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The Sum of Saving Knowledge

David Dickson and James Durham

Published by Reformation Press - £6.10

Reformation Press should be commended for this useful reprint of a book that is quite often bounded in with copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is bounded into the standard FP reprints of the confession after the Shorter Catechism. Both authors, David Dickson and James Durham, were active in the Second Reformation Period. David Dickson was the older of the two, he was born in 1583, and was the son of a wealthy Glasgow merchant. He became the minister in Irvine in 1618 and shortly afterwards was deprived and banished to Aberdeen in 1622. After his return in late 1623, he saw his ministry blessed in the form of the “Stewarton revival” with the conviction and conversion of multitudes. The Revival spread from house to house for many miles along the valley through which the Stewarton water runs. Many, who had been well known as most abandoned characters and mockers of everything bearing the semblance of religion, being drawn by motives of curiosity to attend these lectures, afterwards became completely changed, showing by their life and conversation that the Lord had opened their hearts "to attend unto the things spoken by his servant."


James Durham on the other hand, was the younger man in this collaboration, being born 40 years after Dickson in 1622. He came from the minor landed gentry and during the Civil War in the 1640s was a captain in the Scottish Army. As a Captain, he was praying with his troops and was overheard by Dickson who was sufficiently impressed that he urged him to become a minister. Durham entered the ministry and became a chaplain to the Stuart Royal Household. After the defeat of the Stuart’s by Cromwell, Durham became a minister in Glasgow.


In 1650, the two men collaborated in the production of this book which was never officially approved by the church but, has usually been bounded in with the confessional documents which were being produced at the same time by the Assembly. In this copy from Reformation Press, there is a useful 28 page introduction by Matthew Vogan who draws out some of the godly who have appreciated the contents. Robert Murray Mccheyne acknowledged it as instrumental in his own conversion and Thomas Boston often drew on its contents.


The book is split into three key sections, the first on the sum of saving knowledge is a summary of man’s natural condition as a sinner, the remedy provided by Christ, the need to attend outward means and the blessings on the elect. The second section looks at the practical use of saving knowledge. The second section picks up the effect of the gospel in convincing a man of sin by the law, of righteousness by the law, of judgement by the law and of sin, righteousness and judgement by the gospel.  This whole section looks at the change that is brought by saving faith on Jesus Christ. The third section examines a greater length the warrants and motives to believe. The third section draws out God’s hearty invitation, his request to be reconciled, his command to believe and the assurance of life given to believers.

We are living through the midst of a pandemic and the whole world is looking and waiting for our best scientists to develop an appropriate vaccine. It is unimaginable that when that vaccine arrives that we would tinker with it by adding things to it that are not necessary, or reducing it down and removing things from it that it requires. We will want the safety of the vaccine just as it is, unadulterated or reduced. The whole world, however, is suffering from a much greater disease that Covid-19 - the disease of sin is unescapable. There is only one remedy for sin and we must seek the simple and effective remedy presented in the Bible, which is also clearly outlined in this small book. The early historian, Robert Wodrow, reflected that this book was significantly less used and valued in his day and that it ‘deserves to be much more read than I fear it is’. Quite so, things have not changed.




August 2020

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