Open main menu

LIVINGSTONE, JOHN (1603–1672), Scottish divine, was born at Kilsyth, Stirlingshire, on 21 Jan. 1603. His father was William Livingstone, minister of that parish and afterwards of Lanark, who was descended from the fifth Lord Livingstone, and his mother was Agnes Livingstone, of the house of Dunipace. He was educated at the grammar school of Stirling, and afterwards at the university of Glasgow, where he graduated in 1621. His father wished him to marry and to settle down on an estate which he had purchased, but he resolved to study for the church, and having completed his theological course, received license to preach in 1625. He had been devout from his early years and did not remember, as he tells us in his ‘Autobiography,’ any particular time of conversion. He acted as assistant for a time in the parish of Torphichen, and afterwards as chaplain to the Countess of Wigton. He was in great request as a preacher and was still unordained, when, on the Monday after a communion in June 1630, he preached in the kirk of Shotts, Lanarkshire, a sermon which is said to have produced a serious change in five hundred of his hearers. Patrons and parishes were anxious to secure his services, but his refusal to give the promise then required of obedience to the articles of Perth stood in the way of his receiving ordination.

As there was no prospect of a settlement at home, Livingstone went over to Ireland in 1630 on the invitation of Lord Clandeboye, and soon afterwards became minister of Killinshie or Killinchy in the diocese of Down. He was ordained by some Scottish ministers under the presidency of Andrew Knox [q. v.], bishop of Raphoe, who, to accommodate his countrymen, omitted those portions of the English ordinal to which they objected. In 1631 Livingstone was suspended for nonconformity by the Bishop of Down, but was restored on the intervention of Archbishop Ussher. A few years later he was deposed and excommunicated for the same cause. In September 1636 he and other Scots and English puritans to the number of 140 sailed for New England in a ship called the Eagle Wing, which they had built for the purpose. They were chiefly presbyterians, but some of them inclined to independency and others to Brownism. Meeting with a great storm halfway across the Atlantic, they were obliged to put back, and returned to Lochfergus, where they had embarked nearly two months before. Livingstone soon afterwards went over to Scotland, and when the national covenant was signed in March 1638 he was sent up to London with copies for friends at court. In July of that year he was inducted to the parish of Stranraer, where his ministry produced a great impression, and his communions were attended by crowds from Ireland. He was a member of the Glasgow assembly of 1638, and of all subsequent assemblies till 1650, except that of 1640. In that year he went as chaplain of the Earl of Cassilis's regiment to Newcastle, and was present at the skirmish of Newburn, of which he wrote an account. He and other Scots who returned from Ireland formed the nucleus of an extreme party, which introduced innovations previously unknown in Scotland, such as the omission of the Lord's Prayer, creed, and ‘Gloria Patri’ in public worship. These novelties were condemned by the early covenanting assemblies, but soon spread and gradually leavened the whole lump. During his ministry at Stranraer Livingstone frequently spent some months of the summer in Ulster, supplying vacant charges or officiating to the Scottish troops quartered there. In 1648 the commission of the assembly sent him to dissuade these troops from obeying the order of the Scottish estates to join the army then being raised in support of the ‘Engagement,’ but in this mission he was not successful. In August of that year he was translated to the parish of Ancrum, Roxburghshire, on the presentation of the Earl of Lothian. He was one of the commissioners appointed by the church to treat with Charles II at Breda in 1650, and while the ships conveying the royal party were lying at anchor off Speymouth, on their return to Scotland, Livingstone received the king's oath of fidelity to the covenants. He did all this most reluctantly, not believing in the king's sincerity, and he afterwards joined the ultra-rigid party who opposed Charles's coronation and administration of the government. His party soon protested against the resolutions of the church that those who had taken part in the ‘Engagement’ might, on making professions of penitence, be allowed to serve in defence of the country. With his friends, Livingstone subsequently disowned the authority of the general assembly, and formed the first schism in the reformed church. He was elected moderator of the meeting of protesters held in October 1651, but he was among the less resolute of the party, and withdrew from their councils when he recognised their dangerous tendency. After Cromwell had put an end to the meetings of the general assembly, Livingstone resolved to introduce a system for managing Scottish ecclesiastical affairs similar to that of the ‘tryers’ in England, and sent for Livingstone and two other protesters to secure their co-operation. ‘Being at London,’ he says, ‘I found no great satisfaction, and therefore I left the other two there and came home.’ After the Restoration he was called before the privy council, and on refusing to take the oath of allegiance because of its Erastian terms, was banished. He chose Rotterdam as his place of exile, and spent the remainder of his life there, often preaching in the Scottish church and devoting himself to theological study. He died 9 Aug. 1672, in the seventieth year of his age, and is widely remembered as a preacher of extraordinary popular gifts. His own estimate of his sermons was, however, a very modest one, and he describes himself generally as ‘timorous, averse from debates, rather given to laziness than rashness, too easy to be wrought upon.’ In his later years he expressed a great abhorrence of sectarianism. He had a good knowledge of Latin, Hebrew, and Chaldee, and could read French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German.

Livingstone married, 23 June 1635, the eldest daughter of Bartholomew Fleming, merchant, Edinburgh, and had a large family. One of his sons emigrated to America, and has left distinguished descendants. There are original portraits of Livingstone and his wife at Gosford, East Lothian, the seat of the Earl of Wemyss.

His works are: 1. ‘Letters from Leith to his Parishioners,’ 1633, 4to, 1673. 2. His ‘Life,’ first published at Glasgow in 1754, together with 3. ‘Remarkable Observations upon the Lives of the most eminent Ministers and Professors in the Church of Scotland.’ The last work was edited in 1845–6 for the Wodrow Society by W. K. Tweedie. An edition of the ‘Life’ by T. Houston was published at Edinburgh in 1848. Livingstone also wrote during his exile a new Latin translation of the Old Testament, which was approved by eminent Dutch divines but was not published.

[Life of Livingstone and Life of Blair (Wodrow Soc.); Stevens's Hist. of the Scots Church, Rotterdam; Reid's Irish Presbyterian Church; Scott's Fasti.]

G. W. S.