His Own Story

"My Lord Middleton’s journey into the western shires,” wrote the Earl of Lauderdale to Sir Robert Moray, “was only a flanting and a feasting journey; many ministers were put out in those parts, but no further done.” The achievement in expulsion, to Lauderdale so paltry, was grievous to the western shires themselves. Nor was it the west alone which suffered. The preachers were ejected in other districts of Scotland. In the Border country lies the village of Ancrum; and Ancrum in those years was happy in having John Livingston for its minister. He was compelled to go. At the Monday service after his Sacramental Sabbath, in October 1662, he spoke to his people for the last time. His gentle and modest spirit revealed itself in his farewells. “We have been labouring among you these fourteen years,” he said, “and have that conviction we have not taken the pains, in private or public, which we ought; yet in some sort, we hope we may say it without pride, we have not sought yours but you. We cared not to be rich and great in this world. In as far as we have given offence, less or more, to any in this congregation, or any that have interest in it, or any round about it, or any that are here present, or any of the people of God elsewhere, we crave God’s pardon, and crave also your forgiveness.” Bravely John Livingston laid down the work he loved, concealing the sharpness of the pain. But his hearers could not suppress their tears. As on the seashore at Miletus, so in Ancrurn Kirk, elders and folk sorrowed that they should see their apostle’s face no more.
In December he appeared before the Privy Council, accused of “turbulency and sedition “-a strange indictment for one who esteemed it “better to walk the realm unseen than watch the hour’s event.” “I have carried myself,” he pleaded, “with all moderation and peaceableness, and have lived so obscurely that I wonder how I am taken notice of.” He had, he told the Chancellor, acknowledged the Lord’s mercy in restoring the King. He was prepared to admit His Majesty’s supremacy over all persons and in all causes. But he was not free to take the Oath of Allegiance in the terms in which was proposed to him. The Chancellor offered to adjourn the court, that he might reconsider his refusal “I humbly thank your Lordship,” he replied; “it is a favour which, if I any doubt, I would willingly accept. But if, after seeking God and advising anent the matter, I should take time, it would import that I have unclearness or hesitation; I have not.” So the Council passed sentence. Within two months the prisoner was to leave His Majesty’s dominions. Within forty-eight hours he was to remove from Edinburgh and go to the north side of the Tay. He solicited permission to pay a short visit to his home, that he might have some talk with wife and children. But the favour was withheld. There must be no more intercourse with Ancrum; the sooner its minister was in exile, the better pleased his judges would be.
John Livingston has written 'a brief historical relation' of his life, so that we can look into his eyes, and can motives, and can see how human and how godly he was. The land was in evil case whose governors sent such a citizen across the seas!

He was a son of the manse, born at Kilsyth in 1603, his father “all his days straight and zealous in the work reformation,” his mother “a rare pattern of piety and meekness.” He could not remember the time or the mode of his own conversion; from the outset his life had belonged to God and His Christ. While he was yet a schoolboy in Stirling, he was a member of the Church; and never could he forget the first occasion when he sat down at the Holy Table “There came such a trembling upon me that all my body shook, yet thereafter the fear departed, and I got some cornfort and assurance.” His earliest inclination was to the profession of medicine; but, spending a day in solitary communion with God, in a cave on the banks of the Mouse Water, over against the Cleghorn woods, he had it made out to him that he behoved to preach Jesus Christ. Thenceforward Livingston had “one passion, and it was He, He alone.”
When Glasgow College was left behind, and in 1625 he began to speak for his Master, he had his first taste of persecution. Congregations in different parts - Torphichen, LinlithgoW, Leith, Kirkcaldy - were eager to claim him; but in each case the Bishops prevented the settlement. For five years he had no sphere of work peculiarly his own. But God’s blessing went with him through the period of waiting. Sometimes the preaching of the Covenanters is condemned as cold and hard; but Livingston’s words had the flame of the Holy Ghost glowing in them, and they conquered and captivated the souls of men. One of the great revivals in the annals of the Church is linked with the name of the young probationer whom the Bishops pursued with their hate. It happened at the Kirk of Shotts, on the 21st of June 1630. Like that day of good-byes at Ancrum, it was the Monday after a Sabbath of Communion. With some friends he had spent the night before in laying fast hold upon the promise and the grace of Heaven. When the midsummer morning broke, the preacher wanted to escape from the responsibilities in front of him. Alone in the fields, between eight and nine, he felt such misgivings, such a burden of unworthiness, such dread of the multitude and the expectation of the people, that he was consulting with himself to have stolen away; but he “durst not so far distrust God, and so went to sermon, and got good assistance.” Good assistance indeed; for, after he had spoken for an hour and a half from the text, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon yon, and ye shall be clean", and was thinking that now he must close, he was constrained by his Lord Himself to continue. “I was led on about ane hour’s time in ane strain of exhortation and warning, with such liberty and Inciting of heart as I never had the like in publick all my life.” No fewer than five hundred men and women, some of them ladies of high estate, and others poor wastrels and beggars, traced the dawn of the undying life to John Livingston’s words that day.
Healthful as his fellowship would be, we cannot accompany him through the changeful experiences of his ministry. His first parish was an Irish one, that of Killinchy in Co. Down, to which the Bishop of Raphoe, more liberal than most of the prelates, ordained him. In 1638, the expatratriate Scot recrossed the Channel, to Stranraer, his residence for ten years, where, if the town was “but little and poor,” the people were “very tractable and respectful,” and their teacher was “sometimes well-satisfied and refreshed.” Then came the fourteen summers in Ancrum; and then the ejection by the Privy Council. Stirring incidents broke in on the quiet usefulness of Livingston’s career in his various homes. In Ireland he and others like him were so harassed by the ill-will of Church potentates more intolerant than his Grace of Raphoe, or than Dr. Ussher, Primate of Armagh, “ane godly man although ane Bishop,” that they built a ship near Befast of one hundred and fifty tons’ burden, and called it The Eagle Wing, and were minded in the spring of 1636 to start for the New England of the Pilgrim Fathers. It was September before they did set sail; and then, when they were about four hundred leagues away from the Irish coast, such pitiless storms overtook them that they concluded God meant them to return. It was a perilous voyage back to Ulster; but the days were vocal with social prayer and thanksgiving, and every heart felt a confidence which nothing could damp “yea, some expressed the hope that, rather than the Lord would suffer such an companie to perish if the ship should break, He would put wings to all our shoulders and carry us safe ashoare.”
On board the vessel a baby-boy came to Michael Coltheard and his wife, and, on the suceeding Sabbath, he was baptised by John Livingston, who called him Seaborn; one is tempted to think that Seaborn Coltheard must be younger brother of Oceanus Hopkins, who had his wave-rocked cradle in the cabin of the Mayflower sixtteen autumns before.
At the Hague, in 1650, the preacher wrestled with worse billows than those of the Atlantic. He was among the commissioners who treated with Charles “for security to religion and the liberties of the country, before his admission to the exercise of the Government.” He did not covet the errand. He had some scruple that ministers meddled too frequently in State matters. He knew his own “unacquainted-ness and inability,” and how he was “ready to condescend too easily to anything having any show of reason,” so that he feared he “should be a grief and shame” to those who sent him. He would even have preferred, if it had been the will of God, to be drowned in the waters by the way. But the Church insisted that he and James Wood and George Hutcheson, with the Earl of Cassillis and Alexander Brodie, must be her representatives. To his last hour he had regretful memories of the episode. He soon saw the frivolity of the King; “many nights he was balling and dancing till near day.” He could not approve the treaty which was made; “it seemed rather like ane merchant’s bargain of prigging somewhat higher or lower than ingenuous dealing.” He tried to avoid returning to Scotland in the retinue of the Prince, and was only enticed on board by a trick. Altogether it was a humbling reminiscence. “So dangerous it is for a man of a simple disposition to be yoked with these who, by wit, authority, and boldness, can overmaster him.”
We begin to understand John Livingston’s character. He was a Protester, but a Protester in whom resided the New Testament grace of epiekeria, moderation and sweet reasonableness. He suspected at times that those with whom he allied himself “kept too many meetings,” and thus rendered the Church’s divisions wider and more mournful than they need have been. Pre-eminent among his gracious features is his Invincible modesty. He took the lowest room. He was a proficient in the humility of which he wrote to a friend, that “it fitteth the back for every burden, and maketh the tree sickerest at the root when it standeth upon the top of the windy hill.” His gladness is unfeigned when he recalls how the parishes, which wished to have him, but from which he had been held back, were “far better provided.” On one occasion, when competing calls came, “his own mind in most to Straiton, because it was an obscure place, and. people landwart simple people.” “I think,” he said, “every minister of my acquaintance gets his work done better tban I, yet I would not desire to be another than myself, nor to other manner of dealing than the Lord uses, for His power made perfect in weakness.”
Yet Livingston had ample cause for an honourable pride. He was a cultured scholar knew Hebrew and Chaldee and “somewhat also of Syriack.” He longed to add an understanding of Arabic his other Semitic conquests; but “the vastness of it” pause even to his indomitable spirit. He was familiar French and Italian and Dutch, and read the Bible in Spanish and German. In the noble army of book-lovers our Covenanter stands well to the front. Like Richard de Bury, he “valued codices more than forms”; and he would have sympathised with Thomas Hearne’s quaint and particular thanksgiving when unexpectedly he lighted on three manuscripts venerable age. Listen to him: “I had a kind of coveting when I got leisure and opportunity, to read much and.of different subjects; and I was oft challenged “that is to say my wideawake conscience upbraided me "that my way of reading was like some men’s lust after play.” But he was no Dryasdust, abjuring for his folios all less stringent joys. He had a melodious voice, and, in his younger days, he fond of using it. When he was a student at Glasgow, the Principal, Robert Boyd of Trochrigg, “of an austere - carriage but of a most tender heart,” would now and then call him and three or four others, and would lay down books before them, and would have them sing those “sette musick” in which he and they took delight. In later and more troublous years, Livingston did not sing so often in concert with his friends, “wherein I had some little skill" just as he denied himself the other recreation of hunting which once he had found “very bewitching.” But no distresses could quite silence the song in his soul “A line of praises” he thought “worth a leaf of prayer”; and, growing more rapturous, he would break forth: “0, what a massy piece of glory on earth is it, to have praises looking as it were out at the eyes, praises written upon the forebrow; to have the very breath smelling of praises, to have praises engraven on the palms of the hands, and the impression of praises on every footstep of the walk: although this be that day, if ever, wherein the Lord calleth to mourning and fasting!” He was one of those delineated in the old verse, My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation.
There were two places where John Livingston was seen at his best. One was his home. It might be very poor. In Killinchy - the record is almost incredible - his stipend was £4 a year. But the household was always rich in love. His wife was the eldest daughter of Bartholomew Fleming, an Edinburgh merchant. Before he married her, in 1635, many had told him of her gracious disposition; but for nine months he had no clearness of mind to speak to her. But, going with her one Friday to a meeting, he found her “conference so judicious and spiritual” that his scruples were scattered to the winds. Yet it was another month before he “got marriage affection to her, although she was for personal enduements beyond many.” On his knees he asked it from God, and, when it came, there were no limits to its fulness: “thereafter I had greater difficulty to moderate it.” Livingston has none of that aloofness from the gladnesses of the hearth which we note in some of his fellows. And his wife was worthy of him. Years after, when he was gone, and when the skies hung still more thunderously over Presbyterian Scotland, she faced the Earl of Rothes, and sought liberty for the ill-treated ministers. Her husband’s heart could trust in her.
The other place where he showed at his worthiest was the pulpit He would not acknowledge it himself, girdled as he was ‘with the cincture of lowliness. “As concerning my gift of preaching,” he wrote penitently, “I never attained to any accuracie therein, and, through laziness, did not much endeavour it.” His custom was to put down some notes beforehand, and to leave the enlargement of them to the time of delivery. His style, he insists, was suited only to the common people, and not to scholarly listeners. Yet he clear and shrewd ideas about the architecture of a sermon. If he would not have too few doctrines, neither reckon too many particular points, as “eighthly,” “tenthly" “thirteenthly.” The matter should not be over-exquisite with the abstruse learning which savours of affectation; It ought not to be childishly rudimentary, for that procures careless hearing and contempt of the gift. There should not be an excess of similitudes and pictures; but the absence them altogether will impoverish rather than help. In his utterance, the speaker ought not to sing his sentences, to draw out his words to an inordinate length, nor to assume a weeping-like voice, nor to shout too loud, nor to sink too low. John Livingston understood the technical side of sacred calling. And, despite his self-depreciation, he was an ambassador who seldom failed to transact vital business for his Master; as we should expect, when we know that his chief care, before entering the pulpit, was to be in a spiritual frame, and that, in it, he was aided most by “the hunger of the hearers.” On his deathbed these were his words: "I cannot say much of great services; yet, if ever my heart was lifted up, it was in preaching of Jesus Christ.” There were multitudes who could corroborate the witness.
Mr. Lowell pays to the naturalist Agassiz the fine tribute that, “where’er he met a stranger, there he left a friend.” It is a coronet which might gleam on Livingston’s brow. He had a genius for friendship. To the end of life he won new sisters and brothers in the family of God. One of our debts to him is the series of portraits he has bequeathed to us of his intimates. Miniatures these portraits are, but miniatures done by a painter who has put both intellect and affection into his work. There are ladies in his gallery: like Lady Robertland who said to him, “With God the most of mosts is lighter than nothing, and without Him the least of leasts is heavier than any burden”; and like Elizabeth Melville, the Lady Culross, who would write, “Ye must be hewin and hamerd down and drest and prepaired, before ye be a Leving Ston fitt for His building”; and like Margaret Scott of Stranraer, who was “but in a mean condition,” and yet contributed for the covenanting army “seven twenty-two shilling sterling pieces and one eleven shillings’ piece of gold,” and, when her minister asked how she could part with so much, made the tender reply, “I was gathering, and had laid up this to be a portion to a young daughter I had; and, whereas the Lord lately hath pleased to take my daughter to Himself, I thought I would give Him her tocher also.”
There are Christian laymen among the artist’s subjects: Cathcart of Carleton, who came out to family worship from the place of secret communion, and, having prayed earnestly and confidently, ran back to his chamber as soon as he had done; and John Mein, the merchant, who always sang some psalms as he put on his clothes in the morning, and who could point to a room where he had spent a whole night in fellowship with God, and where he had seen a light greater than ever was the light of the sun. But the ministers are the favourite themes. They pass before us, an inspiriting company of great-hearted gentlemen. Robert Bruce, who was short in prayer with others, but then “every sentence was like a strong bolt shot up to heaven”; John Smith of Maxtone, who, whenever he met a youth studying for the Church, would draw him aside, and “seriously and gravely exhort him, and heartily bless him”; David Dickson, who told Livingston with his latest breath, “I have taken all my good deeds and all my bad deeds, and cast them in a heap before the Lord, and have betaken me to Jesus Christ, in whom I have full and sweet peace”; Robert Blair, “of a majestick, awfull, yet amiable countenance,” who was “seldom ever brangled in his assurance of salvation”; Robert Cunningham, “the one man to my discerning who resembled most the meekness of Jesus Christ,” who, when his wife sat by his deathbed, prayed for the whole Church, and for his parish, and for his brethren in the ministry, and for his children, and in the end said, “And last, 0 Lord, I recommend to Thee this gentlewoman, who is no more my wife,” and, with that saying, he softly loosed his hand from hers, and gently thrust her hand a little from him :- we would not miss one in the priestly and kingly succession. And his must have been a rich and roomy nature, who could gather such friends.
But Middleton and the Council had no place for him in Scotland. "At last, on the 9th of Aprile 1663, I went aboarde in old John Allan's ship, and, in eight dayes, came to Rotterdam Until the August of 1672 the exiled preacher tarried his Lord's leisure, and then the earthly service was sublimed into heavenly. In Ancrum or in Holland, in honour and dishonour it fared well with the man who could write: “If it were given to my option, God knows I would rather serve Him on earth and then endure the torments of the lost, than live a life of sin on earth and then have for ever the bliss of the ransomed.”

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