David Dickson on the Common Operations of the Spirit

It should be noted that these teachings of Dickson (1583-1662), which are typical of the general context of puritanism, help interpret “the offer” of the gospel and “the common operations of the Spirit” in the Westminster Standards, 1646, and Dickson’s Sum of Saving Knowledge, 1650, which was often printed with the Westminster Standards.



Therapeutica Sacra, 1664

Book 1, Chapter 3

“Wherefore, whosoever in the preaching of the Gospel, are charged and commanded to repent, to believe in Christ, or turn unto God, they are commanded also to use all these external means [“hear a Sermon preached, to read the Scripture, to be informed by Catechizing, and conference of Religion…”] whereby they may be informed of the duty required, and of the means leading thereunto; in the exercise of which external means, they may meet with sundry common operations and effects of God’s Spirit, before they be regenerate or converted, whereof the use may be sound not only in, but also after, conversion; And if any man shall refuse, slight or neglect to follow these preparatory exercises, which may prepare him for conversion, he is inexcusable before God and man, and guilty of rejecting of the offer of reconciliation, yea guilty of resisting of the Holy Ghost, of which sin and guiltiness the holy martyr Stephen charges the misbelieving Jews, Acts 7:51.

8. As for the regenerate man, he it is who in the acknowledgement of his sinfulness and deserved misery, and of his utter inability to help himself, does cast away all confidence in his own parts, and possible righteousness of his own works, and flees to Christ offered in the Gospel…”

[Notice how Dickson rightly interprets “resisting the Holy Ghost” in Acts 7:51 as referring to the Holy Spirit’s ineffectual drawings of the reprobate to Christ in the offer of the Gospel, which are resisted and overcome by hardened sinners.  One cannot resist something unless it is drawing them.]


Book 1, Chapter 6

“Together with these external means, serving for drawing on the covenant and going on in it, the common operations of God do concur; common to all the called, both elect and reprobate, and gifts common to both, are bestowed, such as illumination, moral persuasion, historical, dogmatic and temporary faith, moral change of affections, and some sort of external amendment of their outward conversation, saving grace being the special gift of God to His own.”

[Note that the external means of salvation are for the purpose of drawing men indiscriminately into the Covenant of Grace, and with this the operations of the Spirit concur.  

“Concur” was a technical word, as it is expressed in the theological doctrine of Concurrence.  “Concurrance” means that both God and external means are both simultaneously acting together, neither of which would happen if both did not act.  

Dickson is rightly affirming that the external means not impose a moral obligation on persons, nor that they are simply intended by moral purpose for the reprobate, but that the Spirit of God ineffectually and sweetly draws the reprobate by motions, proddings, and pullings to saving faith in Christ, by illumination, persuasion, etc, though it is resisted and defeated by them.] 


Book 3, Chapter 6

“Thirdly, the Lord makes use of this outward and common covenanting with all receivers of the offer, as a mean to draw the confederate in the letter, to be confederate in the spirit; for, the faith which he requires as the condition of the covenant, he works in the elect, if not before, or with the external covenanting, yet undoubtedly after, in a time acceptable, and that by the ordinary means, the use whereof is granted to all confederate externally: and so as common illumination is a mean to that special, spiritual and saving illumination; and dogmatic or historical faith, is a mean unto saving faith; and external calling, is a mean of effectual calling, So external covenanting in the letter, is a mean most fit, and accommodate to make a man a covenanter in the spirit.”

[Notice how Dickson rightly teaches that reprobates coming externally into the Covenant of Grace is intended by God to draw them to receiving Christ savingly offered therein.  The common operations and gifts of the Spirit are intended to draw the reprobate to saving faith in Christ and eternal life.]



Related Pages

David Dickson on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in the Sum of Saving Knowledge

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Standards

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Common Operations of the Spirit

Common Grace