John Dick, son of an Edinburgh lawyer, was a graduate of Edinburgh University where he studied theology in hope of becoming a minister of the gospel. He didn’t make it, for he was among the Presbyterians deemed outlaws during the reign of Charles II. He lived a fugitive’s life until betrayed by a poor woman who later lost her mind over the incident.
John was brought before the Committee of Public Affairs on August 29, 1683, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to die by hanging. The Canongate Tolbooth contained two large upper cells, and John, tossed into one of them, found there two dozen other religious prisoners. The men joined hearts in prayer, asking God’s help as they planned a mass escape. News seeped out, and Presbyterians all over Edinburgh prayed for a successful breakout. On the appointed night, the men begin sawing painstakingly through the iron bars of their glassless window.
The first bar was cut about nine o’clock, but to the horror of all, before any of them could catch it, it fell down into the narrow street near the sentry. They held their breath and watched and prayed, but no alarm sounded. They continued their furtive work; then one by one, the men dropped from the window and disappeared into the night. The next morning, confusion erupted through official Edinburgh. Police, city fathers, guards and sentries were questioned; but none of the prisoners was ever recaptured—except John Dick. He enjoyed but six months of freedom, using the time to write his 58-page “Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government of the Church of Scotland and the Covenanted Work of Reformation in the Three Kingdoms,” which, despite its unwieldy title, circulated widely. Then, his book finished, he was captured; and on the scaffold, in Potterrow Port, he sang Psalm 2, read Ezekiel 9, and preached his last sermon, saying: “Remember when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son? Isaac said, ‘Here is the wood, and the fire, but where is the sacrifice?’ ” John Dick turned and gazed upon the gallows. “Now blessed be the Lord,” he said, “here is the sacrifice.”
They arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. But that night an angel from the Lord opened the doors of the jail and led the apostles out. (Acts 5:18)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 29.