April 22: Jonathan Dickinson

Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, First President of Princeton CollegeBack in 2012, this author on this day of April 22, posted an article on Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of Princeton. More than any other man, this Presbyterian pastor was responsible for arranging the plan and formation of this college which came to be so near and dear to the hearts of American Presbyterians. When I wrote that post, I had however little information on his family background and early years. I remember that I wrote the sentence, “Born on April 22, 1688 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale in 1706.” Talk about a jump in years.  From birth to Yale, eighteen years just passed by in a sentence!  But that much was missing in sources available to me.  And evidently, that much was missing in many a record of his early life. Part of it was due to a terrible fire which devastated his congregation and church  building in New Jersey, including his valuable diary and many personal records. But with this post, and the kind help of Wayne Sparkman, my co-author and archivist of the PCA History Center, more information has come to light. So this post is “the rest of the story” of Jonathan Dickinson, to be read prior to the post of April 22, 2012.

The first four generations of the Dickinson family came from Billingborough, Lincolnshire, England. Other than the listing of the names of the family, with their spouses and children, we are introduced to the fourth generation of Nathaniel Dickinson, who came with his wife and family to Connecticut in 1637. He was wealthy and a mainstay in that town. Out of twelve children, the eleventh child was Hezekiah Dickinson, who was the father of our subject today.

Hezekiah was a merchant by trade. With his spouse Abigail, they would have six children. The second child and oldest son was Jonathan, who was born on this day in Hatfield, Massachusetts. According to a law on the books of this town, he started school at age 6. It was believed that the next year he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts to finish his primary education and grammar school. Later in his teens, he spent time with his maternal grandparents in Stratford, Connecticut, where he would have had contact with the Rev. Israel Chauncy, the founder of what later on became Yale. It wasn’t surprising that then he entered that school for his college education. And the rest, as they say, is history, and specifically Presbyterian history.

Words to Live By:
It has always been interesting to this author, who has served his Lord and Savior for 40 years as a Presbyterian pastor, that nothing in life can be considered as chance, or luck, or fortune. This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t heard many people, and even a few misguided Christians, exclaim “how lucky,” or “by chance,” or “fortunately,” this or that has occurred. Solomon reminds us all in Proverbs 16:9 that “the mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” All these former familiar expression such as “chance, luck, or fortune” mean “without absence or cause.” Yet the inspired writer in Proverbs 16:9 tells us that while we may plan this or that, God is the direct cause of everything.  He decrees what will either happen or what that what He will permit to happen to you today. In fact, be ever ready to pray for your life today, “Direct my steps, O God.” And then at the end of the day, review that life and give thanks for what God has either given or allowed to occur, for His glory and your ultimate good.

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