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Covenanter Stories – No. 6, John Dick



John Dick was a theology student, training for the Presbyterian ministry, among the Covenanters of Scotland.  The earnest young student never made it to his ordination service.  Before his brethren could consecrate him to God’s service, he had already obtained the crown of a martyr.

John Dick was present at Bothwell Bridge, and was one of the few among the Covenanters who escaped without injury or capture.  He remained at liberty until reported to the authorities by a poor women in his home city of Edinburgh.  This poor soul thought to obtain reward for her treachery, and so she did, in financial gain, but following the student’s death she became so overcome with guilt and remorse that she went out of her mind and lost her reason.

Dick was arraigned before the Committee of Public Affairs on 29th August 1683, and brought before the Criminal Court for trial on 4th September.  He was adjudged to be guilty of high treason.  He had signed a declaration, in which he testified to being true to Jesus Christ, a claim that put him in opposition to Charles II, and for that he had to die.  He was permitted no defence, and was sentenced to die by hanging in the Grassmarket on 28th September.  Dick told the court, “For you to pass such a sentence upon me without hearing me in my own defence is a practice never paralleled, even among heathens.” (Purves, J.  Fair Sunshine, Banner of Truth, Pg 160) Dick was ordered to be silent, roughly bundled from the court, and taken to the Tolbooth to await execution.

That month, the prisoners at the Canongate Tolbooth, none of whom expected to ever see daylight again, except for his last walk to the gibbet, had planned a daring escape.  They had arranged for a saw to be smuggled in to the prison, and had begun by night, to saw through the bars of the window, so that they could drop down into the room below, from whence they could make their escape.  After the first bar was sawn, the iron bar, to the horror of the would-be escapees, dropped into the street, where it clattered down right on the beat of one of the sentries.  However, no one heard the bar fall, and a visitor managed to retrieve the bar and deliver it to the prisoners, who replaced it as if it was still intact.  Each night they continued to saw, until a space wide enough for men to squeeze through was made.  Twenty-five Covenanters escaped.  One of these was an Englishman, who perchance knocked on the door of a Bishop and confessed to the servant, who he was and what he had just done!  The servant girl hid the Covenanter, and later had him smuggled away to join others of that band.

Of all the Covenanters who escaped, only one was recaptured, and that one was John Dick.  During his time of freedom, Dick wrote his, “Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship Discipline and Government of the Church of Scotland and the Covenanted Work of Reformation in the Three Kingdoms.”  It was intended solely for his own use, but after his death was published by his friends, and became extremely popular among Presbyterians.

Dick’s freedom only lasted about six months, before the fury of Dalziel at the daring escape overtook the Covenanter.  Recaptured in March 1684, Dick was hurried before a fresh trial, where he refused to reveal anything about the escape, and on the 4th March he was ordered to be hanged the following day.  In his final hours, Dick wrote letters to his friends, and a moving letter to his father, in which he declared that the night before he was to die for Christ was the sweetest time of his life; its only competition being the night of his salvation.

His friend Erskine of Carnock, who later testified to his composure on the gibbet, accompanied John Dick to the scaffold.  On the platform, before he died, the young student of theology sang the 2nd Psalm, and read from Ezekiel Chapter nine.

From → Covenanters

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