Born in Hatfield, Massachusetts on April 22, 1688, Jonathan Dickinson studied theology at the Collegiate School of Connecticut (which later was later renamed Yale College), graduating in 1706. In 1709 Dickinson was ordained minister of the first Presbyterian church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. For forty years he was the “joy and glory” of this church.
Reverend Dickinson was considered one of the brightest luminaries of the American churches of his day. It was said that he had a mind formed for inquiry, that he was possessed of a quick preception and an accurate judgment, as well as a keen penetration which he united to a disinterested attachment to truth. He boldly appeared in defence of the every attack on the Christian faith, and withstood error in every shape, knowing that it poisons the heart, and thus destroys the very principles of virtue.
Dickinson became concerned about the attempts of the established Church of England to suppress dissenters in New Jersey. Seeing a need for more coordination among dissenting churches, in 1717 Dickinson persuaded his congregation to join the Presbytery of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became an active and influential participant in the affairs of the Presbyterians, and was twice elected moderator of the Synod of Philadelphia.
In April of 1747, Dickinson was the Co-Founder and first President of Princeton University. Less than five months later, on October 7, 1747, Jonathan Dickinson died suddenly from smallpox.
Wrote he concerning belief in God and atheism:
That there is a supream and eternal Being, and that he is possess’d of all infinite Perfections, are truths so visible by the Light of Nature; that to call these into Question is not only Weakness and Ignorance; but the height of Stupidity and Madness… We have clear light to discover that he is, and that he is infinite.
Engraved on his tombstone were these faith-filled words:
Deep was the Wound Oh Death & Vastly wide,
When he resigned his Useful breath and dy’d,
Ye Sacred Tribe with pious Sorrows mourn,
And drop a tear at your great Pastors Urn,
Conceal’d a moment from our Longing Eyes,
Beneath this Stone his mortal Body Lies,
Happy the Spirit lives and will we trust,
In Bliss associate with his precious dust.