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When Livingston found that ordination in Scotland was impossible through the hostility of the bishops, he gladly accepted the invitation of Viscount Claneboyes to take charge of the parish of Killinchy. He then received ordination, not from Dr. Robert Echlin, the bishop of the diocese, but from Dr. Andrew Knox, Bishop of Raphoe, who extended towards the Presbyterians a gentle and conciliatory spirit. This action roused Echlin's ire, but notwithstanding a smart conflict with his bishop, Livingston was able to devote himself with all his zeal to the duties of his parish. His stipend from teinds amounted to only four pounds a year, but he was supported by the Countesses of Wigton and Eglinton, and other devout women. In this parish Livingston's ministry was greatly blessed. It might have been thought in such a poor place he would have been beneath envy, and except from the shafts of hostility, have been allowed to go on his way in .peace. But it was not so. Before a year was out he was suspended for nonconformity (1631). This was the first blow levelled at the Presbyterian ministry of Ulster, and, although through the interest of that kindly and friendly primate, Archbishop Usher, Livingston was soon reinstated, from his suspension dates the commencement of that systematic opposition which ultimately terminated in the forcible expulsion of the Presbyterian brethren from the kingdom. The peace was of very short duration. The Scottish bishops having brought pressure to bear on the Irish Government, Livingston and his friend Blair were deposed on the 4th May, 1632. After visiting his father at Lanark and his friends at Cumbernauld, and rendered desperate by insult and persecution, Livingston with some of his parishioners resolved to emigrate to America. Through contrary winds the attempt failed. After landing once more on the shores of Ireland, Livingston and his deposed brethren were reinstated in their parishes, and at Killinchy Livingston continued to preach for a year and a half, until November, 1635.
At this time he formed an attachment to the eldest daughter of Bartholomew Fleming, merchant in Edinburgh, "of most worthy memory." It is a curious trait, both of the age and of the man, that after she had been commended to him by his friends, he spent nine months in seeking direction from God, before he could prevail on himself to pay his addresses. "It is like," he says, "I might have been longer in that darkness, except the Lord had presented an occasion for our conferring together; for in November, 1634, when I was going to the Friday meeting at Antrim, I foregathered with her and some others going thither, and propounded to them by the way to confer upon a text whereon I was to preach the day after at Antrim, wherein I found her conference so judicious and spiritual, that I took that for some answer to my prayer to have my mind cleared, and blamed myself that I had not before taken occasion to confer with her. Four or five days thereafter I propounded the matter to her, and desired her to think upon it, and after a week or two I went to her mother's house, and being alone with her, desiring her answer, I went to prayer, and urged her to pray, which at last she did, and in that time, I got abundant clearness that it was the Lord's mind I should marry her." John Livingston was married in St. Cuthbert's Church on the 23rd June, 1635. The Earl of Wigton and his son, Lord Fleming, were present. His father was the officiating clergyman. A warrant having been issued for his apprehension, the service was conducted with much solemnity.
On Livingston's return to Ireland he was again deposed, and again in despair of all liberty at home for the ministry of the Word, he once more embarked for America. After a long struggle with adverse winds, in which the vessel sprang a leak and met with various mishaps, they reached the banks of NewfoundlandRegarding further struggle as hopeless, the voyage was abandoned and the prow of the vessel directed homeward. Livingston reached Ireland after a hazardous voyage, only to find his position more insecure than ever. The Government at once issued a warrant for his arrest, but he knew how to save himself by timely flight to Scotland. Although a marked man, he took a prominent part in those meetings when, amid scenes of the tenderest character, the Covenant was signed and sworn. In 1638 he received a commission to proceed to London with several copies of the Covenant and letters to friends of the Scottish cause at court. He had not been long in the English capital when the Marquis of Hamilton informed him it would be well for him to make speed northward, as the King had been made aware of his presence and was ready to commit him to the Tower.
On Livingston's return from London, on the 5th July* 1638, he was inducted to the parish of Stranraer, where he ministered for the next ten years. He was recommended to that parish because it placed him as near as possible to his friends in Ireland. As many as five hundred of his old parishioners at Killinchy came over twice a year to the Stranraer communion, and it was there he was compelled to hold his family devotions in church, there not being room in his house to accommodate the people that came to them. At this juncture the Covenanters resolved upon a movement much more skilful than they usually showed in their military tactics. Under the Earl of Cassillis they advanced into England, and as Livingston was chaplain to the forces, he exchanged, for a time, the church for the camp. The change, however, was only a change of scene, for every night, when the troops came to their quarters, there was nothing to be heard throughout the whole army but the singing of psalms, and prayer, and reading of Scripture. He was present at the skirmis'i at Newburn, but, than the facts of the engagement, he noted down with gnater interest that a Scottish lady, whom they had met, made the exclamation, "And is it so, that Jesus Christ will not come to England for the reforming of abuses, but with an army of twenty-two thousand men at His back!" The brief campaign ended, he busied himself at Stranraer with thj raising of money for the use of the army, and for the Presbyterians of Ulster, who were passing through Stranraer, fleeing from the fury of the Catholics. Leaving his father's deathbed, in the autumn of 1641, we find him, after a few months, joining the army of the Scots under Major-General Munro, lying at Carrickfcrgus, whither they had been sent by the Privy Council to put down the Irish Rebellion. He had an off-and-on connection with the army for the next six years ; but it is unaccountable how, in 1648, when he attended the army for the last time, he had a special commission from the General Assembly to persuade the Scottish regiments to take no part in the proposed endeavour to rescue Charles I. from his English prison. It is surely no part of the duty of a chaplain to advise soldiers in such matters. At the close of these Irish Commissions Livingston was translated by the General Assembly to the parish of Ancrum.
The next occurrence in the Rev. John Livingston's eventful life was of an important character. He was nominated, by the Scottish Church, one of three delegates on the Commission sent by the Committee of Estates to the Hague in the early part of 1650, to treat with young King Charles II. as to the conditions and concessions which would make him an acceptable Sovereign to the Scottish people. The Commission was composed of the Earls of Cassillis and Lothian for the nobility, the Lairds of Brodie and Liberton for the barons, Sir John Smith and Alexander Jaffray for the burghs, and Messrs. James Wood, John Livingston, and George Hutcheson for the Assembly. The work was distasteful to Livingston, and he would have resigned but for the pressure of his friends. He believed the Commission contained unpatriotic elements, men who would have bought the favour of the King at the expense of their country, and it was unlikely to accomplish any good. When he set his foot on board the vessel that was to bear him to Holland, "he hoped, if it were the Lord's will, to be drowned in the waters by the way." His conference with the King made him still more dissatisfied. Believing they were taking " the plague to Scotland," he refused to return in the company of the King and the Commission, and it was only by stratagem he was brought back to Scotland with the others. At Dundee, Livingston had his final interview with the King. He took liberty " to use some freedom," and imparted some wholesome counsel. The King replied that "he hoped he would not wish him to sell his father's blood." The abrupt and foolish answer confirmed the worthy Covenanter in the opinion that he had never been made to negotiate affairs of state.