John Livingstone was born in Monyabroch (or Monieburgh) near Kilsyth, Scotland on 21 July 1603. His father William was a minister of the Gospel at Kilsyth and later at Lanark. John Livingstone studied under Robert Blair at the University of Glasgow where he graduated in 1621. He began preaching in 1625 and became the assistant to the minister at Torphichen, but due to his opposition to prelacy, he was silenced by Archbishop Spotiswood of St Andrews in 1627. He continued to preach and received calls from several parishes, but these were all blocked by the bishops. On 30 June 1630 he stood in for a preacher, who had fallen ill, at a Monday service after the communion at the Kirk o’Shotts. As he preached, stood on top of a gravestone, to hundreds of people, he was mightily used of God. As he was Massachusetts his message, heavy rain began to fall, the people remained in the graveyard, and Livingstone preached for a further hour. Nearly five hundred people were said to have ‘had a discernible change wrought on them’.In August 1630 he accepted a call to Killinchy in County Down in Ulster, where many of the people were Scottish settlers. He wrote: ‘In summer 1630, being in Irvine, Mr Robert Cunningham, minister at Holywood in Ireland, and some while before that, Mr George Dunbar, minister of Larne, in Ireland, propounded to me, seeing there was no appearance I could enter into the ministry in Scotland, whether or not I would be content to go to Ireland? I answered them both, if I got a clear call and a free entry, I would not refuse. About August 1630, I got letters from the Viscount Clanniboy to come to Ireland, in reference to a call to Killinchy, whither I went and got a unanimous call from the parish’. Patrick Adair describes him as ‘a man of a gracious melting spirit’ and writes of his time at Killinchy: ‘the Lord was pleased greatly to bless his ministry, both within his own charge and without’. Livingstone wrote of his time at Killinchy: ‘Although the people were very tractable, yet they were generally very ignorant, and I saw no appearance of doing any good among them, yet it pleased the Lord that in a short time some of them began to understand somewhat of their condition. Not only had we public worship free of any inventions of man, but we had also a tolerable discipline; for after I had been some while among them, by the advice of heads of families, some ablest for that charge were chosen elders to oversee the manners of the rest, and some deacons to gather and distribute the collections’. Livingstone became involved in the Antrim meeting which was formed in the wake of the Six Mile Water Revival which began in 1625. The meeting was held on the first Friday of the month and Livingstone wrote: ‘there was a great and good congregation and that day was spent in fasting and prayer, and public preaching. Commonly two preached before noon, and two afterwards’. In May 1632, Livingstone was deposed along with the other Scottish ministers Robert Blair, George Dunbar, and Josias Welsh, but their influential contacts kept them in their positions. However, they were deposed again in 1634. While in Ulster he married the eldest daughter of Bartholomew Fleming, an Edinburgh merchant. He spent nine months ‘seeking directions from God’ with regard to his marriage. They were married in the West Church in Edinburgh on 23 June 1635. On 9 September 1636 Livingstone was one of the Scottish settlers who unsuccessfully attempted to emigrate to America on the ship Eagle’s Wing. Among his fellow passengers were Michael Colvert and his wife from Killinchy parish. Colvert’s wife gave birth during the voyage and Livingstone baptised the child the following Sabbath, who was named Seaborn. On his return to Ireland, Livingstone lived with his mother-in-law but on hearing that the authorities planned his apprehension he went to Scotland. Here he was supported by Rev David Dickson, the minister at Irvine. On 1 March 1638 the National Covenant was sworn at Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh. Livingston was at Lanark when the National Covenant was sworn;,and he wrote, that, apart from at the Kirk of Shotts, he never saw such a movement of God’s Spirit; ‘a thousand persons, all at once, lifting up their hands, and the tears falling down from their eyes’. In July 1638, Mr Livingston became the minister of Stranraer, in Wigtonshire, where his ministry was blessed. Many members of his congregation at Killinchy kept up their connection with their minister. Livingstone wrote that: ‘Some of our friends out of Ireland came and dwelt at Stranraer; and at our communions, twice in the year, great numbers used to come – at one time 500 persons – and at one time I baptised 28 children brought out of Ireland’. ‘The perpetual fear,’ he wrote of the Presbyterians in Ulster, ‘that the bishops would put away their ministers, made them, with great hunger, wait on the ordinances’. Four Ulster ministers, Blair, Livingstone, McClelland and James Hamilton were members of the 1638 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland held in Glasgow with Alexander Henderson as Moderator. These ministers played an influential role in the Covenanting movement. Henry Guthry, the Bishop of Dunkeld, wrote in his Memoirs that ‘few of the ministers were so much courted by the covenanting noblemen, as those who the year past had come from Ireland’. In 1640 Livingstone became a chaplain in the Covenanter’s Army in the Earl of Cassillis’ Foot. This force of 1,000 was raised from men from southern Ayrshire and Wigtonshire to suppress the enemies of the Covenant. The regiment joined the army at Duns Law and crossed the Tweed under the command of General Leslie. Part of this army was a company of Ulster refugees, under the command of Captain Fulk Ellis, an English colonist who had lived at Carrickfergus, and was a correspondent of the famous Samuel Rutherford. Livingstone wrote of his time with the army: ‘The Covenanter’s army, now in and about Newcastle, as they were orderly, so they were devout. It was refreshful to hear and see them; for upon their march, when they came to their quarters at night, there was nothing to be heard almost through the whole army but singing of psalms, and praying and reading of Scriptures, in their tents and huts; and though this army was much in this, yet the army at Dunse-law, the year preceding, was more in it, whereof I myself was an eye and ear witness; there being with the army many ministers and probationers, and a multitude of devout, yea religious persons. In the army 1640, was Captain Ellis’ company, who were all come from Ireland. They were all water lappers Judges vii 5-7 and bible bearers. I believe since the days of the reforming kings of Judah there was never two such armies. And, indeed, in all our meetings, both within doors and in the fields, always nearer the beginning of the work there was more dependence on God, and more tenderness in worship and in walking; but through process of time thereafter we still declined more and more.’ In November Livingstone returned to Stranraer where he organised a collection for the army, and he did not forget the Ulster Scots. - ‘In November 1640, I returned back (from the army) to Stranraer. All the rest of the parishes of the country had, before that, contributed money to send to buy clothes for the soldiers whom they had sent out. This was not yet done in Stranraer, by reason of my absence. Therefore at our meeting on Saturday I propounded unto them the conditions of the army, and desired that they would prepare their contributions to be given to-morrow after sermon: At which time we got £45 sterling, whereof we sent £15 sterling to our own soldiers, and £15 to Captain Ellis’s company, who were all Irishmen, and so had no parish in Scotland to provide for them, and £15 to the commissary-general, to be distributed by public order. The reason that we got so much was, that there were sundry families of Irish people dwelling in that town. One Margaret James, the wife of William Scott, a maltman, who had fled out of Ireland, and were but in a mean condition, gave seven twenty-two shilling sterling pieces, and one eleven pound piece. When the day after, I inquired at her, how she came to give so much? She answered, ‘I was gathering, and had laid up this to be a part of a portion to a young daughter I had; and as the Lord hath lately been pleased to take my daughter to himself, I thought I would give him her portion also’. At the outbreak of the Irish rebellion in 1641 hundreds of refugees from Ulster went to Scotland via Stranraer. Of the money raised in Scotland to relieve the refugees, £1000 Scots was sent to Livingstone, who distributed it in small amounts, usually less than half-a-crown, to the most needy. He complained that out of all the afflicted multitudes, he hardly observed one person ‘sufficiently sensible of the Lord’s hand’ in their late calamity, or of their own deserving of it, ‘so far had the stroke seized their spirits as well as bodies’. In 1642 Livingstone was back in Ulster with the Scots army. He wrote: ‘In April 1642, I was sent by order of the council of Scotland to Ireland, to wait on the Scottish army, that went over with Major-General Monro; and staid for six weeks, part in Carrickfergus, where he head-quarters were; and for other six weeks most part at Antrim, with Sir John Clotworthy and his regiment, who had obtained an order from the council for me so to do. I preached for the most part in these two places; but sometimes in other parishes of the coast-side about; and before I left Antrim, we had the communion celebrated there, where sundry that had taken the (black) oath did willingly, and with great expressions of grief, publicly confess the same. I found a great alteration in Ireland, many of those who had been civil before, were become many ways exceedingly loose; yea, sundry, who, as could be conceived, had true grace, were declined much in tenderness; so as it would seem the sword opens a gap, and makes everybody worse than before, an inward plague coming with the outward; yet some few were in a very lively condition’. In May 1643 Livingstone returned to Ulster for three months preaching. Following an appeal from the ‘Scottish Nation in the north of Ireland’ for ministers, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed to send ministers for short preaching tours. Livingstone wrote: ‘For the most part of all these three months I preached every day once, and twice on the Sabbath; the destitute parishes were many; the hunger of the people was become great, and the Lord was pleased to furnish otherwise than usually I wont to get at home. I came ordinarily the night before to the place where I was to preach, and commonly lodged in some religious person’s house, where we were often well refreshed at family exercise. Usually, I desired no more before I went to bed but to make sure the place of Scripture I was to preach on the next day. And rising in the morning, I had four or five hours myself alone, either in a chamber, or in the fields; after that we went to church, and then dined, and then rode five or six miles, more or less, to another parish. Sometimes there would be four or five communions in several places, in the three months time’. In 1645 after a further appeal from the Ulster Presbyterians, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland commissioned more ministers to visit the Church in Ulster, John Livingstone was to preach for three months from November 1645 onwards. During this stay in Ulster, Livingstone assisted in the settlement of two Presbyterian ministers in churches in County Antrim, Rev David Buttle in Ballymena and Rev Archibald Ferguson at Antrim. Massachusetts churches in Ulster tried unsuccessfully to call Livingstone as their minister. Antrim, Newtownards and Killyleagh attempted to call Livingstone at this period and in 1655 Killinchy issued a call. In 1646 Newtownards again tried to call Livingstone, however the commissioners of the General Assembly refused and Livingstone was sent on a further three-month preaching tour. In 1648 he became the minister at Ancrum at Teviotdale at the request of the General Assembly. In 1656 Livingstone made his last visit to Ulster, staying for nine or ten weeks. In winter 1655 he had received a call from Killinchy and wrote: ‘If I could have obtained fair loosing, my mind inclined somewhat to have gone, because of the present distractions in Scotland, and because that I thought Ireland had more need and more appearance of success. The synod of Merse and Teviotdale refused to loose me, and five or six ministers in other parts, on whose judgements I relied, dissuaded me; only they advised me that I should first make a visit to Ireland. Therefore in summer 1656 I went over ... When I came I could not get preaching in Killinchy anyway as in former times; and that I took as a declaration of the Lord’s mind that I should not settle there; yea, I did not find above two or three families, nor above ten or twelve persons, that had been in that parish when I was there. So great a change had the rebellion and devastation brought, that all almost were new inhabitants. I preached in several parts and at some communions; and was at a great meeting of their presbytery in the North, which was more like a synod; where were thirty or thirty-six ministers, and ruling-elders from sixty or eighty parishes ... During my abode in Ireland, being occasionally at Dublin, the council there urged me to accept a charge in Dublin and offered me two hundred pounds sterling a year. But that was to me no temptation, seeing I was not loosed from Ancrum; and if I had been, I was resolved rather to settle at Killinchy, among the Scotts in the North, than anywhere else’. Following the restoration of the monarchy he was banished from Scotland and went to live in Rotterdam where he died on 9 August 1672. John Howie wrote in ‘The Scots Worties’: ‘Since our Reformation commenced in Scotland, there have been none whose labours in the Gospel have been more remarkably blessed with the downpouring of the Spirit in conversion work than John Livingstone. Yea, it is a question if anyone, since the primitive times, can produce so many convincing and confirming seals of his ministry; as witness the Kirk of Shotts, and Holywood in Ireland, at which two places, it is said, about 1500 souls were either confirmed or converted and brought to Christ’.
I am grateful to Jack Greenald for allowing me to include this biography, which he wrote, on this website and it can also be viewed on http://covenantersinulster.typepad.com/posts/2008/06/john-livingston.html.
The church stands at the top of the hill and is located on the site of John Livingstone's church.