(Taken from American Preachers of To-Day by Edgar DeWitt Jones, 1933)
It has been said that the world knows little of her greatest men, an aphorism that contains frgments of truth. i would paraphrase the sentence to read “the world knows nothing of some of her greatest preachers”–men of genius who for one reason or another have never achieved a reputation equal to their gifts or fame beyond a loyal local constituency. Innate modesty helps to account for this in some instances, unfortuante environment in others, and then again there are cases where no explanations really explain. I know at least three preachers whose rare ability and sermonic excellence are such to warrant their holding pulpits of prominence far beyond anything they have ever known. Of these three, a shining example is Frederick Cowin, minister of the Church of Christ, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
As a preacher, Cowin is unusually gifted in expository sermons. That kind of sermonizing, when it is well done, is the veritable cream of preaching. But it is difficult for most ministers, and much that passes for exposition is prolix and dreadfully dull. Not so with Frederick Cowin. he selects a passage of Scripture, backgrounds it beautiflly, interprets it helpfully and illustrates it with consummate artistry. His style is simple, vocabulary mostly Anglo-Saxon, and he has a habit true of many English and Scotch preachers of finishing a sentence with a rising inflection He rarely preaches longer than thirty minutes, never scolds, berates or rants. He stands quite still and makes few gestures, nor is he afraid of the use of occasional humor in the sermon.
This preacher looks not a little like the portraits of Principal Marcus Dods, only his expression is not severe, but smiling. Cowin’s complexion is ruddy, and his hair now thinning considerably, of the sandy sort and inclined to curl. Frederick’s humor is rich and spontaneous. He is adept in the art of toastmastering and a most happy after-dinner speaker. He quotes poetry intelligently, and always good poetry, particularly Burns, whose most famous lines he knows by the hundreds. He is likewise gifted in public prayer. There is a simplicity and a singular tenderness in his prayers such as greatly gentle the hearts of those whome he leads in this art of arts.
Mr. Cowin began preaching in his early twenties. His work was among the fisher folk of the eastern and western coasts of Scotland. He also preached in the Hebrides, and for two years, practically all of his sermons were delivered out-of-doors, in market-places, on street corners and in public parks. Maybe this helps to account for his strong resonant voice. He was in South Africa for a while, preached in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Bible was very largely his one text-book in those days, although he began in a modest way to gather a collection of good books and to pore over their pages in the days of his itinerancy. Very early in his ministry, he purchased the works of Samuel Cox who was the first editor of The Expositor and therefore the predecessor of Sir William Robertson Nicoll. He acknowledges a large indebtedness to Dr. Cox and often quotes him. For thirty years Cowin has been a subscriber to The British Weekly and has read it with acvidity. He was long an ardent admirer of Sir William Ramsay and on the shelves of his study may be seen all of the sturdy volumes of that able church historian. Years before this preacher came to America he had heard most of the able ministers of England and Scotland. When in charge of a little church in Birmingham, he used often to be in attendance on the week night meetings held in famous Carr’s Lane Church during those golden years of John Henry Jowett’s ministry there.
For a memorable year Frederick Cowin was my associate at old Central Christian Church, Detroit. For twelve months we divided the pulpit responsibilities, and I always heard him with delight and profit. Some of his sermons, in my judgment, would rank with those of a Jowett, an Alexander Whyte, or Alexander Maclaren. Moreover, and this I hold to be vital, his life is finer than any sermon he ever preached. Lo! here is a paradox; Cowin is Scotch and generous to a fault. He tells stories of Scotch thrift and then gives them the lie by distributing with a lavish hand contributions to many worthy causes. He is a big man, big in his theological views, never a denominationalist or narrow partizan. And such a pastor! I have seldom known a minister who could go into homes where death had come, bringing with him an atmosphere of faith and a ministry of comfort and consolation with the ease and compassion of my former associate.
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