David Dickson, “Truth’s Victory Over Error”, Book Report on Chapters 1-21





Truth’s Victory

Being an Interaction with the Text of

David Dickson’s Commentary on

the Westminster Confession of Faith

Part 1





Reformed Orthobilly 





For the course Westminster Standards (TH320), Master of Divinity Program

The North American Reformed Seminary

September 13th in the Year of Our Lord 2013


As I discussed in my previous paper on this topic, the Westminster Standards are a bulwark of Reformed Orthodoxy. David Dickson’s commentary on the Westminster Confession, the center point of these standards, is a hard-hitting distillation of the entire Confession. Truth’s Victory Over Error1 is a 10,000-foot overview of the Confession’s chapters on the Scriptures, God and the Holy Trinity, God’s decrees, creation, providence, the fall, God’s covenant with man, Christ the Mediator, and more. Dickson comments on the entire Confession, but this first paper will focus on Chapters 1-21 of the Confession handled in Victory. In order to imitate Dickson’s method, I will take each of these chapters in order, discussing edifying points in Dickson’s commentary. What is most edifying about Dickson’s treatment is that his question and answer format is bolstered by direct quotations from Scripture with minimal comments. Thus, the Lord Jesus, speaking by His prophets and apostles, is afforded His just right as the chief cornerstone of our theological house (cf. Eph. 2:20 and 2 Pet. 3:2).

Victory begins with the doctrine of Scripture, discussing its necessity for salvation and the church, the cessation of former means of revelation, the designation of the books of Scripture, the place of Scripture as a rule of faith and life, the exclusion of the Apocrypha, the self-authenticating nature of Scripture, good and necessary deduction from Scripture, the use of deduction in theological arguments, inward illumination by the Spirit of God, those matters necessary to salvation, the preservation of the original texts, the necessity of Scripture translations to the common tongues of all men, interpretation of Scripture, and the supremacy of the Holy Spirit’s judgment in Scripture over all human opinions. Though an entire paper could be written on this one topic, I will discuss particular quotations that I found edifying and useful.

In terms of the necessity of Scripture for salvation, Dickson gives the following dialogue:


‘IS the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary to salvation?’

No; 1 Cor. 1.21. and 1 Cor. 2.13,14.

Well then, do not the Socinians err, who maintain, That men living according to the law and light of nature may be saved?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because none can be saved, unless they be born by the incorruptible seed of the word, 1 Pet. 1.23.2

Man is dead in trespasses and sins, and the light of nature is not sufficient to renew him from spiritual death. Salvation is from the Lord, and His means unto that end is the Word of God. Christ is the only way to the Father, and the knowledge of Christ is not found in the light of nature. We are begotten again by the preaching of God’s Word (cf. Rom. 10:9-17), by which knowledge and faith are imparted by the Spirit of God. Thus, Scripture is necessary unto salvation.

Dickson likewise refutes the Quakers who objected that the holy Scriptures should not be referred to as the “Word of God.” Dickson, however, discusses various passages of Scripture which refute that vain notion, “See these following places of Scripture, Psalm 119.172. 1 Kings 16.12 and 2 Kings 9.36. and 23.16. Isaiah 28.13. Hos. 1.1,2. Isaiah 37.22. Prov. 30.5. By the Scripture, or the word of God, we do not understand the bare letters, or the several written words, of the holy Scripture, which the adversaries may imagine we call the word of God. These are only the vessels, which carry and convey that heavenly light unto us. But we understand thereby, the doctrine or will of God revealed unto reasonable creatures, teaching them what to do, believe, or leave undone, Deut. 19.29.”3 Thus, doctrine within or derived from Scripture is what we call the Word of God.

Moreover, Dickson deals with the Scriptures as the rule of faith and life:

Quest. V. “Are the Scriptures given of God to be the rule of faith and life?”

Yes; Luke 16.29,31. Eph. 2.20. Rev. 20.18,19. 2 Tim. 3.10.

Well then, doth not the Popish church err, who maintain, Their unwritten traditions to be the rule of faith?


Do not likewise the Enthusiasts, and the Quakers err, who maintain, The Spirit within, that teaches the elect, to be the only rule of faith? And that the dictates of light within, are of as great authority as the Scriptures?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the Scriptures are called a rule, Gal. 6.16. 2d, Because nothing is to be added to the Scriptures, Deut. 4.2. and 12.32. Prov. 30.6. Rev. 22.19,20. 3d, Because we ought rather to follow the Scripture in this life, than a voice spoken from heaven, 2 Pet. 1.19,21. 4th, Because the Scripture is written, that we might believe, John 20.31. 5th, Because the Scripture is given for making the man of God perfect, 2 Tim. 3.17. 6th, Because we must betake ourselves in the whole of religion to the law, and to the testimony, Isaiah 8.20. 7th, Because Christ himself refers the greatest question that ever was, whether he be the son of God, or not, to the Scriptures, John 5.38,39. Search the Scriptures, says he, for they testify of me.4

Thus, not only is Scripture the only rule of faith and life for the church, and the only means of salvation for the lost, it is also a most perfect and necessary rule, requiring no compliments or additions.

Moreover, as a practical matter, one cannot “try the spirits” unless one has a standard by which to measure. If one simply uses an “inner light” which is referred to as “the Spirit,” how will one know whether that spirit’s suggestions are pleasing to God or not? Dickson explains, “Because the spirits cannot be known by any other rule than by the written word. It is certain, that the devil transforms himself into an angel of light, 2 Cor. 11.14. There is a spirit of the world, 1 Cor. 2.12. A spirit that rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience, Eph. 2.2. There is a lying spirit, 1 Kings 22.22. And a spirit of error and delusion, 1 John 4.6. How shall these be known to be such, or the Spirit, which the Quakers obtrude upon us, not to be one of them, but by the rule of the word?”5 The Word of God is, then, the sole rule of faith and obedience.

Dickson also deals with the Apocrypha, demonstrating by various convincing proofs that they are most certainly fabulous and merely human:

Because they contain many fabulous, and impious doctrines and histories. 1. Tobit 5.21. The angel says, He was Azariah, the son of Ananias. This was a manifest lie, which cannot be attributed to a good angel; and therefore the Spirit of God hath not dictated this history. 2. It is reported, Tobit 6.6,7,16,17. that the heart and liver of a fish was good to make perfume to drive away the devil, if any man was troubled with him, or with any evil spirit. And it is said, Tobit 12.15. by the angel, I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, that present the prayers of the saints. This is only proper to Christ. 3. Because the act of Simeon and Levi, condemned by Jacob, acted by the Spirit of God, Gen. 34.25. in killing the Shechemites, is commended by Judith, 9.2,3. 4. Because you will read of an offering for the dead, prayers and reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin, 2 Maccab. 12.43-45. See what contradictions are in comparing together, 1 Maccab. 6.8. 2 Maccab. 15.16. 2 Maccab. 9.5.6

Thus, the Apocryphal books, in addition to being written in the Greek tongue, and their disuse by Christ and the Apostles as inspired Scripture, these books contain internal evidence of merely human authority rather than divine dictation. Lies, superstition, idolatry, contradiction of canonical writings, and internal inconsistencies have never been marks of the Spirit of God, but are most certainly marks of a lying spirit, or mere human fancy.

Related to this is the general question of the authority on which Scripture is received. Do we believe Scripture because of the word of man, or a church, or because of the authority of God Himself? Dickson inquires:

Quest. VII. “Doth the authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depend upon the testimony of any man, or church?”

No; 2 Pet. 1.19,21. 2 Tim. 3.16. 1 Thes. 1.13.

Well then, do not the Popish writers err, who maintain, The authority of the Scriptures, to depend upon the testimony of the church, as to us?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the word is to be received by us, not as the word of man, but as the word of God. 1 Thes. 2.13. 2d, Because the doctrine of Christ, to be received by believers, dependeth not on man’s testimony, John 5.34. 3d, Because God only is true and infallible, and all men are liars, Rom. 3.4. Heb. 6.18. He is of incomprehensible wisdom, Psalm 147.5. Of great goodness, Exod. 18.7. Rom. 11.12. Psalm 34.8. Of absolute power and dominion, Gen. 17.1. Psalm 50.1,2. Of infallible truth, who can neither deceive or be deceived, Rom. 3.4. Titus 1.2. Heb. 6.18. Therefore he ought to be credited in all his narrations, promises, threatenings, and prophesies, and obeyed in all his commands allenarly, because he himself hath said so.7

If the Bible is the Word of God, as discussed above, then the Bible is to be credited with the wisdom, truth and authority of its Author. If the Bible is merely or partly the word of man, then it requires supplementation from other creature authorities.

Dickson also deals with the ABC syllable snatchers, whose approach to Scripture is limited to its explicit statements:

Quest. IX. “Is it warrantable to argue in articles, or matters of faith, by consequences natively deduced from scripture?”


Well then, do not the Socinians, Quakers, Anabaptists, and Arminians err, who maintain, That all matters of faith are set down expressly, and in so many words in Scripture, and that no matters of faith, at least necessary to salvation, can be built upon consequences drawn from the Scriptures?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because Christ himself proves, that necessary point of faith, the resurrection of the dead, from scripture by a consequence, Mat. 23.29,31,32. To be any one’s God, is to give one eternal life, Psalm 33.12. Psalm 144.15. Whence followeth, that those patriarchs lived still with God, in respect of their souls, which these Sadducees also denied, Acts 23.8. and should also rise in respect of their bodies, and live eternally: Seeing he is called a God, not of one part of them only, but of their whole persons. And in that same chapter, v. 43,45. Christ proves his deity by consequence from Scripture, against the Pharisees. 2d, So doth Apollos, Acts 18.28. and Paul, Acts 19.22. prove from the Old Testament, Jesus to be the Christ: But it is not expressly said in the Old Testament, that he is the Christ. Is not that which necessarily follows from scripture, contained in it implicitly, and implicitly revealed by God, infallibly true?8

If the eternal Son of God in flesh utilized deductions from Scripture for such fundamental articles as the resurrection of the dead and His own Godhead, who could object? Moreover, the fundamental tenet of Jesus as the Christ was proved in the same manner by an Apostle and an apostolic man, giving clear warrant for us to use the same procedure. Reason, then, is not a lord over faith, but is her helper in the task of reading and applying Scripture.

Yet, as Dickson argues, not all men area able to understand the sacred Scriptures aright. The inward illumination of the Spirit of God is necessary for men to savingly understand this revelation. Reason and deductions alone do not save men’s souls:

By what reasons are [the Socinians] confuted?

1st, Because the disciples of Christ were not able to understand the Scripture, before he opened their eyes, Luke 24.45. 2d, Because the Jews to this day cannot understand the Scriptures of the Old Testament, until the vail, by the Spirit of God, be taken away, 2 Cor. 3.14,15,16,18. 3d, Because the psalmist David seeketh from God, the opening of his eyes, that he may behold wondrous things out of his law, Psalm 119.18.9

Thus, the saving understanding of the Scriptures is not the work of man, but of the Holy Spirit. Even men otherwise lavished with external privileges and even internal power such as the disciples of Christ, the covenant seed of Abraham, and the great prophet-king David all required the work of God’s Spirit to savingly grasp Scripture.

The Scriptures have likewise been preserved and kept pure in all ages by God’s remarkable care and providence. Contrary to the cynical rationalist, the impious heretic, and the well meaning but seduced believer, God is able to and has, in fact, preserved the Scriptures from impurity throughout the ages:

Quest. XII. “Hath not the Lord, by his singular providence and care kept pure in all ages the Old Testament in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek?”

Yes; Mat. 5.18.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, The Old Testament in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek, which are the fountains, to be corrupted, and that their common Latin version is authentic?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because Christ says, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled, Mat. 5.18. 2d, Because there can be no urgent necessity shown, why the fountains are corrupted. 3d, If any such corruption had been in the Scripture, Christ, and his apostles, and the orthodox fathers had declared so much. 4th, Because they never have nor can make out any manifest corruptions in the fountains, albeit, most manifest and undeniable demonstrations are given of the corruptions of their Latin version, which they make authentic.10

This doctrine contradicts one of the sacred cows of our age, and men otherwise orthodox are addicted to the notion of the errancy of the text of Scripture as handed down to us. Christ Himself claims that the very consonants and vowel points of the Hebrew text are incorruptible: they will never pass away. Moreover, the use of the text by Christ and the Apostles bears this out, as no objections or discrepancies were pointed out by the Truth Himself, nor men of truth, His messengers.

In addition to the quotations I collected on the necessity of Scripture for salvation, Scripture as the Word of God, Scripture as the rule of faith and life, the Apocrypha, the authority upon which Scripture is believed, the lawfulness of logical deductions from Scripture in the task of theology, the need for inward illumination to savingly understand Scripture, and the preservation of the original text of Scripture, I collected a quotation regarding the right method of interpreting Scripture:

Quest. XIV. “When there is a question about the true meaning, and full sense of any Scripture, must it be known and searched by other places which speak more clearly?”

Yes; 2 Pet. 1.21. Acts 15.15,16.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, The Scripture not to be a sufficient interpreter of itself, and that the sense of it cannot be gathered infallibly, when the text is doubtful, from other places which speak more clearly, but only from the magisterial traditions and unwritten opinions of the church of Rome?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the noble Bereans compared scripture with Scripture, for finding out the true and sure sense of it, Acts 17.11. 2d, Because the apostle Paul did the same, Acts 28.23. 3d, Because the same was done by the council of the apostles and elders, Acts 15.15-17.11

The collation and comparison of various passages of Scripture to discern the mind of the Spirit gives an infallible interpretation, whereas the naked assertions of the pope render everything uncertain. “Searching the Scripture” enabled the Bereans to confirm the doctrines taught by Paul, enabled Paul to persuade concerning Christ, and enable the Jerusalem Council to conclude the case of gentiles and circumcision. What a glorious history!

The second chapter of the Confession that Dickson comments on is “Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.” This chapter deals with the unity of the Godhead, God infinity of being and perfections, the essence of God, the three Persons, the deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father and Son. These topics are both edifying and useful. Dickson begins with the foundation of all piety: the existence of the one true God. Neither the tritheists nor the ditheists have any grounds in Scripture:

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because though there be a plurality of persons mentioned in Scripture, yet it is ever God as one as is evident from the first chapter of the Revelation and the last. For if that one God have in himself all perfections, there can be no perfection beside him, and so no God but this one true God; for if there were, he should not be God, because not infinite in perfection. And if God be infinite in perfection, then surely there cannot be multiplicity of gods, seeing that which is infinite, in that respect, cannot be multiplied. 2d, It is evident from Deut. 32.39. where the Lord speaketh of himself, I even I, am he, and there is no God without me. 3d, Because God is omnipotent, and so cannot be hindered by any other in his working, Rev. 15.3. 4th, It is evident from Christ’s words to the young man of the gospel, there is none good but one, that is God.12

Dickson goes on to cite a catena of sound monotheistic Scriptures, including Hanna’s song, Paul’s assertion of one God in 1 Corinthians 8:6, the Shema cited by Christ in Mark 12:39, and other assertions of unity in John 10:29 and Psalms 145:3 and 147:5.

Moreover, supporting these infallible assertions of Scripture is the light of nature and reason itself:

9th, Because this one blessed God is most absolutely sufficient, and furnished with infinite power, and wisdom, for the production, conversation, and ruling all things in heaven and earth. 10th, Because he is of all things without himself, the first and supreme cause, from which all the creatures visible or invisible, have their rise and beginning. 11th, It is evident, lastly, from the testimonies of the most wise heathens, who have been necessitated to acknowledge but one God only.13

In other words, from what we naturally know, if there is one Almighty, there could not be a second. Two infinite Gods would be an impossibility. Nor does causality permit a dual causality, and even the heathen have known this by the very instinct of nature.

One portion of Dickson’s treatment of the doctrine of God that I found of interest was the discussion of the divinity of the Holy Spirit:

Quest. VI. “Is the Holy Ghost God?”

Yes; Acts 5.3. 1 Cor. 6.19,20. 1 Cor. 3.16,17.

Well then, do not the Macedonians, or Pneumatomachians, Arians, Socinians, and many of the Anabaptists err who maintain, The Holy Ghost to be a creature, as do the Macedonians, or a power, virtue, or efficacy of the Father, as many Socinians and others do?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the Holy Ghost is to be worshipped as God, Mat. 28.19. 2 Cor. 13.14. Rev. 1.4.  2d, Because he is omniscient and knoweth all things, 1 Cor. 2.10,11. 3d, Because he is omnipotent, the maker, and preserver of all things, the worker of miracles, and it is he that sanctifies, and justifies the believers, Gen. 1.2. Psalm 33.6. Matth. 12.28. Compare Isa. 6.9. with Acts 28.25-27. 4th, Because Ananias is said to lie to the Holy Ghost, Acts 5.3. and v. 4 he is said not to lie to men, but to God. 5th, Because believers are said to be the temple of God, 1 Cor. 3.16,17. And they are said, 1 Cor. 6.19 to be the temple of the Holy Ghost; therefore the Holy Ghost is God, seeing to be the temple of God, and the temple of the Holy Ghost are the same. 6th, Because none can be properly sinned against but the true God; therefore the Holy Ghost is God, because many have been said to have sinned against the Holy Ghost. Matth. 12.31.14

Thus, the Holy Ghost is fully God, as demonstrated by the worship He receives, His divine attributes, the interchanging of the Holy Ghost and God as predicates in Scripture, and the sins against Him discussed in Scripture. Although the historical controversies have generally centered around the deity of the Son, and the Scriptures have less explicit teaching on the divinity of the Spirit, yet it is critical for piety and eternal life for men to embrace the Spirit together with the Father and the Son.

The third chapter in Victory is concerning the eternal decree of God. Dickson discusses the nature of God’s decree, its absoluteness, reprobation, and particular redemption. After dealing with the fact that God “from all eternity, by the most holy and wise counsel of his will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” Dickson discusses election and reprobation:

Do not likewise the Papists and Socinians err, who maintain, The decree of predestination to be general, and to depend upon good and evil works, with perseverance in them?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, From the apostle Paul, who maketh the good-will and pleasure of God the only cause why this man is chosen, and another, as worthy, rejected, and casten off, Rom. 9.11-15. Where he moves an objection against the justice of God, and answers it. 2d, Because our blessed Saviour assigns it to the good will and pleasure of God, that to some, the mysteries of faith, for their conversion, are revealed, and that they are hid from many others, who are nothing worse, but in some respects better, Mat. 11.25,26. 3d, Because a man of himself hath no good thing in him, whereby he may be differenced from another, but what he hath freely gotten from God, 1 Cor. 4.7. 4th, Because the grace of regeneration, justifying faith, effectual calling, and perseverance to the end, are given to all the elect, and to them only, according to the eternal decree of God: and therefore are effects, not causes, or pre-required conditions of election, Rom. 8.39. Acts 13.48. Mat. 24.24. 2 Tim. 1.9. John 15.16. Eph. 1.3-5, Mat. 13.11. Rom. 9.6,7.15

Dickson makes the decree of predestination, at least in this respect, symmetrical. Both predestination to life, and fore-ordination to death to be rooted in the good pleasure of God. He notes that both the reprobate and elect are “as worthy” as each other. Moreover, Christ’s rejoicing in the Father’s decision to withhold saving knowledge from some is likewise attributable to no other cause, since those who have the means of salvation withholden from them are “in some some respects better.”

Dickson continues this sound exposition of the Scriptures, as summarized in the Confession in dealing with the dangerous dogma of the Quakers:

Well then, do not many of the Quakers, and others err, who maintain, That God never ordained any man to perish eternally?


By what reasons are they confuted?

… 2d, Because the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What, if God willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering, the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, Rom. 9.17,18,21,22. 3d, Because in a great house, there are some vessels to honour, some to dishonour, 2 Tim. 2.19,20. 4th, Because the apostle Jude says, there are some who of old were ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men. Note, That the cause of this reprobation is not man’s sin, but the absolute will and good pleasure of God. Man’s sin indeed is the cause why God will punish, but no occasion why he did ordain to pass by, or to punish man. This decree is just, because God has power over man, as the potter hath power over the clay. Neither is the end of this decree the condemnation of the creature, but the manifestation of God’s justice. Lastly, Sin is the effect of man’s free-will, and condemnation is the effect of justice, but the decree of God is the cause of neither.16

Again, God’s decree is all encompassing, despite the impious carping of atheists, and the well meaning blasphemy of religious fools. God rules over all as a most wise potter rules his clay.

After discussing the topic of God’ eternal decrees, Dickson handles the doctrines of creation and providence. Related to Dickson’s discussion of predestination cited above is his teaching on divine providence. God’s comprehensive providence reaches from the greatest to the least of events in history. For the sparrow in his death throes to the rise and fall of world empires.

Yet in discussing God’s relationship to sinful actions, many fear imputing evil to God Himself, and fall into the ditch on the other side of the road to Zion. Does God stand idly by in evil actions, or is He involved in some other way? Dickson discusses:

Well then, do not the Lutherans, Papists, Arminians, and Socinians err, who maintain, That the Lord concurs only to sinful actions, by a bare, naked, and idle permission?


By what reasons are the confuted?

1st, Because the Scripture says, God blinds their eyes, and hardens their heart, even actively, and judicially, John 12.40. Exod. 7.3. Deut. 2.30. Rom. 9.18. 2d, Because God is said to punish one sin with another, Rom. 1.24,26,28. 2 Thes. 2.12. 3d, From the practice of Job, and David, who, when they were afflicted and persecuted, looked to God, and took it patiently, Job 1.21.17

God’s justice demonstrates itself by His activity related to sinful man, and his sinful actions. God hardens the wicked man’s heart, God punishes sin with sin, and ordered the afflictions and persecutions that the godly suffered for His glory and the good of His people.

Hardness of heart is a sin for which Pharaoh and others were blamed (e.g. Ex. 8:15). Thus, God’s permission in such evil acts was not idle or naked, but powerfully ordered for His glory. Thus, God received glory through the destruction of Pharaoh, brought about by the hardening of his heart. God also sends strong delusions, so that men believe a lie rather than the truth. This is no bare permission, but a powerful and just judgment. The sinfulness of such actions proceeds from the wicked themselves, but they are still ordered by God’s will, not by His sideline observance. The Libertines err in affirming that God is the author and cause of all sin, since Scripture affirms otherwise (e.g. Victory, pp. 62-3).

Next Dickson exposits the Confession’s teaching on the fall of man into sin, and its punishment. In this topic, there are unfortunate errors respecting various points. One major issue which pelagians and semi-pelagians have historically denied is the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity. Depending on the shade of error, some would go so far as to deny that any sin is truly sinful, unless voluntarily concurred to by the subject. In other words, unless a person knows and chooses a specific evil act, they have no sin. Thus, many have historically denied that infants can be said to have any sin, since they are not of age to rationally choose to sin.

Dickson opposes this error, held to by the Quakers of his day, reasoning soundly from Scripture:

Does not, lastly, a certain ring-leader of the Quakers err, who maintains, That to infants this original sin is not imputed, until by actual sin, they join themselves to it?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, From that well known place of Scripture, Romans 5, which is the very seat and foundation of this doctrine of original sin. 2d, Because unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, John 3.3. 3d, Because all men, by nature and birth are the children of wrath, Eph. 2.3. 4th, Because whatever is born of the flesh, is fleshly, John 3.6. And who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one: Job 14.4 and 15.14. 5th, Because all the thoughts, and imaginations of the heart of man, (viz. of the natural, and unregenerate man) are evil continually, Gen. 6.5. 6th, Because David confesseth, that he was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did his mother conceive him, Psalm 51.5.18

The teaching of Scripture puts the sin of Adam as the root and cause of individuals’ personal sins. The first birth of man necessitates as second, implying that the first did not leave man without a taint of sin. Man’s natural corruption is bred into him from generation to generation, and all come from an unclean fountain, bringing forth corruption because they are corrupt. As the proverb of the ancients says, “Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked,” David testifying the same concerning his own lineage in Psalm 51.

Moreover, the specific treatment of infants in Scripture necessitates that infants are conceived and born in sin:

7th, Because infants, that are guilty of no actual transgression, need a remedy against sin, viz. absolution by the blood of Christ, a seal whereof was given, according to God’s institution under the law to infants, namely circumcision, to which baptism, under the gospel succeeds, Deut. 30.6. Rom. 2.29. Acts 22.19. Mark 1.4. Col. 2.12. Gen. 17.12. Mat. 28.16. 8th, Because all the elect, among whom are infants, Mat. 18.6. Mark 9.42. are redeemed by Christ, and are set at liberty from slavery, freed from the fault, and penal punishment, John 1.29. and 10.15. 1 Tim. 2.6. 9th, Because infants are liable to death and other miseries and calamities, which are the wages and punishments of sin, Rom. 6.23. Gen. 3.19.19

Infants are liable to death, and must therefore be guilty of sin. Infants are in need of salvation through the blood of Christ, and such was confirmed, signed and sealed by the sacraments of cleansing: circumcision and baptism. Why would an infant need a sign and seal of cleansing if he were already clean? Thus, we may not only conclude the sinfulness of infants from the general teaching of Scripture about mankind, but from its specific teaching about infants.

Moreover, every sin that man commits is worthy of eternal punishments. Some with a false compassion pretend that there are no sins which are worthy of eternal punishment, and that therefore eternal punishment must be a fable of the vengeful. Yet Dickson refutes such as follows:

1st, Because all sins deserve eternal death, Rom. 6.23. Ezek. 18.4. Rom. 8.6,13. 2d, Because every sin is a transgression of the law, 1 John 3.4. 3d, Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, James 2.10,11. and therefore he deserves eternal punishment. 4th, Because those sins of infirmity and ignorance which the saints are subject to, and which the Papists call venial sins, will not suffer them to stand in judgment before God, nor can the saints be justified from them by faith; and therefore in strict justice they merit and deserve hell, Psalm 143.2. and 130.3,4,8.20

The soul that sinneth shall surely die, since it has committed lawlessness, and has broken all the law though seeming to only offend in one point. Sins of ignorance are nonetheless sins, and (as Dickson points out in this context) required expiatory sacrifices under the law of Moses, foresignifying the precious blood of the Lamb of God.

Next, Dickson discusses God’s covenant with man. Here some err who consider the Old Covenant to be a substantially different sort of covenant from the New. Such view the differences between the covenants not merely as accidental, but as substantial:

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because in both the covenants there is the same promise of grace, concerning the remission of sin, and eternal life, freely to be given to believers for Christ’s sake, Gen. 3.15. where the seed of the woman is promised to bruise the head of the serpent; and Gen 17.7. it is said, “I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee;” and Gen. 22.18. it is said, In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; and John 3.36. it is said, He that believeth hath everlasting life; and Acts 15.11. it is said, But we believe, that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they.21

One sort of promise, one sort of covenant. The gospel in Genesis is the same as the gospel in John. Our salvation by grace is the same as theirs; this cannot make for two covenants, differing in substance, though suiting quite well for one covenant of grace with accidental differences.

Dickson continues:

2d, Because one and the same faith and obedience, on both sides, required, Walk before me, and be thou perfect, Gen. 17.1. and Mark 1.15. Christ says, after he came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.”22

One sort of precept, one sort of covenant. God’s covenant of grace is composed of promises and precepts, gospel and law, justification and sanctification. Thus, not only does the Old contain the gospel, but the New contains the law. Though accidental differences may highlight one aspect of God’s covenant more than another, these are not at the heart of the administrations. At the heart and core, the promise of salvation in Christ is one, and the requirement of obedience to the moral law is one. Repent and believe are the clarion call of the gospel since the days of Adam and Eve.

Next, the fountainhead of the gospel, Christ the Mediator of our salvation is considered. Though such a topic could fill volume upon volume, yet Dickson settles on defending bulwarks of orthodoxy, such as Christ’s incarnation, dual natures, sufferings, and mediation. First, I will consider Dickson’s refutation of the “celestial flesh” heresy. Christ took in union with His divinity a true and real human nature, which is proved:

3d, By an induction of the essential parts of a man, and the sinless infirmities which were found in him. First, He was endued with a rational soul, John 12.27. Secondly, He had a real and substantial body, and denied he was a spirit only, Luke 24.39. Thirdly, Christ did hunger, Mat. 4.2. Fourthly, He was weary and thirsty. John 4.6. 5.Lastly, He was sad; he groaned in spirit, and was troubled, John 11.35. and verse 15. He wept. None of which sinless perturbations can agree to an appearance, shape, or form of a man.23

The reality of Christ’s human nature is bound so tightly with the text of God’s holy Word, that only the grossest and most perverse addiction to idolatry could surmount this difficulty. Such a gross and perverse idolatry, tragically, has gripped the hearts of the simple. Does a divine and impassible spirit possess a body? Does it groan and tremble? Does it weep?  No indeed!

Yet the chasm between divinity and humanity does not pose any difficulty for the two natures in one Person in Christ. This divine-human chasm does not necessitate two persons in Christ:

1st, Because unless Christ-God-man were but one person, the merit of his death would not be of so great value, as to redeem the elect from infinite and eternal punishment; seeing hence cometh all the value and worth of his death, that the same person who was God, did suffer and die for us. 2d, Because otherwise, Christ had been swallowed up and devoured by the wrath of God, against the sins of the elect, which he himself undertook. 3d, Because Christ, if he had not been both God and man in one person, he could not have been a mediator: For a mediator must be one, 1 Tim. 2.5.24

A mere human sufferer offers help to none in need of eternal salvation! Yet an infinite price can save to the uttermost an innumerable host. Moreover, the wrath of Almighty God would overcome any mere human sufferer, and such a sufferer is declared to be one in Scripture, not two.

Yet this unity in the Son of God was not one of confusing the two natures, or creating a third sort of divine humanity, or human divinity:

1st, Because such a composition is impossible, seeing the divine nature is most perfect and cannot lose any of its own perfection, unless we would affirm the divine nature to be mutable and changeable. 2d, Because that same Christ, who according to the flesh descended of the Jews is over all, God blessed for ever, Rom. 6.5. 3d, Because this doctrine takes away all means of mediation; for, by taking away the distinction between the natures, they take away the natures themselves: And so neither could Christ have suffered in our place, because not man; neither could he have given any virtue, value, or worth, to his sufferings because not God.25

If the devil cannot induce men to divide Christ in two, he will seek to confuse them by uniting so strongly into one as to obliterate the distinction of the natures.

Such is the delusion of the papists, who make Christ’s humanity out as possessed of divine attributes, such as omnipresence. Deluded by the father of lies himself, they confuse what God has ever declared as distinct: Creator and creation. Yet divinity is perfect and blessed forever, incapable to any form of alteration for the better, or for the worse. The humanity could never ascend to the heights of divinity by some sort of composition or confusion. By personal union, yes. But humanity (body and blood) can’t be transubstantiated into God, much less bread!! Yet the man of lawlessness and son of perdition has sought to make it so.

Moreover, our Mediator, being both God and man, has performed functions suitable to each nature. As God, as said above, infinite worth is given to the obedience of the man Christ. Yet this obedience was not due as God, Who is beholden to none, but binds all to obedience to Himself. The whole duty of man, however, is obedience to the moral law, and payment for any breach thereof. As such, it behooved Christ not only to suffer the punishment due by the elect for breaches of the moral law, but also to offer that obedience which was due by them as well.

Yet some, otherwise orthodox, deny that Christ offered up His obedience to God’s law along side the sacrifice of Himself to God. Dickson points up their error as follows:

1st, Because the active disobedience of the first Adam made us all sinners; therefore we must be made righteous by the active obedience of the second Adam, Rom. 5.19. 2d, Because Christ not only offered himself to the death for us, but for their sakes, that is, for the elects sake, he sanctified himself, that is, he gave up himself as a holy sacrifice, John 17.19. 3d, Because it behoved Christ to fulfill all righteousness, Mat. 3.15. 4th, Because we stood in need, not only of the expiation of sin, for saving us from eternal death, but of the gift of righteousness, for obtaining eternal life, according to that precept and demand of the law, Do this, and thou shalt live. And therefore Christ is not only called our ransom, but the end and perfection of the law, to every one that believeth Rom. 10.4. That is, the aim of giving the law by Moses, is that thereby men being brought to the knowledge of their sin, should fly for refuge unto Christ and his righteousness, as he that hath perfectly fulfilled the law for us.26

The parallels in Scripture demonstrate the likeness between Adam and Christ.  Disobedience, sin and death are derived from the first Adam, and obedience, righteousness and life are derived from the second. Christ, as the perfection of the law and end of it, acquired a perfect and spotless righteousness, offered it up to God, and imputed it to us, who are thereby made “the righteousness of God in Him.”

Dickson deals with the doctrine of free will next, followed by a treatment of effectual calling. One section in Dickson’s treatment of effectual calling catches both birds:

Do not likewise the Arminians err, who maintain, That when the grace of God begins to make an infall upon the heart, in order to a man’s conversion, it is indifferent, and may be resisted and withstood; so that a man may be converted, or not converted by it?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because if this doctrine were true, a man’s conversion would be of him that runneth, and of him that willeth, but not of God, that sheweth mercy; which is contrary to the apostle, Rom. 9.15,16. 2d, Because by this way, it should not be God that worketh in us, both to will and to do, Phil. 2. 13 3d, Because by this way, a man himself should make the difference, and God should not make one man differ from another, which is contrary to the apostle, 1 Cor. 4.7. 4th, Because if so, a man might glory, that he had in himself, what he had not received; which contradicts, 1 Cor. 4.7. 5th, Because it is God that draws a man before he comes to Christ, John 6.44. 6th, Because conversion is a new creation, 2 Cor. 5.17. 7th, Because it is a resurrection from the dead, Eph. 2.5. 8th, Because conversion is no less than to be born over again, John 3.3.27

Thus, whatever we mean by the term free will, we may not use it to suggest that man is indifferent to the effectual call of God, and may overcome the divine will in conversion. Conversion and salvation are of God who wills, not man who runs. Man does not make himself to differ from others, but God causes him to differ. God works as great a miracle as the first creation in the conversion of a sinner, and man is just as passive in that work as the heavens and earth were in the beginning. Man is dead in his trespasses and sins, and must be raised to newness of life.

Dickson next covers the doctrine of justification. As some who err in our day, the papists, Socinians and Quakers erred in ages past, asserting that man is justified before God by a righteousness within us. Dickson contends that they are refuted:

1st, Because if inherent righteousness did justify us, then good works would justify us, but the scripture denies that, Rom. 3.20. Therefore, says the text, by the deeds of the law, shall no flesh be justified in his sight: and ver. 28, therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law. See Rom. 4.6. Gal. 2.16. Eph. 2.8,9. Titus 3.5. In all which places, works are secluded expressly from our justification.28

What is in man results in his works. The heart is the center and cause of man’s actions and words. If man is declared right before God’s tribunal based upon a righteousness inherent to him, then works and words could not be excluded, as they are in Scripture.

Dickson continues:

2d, Because the righteousness whereby we are justified, is not our proper own, 2 Cor. 5.21. For he, viz. God, hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, Phil. 3.8,9. And be found in him, not having on my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.29

Inherent righteousness is expressly disclaimed in Scripture. We have no righteousness of our own, but one imputed to us. It is God’s righteousness, not our own. It is not by obedience to the ceremonial law (the easiest of all laws to keep), much less by obedience to the moral law (the hardest)! God’s righteousness becomes our own by faith, resting in God’s promises to us in Christ.

The beat down of works continues:

4th, Because our justification is given to us freely, Rom. 4.4,5. Rom. 11.6. 5th, Because our inherent righteousness is imperfect, 1 Kings 8.46. For this Scripture says, there is no man that sinneth not. See that parallel place, 1 John 1.8. where it is said, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 6th, Because if we were justified by inherent righteousness, we should have matter to boast of, which is contrary to Paul’s doctrine, Eph. 2.9. Not of works, lest any man should boast. 7th, Because the righteousness of a Christian man, is the justifying of the ungodly, Rom. 4.5.30

Dickson, following Scripture, deals the death blows to our pitiful self righteousness. Not even the saints can claim a perfect righteousness, except it be that of Christ. Only the self deceived think otherwise. We have no grounds of boasting, and our justification is such as is given to the ungodly. God does not justify those who have worked toward the heavenly kingdom over time, but of those who are ungodly in themselves. There is no life left in man’s prideful claims to self righteousness.

Next Dickson treats of the Confession’s chapter on the grace of adoption. God’s children obtain a right to all of the privileges of the sons of God. And such can never be disinherited, even the worst of providences being tokens of the truth of this grace of God:

Do not likewise the Arminians, Quakers, and Socinians err, who maintain, That those who have received the grace of adoption, may be cast off totally and finally?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because all the children of God are kept through faith unto salvation, 1 Pet. 1.5. 2d, Because Christ hath prayed for the perseverance of all believers, John 17.20. John 11.26. And all those that are adopted, are the children of God by faith, Gal. 3.26. 3d, Because no man that is born again, as are all the children of God, doth sin, that is, he suffers not sin to reign over him, for his seed remaineth in him; that is, God’s seed, whereby he is born again, namely the word of God, 1 Pet. 1.23. John 3.5,6. remaineth in him, that is, doth not totally perish, but abideth thence forward, working the fruits of regeneration once begun in them, Phil. 1.6. See 1 John 3.9.31

The true religion revealed to us in Scripture demonstrates that the Almighty God is never frustrated. If He begins a good work, He finishes it. Christ has prayed to that end, and is always heard by His Father. The incorruptible seed of God springs up to eternal life, and thus none can be totally or finally cast off from the heavenly inheritance, once brought into possession of it. Much more is said by Dickson which I will forbear for space’ sake.

Dickson next treats of sanctification. Antinomians, overemphasizing the promise of God and the doctrines of election and justification, err in their assessment of sanctification:

Well then, do not the Antinomians err, who maintain, That those who are justified, are sanctified only, by the imputed holiness of Christ; not by infusing inherent holiness, or any spiritual qualities into them, by the help of which they are enabled to live holily?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the apostle says, Follow peace and holiness with all men, without which, no man shall see God, Heb. 12.14. 2d, Because the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, and faith, Gal. 5.22. 3d, Because they who are in Christ bring forth good fruit, John 15.5. 4th, Because they who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts, Gal. 5.24,25. 5th, Because the apostle commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. 2.12. 6th, Because we ought to purify ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, 2 Cor. 7.1. 7th, Because we ought to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 3.18. 8th, Because the Lord circumcises the heart of the elect, that they may love the Lord their God, and taketh away the heart of stone, Deut. 30.6. Ezek. 36.26,27.32

The invincible grace of God changes hearts and lives. God requires holiness for eternal life, and works the same within the saints, not merely accounting them as righteous in Christ. Christ commands working out our salvation, and accomplishes the circumcision made without hands, causing us to walk in His statutes and judgments. God not only saves outside of us, but inside of us as well.

Next is the doctrine of saving faith. This faith is the work of Christ in the hearts of men, purchased by His redemption. This faith, contrary to the papists, is not better defined as ignorance:

Well then, do the Papists err, who commend and extol implicit faith, and who define faith, rather by ignorance than by knowledge?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; and therefore there can be no faith without knowledge, Rom. 10.17. 2d, Because all believers are taught of God, Isa. 54.13. John 6.45. 3d, Because Christ says, This is life eternal to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent, John 17.3. 4th, Because the prophet Isaiah says, By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, chap. 53.11.33

Thus, faith is grounded in a knowledge of God and Christ, not in the darkness and ignorance of the man of sin, who prefers to bind men in the chains of ignorance than to liberate men by the knowledge of the Son of God.

Next, Dickson treats of the biblical teaching of repentance. Repentance is a gospel grace, not a legal bondage:

Well then, do not the Antinomians err, who maintain, That repentance is not an evangelical grace, and that it ought not to be preached by any minister of the gospel, seeing it leads us away from Christ, and is many ways hurtful and dangerous to us?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because God hath promised in the covenant of grace, that he will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, which shall cause Christians under the gospel to repent and mourn for their sins, Zech. 12.10. 2d, Because repentance is numbered among the saving graces, which shall be bestowed and conferred upon converts, under the gospel, and is sometimes put for the whole conversion of a man to God, Acts 11.15-18. 3d, Because the ministers of the gospel ought to instruct those with meekness, who oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth, 2 Tim. 2.25. 4th, Because repentance from dead works, is among the principles of the doctrine of Christ; and is a foundation which ought to be laid, before the hearers of the gospel can go on unto perfection; I say, laid by the ministers of the gospel, Heb. 6.1. 5th, Because Christ himself appointed repentance, no less to be preached through the world, than remission of sins, Luke 27.47. 6th, Because Christ and his apostles preached repentance, no less than faith, Mark 1.15. Matt. 3.2. Nay, the whole sum of the gospel is placed in preaching faith and repentance, Acts 20.20,21.34

The human potential for self deception is a frightful thing, and one that should give all men cause of pause and consider their ways carefully. Though God publish in three-foot-high letters the demand for repentance, our darkness will not come to the light, since our deeds are evil. Not only so, but the Antinomian cloaks his evil with a veil of sanctity, playing up free grace. Yet repentance from dead works remains a fundamental requirement of the gospel, highlighting the balance of the Reformed faith in Scripture, grasping promises and threats, law and gospel, duties and declarations in one covenant of grace.

Next, Dickson handles the good works of saints. Good works are not the means of our salvation, but are an expression of the way of gratitude for the saints of God:

Quest. II. “Are good works done in obedience to God’s commandments, the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith?”

Yes; James 2.18,22.

Well then do not the Antinomians and Libertines err, who deny, That believers ought to make evident to themselves and others, the truth of their justification by good works as fruits of a true and lively faith?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because Christ says, By their fruits ye shall know them; for a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, Matt. 7.16-18. 2d, Because we are commanded, to make sure our calling and election by good works, as by the fruits of faith, 2 Pet. 1.5,6,10,11. 3d, Because in scripture there are delivered many undoubted and sure marks of regeneration, taken from the fruits of faith and good works, 1 John 1.6,7. and 2.3. and 1 John 3.9,10,14.35

The marks of God’s Spirit are evident in such good works, done in obedience to the precepts of the covenant, and in the power of the promises of the same covenant. A good tree is planted by our Savior.

The next topic is the perseverance of the saints, as firmly asserted in our Confession, echoing the teaching of Scripture. Those effectually called in Christ, sanctified by the Spirit, and accepted by the Father can never fall away from the state of grace, and will certainly persevere:

Well then, do not the Papists, Socinians, Arminians, and some ring-leaders among the Quakers err, who maintain, That the saints may totally and finally fall away?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the saints are built upon a rock, and not upon the sand: Therefore when temptations of any kind assault, they can never fail, nor can the gates of hell prevail against them, Matt. 7.24. and 16.16,18. 2d, Because he that hath begun a good work in the saints, will finish it, until the day of Jesus Christ, Phil. 1.6. 3d, Because Paul says, Nothing can separate us from the love of God, Rom. 8.35,38,39. 4th, Because they that fall away, have never had true justifying faith, Luke 8.4-15. 1 John 2.19. 5th, Because it is impossible for the elect to be seduced, Matt. 24.24. I say impossible, not in respect of the will and power of the elect themselves, but in respect of the immutability of God’s decree concerning them, and of his purpose of keeping them powerfully against seduction, according to his promises, of which he cannot repent; see John 10.28. Rom. 8.38,39. 1 Pet. 1.5. 6th, Because they that believe in the Son of God have life eternal, 1 John 5.13. John 6.47,54,58. And they have passed from death unto life, and shall never thirst, nor hunger any more, John 6.35.36

Dickson has much more to say regarding this vital topic, but these texts are sufficient to convince the most obstinate. Building upon the rock, Christ, gives an unshakeable foundation; the invincible God begins and completes His own work; nothing can separate us from the love of Christ; those who apostatize have never been “of us,” God will not permit His elect to be deceived; and those who believe in Christ have already passed from death to eternal life. The doctrine of God, consistently taught in our Confession, does not permit failed attempts or promises. God will infallibly bring to pass His own purposes. Otherwise, He would fail in one of His basic attributes, and could no longer be the Almighty.

Though Dickson goes on to discuss assurance of salvation, the law of God, Christian liberty and liberty of conscience, and religious worship and the Sabbath day, yet space does not permit me to treat of these edifying topics. In conclusion, we have discussed salient points in Victory, such as the doctrine of God, Christ our Mediator, God’s covenant, predestination, and perseverance of the saints. In this paper, I have only treated Chapters 1-21 of the Confession, and will treat Chapters 22-33 in a second paper. Nevertheless, I trust that this paper will serve as an introduction, to whet the appetite for further study of Dickson’s Truth’s Victory Over Error.


David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error, or, the True Principles of the Christian Religion, Stated and Vindicated Against the Following Heresies, viz. Arians … Vaninians, &c. The Whole Being a Commentary on All the Chapters of the Confession of Faith, by Way of Question and Answer: in which, the Saving Truths of our Holy Religion are Confirmed and Established; and the Dangerous Errors and Opinions of its Adversaries Detected and Confuted (Glasgow: John Bryce, and sold at his shop in the Salt-market, 1764), cited as Victory throughout the text and footnotes of this paper.



Victory, p. 29.


3Victory, p. 33.


4Victory, p. 34.


5Victory, pp. 34-5.


6Victory, pp. 35-6.


7Victory, p. 36.


8Victory, pp. 37-8.


9Victory, p. 38.


10Victory, pp. 39-40.


11Victory, pp. 41-2.


12Victory, p. 44.


13Victory, pp. 44-5.


14Victory, pp. 50-1.


15Victory, p. 54.


16Victory, pp. 55-6.


17Victory, p. 62.


18Victory, p. 64.


19Victory, pp. 64-5.


20Victory, p. 66.


21Victory, p. 70.


22Victory, pp. 70-1.


23Victory, pp. 71-2.


24Victory, pp. 72-3.


25Victory, pp. 73-4.


26Victory, p. 75.


27Victory, p. 75.


28Victory, pp. 88-9.


29Victory, p. 89.




31Victory, p. 95.


32Victory, pp. 96-7.


33Victory, pp. 101-2.


34Victory, pp. 103-4.


35Victory, p. 116.


36Victory, pp. 124-5.



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