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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Will the real William Livingston please stand up

Presbyterian William Livingston was perhaps the most orthodox Calvinist founding father of them all. Maybe more so than Roger Sherman, John Witherspoon, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, James Wilson, Gunning Bedford Jr., Richard Stockton, Josiah Bartlett, William Paterson, Oliver Ellsworth, James McHenry, Oliver Wolcott, John Hancock, James Otis, Philip Livingston, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, Hugh Williamson, William Samuel Johnson and many others.

Madison believed in predestination as this blog has previously shown and was taught by Calvinists from grade school to university, but William Livingston takes the cake. However, if you don't do your homework, and limit your material to his work in the Independent Reflector publication of 1752, when Livingston was 27 years old, you won't get the whole story. Later in life, Livingston became a diehard Calvinist, just like his older brother Philip, who was a signer of the declaration of independence.

Here, Livingston defends most of the history of American Calvinism. He defends the Puritans, their doctrine, education, politics, Eleazer Wheelock, Cotton Mather, Jon Eliot and his treatment of the Indians, as well as David Brainerd and his brother, etc. 

"BUT in what sense my lord, did those adventurers abandon their native religion? If your lordship means by their native religion, the doctrines of christianity as contained in the thirty-nine articles of your church;. they were so far from abandoning it, that it were to be wished it to be inviolably preserved by those they left behind. These were the very doctrines which they, in their time, universally believed, constantly taught, and warmly inculcated. These are the doctrines which their posterity, to this day, believe, teach, and inculcate. Nay, they believe, teach and inculcate them, in the same scriptural and unadulterated sense, in which they were believed, taught, and inculcated at the time of the reformation. They believe, teach, and inculcate them, without those sophisticating glories, by which they have since, in the mother-country, been wrested to favor the heresy of Arminius."

--A Letter to the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Landaff; occasioned by some passages in His Lordship's sermon, on the 20th of February, 1767, in which the American colonies are loaded with great and undeserved reproach. / By William Livingston. New-York: Printed for the author; and to be sold by Garrat Noel, near the coffee-house, MDCCLXVIII. 1768.

Notice, Livingston doesn't qualify the heresy of arminianism. He affirms all arminianism as heresy, attacking the founder of arminianism. Below, Livingston supports the entire current Christian establishment of New England:

In the New-England colonies particularly, they have from their earliest settlement been peculiarly attentive to the most ample provision of a gospel ministry. Their legislative acts, from the commencement of those colonies, abundantly evince this attention. By these, provision is always made for the establishment and support of the gospel ministry in every, new-erected township; and without such establishment, within three years from the settlement, the grants are liable to an absolute forfeiture. In consequence of this provision, with the divine blessing on their pious endeavours, Christianity has not only been supported, but so faithfully preached, and so zealously inculcated, that I will venture to affirm, there is not a more virtuous, not a more religious people upon the face of the earth [bold face mine].
Livingston writes Christian establishment, nay reformed Christian establishment has a divine blessing. Roger Sherman never wrote anything this Calvinist. Livingston continues in support of punishing Sabbath breakers:

"Nor have those colonies from their first settlement to this day, been without provincial laws, to enforce an attendance on public worship, and punish the profanation of the sabbath."

Here, Livingston commends a Calvinist leading Indians to communion:

"In the year 1689, the indian church, under the care of Mr. John Mayhew, son of
 the above Thomas, consisted of a hundred communicants, walking according to the rule of the scriptures."

Notice, Livingston affirms communion as a rule of the scriptures. It's also interesting Livingston calls Yale, Harvard, William and Mary, Penn, Princeton and King's,  as seminaries.

At the end of the letter, Livingston writes, "With this, my lord, I shall humbly take my leave
hoping that for the sake of truth, and the cause of religion, especially remembering how greatly your lordship has been deceived in the present case..."

Contrary to attacking creeds, Livingston defends the thirty-nine articles adhered to by the Puritans. Livingston never rejected the athanasian creed. All he wrote is his creed is easier to understand.


Our Founding Truth said...

Some interesting comments:

"Some Passages in his Lordship's Sermon,on the 20th of February,1767, in which the American Colonies
are loaded with great and undeserved Reproach."

Why would Livingston say the colonies are reproached when calvinism (puritanism) is attacked?

"In the New-England colonies
particularly, they have from their earliest settlement been peculiarly attentive to the most ample provision of a gospel miniftry. Their legislative acts, from the commencement of thofe colonies, abundantly evince this
attention. By thefe provifion is always made, for the
eftabhihment and fupport of the gofpel miniftry in every, new-erected townfhip; and without fuch eftablifbment, within three ye'ars from the fettlement, the grants are
liable to an abfolute forfeiture. In consequence of this provifion, with the divine bleffing on their pious endeavours, chriftianity has not only been fupported, but so faithfully preached, and so zealoufiy inculcated, that I will venture to affirm, there is not a more virtuous, not a more religious people upon the face of the earth."

Livingston supported the legal establishment of Christianity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Livingston doesn't appear to by stating his own beliefs here as much as pleading on behalf of those who appear to have been unjustly accused of apostasy. I believe this relates to the controversy of the Church of England wanting to appoint bishops in America, which the Presbyterian [!] Livingston adamantly opposed.

Here's the full text.;view=fulltext

I think you have a good lead in pointing out that a lot of what's quoted about Livingston comes from when he was 27; he might have reverted to orthodoxy, I'm just not sure this is your smoking gun. He may have condemned Arminianism to curry favor with the Bishop of Landaff while his own interest was more in the politics of the Brits dominating American religion.

Our Founding Truth said...

I thought that too, but it's too blatant and obvious. Livingston affirms these words because he writes, "that I will venture to affirm" and that the puritans received a divine blessing. His own words affirm communion as "according to the scriptures."

Professor Hall is checking James Otis' proclamation is in his own writing.

Our Founding Truth said...

Remember, Livingston was an active Presbyterian, who was a trustee of Princeton. He also had John Witherspoon in charge of his son's education.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Again, just defending them

In consequence of this provision, with the divine blessing on their pious endeavours, christianity has not only been supported, but so faithfully preached, and so zealously inculcated, that I will venture to affirm, there is not a more virtuous, not a more religious people upon the face of the earth.

What he's trying to do is affirm that the American congregations are faithful and orthodox and there' no need to impose English ecclesiastical authority on them. It seems the bishop had been arguing that the Americans had strayed theologically, thus necessitating interference from C of E HQ.

The affair bears an uncanny resemblance to Franklin's defense of Rev. Hemphill, who was similarly charged with straying from orthodoxy. Such defenses are not necessarily personal agreement with orthodoxy. The text does not support your conclusion.

I think you're on to something possibly interesting but no smoking gun yet for Livingston's return to orthodoxy. His motivation here is more political than theological.

Our Founding Truth said...

I compared this to Franklin's support of Hemphill and found they are not comparable. Franklin did not personally affirm Calvinist doctrine, nor was he a communing Presbyterian or a trustee of a Calvinist university.

Arguing against an American bishopric was apart of this no doubt, but it's important to disever opinion in this text.

I don't believe Livingston ever left the Calvinism of his youth and college days. Why he was against creeds doesn't make any sense if it faithfully interprets the bible, which he clearly was taught at Yale.

Tom Van Dyke said...

not seeing your smoking gun

Our Founding Truth said...

Sedgwick quotes Livingston's own words saying I have a "real affection for New England." This is a personal letter to Samuel Cooper which shows it wasn't political like you say it was. He adored new England then and before and the context is their religion.

Also, Livingston wasn't just a Presbyterian delegate. He was the official head representative of the Presbyterian church of the state of New York, appointing Dr. Bostick as pastor of the Presbyterian church of New York and you don't think he was Calvinist? Livingston was one of the most powerful Calvinists in the world. If he was arminian, it's a bigger scam than what madoff did. Livingston was the representative of New York to the Presbyterian churches.

Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1901-1930)
Vol. 1, No. 3 (MARCH A. D. 1902), pp. 236-245, p. 239.

Tom Van Dyke said...

All inference, not a smoking gun. Give us some first-hand quotes, esp repudiating his earlier writings.

He may have had an "affection" for New England, but he also defended the Moravians, who were accused of being [heretical] antinomians. [I don't know the whole story.]

Livingston seems far more interested in ecclesial politics than in actual theology. Remember, he got involved in the C of E bishop controversy. He also called himself "more than half a Quaker," a very strange thing for a total orthodox Calvinist to be saying.

I'm not saying you're wrong, but there seems to be little evidence Livingston was stoked on orthodoxy, at least some from his early years that he dissented from it.

Our Founding Truth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Our Founding Truth said...

Moravians appear to be Calvinist, believing the Augsburg confession and the thirty nine articles. I doubt zizendorff is a good example of the Moravians.