Rev. Joseph Cook


It happened, through the overruling providence of God, that an admirable coadjutor to prepare the way for Mr. Moody's advent in Boston, by awakening the minds of its thoughtful and skeptical citizens to give a respectful hearing to the claims of the gospel, as well as to co-operate with that evangelist, and continue the good work after his departure, was raised up in the person of Rev. Joskph Cook. That gentleman was born at Ticonderoga, in the northeastern section of New York, in 1838. He was prepared for college at Phillips' Academy, and then entered Yale College. The attraction of Harvard was more powerful, however, and he graduated from the latter institution in 1805. He next passed to Andover Theological Seminary, and completed its course of study for the ministry three years later. For two years he filled vacancies in the pulpits of Congregational churches at East Abingdon, Mass., Middlebury, Vt., and Maiden, Mass. Then his passion for a profound study of the deep problems of religious life and thought, led him abroad as a student to profit by the curriculum of the German universities, and by a personal association with their foremost evangelical divines. After ins return, he became for a short time associate minister of tho First Church, Lynn. When that edifice was burned, he turned to a music hall, and there lectured impressively on the evils of the factory system and of intemperance.

Thus were spent the formative years of his manhood, in severe and conscientious study, that he might be fitted to grapple understandingly with the mightiest questions that divided the minds of his generation, and upon whose correct decision hung the welfare of untold numbers. A fellow minister, Rev. William. M. Baker, says of him as a student: "It might be said that amid the harvests of books he wields the flail with an arm as muscular as that which holds the sickle, that he has a singularly quick perception as to what is ripe and wholesome wheat for food among the chaff, but this would be only a part of the truth. The fact is, the energy and the discrimination of the man are owing to the instinct, so to speak, in him of one supreme purpose, which is to find for himself and others, among the very latest results of all thought, scientific and philosophic, those ultimate facts which are also, as he thinks, the highest food—food for the intellect and the heart, because for the undying souL"

Early in 1876, Mr. Cook found his congenial and fitting field of labor. Under the auspices of the Young Men's Christian Assooia

tion of Boston, he began a course of Monday lectures, at the Meionaon, in the basement of Tremont Temple. As the hour was from noon till one P. M., the general subject "Modern Skepticism," aod the speaker, by his intellectual calibre and thorough scholarship, was admirably fitted to confront and deny the fundamental principles of error involved in the destructive teachings of the school Of Theodore Parker, it soon chanced that the unknown lecturer came to hold entranced a large and highly cultured audience, many of whom were city clergymen. In an easy, conversational style, and in clear, terse language, he gave utterance to the weightiest thoughts and most substantial arguments. A hearer describes him as quoting freely from his extensive reading; his memory seeming to retain in wonderful variety, like a magnet drawn through it all, that which is of the nature of 11 is own thought, and that from authors wholly oppowd in general to orthodoxy, some of the most genuine sensations of the hour being the unexpected testimony of Goethe, Carlyle, Emerson, as well as the German rationalists, to the truth he is advocating, the effort of the speaker being to get at the undermost and innermost soul of his hearer by repeating the deepest and most intuitive soul of the profoundest thinkers of every land and age." In the fall, the lectures were resumed, and1 the great theological problems were considered. But the throng of auditors soon drove the lecturer from the Meionaon to Park Street church, and from thence to Tremont Temple itself, where week after w^ok accommodations for three thousand people failed to satisfy.

Mr. Cook has been pictured as possessing a massive and athletic frame, whose strong vitality is wrought upon by a highly nervoussanguine temperament, as evidenced by his sandy hair, ruddy cheeks, blue eyes, and intense earnestness. A sympathetic friend, Rev. Edward Abbott, thus sketches him as a lecturer: "He handles brief notes, wherein his important propositions are accurately written, but he is essentially an extemporaneous speaker, an orator of the fervid and impassioned order, not without peculiarities which some critics of the schools would call faults; but eloquent, grandly eloquent, in the sense that he makes men hear his message, and often persuades tliem of its truth. In theology, a moderate Calvinist; in philosophy, an eclectic; in learning, affluent; full of sympathies for all who are in any sense oppressed; a hater of cant in all its forms; familiar with the best thoughts of the best minds of all times; a brilliant rhetorician, and jet never allowing the clearness and percision of his logical processes to be obscured by the play of his marvelous fancy; with all these, and many more qualities which might be mentioned, it may readily be imagined that ho is a speaker to whom men love to listen. This description will sound extravagant to those who have never heard him; but it is wholly within the limits of sober truth." The pulpit at the Boston Tabernacle wa« repeatedly filled by Mr. Cook, at Mr. Moody's invitation. To its vast audiences he delivered impressive sermons on such topics as "Certainties in Religion;" "The Atonement a Motive to Conversion;" and "Faith the Source of Faithfulness." From the first of these, we take the following extract:

• "When Ulysses sailed past the isle of the Sirens, who had the power of charming by their songs all who listened to them, he heard the sorcerous music on the shore, and to prevent himself and his crew from landing, he filled their ears with wax, and bound himself to the mast with knotted thongs. Thus, according to the subtle Grecian story, he passed safely the fatal strand. But when Orpheus, in search of the Golden Fleece, went by this island, he—being, as you remember, a great musician—set up better music than that of the Sirens, enchanted his crew with a melody superior to the alluring song of the sea-nymphs, and so, without needing to fill the Argonauts' ears with wax, or to bind himself to the mast with knotted thongs, he passed the sorcerous shore not only safely, but with disdain.

"The ancients, it is clear from this legend, understood the distinction between morality and religion. He who, sailing past the island of temptation, has enlightened selfishness enough not to land, although he rather wants to [sensation]; he who, therefore, binds himself to the mast with knotted thongs, and fills the ears of his crew with wax; he who does this without hearing a better music, is the man of mere morality. Heaven forbid that I should underrate the value of this form of cold prudence, for wax is not useless in giddy ears, and Aristotle says youth is a perpetual intoxication. Face to face with Sirens, thongs are good, though songs are better.

Sin hath long ears. Good is wax;

Wise at times the knotted thongs;
But the shrewd no watch relax,

Yet they use, like Orpheus, songs,
They no more the Sirens fear;

They a better music hear.

"When a man of tempestuous, untrained spirit must swirl over amber and azure and purple seas, past the isle of the Sirens, and knots himself to the mast of outwardly right conduct by the thongs of safe resolutions, although as yet duty is not his delight, he is near to virtue. He who spake as never mortal spake saw such a young man once, and, looking on him, loved him, and yet said, as the nature of things says also, 'One thing thou lackest.' Evidently he to whom duty is not a delight does not possess the supreme pre-requisite of peace. In the presence of the Siren shore we can never be at rest while we rather wish to land, although we resolve not to do so. Only he who has heard a better music than that of the Sirens, and who is affectionately glad to prefer the higher to the lower good, is. or in the nature of things can be, at peace. Morality is Ulysses bound to the mast. Religion is Orpheus listening to a better melody, and passing with disdain the sorcerous shore. [Applause.]

"Aristotle was asked once what the decisive proof is that a man has acquired a good habit. His answer was, 'The fact that the practice of the habit involves no self-denial of predominant force among the faculties.' Assuredly that is keen, but Aristotle is rightly called the surgeon. Until we do love virtue so that the practice of it involves no self-denial of that sort, it is scientifically incontrovertible that we can not be at peace. In the very nature of things, while Ulysses wants to land, wax and thongs can not give him rest. In the very nature of things, only a better music, only a more ravishing melody, can preserve Orpheus in peace. This truth may be stern and unwelcome, but the Greek mythology and the Greek philosophy which thus unite to affirm it are as luminous as the noon."

The value of the historic Awakenings in America has been graphically shown by his illustration of the rightful part played by enthusiasm in religion:

.'It would be a sad whim in the art of metallurgy if men should take up the notion that a white heat is not useful in annealing metals; and so it is a sad whim in social science when men think that the white heat we call a religious awakening is not useful in annealing society. Twice this nation has been annealed in the religious furnace just previously to being called on to perform majestic civil duties. You remember that the thirsty, seething, tumultuous, incalculably generative years from 1753 to 1783, or from the opening of the French war to the close of the Revolution, were preceded by what is known to history as the Great Awakening in New England in 1740 under Whitefield and Edwards. So, too, in 1857, when we were on the edge of our civil war, the whole land was moved religiously, and thus prepared to perform for itself and for mankind the sternest of all the political tasks that have been imposed in this century upon any civilized people. But our short American story is no exception to the universal experiences of social annealing."

"Discussing the subtler meaning of the Reformation, Carlyle says: 'Once risen into this divine white neat of temper, were it only for a season and not again, a nation is thenceforth considerable through all its remaining history. What immensities of dross and crypto-poisonous matter will it not burn out of itself in that high temperature in the course of a few years I Witness Cromwell and his Puritans, making England habitable even under the Charles Second terms for a couple of centuries more. Nations are benefited, I believe, for ages by being thrown once into divine white heat in this manner.'" "That is the historical law for nations, for cities, for individuals. Do not be afraid of a white heat; it is God's method of burning out dross. [Applause.]

"Standing where Whitefield stood on the banks of the Charles, a somewhat unlettered but celebrated evangelist years ago, face to face with the culture of Harvard, was accused of leading audiences into excitement. 'I have heard,' said he, in reply, 'of a traveler who saw at the side of the way a woman weeping and beating her breast. He ran to her and asked, "What can I do for you? \Vhat is the cause of your anguish?" "My child is in the welll My child is in the well!" With swiftest despatch assistance was given and the child rescued. Further on this same traveler met another woman, wailing also and beating her breast. He came swiftly to her, and with great earnestness asked, "What is your trouble?" "My pitcher is in the welll My pitcher is in the well!" Our great social and political excitements are all about pitchers in wells, and our religious excitements are about children in wells.' [Laughter and applause.] A rude metaphor, you say, to be used face to face with Harvard; but a distinguished American professor; repeating that anecdote in Halle, on the Saale, in Germany yonder, Julius Muller heard it and repeated it in his university, and it has been used among devout scholars all over Germany. Starting here on the banks of the Charles, and listened to, I presume, very haughtily by Cambridge and Boston, it has taken root in a deep portion of German literature as one of the classical illustrations of the value of a white heat. [Applause.]"

And as one more illustration of the fervid intensity of his oratorv we append his lines summing up the argument of


Bounds of sun-groupa none can see;
Worlds God droppeth on His knee;
Galaxies that loftiest swarin
Float before a loftier Form.

Mighty the speed of suns and worlds,
Mighty Who these onward hurls;
Pure the conscience' fiery ba'h,
Purer fire God's lightning hath.

Brighter He who maketh bright
Jasper, beryl, chrysolite;
Lucent more than they, Whose hands
Girded up Orion's bauds.

Sweet the spring, but sweek-r still
He who doth its censers fill;
Good is love, but better Who
Giveth love its power to woo.

Lo! the Maker, greater He.
Better than His works, must be;
Of the works the lowest stair
Thought can scale, but fainteth there.

Thee, with all our strength and heart,
God, we love for what I hou ait;
Ravished we, obedient now,
Only, only Perfect Thou.