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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter II

Prelate versus Presbyter—William Livingston, Voice and Appearance—The King, his Character—Melville, Welsh, and Bruce—Bishops Ordain Ministers—Perth Assembly—Jenny Geddes—W. Livingston Presented to Kilsyth—The Enmity of the King—Livingston Confined to his Parish—Deposed— Presented to Lanark—Second Deposition—Imprisoned—His Curious Dream—Before the High Commission—Addresses Marquis of Hamilton—Glasgow Assembly—Last Appearance— Death.

After the meeting of the Scottish Parliament in 1560, the country enjoyed a period of comparative quiet after the storm of the Reformation. This quiet was reflected in the life of Alexander Livingston. With the deposition of Livingston, however, and the coming in of the 17th century, there began new troubles and there arose new dangers. Then began that struggle between prelate and presbyter which was to last for the next hundred years. The stirring life and career of the Rev. William Livingston, the second minister of Monyabroch, as it begins with the year 1600, takes us to the very beginning of this controversy, and leads us right onward through the first half of it. William was very unlike his father; he had no taste for compromise, was full of energy, of a disposition essentially combative, and may be well credited with having inherited the ardour of his grandsire, who fought and died at Pinkie. He had a heart hatred of Episcopacy, and had it not been for such as he, so continued and determined were the efforts of the prelatists, there can be little doubt the rule of the bishops would have been established in Scotland. As it was, the

fathers of the Scottish Church stood like rocks in the midst of the waves and repelled every assault. In that war none acquitted himself with greater bravery than William Livingston. He possessed the voice of a Stentor and a forbidding countenance; and wherever he is found he is seen laying about him to excellent purpose.

King James was largely responsible for the ecclesiastical troubles of Scotland. He was ill-fitted by nature to act the part of a king. A shattered nervous system rendered him physically a coward. He was fond of his book and his bottle. Striving to be a master in theology he was a novice in practical religion. He was a curious compound of wisdom and folly, of vacillation and obstinacy. Now he was strongly Presbyterian, praising “the God who had made him King in such a Kirk as that of Scotland—the sincerest Kirk in the world.” And then, again, with his “No Bishop, no King,” he was equally strongly Episcopalian. Whatever form of Church government he really loved eventually, there can be no doubt he became the foe of Presbyterianism. He had rude memories of his Scottish life. George Buchanan had warmed his ears as a boy; Andrew Melville had plucked at his sleeve and called him “God’s silly vassal,” and then the raid of Ruthven was an undoubtedly bitter recollection. Melville was a fitting successor to Knox. He was a man of fixed purpose and determined spirit, and prepared for any emergency, Holy rood or Blackness, the pulpit or the gallows. James thought if he could get quit of Melville his ends would be gained in Scotland. With this view he invited him to London, and clapped him in the Tower. Melville had, however, by this time done his work. He had consolidated the labours of Knox, written the Second Book of Discipline, and given the Church that practical shape which she still retains. Two of his best known fellow-labourers were Welsh and Bruce. When the wife of the former went to London to beg the King to release him, for he also had been imprisoned, the King said he would release him if he would submit to the bishops. Lifting up her apron and holding it towards the King, the brave woman is reported to have replied—“Please, your Majesty, To rather kep his head there.” Robert Bruce was the son of the proprietor of Airth and one of the most popular preachers of his day. In the course of his life he became owner of Kinnaird, and was an ancestor of Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller. Because he would not acknowledge the guilt of Gowrie in the affair of the conspiracy, the King persecuted him with relentless hatred. His preaching was full of the richest spiritual matter, and his prayers always short, are spoken of as being like bolts shot up to heaven. His death was characteristic. One morning at breakfast he said to his daughter, who was serving him— “Hold, my Master calls me.” Asking for the Family Bible, and finding his eyesight gone, he said, “Cast me up the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and place my finger on these words, "I am persuaded that neither death nor life shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now,” he continued to his daughter, “is my finger upon the place? ” and being told that it was, he added, "Then God be with you, my children; I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with the Lord Jesus this night,” and so saying the good man expired. A cause supported by men like Melville and Livingston, Welsh and Bruce, was both in excellent keeping and nurture.

Among the chief events of the time were the ordination by English bishops of the three Scottish ministers, Spottiswoode, Lamb, and Hamilton; and the General Assembly held at Perth in 1618, which passed Acts in favour of kneeling at Communion, Confirmation, and the observation of Good Friday, Easter, and Ascension Day. The Scottish people having found it necessary that in the cause of religion they should present an united front, the National Covenant was signed in Greyfriars Churchyard, on the ist March, 1638, and the Solemn League and Covenant was formulated five years later. One of the most notable incidents was the riot which took place in St. Giles’ Church, Edinburgh, on the 23rd July, 1637. The time having come when Archbishop Laud had determined to foist his liturgy on the Scotch people, at eight in the morning on the day on which it was to be introduced, there was a Presbyterian service, and the minister, with tears in his eyes, took farewell of his flock. When the Dean of Edinburgh entered to perform the service there was an immense crowd, and the excitement was intense. There was considerable clamour amongst the people when the dean began, and the service had not proceeded far when an old woman, named Janet Geddes, who kept a vegetable stall in the High Street, unable further to restrain her wrath, seized the stool on which she was sitting, and hurled it at the head of Episcopalian authority with the words, “Out, thou false thief! dost thou say mass at my lug?” The lawless act was like putting a match to gunpowder. There was a fierce riot, the bishop was nearly torn to pieces, and the influences that radiated from Jenny’s strong arm stimulated the Presbyterian cause throughout the whole country.

Amid these scenes and men, William Livingston acted his great part, and resisting alike threats and flatteries, stood true to the national interest and the cause of the Reformed Church. He was born at Monyabroch, in the year 1576. He was educated at Glasgow University, and laureated in 1595. According to the custom of the time, he was ordained at first to preach privately on the 13th January, 1596. He received public license on the 27th January, institution on the 10th July, and ordination on the 13th July—all of the year 1596. His father neither disputed his deposition nor appealed from the verdict of the presbytery. This acquiescence, on his part, was no doubt because he had good reason to believe that his son would become his successor in Monyabroch. But be this as it may, when his father was deposed, William received temporary charge of the parish. Having fulfilled his duties both to the satisfaction of the people and the presbytery, the former body recommended him to the patron as worthy to be appointed permanent minister for the reasons stated, and “his having the kirk these two years by-gone.” In the circumstances Alexander, seventh Lord Livingston, and shortly afterwards created Earl of Linlithgow, issued a presentation in his favour, and he was ordained to Monyabroch, 15th July, 1599.

William Livingston was a strong man, and he had not been half a dozen years minister of Monyabroch, when his influence began to be felt as a power throughout the whole country. James had ascended the throne of England, but even in that elevated situation he thought with concern of the doings of the young minister. Livingston had a tremendous voice, and in denouncing the inroads of Episcopacy, he used it to the best purpose. It was intolerable to the author of the “Basilicon Doron ” to have a young rude Scotsman rising out of the obscurity of his native mosses and confronting him after this fashion. The King bit his nails with vexation, not knowing what to do with him. Then having well pondered the matter, on the 18th October, 1607, at his Southern Court at Royston, he fulminated against him his first decree. “ Understanding,” the King wrote, u of the unquiet and turbulent disposition of Maister William Livingstoun, professing himself rather a fire-brand of discord then, according to his dewtie and function, a good instrument for the unity and peace of the Church . . . oure pleasure and will is that, by our speciall command, in our name, you do confyne the said Maister William Livingstoun within the bounds of his own paroche, quhair he is preacher, inhibiting him to transcend or come forth out of the boundis thairof without our special licence had and obtenit, and that under pane of rebellion.” There was much more to the same effect. The Royal mandate was addressed to the Scottish Privy Council, and was most carefully composed. There is a touch of humour in it. The tenor simply runs, “Let this wild, young minister keep to his mosses and his badgers. They are his native place, and the best place for him.” The Privy Council carried out to the letter the Royal behest, and Livingston was for six years kept a close prisoner within the bounds of his parish. His fame had been growing; he had made himself in a short space a power in the land; it is easy to understand, consequently, how his proud spirit would chafe under the abhorrent decree. It was certainly an artful and awkward log placed across the path of a young man conscious of a career before him. It was evident he could, in the very nature of things, get no sympathy from the honest farmers and shepherds of his flock. How could they believe or see that, to be compelled to live amongst them was a sore indignity for him?

William Livingston thus early felt the weight of the King’s hand. But he was not cowed. He nursed his wrath to keep it warm. In 1612 the King wrote the Archbishop of Glasgow that he had heard good accounts of William Livingston of Monyabroch, and that he be released from his confinement. The King was under a complete mistake. The brave spirit he was six years before that, he was still, and when his tether was cut, he was tooth and nail at his old work again. The King was evidently incensed, for in the autumn of 1613, he deposed Livingston from the ministry of Monyabroch for opposing the restoration of Episcopacy, and not submitting to the canons and ceremonies. This action left the Sovereign as perplexed as before. He had deposed Livingston as far as he was able to depose him, but his mind was ill at ease. William Livingston was the hot chestnut in his hand which he could not hold and which he disliked to throw away. It may be the King remembered the loyalty of the Livingston family to his unfortunate mother. Anyhow, whether it was vacillation, or the recollection of past favours, the King gave substantial proofs of his change of mind. Not many weeks after William Livingston’s deposition from the charge of Monyabroch, on the 1st October 1613, he was presented by the King to Lanark parish. But if Livingston had shown he was not to be cowed, he was also to show he could not be cozened. In Lanark he was as true a man, as faithful a pastor, as fearless a preacher, and as greatly beloved of the people as he ever was in Monyabroch.

Amongst the denunciators of the Perth Assembly and the five prelatic Articles there were none to compare with William Livingston. Authority accordingly decreed that further indulgence was vain, and that his mouth must be shut at all hazards. He was accordingly summoned to appear before the Court of High Commission, at Edinburgh, on Tuesday, the 28th March, 1620. Livingston put in two pleas. The first was that he had not been lawfully summoned, too little time having been allowed him to prepare his case. This plea the commissioners overruled. His second plea was that “the Commission was neither free, nor full, nor formal,” and was incompetent in the case. When sentence of deposition and imprisonment had been pronounced, Livingston spoke his mind freely. He held that the accusation against him was such as could only be tried by a commissioner sitting under the authority of the General Assembly, and not under the authority of the King. His speaking, of course, was of no avail. The court, before apprehending him, allowed him to pay a visit to his friends, thereafter he was imprisoned in Minin Abbey. There are, however, some who say that the place of banishment or confinement was his former parish of Monyabroch.

William Livingston was kept a close prisoner for nearly three years. It was a sore trial to his parishioners. By 1623 he was again, however, restored to their affections. This was the year in which he had his famous dream. It opens up a curious feature in the religious beliefs of the time. Mr. Livingston was lying in bed one winter night fast asleep in his house at Lanark. In his sleep he was awakened by hearing the words— “Arise, go and help Crossriggs, for he is in great hazard.” Crossriggs was the name of a little estate four miles distant in Lesmahagow parish, and the laird went by the same name. The proprietor was a gentleman of respectability, and for some time had been in great concern about his soul’s salvation. Thinking his own fancy had deceived him, Livingston fell asleep again. In a little, however, he was once more awakened by the voice, which, while it spoke the same words, spoke them far more emphatically. Again he mused over the matter, and again he fell asleep. But soon, receiving a powerful stroke on the side, he awoke the third time to hear the mysterious voice calling to him with great emphasis—“ Go and help Crossriggs, for he is in great hazard, otherwise I will require his blood at thy hand.” Livingston now arose with alacrity, and after dressing, mounted his horse and sallied out into the dreary winter night. He arrived at Crossriggs about four in the morning, and at once observed light in the proprietor’s bedroom. Livingston entered the house and knocked at his door. It was instantly opened by Crossriggs. “What brought you here,” asked the laird, “at this time of night?” “What in all the world,” retorted Livingston, “keeps you up at this time of night? I know it is not anything ordinary.” “I will not answer that question,” said Crossriggs, “until you tell me what brings you here at so unreasonable an hour.” The minister made frank with the proprietor, and told him his dream and the voices he had heard. Crossriggs then, to his great relief, told Livingston that he had been in great despair about his soul, and that he had sent to Edinburgh for cats-bane, as he had received direction, when he was engaged in prayer. The bane, a white powder, was lying on a table in the room, and after spending a night in prayer he had resolved to take it at a draught. Livingston dissuaded him, and taking the powder and getting it tested, found it was a deadly poison. How Livingston had been made an instrument in God’s hands of saving the life of Crossriggs from the machination of the Evil One was accepted as true, and the extraordinary dream and attendant circumstances were all much talked of.

In 1635, William Livingston was again before the High Court of Commission. The charge against him this time was for employing his son, who had been deposed for noncomformity in Ireland, in helping him to dispense the Communion. He was now getting familiar with courts, and on this occasion he entirely turned the tables on the Commissioners. He addressed them as the culprits in the case, and he certainly frightened them, for they dismissed him, saying they could bear with him seeing he was an aged man. The excuse was rubbish; Livingston was at that time living a life of the most intense mental and physical activity.

Two years afterwards, when the Marquis of Hamilton, the Commissioner of the King, landed at Leith, William Livingston received the crowning honour of his life. He was selected to head the 500 clergymen of the Scottish Church who were to meet the Marquis of Hamilton, the Commissioner of the King, when he landed at Leith, and act as their spokesman on the occasion. It was a great function. There had never been seen at Leith such large multitudes, for the country was expecting a message of peace. “The whole of the nobles of the country, the gentry of all the shires, a world of women, the whole town of Edinburgh, all at the Watergate. And,” continues Baillie, “we ”—(the ministers of the Kirk)—“were about five hundred, met on a braeside on the links. We had appointed Mr. William Livingston, the strongest in voice and the austerest in countenance of us all, to make him a short welcome.” When Hamilton came up to the cloud of black coats, he was pleased with their salutation j and said, “Vos estis sal terrae.” “What does he say?” asked one minister of another, who ventured the humorous but not inappropriate reply, “Dinna ye hear, man, we’re the loons that mak’ the kail saut!” Next day at Holyrood, Livingston, in a closely knit speech, laid the whole case of the suffering Church before His Grace; but to very little purpose, as was proved.

Livingston’s last historical appearance was at the General Assembly held at Glasgow, November, 1638.

Alexander Henderson of Leuchars was chosen moderator, and there never was such an exciting Assembly, Hamilton was touched by the zeal of the members, and the tears were seen coursing down his cheeks. But his injunctions were strict. He dissolved the Assembly in the name of the King, and then rose and left. But the Assembly neither dissolved nor left. Under the guidance of Livingston they set to work. They examined the character and conduct of the bishops, and deposed every one of them; they overturned the Five Articles of Perth ; they nullified the work of the six Assemblies held since the accession of James; they condemned the Service Book, canons, and High Commissioner’s Court. They then wound up by declaring Prelacy inconsistent with the principles of the National Covenant and the Church of Scotland. In dismissing the Assembly the moderator said, “We have cast down the walls of Jericho: let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel, the Bethelite."

In the following year, Livingston witnessed the failure of Charles in his attempt to perform in Scotland by force what his father had failed to perform by policy and kingcraft. In the autumn of 1641, he died at Lanark. He was in the 65th year of his age, and the 44th of his ministry. He was thrice married; first to Agnes Livingston, daughter of Alexander Livingston, portioner, Falkirk, brother of the Laird of Belstane, by whom he had seven of a family, four sons and three daughters ; secondly, to Nicolas Somervell, by whom he had three daughters; and, thirdly, to Marion Weir, who also died during his lifetime, and by whom he had no family. His illustrious son, John, was the oldest child by his first wife. He left behind him only one printed work, a pamphlet bearing the title, “The Conflict and Conscience of a Dear

Christian, named Bessie Clarksen, in the Parish of Lanark, which she lay under three years and a half/’ It serves as an illustration of a happy pastoral manner. He was a considerable heritor in Monyabroch, and sold to Lord Livingston that portion of ground, then called Burnsyde, on which the Craigends now stand. It was purchased by his lordship, that he might devote it to extending the township,

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