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Significant Scots
Rev George Cook


COOK, REV. GEORGE, D.D.—This learned divine and ecclesiastical historian was born at St. Andrews in 1773. His education was conducted at the schools and colleges of his native city, at that time distinguished for its high literary character and the eminent men it produced, while his subsequent career fully showed how well he had availed himself of such opportunities of mental improvement. From the early period of boyhood, the studies of George Cook had been directed towards the church, in which his family had considerable influence; and at the age of twenty-two he was ordained minister of Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire. On settling down into such a tranquil residence, the young divine did not resign himself either to rural indolence or literary epicurism; on the contrary, his studies were of the most laborious, indefatigable character, as well as directed to the highest interests of his sacred profession; and it was while minister of Laurencekirk that he produced most of those works by which his fame was extended over the world of ecclesiastical literature. As an author, his first work, published in 1808, was "Illustrations of the general Evidence establishing Christ’s Resurrection." His next, in 1811, was the "History of the Reformation," the most popular of all his works, until it was eclipsed by the more attractive productions upon the same subject at a later period, and by writers possessing more ample opportunities of information, of whom we need scarcely mention the name of D’Aubigne. After this work in general ecclesiastical history, Dr. Cook turned his attention to that part of it which concerned his own church and country, aud published, in 1815, the "History of the Church of Scotland, from the Reformation to the Revolution," a work in which the research was of the most trying character, so many of the materials being at that time in obscure, moth-eaten manuscript, which have since been printed mainly through the public spirit of our antiquarian societies. In 1820 appeared his "Life of Principal Hill," and in 1822 his "View of Christianity."

The learning and talent displayed in these works, as well as the subjects which they illustrated, and the high interests which they were designed to advance, naturally brought Dr. Cook into the front rank of the most talented of his clerical brethren, and in church courts his opinions obtained that ascendancy to which they were so justly entitled. To these also were added the highest honorary distinctions which our primitive national church, so jealous of the doctrine of Presbyterian parity, reluctantly accords to the most favoured of her children. Thus, in 1825, he was moderator of the General Assembly, and in the following year he was appointed a member of the royal commission for examining into the state of our Scottish universities. He was also dean of the order of the Thistle, and one of his Majesty’s chaplains.

On the death of Dr. Inglis, which occurred in 1834, the leadership of his party in the church, which that eminent divine had so ably conducted, was by universal choice conceded to Dr. Cook. Always a situation of difficulty and trouble, even in the most quiescent periods of our church’s history, it was peculiarly so at the present crisis; for the Moderate party, which Dr. Cook headed, and that for so long a period had been in the ascendancy, had now lost its prestige; and the evangelical portion of the church, already increased from a handful into an army, and backed by the popular suffrage, which had always inclined to it since the days of the Solemn League and Covenant, was advancing with all the energy of a newly resuscitated cause, and giving certain promise that at no distant day it would recover the superiority which it had formerly enjoyed. Against such an onward tide it was not wonderful if Dr. Cook and his brethren were unable to make head, although they struggled bravely and to the last. Consistently with the principles which he had adopted from the beginning, and advocated on every occasion, both as an author and a divine, Dr. Cook could not be expected to sympathize with the opposite party in their claims for the abolition of patronage, and the entire exemption of the Church from State control, and accordingly he contested every step of ground with a zeal and honesty equal to their own. At length the result took him as completely by surprise as it did the wisest politicians and profoundest calculators of the day. The memorable 18th of May, 1843, occurred, on which the disruption of the Kirk of Scotland took place; and when, after it had been confidently asserted that not even twenty ministers would abandon their livings, nearly five hundred rose from their places in the General Assembly, bade a final farewell to the Established Church, with which they could no longer conscientiously agree, and departed to form, at whatever sacrifice or risk, a church more consistent with their principles. It was a melancholy spectacle, a stunning blow to the upright affectionate heart of the leader of the Moderates. The labours of his past public life were thus destroyed by a single stroke, and while history recorded the calamitous event, he must have guessed that it would reproach him as one of the chief causes of the evil. And besides, in that departing train, whose self-sacrificing devotedness he was well disposed to acknowledge, how many were there whom he had revered for their commanding talents, and loved for their piety and worth, but who were now lost for ever to the church with which he was identified, and whom he must henceforth meet or pass by as the ministers of a rival and hostile cause! Such to Dr. Cook was the disruption; and, although his own party exonerated him from blame, while his church still continued as before to be directed by his counsels, the rest of his life was clouded by the recollection of an event which the best men, whether of the Free or Established Church, will never cease to regret.

The latter years of Dr. Cook’s life were spent at St. Andrews, as he had been appointed to the chair of Moral Philosophy in its university, in the room of Dr. Chalmers, when the latter was called to Edinburgh. Here his end was sudden, his death having been instantaneous, and occasioned by the rupture of a blood-vessel, while he was walking in the Kirk Wynd, on his way to the college library. This melancholy event occurred on the forenoon of the 13th of May, 1845. It is much to be regretted that a man of such talent and worth should as yet have found no biographer among the many who, while he lived, availed themselves of his counsels, and were proud to be numbered among his friends. It is not yet too late.


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