A Sketch of the life of Rev. Archibald Cook of Daviot
“IT has been remarked that a minister among his people should be like a Sabbath among the week days. This, truly, Mr Cook was.” So wrote Rev. Alexander Auld about Rev. Archibald Cook in his Ministers and Men in the Far North. The memory of this eminent servant of Christ is still fragrant among many of the godly in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Archibald Cook, the seventh of nine sons, was born in the Island of Arran in 1788. There is no record of his conversion. It seems that in his early teens, when he began to be serious about spiritual matters, some of his acquaintances induced him to go to a local dancing school in order to dispel his seriousness. As soon as he entered the room where the dancing was in full swing he had an overpowering sense of his wrongdoing. He forever turned his back on such scenes and never forgot the solemn impression of that experience. He was converted probably during the revival in Arran in the early 1800s, under the ministry of the eminent Rev. Neil MacBride.
Thoughts about serving the Lord in the ministry now began to occupy his mind. After much prayerful searching of heart, he entered Glasgow University and successfully completed his Arts and Divinity studies. In 1823 he was ordained and inducted as the missionary-minister of the Berriedale and Bruan Mission, on the east coast of Caithness. Less than twenty miles away from his home in Bruan was the Achrenie Mission, where his brother Finlay was the minister-missionary. The godly in those parts viewed the coming of these two faithful ambassadors as a wonderful provision by God for the building up of His cause from its then declined state.
Not long after he was settled there, he married a Caithness woman, Catherine MacKay, who was a truly pious person. They were blessed with a family of two sons and six daughters.
In personal appearance Archibald Cook did not seem imposing to some people. He was slim, below average height, and of a shrinking manner. “But we venture to say,” said Mr Auld, “that 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. His eye too, deep set and piercing, was remarkable; when he became animated, it flashed like fire.”
His fourteen years of preaching and catechising in the Caithness area, and his establishing of special services for the Gaelic speaking fishermen who came to Wick annually, resulted in much spiritual fruit.
The North Church in Inverness was his next charge. During his seven years there the congregation increased greatly and became exceedingly attached to him. He was also a power for good in the town and was the means of raising its moral tone. For example, he stopped the holding of “penny weddings”, which were held in public houses and to which all were welcomed who would contribute to paying for the fiddlers and their drink. His denouncing of this disreputable way of celebrating marriage was so blessed to one young man that he became a truly superior Christian, who continued to have a special regard for Mr Cook, saying on one occasion that he had now been hearing him for eighteen years, and heard from him all that was good for soul and body.
At the Disruption in 1843, Mr Cook and his entire congregation joined the Free Church. Soon afterwards he accepted a Call from the Daviot Free Church Congregation to be their minister. His Inverness congregation presented to the local Presbytery a petition, with more than 900 signatures, showing how great would be their loss if their pastor moved elsewhere. The Presbytery agreed and did not permit his removal. However, when the Daviot congregation called him again next year, his congregation did not stand in his way, and he was inducted as the minister of the Daviot congregation in August 1844.
What was he like as a preacher? Old accounts show that his method of presenting the truth rivetted the attention of the congregation. He had a solemn manner, but was full of life, even in old age. When, at the age of 70, he visited Caithness to assist at communions, his old friends were full of expectation. They were not disappointed. The crowds who gathered were astonished at his holy animation, and the flow of elevated doctrine, helpful experience, striking illustrations and remarkable anecdotes.
“His preaching,” wrote Rev. Donald Beaton, “was searching, going deep beneath the surface, and while there was sharpness in the lance, the balm of Gilead was also applied. 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.”
“Mr Cook, though richly doctrinal,” Mr Auld opined, “was pre-eminent in his analysis of the human heart regenerate and unregenerate. . . His discourses show somewhat of his apprehension of the majesty and purity, as well as the grace and condescension of God, and his manner of eliminating from religious profession and exercise whatever did not bear the stamp of grace . . . Among the many able preachers of the gospel who laboured in the North of Scotland at the period during which these sermons were preached, he was generally held, especially by the more serious minded, as being one of the very first, one of David’s three mightiest.”
Mr Cook excelled in catechising, holding as many as ninety sessions each winter, usually in barns, when he was in Daviot. As a rule, each session lasted more than two hours, and it was not uncommon to see several hundred people present. It is recorded that many who were thirsting for the water of life attended these services from neighbouring parishes, some from very considerable distances. Duncan MacIver, Inverness, said that Mr Cook’s comments in catechising were “just flashes of light for the occasion”. The work was heavy, but he received much help from heaven. “Though I find it heavy,” he wrote to a nephew, “it is the happiest part of my time in the whole year. I feel myself free from worldly cares when so engaged, and often feel my soul refreshed in speaking to sinners of a Saviour, though myself the greatest sinner among them.”
When dealing in those meetings with a person who had the slightest concern about eternity, he was all tenderness, as if the fears and difficulties of the person were well known to him, and he used them all to draw the soul to the One who came to seek and to save the lost. “On the other hand,” said Mr MacIver, “his faithfulness and severity were just as remarkable. When a person stood before him, although a perfect stranger to him, that person’s manner of living seemed to be as clear to him as if he were an eyewitness, and he dealt with him according to the person’s ways, so that some had a great dread of the catechising, yet would not shirk it, lest people would think them worse than they were.”
Many were the striking comments he made on those occasions, as is seen in notes of his catechising taken by Daniel Sinclair, Caithness, when he visited Daviot in 1849-50. For example, in dealing with the duties of parents he said that many children often have reason to say to their fathers, “Father, your prayers in the family are not very good, but if your life was half as good, we would be the better of you.” On another occasion he said, “I heard of a man in Caithness who was in the habit of swearing, but would not like to hear his children swear. One day he went to whip one of his children for it, but the child told him, O, Papa, it was you I heard doing it,’ and so the rod fell out of his hand. This, as it were, took the tongue out of the parent. So it is that many a husband and wife cannot reprove their children because they are filthy in their own lives.”
Throughout his ministry Archibald Cook was “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in faith, in purity”. It was his living very near to the Lord which accounted for his being so honoured by the Lord. His brother Finlay 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.” He himself thought otherwise. “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, . .” Rev 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”
Towards the end of his life he suffered more than one stroke. His end is touchingly described by a relative: “After the fourth stroke he recovered some strength so as to be able to walk a little through the room; but we could not leave him night or day. He was so resigned and cheerful that it was quite a pleasure to wait on him.
He always prayed at family worship, and though his speech was much affected, we could understand a few precious words. The day before he had the last stroke he went, with our assistance, outside for a little, and seemed much delighted, taking a look all around. In the evening, at worship, he joined in the singing and prayed so loudly and distinctly that he seemed quite enraptured. Next morning he experienced another attack, from which he never rallied, but became and continued unconscious till, breathing his last, he departed about eight o’clock on Saturday evening.” The date was 6th May 1865, and he was aged 77.
Rev. Neil Cameron said that Mr Cook lived daily as seeing Him who is invisible, and that there was a solemn awe upon his spirit continually, but, being real, it did not make him morose or unsocial. “The people felt that they had in him a faithful servant of Christ,” said Mr Cameron. “They 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.”
- Ministers and Men of the Far North by Rev. Alexander Auld (1891).
- Memorabilia Domestica or Parish Life in the North of Scotland by Rev. Donald Sage (1899)
- Noted Ministers of the Northern Highlands by Rev. Donald Beaton (1929).
- Sidelights on Two Notable Ministers, being Letters and Sermons of Rev. Finlay Cook and Rev.Archibald Cook, and Recollections of Rev. Archibald Cook by D. MacIver(1970).
- Notes of Catechisings, in The Free Presbyterian Magazine, Vol. 12.