One biographical entry lists under John Livingstone’s name that of “revivalist preacher.” And there is no doubt, as John Howie put it in The Scots Worthies, that there has been none whose labors in the Gospel have been more remarkably blessed with the outpouring of the Spirit in conversion work than John Livingstone, at least, since the Reformation commenced in Scotland. Who was this man of God?
Born on this day, July 21, 1603 at Monyabroch/Monieburgh in Scotland to a home filled with piety and prayer, his father William was a minister. Later on, young John became a student of Robert Blair at Glasgow University (see post for July 10). The subject of our post today became the assistant minister in Torphichen between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but in 1621 was “silenced” for his Presbyterian views. Moving to north Ireland, or Ulster, he became known as a young man and minister at what has become known as the Kirk O’Shotts Revival. The circumstances of his presence are remarkable for the Spirit’s leading.
John Livinstone had been a domestic chaplain to the Countess of Wigton, Sarah Maxwell. Upon hearing of plans for a Communion observance at Kirk O’Shotts, he went to attend this sacrament. With a huge crowd of both ministers and members in attendance, as W.M. Hetherington put it in his “History of the Church of Scotland, the Communion Sabbath “had been marked with much solemnity of manner and great apparent depth and sincerity of devotional feeling.” (p. 136) When the Monday came, the large crowd had been reluctant to depart without another religious service of thanksgiving to God for His redeeming love. So they begged for another worship service, but the pastor of the church was ill and couldn’t comply with their wishes. So young twenty-seven year old John Livingstone was prevailed upon to take his place.
The latter was so overwhelmed with his insufficiency of spiritual gifts however, that he ran away into the country side. Some accounts state that someone went after him to encourage him to return. Others state that he was taken by a “strong constraining impulse” to return. Which ever it was, he did return and began to preach to the huge multitude. It then began to rain, but for the next hour, the young minister preached the Word in a driving rain storm, outside! Listen to William Hetherington describe it. He said the crowd “was affected with a deep unusual awe, melting their hearts and subduing their minds, stripping off inveterate prejudices, awakening the indifferent, producing conviction in the hardened, bowing down the stubborn, and imparting to many an enlightened Christian, a large increase of grace and spirituality.” (p. 136)
This author cannot help but remark, “Oh for such an awakening and revival in our United States now” as took place on that day back in Ulster! It was said that some 500 people could date either their conversion or a confirmation of their case from that date and place. Livingstone went on to continue to preach the Word of grace in Ulster, with another experience of the Spirit’s falling two or three years after this occasion, when a thousand were brought to Christ.
We will return to his life and times as he was one of four ministers who endeavored to sail to America on the “Eagle Wing” vessel, but had to turn back due to storms. Livingstone, now married, ministered in both Scotland and Ulster, and with increasing persecution of Presbyterians in the lands, moved at last to Holland, where he died on August 9, 1672.
Words to Live By: There is perhaps no greater pastoral advice and counsel—Rev. Livingstone wrote the following words to one of his former churches:
“In all things, and above all things, let the Word of God be your only rule, Christ Jesus your only hope, His Spirit your own guide, and His glory your only end.” This could well be written on the inside leaf of your Bible as a reminder, reader, but far better for it to be written upon your heart and life as your belief and behavior.”