Livingston, John Henry

Livingston, John Henry D.D., S.T.P., the "father of the Reformed Dutch Church in this country," and in many respects its most celebrated representative, was born at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., May 30, 1746, son of Henry Livingston, and a lineal descendant in the fourth generation from the Reverend John Livingston, of Scotland. He graduated at Yale College in 1762, and then studied law for two years, when his health gave way under his close application, and he was obliged to discontinue it. About this time he was converted, and then directed his attention to the Christian ministry. By advice of Dr. Laidlie, of New York, he went to Europe to complete his theological studies at the University of Utrecht, in Holland, where he remained four years, and was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Classis of Amsterdam. Having received a call to become pastor and second preacher in English of the Church of New York, he passed examination at the university for the degree of doctor of divinity, returned to New York September 3, 1770, and at once began his labors as pastor of the Church. Here he soon established his great reputation as a pulpit orator and as a learned theologian; but his grand ecclesiastical achievement was the settlement of the old and bitter controversy between the "Coetus" and "Conferentie" parties of the Reformed Dutch Church, and the consummation in about two years of the union, which has never since been broken. His pastoral relation to the Church in New York continued forty years 1770 to 1810 — although during the Revolutionary War he was obliged to leave the city, and upon his return in 1783 he found himself the sole pastor, and so remained for three years. The next year he was appointed professor of theology, and retained this office, with his pastorate, until 1810, when he removed to New Brunswick, N.J., at the request of the synod, and opened the theological seminary in that city, occupying, in connection with it, the presidency of Queens, now Rutgers College. These two offices he held until his death in 1825. It is difficult, in this brief notice, even to sum up the services and character of this eminent man. More than four hundred souls were received into the Church on profession of their faith during the three years of his sole pastorate after the war. Nearly two hundred young men were trained by him for the ministry of the Church. To him, more than to any other man, is due the credit of the separate organization of the Reformed (Dutch) Church in this country. He principally shaped its Constitution; he prepared its first psalm and hymn book. His theological lectures still form the basis of didactic and polemic instruction in the theological seminary of which he was the founder and father. The whole denomination is reaping today the fruits of the sacrifices which he made for it. His influence in the Church was like that of Washington in the nation. his grand and eloquent sermon, preached before the New York Missionary Society in 1804, from Re 14:6-7, was one of the leading influences in that revival of the missionary spirit which gave Samuel J. Mills and his young friends to the work, and which resulted in the subsequent organization of the "American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions" in 1813. Several of Dr. Livingston's occasional productions were published by himself, and a posthumous volume, containing a syllabus of his theological lectures, was issued by the Reverend Jesse Fonda, one of his pupils. His death, at his residence in New Brunswick, January 19, 1825, was like a translation, without pain or complaint, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." His wife, Sarah Livingston, whom he married in October 1775, was the daughter of Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Like him, Dr. Livingston was an ardent and fearless patriot, and during all of the Revolutionary struggle he earnestly sustained the cause of freedom. In person Dr. Livingston was tall, commanding, dignified, and imposing. His features were regular and handsome. His manners were refined and studiously polite. He was the model of the Christian gentleman. In his later years his appearance was truly patriarchal. His piety was all-pervading. As a preacher, he possessed eminent abilities. His oratory was peculiar to himself, and very effective. It was full of action, variety, and power. As a theological teacher, he was clear, concise, learned, systematic, and practical. His influence over his students was wonderful. His great aim was to make them experimental ministers of Christ, and they loved and reverenced him almost as an apostle. Whatever faults he had were more than covered, to the eyes of his friends, by his majestic bearing, his admirable character, his pious life, and fruitful ministry, and by his services to the Church of Christ. See Dr. (Gunn's Life, etc., abridged by Dr. T.W. Chambers; also Sprague, Annals. volume 9, an admirable portraiture; also several funeral discourses, etc. (W.J.R.T.)

 
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