Livingston, John (1603–72), presbyterian minister in Ireland and Scotland, was born 21 June 1603 at Kilsyth (also called ‘Monybroch’), Stirlingshire, one of three sons and four daughters of William Livingston, minister of Kilsyth, and Agnes Livingston (née Livingston). He was taught at home till he was 10. He read classics with a Mr Wallace, entered Glasgow University in 1617, and graduated in 1621. One of his teachers was Robert Blair (qv); the two became lifelong friends. The young man abandoned thoughts of a secular career and an estate that his father had bought for him, and studied theology at St Andrews; he was licensed to preach in 1625. He was assistant to his father, though not ordained, and for two years was domestic chaplain to the earl of Wigtown and his family at Cumbernauld. While there, he preached a sermon in the open air (21 June 1630) in Shotts, Lanarkshire; it had a profound effect upon the large congregation and is said to have promoted the revival in the Scottish church known as the ‘second reformation’. In 1630, as it appeared that his opposition to ‘prelatic ceremonies’ (Witherspoon) was so well known that he could not expect to be ordained in Scotland, he went to Ireland in response to a letter from James Hamilton (qv), Viscount Claneboy, to become minister of the church at Killinchy, Co. Down, in an area settled by many Scots. He went to Donegal to be ordained by the bishop of Raphoe, Andrew Knox (qv), who placed few difficulties in the way; the old man was prepared to join in the ordination with other ministers as a presbyter rather than as bishop, and omitted parts of the ceremonial obnoxious to the candidate. Livingston's five years in Killinchy were both successful and difficult; he was one of the ministers whose preaching at Antrim and elsewhere produced the remarkable occurrences of the Sixmilewater revival, and a sermon at Holywood, Co. Down, is reported to have produced 1,000 religious conversions. However, in 1631 he was suspended by the bishop of Down, Robert Echlin (qv), partly because of the work of revival in which he was engaged; on the intervention of Archbishop James Ussher (qv) he was reinstated, but on 4 May 1632 Echlin deposed Livingston and Robert Blair, and later two other ministers, for nonconformity. Pending a judgment by the lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth (qv), Livingston returned to Scotland. In spring 1634 Livingston was sent by Ulster presbyterians to find out about emigration opportunities in America; after difficulties and setbacks, he returned to Plymouth without being able to cross the Atlantic. On his return to Belfast he decided that he should marry Janet Fleming, whose father, Bartholomew Fleming, had been an Edinburgh merchant. Livingston records that though she was comely beyond the usual, and though thanks to God's prompting he was convinced she was the appropriate helpmate for him, it took a further month of prayer before he could feel ‘marriage affection’ for her. She was a niece of Robert Blair's first wife, and was living with her stepfather near Belfast, but the couple were married (23 June 1635) by Livingston's father in the West Church (St Cuthbert's), Edinburgh. Archbishop Spottiswood ordered that the bridegroom be apprehended, so he escaped to Ireland. In November 1635 Wentworth's decision took effect and Livingston was deposed by Henry Leslie (qv), the new bishop of Down. Ulster presbyterians tried again to emigrate to America in a ship they had built at Groomsport, the Eaglewing, and Livingston, his wife, and their 14-week-old son joined it at Carrickfergus in September 1636. A delayed departure meant they were struck in mid Atlantic by a hurricane, which left the ship with a broken rudder and depleted supplies; they decided it was God's will that they should not try to reach America, and returned to Belfast in November 1636. The Livingstons went back to Scotland; after he had signed the covenant, Livingston was sent post to London with copies for Scottish noblemen and others. He became minister at Stranraer; hundreds of his former hearers from Co. Down were wont to attend his communion services there, and he baptised scores of their children.
Henceforth Livingston ministered mainly in Scotland, though occasionally sent to Ireland, as in April 1642, when he went as chaplain to the Scottish army. He was thus closely involved with the inception of the formal government of the presbyterian church in Ireland, though he was not present when what is regarded as the first properly constituted meeting of presbytery took place in June 1642 at Carrickfergus. He was also given charge of doling out £1,000 Scots to hundreds of people from Ulster who had taken refuge in Scotland from the violence of the 1641 rebellion. He became minister of Ancrum, Roxburghshire, in 1649, and was very influential among those who supported the covenant; in 1650 he was sent with others to seek a pledge of commitment to covenant principles from Charles Stuart (Charles II), who was living in exile at Breda. Livingston's own descriptions of these important negotiations, and of Charles's character, are fascinating. He preached before Oliver Cromwell (qv) in London, and was granted authority to name candidates for vacant parishes in Scotland. In December 1662 he was summoned to take the oath of allegiance to the new monarch; on his refusal, he went into exile in April 1663 in Rotterdam, Holland, where he passed the rest of his life preaching in the Scots church there, and in scholarly pursuits. He was proficient in ancient and modern languages, and produced a polyglot Bible, which was never published. He also wrote an interesting and candid autobiography, revealing much of his own motivation and personality, and left notes about the eminent people he had met. Both the autobiography and the Remarkable observations upon the lives of the most eminent ministers ... were published in several editions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He and his wife had eight sons and seven daughters, of whom three sons and four daughters survived. Descendants in America included a great-grandson who was a very influential judge in eighteenth-century New York, one of the five men who drafted the declaration of independence, and another great-grandson who was one of its original signatories. Livingston died in Rotterdam on 9 May 1672. According to A. F. Scott-Pearson, presbyterians in Killinchy in the early twentieth century told the local curate that they still held it against the Church of Ireland because the bishops had treated ‘our John’ so badly (The origins of presbyterianism in Co. Down (1948)).