PASTOR OF MONYABROCH AND LATER LANARK
William Livingston, only son of Alexander Livingston was educated at the University of Glasgow and appointed to the parish of Kilsyth in succession to his father. Ordained on 13th July, 1596, he was admitted to the full charge on 15th July, 1599.
An energetic and uncompromising minister of the gospel, he was soon caught up in the attempted Episcopal system of government on Scotland. Not for him the compromising stance of his father.
The period between 1560 and the turn of the century had been relatively quiet following the turbulence of the Reformation, but there began the one hundred years` struggle for supremacy with the supporters of Episcopacy vying with the Presbyters. William was at the forefront in the stand against Episcopacy, and his hatred of the system was well known.
Outspoken and having a severe countenance allied to his powerful voice, he lay siege to all who were of contradictory views. As a result of his vehement and oft repeated denunciation of Episcopacy, King James Vl (by now King James l of England) decreed in a letter to the Privy Council on 18th October, 1607 in which he fulminated, "....our pleasure and will is that, by our special command, in our name, you do confyne the said Maister William Livingstone within the boundis of his own paroche, qhair he is preacher, inhibiting him to transcend or come forth out of the boundis therof without our special licence had and obtenit, and that under the pane of rebellion."
James further added, "Let this wild young minister keep to his mosses and his badgers. They are his native place and the best place for him."
Accordingly, he was a virtual prisoner within the bounds of his own parish for five years.
King James had to accept the blame for all this ecclesiastical strife within Scotland. His vacillation was well known: first showing active support for Presbyterianism with, `...sincerest Kirk in the World,` then counteracting `No Bishop, No King!` Not for nothing was he to be labelled, `The wisest fool in Christendom.`
Having a nervous system that evinced in him a physical cowardice, James ebbed and flowed with his support of each order, but it appeared he had a base dislike for the Presbyterian cause. This was largely brought about by his experience at the hands of the early Reformers.
George Buchanan, scholar, writer, and a onetime prisoner of the Inquisition, had been appointed as James's tutor, and it was said he had boxed the young Prince's ears for him. Furthermore, he had always taught the young man that his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, had been a whore.
Andrew Melville, the eventual successor to John Knox, in his denunciation of the Episcopacy had taken James by the arm and branded him, `God`s silly little vassal.`
The result of the deeds of Buchanan and Melville was compounded by James's experience of being held captive for ten months in 1582/1583 by the perpetrators of the Ruthven Raid that attempted to isolate him from the pro-papacy forces that were at work at that time.
His early indoctrination into the rights of Protestantism were feared to be in jeopardy by the influence being exerted by the pro-papacy faction, and his adolescent attraction to his French cousin, Esme Stewart whom he later created Duke of Lennox. was also a concern.
This period of incarceration instilled in him a deep revulsion for the Reformers, and this was not helped by the death of Lennox before his release.
William Livingston's close confinement within his parish co-incided with his growing reputation within Scotland. His power within the land was growing, and his chafe at this isolation was understandable. He was straining at the bit to be let loose again.
This enforced stay within his parish against his will was all too apparent to his parishioners. They could not sympathise with him when his reluctance to remain with them was plain for all to see.
In 1612 he was eventually released from his confinement. The King wrote the Archbishop of Glasgow requesting him to lift the ban on his movements, suspecting that Livingston had atoned for his dissension. How wrong he was. The fiery spirit that had prevailed within him six years` earlier had only become more inflamed, and soon he was espousing his old convictions stronger than ever.
King James was beside himself with anger at this flagrant disregard for his amnesty, and authorised his immediate deposement from Monyabroch.
Uncertainty crept into James`s mind. On one side he was deeply annoyed by Livingston`s reaction to his pardon, while on the other it was the recollection of the debt he owed the Livingston family for its devotion to his mother. Anyhow, the deposition imposed in 1613 was lifted, and he was later presented by the King to the charge of Lanark on 1st October of the same year.
Livingston proved to be a willing pastor to his new flock and was greatly loved by them in return. But his fearless preaching continued.
Seven years passed by and in March, 1620 he was again deposed by the Court of High Commission and confined to his old parish of Monyabroch for preaching against the Five Articles of Perth.
In 1618 the General Assembly had passed these articles that required kneeling at Communion, Episcopal Confirmation, Private Baptism, Private Communion, and the observation of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.
His contentions against this were rejected, and for his efforts, he was imprisoned in the Minim Abbey* for three years. This period co-incided with his enforced return to Monyabroch before resuming his pastoral duties in Lanark, being restored there in 1623.
For some while his ministry maintained an uninterrupted course, but for a second time in his life he received a call to appear before the Court of High Commission. This time it was for allowing his son, John, minister at Killinchy, Ireland, himself under a deposition for non-conformity, to assist him at a Communion in 1635.
This time he felt confident of securing a better judgement, being more familiar with the workings of the Commission. Standing before the members, he went immediately onto the offensive, entirely turning the tables on the accusers as if they were on trial.
The tactic worked admirably, for in a state of fright, the court members dismissed the case claiming that on account of his great age, they could sympathise with him. This was utter nonsense. he was barely 59 years of age, and at that time he was `living a life of the most intense mental and physical activity.`
When the King's Commissioner, the Marquis of Hamilton landed at Leith in 1637, William Livingston was given the honour of heading five hundred ministers in welcoming him, and the opportunity of laying before him the whole case of the suffering Church at a later meeting in Holyrood the next day. This proved to be of little purpose.
The town of Leith had never witnessed such large gatherings of people that had assembled that day. An air of expectation hung over the country, a message of peace being hoped for.
"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." Thus Robert Baillie (1602 - 1662) described the multitude foregathered for the occasion.
Baillie, a one time supporter of the Episcopal government but now disillusioned by the new Prayer Book, and a soon to be convert to the Covenant, further commented upon the scene.
".....and we (the ministers) were about five hundred, sat on a braeside on thre 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."
The following year Livingston was a member of the Glasgow Assembly and was probably the ruling spirit of its proceedings despite not being the Moderator. What was the most dramatic incident in his eventful career took place at the Assembly in November.
The Marquis of Hamilton, in his role as the King's Commissioner tried to dissolve the Assembly then rose and left. He was said to have been deeply affected by the occasion, and tears welled from his eyes as he went through the motions of dissolution.
But such was the zeal of the ministers present, the Assembly refused to obey the injunction and, under the guidance of Livingston, they set about overturning the Five Articles of Perth. The Service Book, Canons, and High Commissioners Court, all were condemned.
The National Covenant that had been signed at Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh a few months earlier was adopted.
The work of the six Assemblies held since the accession of James were nullified. Prelacy was declared to be inconsistent with the principles of the National Covenant and the Church of Scotland.
The Moderator, Alexander Henderson of Leuchars closed the Assembly with the words,
"We have cast down the walls of Jericho; let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel, the Bethelite."
Scotland and its Church thus entered what was to become known as the `Covenanting Era.`