AMERICAN QUARTERLY REGISTER.
B. B. EDWARDS AND W. COGSWELL.
PUBLISHED BY THE AMERICAN EDUCATION SOCIETY.
PRINTED BY PERKINS & MARVIN.
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This document was scanned from an original copy of the American Education Society’s Quarterly Register, which served as a digest of the diverse facets in American Education and its outflowing effects worldwide. The society was comprised of leading Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton Alumni, and served to promote the work both in the U.S. and abroad for educating the people in the Reformation’s worldview of the Bible serving as the only infallible rule of life, which, of course, was the purpose for which these schools were founded.
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Subject of this document: MEMOIR OF THE REV. JOHN H. LIVINGSTON, D. D.
President, Rutgers College (1810-1825)
VOL. XII. FEBRUARY, 1840. No. 3. 217
MEMOIR OF THE REV. JOHN H. LIVINGSTON, D. D.
THE family, from which Dr. Livingston was descended, is honorably noticed in Scottish history. One of his ancestors was Lord Livingston, afterwards the Earl of Linlithgow, who, with Lord Erskine, had the care of Mary Queen of Scots, in the castle of Dumbarton, in 1547. His daughter, Mary Livingston, was one of the four Manes that accompanied the queen to France as her companions.
The great-great-grandfather of the subject of this memoir, was the eminently pious minister of the gospel, and the common ancestor of the Livingston family in this country, the Rev. John Livingston. He was born in Monyabroch, Stirlingshire, Scotland, June 21,1603. He preached his first sermon, January ~, 1625. He delivered a discourse at the kirk of Shotts, June 20, 1630, which was followed by a remarkable display of divine influence. About five hundred persons, as it was thought, there experienced a saving moral change. He was soon after settled over a church in Killinchie, Ireland. Here an extraordinary manifestation of divine power attended his preaching. By the instrumentality of two sermons as it was supposed, not less than fifteen hundred persons were either renewed in holiness, or were greatly quickened in the Christian life. Mr. Livingston now became an object of bitter persecution; was proceeded against for non-conformity, and actually deposed. He now determined to emigrate to New England. The vessel, however, to which he had set sail, was driven back by adverse winds, and the design was abandoned. In 1638, he was settled in Stranrawer, in Scotland. While here, he was sent several times by the General Assembly, on a missionary tour to some vacant parishes in Ireland. These labors were very arduous, and were greatly useful. In 1648, he removed to Ancrum, in Tiviotdale. From this place, through the intolerant spirit of the times, he was compelled to flee. He went first to England. In 1663, he fled to Holland, and settled in Rotterdarn. His wife and two children followed him, while five children remained in Scotland. He died August 9, 16?2, aged 69.
Robert Livingston, the son of John, and the great-grandfather of the subject of this memoir, came over to America, it is believed, soon after his father’s death. The patent for the manor of Livingston was granted in 1689. Smith, in his history of New York, states, that he was a principal agent for the convention, which met in Albany in 1689, and that he became peculiarly obnoxious to his adversaries, because he was a "man of sense and resolution." He was connected in marriage with the Schuyler
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family, and had three sons, Philip, Robert and Gilbert. Among the children of Philip, were Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and William Livingston, LL. D., Governor of New Jersey. Robert had only one son, Robert, the head of the Clermont family, as it is sometimes called by way of distinction, and to which belonged the late Chancellor Livingston.
Gilbert had five Sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Henry. the father of John H., was an amiable and excellent man. Throughout a long life, he enjoyed the esteem and confidence of the community. He was, for a considerable period, a member of the colonial legislature of New York. He was, by letters patent, proprietor of the office of clerk of the county in which he resided. This office he retained after the revolutionary war until his death. In the struggle for independence, he was a decided friend of his country. He was born September 8,1714, and died February 10, 1799, at his paternal estate, near Poughkeepsie, on the banks of the Hudson, and which is now in the possession of his grandson, Col. Henry A. Livingston.
JOHN HENRY LIVINGSTON, the subject of this brief sketch, was born at Poughkeepsie, May 30, 1746. His mother’s maiden name was Conklin. At the age of seven years, he was sent to Fishkill, and placed under the care of the Rev. Chauncey Graham. When he had been with this gentleman between two and three years. his father obtained a competent private tutor for him. He was accordingly placed under the charge of Mr. Moss Kent, father of Chancellor Kent, a gentleman well qualified for the trust, and of whose faithful attentions to him, he ever afterwards cherished a grateful recollection. In 1757, he was placed in a grammar school in New Milford, Ct., under the direction of the Rev. N. Taylor. In 1758, when a little more than twelve years of age, he entered Yale College. This institution was then under the presidency of the Rev. Thomas Clap. The mathematics were at that time, as it should seem, a favorite object of study. Of course, at his tender age, young Livingston found in these pursuits many things beyond his comprehension. The first half of his college life, he afterwards justly considered as having been spent to little purpose. His knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages enabled him to appear to much advantage. Some of his fellow students, when about to prepare their classical exercises, would often seat him upon their knees, as he was then quite small, and with all deference, listen to his rendering of the lessons. He was amiable in his deportment, and in his perilous situation and extreme youth, preserved an unsullied reputation. He took his first degree, July, 1762. *
In the autumn of the same year, he commenced the study of law, in the office of Bartholomew Crannel, Esq. of Poughkeepsie, said to have been a gentleman of note in his profession. He applied himself assiduously to his studies until the close of 1764, when his health being impaired, in consequence, as he supposed, of close application to reading and writing, he deemed it his duty to give up his attendance at the office of Mr. Crannel. This retirement gave him leisure for serious reflection. Apprehending from some symptoms of pulmonary disease, that his life was drawing to a close, and that he should soon be called to give up his final account, the
[ * The number in Dr. Livingston’s class when they graduated was forty-two. Among them were the following clergymen: Rev. Joseph Huntington, D D., Eleazor Stone, Richard Clar,. Gideon Bostwick, Theodore Hindsdale, Benjamin Mills, Jedidiah Chapman, Daniel Fuller, David Brownson, Burrage Merriam, and Whitman Welch. ]
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momentous concerns of eternity took entire possession of his mind. He saw his true character and condition as a sinner, and was, for a season in deep distress. It pleased the Lord, at length, to lift upon him the light of his reconciled countenance and give him joy and peace. Bunyan’s "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," seems to have been the means which first excited great alarm in his mind. Doddridge’s "Rise and Progress" gave him more correct and enlarged views of religion than he had previously possessed. He perused it with great attention, and hoped to experience the power of the truths developed in the book as they occurred in succession. His chief attention was fixed upon the Scriptures. "Convictions of sin, of guilt, of misery," he says, "became clear and pungent; and some confused idea of redemption through a Saviour, and the possibility of pardon, and the restoration of my depraved nature, engaged my thoughts and prayers, without intermission. For several months, I could do nothing but read and meditate, plead at a throne of grace, and weep over my wretched and lost estate. As new inquiries and difficulties arose, and new truths, with their inseparable consequences, came under consideration, I repaired to the Bible, I supplicated for light and instruction, and had to contend, study and struggle for every article of faith in succession. Two doctrines, above all others, engaged my ardent attention, and caused a severe and long conflict. The first was the divinity of the Lord .Jesus Christ. I saw in his word, that he was a great Saviour, that the Father was well pleased in his Son, and that sinners, the chief of sinners, were accepted in the Beloved. I believed that he was able to save, even to the uttermost, all who came unto God by him. The other doctrine which fixed my attention, and excited much care and study, respected justification. A conviction of misery, of pollution and inability, assured me of the impossibility of my being accepted of God, either in whole or in part, for any thing to he produced or performed by me. I was fully convinced that without a better righteousness than my own, I must and should perish for ever. This conviction prompted me most attentively to read, and with fervent prayer to study the word of God. I made no use of commentaries, nor any human aid, but perused and compared again and again the sacred Scriptures, especially the prophecy of Isaiah, the epistles of Paul to the Romans and the Galatians, the first epistle of Peter, and the gospel of John. These I attentively read; upon these I meditated, and with a sincere desire for instruction, continually supplicated the throne of grace to be led into the truth, preserved from error, and established in the doctrine of the gospel. And it pleased the Lord, I trust, to give me the light and instruction I sought. The righteousness of Christ, comprising his active amid passive obedience, and the imputation of that righteousness to every soul who receives the Saviour by faith, and thus, by his Spirit, becomes united to him, which is the basis upon which imputation rests, were rendered so intelligible, clear and convincing to my mind, that I considered the result to be the teaching of the Holy Spirit by his word, and received it, and submitted to it, as such, without any wavering or carnal disputation. That the atonement of Christ was specific, complete, and worthy of all acceptation, I was sure."
"During these studies and conflicts a sense of guilt increased, and the most distressing,T convictions of sin excited amazement and terrors, which no words can express. My unbelief prevented me from closing with the gracious calls of the gospel; my heart remained so hard and stubborn, amid my tears became so alarming, that I was reduced to the brink of despair, and felt and experienced what it would be improper even to mention. In
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this dreadful horror of soul, and fearful state of mind, I continued many weeks; and had it continued much longer, or risen much higher, I must have died. I believed the Lord Jesus was able to save me, but I could not believe that he was willing to receive and save a wretch, who had sinned so much, and resisted his grace so long as I had done. At length it pleased him to conquer my unbelief, by convincing me that if the Saviour was able to save me, he must, most assuredly, be also willing, and that as such, he had pledged himself not to cast out any who came to him. Now consolations succeeded to griefs. I lived by faith. I found rest, and knew what it was to have Christ living in me.
"The first alarm, respecting a change in my comfortable frames was occasioned by a sermon I one morning heard the celebrated Whitefield preach. His text was Ps. xl. 1—3. In the introduction, he said, he had intended to preach upon another subject, but this passage was impressed with such power upon his mind, that he was constrained to take it; and I believe,’ said be, ‘there is one now present for whom God designs this to be a word in season. ‘The young convert, rejoicing in hope, and in a lively frame, expects he shall always proceed, with swelling sails, before a propitious gale of consolations, but remember’ (and I thought he pointedly and solemnly addressed me) ‘that at some period of your life, you will come into a situation and exercises, which you will denominate with David, a horrible pit and miry clay; there you will remain until your patience is severely tried. Yet be of good courage; the Lord will bring you out with triumphant songs of deliverance. He will set your feet upon a rock, and establish your goings. Your restoration will be equal to your first joys. Be of good cheer. Look unto Jesus. The victory is sure.’ From that hour, I considered this word intended for me, and have anticipated its fulfilment. In the progress of my spiritual warfare, I have experienced it, though I still wait for its highest accomplishment.’’
About this time a remarkable occurrence in Providence made an indelible impression on his mind, he had determined to accompany a young friend on a voyage to the West Indies, as the health of both was feeble. After his preparations were made, to the surprise of his friends, he suddenly gave up the voyage. His friend sailed without him. When the voyage was nearly completed, two of the crew seized the vessel, and murdered all on board except a little boy. They then gave themselves up to intoxication, and in this condition, while in sight of the island of St. Thomas, it so happened, providentially for their speedy detection, that they ordered the boy to row them ashore. He did so; and then, as soon as out of their power, informed against them. They were immediately pursued. One fled to St. Eustatia, but was there seized, and broken upon the wheel. The other, whose name was Anderson, was taken in the island of St. Thomas, and sent back to New York. After his trial, he was there executed, on an island in the bay, near the city, which, from that circumstance, has been called ‘Anderson’s’ or ‘Gibbet Island.’
Mr. Livingston was now led to contemplate an entrance upon the work of preaching the gospel. For some time, however, it appeared to him to be so momentous, and the danger of failure in it so great, that he hesitated. The solemn words, " Who hath required this at your hand to tread my courts," were continually sounding in his ears. He repeatedly observed days of fasting and prayer for divine guidance. On one occasion, he committed to writing in one column, all the arguments in favor of entering the ministry; in the other, those against it. He endeavored most accurately to examine his motives, and ascertain the end which he proposed. At
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length, he concluded, that he was called to undertake the labors of this most responsible office. His father promptly and cheerfully assented to his design, and engaged to render him the necessary pecuniary assistance.
Before proceeding further with the life of Dr. Livingston, it will be necessary to state a few facts in relation to the establishment of the Reformed Dutch church in this country. At the time he began his ministry, and for a long period previously, the church had been involved in very serious difficulties, in the removal of which, Dr. Livingston took a distinguished part. New Belgia, or New Netherland, embraced a considerable extent of country. The first emigrants brought with them from Holland a strong attachment to the doctrines, worship and government of the National Reformed communion. The church at New York was probably organized as early as 1619. Dr. Livingston affirmed, that there was a document still extant, dated 1622, which contained the names of members in full communion. As early as 1642, we find that a meeting-house was erected. Another was built on what is now called the Bowery, before 1664. The first minister of New York was the Rev. Everadus Bogardus, who probably came over with the first settlers, or soon after they came. The ministers following, until the year 1693, were the Rev. Messrs. John Megapolensis, Samuel Dresius, William Van Nieuenhuysen and Henry Solyns. The precise time when a church was first formed at Albany, or who was the first minister there, cannot be ascertained. It is, however, certain that they had ministers there, as early, if not before, any were settled in New York. Churches were early established at Flatbush, New Utrecht, Flatlands and Esopus. Between the years 1664 and 1693, a church was formed in Schenectady, another on Staten Island, three or four churches were formed in different towns on the Hudson, two or three more on Long island, and several in New Jersey. The first churches, being connected with no particular classis in the mother country, very naturally availed themselves of their relation with the Dutch West India Company, Whose influence was likely to obtain for them suitable pastors. This company, the greater part of whose directors resided in Amsterdam, whenever applications for ministers were received from the colony, availed itself of the assistance of the classis of Amsterdam. This way of relieving the exigencies of the churches ultimately reduced them to a slate of ecclesiastical vassalage. Though not formally connected with the chassis of Amsterdam, they were easily brought to consider themselves as subject to its authority. Submission was finally yielded as a matter of solemn duty. For more than a century, the colonial churches continued to receive their ministerial supplies from Holland, to refer there its controversies for decision, and implicitly to obey all its commands. The Netherlands judicatory thus acquired power over its American charge. The opinion was somewhat prevalent, that no ordination was valid, except it had been performed or approved by the chassis of Amsterdam. This ascendancy continued unimpaired, and without even the semblance of opposition, till 1737, when an attempt was made to form a local convention, for the purpose of exercising some general superintendence over ecclesiastical matters. The Rev. Messrs. G. Dubois of New York, G. Haeghoort of Second River, B. Freeman of Long Island, C. Van Santvoort of Staten Island, and A. Curtenius of Hackensack, met in New York, and agreed upon the plan of an assembly of ministers arid elders, to be subordinate to the chassis of Amsterdam. This assembly was called a Coetus. In the following year, a meeting of twenty-six ministers and elders was held, by
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whom the plan was formally adopted. A copy of it was at once forwarded to Holland, but no answer was returned for eight or nine years. A favorable response at last arrived, and in the fall of 1747, the Coetus was organized. This body, however, possessed no right of independent ordination, nor any of the essential powers of a classis. It was not till 1753, that a motion was made to form a regular classis. It was not a little mortifying to several friends of the church, that congregations should still be compelled to send to Holland for ministers, when the foreign chassis, not knowing exactly the character and circumstances of a vacant congregation, was not always the most happy in the selection of a supply. It often happened too, after the transmission of a call, a vacancy remained for years without the regular ministrations of the gospel. The proposal, though very popular in many places, alarmed the adherents of the classis of Amsterdam. These commenced a course of the most determined opposition. They first met in 1755, and called themselves ‘Conferentic.’ The ministers of this party were the Rev. Messrs. Haeghoort, Curtenius, Ritzema, De Ronde, Van der Linde, Schuyler, Van Sinderin, Rubel, Freyenmoet, Kock, Kern and Rysdyck. The parties were nearly equal in numerical strength. The Coetus excelled in ‘‘ practical preaching, zeal and industry ;" the Conferentic had the greatest share of learning. The two bodies took their stand against each other, and carried on a ‘‘long, obstinate and dreadful conflict." The peace of the churches was destroyed; neighboring ministers and churches were set at variance; houses of worship were locked by one part of a congregation against the other; tumults on the Lord’s day, at the doors of the churches, were frequent, and the virulence of party spirit produced the most disastrous effects.
Another topic, which occasioned vehement disputes, was the introduction of the English language. Long after the country was in the possession of Great Britain, the Dutch used their own language in their families, schools, public worship and civil business. The governors, however thought it good policy to encourage English preachers and schoolmasters in the colony ; the Episcopal church was patronized and finally established virtually by law ; the civil courts performed their business in the English language; English families multiplied English schools and merchants shops were increased intermarriages between English and Dutch families occasionally took place. Many of the young people, particularly in the city of New York, who had grown up in the constant use of the English language, no longer sit with profit under Dutch preaching. Unwilling to leave the church of their fathers—the church in which they had been baptized, and to which, for that and other reasons, they felt much attached—they ventured to urge the necessity of a substitution of the English for the Dutch language in the church service. Some respectable families had already left the Dutch communion on account of the language, and united with other churches, but still many, especially the aged, contended that the very existence of the church depended on the continued use of the language. The request made for a change was received with indignation, and resisted to the utmost. The aggrieved party feared that the alteration would necessarily involve the loss of the doctrines, the mode of worship, the government, and the very name of the church.
At length, the Consistory resolved to call a minister to preach in the English language and in order, if possible, to conciliate the disaffected portion, they determinned to send to Holland, and procure a minister through the medium of the classis of Amsterdam. The chassis very promptly complied with the request, and sent Mr. Archibald Laidlie, a minister of
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the English church at Flushing in Zealand, and a member of the classis of Walcheren. Mr. Laidlie was a native of Scotland, and was educated at the University of Edinburgh. He preached his first sermon in New York, the first ever delivered in the English language in the Dutch church, April 15, 1764, to a very crowded and attentive auditory. To show the warm affection with which some persons greeted him, it is remarked that they gathered around him, at the close of one of the evening meetings, saying, "Ah, Dominie! we offered up many an earnest prayer, in Dutch, for your coming among us; and truly the Lord hath heard us, in English, and has sent you to us." Mr. Laidlie, (subsequently honored with the title of doctor in divinity by the College of New Jersey,) was a man of ardent piety, and of unquestionable pulpit talents. He also possessed more than common discernment and prudence. He complied with the existing practices of the church in the most trivial things, and treated with the utmost respect the patrons of the Dutch language.
Still, however, there was a party, who were not to be reconciled to the innovation. They at length instituted a civil suit against the Consistory for a supposed illegal act, which, after many years’ controversy, was decided against them.
Such was the state of the Dutch church in this country, when Dr. Livingston entered on the study of divinity. The bitter contentions, in which his fellow Christians were involved, strongly tempted him to join some other denomination. One of the reasons which induced him to remain in the Dutch church, was the hope that God would make him an instrument to heal these mournful dissensions.
A part of the year 1765, Mr. Livingston spent in miscellaneous reading. In July, he took the degree of M. A. at Yale College. The succeeding winter he spent in New York, in the society of Dr. Laidlie and other pious friends. In the spring of 1766, agreeably to the earnest recommendation of Dr. Laidlie, he proceeded to Holland, in order to acquire a theological education. He arrived at Amsterdam on the 20th of June. Several individuals of that city to whom he had brought letters of introduction, showed him the most gratifying attentions. From them he endeavored to learn where he could most advantageously pursue his theological studies. The universities of Leyden and Groningen had a high reputation, but public opinion gave the preference to the University of Utrecbt. This institution was favored with a man, in the department of theology, who had no compeer in the country, professor G. Bonnet. The long summer vacation, Mr. Livingston partly spent in the acquisition of the Dutch language. On the opening of the term, he repaired to Utrecht, and was very kindly received by Prof. Bonnet, and also by Mr. Henry Peterson, an American merchant. Mr. Livingston has left the following account of the existing condition of the university. ‘‘ There were no public buildings belonging to it. A large hall appertaining to the old Cathedral or Dome kirk, was occasionally used for public orations and disputations; and in a hall of the St. Jans kirk, the public library was deposited. This was not large in respect to the number of books, as it contained chiefly such as were very rare; but it was especially celebrated for a rich collection of MSS. The lectures of the professors were all held in their houses respectively. There were no buildings appropriated as lodgings for the students. They hired chambers agreeably to their choice, among the citizens. It was usual for them to dine in select parties, in boardinghouses. The average number of students at the University of Utrecht, during the four years I resided there, was to me unknown. The students
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who attended to the different branches of science, repaired to their own respective lecture-rooms, and had little or no knowledge of any others. And, as there were several professors, even of the same science each of them had a distinct number of students, who seldom associated familiarly with those who attended a different professor."
Mr. Livingston gave his principal attention to the lectures of professor Bonnet in the department of didactic and polemic theology, he attended, in addition, upon the instructions of the following professors, Elsnerus in didactic theology, Ravius in the Hebrew language and Jewish antiquities, Segaar in the Criticism of the New Testament, and Van Goens on the Greek of the New Testament. These learned men delivered all their lectures in the Latin tongue. Mr. Livingston was not able at first to understand it in oral discourse. He accordingly applied himself most assiduously to the study of the Latin classics. In a short period, he was able to attend on the professors without embarrassment. Before he left the university, he could speak the Latin almost as readily as his native tongue, and the Dutch equally, or more so. To quote his own language,
he thought and wrote and even prayed in secret, uudesignedly, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in Dutch."
Besides, his theological studies with ardor, he sought to gain useful information upon various other subjects. He occasionally attended the public lectures upon chemistry and anatomy.
While thus earnest in the pursuit of knowledge, Mr. Livingston was by no means inattentive to practical duties, or to the state of his heart. "I was determined," he says, never to adopt any sentiment upon the authority of public profession, or the decision of any man, however dignfied or imposing his name or influence might be, unless I was convinced it was founded upon the word of God." As the doctrines were successively discussed, in the course of the lectures, it was his custom to search the Bible in order to ascertain himself the ground of their authority. He had daily devotional intercourse, also, with a few eminently pious young friends of the university. One object of his attendance on Elsnerus’s lectures was the benefit which he derived from the fervent and impressive prayers, with which the professor opened and concluded his lectures. During his residence in Utrecht, he had also pleasing evidences of having been the instrument of the conversion of several young men, who became humble and exemplary followers of the Lord Jesus. One of them was a law student, and the son of an East India governor. Another was a Dr. D., a graduate of the University of Groningen, and then known as the author of some respectable Latin works.
In 1768, the Rev. Dr. Witherspoon, having accepted the call of the trustees of the College of New Jersey, visited the continent of Europe, for the purpose of forming an acquaintance with some of the distinguished men of learning. Mr. Livingston had the happiness of providing lodgings for him at Utrecht, and of introducing him to Prof. Bonnet and to others connected with the university. During the visit, some interesting conversation was held between Dr. Witherspoon and Mr. Livingston on the practicability of healing the dissensions of the Dutch church in America, and of making some adequate provision for the instruction of young men designing to enter the ministry. It may here he remarked that the Coetus party, in pursuance of their plan for rendering themselves independent of the classis of Amsterdam, had adopted measures for the erection of an "academy" in New Jersey, in which pious youth might be educated for the ministry, and which "contained nothing about Coetus or Conferentic
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in it," being founded on the constitution of the church of Holland, as established in the national synod of Dort.* No professor was, however, appointed, nor was it determined where the academy should be established, some wishing it to be placed at Hackensack, others at New Brunswick. Mr. Livingston cherished the hope for some time, that a temporary provision could be made, by which the young men of the Dutch Reformed church, preparing for the ministry, could be educated in the college at Princeton.
The Dutch congregation in New York, having erected a new house of worship, called the North Church, determined to invite a minister who would be able to preach in the English language. Accordingly, a regular call to Mr. Livingston was made out by the Consistory on the 31st of March, 1769. This North, or Third Church, was opened for divine service, by Dr. Laidlie, on the 25th of May.
Mr. Livingston, having finished his studies at the university, appeared before the classis of Amsterdam, on the 5th of June, 1769, to be examined for licensure. His examination proving satisfactory, he became a candidate for the ministry, or what is called in Holland, a proponent. His first sermon was preached in the Dutch language, in a village east of Amsterdam. He soon after preached in Dutch at a city in North Holland, in English in the English church in Amsterdam, and in English in the Scotch church in Rotterdam. His first labors in the ministry were acceptable in a high degree. Expecting to remain some time in Holland, and supposing that it might be of some advantage to him to be able to produce in his native land what was then regarded as a valuable testimonial of proficiency in theology—the degree of doctor in divinity—he concluded to present himself before the theological faculty of the University of Utrecht, a candidate for the same. It was not customary for that university to confer honorary degrees; and the distinction now sought could not be attained, without passing through a pretty severe ordeal. The candidate must be examined and reexamined, and after being sifted by the learned faculty for a whole day, he must produce and prepare himself to defend the next day, against the adverse arguments of the professors, two short discourses, the subjects to be selected for him, the one from the Old Testament, and the other from the New. And he must answer, write and defend altogether in the Latin language. Then another dissertation was to be prepared arid published, in Latin, to be publicly supported before the whole university.
Mr. Livingston accordingly wrote a dissertation De Foedere Sinaitico, and sent it to the press. A depression of spirits, however, caused him suddenly to stop the printing of his dissertation, and to prepare to leave the country. He was ordained on the 2d of April, invested with the ministerial office, and consigned to the church of New York. While at Rotterdam, preparing to embark, he received a letter from an Amsterdam friend, censuring his conduct in relation to the theological degree, and strongly urging him to the final step necessary to its acquisition. On deliberation, he determined to follow the advice. He then abridged and printed his dissertation. On the 16th of May, 1770, he had his trial, when he was just twenty-four years of age. The assembly convened, a band of music attended, and much splendid ceremony was observed.
[* The letter in which it is asserted that a charter had been granted for this literary institution is dated September, 1767. But the charter of Queen’s College, ( now Rutgers,) which was originally established by the Coetus Party, is dated March 20, 1770. To account for the discrepency between the letter and the charter, as to the date of this instrument, it is to be presumed that only an institution of a secondary order was at first contemplated. When it was determined to make it a college, a new charter was procured, or the old one retained, with the necessary alterations, and additions, newly dated. ]
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Several gentlemen controverted some of the positions advanced in his dissertation. The disputation lasted nearly two hours. Shortly after it closed, the degree of doctor in theology was conferred on him, in the usual forms.
Before returning to this country, Dr. Livingston made a short stay in London, during which he visited Oxford, and had a pleasant interview with Dr. Benjamin Kennicott, who had then about half completed his stupendous collation of Hebrew MSS. Dr. Livingston arrived safely at New York, September 3, 1770.
Dr. Livingston preached, on the second Sabbath after his arrival, in the Middle Church in Nassau Street, to a large and attentive auditory, from I Cor. i. 22—24. He was then acknowledged, in a suitable manner, as one of the ministers of the Reformed Dutch church in New York. He commenced the discharge of his pastoral duties with great diligence and zeal. He assumed at once a full share of pulpit and parochial labors, preaching regularly twice on the Sabbath, making visits among the people, and attending two, and sometimes, three catechetical exercises every week. The fervor of pious feeling which be uniformly discovered both in and out of the pulpit ; his affectionate, dignified and prudent deportment; and the style of his preaching, novel, yet plain and forcible, admirably fitted to engage attention, to alarm the consciences of sinners, and particularly to comfort and build up believers in faith and holiness, rendered him, in a high degree, beloved and popular. His labors, though arduous, were pleasant. Favored with a number of pious and devoted friends, who sincerely and constantly prayed for him, and who, by various little attentions and expressions of kind solicitude, encouraged, without flattering him, he was cheered and sustained in his work. Being blessed also with a coadjutor in Dr. Laidlie, who was well acquainted with the state of the congregation, and who was ever ready to afford him all the counsel and assistance in his power—he labored with alacrity and diligence, while his usefulness and reputation daily increased.
Considering his youth, and his station, it was necessary that he should apply himself closely to study. He employed almost every moment, which was not otherwise occupied, in the vigorous pursuit of knowledge, and in the preparation of his sermons, he read, thought and wrote, with scarce any intermission, except what was requisite for attending to the other important duties of his station. At the beginning of’ his ministry, he wrote his sermons entirely out, and committed them to memory; but finding that his health was affected by such severe labor, he afterwards accustomed himself to preach from full notes, or what he called a copious analysis. This mode of preaching gave a freer scope for the exercise of his powers; it was precisely suited to his peculiar gifts. Often time amplitude of his intellectual views was so striking, and the degree of feeling with which he delivered his discourses was so deep, and his manner of addressing his hearers was so singular and impressive, that he was heard with the deepest attention and with great delight. Pious and judicious persons considered him to be a preacher of first-rate excellence. By his public ministrations, by the habitual suavity of his manners in private intercourse, and by his unwearied exertions to do good at all times and in all places, he soon acquired an influence, which is rarely possessed by one so young in the service of his Master.
His high standing in the church contributed greatly to the ultimate success of his endeavors to accomplish the plan that had been devised for promoting the general welfare of the Dutch church. Soon after his
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settlement in New York, he sought, with his characteristic prudence and zeal, to bring about a reconciliation between the Coetus and Conferentie parties. The bitter spirit, which had so much prevailed, began to subside, and it became the general sentiment, that something should be done in order to open the way for the regular education of youth for the ministry. A short time before Dr. L. returned to his native country, the classis of Amsterdam was appointed by the Synod of North Holland, through his influence with the latter body, a committee, with plenary power, to do whatever they might judge would be conducive to the interests of the American church. Between the clerical members of the classis and Dr. L. there existed a perfect understanding in relation to the plan, which, after his return, should be offered to the consideration of his brethren. At his suggestion, a general convention was holden in the month of October, 1771. All the ministers belonging to the Dutch church were invited, together with one elder from each congregation. Mr. De Ronde, a colleague of Dr. Livingston, preached the introductory sermon; the doctor himself was chosen president, and a committee was appointed to prepare a formula of union, consisting of two ministers and two elders respectively, from the Coetus, the Conferertie and the neutral churches of New York and Albany. When the committee met, the doctor disclosed the plan, which had been prepared in Holland, and which his brethren there had agreed that he should submit to the church in this country. The committee examined the same with great care, and having made a few slight additions and changes, resolved to report it to the assembly. The assembly approved it without a dissentient voice, with the understanding that before it should be finally adopted, or be considered as having the binding power of a solemn compact, it should be referred to the judgment of the classis of Amsterdam. While the Coetus brethren, on the one hand, were gratified by the recognition of principles for which they had long contended, the feelings of the Conferentie Party, on the other hand, were no less gratified with the proposed reference to the foreign chassis, as it fully accorded with the principle which they had maintained, and which gave to the classis a paramount authority over the concerns of the American Dutch Church.
The convention having proceeded in the business as far as it was then deemed advisable, adjourned to meet again the next October. In the meantime what they had already done with so much harmony and good feeling, had a gradual and salutary operation in diffusing a spirit of forbearance and love.
In October, 1772, the convention reassembled, and the letter of the classis of Amsterdam, officially certifying that the Plan of Union had been approved by them, was laid before it. Every member then subscribed the articles, and the good work was thus formally and solemnly consummated.
This event proved a most auspicious one to the Dutch church in this country. As the original projector, the pious, prudent and persevering promoter of the union, Dr. Livingston will be had in grateful and honor able remembrance while the church endures. He had, indeed, zealous cooperators, particularly, in the Rev. Drs. Laidlie, Westerlo and Romeyn, and Rev. Messrs. Hardenbergh, Light, Ver Breyck and Rysdick but Dr. Livingston is preeminently entitled to the high honor of having been the peace—maker. The station to which he had been elevated in the convention, though but twenty-five years old, and though he had been then but one year in the ministry, is indisputable evidence of the opinion entertained of his talents and of his character by his brethren of both parties.
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In order to strengthen and perpetuate the union which Dr. Livingston had been the honored instrument of effecting, and to raise the character of the church, a project was started, of procuring the establishment in a suitable place of a professorship of theology. It was proposed that it should be in connection with Queen’s College in New Brunswick, N. J., and that the classis of Amsterdam should nominate the incumbent. In the latter part of 1773, £4,000 had been subscribed for this purpose. The classis of Amsterdam, after advising with the theological faculty of Utrecht, unanimously recommended Dr. Livingston as the most suitable person for professor. The letter of Prof. Bonnet was enclosed in that of the classis, and both commended him as a person well qualified for the office, and to be preferred to any one that could be sent from Holland. In order to confirm these proceedings, an assembly of the Dutch ministers and elders was called in the month of May, 1775. This was a few days subsequent to the battle of Lexington. Such was the excitement of feeling produced by that event, that the members of the assembly hastily terminated their session. The particular business, for which they had assembled, was necessarily deferred.
Many families now retired from the city of New York into the country. Many more soon followed them. Among these was the family of the Hon. Philip Livingston, a distinguished patriot and a member of Congress. In the month of October, 1775, he retired with his household to Kingston in the county of Ulster. With Sarah, the youngest daughter of this gentleman, Dr. Livingston had previously entered into a matrimonial engagement. In the month of October, 1776, they were united in marriage, a union which was eminently happy for all parties concerned. Mrs. Livingston was a lady of good sense, of a mild and affectionate disposition, of great prudence, and of eminent piety.*
Dr. Livingston was himself a decided friend of the American cause, and like many other clergymen, offered up fervent prayers for its success. He took up his residence in the family of his father-in-law, and visited the city for the performance of ministerial duty, as often as it was practicable, and as long as it was considered proper to continue religious services there, till the autumn of 1776, when the British took possession of the city. He was then invited by the Consistory of the Dutch church in Albany to preach in that city while he should be excluded from his pastoral charge. He accordingly removed to Albany in the month of November. In 1777, Kingston was burnt by the British, and the family of his father-in-law retired to Sharon, Ct. The winter climate of Albany proving too severe for Mrs. Livingston, he removed in the summer of 1779 to Livingston’s Manor, in hopes that this change of situation would be beneficial to her health. In April, 1780, he received a call from the church in Albany to become their pastor. This call he felt it to be his duty to decline.
Dr. Livingston, subsequently, preached in the village of Lithgow, near the Livingston Manor- House. He spent the two following years, 1781, l782, in Pooughkeepsie, in his father’s mansion, and supplied the pulpit of the Dutch church in the town. At the close of 1783, the conflict with Great Britain was brought to a close. New York city was evacuated by the British troops November 25, 1783. Dr. Livingston thereupon returned and resumed his pastoral charge. It was a season of joy as well as of sorrow. Two of the places of worship belonging to the Dutch church had been
[* The eldest daughter of the Hon. Philip Livingston was the mother of the late Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer of Albany; the second, who was married to a Dr. Thomas Jones, was the mother of Mrs. Clinton, the widow of De Witt Clinton. }
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wantonly abused, and were in a ruinous state. Many sad changes had also taken place by death. His beloved and venerable colleague, Dr. Laidlie, was numbered with the dead.*
The old house of worship in Garden Street, being found uninjured, was reopened for public worship.
In October, 1784, another convention of the Dutch church assembled.† This body unanimously confirmed the appointment of Dr. Livingston as professor of theology, which had been made before the war by the classis of Amsterdam. On the 19th of May, 1785, in compliance with the
request of the General Synod, he delivered his inaugural oration before them in Latin. This discourse, the subject of which was ‘the Truth of the Christian Religion,’ was afterwards published.
During the greater part of several years, Dr. L. lectured five days every week to a class of theological students. In the lapse of the period which has been mentioned, he received, upon a confession of their faith, more than 400 persons into the communion of the church. The period was in fact one joyful season of revival. A particular incident will illustrate this.
In a memoir of the Rev. David S. Bogart‡ we find the following sentences: " It appears that Mr. Bogart early exhibited evidences of piety, and in the year 1786, at the age of sixteen, he was received a member of the Collegiate Reformed Dutch church, then under the pastoral care of the Rev. Dr. John H. Livingston. The ministry of Dr. L., who, for a short time succeeding the Revolution, was sole pastor, was about this time greatly blessed. A deep religions influence was widely extended, the fruit of which was found in large accessions to the church. It has been our privilege to be acquainted with several who were the subjects of this influence, the characteristics of whose piety was of a peculiarly pleasant arid ripened kind."
Dr. Livingston himself participated in the influence which so graciously and copiously accompanied his ministrations. The large accessions, made to the church from time to time, comforted and encouraged him, and his work, with these convincing tokens of the Divine presence, if debilitating to his body, was nevertheless a delightful one.
Dr. Livingston soon after received as colleagues in his ministerial labors, the Rev. Drs. William Linn and Gerard A. Kuypers, the former to preach in the English language and the latter in the Dutch. A call was also tendered to Dr. Romeyn of Schenectady, which he declined. The leisure which Dr. Livingston gained in consequence of these arrangements, was devoted to the young men under his care preparing for the ministry. Dr. Livingston now took a prominent part in all the acts which had respect to the general prosperity of the Dutch church. Among other duties, he revised and published, with other members of a committee, a revision of the Psalms. A Digest of the doctrines, worship arid government of the church was also prepared, and bound up with the Psalms. The work was ratified by the General Synod held October 10, 1792, and
[* He died in Red Hook, in 1789, of a pulmonary disease. The two Dutch pators, Messrs. Ritzems and De Ronde, did not again return to the city. The former remained at Kinderhook, and the latter was settled at Schaghtcoke. The Consistory of the church granted to each an annuity of £ 200 for life.
† After the Revolution, every particular assembly was called a classis, and the General Assembly a Particular Synod. There were, at this tme, between seventy and eighty Dutch congregations in the State of New York, and about forty in New Jersey; of the former, three classes were constituted; of the latter two, which were to meet ordinarily twice a year. A General Synod was also soon formed, composed of all the ministers of the church with each an elder, and one from every vacant congregation.
‡ See the New York Observer, October 12, 1839, for a notice of Mr. Bogart, extracted from the funeral sermon of the Rev. Thomas De Witt, D.D. ]
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entitled "The Constitution of the Reformed Dutch Church, in the United States of America."
About this period, Queen’s College in New Brunswick not being in a prosperous state, an effort was made to unite it with the college at Princeton. This project, Dr. Livingston strenuously and ably opposed, and it was abandoned.
Dr. Livingston was naturally of a sociable turn of mind, and a large circle of lay, as well as of ministerial friends, claimed his attentions. He seldom paid a visit, whether of a pastoral or of a social kind, without endeavoring to render his conversation profitable to all around him, or to intermingle some pious and profound observation, in a manner so impressive, that it could not be forgotten. He took special pains, particularly with youth, whether of his own church or not, at every suitable opportunity, to make some salutary impression on their minds; in these efforts, few men were more successful. At the same time his health was not good, while his parochial labors were much increased by the serious illness of Dr. Lion. In such circumstances, it was impossible for him to give that attention to the duties of his theological professorship, which his own sense of their intrinsic importance, and a due regard to the improvement of the young men under his care, prompted him to render. The General Synod, at length, became convinced that it was necessary to adopt some measures, that would place him in a situation more appropriate to the duties of his office. It was determined, after mature consideration, to establish the Divinity professorship in connection with a flourishing academy on Long Island, near the place of Dr. L.’s summer residence. He was to preach only once on every Sabbath. In 1796, he removed from the city to a place which he had purchased at Bedford, about two miles from Brooklyn. Here his Divinity Hall was opened with cheering prospects. The number of students immediately increased, and Dr. L. was encouraged to believe that the plan would be crowned with complete success. But his hopes were disappointed. The Synod failed to meet their engagements, and the institution languished. In June, 1797, the Synod voted that it was not expedient, under present circumstances, to take any further measures for the support of the professorate. Dr. L. returned to the city and resumed his pastoral labors. Such young men as wished to prosecute their studies under his direction, were still cheerfully and faithfully attended to; but, for several succeeding years, he was chiefly devoted to the beloved people of his charge, among whom his labors continued to be acceptable and useful.
In 1804, another attempt was made to revive the theological school. Dr. Livingston was chosen the permanent professor, whose temporary seat should be the city of New York, " subject, however, at all times, to the government of Synod, with respect to a more eligible and expedient place for this purpose." Rev. John Bassett arid Rev. Jeremiah Romeyn were appointed professors of the Hebrew language.
Dr. Livingston frequently preached in the neighboring Dutch churches; and on particular occasions, as the laying of the corner stone of a new place of worship, on the opening of a new church, it was in a manner considered his prerogative to officiate. He preached two sermons before the annual meeting of the New York Missionary Society, one in 1799, and one in 1804. Both were published, one in a second edition. They were able and interesting sermons.
In 1807, the trustees of Queen’s College, having resolved to revive the institution under their care, made a communication to that effect to the
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General Synod. The proposal was cordially approved by the latter body. About $10,000 were immediately raised in the city of New York for the support of a professorship of theology in Queen’s College. To this professorship, as well as to the presidency of the institution, Dr. Livingston was soon invited.
He removed to New Brunswick on the 10th of October, 1810. In the capacity of president, it was not expected that he should render much active service. His duties were confined to presiding at commencements, authenticating diplomatic documents, and taking a general superintendence of the institution, as far as his time and health might permit. The department of theology was that to which he was chiefly to devote himself; this belonged exclusively to him, and he engaged in it with all his heart. At first, he had but five students to attend his course; but, the text year, the number increased to nine.
In 1812, the committee of the General Synod made the following statement. ‘‘ Since the removal of the professor, he has opened the theological school, and the number of students has so increased, as to afford a hopeful prospect that this institution will be of extensive and permanent usefulness to the church." " When your committee reflect on the zeal of the professor, thus to promote the best interests of the churches, his leaving a people endeared to him by a useful ministry of forty years, removing from a place where numerous connections had been formed, and an ample support was secured, when they reflect upon his entering on a new scene and on arduous duties, at such sacrifices, in his advanced period of life; the committee hesitate not to express the high and grateful sense which they entertain of the conduct of the professor, and feel confident that their sentiments are in unison with those of the churches generally."
About this period, Dr. Livingston published a small and useful work, entitled, ‘‘ A Funeral Service, or Meditations, adapted to Funeral Addresses." The book of Psalms and Hymns was revised and enlarged by him, at the request of the Synod.
In 1814, Dr. Livingston was called to mourn the loss of his excellent wife. On the day of her funeral, he thus wrote to a friend. " This day her dear remains are to be deposited in the grave. I do not love my blessed Jesus any thing less for afflicting me. He is now very precious to me. All my springs are in him. He stands by me, and strengthens me. It is the Lord. He bath taken away, blessed be his name, notwithstanding. It is the heaviest stroke I have ever received, but it is well. Before she was taken ill, she frequently expressed an ardent desire to be with Christ, and almost envied those who were called home, of which there were three instances in this place, in the course of this very week. Her Lord has given her the desire of her soul, and has received her spirit."
In 1819, the Board of Superintendents of the Theological School thus report. " With gratitude to the great Head of the church, the Board inform the Synod, that the health and usefulness of their venerable professor, Livingston, are still continued and that, at his advanced age, he is, with his visual devotedness and ability, blessing the church, by communicating to her successive ministers that theological information, for which he is so eminently distinguished."
As Dr. L. drew towards the close of his long and useful life, he seemed habitually to hold communion with heavenly things, to forget what was behind, and to reach forth with increased ardor to his crown. " My soul is engaged more than ever," he says in a letter, "to redeem the time, which with me is short; to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of my
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blessed Lord and Saviour, and to finish my course with joy, and increased faithfulness and usefulness." I expect and hope soon to change my trials and tears, my sighs and conflicts, for high hallelujahs and perpetual praises." " My health is gradually becoming better and more confirmed, yet I feel very feeble, and am not yet restored to my former vigor. Perhaps I never shall be. It is all right. I have had a long day, and a good day and if at evening time it shall be light, the mercy shall be great, and I shall commit my departing spirit into his hand, who has redeemed me, without distracting fears or unbelieving doubts."
The time of his release at length came. During the week preceding his death, he enjoyed apparently his usual strength and spirits. In the morning of Wednesday, January 19, 1825, he paid several visits; when he returned home, he delivered a long lecture to the students upon the subject of Divine Providence. The evening he spent in conversing with his colleague, chiefly upon religious subjects, with a cheerfulness and vigor which excited admiration. Afer an interesting family exercise, in which he appeared to draw very near to God, and to remember every object dear to him, he retired to his chamber, making no complaintt of indisposition. In the morning, one of his little grandsons, who had slept in the room with him, but who had seen or beard nothing to excite a suspicion of what had happened, called him, and said, Grandpa! it is eight o’clock,’’ but there was no response, nor sign of his awaking. The family became alarmed, and it was soon discovered that he had ceased to breathe. The precise moment at which he expired, could not of course be known. His perfectly composed countenance, the natural position of his hands and feet, the unruffled state of the bedclothes, all told that his dissolution had been without a struggle. He lay as one in a sweet sleep. He was in the 79th year of his age. The next Sabbath, his remains were committed to the house appointed for all living. A funeral service, appropriate to the occasion, was performed by the Rev. Dr. Milledoler. On the following Sabbath, a number of pulpits were hung with mourning and in several churches of the connection funeral sermons were preached. Those delivered by the Rev. Drs. C. C. Cuyler, John De Witt, and the Rev. N. J. Marselus were published. By order of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed church, a monument, with an appropriate inscription, was erected over his remains.
Dr. Livingston was a tall and well-formed man, of a grave and intelligent countenance, of an easy and polite air. He dressed usually in the ancient clerical fashion, and there was that in his appearance altogether, which strongly marked the elevation of his character, and could hardly fail to convince even a stranger, upon merely passing him in the street, that he was a person who had more than ordinary claims to attention and respect.
He was naturally of a mild and affectionate disposition. In the entertainment of his friends, to the very last, he displayed the ardor and sprightliness of youth, and was attentive without unnecessary and irksome ceremony, cheerful without levity, and communicative without repressing that free interchange of remark, so essential to agreeable conversation.
"As a theologian,’’ says the Rev. Robert Forrest, "his great forte lay in that which was systematical and practical. He had studied, with the utmost diligence, the writings of those distinguished men who reflected so much honor upon Holland arid Geneva, during the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. It did not appear to me that his talents qualified him for a successful controversialist ; but in the faculty of illustrating the Christian system, and in exhibiting its spiritual and moral tendencies, for the instruction of theological students, or a Christian
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congregation, he certainly had few, if any, superiors among his contemporaries."
The warmth and constancy of his devotional feelings," says Dr. Milledoller,* ‘‘ formed a very striking and prominent feature in his character. No person could be long in his presence without perceiving that he was conversing with a man of God, nor depart from it, if he had a kindred spirit, without receiving some new impulse of holy love, and increased fidelity to Heaven. By the weight of his character, and the combined dignity and courtesy of his manners, he acquired an influence over the minds and hearts of those with whom he associated, which is rarely attained. This was experienced by old and young, rich and poor, not only by members of his own, but also of other denominations, and that to such a degree, that it was difficult to come in contact with him, and not feel his superiority. In that branch of the church with which he was more particularly connected, he had, and has left no compeer."
Dr. L.," remarks the Rev. Dr. Janeway, " was eminently pious and devout. He lived near to the throne of grace. His gift in prayer was great. He drew nigh to the mercy-seat with reverence; but he pleaded with the freedom and confidence which a child uses with a parent, whom he reveres and loves. He once remarked, that the prayers of an advanced Christian are distinguished, not by going over the lofty titles of Jehovah, but by using the tender appellation of ‘Father.’" " For the duties of a theological professor, when I had the advantage of attending his lectures, he was eminently qualified, and second to no man in this country. He was learned and extensively read in theological books, especially those written in the Dutch and Latin languages. With the Greek and Hebrew he was acquainted. So familiar was he with the Latin, that as he once informed me, while in Holland pursuing his studies, be used to dream in that language.
The characteristic of this venerable man," says the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller, "which most deeply impressed me at my first acquaintance with him, and which continued to deepen its impression on me, up to my last interview with him, was his ardent, habitual piety. I know not that I ever met with a man, whose daily and hourly conversation indicated a mind more unremittingly devout, or more strongly marked with the exercises of the deeply experimental Christian." " As a preacher, he deservedly enjoyed a high reputation. He seldom or never, I believe, wrote his sermons fully out; and very often, more especially towards the close of life, preached without writing at all. Hence he was by no means remarkable for that terse, polished, rhetorical style of sermonizing, in which some distinguished preachers have succeeded so admirably. The great excellence of his preaching consisted rather in the solidity and excellence of the matter, than in the refinement of the manner. He was generally diffuse, sometimes circuitous in his expositions and illustrations; but generally rich in thought always solemn and experimental; sometimes in a high degree powerful; and seldom failed to keep up, and to reward to the last, the attention of all classes of his hearers, especially of the more deeply pious."
NOTE. For the greater part of the facts contained in the preceding sketch, we are indebted to the interesting Memoir of Dr. Livingston,, prepared by the Rev. Alexander Gunn, D.D. of New York,and published in 1829, in one vol. Svo.
[ * See sketch of Or. Livingston’s character, by the Rev. Philip Milledoller, D.D.,in the New York Observer, February 5, 1825. ]