Being an Interaction with the Text of
David Dickson’s Commentary on
the Westminster Confession of Faith
Adam Jonathan Brink
For the course Westminster Standards (TH320), Master of Divinity Program
The North American Reformed Seminary
December 1st in the Year of Our Lord 2013
As I discussed in my previous paper on Dickson’s book, Truth’s Victory Over Error,1 this book is a 10,000-foot overview of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Part 1 in this two-part book report covered Dickson’s comments on Chapters 1-21 of the Confession. As in Part 1, I will take each of the chapters from 22-33 in order in Part 2, discussing edifying points in Dickson’s commentary. These chapters include lawful oaths and vows, the civil magistrate, marriage and divorce, the church, communion of the saints, the sacraments, church censures, synods and councils, man’s state after death and the resurrection, and the last judgment.
Victory picks up Chapter 22 discussing lawful oaths and vows. Dickson takes on the papal notion of mental reservation in oaths by asking:
Do not likewise the Papists err, who maintain, mental reservation, to be lawful in swearing?
By what reasons are they confuted?
First, because the Scripture requires from all men in their common dealing with one another, in their discourse and conferences, verity and simplicity, Matth. 5.37, Eph. 4.25. Much more are these things required in swearing, wherein God is called to be witness of the truth of these things which are asserted.2
Thus, mental reservations are impious, calling God to witness that which we do not believe to be true, though we swear or vow that we do, and uncharitable, lying to our neighbor contrary to the law of love.
Moreover, the papal notion of vowing to perpetual poverty is sinful, requiring disobedience to the command to charity and love for our neighbor. Charity requires that we work with our hands what is good, that we may have whereof to give to others:
Because professed poverty hindereth a greater good, viz. our charity and benevolence towards the poor and indigent members of Christ, which is contrary to the apostle’s rule, Eph. 4.28.3
Thus, in our vows and oaths, we must do them lawfully (without mental reservation), and to lawful ends, not binding ourselves to things that hinder our obedience.
Next, Dickson discusses the biblical teaching on the civil magistrate, as summarized in the Confession’s twenty-third chapter. In particular, Dickson discusses the power of the “sword” conferred by God to His ministers, the civil magistrate:
When then, do not the Socinians err who maintain that it is not the duty of the civil magistrate to punish the guilty with death?
By what reasons are they confuted?
First, because God hath expressly commanded that transgressing idolaters be put to death, Deut. 17.7 and 19.21. 2d, because it appertains to the office and duty of the magistrate to punish the guilty with death, Rom. 13.4, 1 Pet. 2.14. 3d, because the capital punishment of evil doers makes others stand in awe, and fear to offend, Deut. 13.11 and 19.20. 4th, because if the magistrate shall neglect to inflict due punishment, the Lord himself will be avenged on that magistrate, 1 Kings 20.42. Numb. 25.4. 5th, because he that smiteth a man so that he die, shall surely be put to death, Exod. 21.12.4
What is of note in this context is Dickson’s basic assumption of continuity regarding civil sanctions against idolatry and murder. Contrary to the Socinians, the Reformed believe that the magistrate is keeper of both Tables of the Law, and is such at God’s will and prescript in Scripture.
Furthermore, Dickson discusses the power magistrates have relative to sacred matters. Not that magistrates are ecclesiastical ministers, but that their civil power is to be used for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, using civil means. Dickson explains:
Well then, do not the Quakers, and other sectaries err, who judge it antichristian and the practice of the church of Rome that the civil supreme magistrate, with the assistance of the church and her censures, should by his coactive power, force and oblige all his subjects to a reformation of religion, and to a conformity to the true worship, sound doctrine, and discipline of the church?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1st, because it is foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, that in the days of the gospel, kings shall be nursing fathers and queens nursing mothers to the church of God, chap. 49.23. 2d, because Artaxerxes, who was but a heathen king, was very careful to make a decree, that whatsoever was commanded by the God of heaven, should be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven. And whosoever would not obey the law of God and the king, judgment was to be executed speedily upon him, whether by death, banishment, confiscation of goods, or imprisonment. For which singular mercy, Ezra blessed the Lord God of his fathers, who had put such a thing in the king’s heart, chap. 7.23, 25-28. So did Nebuchadnezzar make a decree, that if any people, nation or language should speak any thing amiss against the God of heaven, they should be cut in pieces, and their houses made a dunghill, Dan. 3.29. The like we read of Darius, whom made a decree that all men should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, chap. 6.26.5
Thus, Dickson’s held his position on the validity of Old Testament civil ethics consistently, and thus believed that magistrates are required to follow the examples and prophecies contained within the sacred Scriptures.
3d, from the example of Hezekiah, who removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent, to which the Israelites did burn incense, 2 Kings 18.4. 4th, from the example of Josiah, who made a thorough reformation; and made all Israel to serve the Lord their God. The word in the original importeth, that he in a manner force and compelled them to the pure worship and service of God, as a servant is forced and compelled to his work. He, by his royal power and authority, kept them in order, forbidding idolatry, and commanding them to serve God no otherwise than according to his Word, 2 Chron. 34.33 and 15. 12-13. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart, and with all their soul: that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.6
Thus, Dickson marshals the examples in the Old Testament, not only from the Gentile kings, but from the pious kings of Judah, who faithfully executed the spirit of the Mosaic judicial laws. Their power as “ministers of God” was used to terrorize those who do evil, and praise those who do well.
5Th, because whoever blasphemed the Name of the Lord was surely put to death, Lev. 24.16. This blaspheming was a piercing through or stabbing the Name of the Lord, as the original word properly signifies, which may be done not only after this manner, but by maintaining blasphemous errors and heresies.7
Again, Dickson consistently upheld the moral law’s teaching on civil punishments, including the penalty against blasphemy.
Next, Dickson discusses the moral law more particularly:
6Th, because the supreme magistrate is custos utriusque tabulae, a keeper of both tables of the Law of God: as well of the first table, which relates to religion, and our duty to God; as of the second, which relates to righteousness, and our duty to our neighbor. If then he may punish evil doers who offend against the second table, and force and compel them to obedience by the sword of justice, which God hath put into his hand, much more may he punish idolaters and blasphemers, who offend against the first table, and force and compel them to obedience, seeing there are many sings against the first table which are more hainous and odious than the sins against the second table. And though it be the sinful practice of the church of Rome to force men and women to be of their religion, which is superstitious and idolatrous, yet it is not so to others who have the true religion among them.8
Thus, compulsion in matters of religion is required by the moral law itself, which compels all men everywhere to its obedience. The magistrate is merely a “speaking law,” just as the law is a “silent magistrate.” There is no pretended right to an erring and idolatrous conscience, protected by natural law. Rather, natural law puts a curse and a ban on erring and idolatrous consciences. The Enlightenment notions of religious freedom are themselves a form of blasphemy and idolatry.
Dickson next discusses the objection against these doctrines taken from the example of Christ and His Apostles, who taught nothing regarding civil power, but only of spiritual power:
And though our blessed Savior, and his Apostles did not use such means for propagating the Gospel, reserving the glory of conquering of souls to himself, and the power of his Spirit, yet
has taught nothing to the contrary, but that kings and magistrates whom he has made nursing Fathers to his church, may, according to the laudable examples of the good kings of Judah, improve their power for reformation, and maintenance of his own religion.9
By addressing man’s spiritual salvation directly, the gospel does not lay aside wholesome civil laws, particularly those ordained by God Himself.
Following this sound treatment of the civil magistrate, Dickson discusses the Confession’s twenty-fourth chapter on marriage and divorce. Of note in this regard is the biblical teaching in the Confession on the rights of such as are divorced. In particular, Dickson refutes the various errors propagated by the Novatians, ancient “Puritans,” and the Papists who deny second marriages to those lawfully divorced. Dickson easily refutes these errors:
1St, because Christ permitted marriage after divorce, Matth. 5.31, 32 and 19.9. Here Christ forbidding a man to put away his wife, and to marry another, in express words excepts the case of fornication. Therefore he suffers a man to put away his wife in the case of fornication, and to marry another. 2Nd, because the Apostle says, ‘But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart, for a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases,’ 1 Cor. 7.15. Therefore, if a brother or sister, when there is such a willful and obstinate desertion, be not under bondage, then surely the bond is dissolved, and all remedies being tried in vain for bringing back the obstinate party, I doubt not but the innocent party may marry another without blame. If this be, then much more may the innocent person marry another, when a divorce is obtained.10
Though sinful men may desire to be “more holy than God” (God forbid!), yet their strivings are vain, and they themselves are impious. God has permitted divorce in certain circumstances, and who are we to object?
Next, Dickson treats of the following chapter of the Confession on the church of Jesus Christ. This church is no light matter. Her worship, ordinances and discipline are not to be cast aside lightly:
Quest. IV. “Is there any ordinary possibility of salvation out of the visible Church?”
No. Acts 2. 47.
Well then, do not the Enthusiasts, Quakers, and Libertines err, who affirm, That any Man
may be a true Christian, and be saved, though he live within no visible Church?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because the Lord Jehovah, in his visible Church (ordinarily) commands the blessing, even Life for evermore, Psal. 133. 3. 2d, Because the visible Church is the Mother of all Believers, Gal. 4. 26. By Jerusalem which is above, I understand the ‘True Christian Church,’ which seeketh its salvation, not by the First Covenant of the Law, namely, by the works of the Law, but by the Second of the Gospel, namely, by the merits of Christ embraced by a true faith, which hath its original from Heaven, by the powerful calling of the Holy Ghost. 3d, Because they that are without the visible Church are without Christ, Eph. 2. 12. 4th, Why are Men and Women joined to the visible Church, but that they may be saved? Acts 2.47. 5th, Because they that are without the visible Church are destitute of the ordinary means of life and salvation, Psal. 147.19, 20.11
Though we often have trouble respecting the visible church of Christ, Scripture sets us on a different path. Both Old and New Testaments direct our thoughts to respect the visible church as our mother, who gives us birth, nourishes us, sustains us, instructs us, and more. The true church of Christ brings the means of salvation to us, and God has commanded His blessing of everlasting life to be there. If we want to be added to Christ, we must be added to His body.
Yet Dickson points out that Christ alone is the ruler and head of this body, the church:
“Can the Pope of Rome, in any sense be the Head thereof?”
No. Col. 1.18. Eph. 1.22.
Well then, do not the Popish Church err, who maintains, That not only Christ is the universal Head of the Church, but that there is another visible Head under him, who, say they, is the Pope of Rome, Christ’s Vicar, or Deputy under him?
By what Reasons are they confuted ?
1st, Because as not many Husbands, but one only, is head of the wife, so Christ only is Head of the Church, Eph. 5.23. 2d, Because the Church is espoused to one only, namely, to Jesus Christ, 1 Cor, 11.3. 3d, Because the Church is the Body of Christ only, Eph. 1. 22, 23. 4th, Because among all the ecclesiastic orders instituted, and appointed by Christ, we do not read of such a creature, as an universal Vicar of Christ, Eph. 4. 11. 5th, Because the Church is one Body only: (unless it be a monster) but one Body cannot have two Heads. Rom. 12. 4, 5. 6th, Because Christ only can inspire, or breathe in vigour, sense, motion and spiritual life into his members, Eph, 5. 29, 30. John 6. 48, 50, 51. John 15, 1, 2. 7th, Because there must not be Lordship and Sovereignty among them, that are under Christ their Head and Lord, Luke 22. 25. 1 Pet. 5. 2, 3. 8th, If the Pope be not so much as a bishop of a particular church, he cannot be universal bishop. The first is true, because he doth not perform the office of a bishop, which is set down, 1 Tim. 3. 2. Tit. 1. 7, 8, 9.12
Christ only is to be lifted up as our head, our life, our Lord, and the king of His church. All others are servants, lacking in any sovereignty over the flock of Christ, which He alone purchased with His own blood. The papal claims are, therefore, anti-Christian, since they seek to put a human institution (the papacy) into the unique place of Christ, the only catholic bishop of our souls.
Next Victory discusses Chapter 26 on the communion of the saints. In this chapter, Dickson focuses in on an old error that continuously crops up. This error is that since the church is Christ’s bride, partaker of His holiness, she must be spotless and perfect in this world. This mentality manifests itself in the ecclesiology of Anabaptists and Baptists, which says that only the truly regenerate make up the visible church on earth, or in the Separatists who claim that no church on earth is good enough for them, so they will re-create the wheel, so to speak.
Dickson discusses this idea at length:
Well then, did not the Donatists of old and Separatists now err, who maintain that hypocrites and wicked men do pollute and defile the worship of God, not only to themselves, but also to others that worship with them, and that therefore we must separate from communion in the worship of God, because of them?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1St, because the church of the Jews in Christ’s time was very corrupt, Matth. 15.7, Mark 6.7, 8. And yet both by his practice, and his command, he would not have his hearers to separate from it. For he both observed the feasts, and preached in their synagogues, John 8. 1, Luke 4. 15, John 10. 22. And he commands his hearers to observe what the scribes and Pharisees bade them do, Matth. 23. 2, 3.13
If Christ had taught the notions of Baptists and Separatists, He would have forbade His people from joining in with such clearly unregenerate members, and would have kept Himself clear of their company, but He did not.
2d, because the Apostle is so far from commanding separation from the church of Corinth, that he praises their meetings (1 Cor. 5.4, 1 Cor. 11.20, 1 Cor. 14.23) notwithstanding of the many gross scandals which were among them, 1 Cor. 1.11, 12, 13, 1 Cor. 5.1, 2 and 1 Cor. 15.12, 13. 3d, because the Apostle calls the Galatians, ‘The Church of Christ, brethren and the children of God,’ who were yet, in some measure, removed from God to another gospel. Nay, says Paul, O foolish (or senseless) Galatians, who hath bewitched you (that is, so blinded the eyes of your understanding, that ye cannot see the right truth, as the juglers bewitch the outward eyes, that men think they see that which they seen not) that ye should not obey the truth, Gal. 3.1. And yet, since it was a constitute true church, it has his judgment, there should be no separation from it, notwithstanding of all the foresaid faults. 4Th, because the church of Ephesus was a true church, though they made defection from their first love. So was the church of Pergamos, tho’ there were in it who held the doctrine of Balaam. So was the church of Thyatira, notwithstanding that they suffered Jezebel, that called herself a prophetess, and taught the servants of Christ to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.14
Thus, not only did Christ practice and teach this anti-Separatism, but His apostles did as well. The visible church of Christ is more or less pure, but its candle is only snuffed out with egregious doctrines and practices, or the ongoing and unrepentant support of such evil. But the presence of the wicked cannot undo the existence of the church, as these passages teach.
Dickson finally demonstrates the absurdity of such perfectionistic tendencies, showing that the true worship of God cannot be polluted by the presence of wicked men or ministers:
5Th, if we must separate from the communion of the church in things lawful, for the faults of others, or for the faults of ministers, and if their sins pollute the worship of God to others, then we must not keep communion with any church; seeing there can hardly be a church where there is not some hidden hypocrites: nay, where there are not some, who are known to be such by the minister. Yet such are not to be excluded, as Christ himself teaches, Matth. 13.24 to 31. See the 47 and 48 verses of the same chapter.15
Victory next deals with Chapter 27 concerning the sacraments in general. Because of the abusive dogmas promulgated throughout history concerning the sacraments, Dickson takes pains to unseat such errors. First is the theory of ex opere operato:
“Is the grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used conferred by any power in them?”
No; Rom. 2.28, 29, 1 Pet. 3.21.
Well then, do not the Papists and Lutherans err who maintain that the sacraments of themselves are true, immediate, and effectual cause of our justification, and give life?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1St, because the holy Scripture attributes our justification to faith only, as an instrumental cause, and to no other thing, Rom. 1. 17, Rom. 3. 28, Gal. 2. 16. And therefore the sacraments cannot be the efficient causes of our justification and life. 2d, because the Scripture makes an express difference between the work of a man dispensing the sacraments, and the work of the Holy Ghost, Matth. 3. 11. 3d, because signs and seals of grace cannot confer and effectuate grace. But the sacraments are but signs and seals of grace, because to signify and to have virtue and power to do differ in nature and kind.16
It is a sad fact of modern education that we are unfamiliar with the concept of causality. Dickson, however, had a command of this topic, and understood the various aspects of causation, such as instrumental causes, efficient causes, etc. Thus, in our justification, and in the spiritual life given to us, sacraments are neither instrumental nor efficient causes. God reserves the power and glory of man’s salvation to Himself, the efficient cause, and has ordained faith as the instrumental.
Dickson next handles the sacraments in particular, beginning with baptism (Chapter 28) followed by the Lord’s Supper (Chapter 29). One great error to be confronted is the notion that baptism is only for adults:
Well then, do not the Anabaptists err, who maintain that no infants, tho’ born of believing parents, ought to be baptized?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1St, because to covenanted ones (of which number the infants of believers are no less than their parents, Acts 2. 38, 39, Acts 3. 25, Rom. 11. 16, Gen. 17. 7, 22) that seal of the covenant, of which they are capable, is not to be denied, Gen. 17. 7, 10, 11.17
Infants are, in fact, capable of the covenant of grace, whether under the Old or New Testaments. The promise is made to parents and their children, and this holds good in our times, perhaps even more so than under the Old.
In the same vein is the relationship between baptism and circumcision, both of which represent the covenant of grace:
That baptism succeeds to circumcision is evident, first, because they both seal up the very same thing. Next, as circumcision was the initiating seal under the Old Testament, so is baptism under the New, and because the Apostle did administer it so early to the disciples at the first appearing of their new birth, and interest in the covenant. Moreover, because by baptism we are said to put on Christ, Gal. 3. 27. That they both seal up the same thing, is evident by comparing Rom. 4. 11 with Mark 1. 4, Acts 2. 38 where circumcision is declared to be a seal of the righteousness of faith, and baptism is held forth to be a pledge of the remission of sins, as also may be seen, Rom. 4. 6, 7, 8, see Col. 2. 11, 12. Where the Apostle teaches that our being buried with Christ in baptism is our circumcision in Christ, which shews that baptism hath succeeded to us in the room of circumcision.18
Thus, just as the Old Testament signs declared forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ (the chief blessings of the covenant) to the Jews of old, so baptism declares the same to us. And Scripture itself easily compares circumcision with baptism, since they are seals of the same promise.
Not only has the sign of baptism been profaned by superstitious nonsense, but the Lord’s Table has likewise been subject to the apish paganizing of Rome:
14th, Because this Popish Adoration of the Elements, is a worshipping of the Creature, together with the Creator a most abominable Idolatry, Dan. 11. 8. Matth 23. 16-23 15th, Because if the Elements ought to be adored, because Christ is sacramentally present in them, then ought Believers (in whom Christ dwelleth, John 14. 20,) to be adored, which is absurd. Nay the water of Baptism ought to be worshipped, seeing the whole Trinity is no less present there, than in the Supper.19
The absurdity of worshiping creation, though honored with sacramental presence, is a severe condemnation upon any who would make such practices a form of piety. Just as the ancient pagans would cut down trees, warm themselves and make food, and then make a god of residue, the worship of creation is laughable. Yet the papacy has enshrined such idolatry as a requirement of piety.
Not only is the worship of bread idolatry, but the notion upon which it is based, transubstantiation, is rank superstition and idolatry. Rome claims to make a bread-god by the hocus-pocus of the Roman priesthood. Yet the piety clearly taught in Scripture is destroyed by such fancies:
8th, Because Transubstantiation takes away the sacramental analogy, and so when the sign is turned into the Thing signified, all Similitude between them is gone, and ceaseth. 9th, From this Doctrine do follow many great absurdities inconsistent with religion, sense and reason. As First, That Christ in the Supper, did both eat and drink himself, that he was wholly in his own Mouth, that he had a double and twofold Body, one visible, another invisible; that a mouse, or rat, may eat Christ’s body.20
Sacraments, by their nature, are signs and seals of spiritual realities. They require a sign and a thing signified. In the Supper, the bread and wine are the signs, and the spiritual benefits believers have in Christ, by means of His body and blood, are the things signified. If the bread and wine cease to be signs and become the literal divinity, body and blood of Christ, then the sacrament is gone. Manifold absurdities also follow, such as Christ’s literal body and blood being present both eating and being eaten at the first institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Dickson deals with Chapter 30 next, concerning church censures. The church of Christ has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever she binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Thus, the rules of such government cannot be built on mere human authority. Dickson reasons that “The end of the Church Government is spiritual, namely, the gaining of mens souls to Christ. But nothing that is meerly of human authority can reach this end, Matth. 18. 15, 16, 17.”21 Gaining our brother who has fallen into sin is accomplished by the proper exercise of church government, under the providential hand of the Spirit of God, using the means He has ordained for the ends He chooses.
Mob rule, however, is not the means that the Spirit has ordained within the visible church of Christ:
This Democracy or popular government, cannot but bring in great confusion, whence many absurdities will follow. As the Church of God should not be an organical body. That women who are forbidden to speak in the Church, must have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven hanging at their belt, forsooth. All must govern, and none must be governed. All must attend the government of the Church. All must be rendered uncapable for going about their particular callings, which God calls them to every day. Therefore, seeing this sort of government brings so much confusion with it, it is most probable that it is not of God, who is a God of order, and not of Confusion, 1 Cor. 14. 33.22
The clear teaching of Scripture is that God has not ordained the entire body to be one member. Not all can govern, and there must be some to obey and some to be obeyed. The absurdity of democracy within the church of Christ should be evident by the considerations mentioned by Dickson. God has established order within His household, and though modern political bodies have adopted democratic platitudes, if not government, such factors should have no influence on the spiritual government of the church.
Related to the notion of ecclesiastical democracy is the error of congregationalism. Dickson discusses Independency under Chapter 31’s treatment of synods and councils:
Well then, do not the Brownists and Independents err, who maintain, That every particular Congregation, or Church, hath in itself the full Power of the Keys, without Subordination, or Subjection to any classical or synodical Meeting and that Presbyteries, and Synods, have only a Power of counselling, advising, and exhorting, but no Power of Jurisdiction, to command or enjoin any Thing in the Lord, to particular Churches or Congregations?
By what Reasons are they confuted ?
1st, Because the Apostolic Church referred all weightier Matters, which did equally concern many Congregations, to the free Suffrages and Votes of the Apostles, Pastors, and select Brethren, and not to the Determination of any one particular Church, or Congregation, Acts 15. -.23,-24, 25. Acts 6. 2, 3. 2d, Because it is evident from Scripture, that there have been many particular Churches, and Congregations, subordinate to one Presbytery. For in the Church of Jerusalem it is manifest, that there were more than one Congregation. First, from the Multitude of Believers, who were of a greater Number than could be of one Congregation, for hearing the Word and Communicating, Acts 2. 41, 42. Acts 5. 14. Acts 6. 1. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Acts 21. 20. 3d, From the Multitude of Pastors, and Ministers, whose Pains and Labours many Churches required, Acts 1. 12, 13, 14, 26, Acts 2. 1, 14, 37, 42. Acts 4. 31, 34, 35, 37, Acts 6. 2. Acts 8. 14.23
Thus, the biblical precedent is not every church for itself, but all the churches working in harmony for the good of the whole. Christ’s church is not to be fragmented, but united in faith and doctrine. Dickson illustrates this unity in discussing the Jerusalem Council (cf. Victory, pp. 278-9), and by parity of reason from the recovery of an offending brother to the recovery of an offending congregation (cf. Victory, p. 270).
Also of note is Dickson’s discussion of ordination, an oft neglected topic. Dickson notes that in Scripture ordination is not the act of a single congregation, but that of an entire presbytery. “Because any one single Congregation, with one Pastor only, hath not the Power of Ordination, an Instance whereof cannot be given, either from Precept, or Practice, in all the New Testament. Nay the Ordination of Ministers in the New Testament, was always performed by a College of Pastors associate together, Acts 6. 6. Acts 13. 1, 2, 3. 1 Tim. 4. 14.”24 The Scripture, again, do not permit us to embrace independent church government, but orderly and unified church government.
Yet the government of the church is not without assistance from those outside of the structure of church government. For example, magistrates play a role with regard to synodical convocation:
May Magistrates lawfully call a Synod of Ministers, and other fit Persons to consult, and advise with, about Matters of Religion?
Yes ; Isa 49. 23. 1 Tim. 2. 1, 2. Matth. 2. 4, 5. Prov. 11. 14.
Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, That the civil Magistrate hath no Right or Power to convocate Synods or Councils, but that it belongs to the Bishop to convocate Diocesian Synods; to the Metropolitan to convocate Provincial Synods; to the Primate and Patriarch to convocate National Synods; to the Pope only to convocate and call Oecumenic and General Synods?
By what Reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because under the Old Testament, Councils and Synods were appointed and called by godly Kings, 1 Kings 8. 1. 2 Kings 23. 1. 2 Chron. 29. 4. 2d, Because it is the Duty of the civil Magistrate, being born within the Church, to take Care that Peace and Unity be preserved and kept in the Church, that the Truth and Word of God be entirely, and soundly preached and obeyed: that Blasphemies and Heresies be kept under and supprest, that all Corruptions in Worship and Discipline be reformed: that all God’s Ordinances be lawfully established, administred and preserved. And if it should happen, that both Church and State Judicatories, should make an Universal Defection from the Purity of Doctrine and Worship received and acknowledged, it is the Duty of a godly King, by Virtue of his regal Power and Authority, to set about a Work of Reformation, and to call and command all Ranks of People to return to the true Worship and Service of God, Isa. 45. 23. Psal. 122. 7, 8, 9. Ezra 7. 23, 25, 26, 27, 28. Lev. 24. 16. Deut. 13. 5, 6, 12. 1 Chron. 13. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 2 Kings 23. from the first Verse to the 36.25
Thus, magistrates are called upon by the divine Scriptures to assist in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Their authority in such matters is confirmed time and again in the Old Testament, which was written for our learning, comfort and instruction in righteousness. And if this is true for the private Christian, how much more so for any Christian with a public office.
Next, Dickson handles Chapter 32 of the Confession dealing with the state of man after death and the resurrection of the dead. Sadly, Satan has sought to encumber this topic with much superstition, mainly using the papal errors to obscure the work of Christ. Dickson discusses the vain and hellish notion of purgatory:
6th, Because Christ’s satisfaction for the sins of believers is most full, compleat and perfect, and doth not need our imperfect satisfactions, whether for the fault or the punishment, Isa. 53d Chapter. Titus 2. 14. 1 John 1. 7. Heb. 10. 14. Col. 1. 20, 21, 22. Neither by our Sufferings in Purgatory, is Christ’s Satisfaction applied to us. First, Because our sufferings there cannot be an Instrument for applying Christ’s Merits to us. For on God’s part we have the Word, Sacraments, and the Spirit, as Means, for applying his Merits to us. On our Part we have Faith. Was it ever heard of in the Word of God, that the Lord made use of exquisite Torments for applying his Grace? To apply Mercy by the executing of Justice? Is forgiving Debt, applied by exacting the Debt? Shall Pardon be applied by the punishing of us?26
Not only does purgatory find no place in Scripture, but the alleged reasons for it are previously filled by divinely authorized means, such as the Word, sacraments and faith. The glory of Christ’s once-for-all atonement is only dimmed or eclipsed by man becoming co-redeemer by such means.
Dickson also refutes the notion of some that we do not rise again with our same bodies:
Quest. V. “Shall the Dead be raised up with the self same Bodies, and none other, altho’ with different Qualities, which shall be united again to their souls for ever?”
Yes. Job 19. 26, 27. 1 Cor. 15. 42, 43, 44.
Well then, do not the Socinians, Arminians, Anabaptists, Photinians, and Marcionites err, who maintain, That the fame individual Body is not raised up, which we carried about with us here, and laid down in the Dust, but another Body made of Air, or of some Matter more subtile than Air, altogether void of Flesh and Blood, made anew by Christ?…
By what Reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because it is evident from Scripture, Phil. 3. 21. that there shall be a transforming of those vile Bodies at the Resurrection, to be fashioned after the glorious Body of Christ; and so not the forming and making of a new one, which is hard to conceive, if the same individual Body should not be raised, and if this Change here spoken of, be as well in Substance as in Quality. 2d, Because the Apostle fays, He that raiseth up Christ from the Dead, shall also quicken your mortal Bodies (and therefore not Bodies made of Air) by his Spirit that dwelleth in you, Rom. 8. 11. 3d, The same Apostle says, For this Corruption must put on Incorruption, and this Mortality must put on Immortality, 1 Cor. 15. 53. 4th, Because the Justice of God requires, that the same individual Bodies shall receive Rewards or Punishments, which have done Good or Evil while Life remained, 2 Cor. 5. 10. Rom. 2. 6. Eph. 6. 8. 5th, Because the Body of Christ, who is the efficient Cause of our Resurrection (1 Cor. 15. 4, 12, 13, 16.) rose again that same individual Body, Luke 24. 39, 40.27
Our resurrection is the mirror image of Christ’s. He rose in His same body, and so will we. He is the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, though Scripture never mentioned such a parallel, yet it plainly promises the resurrection and glorification of our very own bodies which we have tabernacled in on the earth.
Dickson’s final chapter deals with Chapter 33 of the Confession, of the last judgment. I did not mine any quotations from this brief chapter, and thus I will conclude this two-part examination of Victory. This second paper on Victory covers Chapters 22-33 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, dealing with lawful oaths and vows, the civil magistrate, marriage and divorce, the church, communion of the saints, the sacraments, church censures, synods and councils, man’s state after death and the resurrection, and the last judgment. Dickson’s comments assist in setting the Confession in its proper context, demonstrating the victory that truth has over error. Again, I sincerely hope that this paper will serve to increase the interest in studying this important book, Truth’s Victory Over Error.
1David 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.
2Victory, p. 182.
3Victory, p. 185.
4Victory, p. 186.
5This entire series of quotations is taken from Victory, pp. 187-9.
10Victory, pp. 204-5.
11Victory, pp. 214-5.
12Victory, p. 220.
13This entire series of quotations is taken from Victory, pp. 224-5.
16Victory, pp. 228-9.
17Victory, pp. 237-8.
18Victory, pp. 238-9.
19Victory, p. 248.
20Victory, p. 250.
21Victory, p. 259.
22Victory, p. 264.
23Victory, p. 267.
24Victory, p. 270.
25Victory, pp. 272-3.
26Victory, p. 280.
27Victory, pp. 281-2.