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The late Rev. George Cowie, of Huntly, was born near Bamff
, on the 26th of July, 1749, of parents placed in circumstances wbich the world calls respectable ; but who appear to have been like most of the inhabitants of that country, at that time, fully satisfied without any experience of real religion. Mr. Cowie's father having had several daughters, vowed, that if he were favoured with a son, he should be devoted to the service of the church. Tho' this vow was doubtless founded in ignorance, yet the great Disposer of all events made it subservient to the accomplishment of his gracious designs.
In consequence of it, his son at the age of seven years was sent to the grammar-school; and at 12 gained a bursary by competition, at Marischal College, Aberdeen. Here he pursued bis studies successfully for the usual period; and was appointed a schoolmaster in the Presbytery of Huntly, being 16 years of age. Of this part of his life, he says, in his Diary,' That he was dead in trespasses and sins, living in the lusts of the fleshı; pleasing bimself, but displeasing and dishonouring. God, under the power of unbelief, hardness, blindness, pride, presumption, profaning the name and Sabbaths of the Lord, cursed by the law, and despising the gospel of God; so that if he had been cut off in this state, he must have perished to all Eternity, and that without remedy.'
His first alarm about his soul was occasioned by witnessing the death of an uncle, in the year 1765. This salutary alarm was confirmed by a variety of threatenings from the word of God, which stuck so fast in his conscience, that he was brought Fery low. He knew not any experienced Christian to whom he could unbosom his complaint; and those whom he took
for such, being utter strangers to his case, by their unsuitable directions only increased his malady.
The consequence was, that in the course of the year, the report flew round the country that Cowie was mad with religion; and this report, like that of the Jews, respecting our Saviour's resorrection, is believed by many graceless people to the present day. Indeed, if madness consists in having a thorough acquaintance with the depravity of the human heart, the divine spirituality, and moral obligation of the law of God, very few in our day have dived so deep into these subjects, through the course of a whole life, as this man of God did, upon his very entrance into a life of faith upon the Son of God. The effects of such deep convictions were suitable, but very unaccountable to the ignorant people among whom he lived. To them it appeared mad employment for a man to continue a whole night in the exercises of devotion ; or to see him go past his parish-church, and travel 20 miles to hear a gospel-sermon. Therefore this poor youth was subject to cruel mockings, when his case required the tenderest sympathy.
His spiritual conflicts were great, and his deliverance from them very gradual. He was, however, by means of secret prayer and meditation on the divine pronuises, preserved from sinking under them, until, by the ministry of some pious Antiburghers, who began about that time to preach in the north, he was taught the way of the Lord more perfectly. The advantage which his soul obtained by the doctrine and godly conversation of these men, induced him to join in full communion with them, in August, 1766. Soon after having been ejected from his school in the Establishment, he was persuaded to study divinity among his new connections; by whom he was ordained in February, 1771, to the pastoral office at Huntly.
Truth requires it to be noticed here, that the chief cause of Mr. Cowie in joining the Secession, was not the peculiar tenets which distinguish them from other Presbyterians; some of which (as their testiniony against the Cambuslang work, their excommunication of the Burghers, &c.) he always disapproved of, and testified against; but bis grand object was to have fellowship with the pivas ministers and spiritual Christians whom he found in that body; and who had, like himself, been made the subjects of the Spirit's sanc tifying influence, and taught a nobler theme of preaching and conversation than the distinguishing badge of any party.
His own ministry at Huntiy and round it, was peculiarly blessed of God; and as during his life he saw mucli cause iv deal closely with every man's conscience, on the vanity of Testing in forms and souni principles, so he was the honourer wstrument of collecting and building up a church of serious
practical Christians. A number of these indeed are gone to heaven; but some, who are still alive, justify this assertion. It was an usual practice with him, when he heard Arminjanism, Baxterianism, Antinomianism, &c. exploded, while he trusted that grace would preserve him from these errors, to pray that the Lord would save him from a carnal, secure, unbelieving heart, which he said was the worst error of them all.
During the first years of his ministry, he preached, alternate ly, in six different places, each eight or ten iniles from his own house ; places which now occupy the labours of eight or nine preachers. Notwithstanding the exertions requisite for attending to the concerns of a number of individuals so widely scattered over the country, and many of them deeply exercised about their souls, his preaching always possessed a pe. culiar charm, which seldom accompanies that which is the effect of mechanical labour and theoretical study. It found its way to the hearers' hearts, being usually the effusion of his own; and frequently accompanied with that unction from the Holy One, which enables men to discern the reality, and feel the solemnity of eternal things. He endured at first much contempt from a profane world, and occasional opposition; but none of these things moved him: bis mind was staid upon the Lord, in whom he always found an hiding-place. Besides, he found much refreshment from the good society of the people of God, whose' meetings he statedly attended to bis dying day. On nothing did Mr. Cowie bestow more constant attention than the state of religion in his own soul. He looked well to the paths of his feet, and pondered all his goings : he was jealous over himself with a godly jealousy, lest after he had preached the gospel unto others, he himself should be cast away. This produced great searchings of heart, while such salutary enquiries often issued in the relief and establishment of his mind. Thus in his Diary, December 28, 1774, he writes, 'Alas! I am a poor timorous creature, above many, I believe. Lord, help me, for thy mercies sake! Keep for me, and clear to me that wbich thou hast given. I am tempted to think that the faith..of hypocrites is operative; yet I believe they are rather rejoiced with the hope of happiness than taken up about heart-holiness. Gospel doctrines may touch their aifections, work about their hearts, and produce some things like graces of the Spirit; but they never have their hearts won and renewed; their will itself renewed, quickened, and subjected. They are not sincerely won from sin; they are not brought out of themselves to Christ foc righteousness and strength, in any sweet, hearty, and powerful way: their convictions are neither so deep nor so decisive as to make salvation by Christ absolutely necessary. On these accounts I have some hope that my situation is different from that of hypocrites. Therefore, - Hold fast till I come.'