Weekly Update 40 – David Dickson (1583-1662)

David Dickson.  It is about time I posted something on him.  Professor of theology at Glasgow and then Edinburgh universities, co-author with James Durham of Sum of Saving Knowledge, close friend of Durham, profoundly respected in the Scottish church, prolific author and commentator – in short a mammoth figure in Scottish Reformed theology and well worthy of consideration.

Dickson’s most formal treatments of the free offer of the gospel are found in his Therapeutica Sacra (Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1664).  [Sadly Dickson offers no comments on WCoF 7:3 in his work on the Westminster Confession Truth’s Victory Over Error.]  I am not going to comment in detail on his views on the free offer this week but I’ll just set some of the scene before picking up on Dickson again next week.

The main thing we must take heed to in this work, is to give to God entirely the Glory of His Grace and Power and Wisdom, so that the Glory of Mans Regeneration be neither given to Man, nor Man made sharer of the glory with God, but God may have the whole glory of His free Grace, because out of His own good-will, not for any thing at all foreseen in Man, He lets forth His special Love on the Redeemed…

This was the overarching theological commitment of all the Reformed figures I have covered on this blog – the entire work of salvation is of God’s grace, power and wisdom.  They all present their views of the free offer in a context where salvation is a result of God’s “special love” for the redeemed.  It is not possible to deflect the views of Durham, Dickson, Clarkson, Ball, Brown, Calvin, Sedgwick, Manton, etc by claiming they were somehow less than “Calvinistic” in their theology. 

These are the All Men whom God will have saved and doth save, 1 Tim. 2. 4. these are the All Men of whom the Apostle speaks, 2 Pet. 3. 9. God is patient toward us (to wit His Elect) not willing that any of Us should perish, but that we All should come to Repentance…

Dickson interprets 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9 as referring to the elect.  This was the standard Scottish view of these texts during Dickson’s lifetime.  I post this to note that there was diversity in understanding of individual texts amongst those theologians who held to the same overall view of the free offer and predestination e.g. for Calvin 2 Peter 3:9 refers to all men and for Thomas Manton 1 Tim 2:4 refers to all men.  Incidentally, I read the Scottish theologian Robert Rollock as implying a universal reference to 1 Tim 2:4, “… 1 Tim. ii. 4, after he hath admonished that we are to pray for all men, he addeth, that God will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. Out of which it followeth, that in the publishing of the Gospel, God hath respect not only of all men in common, but also distinctly of every several person; which regard also he will have us to have in our prayers.” (Robert Rollock, A Treatise of God’s Effectual Calling in Select Works of Robert Rollock (ed. William M. Gunn; 2 vols.; Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1849), 1:215).

Sometime Grace is taken for every Gift or Good bestowed by God upon the ill Deserver: In which sense, Gifts, common to Elect and Reprobate, are called by the name of Grace. Rom. 1. 5. Ephes. 4. 7.

Dickson has no problems with the terminology of “common grace”.  God bestows gifts and good things on the reprobate which is “grace”.  I am puzzled by the reference to Rom 1:5 and Eph 4:7 – neither of these texts seem to be speaking of common grace.

The Doctrine of Reprobation must not be determinatly applyed to any particular Person, how wicked soever he shall for the present appear; neither must the suspicion which any Man may have of his own Reprobation be fostered, because particular Reprobation of this or that person, is among the Secrets of the Lord, not to be medled with, whereof a Man may not give out Sentence before the Lord hath revealed His own Decree. But on the contrair, all the Hearers must be warned and pressed to be wary to entertain any hostile thought of God, or to foster suspicions of Him as implacable, but rather think of Him as their faithful Creator: Just indeed yet Merciful, Long-suffering and Bountiful, both to the kind and the unkind, as they shall find if they will seek Him…

Reprobation for Dickson is a doctrine that is to be preached.  But it is a doctrine that must be preached in such a way as to highlight the outworking of the decree of reprobation as it relates to individuals is archetypal theology i.e. unknown, and unknowable.  The doctrine of reprobation is not to shape my view of God’s relation to me as an individual – in this respect it is “not to be meddled with”.  Rather we are to beware of “hostile thoughts towards God” and take our view of God from him being our “faithful Creator”.  This is a helpful way of explaining the doctrine of reprobation – maintaining faithfulness to Scripture in preaching reprobation while guarding against driving men to despair.

I think these are four features which obviously influence what Dickson says on the free offer:

  1. An overarching commitment to God’s sovereignty
  2. A tendency to limit seemingly universal texts to the elect (limiting the exegetical base for the free offer)
  3. A commitment to common grace
  4. A doctrine of reprobation that places the outworking of the decree in  the secret things that belong to the Lord and directs men away from it to the revealed truths of the gospel that “whosoever will may come, etc”

Next week I’ll probably post on Dickson’s views on the free offer from Therapeutica Sacra and possibly the week after that from his commentaries.

4 Responses to “Weekly Update 40 – David Dickson (1583-1662)”

  1. Matthew Hyde Says:

    Would you know how complete/abridged “Therapeutica Sacra” is in the early 19th century Free Church edition of Dickson’s select works?

    I enjoy the blog and hope the project continues well. I am currently writing up my own PhD thesis in biomedicine so enjoy keeping up to date with blogs like your own to release the pressure!

    Thanks again.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Matthew

    Sorry for the late reply but I’ve been rushed off my feet for the past two weeks. Unfortunately I’ve not had the opportunity to check the edition in Select Practical Writings. From memory the text of what is in there is complete – I’ll check and if the text is incomplete I’ll get back to you.

    Thanks for the words of encouragement. I hope your own writing up goes well.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Matthew

    To clarify having checked. The text of what is in there appears complete but it is only the first 20% or of the whole work.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  4. Matthew Hyde Says:

    Thanks for that, it is useful to know.


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