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FOR APRIL, 1852.
THE REW. GEORGE COWIE, OF HUNTLY: HIS PEOPLE
[THE following excellent address was delivered by the Rev. Joseph Morison, of Millseat, Aberdeenshire, on occasion of the opening of the New Congregational Chapel, at Huntly. As Mr. Cowie was undoubtedly the Whitefield of the North of Scotland, we feel persuaded that a sketch of him and his times, so vivid and truthful, will be both accept. able and edifying to our numerous readers. We deem it an honour to have a beloved brother capable of producing so beautiful an analysis of men and times which deserve an ampler record.—EDITOR.]
There is an inspired maxim, which it will be needful for me to keep before my mind in the discussion of the topic which has just been announced,—“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these ? seeing thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.” When a man has very considerably distanced the meridian of life, and when the shadows are lengthening in the direction of the morning sun, his sympathies, perhaps, are apt to take a retrograde course, and the bright halo which he sees surround
ing the past is so dazzling to his vision as to impart a somewhat sombre tinge to contemporary scenes. We are not insensible to this danger: for although the men referred to in our topic belonged to a period which stretches a little beyond our early years, their memory is embalmed in our most fragrant sympathies, and their names, from the spring-time of our being, have stood before our imagination as the types of a noble spiritual heroism. But, in taking our stand-point for a few moments this evening, at the distance of half a century from the scene of observation, there may be some liability to exaggeration, not only from a partially defective vision, but also from those obscuring influences which time and circumstances have cast upon the period of our survey. Our investigations cannot be minute; men and measures are but dimly seen; the great and the good, especially when we now think of them as glorified spirits in heaven, are apt to be looked at too exclusively as great and good, while the little and the selfish, which must also O
have clung to them, are gladly overlooked, and scarcely allowed to come before the mind; and thus, as it is with objects which are magnified in the mist, we may be apt to entertain overwrought ideas of the mighty dead. There is, however, quite enough in the deeds of these men to command our reverence and gratitude and imitation, without our ceasing to regard them as frail and fallible mortals like ourselves. And, moreover, it is the keeping of this fact, that they were frail and fallible, before our minds, that will render their example most powerfully influential. Should we make seraphs of them, it would only tend to lift thcm above the region of our sympathies, and in that case, we should worship more, but imitate less; for it is neither saint-worship, nor hero-worship, that will ever make us either saints or heroes. We are not, then, here to-night to “build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous;" but to stir ourselves up to emulate the piety and earnestness of our fathers ;-to follow in their wake; to stand by the ark of God as they stood by it; to do the work of our generation as they did the work of theirs; and if possible, to leave our names and characters as deeply and legibly inscribed upon the records of the kingdom of God in our day, as they left their names and characters inscribed upon it in their day. On occasion of the services connected with the opening of this handsome edifice, which has been erected for the worship of God, and which does so much credit to the Christian liberality and taste of this congregation, a fit opportunity is doubtless offered for casting a retrospective glance at by-gone days. The erection of this house of prayer is naturally associated with the erection of its predecessor, and this again brings our minds into immediate contact with the persons who figured
in that period—in other words, with “Cowie, his people and times." The name of Cowie has been long cherished in the north of Scotland, with all the fondness and familiarity of a household-word; and even now, after the lapse of forty and six years, and after his contemporaries have gone the way of all the earth, that name is still fragrant with many who never saw his face or heard his voice. The children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren of those who loved Cowie, have been taught to honour his memory, and to pronounce his name with reverence. But his “record is on high, and his remembrance shall never be cut off." Although he has ceased from his labours for nearly half a century, his works do follow him in a pre-eminent degree, and still “praise him in the gate." Cowie was raised up and qualified for the sphere in which he had to move, and just at the time when such an instrument was required. The state of religious society about the time he commenced his labours in Huntly, was in many respects peculiar, and he was singularly qualified for meeting its necessities. But in order to this, he soon made the discovery that he must shape out a course for himself, which would neither be pleasing to the church nor the world. He beheld ignorance and impiety overspreading the one, and a contracted bigotry paralyzing the other; and had to prepare himself for encountering a storm of opposition from both. The world was willing to award him its stale compliment of being a madman; and his own religious connexion was not slack to fulminate its highest censures against him as a favourer of sects, and an enemy to constituted order. But unmoved by the one or the other, this man of God courageously took his position,--a position perfectly unique at the time, and stood forth in the double capacity of Evangelist and Reformer in these northern parts, Cowie, it may be allowed, derived somewhat of his celebrity from the peculiarity of his circumstances; but this, instead of detracting from the substantial greatness of his character, tends only the more to establish it. His circumstances called forth the energies of his spirit. He had a power to meet these circumstances, to grapple with them, and bend them to his will. Instead of allowing the circumstances to master him, he mastered the circumstances, and gained a victory for liberty and truth, when an inferior man would have succumbed to authority, and suffered a defeat. It is a most ungracious mode of dealing with the services of Cowie, to tell us that he owed the distinguished place he held in the es: timation of the religious public to the peculiarity of his position, and that if he had lived in our day he would have taken a different level. We have listened to some such statements, but cannot sympathize with either the truth or the spirit of them. Cowie was indeed the man for his times, but the gifts and graces which enabled him to be so would have fitted him for being a man of mark in our own times, or in any times. And we do not think that the man who could go ahead of his times and of his coadjutors by half a century, is to be dealt with after such a fashion. The progress of religious society would be indefinitely postponed, were it not for the vigorous efforts of such men. Mind, the religious mind as much as any, is apt to move in ruts, and it requires now and then a man of Cowie's stamp to jolt it out, and allow it to run along smoother, as well as faster. We owe such individuals a debt of obligation, which I fear we are but ill prepared to estimate. I once had some thought of expressing an opinion regarding some of the causes which contributed to raise this singular man to that position of moral and spiritual influence which he was honoured so long to occupy, but have abandoned the attempt, partly because
the time for our addresses this evening is necessarily so limited, and partly because the materials at my command for such an object are so very scanty. Perhaps the depth of his piety and the ardour of his devotional feeling were the chief elements in all that he was, and all that he did. His mental experiences in religion, from the period of his conversion to the close of his life, seem to have been of great expansion and depth, and at the same time a little shaded with gloom. This may have arisen partly from certain peculiarities in his physical and mental temperament, and partly also from the enlarged views he was en abled to take of the character of Jehovah, his holiness and justice, and the extent and spirituality of his moral government. His religion, from first to last, appears to have been at the farthest remove from superficiality. His religious joys were balanced and sobered down by the vision of Jehovah's throne, and the attendantseraphim, crying Holy, Holy, Holy! The awful thunders of Sinai, and the melting splendours of Calvary, were placed, as it were, before his mind in juxtaposition, and he knew of no consolation that did not spring from the contemplation of their blended glories. As far as I have been able to discover, the general strain of his preaching and devotion bore a close and striking relation to the depth and pungency of his own religious experience. He delighted to expatiate upon the glory and majesty of the Divine Being—his holiness, justice, faithfulness, and grace. It was the God of the Bible that he exhibited to the view of his auditors, and not an imaginary Deity, accommodated to the taste of the sinner, or the morbid sentimentality of the mere religious professor. He did not deal in partial, onesided views of God, such as might induce his hearers to think of him as a being all kindness, all forbearance and tenderness, without a due and proportionate consideration of his sterner attributes. His hearers were not allowed to forget that “our God is a consuming fire.” He was accustomed to present the moral claims of the Deity in such a light, as at once to check the presumption of the formalist, and to encourage the humble and penitent believer. His preaching, I apprehend, was of such a nature as to render it impossible for the sinner to feel any complacency in the character of Jehovah otherwise than as it is beheld in Emmanuel's cross. We may, therefore, reasonably conclude that those who were converted under such a ministry, or who were attracted to it afterwards, would, to a large extent, be Christians of the right stamp, and would be prepared to exert a healthy influence upon the times in which they lived; and such, we believe, was actually the case. For, although there may have been a few unhappy formalists in Cowie's congregation, who could sit unmoved under his most withering and scorching appeals, there was a moble band associated with him, whose hearts God had touched, and who, after serving “their generation, by the will of God, fell asleep.” These, in accordance with the prescribed topic, were cow IE's PEoPLE.
It would be altogether preposterous for me to attempt, on the present occasion, to particularise on a subject so extensive, as well as so far beyond the range of my own personal knowledge. It may be stated, as a general remark, that, as Courie himself was, such, to some extent, were his people. It has been my happiness to know personally some of these honoured men, and one of them I had the privilege of calling my father. Having a wish to say a few words about these men which might be in some degree profitable, and finding it impossible to go into details, I have been obliged to look out for some principle of generalization which might enable me to include a few particulars under more general heads. And, first of all,—
They were persons of unmistakeable religious character
I may safely say, that if any doubts were ever entertained on this question, they were those, and those only, which had sprung up in their own bosoms, under a penetrating impression of the claims of God, and a humble consciousness of their own unworthiness in his sight; but, as it regarded others, there was no room left for doubts or misgivings on this all-important point. Nor was this conviction reached by a special stretch of charity, but by the visible, and at the same time, unobtrusive, virtues of their character. You might not, indeed, be long in their company, without feeling that you had cause to doubt the genuineness of your own religion, from the dwarfishness of its growth as contrasted with theirs, but there would be no dubiety in regard to them. I give this as the result of my own experience and information, without wishing it to be understood that all Cowie's people, without exception, were of this decided stamp ; but I speak of this as a general characteristic. They made it manifest to lookers-on that their citizenship was in heaven. There was no mistaking the earnestness and heavenward bearing of their character. They declared plainly that they sought the better country, and deported themselves as pilgrims in this present world.
Now, brethren, this is a great thing in religious professors; and all such have need to take care lest the lineaments of their spiritual character should become so effaced as to render their recognition a matter of difficulty. It is a painful state of things when we need to infer the piety of church members from negative evidence rather than from positive, —from what they are not rather than from what they are, from hoping the best, rather than from seeing it. There was no need for resorting to this halfhoping—half-despairing way of getting at the thing with reference to the people we are now speaking of, at least with very many of them:—they let all men see that they were Christians,—not by