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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 kettled 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.
Calderwood, under the year, describes the scene in his peculiarly graphic way.
2 See Wod. Soc. Edit. vol. vii. pp. 530-542, for details of these proceedings. 3 See Calderwood, vol. vii. pp. 567, 568.
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 ball 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 1 There has lately been published a volume of "Select Writings of Dickson," containing various sermons and treatises not heretofore published.
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.
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
1 See Appendix to this Account, where these documents are given.
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.
It appears to have been about the year 1650.