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Life Sketches from Scottish History of Brief Biographies of the Scottish Presbyterian Worthies
John Livingston


This noble Presbyterian was born in Stirlingshire, June 21, 1603, and he preached his first sermon, January 2nd, 1625. In the winter of 1635, finding that true religious liberty could not be enjoyed in Scotland, he with some others determined to emigrate to New England. In order to effect this purpose, they built a ship, of 115 tons, at Aberdeen. It was finished in the spring of 1536, but through the difficulties that arise in such undertakings, it was the September following that they set sail. But God had determined to frustrate their plans, having work for his servants at home. ‘After tossing about in storms, and being driven back by bead winds, they were forced to give up their enterprise.

The most wonderful outpouring of the Spirit of God that Scotland ever witnessed, occurred under Mr. Livingston’s preaching, at the Kirk of Shotts. The circumstances attending this revival and the occasion of it may be interesting. Some ladies of rank, travelling that way, had, on more occasions than one, received civilities from the minister of the parish. On a certain day an accident happened to their carriage, which obliged them to pass a night in the minister’s (Mr. Hance) house. They noticed not only its incommodious situation, but that it was in great need of repair. They therefore used their influence to get a more convenient house built for the minister in another situation. After receiving such substantial favours, the minister waited on the ladies, and expressed his desire to know, if there was anything 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. Mr. Hance consented to this; the news of it spread far and wide, and multitudes of people of all ranks collected together. It was not usual at those times to have any sermon on the Monday after dispensing the Lord’s Supper. But God had given so much of his gracious presence, and had 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 prayer. Mr. Livingston was with much difficulty prevailed on to preach the sermon. lie 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 worth}' ministers, and so many eminent and experienced Christians, that he thought of stealing quietly away, and was actually gone away 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 much good assistance for about an hour and a half, on the points he had meditated from that text, Ezek. xxxvi. 26: “Then shall I sprinkle clean water upon you: and you shall be clean; from all your filthiness 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 a heart of flesh.” As he was about to close, a heavy shower coining 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 our sin; that his merits and mediation are the alone screen, from that storm, and none but penitential believers shall have the benefit of that shelter.” In these and many other expressions to this purpose, 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. To this sermon, under the blessing of God, no less than five hundred persons ascribed their conversion.

The following remarkable instances of conversion are well attested: On that Monday three young men of Glasgow had made an appointment to go to Edinburgh, to attend the public diversions there. They alighted at Shotts to take breakfast. One of the number proposed, as there was a young man to preach that day, if the rest would agree, they might go and hear the sermon, probably more out of curiosity than any other motive. And for the more expedition they proposed to come away just at the end of the sermon, before the last prayer. But the power of God was so felt by them accompanying that sermon, that they could not come away till all was over. When they returned to the public house to take their horses, they called for some drink before they mounted; and when the drink was set upon the table, they all looked to one another. None of them durst touch it without a blessing was asked; and as it was not their manner formerly to be carefull about such things, one of them at last proposed, “I think we should ask a blessing to our drink.” The other two readily agreed, and put it upon one of the company to do it, which he readily did. When they were done, they could not rise until another should return thanks. They went on their way more sober and sedate than they used to be, but none of them mentioned their inward concern to another: only now and then they said, “Was it not a great sermon we heard?” another answered, “I never heard the like of it.” went to Edinburgh, but, instead of waiting upon diversions or company, the}' kept their rooms the most of the time they were in town, which was about two days, when they were all quite weary of Edinburgh and proposed to return home. Upon the way home the}' did not discover themselves to one another; and after they were some days in Glasgow, they kept their rooms very closely, and seldom went abroad. At last one of them made a visit to another, and made a discovery of what God had done for him at Shotts. The other frankly owned the concern that he was brought under at the same time. Both of them went to the third, who was in the same case, and they all three agreed directly to begin a fellowship-meeting. Thus they continued to live, and died eminent Christians.

Another instance was of a poor man, a horse-hirer of Glasgow, whom a lady had employed to take her to Shotts. In time of sermon he had taken out his horse to feed, at a short distance from the tents. When the power of God was so much felt in the latter part of the sermon, he apprehended that there was more than ordinary concern amongst the people. Something he felt strike him in a way he could not account for; he hastily rose lip and ran into the congregation, where he was made a sharer of what God was distributing among them that day.

The following facts he relates concerning himself: “Since I began to preach, I hardly ever used any bodily recreation or sport, except walking, nor had I need of any other. There were only two recreations I was in danger to he taken with. The one, I had not the occasion of, but some five or six times, and that some forty years ago. It was hunting on horseback; but I found it very bewitching. The other was singing in a concert of music, wherein I had some little skill, and took great delight; but it is some thirty-six years since I used it. Concerning my gift of preaching, I never attained to any accuracy therein, and, through laziness, did not much endeavour to do it. I used, ordinarily to write some few notes, and left the enlargement to the time of delivery. I had a kind of coveting, when I got leisure and opportunity, to read much, and of different subjects; and I was often challenged that my way of reading was like some men’s lust after such a kind of play and recreation. I used to read much too first, and so was somewhat pleased in the time, but retained little.”


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