Alfred Cookman Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb
Â“Sweep a circle of three feet around the cross of Jesus, and you take in all that there was of Alfred Cookman,Â” wrote DeWitt Talmage after the death of this good man. It had not always been so with this talented but devoted minister. When only twenty years of age, Alfred Cookman had suffered serious spiritual loss while attending a ministerial conference by engaging in foolish and trifling conversation. This forfeiture of abounding grace, he sustained for ten long years, but the lessons learned by such failure were the means God employed in shaping this average Christian into a veritable saint who henceforth inscribed over his hands, his feet, his lips Â– Â“Sacred to JesusÂ”.
His father, George Cookman, a Yorkshireman, was converted at eighteen years of age. While undertaking a business engagement which took him across to America, he received a clear call from God to return to that land as a preacher of the Gospel. After spending a time in that country, he returned to Britain for his bride, Sarah Barton, whose home was on Doncaster. As a new convert, she had demonstrated her fidelity to her newfound faith in the way in which she had endured persecution at the hands of her aunt within her own home. She gladly left her affluent circumstances, to courageously venture forth with her husband, in February, 1827, to share the hardship of the new country.
Alfred was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, in January, 1828. The consciousness of his parents in regard to their spiritual responsibility resulted in their giving the oldest of their six children to God in an especial way.
Â“I shall never cease to be grateful for the instruction and example of a faithful father and an affectionate mother,Â” Alfred wrote later. Â“I cannot call up a period in my life, even in my earliest childhood, when I had not the fear of God before my eyes. When about seven years of age, I persuaded my parents to let me attend a watch-night service. My father preached on the Second Coming of Christ. Thinking that perhaps the end of the world was just at hand, I realized for the first time, my unpreparedness for the trying scenes of the Judgment and trembled at the prospect. I date my awakening from that time.Â”
As a lad of eleven, Alfred attended one of his fatherÂ’s services, where the penitent form was crowded with seekers. His heart, too, was moved upon by the Holy Spirit. As there seemed no room for him at the front, he made his way to a corner of the church. Here the earnest prayer of the weeping boy was, Â“Precious Saviour, Thou art saving others; oh, wilt Thou not save me?Â” He afterwards related his experience at that time:
Â“As I wept and prayed and struggled, a kind hand was laid on my head. I opened my eyes and found it was a prominent member and elder in the Presbyterian Church. He had observed my interest and, obeying the promptings of a kind, sympathising Christian heart, he came to encourage and help me. I remember how sweetly he unfolded the nature of faith and the plan of salvation. I said, Â‘I will believe, I do believe; I now believe that Jesus is my Saviour; that He saves me, yes, even now,Â’ and immediately
Â‘The opening heavens did round me shine,
With beams of sacred bliss;
And Jesus showed His mercy mine
And whispered I am His.Â’Â”
With the incoming of spiritual life, Alfred yearned, though so young to help others and commenced a prayer service for lads his own age, several of whom were converted.
The same year, his father was appointed to Wesley Chapel at Washington, D.C., from which post he also was elected to serve as chaplain to the United States Senate. In 1841, he felt it his duty to visit his aged father in England. Alfred was asked if he should like to accompany him but, feeling a responsibility to his mother and the younger members of the family during his fatherÂ’s absence, he declined. Mr. Cookman sailed from New York for Liverpool, but the vessel did not reach its destination, and its fate never was determined. The tragedy, almost overwhelming in its effect upon the widowed Mrs. Cookman, brought out the best in AlfredÂ’s character. Manfully and bravely he attempted to take his fatherÂ’s place, and his mother remarked that eternity alone would reveal all that he was as a son and brother to the bereaved family.
The death of the husband and father necessitated a change of residence, and the city of Baltimore became the site of the Cookman home. Before he was fifteen, Alfred became a Sunday School teacher. The next year, he joined several other young men in the organization of a mission to sailors and poor children who frequented the docks of the harbour on Chesapeake Bay. They rented a room, which they named Â“The City BethelÂ”, and there they conducted services.
Alfred, though the youngest member of the group, so clearly demonstrated his ability as a speaker, as well as the divine touch upon his life, that friends began to recognize his ultimate call of God to the ministry. His first effort of note in this direction was the delivery of a funeral sermon at the death of a Christian friend, when he chose as his text, Â“To die is gain.Â”
So it was that, at eighteen years of age, Alfred Cookman said goodbye to his family and entered upon his ministerial career. Among his motherÂ’s parting words to him was the exhortation, Â“My son, if you would be supremely happy or extensively useful in your ministry, you must be an entirely sanctified servant of Jesus.Â” This admonition made the most profound impression upon his mind and heart.
Â“Frequently I felt led to yield myself to God and pray for the grace of an entire sanctification. But then the experience would lift itself up, in my view, as a mountain of glory, and I would say, Â‘It is not for me. I could not possibly scale that shining summit. And if I could, my besetments and trials are such, I could not successfully maintain so lofty a position.Â’Â”
His itinerary took him to various preaching appointments and, at one of these, his heart was gladdened by the arrival of Bishop and Mrs. Hamline for the purpose of dedicating a new church. This saintly man remained about a week, preaching several times with the unction of the Holy Spirit. He also conversed with Cookman in a pointed way regarding his need of sanctification. His exhortations had a most beneficial effect upon the young minister and drove him to earnest prayer. In his own words,
Â“Kneeling by myself, I brought an entire consecration to Christ. I covenanted with my own heart and with my heavenly Father that this entire but unworthy offering should remain upon the altar, and that henceforth I would please God by believing that the altar (Christ) sanctifieth the gift. Do you ask what was the immediate effect? I answer, peace Â– a broad, deep, full, satisfying and sacred peace. This proceeded not only from the testimony of a good conscience before God, but likewise from the presence and operation of the Spirit in my heart. Still I could not say that I was entirely sanctified, except as I had sanctified or set apart myself unto God.
Â“The day following, finding Bishop and Mrs. Hamline, I ventured to tell them of my consecration and faith in Jesus, and in the confession I realized increasing light and strength. A little while after, it was proposed by Mrs. Hamline that we spend a season in prayer. Prostrated before God, one and another prayed. While I was thus engaged, God, for ChristÂ’s sake, gave me the Holy Spirit as I had never received Him before, so that I was constrained to conclude and confess,
Â‘Tis done! Thou dost this moment save,
With full salvation bless;
Redemption through Thy blood I have,
And spotless love and peace.Â’
Â“The great work of sanctification that I had so often prayed and hoped for was wrought in me, even in me. I could not doubt it. The evidence in my case was as direct and indubitable as the witness of Sonship received at the time of my adoption into the family of Heaven. Oh, it was glorious, divinely glorious!
Â“Need I say that the experience of sanctification inaugurated a new epoch in my religious life? Oh, what blessed rest in Jesus! Oh, what an abiding experience of purity through the blood of the Lamb! What a conscious union and constant communion with God! What increased power to do or suffer the will of my Father in Heaven! What delight in the MasterÂ’s service! What fear to grieve the infinitely Holy Spirit! What love for, and desire to be with, the entirely sanctified! What joy in religious conversation! What confidence in prayer! What illumination in the perusal of the sacred Word! What increased unction in the performance of public duties!Â”
But this sacred experience was marred when Cookman, present at his first conference of the Methodist Church, engaged with other ministers in conversation which quenched the Holy Spirit. He said later:
Â“Forgetting how easily the infinitely Holy Spirit might be grieved, I allowed myself to drift into the spirit of the hour. And after an indulgence in foolish joking and story-telling, I realized that I had suffered serious loss. To my next field of labour, I proceeded with consciously-diminished power.
Â“Perhaps to satisfy my conscience, I began to favour the arguments of those who insisted that sanctification, as a work of the Holy Spirit, could not involve an experience distinct from regeneration.Â”
Although the young minister no longer had the inward assurance of full salvation, his preaching during the next decade seemed most acceptable to the churches he pastored. He was the most popular preacher in the Conference, and was in demand on many platforms. Calls came from churches in the larger cities in rapid succession. But in spite of all the outward success, he was dissatisfied and realized that nothing could surpass personal godliness. Admonishing his young brother, who was contemplating entering the ministry, he wrote:
Â“Let no secret sin, no unwillingness to toil or sacrifice or suffer, debar you from the full realization of your privileges in the Gospel of GodÂ’s dear Son. However imperfect your mental and physical developments may seem to yourself there is no reason why, as a Christian, you should not rival a Fletcher, a McCheyne, a Summerfield, in their almost seraphic purity, zeal and devotion. Attend, then, to the all-important subject of personal piety in the first instance, and I have no fear for the rest.Â”
It was during the 1857 revival that swept across the American continent, that Alfred Cookman was challenged to retake his stand in defense of the doctrine of Â“Perfect LoveÂ”. He was pastoring at this time the church at Green Street, Philadelphia, and had come to acknowledge that much of his energy had been frittered away by the inner conflict that had raged within. The Spirit was leading him back to the simple faith of his first consecration, but was also directing him forward to a more mature understanding of the doctrine and experience. Of his restoration, he wrote ten years after:
Â“Oh, how many precious years I wasted in quibbling and debating respecting theological differences, not seeing that I was antagonising a doctrine that must be spiritually discerned, and the tendency of which is manifestly to bring people nearer to God!
Â“Meanwhile, I had foolishly fallen into the habit of using tobacco; an indulgence which, besides the palatable gratification, seemed to minister to both my nervous and social natures. When I would confront the obligation of entire consecration, the sacrifice of my foolish habit would be presented as a test of obedience. I would consent. Light, strength and blessing were the result.
Â“Afterward temptation would be presented. I would listen to suggestions like these: Â‘This is one of the good things of God.Â’ Â‘Your religion does not require a course of asceticism.Â’ Â‘This indulgence is not especially forbidden on the New Testament page.Â’ Â‘Some good people whom you know are addicted to this practice.Â’ Thus, seeking to quiet an uneasy conscience, I would drift back into the old habit again.
Â“After a while, I began to see that the indulgence at best was doubtful for me, and that I was giving my carnality rather than my Christian experience the benefit of the doubt. It could not really harm me to give it up, while to persist in the practice was costing me too much in my religious enjoyments.
Â“I found that after all my objections to sanctification as a distinct work of grace, there was nevertheless a conscious lack in my own religious experience Â– it was not strong, round, full, abiding. I frequently asked myself, Â‘What is it that I need and desire in comparison with what I have and profess?Â’
Â“I looked at the three steps insisted upon by the friends of holiness Â– namely, Â‘First, entire consecration; second, acceptance of Jesus moment by moment as a perfect Saviour; third, a meek and definite profession of the grace receivedÂ’; and I said, Â‘These are scriptural and reasonable duties. I will cast aside all preconceived theories, doubtful indulgences and culpable unbelief, and retrace my steps. Alas that I should have wandered from the light at all, and afterward wasted so many years in vacillating between self and God! Can I ever forgive myself? Oh what bitter, bitter memories!
Â“The acknowledgment I make is constrained by candour and a concern for others. It is the greatest humiliation of my life. If I had the ear of those who have entered into the clearer light of Christian purity, I would beseech and charge them with a brotherÂ’s interest and earnestness that they be warned by my folly. Oh, let such consent to die, if it were possible, ten deaths before they willfully depart from the path of holiness; for, if they retrace their steps, there will still be the remembrance of original purity tarnished, and that will prove a drop of bitterness in the cup of their sweetest comfort.
I again accepted Christ as my Saviour from all sin, realized the witness of the same Spirit and since then have been walking in the light Â– realizing that experimental doctrine of the fellowship and communion with saints. I humbly and gratefully testify that the blood of Jesus cleanseth me from all sin.
Â“ Â‘As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.Â’ That is, I understand, Â‘Maintain the same attitude before God you assumed when you accepted Christ as your all-sufficient Saviour.Â’ I receive Him in a spirit of entire consecration, implicit faith and humble confession. The constant repetition of these three steps, I find, enables me to walk in Him. I cannot afford for a single moment even to remove my offering, to fail in looking unto Jesus, or to part with the spirit of confession.Â”
In 1851, Cookman was married to Annie Bruner. The union was a happy one, based, as Alfred remarked on the tenth anniversary of their wedding, upon the Â“stonesÂ” of love, truth, purity, kindness, fidelity, sincerity, constancy, thankfulness, holiness and Christ as the Foundation.
Notwithstanding constant religious and evangelistic activities of a most strenuous nature, Alfred Cookman was basically a family man. He took the utmost delight in his nine children. His letters to them during his enforced absences are full of fatherly affection and admonitions directed to their spiritual good. Two of them preceded him in death Â– a sweet baby girl, Rebecca, and his first-born son, Bruner, in his sixteenth year. To the great comfort of his parents, the lad had been a consistent Christian from the time of his conversion at ten years of age. Cookman regarded BrunerÂ’s life as a Â“temporary loanÂ” which Â“made earth more beautiful, Heaven more attractive.Â”
His speaking appointments necessitated absences from his loved partner. Once when his loneliness almost overwhelmed him, he wrote to her:
Â“I bowed my knee in prayer and sweetly realized that I was in the best of company. My compassionate Saviour came quickly to my relief, and the room was transformed into the audience-chamber of Deity. Oh, how unutterably sweet Â– how indescribably valuable, is the religion of the Lord Jesus!Â”
This unusual man received his strength at the Mercy Seat. His wife tells how she would remonstrate with him about his night vigils only to receive the answer that he could not rest while the burden of the people was upon him. Often he would wrestle in his study until the day broke. This intimate communion with the Lord affected his public prayers. One man in a service, hearing his impassioned pleading, opened his eyes, to see the minister kneeling with hands stretched toward Heaven, and then rising from his knees and reaching as high as he could. Then falling upon his knees again, he thanked God for the blessings asked for.
An intelligent young convert was impressed with the godly Alfred Cookman. Â“What sermon did you hear him preach?Â” he was asked. Â“I have never heard him preach, but I have watched him as he was walking along the street.Â”
Living as he did amid the struggles of the nation in regard to the great issues of secession and slavery, Cookman could not remain a silent onlooker. Before the breaking out of the Civil War, he delivered an anti-slavery sermon from Isaiah 8:12-13, Â“Say ye not, a confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, a confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.Â” As he spoke, his face shone with a heavenly light, and his words were surcharged with divine emphasis and power.
During the conflict that ensued, he served the Christian Commission at the front, not only in a temporal way of alleviating the physical misery of the soldiers, but also by the distribution of Bibles and tracts, preaching and personal visitation.
It is not strange that CookmanÂ’s arduous public life took a heavy toll of his strength. Instead of taking holidays, he would engage in strenuous efforts at some camp meeting. Although he felt his physical powers waning, he did not refuse any opportunity to lift his voice like a trumpet in behalf of the full Gospel. On October 22, 1871, he preached his last sermon. Announcing his subject and holding a faded leaf in his hand, he solemnly read the text, Â“We all do fade as a leaf.Â” (Isaiah 64:6) The congregation remarked afterward upon the unusual brightness emanating from his countenance. As he finished the address, he handed the leaf to a friend with the words, Â“The leaf and the preacher are very much alike Â– fading.Â”
He was so weak that two friends escorted him homeward. To them, he remarked:
Â“I know it is not popular to hold up the doctrine of holiness, but I thought I would do my whole duty then; I feel this may be my last opportunity.Â”
Among his final utterances were: Â“I am sweeping through the gates,Â” and Â“washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â” God gave this loving child of His, who spent only forty-four years in this vale of tears, such a glimpse of the efficacy of the cleansing of the Â“blood of the Lamb who was slain,Â” as seems to be granted to few on this earth. But this affirmation was more than a once-uttered act of witness. It was the theme of his sick room; it created the atmosphere that gathered in that sacred place.
Doubtless the same reality that caused the martyrs to sing in the flames, enabled the suffering preacher to exult in the fruits of Redemption as they applied to the vital needs of the hour. His feet were painful in the extreme because of a peculiarly violent form of rheumatism. He explained that if every bone in his ankles and the soles of his feet were a tooth, with the raw nerves throbbing acutely in each, it would be comparable to the pain he endured. But to him it was turned to blessing. Let us listen as he explains:
Â“I have known for many years what it is to be washed in the blood of the Lamb; now I understand the full meaning of that verse, Â‘These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.Â’ I used to maintain that the blood was sufficient, but I am coming to know that tribulation brings us to the blood that cleanseth.Â”
When his mother had reminded him that the blessed Saviour had suffered in His feet, he commented, Â“You know the nails pierced His precious feet, and He can sympathize with me in my sufferings.Â”
Mr. Cookman had a vision of Heaven during his final illness. He declared it to have been more than a dream. He found himself just inside the gates and was first greeted by his grandfather who said, Â“When you were in England, I took great pleasure in showing you the different places of interest; now I welcome you to Heaven, my grandson, washed in the blood of the Lamb!Â” He was next received by his father, whose features were as distinct to him as they had ever been during his boyhood. The greeting was on the same note, Â“Welcome, my son, washed in the blood of the Lamb!Â” Then his brother George embraced him exclaiming, Â“Welcome, my brother, washed in the blood of the lamb!Â” And lastly his son Bruner repeated the refrain, Â“Welcome, my father, washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â” Each one of these in turn presented him to the Throne.
CookmanÂ’s comment to his wife was, Â“That was abundant entrance.Â” Hear this advocate of cleansing through the blood proclaiming once more:
Â“The best hours of my illness were when the fierce fires of suffering were kindling and scorching all around me. It has convinced me that full salvation is the only preparation for the ten thousand contingencies that belong to a mortal career. Oh, how soothing to feel, hour by hour, that the soul has been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and to experience the inspiration of that Â‘perfect love that casteth out fear that hath torment.Â’Â”
And so as the end approached, the same witness was given to all! To his physician it was, Â“Washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â” To a Presbyterian minister, he confessed to the assurance of full salvation, saying, Â“Such views of ChristÂ’s presence with me Â– such views of His cleansing blood have I had never before!Â” To a dear colleague in the ministry, he said, Â“I have tried to preach Holiness; I have honestly declared it; and oh, what comfort it is to me now! I have been true to Holiness; and now Jesus saves me Â– saves me fully. I am so sweetly washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â” And to his brother, just before the end, it was, Â“Death is the gate to endless glory; I am washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â” Another loved one just heard him whisper, Â“This the sickest day of my life, but all is well; I am so glad I have preached full salvation: what should I do without it now? If you forget everything else, remember my testimony, Â‘I am washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â’Â”
And so he passed through Â“the gatesÂ”, November 12, 1871, to join that great throng who are Â“washed in the blood of the Lamb.Â”
The words of Bishop Foster at CookmanÂ’s funeral service could well have been voiced by many another, Â“The most sacred man I have ever known is he who is enshrined in that casket.Â”
Quotations By Alfred Cookman
Â“Christians never part for the last time! We separate, but it is as the angels do, going forth for the performance of the Divine will, but with the assurance that our home is before the Throne. Thank God, we belong to a sky-born, sky-guided, sky-returning race, and sweetly the peace-march beats, Â‘Home, brothers, home!Â’Â”
Â“Unction is that subtle, intangible, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit that seals instruction upon the hearts to which it is given. It is not the eloquent men of this world, the orators of great occasions, whose words linger longest in their influence upon the hearts of men. The unction may oftentimes be rather in the utterances of a humble disciple than in the delivery of a powerful sermon. For this I am more concerned than for anything else.Â”
Â“Let us be a holy people. Holiness is power. What the Church needs, what the world around is looking and waiting for, is more of power. We must have it for the fulfillment of our high and holy mission, viz., the spiritual conquest of the world.Â”