1670. we find he preached at Glenvail, and in June that year he and Mr. Blackadder preached to a numerous congregation at Beeth-hill in Dunfermline parish in Fife. While they were at public worship upon the Lord's day, a lieutenant of militia in that place came up on horseback to the people, and made a great deal of disturbance, threatening to fright and if possible to scatter them; whereupon one more courageous than the rest stept forward to him, and, after intreating him to remove peaceably, took his horse by the bridle, pulled out a pistol, and told him, He would shoot him dead if he was not silent: And whether he would or would not, he was there compelled to sit on horseback till public worship was over, after which he had his liberty to go where he pleased. Upon the back of this horrid insult (as the persecutors were pleased to call it), upon the 11th of Aug. a decreet was obtained by the king's advocate against Mr. Dickson, Mr. Blackadder and several other ministers, wherein they were charged with holding conventicles in houses and in fields, and being after citation called and not compearing, they were in absence denounced and put to the horn, which obliged them to wander up and down the country, sometimes preaching in the fields where they had opportunity.

And thus continued Mr. Dickson in the midst of imminent hazards: For, by virtue of a new modelled council June 4th, 1764. there were orders to send out parties in quest of all conventicle preachers (as they were called, who accepted not of the indulgence), amongst whom were Mess. Dickson, Welch, and Blackadder, &c.400 pounds sterling were offered for Mr. Welch, and 1000 merks for Mr. Dickson and each of the rest. Nay, the soldiers were indemnified and their assistants, if any slaughter was committed in apprehending them, in case any resistance was made. By which Mr. Dickson was exposed unto new dangers, but yet he escaped their fury for some time.

But after Bothwel-battle the persecution becoming still hotter, and the searches more frequent, he was apprehended in 1680.; and being brought in to Edinburgh prisoner by some of the guard, under caution to answer before the council Sep.1st. Accordingly the council ordered him to be sent to the Bass, where he continued to be prisoner near the space of eleven years.

While he was prisoner in the Bass he wrote a most excellent letter to some friends, wherein he not only bewails and laments the apostacy of these lands from God, &c. demanding what our noble Scots worthies would think or say, were they then alive to behold the same, but also gives many practical and suitable directions how to behave in following Christ, and owning his cause under the cross, and walking in the furnace of affliction and tribulation, &c.

After he got out of the Bass, he returned very early at the revolution back to his flock at Rutherglen, where he again exercised his ministerial function, and that upon all hazards. In the year 1698. Oct.4th, at the sitting down of the synod at Air, he preached a very free and faithful sermon, upon the duty and qualifications of a faithful watchman from these words, Ha. lxii.6. I have fit watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, &c.

And although Mr. Dickson still acceded to the revolution church, yet he was much grieved when he beheld how far inferior the glory of the second temple was to the first, which does most evidently appear from his own words in a letter to one a little before his death (which was in the year 1700.) and which may stand here for his dying testimony, the contents whereof are as follows.

|The conception you have of the dispensation of the Lord towards this poor plagued church, and the temper of the spirits of professors under this dispensation, are not different from what many of the Lord's people are groaning under. There is palpably a sensible difference betwixt what the church now is, and what it was many years ago; yea, what it hath been within these few years. The church hath lost much ground, and is still upon the losing hand, and it seems will continue so until it pleases the Lord to pour down his Spirit from on high, or else by some sharp awakening dispensation rouse up drowzy souls out of the lethargy wherein they are fallen, &c. It is many years since the sun fell low upon Scotland, many a dismal day hath it seen since 1649. At that time our reformation mounted towards its highest horizon, and since we left our building on that excellent foundation laid by our honoured forefathers, we have still moved from ill to worse, and is like still more (unless our gracious God prevent it) until we slide ourselves out of sight and sense of a reformation. We have been lately trysted with a wonderful deliverance from the slavery of heaven-daring enemy, but not one line of reformation is pencilled upon our deliverance. We have the shell of ordinances and church-government, but want the kernel, the great things of Christ's law; as to contend for his interest is wrapt under a cloud. It is a long time since our covenant and solemn engagements looked pale. They have lost colour and verdure since the rescinding our vows to God. These covenants are turned skeletons, fearsome and affrighting, and former respect to them is like gradually to dwine away under a consumption. There are some few things that made them the glory of nations that are turned to a shadow:

|(1.) They were the fruits of many prayers, fasting, tears, wrestling, and indefatigable labours of the greatest and best men that ever breathed in our nation, recovering a people sunk into antichristian darkness, to enjoy liberty due to them by Christ's purchase.

|(2.) The renewing them so many times in old king James's reign spoke out the fervency of these worthy spirits, in ardour and affection to them, as so many jewels of so great value, that they were set as gems and pearls in Christ's crown, to wear so long as his interest remained in the church.

|(3.) The blessing accompanying the entering unto and renewing these covenants were so fluent in all church-ordinances, both secret, private and public, that whatever was planted in so fruitful a soil of such blessing and influence of the Spirit, could not but grow up as calves in the stall, fat and full of sap.

|(4.) These covenants were to our forefathers, like the renting of their own cloths, as Elisha did, and taking up Elijah's mantle, and clothing themselves with it, 2 Kings ii.12, 13.; enjoying of Moses's spirit, Deut. xxiv.; and like Joshua (chap. xxiv.) when dying, leaving a testimony of remembrance to posterity, by engaging them in these covenants.

|(5.) So long as our church cleaved to these our covenants, it fell out with them as it did with king Asa, 2 Chron. xv.2.; that the Lord was with them while they were with him. But, our fathers offspring forsaking God, he forsook them: from that day that our covenants were so ignominiously treated, unto this day, all calamities as to our religious concerns have fallen upon us.

|(6.) The late sufferers, of all who shed their hearts blood upon the fields and scaffolds, imprisonments and banishments, were all dyed with the crimson blood of the covenant: from that day of the force and fury of enemies, these solemn vows of our worthy forefathers, and the enemies taking up Christ's march-stones (which were the bounds set by the Most High, when he divided to the church of Britain its inheritance, and separated the sons of Adam, Deut. xxix.8.), the giddy church straying in the wilderness is much fallen out of sight either of pillar of cloud or fire. Our intermixtures are turned pernicious to the glory and honour of Christ's house which should not be a den of buyers and sellers. Although the suffering of our late brethren seemed to be heavy to bear, yet two prime truths were sealed with their blood (and that of the best, as of our honourable nobles, faithful ministers, gentry, burghers and commons of all sorts) which were never before sealed either by the blood of our primitive martyrs, our late martyrs in the dawning of our reformation; and the two truths were, Christ's headship in the church in despite of supremacy and bold erastianism, and our covenants: Which two great truths were in the mouths of all our worthies, when mounting their bloody theatres and scaffolds, ascending as it were up unto God in a perfumed cloud of transporting joy, that they were honoured to suffer upon such clear grounds. That supremacy was so agasted by our covenants, that no rest could it have till it got the grave stone laid upon them, and so conjured all who tasted the liquor of that supremacy, that the thoughts of getting the buried covenants out of the grave were more terrible to them than the devils, who are now in the place of our vows to God, managing their diabolical games in these places where the covenants were most in honour and request, the one burned and the other rising in its room. Much blood and treasure have been spent to set the flourishing crown upon Christ's head in Scotland. Declarations, acts of councils and parliament, remonstrances, engagements, vows and covenants; but the sealing blood of the late martyrs was the cope-stone of all. The primitive martyrs sealed the prophetic office of Christ with their hearts blood, the reforming martyrs sealed his priestly offices with their blood; but last of all our martyrs have sealed his kingly office with their best blood: They indeed have cemented it upon his royal head, so that to the end of the world it shall not drop off again. Let us never dream of a reviving spirit among us, till there be a reviving respect to these solemn vows of God. If there was but a little appearance of that spirit which actuated our worthy forefathers in our public assemblies and preachings, ye would see a wonderful alteration in the face of affairs: The fields, I assure you would look white near to harvest. If ye would adventure to trace our defections from the breach of the act of classes in the year 1650, all along to this day of our being bound in the grave of our neutrality, and all to edge up the spirit of the people to a due sense of our woful and irrevocable like backsliding from God (who hath acted many wonders for Scotland) you would find a perfumed smoke of incense springing from our altar in savoury and soul refreshing blessings. But ah! when shall this day dawn? so long as the common enemy are gaining their long-wished for hopes, That ministers in their public preaching must confine themselves to their nicknamed faith and repentance; without noticing any incroachments upon Christ's proper rights to his church in the glorious work of reformation, lest constructed fire-{illegible}ands and seditions, which in running the full career may gradually drop into superstition through neutrality, and thence plunge into an abyss of the shadow of popery. But to sum up shortly all my present thoughts of the time in this one, I cannot see an evasion of the church, in its present circumstance, from a sharp and more trying furnace than ever it has yet met with, come the trial from what airth it will, it fears me: Our principles are so slippry, and the truths of God so superficially rooted in us, that when we are thrown in the furnace, many of us shall melt to dross. It is many years since I heard one of the greatest seers in our nation, in horror and with fear, dreading the heavy judgments of God upon the biassed professors in the west of Scotland. But all that I say, not diminishing my hopes of the Lord's reserving his purchased inheritance in his own covenanted land, though Malachi be affrighted at the day of his coming, and be made to cry out, Who may abide it, chap. iii.1, 2, 3. when he sits as refiner and purifier of the sons of Levi: A remnant shall be left, that shall be as the teil tree or the oak whose feed is in them, when they cast their leaves; so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.

|To revive a reflection upon two stupenduous passages of providence, I know would have an imbittering relish to many professors in our country side. The one is upon the last indulgence, wherein professors by bond and penalty obliged themselves to produce their minister before the council, when called. For this was a restriction so narrow, that all the freedom and faithfulness of ministers in their office was so blocked up, that either conscience towards God in discharging of necessary duties behoved utterly to be buried, or else the life of their minister exposed to sacrifice. -- And if this be not an universal evil to be mourned over, let conscience and reason judge; yet this is looked upon to be but a trip, in these gloomy times, of inconsiderable moment, though it was the brat clecked by that supremacy, which not only hath wounded our solemn vows to death, but bound the freedom and faithfulness of the church seers, as to the public interest of Christ in their graves, &c.

|The other stupenduous providence is the obliterating the rich blessing of the gospel in our late suffering times, when blessings not only accompanied these solemn field-meetings, but extraordinary influences, in gifts of freedom and faithfulness, were poured down upon these ministers, who went out with their lives in their hands, setting their faces as flints against the heaven-daring violence done to the mediator. I call to mind a passage with perpetuated remembrance, that in one shire of this kingdom there were about thirty ministers who cheerfully offered up their service to Christ, all by turns out of Edinburgh. Each of these, when they returned back to Edinburgh again, being questioned what pleasure, what delight, and what liberty they had in managing that hazardous task? they answered, That so soon as they set foot in these bounds, another spirit came upon them; and no other reason could they give for it, but that God wrought so mightily, that they looked upon it as genius loci, that God sensibly at that time was in that county working wonders; but the most part of all these are in their places, resting on their beds, and their works follow them.

|Thus in answer to yours I have given you some of my confused thoughts of the present times, wishing you God's blessing in sucking honey out of the eater.|


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Thus lived and died worthy Mr. John Dickson, in a good old age anno 1700, after he had, by his longevity, seen somewhat of the glory both of the first and second temple, and emerged forth of all his troubles, having got a most perspicuous view of our national apostacy, our breach of covenant and other defections past, present and to come, with the Lord's goodness and mercy toward his own remnant: And all this from the top of mount Pisgah, when he was just about to enter upon the confines of Emmanuel's land in glory.

Of his works we have only seen his synod sermon, and the foresaid letters, in print. If there be any other, it is more than is known at present, except the foresaid warning to the indulged in the shire of Fife, which was some time ago also published: All which shew him to have been a most pathetical writer, his writings (tho' but few) making as striking and lively an impression upon the mind, as any man's of his time.

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