He preached his first sermon January 2, 1625, when about the age of twenty-two. The succeeding five years were spent partly in the diligent pursuit of his theological studies at home, in his father's house, and partly, in visiting different places, preaching occasionally, and cultivating an acquaintance with some of the most eminent ministers and professors of the Church of Scotland. In the court of this period, he received a number of calls from vacant congregations; but the opposition of those in power, and other difficulties that occurred, prevented his assuming the pastoral office.
June, 1630, Mr. Livingston was present at the celebration of the Lord's Supper in a certain place. Being yet merely a licentiate, he, of course, took no part in its appropriate services; but the next day, the congregation still remaining, and expressing a desire for some additional service, he was prevailed upon to preach.
The occasion was one of more than ordinary interest and solemnity; the circumstances under which he was constrained to preach were somewhat remarkable; and the happy fruits of the spirit which accompanied and followed the sermon were truly astonishing. Rarely, perhaps, has any single sermon been attended with such memorable and glorious results, since the days of the apostles.
A respectable writer gives the following account of the occasion and the sermon.*
"As the kirk of Shotts lies on the road from the west to Edinburgh, and is at a good distance from any convenient place of entertainment, some ladies of rank, who had occasion to pass that way, met at different times, with civilities, from the minister** at his house, which was then situate where the public inn is now. Particularly once, when through some misfortune befalling their coach or chariot, they were obliged to pass a night in the minister's house; they observed, that besides its incommodious situation, it much needed to be repaired. They, therefore, used their interest to get a more convenient house built for the minister in another place."
"After receiving so substantial favours, the minister waited on the ladies, and expressed his desire to know if any thing was in his power, that might testify his gratitude to them. They answered it would be very obliging to them, if he would invite, to assist at his communion, certain ministers whom they named, who were eminently instrumental in promoting practical religion. The report of this spreading far and near, multitudes of persons or different ranks attended there, so that for several days before the sacrament there was much time spent in social prayer."
"It was not usual, it seems, in those times, to have any sermon on the Monday after dispensing the Lord's Supper. But God had given so mch of his gracious presence, and afforded his people so much communion with himself, on the foregoing days of that solemnity, that they knew not how to part without thanksgiving and praise. There had been, as was said before, a vast confluence of choice Christians, with several eminent ministers, from almost all the corners of the land, that had been many of them there together, for several days before the sacrament, hearing sermon, and joining together in larger or lesser companies, in prayer, praise, and spiritual conferences. While their hearts were warm with the love of God, some expressing their desire of a sermon on the Monday were joined by others, and in a little the desire became very general.
"Mr. John Livingston, chaplain to the countess of Wigtown, (at that time, only a preacher, not an ordained minister, and about twenty-seven years of age,) was, with very much ado, prevailed on to think of giving the seermon. He had spent the night before in prayer and conference; but when he was alone in the fields, about eight or nine in the morning, there came such a misgiving of heart upon him, under a sense of unworthiness and unfitness to speak before so many aged and worthy ministers, and so many eminent and experienced Christians, that he was thinking to have stolen quite away, and was actually gone away to some distance; but when just about to lose sight of the kirk of Shotts, these words: Was I ever a barren wilderness, or a land of darkness, were brought into his heart with such an overcoming power, as constrained him to think it his duty to return and comply with the call to preach; which he accordingly did with good assistance, for about an hour and a half, on the point he had meditated from that text -- Ezek. xxxvi. 25, 26. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."
"As he was about to close, a heavy shower coming suddenly on, which made the people hastily take to their cloaks and mantles, he began to speak to the following purpose -- "If a few drops of rain from the clouds so discomposed them, how discomposed would they be, how full of horror and despair, if God should deal with them as they deserved; and thus he will deal with all the finally impenitent. That God might justly rain fire and brimstone upon them, as upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain; that the Son of God, by tabernacling in our nature, and obeying and suffering in it, is the only refuge and covert from the storm of divine wrath due to us for sin; -- that his merits and mediation are the alone skreen from that storm, and none but penitent believers shall have the benefit of that shelter." In these, or some expressions to this purpose, and many others, he was led on about an hour's time (after he had done with what he had premeditated) in a strain of exhortation and warning, with great enlargement and melting of heart."
The same historian goes on to state some facts, showing the powerful and permanent effects of this sermon upon many of the hearers: but instead of extending the quotation, it will not be amiss to present a brief extract from the work of another, in confirmation of the above account, especially as it contains a more general view of the effects produced.
Mr. Fleming, an author of unquestioned veracity, in his work upon the fulfilling of the Scriptures says -- "I must also mention that solemn communion at the kirk of Shotts, June 20, 1630, at which time there was so convincing an appearance of God, and down-pouring of the spirit, even in an extraordinary way, that did follow the ordinances, especially that sermon on Monday, June 21, with a strange unusual motion on the hearers, who in a great multitude were there convened, of divers ranks, that it was known, which I can speak on sure ground, near five hundred had at that time, a discernible change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterwards. It was the sowing of a seed through Clyddisdale, so as many of the most eminent Christians in that country could date either their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation in their case, from that day; and truly this was the more remarkable, that one after much reluctance, by a special and unexpected providence, was called to preach that sermon on the Monday, which then was not usually practiced; and that night before, so that the Monday's work might be discerned, as a convincing return of prayer."
Mr. Livingston says himself, in reference to this memorable occasion. "The only day in all my life wherein I found most of the presence of God in preaching, was on a Monday after the communion, preaching in the church yard of Shotts, June 21. 1630. The night before I had been in company with some Christians, who spent the night in prayer and conference. When I was alone in the fields, about eight or nine o'clock 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 stole away somewhere, and declined that day's preaching, but that I thought I durst not so far distrust God; and so went to sermon, and got good assistance, about one hour and a half, upon the points which I had meditated on, Ezek, xxxvi. 25, 26. -- And in the end, offering to close with some words of exhortation, I was led on about an hour's time, 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 time. Some little of that stamp remained on the Thursday after, when I preached in Kilmarnock, but the very Monday followin, preaching in Irvine, I was so deserted, that the points I had meditated and written, and which I had fully in my memory, I was not, for my heart, able to get them pronounced: so it pleased the Lord to counterbalance his dealings, and to hide pride from man. This so discouraged me, that I was resolved for some time not to preach, at least, not in Irvine; but Mr. David Dickson would not suffer me to go from thence, till I preached the next Sabbath, to get (as he expressed it) amends of the devil. -- I stayed and preached with some tolerable freedom."
Shortly after that signal blessing upon his labours, this eminent servant of Christ, received and accepted a unanimous call from the church of Killinchie, in Ireland, where he was made, in some degree, useful to an ignorant but tractable people. And about this time, a similar extraordinary manifestation of divine power attended his preaching upon another Monday after communion, at Holy-wood, upon which occasion, it is said, that a much greater number were converted. Under these two famous sermons indeed, it was calculated, that the good work of the Spirit was either begun or revived in the hearts of no less than fifteen hundred persons. But he now became an object of bitter persecution; was proceeded against for non-conformity; and deposed. The effect of this arbitrary and cruel measure was, to induce him and a number of his friends, to think seriously of emigrating to New England. A vessel was built for the purpose; and they actually set sail for America: but encountering from the moment of their departure, violent adverse winds, and being driven back at last, after a lapse of nearly two months, to the port whence they had loosed, the design was altogether abandoned. In 1638, he settled in a place called Stranrawer, in Scotland; and for ten years he exercised his ministry here with great comfort, and some measure of success. He had not been long in this place, before some of his parisioners expressed a wish to be present at his morning family exercises. To gratify them, as his house could not conveniently accomodate all who might desire to attend, he assembled them every morning, in the Church, by the ringing of the bell, and spent about half an hour with them in singing, expounding the word of God, and prayers.
While he retained this interesting charge, he was several times sent by the General Assembly of the church of Scotland to visit some vacant parishes in the North of Ireland. Each missionary tour occupied three months; and, "for the most part of all these three months," he says, "I preached every day once, and twice on the Sabbath: the destitute parishes were many: the hunger of the people was very great; and the Lord was pleased to furnish otherwise than usually I was 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 wer 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 some five or six miles more or less to another parish."
From Stranrawer he removed in 1648, to Ancrum, in Tiviotdale. With the people of this place, he continued, a number of years, beloved and useful; but that intolerant spirit of the time, which could brook no mode of worship -- no ministerial services, not conformed to prelatical rule, at length, procured his banishment, with that of several other eminent ministers, from the kingdom of Great Britain.
In April 1663, he fled to Holland, and settled in Rotterdam. His wife and two of the children followed him toward the close of the year, but five children remained in Scotland.
Having now considerable leisure, though he preached frequently to the Scots' congregation in this city, he diligently cultivated the study of the Hebrew language, and attempted to prepare for publication, a volume containing the original text of the Bible, in one column, and the several vulgar translations in another. The design was approved by Voetius, Essenius, Nethenus, and Leusden: and having spent much time in comparing Panin's version with the original text, and with other later translations -- such as Munster's, Junius,' Diodati's, the English, but especially the Dutch, the latest, and esteemed the most accurate translation, he sent his manuscripts to Dr. Leusden, in complaince with a request of that learned professor, expecting they would be printed and published in Utrecht. It is not known what became of the work; -- but shortly after it was put out of his hands, he rested from hi slabours on earth, and entered into the joy of his Lord. He died August 9th, 1672, aged 69 years, having resided in Rotterdam a little over nine years.
He was born September 8th, 1714, and died February 10th, 1799, at his paternal estate, which is situate in Dutchess county, near Poughkeepsie, on the banks of the Hudson, and which is now in the possession of his grandson, Col. H.A. Livingston, having belonged to the family for more than a century.
He was the son of Henry Livingston, and S. Conklin his wife, and born at Poughkeepsie, in Duchess county, in this State, on the 30th of
"A Book," he says, "of Bunyan, I think it was -- Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, first excited sharp and irresistible alarms in my soul, but I obtained no particular instruction nor received any other advantage from that book. In my father's library, among other religious books, I found Dodedridge's Rise and Progress, &c. This gave me more enlarged and correct views of religion than I ever had before."
[A sixth trip of George Whitefield was made to America from 1763 to 1765.]
*Dr. Livingston thought it should have been introduced an hundred years before. Mr. P.V.B. Livingston, a respectable relative of his, in a letter dated Feb. 1769, writing on the subject says "Had this been done in this city, thirty years ago, the Dutch congregation would have been much more numerous than it is now. The greatest part of the Episcopal Church consists of accessions they have made from the Dutch Church." He adds, -- that though the Dutch was his mother tongue -- the first language he had been taught, and was still spoken by him with ease -- he could not understand a Dutch sermon half as well as he could an English one, and that as for his children -- "there was not one that understood a sentence in Dutch."
"In the Presbyterian Church, I had been often instructed and edified. Their doctrines were pure, and their preaching was evangelical and practical. Their mode of worship appeared to be consistent with the spirtuality, simplicity, and dignity of the New Testament Dispensation: and their form of government was founded upon that principle of equality which the Lord Jesus established among the ministers of his Church. I could have joined the Presbyterian Church with great freedom, and would have done so, had not motives occured which induced me to prefer the Dutch Church. My parents were members, in full communion, of the Reformed Dutch Church; I was baptized in that Church, and thus a member of it, although not yet in full communion; and, in my estimation, the doctrines, worship, and government of the Church, were pure and evangelical. This decided the inquiry, and convinced me, that as I already belonged to a Church, which was equal in its purity to any in the world, it was my duty to remain in it, and consecrate my future service in that connexion and denomination."
"There was another motive, which impreceptibly yet powerfully inclined me to this determination. An unhappy schism and controversy had, for several years, subsisted in the Dutch Churches in America, which, unless soon suppressed, threatened the annihilation of that whole denomination. The precise grounds of the dispute, or the best means for reconciling the contending parties, I had not then completely surveyed. THe existing facts, however, were notorious and afflictative; and I understood enough to convince me of the inevitable ruin which was impending, and must soon be experienced, if those dissensions were not healed. For the restoration of peace and prosperity in this distinguished portion of the Lord's vineyard, I felt an ardent desire; and it was powerfully impressed upon my mind, that God would render me, however unworthy and unfit for that arduous work, an instrument in his hand to compromise and heal these dissensions, and raise the reputation, and establish the dignity and usefulness of the Dutch Church in America. In what way these great objects were to be effected, or how the Lord would prepare, and afterwards employ me, for that purpose, I did not know, nor did this excite any diffidence or uneasiness. The point was settled in my mind, and I was fully persuaded it would be accomplished. This removed all further hesitation, and fixed my determination to abide in my own Church. The posterior dealings of Divine Providence, and the gracious fulfilment of my expectations, have afforded me abundant evidence that my choice has been crowned with the divine approbation.
Finding, in the spring, his health considerably improved, and his father having cheerfully consented to his receiving a foreign education for the ministry, as also to defray all the charges which might attend it,* he resolved to cross the Atlantic, and prepared accordingly.
On the twelfth of May, 1766, every suitable preparation being made, he bid adieu to relatives and friends, and set sail for Amsterdam. He was now within a few weeks of the twentieth year of his age; and his youth, his delicate health, the object which he had in view in venturing upon the voyage, and other circumstances, imparted to the event, in the eyes of many, a peculiar and touching interest. Some of the New-York congregation already cherished the hope that he would, at a proper time, return to labour among them in holy things. The intercourse of a few mohnths had given them a favourable opinion of his piety and talents, and he departed with their fervent prayers to Heaven in his behalf.
In the autumn of 1776, the Consistory of the Dutch Church in Albany, invited him to spend the period of his exile, or as much of it as suited his convenience, in labours among them. This invitation he promptly accepted, and with Mrs. Livingston and his infant son (Col. H.A. Livingston, of Poughkeepsie), went there in the month of November.
Whether anterior to this removal, public worship in that Church had been regularly, or at all performed, in English, is not known, but it was understood that during his residence in the place, he would be expected to preach in this language, whilst the esteemed pastor would take the Dutch service, and for nearly three years he laboured zealously, in conjunction with the pious and excellent Westerlo, to build up the Church in faith and godliness.
After he had been here about a year, he made a visit with his little family to his father at Poughkeepsie, which, for a short season, was attended with imminent danger, and led to the loss of his journal, containing a number of anecdotes, and relating his religious experience from the day of his embarkation for Holland. It was in the month of October, 1777, when Gen. Vaughan, with a small fleet, sailed up the Hudson, and burnt Kingston. The enemy, as they passed the residence of his father, which stood upon the margin of the river, fired into it, and in the perturbation and alarm of the moment, produced by this wanton attack, while making some hasty preparations to leave the house, he burnt that manuscript, which he happened to have with him, under the apprehension that, if it were not destroyed, might fall into improper hands. The loss was a serious one: it was to him an invaluable treasure; and had it been preserved, much interesting and important matter could, no doubt, have been derived from it to enrich these pages. The whole family, upon the above threatening occurrence, fled to Sharon, Conn. and remained there some weeks.
The following two years were passed at Poughkeepsie. The Church in this town, which now was without a settled minister, desired his services; and he being rather inconveniently situated in some respects, at the Manor, consented to take the pastoral oversight of it; -- and, accordingly, removed for the purpose in 1781, to his father's mansion, where he remained until the close of the war.
"The revolution in our political interests has made a change in the general face of our American world, and as it has removed some difficulties which were taken into consideration in our former plan, so it has introduced others which deserve a very weighty and impartial discussion. The common enemy to our religious liberties is now removed; and we have nothing to fear from the pride and domination of the Episcopal Hierarchy."
"My dear Friend,
"It is done. The conflict is over. She has obtained the victory, and is entered into rest. ON Sunday morning, Mrs. Livingston was seized with a pain in her head, which increased, and soon became very violent. She laid down, and was much indisposed, but no symptoms that produced any alarm, appeared before Tuesday, when her strength appeared to be wholly prostrated, and she sunk into a deep sleep, with intermediate agitations and struggles, without however being aroused from her lethargy. In the evening of Wednesday, it was evident her departure was at hand, and, without another struggle or groan, she gradually and gently fell asleep in the arms of her Redeemer. She left us a little after twelve that night. -- Before she was taken ill, she frequently expressed an ardent desire to be with Christ, and almost envied those who were called home, of which there were three instances in this place, in the course of this very week. Her Lord has given her the desire of her soul, and has received her spirit."
"This day her dear remains are to be deposited in the silent grave. -- I do not love my blessed Jesus any thing less for afflicting me. He is now very precious to me. All my springs are in Him. He stands by me, and strengthens me. It is the Lord. He hath taken away, blessed be his name, notwithstanding. -- It is the heaviest stroke I have ever received; but it is well. -- In the Lord I have righteousness and strength."
"I can only drop a hasty line. I know your loving heart will sympathize with me, and my afflicted children: pray for me and them. Her sickness being only four days, prevented my sending in time for my dear son."
"It will be proper, for the information of distant friends and relations, to insert the event in the papers. -- You will please to let them announce that --
Died on Thursday the 29th inst. at New-Brunswick, N.J., Mrs. Sarah
Livingston, wife of Rev. Dr. Livingston, in the 63d year of
her age. Them which sleep in Jesus will bring God with him.
-- I can now only bless you and yours, and am
A perservering life of Faith,
To die is gain.
Second Side-- Them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
Farewell, blest Saint, a short farewell,
Fourth Side-- O Death, where is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory?