Monday, November 30, 2009

One of Heaven's Jewels: Rev Archibald Cook

One of Heaven's Jewels: Rev Archibald Cook of Daviot and the (Free) North Church, Inverness, Norman Campbell (2009) 288 pp., Paperback, ISBN-13: 978-0956364104 Available here

Cook was one of the most eminent Highland preachers in the nineteenth century. His preaching was both powerful and searching and reasoned with the sinner in a plain-dealing but solemn way. Donald Beaton said of him, "No one who has any knowledge of the truth can read Mr Cook's sermons, in Gaelic and English, without feeling that here is a man whose words reach the conscience and demand attention. . . Perhaps none of the preachers of the Northern Highlands ever got so near to the consciences of his hearers as did Mr Cook." Cook himself used to say: "I like the Holy Ghost to convince me of sin, for He never magnifies it above the mercy of God". Cook's Gaelic sermons have probably been the sermons most read and best loved in that language. This book gives a focus to the theology and emphases of Cook's preaching in the last chapter. Cook preached the covenant of grace with Christ as its centre. Within this it is evident that there was a strong evangelistic strain in his preaching with a fully free offer and a full assertion of the sovereign grace of God.

This book draws together a wealth of rare sources into a meticulously-researched labour of love that sketches in the social and ecclesiastical context from which Cook emerged and in which he laboured. Here you will find fresh and original information on a variety of subjects related to Cook and his ministry. The author introduces Arran evangelicalism and the revival on the island, the Argyllshire Calvinistic Baptist movement, the ministry of Dr John Love. It appears that Love's ministry in Glasgow was a significant influence upon divinity students from the North. The lasting impact of that influence upon Cook is traced out in a later chapter. Moving northwards the Ten Years' Conflict in the Highlands, Separatists in and around Inverness and the 1859 revival in Inverness are covered together in depth together with an outline of the solid and sound evangelistic work undertaken by Duncan MacBeth in Inverness.

Another less well-known aspect that the book brings out is the friendship between Cook and Jonathan Ranken Anderson, who was an eminent preacher but who came to regard the Free Church as apostate. The friendship ended when Anderson realised that Cook did not fully support his position. The chapter sets Anderson in a negative light and much is drawn from his own diary and correspondence. This is fair as far as the episode goes. There is much, however, to commend in Anderson's preaching and there is evidence that he discerned the seeds of the later decline and apostasy that overtook the Free Church, although his own actions were precipitate. In 1839-1840 there was a season of revival in his church in Glasgow. Much more might have been said to give a balanced view for those not entirely familiar with Jonathan Ranken Anderson and who would benefit from his printed sermons.

The character of Arran evangelicalism bore a deep testimony to the revival upon the island. This was an influence which, like his pronounced Gaelic dialect, would remain with him to the end of his days. His experience of the mild strain of Separatism there no doubt gave him both a sympathy and understanding with the grievances of the movement. The Separatists of the Inverness area all flocked to his uncompromising ministry in the town. Cook's godliness, through grace, was the fountain that supplied his ministry with its power and heavenliness. In a time of eminently godly people, many found in Cook an honest, discerning and heaven-sent minister. Alexander Auld recalled how "this small, dark man, with light step and downward look, would, on entering any assembly, command a deference never given to mere bodily pomposity. There sat upon him an air of heavenliness and spirituality that others felt awed by". Neil Cameron said that the people "were convinced that they had in him a man anointed with the Holy Ghost, whose conversation shined before men. This godly life accounts, in part, for the deep reverence with which his memory is embalmed in the minds of those that knew him." He was well known for refusing to brook any compromise with carnal worldliness.

His brother Finlay, also a minister, knew him as well as any, and said of him, "I never saw a man that keeps so near the Lord as he does. He is constantly praying or reading or meditating when he is not engaged in public. Though you were a year with him, you would not hear a vain word out of his mouth." None could read Cook's heart or speak for him, however, and he was all too conscious of remaining corruption within himself. "My own barrenness and distance from God," he wrote in a letter, "the want of spiritual mindedness, and the fear of becoming a barren tree in the Church, these often make my life a burden".

Norman Campbell notes the significance of what was said to be Cook's favourite text, Daniel 12:3: 'And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever'. J. R. MacKay wrote, "Only the Great Day will fully reveal what were the fruits of a ministry characterised by such genuine humility, such an arresting tenderness of walk and conversation, such unflinching opposition to iniquity, and withal such extraordinary assiduousness in prayer".

This richly illustrated volume will be of great interest to many. Another encouragement to obtain a copy is that all the profits from the book will go to the Bethesda Care Home and Hospice in Stornoway.