Archibald Cook is one of the stars in that firmament of Highland ministers whose memory remains bright long after they have gone to the heavenly kingdom. Another writer commented on him, that he is part of the pantheon of Highland ministers, criticism of whom could still elicit disapproval. Both Archibald and his brother Finlay Cook were the two ministers whose lives were recorded in that brief biography that already sits on most FP shelves called ‘Sidelights on two notable ministries’ edited by the Rev. Alexander McPherson. This new book represents a serious attempt at a deeper biography based on a range of recent discoveries.
Growing up we often had 'read sermons' on a Sabbath morning from the Cook’s and J.R. Anderson. This biography contains one of my favourite anecdotes and it took the form of an exchange between J. R. Anderson (minister in Glasgow) and the Rev. Archibald Cook who was supplying at his communion. J. R. Anderson was a complex character who eventually left the Free Church over its perceived backsliding (and indeed, his diaries do throw an alarming light on some of the practices of the more ‘reformed’ ministers in the disruption Free Church) yet, Principal Macleod would later describe Anderson as ‘one of the greatest preachers of his generation’. The Anderson congregation would later join the FP congregation in Glasgow. Anderson clearly feeling the isolation from the Free Church mainstream, remarked in the hearing of Archibald Cook that there were only two faithful ministers in Scotland, presumably a reference to Cook and himself. Archibald quickly suggested, however, that the two were himself and his brother Finlay. It was also Anderson that commented in 1851 after Cook’s action sermon and fencing of the tables that ‘I have never heard an address equal to Mr C.’s, it was short, pithy, rich. The view I got of the Sacrament was wonderful. I thought in receiving Christ therein set forth, I received the fullness of the Godhead, for in dwelleth in Him. I was sobbing, was upset when Mr C said (commenting on Anderson’s sermon) ‘he did not expect to hear in Scotland such faithfulness as he heard that day, and blessed God he had been there’.
The book is broadly divided into three sections. The first six chapters describe his life, the next four look at the social and ecclesiastical context in the Highlands and the last two chapters are an attempt to look at the features of his preaching. When you pick up the book you will be struck by two other immediate impressions, one that it has a pleasing amount of pictures of the various sites associated with his ministry and the other that the text appears quite heavy on the page (due to fairly small margins). While the first of these two observations is likely to encourage the reader, the second could discourage – my only observation is to start reading and you will find that the pages fly along as they are very well written and the chapters soon move along as at the end of each is a raft of footnotes.
Cook was born on Arran in 1775, studied under MacGill at Glasgow and grew up under the ministry of Dr. Love. His first pastorate was in Caithness, in 1837 he moved to the newly formed Free North Church in Inverness (there is some interesting history around that particular move). In 1844, he left Inverness for the nearby charge of Daviot (which had been embroiled in the Ten Year’s Conflict) where he stayed until his death in 1865.
The book has ignited my own interest in some of the Separatist movements that existed across the Highlands. Indeed, Cook corresponded with Norman Macleod’s group after they had left for Cape Breton and was sounded out for a ministerial call by them (again an interesting story!). It tackles complex issues like the 1859 revival and refers the reader in the footnotes to a range of useful sources. It tackles the breakdown of his friendship with Anderson which is rather sad. It picks up the distinctive nature of the Highland Communion season – which will appeal to a wider international audience that are not as familiar with this practice. The final chapters look at the influences on his preaching and do not dodge the fact that he was both a traducian an infralapsarian.
This is a delightful book and one that I would strongly urge you to go out and buy. I understand that they have been selling strongly (which is good as the profits all go to the Bethesda Care Home and Hospice in Stornoway) and stocks are consequently becoming more limited – so go and buy the book while it is still available.
It can be purchased from both the Free Presbyterian Bookroom and the .