Cloud of Witnesses

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John Livingstone

Mr Livingstone was born at Kilsyth, in 1603, and was the son of the minister of that parish. He studied at Glasgow, and, having passed Master of Arts in 1621, was in about four years after, licensed to preach the gospel. After some disappointments with regard to a settlement, he was induced to accept a call to Killinchie, in Ireland, where he remained until 1638. Having then returned to Scotland, he shortly after became minister of Stranraer, in Galloway. From this station he was, ten years after, translated to Ancrum, in Teviotdale, and henceforth began to take a part in the public affairs of the church. In 1650, he was sent as one of the commissioners to the king, at Breda. In 1654, he repaired to London, on a conference with Cromwell; and some time after, was appointed by the General Assembly to wait upon the committee of Estates, then with the protector's army. He also took some interest in the disputes with respect to the public resolutions, and joined the Protestors. And with many of that party, after the restoration, having refused to subscribe the oath of allegiance, he was banished from the king's dominions. He went to Rotterdam, and continued there until his death, which happened on the 9th of August 1672. Previous to his last words, we insert a letter which about a year before, he wrote to his flock at Ancrum, as a parting memorial of his fidelity and affection.

His Pastoral Letter

'Notwithstanding, all the sad things that have fallen out of late, I would put you in mind of the many good days we have seen together, both of Sabbath days and solemn communion days, wherein we saw the Lord's power and grace in the sanctuary, that in remembrance thereof we may exalt His name together; for my part, I have challenges, besides many other, that in my ministry I did not so stir up or improve the gift that the Lord had given me, nor so carry myself like a spiritual, grave, diligent, and faithful servant of Christ, as I ought to have done; that in my ministry among you, I was not more frequent in visiting families and dealing with persons in particular, to bring them to, and keep them in the ways of God.

As for you, I may reckon you all in three ranks; and I fear the far greater number is of those who, although in general professors of Christianity, yet so far as could be observed, never laid religion to heart, and some of these for gross ignorance and looseness were always debarred from the Lord’s supper; others, although having some knowledge and civil walk, yet upon goods grounds were always suspected to be void of the love and fear of God, continuing in their natural unrenewed condition, neglecting the worship of God in their families and alone, and showing by all their carriage, that their thoughts and designs were never beyond the world: these, no doubt, are glad of the change now come, that they may cast off Christ’s yoke, and be free of the word and discipline which terrified and tormented them, and may now both swear terrible oaths and drink themselves drunk, which by some will be expounded as an evidence of their loyalty; they may now, after the example of many great ones, walk in the lust of uncleanness, mind nothing but how, justly or unjustly, to get the world, and then how to spend it on their lusts; and hate, and to the utmost of their power persecute all, who will not run with them to the same excess of riot.

Now, as I have often in public, with as great earnestness and tenderness as I could, warned these to flee from the wrath to come, so I would yet desire them to stand still before they go to the pit, and hear from a truly loving friend, a few words, which I am confident in the day of the great reckoning, shall be found a message from the living God.

Do you believe that there is a God, or heaven or hell? Or can you, with all your will and strength, escape the thoughts of these out of your sleeping consciences? Or do you in such sort hate God, that because you are His creatures you will in so far be avenged as to sell yourselves to His enemy, the devil, for nought – to be tormented in all eternity?

I am sure, none of you all can be sure, that you are reprobates; and I can give you assurance, greater than the stability of heaven and earth, even the sworn word of Him that liveth and reigneth for ever, that, if you will betake yourselves to the only Saviour of the world, of lost sinners, and forsake your sins, you are no reprobates.

O! What advantage have you when you have gained all the world, all the pleasures, all the riches, and all the favours of it, and have lost your precious and immortal souls? It is utterly impossible but that sometimes your heart tells you there will be bitterness in the end. Does not whoredom and drunkenness waste the body, take away the judgement, and leave a sting in the conscience? Can any avoid the curse that goods rotten the curse that goods gotten by falsehood and oppression bring upon the man, and all he has, yea on his posterity? It is not sad that Satan can prompt man to swear, curse, and blaspheme, and utter that which he dare not utter himself? Though ye were free of all outbreakings, doth not Sabbath breaking, and such like evils, bind you over to the wrath of him who is coming there in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel? Ye may possibly think ye are so far gone on, that there is no retreat, and the ways of the Lord are such as your disposition can never agree with; but how can your disposition agree to burn and consume, and yet never consume, in everlasting flames, where each of all your sins shall have their own particular torment?  How can you agree to dwell with infernal furies? Or will you add to your other wickedness – despair and despising all the Lord’s loving, loud, and long continued invitations? What shall you answer, if the Lord shall say to some of you, at the judgement, I would have given thee both grace and glory if you had sought it; you would not give one, two or three knocks at my door; you would not open when I knocked often and longed at your door, by so doing you have subscribed to your own condemnation!

‘O let me obtain this much, of all and every one of you, for all the pains I have taken among you in preaching, for all my nine years banishment from you, for all the prayers I have pout up for you, for all the love which He who knoweth all things, knoweth that I bear to you, yea, let your own souls, and the love you have to your own welfare here and hereafter, obtain it, or rather let him who for sinners shed his most precious blood at Jerusalem, obtain this of you, that you will take one day, each of you, from morn to even, forbearing both meat and drink, and go apart either into some quiet room in a house, or unto some part of the fields, where, you may be most quiet, and having beforehand marked in the Bible, such places as are fit to be read at such time, as also having somewhat searched your way toward God, and his ways toward you, there set yourselves in his sight, spending the time in confession of sin and prayer for pardon and grace to serve him, and save your own souls; and if (which is not readily to be supposed) you get no access on such a day, yet, continue thereafter, in such exercise and suits; for, deliverance from hell, enjoyment of heaven, and the favour of God, are worth more pains than you can take all your life. Now, if this so easy and necessary advice shall be rejected, without prescribing time and place, or measure and manner, I take instruments before sun and moon, and all the creatures, that I have left this warning as an endorsed summons fixed on the door of your consciences, to be called and judged before Him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead at his appearance, in his glory, when besides the witnessing of your own conscience and of all the creatures, I also as your lawful minister, sent to bring about your reconciliation to God, shall appear to witness, that you got fair warning, but did reject the same and would choose death. Therefore, while it is called today, take a trial of Christ’s yoke, do but out him to it, and see whether or not he will open the windows of heaven and rain blessings and righteousness upon you; come and see, and taste the goodness of the Lord, you shall be made to say, He is a rich and loving Master; once engage your heart to him and you may defy Satan and all the allurements and terrors of the world to draw you from Him.

Glad would my heart be before I go to the grave, that some of you have begun a new course, and if you begin indeed, you will not get it suppressed; it will be heard. I shall as I can pray for it, and desire others here to pray for it; it is not needful to multiply words. I leave it with you as you shall answer to Jesus Christ when he shall come in the cloud with power and great glory.

Your affectionate pastor,

John Livingstone

HIS LAST WORDS

Upon the 9th of August 1672 the day on which he died, some of his friends who occasionally came to visit him being present, he was desired by his wife to speak something to them. He said,  ‘There is a vanity in speaking and desiring to hear. But He (Jesus Christ) needs no testimony from man, yet if my poor testimony could signify any thing, it is good my duty to give it him, for he hath made good his word to me in all things. The Lord was pleased to take me when I was young, and to keep me on his side, for when I was at college in Glasgow, he engaged me to an opposition to kneeling at the communion. The first acquaintances ever I had were Christian acquaintances, as the tutor of Bonnington, and my lady Kenmuir, who is the oldest acquaintance I have alive in Scotland. And when I was called to Ireland, I was joined to some worthy men there, whose books I was not worthy to bear.

And after a pause, (for he was not able to speak much together) looking towards his friends, he said with an emphatic sweetness, ‘ Carry my commendations to Him, (meaning Jesus Christ) till I come there myself and bring them.’

After this Jacob-like pause, he added. ‘I die in the faith that the truths of God, which he hath helped the church of Scotland to own, shall be owned by him as truths so long as sun and moon endure. I hate independency; though there be good men among them, and some well meaning people favour it, yet it will be found more to the prejudice of the work of God than many are aware of, for they evanish into vain opinions. I have had my own faults, as other men, but he made me always to abhor shows. I have, I know, given offence to many through my slackness and negligence, but I forgive, and desire to be forgiven. I cannot say much of great services, yet if ever my heart was lifted up, it was in preaching of Jesus Christ. There is a cloud: I would not have people forecasting the worst, - yet there is a storm coming, but I hope it shall not last long. I have not much to do with creatures, I have ordered my cause, and he knoweth my words which I uttered before him at Mizpeh!’

Speaking of some of his special friends in the south, he mentioned these two ladies, the lady Merton, and the lady Riddell, who, he said, ‘had been very useful to him and his family.’

His wife apprehending him not able to speak more at that time, and fearing what shortly followed, desired him to take his leave of his friends: ‘I dare not,’ said he, with affectionate tenderness, ‘and it is like our parting will be but for a short time!’ And then he slept in the Lord.