Monday, February 8, 2016

"Sins of the redeemed... imputed to innocent Christ" is the teaching of the WCF - David Dickson (3)

The Westminster Standards do not explicitly use the term imputation when speaking of Christ's bearing the sins of the elect. Yet, lest there be any question as to whether those confessional Standards teach the Substance of that doctrine and was so held by Presbyterians in Scotland at the time of the Assembly, one need only consult the treatise on the doctrines found in those Standards authored by Rev. David Dickson and Rev. James Durham, The Sum of Saving Knowledge. Although not produced by the Westminster Assembly, it was originally published along with the Confession of FaithLarger CatechismShorter Catechism, and Directory for Publick Worship (DPW co-authored by Dickson, see the two historical sketches * below) in Scotland (1650) and more or less consistently well into the 19th century. Here is the relevant excerpt from that work:
"9. To make it appear how it cometh to pass that the covenant of reconciliation should be so easily made up betwixt God and a humble sinner fleeing to Christ, the apostle leads us unto the cause of it, holden forth in the covenant of redemption, the sum whereof is this: It is agreed 
  • "betwixt God and the Mediator Jesus Christ the Son of God, surety for the redeemed, as parties-contractors, that the sins of the redeemed should be imputed to innocent Christ, and he both condemned and put to death for them, upon this very condition, that whosoever heartily consents unto the covenant of reconciliation offered through Christ, shall, by the imputation of his obedience unto them, be justified and holden righteous before God; for God hath made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, (saith the apostle), that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." [2 Corinthians 5:21]

* #1. Brief bio of Rev. David Dickson and the place held by The Sum of Saving Knowledge relative to the Westminster Standards:
  • The authorship of this short treatise on Christian doctrine, which is made the basis of the following notes, is ascribed to the celebrated Scottish divine, Mr. David Dickson. This able theologian and valiant defender of the faith was born in Glasgow in 1583. After passing through the regular course of study in Glasgow University, he was licensed, and in 1618 ordained as minister at Irvine. Sentenced four years later, because of his opposition to Episcopacy, and especially his bold denunciation of the erastianism of the attempt to impose any form of Church government against the will of the people, to deprivation of his ministerial charge and to exile to Turriff, in Aberdeenshire, he continued his useful labours, aided by the testimony of a good conscience. Returning in 1623, he resumed his labours in Irvine, and much blessing attended his ministry there. In 1641 he was appointed Professor of Divinity in the University of Glasgow, and about 1650 he was transferred to occupy a similar chair in Edinburgh. He continued to hold the Professorship of Divinity until his death in 1662. Thus for twenty-one years he was actively engaged in the systematic study of theology. He was a ripe theologian and a cultured scholar, according to the learning of his day. At the time when the Westminster Assembly met, in 1643, Dickson, along with David Calderwood and Alexander Henderson, drew up by command of the General Assembly that Directory of Public Worship which is bound up with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms among the Subordinate Standards of the Church of Scotland. In this volume we also find the Sum of Saving Knowledge. In the Act and Declaration concerning the publication of the Subordinate Standards of the Church of Scotland in 1851, in the enumeration of documents, this one is described as 'a practical application of the doctrine of the Confession, 'as  a valuable treatise which, though without any express Act of Assembly, has for ages had its place among them.' It is understood that Dickson and Durham consulted together in drawing up this summary. For those who may be somewhat doubtful as to the effect of strictly doctrinal summaries on the spiritual condition of our youth, it may be interesting to learn that M'Cheyne attributes his first clear perception of the way of salvation to the reading of this treatise. His diary of March 11, 1834, has this entry 'Reading the Sum of Saving Knowledge, the work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me.' [See Scots Worthies on David Dickson, edited by Mr. Carslaw and editor's note on p. 294.] 
The type of doctrine here presented is precisely the same as that set forth in the Westminster Confession. The editor has in his notes entered into detailed exposition of the earlier sections, where historical references are helpful; while in the later sections, which did not seem to call for such treatment, he has confined himself to short, and purely explanatory notes. (Rev. John MacPherson. commentary and notes on the Sum of Saving Knowledge - 1871)

* #2. The Sum of Saving Knowledge was included in a new edition of the Standards published in 1725. Below is an excerpt from the introduction. Though not produced by the Westminster Assembly,
  •  "the Sum of Saving Knowledge and the Practical Use thereof... for more than Seventy Years has constantly been published with our Westminster Confession and Catechisms. It was never yet condemned, in any Head or Article thereof, by any Church-judicatory; but, on the contrary, has met with such Approbation in the Hearts and Consciences of the Lord’s People, and been so universally received, as if it had been a publick Standard, that now it may pass for such by common Consent; it being A brief Sum of Christian Doctrine, contained in Holy Scripture, and held forth in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms; and will be quarrel’d by none, who hold the Mystery of Faith in a pure Conscience, and go aside neither to the right nor left-hand Extremes." (The Confessions of Faith, etc. - Edinburgh: Lumisden and Robertson, 1725, vi–vii) 

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