John Livingstone - Rev John Macleod
19 Jan 2004
I would like to divide this paper into three parts. First of all, the times and the seasons in which John Livingstone lived. Secondly, the events in his own life. And thirdly, an assessment of his contribution to the life of the Scottish Church and the relevance of that contribution to our own day.
1. The Times and Seasons in which John Livingstone lived
We go right back to 1603, which was the year Queen Elizabeth the 1st of England died; and she died childless, which meant that James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, became King not only of Scotland, but of England also - an event that came to be known as the Union of the Crowns.
So he quickly made his way to England, and the first major event that you find in his Kingship there was the calling of what became known as the Hampton Court Conference, a conference of ecclesiastics in England. One of the good things that came out of that conference was the translation that we know of as the Authorised Version. You see the name of King James in the preface to that Bible. But at that conference, he made quite clear that the religious group that he was siding with and throwing all his kingly authority behind was that of the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church in England; much to the grief of the Puritans of England.
To understand James's mind, we have to realise that he believed in what is known as 'the Divine Right of Kings'. He believed that kings were appointed by God, and being appointed and anointed by God, that they had authority to rule in both the State and Church as they liked; that they could live as tyrants and despots in the land. Now that was a philosophy that was going to bring the Stuart Kings, particularly his son, Charles I, into head-on collision with both Parliament in England, and the Church in Scotland. And indeed, it was to eventuate in a bloody civil war in England, in which Scotland also took part; a civil war between the King's side, known as 'the Cavaliers', and the Parliamentary side, which became known as 'the Roundheads'. And not only did it eventuate in a civil war that lasted some three years, but it eventuated in the King, Charles I, being executed in 1649, and thereafter a dictatorship being established under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. But it is important to remember that James and Charles believed in the Divine Right of Kings, and that meant that they ruled despotically in both Church and State. That is why at the Hampton Court Conference he was so keen to show partiality to the Episcopal Church, because the Episcopal Church, with its hierarchical structure of Vicars, and bishops, and Archbishops, and then the King as the Head of the Church, appealed to him. It meant that he had authority over the Church, and that fitted in with his philosophy that the Kings rule.
No bishop, no king
The saying, "No bishop, no king" was something that he enunciated very often. He was wont to declare it, that no Bishop, no Church of England with its hierarchical structure: there won't be a King. And therefore he was going to support the Anglican side. Now, he wanted to do the same thing in Scotland. He knew that Scotland was going to be a more difficult nut to crack than England, as far as the Church was concerned. Before he had left Scotland in 1603, he had come into frequent head-on collision with Scottish clerics, and you have probably heard of his famous encounter with Andrew Melville, who on one occasion spoke to him these words:
"Sir, we will humbly reverence your majesty in public, but since we have occasion to be with you in private, we must discharge our duty therein or else be traitors both to Christ and you. And therefore, Sir, as divers times before, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings in Scotland: there is Christ Jesus the King, and his kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, but a member."
He was reminding him that the Head of the Church is Christ, and that its Christ through His Word and the rule of His Word, who governs the Church, not the king. The king as a secular ruler, yes receives reverence as such, but he mustn't interfere in the spiritual arena, where Christ is the Head.
So, James knew that he would run into difficulties if he were to try to introduce an Anglican structure in Scotland, which would have insisted that the King should be the Head of the Church. The Presbyterian system was directly counter to that. But James was crafty: he has come down to history by the name of the wisest fool in Christendom, but I don't think he really deserved that title. He was shrewd and crafty; he sometimes used corrupt methods; he was prepared to back off when things were going against him, and then come again. And in that sort of way, he slowly got his way in Scotland, and soon Bishops were being established within the Scottish Church. Indeed, they were being given considerable influence in the Church of Scotland.
A significant landmark in that Episcopising programme in Scotland came in 1618 with what was known as 'the Five Articles of Perth'. Now these Articles required that the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ be received while kneeling. They required that it might be administered to the sick privately. That baptism should be administered in private houses where necessary; that children eight years of age should be presented to the Bishop for Confirmation; and that the Birth, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord, and the sending of the Holy Ghost [ie: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost] should be commemorated on the days appointed. Surprise has often been expressed at the opposition which these Articles encountered, but it ought to be realised that the first three in particular were in direct contradiction to the sacramental doctrine and practice of the Reformed Churches.
In 1625, James died and was succeeded by his son Charles I. He was a handsome and very courageous man, but he lacked his father's diplomatic skills. Where his father would have backed off, and then come again, Charles didn't have that knack: he was high-handed in his methods. And these high-handed and arrogant methods of his bred suspicion as to his intentions, and earned him the suspicion of many and the gratitude of none. It wasn't till 1635, ten years after his coronation, that he deigned fit to visit the kingdom of Scotland at all; and in his train he brought William Laud, soon to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and already the King's chief advisor in ecclesiastical matters. The Abbey Church of Holyrood was furnished for the occasion for the coronation, with altars and candles under the direction of Laud.
In 1636 there appeared a book entitled 'Canons and Constitutions Ecclesiastical, for the Government of the Church of Scotland'. These were published by authority of his majesty, and command was given that all invested with ecclesiastical authority ensure that these were observed. The first chapter in these canons contained the rule that all are to suffer excommunication who deny the King's supremacy in matters ecclesiastical. And its assumed that the king has the right, without any consent from the Church whatever, to impose a constitution and rules upon the Church of Scotland as he wills. The canons in the main dealt with the life and work of the clergy, and the conduct of church services. Regulations regarding the placing of baptismal fonts and communion tables were perceived as marking a return to Papal liturgy.
The Book of Canons was followed by the Book of Common Prayer. This was perceived to be an attempt to impose Anglo-Catholicism on the Church of Scotland. Commonly known as Laud's Liturgy, because he was the one who was behind it, it was to be the spark that would kindle a consuming fire in Scotland. And soon the whole country was in ferment. The people declared that the King had no right to impose a liturgy of that nature without the consent of the Church or of the Parliament. And they declared that the service book was Popish, that it taught baptismal regeneration, transubstantiation, the adoration and worship of the consecrated elements, and was little better than a Mass-book.
So, in July 1637, when the Dean of St Giles in Edinburgh, clad in a white surplice, began to read the service for the day from the new prayer book, a scene of uproar and confusion ensued. In the midst of this confusion, an old woman by the name of Jenny Geddes hurled her stool at the head of the unfortunate Dean, with the cry, "Dost thou say Mass at my lug?" [or, Do you say the Mass in my ear?]
The National Covenant
That ferment culminated in the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. Popular support for this document was strong throughout the country, except in Aberdeen and the Highlands. Aberdeen had always been partial to Anglicanism, and the Highlands were strongly Papal at that time. But it was signed in every other part of the country with great support - and many signed it with their blood - and by doing so they were declaring their readiness,
"to resist the innovations and evils recently introduced into the Kirk to the ruin of the true Reformed religion, and of our liberties, and of our laws and estates. And to maintain and preserve a true religion, and public peace of the kingdom."
Now, a General Assembly met very soon afterwards at Glasgow in November of 1638 - it became known as a reforming Assembly. It was strongly Presbyterian, and strongly opposed to these innovations. It sought really to do nothing short of the abolition of that Episcopal order, and voted that "all Episcopacy different from that of a Pastor over a particular flock was abjured in this Kirk, and to be removed out of it."
Now Charles couldn't back off at that stage. His father might have, but Charles wouldn't. And in the eyes of the King the Covenanters were now rebels to be reduced to obedience by force of arms. He threatened to come up against them, and as a defensive action the Scots forces passed into England on two occasions during those years. Not much action took place, but these forays into England became known as "the Bishops' Wars". They were significant as showing the strength of feeling in Scotland against the King's policy.
The focus then switched to England. The 'Divine Right of Kings' policy was leading the King not only into conflict with the Church in Scotland, but it was leading him into head-on collision with the Parliament in England. By this time, it was inevitable that a struggle between King and Parliament would come about, and that civil war would come into it. Indeed, that started in August 1642, when the King raised a standard at Nottingham. It was difficult for the Scots to decide what they were to do about this war. They weren't republicans, and opposed to the King on any republican grounds; but it was difficult to support the King because of his outright determination to uproot what they loved so much, the Presbyterian system of government in the Church, that they had inherited from men like John Knox, and Wishart, some century before. And although they were not republican they found themselves being drawn to the English side: they found that they had more in common with them on the ecclesiastical front. Although there were differences between the Presbyterians of Scotland and the Puritans of England, there were more things that united them than divided them.
The Solemn League and Covenant
There began to be talk between the two sides as to how they could best bring about some sort of unity of a united Church: a Church united with the one doctrine for the whole of the United Kingdom. That brought the Scots Covenanters and the English Parliamentarians to become allies, and this talk that developed between them began to take firm form in what became known as 'the Solemn League and Covenant', which was an agreement that they would work towards this end of having some sort of unity of doctrine and have unity within the Church. The hope was that the churches in England and Scotland would reach a common Confession, and a common form of worship and church government.
The upshot of that was the famous Westminster Assembly of Divines, from Scotland and England, who drew up the reformed documents which we know today as the Directory for Public Worship, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Shorter Catechism and the Larger Catechism, which set forth in the clearest of terms the main tenets of Biblical Calvinism. And so the Scots Covenanters and English Parliamentarians were drawn together on that front; and therefore you found the Scots playing a part in the civil war on the Parliamentary side. So as a result of the signing of this document, the Covenanting army marched again into England, and their cavalry contributed materially to the Parliamentary victory on Marston Moor in July 1644. And from that point on, the tide of war was going very much in favour of the Roundheads, the Parliamentary side. And in the end, victory accrued to them, and poor King Charles was executed in 1649. It is said of him that nothing became him in this life, like the leaving of it: he showed great courage at his execution.
I've no doubt the news of the way that he met his death added to the indignation that was felt throughout Scotland. Scotland had never been against the King on any republican grounds and the Covenanters didn't want to have him put to death, and there was great indignation in Scotland at this. As soon as the news reached Edinburgh his son, who was then in exile in Holland, was proclaimed King as Charles II. Commissioners were sent to invite him to Scotland on condition that he would accept the National Covenant, and all that it implied. To proclaim Charles as King was as good as a declaration of war on the English Parliamentarians and the English Commonwealth, and Cromwell marched north and in 1650 he gained a resounding victory over the Scots at Dunbar.
Charles II was, however, crowned at Scone in 1651, but support for him quietly fizzled out, and soon the Cromwellian commonwealth completed the conquest. But for all that, in 1660 you find the monarchy being restored. People had become tired of republicanism in Britain in that short time, and the King was restored as not only the King of Scotland, but the King of England in 1660. This was something that was going to have significant effect in the life of John Livingstone.
These are the main events of his time, and we come now to consider John Livingstone's life.
2. John Livingstone's Life
He was born in 1603, which was the year of the Union of the Crowns. He was born in Kilsyth, a son of the manse. His father was a minister, as his grandfather had been a minister before him. His mother, Agnes, had also been a Livingstone prior to her marriage, and she was a pious woman. So, the Livingstones who had a family of seven (three sons and four daughters) had a godly home, and in that home young John and his brothers and sisters were taught from their youth the rudiments of Scriptural truth. It was a home where prayer was wont to be made, and to which came, especially at Communion Seasons, godly men and women from throughout central Scotland.
John was taught the three 'R's: reading, writing and arithmetic at home. In 1610, at the age of seven, he was sent to school in Stirling, and there he showed himself an able pupil, he had a good measure of proficiency in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. From his early youth he was the subject of regenerating grace: strivings of the Spirit with him from a very young age, although interestingly he could never produce a spiritual birth certificate: he couldn't say the moment when he was born again, when he passed from death to life.
He made a public profession of faith in Christ for the first time while he was still at school in Stirling, at about 12 to 14 years of age. 1617 and 1618 were significant years in his young life. He left school in 1617, and it was also the year of his mother's death, at the tender age of 32, having reared a family of seven.
Something else that was significant at time, as we have noticed, were the Five Articles of Perth, which were published at that time. These Articles caused him no pleasure, but rather the opposite, for about that time he entered college in Glasgow. In his autobiography he refers to a communion service held there in Glasgow, presided over by Mr James Law (they didn't use the title of Rev in those days), and he describes him as the 'pretended Bishop of Glasgow'. This Bishop of Glasgow presided, and Mr Law called on the communicants to kneel (remember that this was one of the articles in the Five Articles of Perth), or if they were not willing to do so, that they should depart.
John Livingstone, young though he was, refused to do either of these claiming that there was no warrant from Scripture for kneeling, and that for want of that authority he ought not to be communicated from the Table of the Lord. So as early as that you see his strong opposition to Anglican ways, and Anglican rituals, and Anglican doctrines, and especially any encroachment on the authority of Christ by the king. He saw these rituals as being gateways towards the encroachment on that authority. And so, you have a non-conformist young man appearing in very concrete form as early as 1618, in his opposition to these articles.
He went to Glasgow college about that time, and graduated from college in Glasgow in 1621, at the age of 18. At first he was uncertain as to which profession he should enter, but in the end he decided for the ministry. By 1625 he had successfully completed the necessary studies in preparation for the ministry of the Gospel, but owing to his staunch anti-Episcopalian views, which drew the opposition of influential Bishops, he met with difficulty in being settled into a charge. He went some five years without having a settled charge of his own, and during that time he served where he could. He served as a private chaplain for part of that time to the Earl of Wigton, and he preached when invited in other churches. Many godly ministers wanted him to preach for them, and by reason of going from congregation to congregation in that way, he came to know some of the godliest ministers and people in Scotland at that time, and his own preaching was in turn widely blessed.
One notable sermon was preached by him during this time, in 1630 on a Monday morning of the Communion Season in the parish of Shotts, which was reputedly blessed in the conversion of some 500 souls. Shortly after that, in the same year, he at last received a call to the congregation of Killinchy, not in Scotland but in Northern Ireland. He accepted that call and on 29th August he received ordination from Andrew Knox, admittedly a Bishop, but one who was prepared to fit in with the scruples held by this young minister. So he received ordination from Andrew Knox, who as a Presbyter joined several ministers in conferring upon him Presbyterian orders, thus obviating Livingstone's scruples as to the Scriptural validity of Prelatical orders under the government of Bishops.
His ministry in that district of Ireland was very successful and many received, through his means, religious impressions. He had been scarcely a year at Killinchy, however, until he was suspended by another Bishop much more rigorous in his outlook. Suspended for non-conformity and "stirring up the people to extasies and enthusiasms". Although this suspension was later relaxed, his ministry at Killinchy was soon effectively brought to an end, when in 1632 he was deposed from the ministry.
One compensating brightness in his life at this time was his marriage in 1635 to Miss Fleming. Strangely, he doesn't give her first name in his autobiography, and we are left in the dark as to what her first name was. But this must have been a bright spot in his life. She was the daughter of an Edinburgh merchant, and one who had been a staunch Presbyterian. Their early days of marriage were taken up with plans, alongside other godly men in Scotland and England, to make a voyage to New England where, like the Pilgrim Fathers a short time before them, they hoped to be able to worship God and to practice their religion without fear of persecution. That is what they were brought to.
It was not God's will, however, that these plans should come to fruition. When they made the voyage with the intent of coming to New England, they encountered stormy seas off Newfoundland, which damaged their vessel and threatened to engulf them, so that they were compelled to return to their native shores. He had invested a lot of money in that voyage, and now was much the poorer in financial terms. By this time also, his young wife had a child and it was difficult when they returned, at first to Ireland.
Return to Scotland
Learning in Ireland that a warrant was issued for his arrest, he crossed over to Scotland, and stayed there for a while. Now this was just coming into that time of ferment that culminated in the National Covenant, and Livingstone played his part in that. In 1638 he was engaged in the renovation of the National Covenant and in receiving, through various parts of the country, signatures to that deed. In the same year he was settled as minister in Stanraer. He also attended the celebrated reforming Assembly at Glasgow that year and he heartily supported its procedures and decisions. He served as a chaplain with the Scottish forces in the Bishops' Wars, these forces that crossed into England in 1639 & 40. And in 1648, by the desire of the General Assembly, he was translated from Stranraer to the parish of Ancrum in Teviotdale.
Now as an evidence of the high honour in which he was held by his colleagues, Livingstone was chosen by the General Assembly as one of the representatives to treat with the young King Charles at the Hauge, after the death of Charles I in 1649, when they wanted the younger Charles to become King Charles II. He was one of the Scottish Commissioners sent to treat with them and find out if the prospective king would agree to the signing of the Covenants, and would he agree to Presbyterian government etc. Charles was very ready to say yes to anything, but he was not to be trusted. Livingstone was one Commissioner who was a good judge of character, and he considered, quite correctly, that the young Charles was insincere in his professions, and totally unsuited and unqualified to be the ruler of the kingdom. Even when the king was ready to subscribe to the Covenants, and the other Commissioners with him expressed their full satisfaction with Charles, he continued to protest against his suitability.
Time was to show that Livingstone was the one who was right. He feared what would happen if Charles was to become King. He did become King in Scotland in 1651, and then, by the Act of Restoration, became King in England in 1660. The storms that Livingstone feared soon arose and began to blow in great intensity, on the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. By the Oath of Allegiance, ministers were required to acknowledge Episcopacy, and the rule of Bishops. Sentence was pronounced against Livingstone because he refused to do so. He was required to leave Edinburgh within 48 hours, and required to remove from the King's dominions within two months; and in 1662 he arrived at Rotterdam in the company of many faithful men, who for similar reasons were banished from their native land. He died there in Rotterdam, exiled from his native Scotland in 1672 at the age of 68. His own words were,
"I die in the faith that the truths of God, which He has helped the Church of Scotland to own, will be owned by Him as truths, as long as sun and moon endure."
Well, thirdly, let us look an assessment of his contribution to the life of the Scottish Church.
3. Livingstone's contribution to the life of the Scottish Church
Concern for Christ's Kirk
The first question that has to be addressed is: Was he an extremist? Some have claimed that he was unduly taken up with opposition to changes which were not of themselves, of the substance of the Gospel. He was opposed to things like kneeling at Communion services; opposed to the introduction of Laud's prayerbook, when the Scottish Church after all had had its own prayerbook before that, the Book of Common Order. But although John Livingstone was opposed to these ritualistic things, he was more opposed to what lay behind that.
What John Livingstone and others were primarily opposed to was the assault being made by James I, and then particularly by his son Charles I, on the Presbyterian system of government which had been established in Scotland, under God's hand, in the days of the Reformation, through the instrumentality of men like John Knox and Andrew Melville.
These Covenanting Scots, Livingstone and others, were indeed concerned that some of the changes that were being foisted upon Scotland were not only in direct contradiction to the sacramental doctrine and practice of the Reformed Churches, but that in some instances they smacked of Romanism. And they were particularly insistent on the doctrine that Christ alone is the Head of the Church, and they were rightly determined that no secular King should be given authority to introduce rules in the Church that were contrary to Christ's will, as that will is expressed in the Scriptures.
Another area that we have to consider is his intellectual capacities and abilities. In matters of church administration; church courts and so on, he seems to have been outshone by many like Henderson, Gillespie, and Rutherford, who were the Scots Commissioners at the Westminster Assembly of Divines that resulted from the Solemn League and Covenant, and these were men who made a notable contribution to the drafting of the major documents that we have already noticed. It was possibly due to Livingstone's tendency to see things in black and white; and we saw an instance of this when with the other Scottish commissioners he met young King Charles. He saw through the king and was not prepared to compromise. The others were prepared to give and take with him, but not Livingstone. That was part of his character and maybe that didn't fit him very well for the business of church administration, and certainly he didn't shine in it as highly as these other men. But having said that, he was no slouch: consider his academic attainments at school in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and then his academic attainments while at college in Glasgow as well.
One very useful area that he has contributed to is in his own writings: not just his autobiography, but the writings he has left to us in which he gives descriptions of other godly men of that time. His writings help us to have a more rounded picture of the ecclesiastical life of the times, and some of his writings about some of the men that he describes are well worth a read. It makes you realise the quality of godliness that characterised some of these men of Covenanting Scotland in that period of the Second Reformation as it became known.
Also, whist he in exile in Holland, he was involved in the preparation of a Latin translation of the Old Testament. He was a man of ability.
What about his pastoral qualities? Well, he was a faithful watchman over the souls of his people, and this is where he particularly shines. And for this he was greatly appreciated by the godly in their midst. A good example of that appreciation was that after he had been called to Stranraer from Killinchy in Northern Ireland, many of his former parishioners in Killinchy frequently crossed the sea to hear him in his new pulpit in Stranraer. So surely he was a pastor who was greatly loved and appreciated.
His faithfulness as a watchman is also seen in his correspondence to his parishioners, especially after he was exiled, when Charles II became King of the whole country at the Restoration. When he refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance, the result was that he was sent into exile, and spent some twelve years in exile prior to his death in Holland. But while he was in Holland, he did not forget his own congregation, and you find his letters to them showing that he was a faithful watchman still.
Here is his parting advice to his own congregation at Ancrum:
"In the meantime love and help one another. Have a care to breed your children to know the Lord, and to keep themselves from the pollutions of an evil world. I recommend to you above all books, except the blessed Word of God, the Confession of Faith and Larger Catechism. The Word is a lamp, and the Spirit of Christ will guide into all truth. The light that comes after unfeigned humiliation, and self denial, and earnest prayer, and research of the Scripture, is a sure light." [written in 1663]
Another message sent by him from Rotterdam, again showing his faithfulness and attentiveness to his flock, says:
"In all things, and above all things, let the Word of God be your only rule, Christ Jesus your only hope, His Spirit your only guide, and his Glory your only end. See that each of you, apart, worship God every day, morning and evening at least. Read some of His Word, call on Him by prayer, and give Him thanks. If you be straightened with business, its not so much the length of your prayer he regards, as the uprightness and earnestness of the heart. But neglect not the duty. And if you be outside the hearing of others, utter your voice and speak it aloud. It is sometimes a great help, but do it not to be heard of others. Sing, also, a Psalm or some part of a Psalm. You may learn that by heart for that purpose. Through the whole day, labour to set the Lord always before you, as present to observe you, and strengthen you for every duty. Look over how the day has been spent before you sleep. Such as have families, set up the worship of God in your families."
These are the words and the writings of a faithful pastor.
What about his attitude to pulpit preparation? In his early days, when he didn't have a pulpit of his own, and was preaching sometimes in the open air, and sometimes in other minister's congregations, he used to write out his whole sermon, word for word. But pressure of business soon compelled him to change that practice, and his preferred method then became one of prayerful study and prayerful meditation on his text, and seeking to have a skeleton structure of what he wanted to say in his mind, and leaving scope for the Spirit to guide him in his utterance, when the occasion of preaching came. It is amazing that in Iain Murray's 'Diary of Kenneth MacRae', we find that Kenneth MacRae was greatly influenced by the thinking of John Livingstone in this area.
Some further interesting guidance on both sermon preparation and elocution are given by him in his writings. There is a short article entitled 'Remarks on Preaching and Praying in Public'. Here are some of his recommendations (I have tried to put them into more modern parlance):
"Don't put too much into a sermon, as too many points overtax the memory of the hearer. Avoid abstruse learning. The utterance and voice should not be like singing. We should not 'affect' a weeping-like voice. The voice should be well modulated and speech should not be too fast or too slow."
An Example of His Preaching
Not many examples of his preaching are available probably because, as we've just noticed, he committed so few sermons to writing. But there is a sermon on "Remember Lot's Wife", in Luke 17:32, and here are some of the points that he makes as he addresses the question, 'What should be remembered concerning Lot's wife?'
The first point that he makes is: "Remember she was Lot's wife; a good man's wife; brought up and educated in good company. And yet, he is vexed in his own house, as well as among those filthy Sodomites. And therefore, though your good parentage and education be a mercy, yet boast not of it. And though you have lived long in a good house, what of that? May not Satan tempt you then, if you have not the root of the matter within you?"
The second point that he makes is: "Remember that she was halfway to Zoar. And Sodom burning behind her, and it may be she then thought she was past all danger, and most secure. When the angel took hold of her hand, she says, as it were, 'God be thanked, I am now past the worst of it and nearer unto heaven than I was.' The lesson for our instruction is this, that some may seem to go to heaven, may seem to be halfway there, and yet not be upon that way at all."
The third point that he makes in his sermon is: "But you may say, 'What did she?' She but looked back, and couldn't go straight on in the way with her husband, and hence you may take this lesson, that God does not account of things as we do. He accounts that a great sin, which we often account a small thing."
The fourth point is: "What moved her to look back, contrary to the Lord's express command? It was a piece of her own curiosity. We should be on our guard against idle curiosity, because what folly is often found in our heart, contrary to the will of God. Old Sodom comes into our mind again, as the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, when lusting after the onions and garlic of Egypt."
And point five, "Remember Lot's wife. Here is an extraordinary work or dispensation of God's grace, to see this woman so turned into a pillar of salt, whereby He makes one stone of another. Her heart was as hard as a stone, and so must the other parts of her body become as a stone also."
And then he completes it with this application: "Pray that this may never be your case. Moreover I may say into you who are profane professors, Remember Lot's wife. The chief thing that draws many of you away is the pride of your religion: pride of your work, gifts, profession etc. Not altogether natural pride, but the pride of you religion saying , 'this could never happen to me'. And when that self sufficiency is there, we can be very akin to Lot's wife."
That is a sample of his preaching.
The Godliness of His Life
Above all, he his to be remembered for the godliness of his life. An interesting account of the early strivings of the Spirit with him, and of his first admission to the Lord's Table is given in his autobiography:
"I don't remember the time and means whereby the Lord at first wrought upon my heart. When I was but very young, I would sometimes pray with some feeling, and read the Word with delight, but thereafter would often intermit such exercises; and have some challenges, and again begin, and again intermit. . . I remember the first time that ever I communicated at the Lord's Table. It was at Stirling when I was at school. . . While sitting at the table, and Mr Patrick Simpson exhorting before the distribution of the elements, there came such a trembling upon me that my body shook. Yet, thereafter, the fear and trembling departed and I got some comfort and assurance."
These are the words of a godly man at a very young age. Then you see the godliness shining out in his call to the ministry. It wasn't something that he entered into lightly. The manner of his call to the ministry is also enlightening. After completing his course in Glasgow in 1621, he returned to his father's house in Lanark. His desire at that time was to go into medicine, and to pursue studies towards that profession in France. His father was not in favour, and had bought some lands just prior to that. He wanted to put the title deeds of the land in the name of John Livingstone. John made known that he was not in favour of that, and he was torn at that stage as between the management of his father's lands on the one hand, or his plans for medicine on the other. He made it a matter for prayer and fasting, and that is an example of his godliness: it wasn't something light with him in the dilemma as to what to do. And he brought the matter to the Lord, as he writes in his autobiography:
"Now being in these straits, I resolved I would spend one day before God by myself alone; and knowing of a secret cave, I went thither, and after many 'too's and 'fro's, and much confusion and fear, anent the state of my soul, I thought it was made out to me, that I behoved to preach Jesus Christ, which if I did not, I would have no assurance of salvation."
So that, in the course of that prayer and fasting, the Lord directed him not to medicine, not to land management, but into the preaching of the everlasting Gospel of Christ. "After which," he says, "I laid aside all thoughts of France and medicine, and the land." Interestingly, the land that his father had bought, and wanted to put in his name, somebody else purchased very soon afterwards.
His preparation of mind and soul prior to the preaching of that sermon that we referred to in 1630 from Ez 36:25,26 (the Spirit's pouring water upon them) shows his godliness. The sermon was preached at Shotts in 1630, and we get a glimpse into his spiritual exercisedness in these preparations. In his autobiography he writes:
"The parish of the Shotts bordered onto the parish of Torphichen, whether they sometimes resorted. And I was several times invited by the minister to preach there. In that place I used to find more liberty in preaching than elsewhere. Yea, the one day in all my life wherein I got most of the presence of God, in public was on a Monday after the Communion preaching in the churchyard of the Shotts, 21st June 1630. The night before I had been with some Christians who spent the night in conference and prayer [we believe it was in the open]. When I was alone in the fields about eight or nine in the morning before we were to go to Sermon there came such a misgiving of spirit upon me, considering my unworthiness and weakness and the multitude and expectation of the people, that I was consulting with myself to have stolen away somewhere and declined that day's preaching, but I dared not do that, and so went to Sermon and got good assistance. I had about an hour and a half on the points I had meditated upon in Ezekiel 36, and in the end, offering to close with some words of exhortation I was led on about an hour's time [ie. a two and a half hour sermon] in a strain of exhortation and warning with such liberty and melting of heart, as I never had the like in public all my life."
Now there is an interesting sequel to that, and it shows how the Lord honoured his godly faithfulness, and I quote from M'Crie's sketches of Scottish History:
Some remarkable incidents occurred on that Monday, one of which, is illustrated in the striking effect produced by Mr Livingstone's discourse. "Three young gentlemen belonging to Glasgow had made an appointment to go to Edinburgh to attend some public amusements. Having alighted at Shotts to take breakfast, one of their number proposed to go and hear sermon - probably more from curiosity than any other motive; and for greater expedition [in order to get going later] they arranged to come away at the end of the sermon, before the last prayer. But the power of God accompanying the sermon was so felt by them that they could not go away till all was over. When they returned to take their horses, they called for some refreshment before they mounted; but when it was set upon the table they all looked to one another, none of them daring to touch it till a blessing was asked; and as they were not accustomed formerly to attend to such things, one of them at last said, 'I think we should ask a blessing to our drink.' The others assented at once to this proposal, and put it on one of their number to do it, to which he readily consented. And when they had done, they could not rise till another had returned thanks. They went on their way more sedately than they used to do, but none of them mentioned their inward concern to the others, only now and then one would say, 'Was it not a great sermon we heard?' another would answer, 'I never heard the like of it.' They went to Edinburgh, but instead of waiting on diversions or company, they kept their rooms the greater part of the time they were there, which was only about two days, when they were all quite weary of Edinburgh, and proposed to return home. Upon the way home they did not discover the state of their minds to one another; and after arriving in Glasgow they kept themselves very much retired, coming seldom out. At last one of them made a visit to his friend, and declared to him what God had done for him at the Kirk of Shotts. The other frankly owned the concern that he had been brought under at the same time; and both of them proceeding to the third, and finding him in the same state of mind, they all three agreed to have a fellowship-meeting. They continued to maintain a practice suitable to their profession for the remainder of their lives, and became eminently useful in their day and generation."
There is the effect of a godly life in the hand of God, blessed 500 souls, but particularly we note these three men, who had no thoughts of eternity or their souls that morning of that day.
Well, that is a taste of the life of this man, his godliness, his faithfulness, his pastoral care, and the way that God used him in Scotland in those days, along with others, to turn the nation from ungodliness to a people who cared for their souls. That characterised the day, much more than is true of ours, when we have so much depravity. We have so much to learn from men like John Livingstone.
This article has been transcribed from a recording of John Livingstone - a lecture given by Rev John MacLeod, at a public meeting of the Inverness Branch of the Scottish Reformation Society, on Monday, 19 January 2004.
SCOTTISH REFORMATION SOCIETY
The Scottish Reformation Society was founded in 1851, following a protest against the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England. The original constitution of the Society set out its objectives as being “to resist the aggressions of Popery; to watch the designs and movements of its promoters and abettors; and to diffuse sound Scriptural teaching and information on the distinctive tenets of Protestantism and Popery”.
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