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He was a man of prayer, and lived near to the Blood of Sprinkling. Left to himself, he would have chosen a life of obscurity among the simple folk of some remote parish. It was persecution that dragged him into fame. But not persecution wholly. His ministry was in demonstration of the Spirit and in power. Even when he conducted his family devotions, men so crowded about him and hungered after his utterances that he was obliged, by reason of the press, to set up his family altar in his church. “Oh! when I remember that burning and shining light, worthy and warm Mr. Livingston, who used to preach as within the sight of Christ and the glory to be revealed !” exclaimed one of his contemporaries, when he looked back on the times of refreshing he enjoyed in his presence.
His appearance and disposition may help to bring his personality nearer. In Scotland there is only one known portrait, and it is in the possession of Sir Arthur Grant of Monymusk. In America, where his descendants have risen to the possession of the greatest wealth and highest distinction, there are in existence three portraits. To Edwin Brockholst Livingston I am indebted for an autotype copy of the painting in possession of Mrs. Robert Ralston Crosby of New York. It is apparently a faithful and artistic likeness. It represents a man of about sixty years of age, with short, silvery hair, the greater part of which is confined in a closely fitting cap. There are no whiskers, but there is a moustache, and the goatee or napoleon on the lower lip terminates in a sharp peak. In his young days his hair was of that brown, sandy colour usually indicative of the ardent temperament. The eyes were hazel, the brow prominent, the nose Roman, the facial outline oval. The shoulders are massive, the chest full, and a broad, white collar gives a touch of character to an otherwise uninteresting dress. All the portraits are of Dutch origin. With his own hand he wrote a faithful delineation of his character. Physically he was “of ane waterish constitution. He had frequent attacks of toothache, and he smoked to alleviate the pain. He was short-sighted. This failing did not affect his studies, as he was able to the last to dispense with the aid of spectacles. As to disposition, he was very unlike his father, and quite averse to wranglingand debates. He was more inclined to solitude than company. With the exception of walking, he indulged in no kind of exercise. Only two kinds of recreation held out to him any temptation. As a young man he had hunted on horseback, “and found it very bewitching." Possessing musical talent, he had also proved the growing seductions of the concert-room. He had often been conscious of the power of the Lord working in his heart, but he was never able to identify his conversion with any special time or occasion. He experienced the greatest terror of the wrath of God one night after he had been in the company of some young people who had been influenced by the work of the Lord at Stewarton. The feeling was so acute that if it had been prolonged it would have been beyond endurance.
John Livingston was born at Monyabroch, on the 21st June, 1603; and by the Abroch, the Garrel, and the Kelvin swamp, and amid those green and woody braes of the parish he loved so much, he spent his happy, gentle boyhood, receiving from his strong, resolute father the best of nurture in all things human and divine. He received his Christian name at the earnest request of Lady Lilias Graham, the wife of the sixth Lord Fleming of Cumbernauld, who was soon after created Lord Wigton. This lady held his father, William Livingston, in great respect, and was a frequent visitor at Monyabroch. She attended the Monyabroch communions regularly, and was well known for her devoutness of spirit and saintliness of character. Her maid said of her when she dressed her hair of a morning, she had always the Bible open before her, and “shed more tears on such occasions than I ever did all my lifetime."
When John was ten he was sent to the Grammar School at Stirling, where he remained till the summer of 1617. He was recalled from school that he might be present at the bedside of his dying mother. Afterwards he went to the University of Glasgow, and completed his arts' course there with considerable distinction. At Stirling, from the hands of the Rev. Patrick Simpson, he received his first sacrament. On that solemn occasion he experienced such a physical agitation that he believed it was the Lord for the first time directly striving with him. At the end of his college course there came a serious crisis in his life. His father having repurchased the half of Monyabroch glebe, and added it to his various other possessions in the parish, he now wished his son to marry and settle on his estate. His father, having gone to Lanark, could not now attend to it, and it was greatly wasted by ill neighbours. The young man had, however, his own ideas as to his future, and he besought his father to allow him to go to France, that he might study medicine. His father refused his request. Not knowing what to do, at this turning point in his life, he resolved to spend a day in solitary contemplation in some quiet spot, and hear what God the Lord would say unto him. With this end in view he repaired to a secret cave on Mouse Water, an old hiding-place of Sir William Wallace. After a day's spiritual wrestling in much confusion and fear anent the state of his soul, he believed God made it clear to him that he should go out into the
world and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and that if he resisted he should have no assurance of his own salvation.
Following the divine prompting thus given him, he studied divinity at the University of St. Andrews, under Principal Boyd and Professor Blair. During this period his Presbyterian views became greatly confirmed. Whilst present at a communion in Glasgow, Archbishop Law, who was dispensing the sacrament, seeing the people all sitting at the table, desired them to kneel after the Episcopal fashion. The archbishop, seeing that John Livingston and one or two others did not obey, commanded them to kneel or depart. To this the young man replied boldly “that there was no warrant for kneeling, and for want of it no one ought to be excommunicated.” Thus began that long struggle with Prelacy he was to maintain during his whole life, and in which struggle he was eventually to be overcome. Having received license, he began in January, 1625, the preaching of the Gospel, the work that was to be so dear to him, and which was to be so abundantly blessed. Promotion would have come quickly, but he was already a marked man and under the suspicion of the bishops. He received calls to various parishes, but somehow or other there was always something which came between him and ordination. The reason is found in a letter in Colzium House. The Laird of Kilsyth having approached the archbishop in his kinsman's behalf, the prelate replied, that if his friend had not already received an appointment in the Church, he had nobody to blame but himself, seeing “he had declared he would not submit himself to the orders received in the Church.” “I love peace,” continued the archbishop, “but these sort of men will not cease till they bring trouble upon themselves.” Eventually, Livingston was appointed by Lord Torphichen assistant to the aged minister of Torphichen parish. The minister dying soon after, and notwithstanding that the parishioners were wholly in his favour, and that moreover he had the Earl of Linlithgow, Lord Torphichen, and Sir William Livingston of Kilsyth all in his favour, and all appealing to the Archbishop of St. Andrews, he was refused ordination by that prelate, and not only so, but was ordered to desist from preaching. This was in 1627. When on his way home to his father's house at Lanark, he stopped at Falkirk to bid farewell to his uncle, William Livingston. This was a fortunate stoppage, for while delaying his journey, he received a pressing invitation from the Countess of Wigton, to come to Cumbernauld to visit her mother, who lay dying. He made so good an impression on the earl and countess that they engaged him as their chaplain. It was while residing in Cumbernauld there occurred that memorable revival of the kirk of Shotts in which he took so prominent a part, and during which he preached the sermon that was the occasion of such a memorable outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The hard lot of Scotland's suffering Church was not without its counterbalancing advantages in the spiritual life of the people. It forced them to consider their standing ground, to seek the roots of religion and faith. The result was a widespread interest in all theological and ecclesiastical problems. As they mused, here and there throughout the country the fire of the repressed spiritual life burst into flame. Times of great refreshing, as from the presence of the Lord, were at once causes and consequences of the persecutions to which the Church was subjected. The diligent study of the Bible made them able to suffer, and the suffering gave new intensity