Page images
[graphic][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]







WILLIAM COOPER, the eldest son of Richard and Elizabeth Cooper, was born in Warwickshire, on the 28th of August, 1776. In the following June, the family removed to London, and settled in Hampstead. At an early age he was placed with a relative, an attorney, whose chambers were in Clement's Inn. Much leisure was kindly granted him, which he employed in the improvement of his mind, his education having, through almost constant illness, been greatly neglected. Tired at length of the monotony of his situation, he became melancholy and dissatisfied, and returned to his father's house. After a short time he was bound to a mercantile house in the City. About this period (December, 1790,) he commenced a Diary, which he continued through the greater part of his life. In the winter of '92," he writes, "I was brought to know my own utter sinfulness, and the way of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ; and the instrument was Dr. Haweis, by a sermon he preached, or rather by the text of Scripture on which

[ocr errors]

offered to accompany him to the Tabernacle, the impression that he must go to Spafields was so strong, that he could not resist. Ho ran the greater part of the way, and arrived just in time to hear Dr. Haweis read his text, 2 Cor. xiii. 5, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith," &c. The words went like an electric shock through his heart, and rendered him for a time incapable of attending to what the preacher said. When somewhat recovered, he found Dr. Haweis delivering a faithful and awfully searching discourse. From this time, his heart panted to exhort his fellow-sinners to "behold the Lamb of God." The conversion of his fellowapprentice was the first fruits of this concern for others' salvation. Among his papers are found the following lines expressive of his longing for missionary work. They bear date 1794. "Send me, O Eternal Spirit!

Send me to some foreign land, To proclaim the Saviour's merit, Held and guarded by Thy hand. I am ready:


Lord! I wait for thy command."

he discoursed. I had spent the Sab- And the following, dated March 22nd, bath-day at my father's, and towards evening had a strong desire to attend evening service at Spafields Chapel." Though dissuaded by his father, who


"Eternal Spirit, let me know
Whence these unusual sorrows flow
That fill my troubled breast.


What can these mingled passions mean,
Of hope, and fear, and joy, and pain,
Which rob my soul of rest?

"To preach thy word, Eternal God-
Redemption through Messiah's blood,—
To lift His standard higher;
In that great work to live and die,
Is all my wish, my crown, my joy,
And sets my soul on fire.

"But, Lord, are these desires from thee?
What end, what motive, do I see?
Thy glory or my own?
If I am called, increase my zeal;
If not, extinguish what I feel:

Father, Thy will be done!'"

guidance of the Holy Spirit, to his Master's service.

On November 15th, 1795, he preached his first sermon, from Matt. vi. 9, which so pleased Mr. Weatherill that he requested a copy. He showed it to the excellent Lady Ann Erskine, to whom, by her desire, Mr. Cooper was shortly after introduced. At her solicitation, he went to preach on the Sabbath evenings to the inmates of Clerkenwell workhouse. His hearers at the morning prayer-meetings rapidly increased, until the chapel itself would not contain them. On one occasion, the multitude pressing to get in was so great, that dangerous results were apprehended. dressing those outside from one of the gallery windows, he requested them to retire to the adjoining field, promising to bring the congregation out of the chapel, and to preach to them there. This was his first effort at out-of-door preaching, and was the means, under God, of bringing many to a knowledge of the truth. Some of the Jewish persuasion were present, who heard the Word with deep attention.


About this period, an aged gentleman, a member of the Committee of Spafields Chapel, where young Cooper had now a sitting, accosted him one day as he was descending from the gallery, and asked-" Do you not desire the ministry?" The abruptness of the inquiry confused him; yet he confessed his feelings, adding, that he had never expressed his desire to any one. “Well," replied Mr. Weatherill, "I have long thought so; come to me at the early prayer-meeting, and I will introduce you." These early prayer-meetings At another time, having gone to Lady were conducted principally by Mr. Weatherill, a man eminently distinguished | Ann Erskine's after preaching, for rest for his piety and devoted usefulness. and refreshment, he was, as usual, folWilliam Cooper had frequently attended lowed by an immense multitude. Perthem, but had never taken part in the ceiving many of the sons and daughters service. In February, 1795, Mr. Wea- of Israel among the throng, he asked therill introduced him into his pulpit- them if they would attend a sermon "O yes," was desk, and he delivered a short lecture expressly to the Jews. from Isa. lxiii. 7—“I will mention the the unanimous reply, "and we will lovingkindness of the Lord," &c. Not-name it to our friends in the synagogue." withstanding the smallness of the audience, he trembled, and was exceedingly dissatisfied with his performance. This feeling, together with Mr. Weatherill's not calling him forward for some time, led him to fear he had acted presumptuously. He was consequently much distressed in mind. Having been, at length, again invited to speak, similar engagements from this time became frequent. He now determined, with all the energy and zeal of his nature, to devote his time and talents, under the

The circumstance was mentioned at Lady Ann Erskine's. Dr. Haweis, Dr. Ford, Lady Montague, Sir Egerton Lee, and other influential persons, were present. They were unanimous in the opinion, that it was a call that he should preach to the Jews. To this he joyfully consented, and appointed the 28th of August, the day on which he attained his twentieth year. A great number of Jews attended in their various costumes, English, Portuguese, Polish, &c. The chapel (Zion Chapel) could not

contain one-fifth of the people assembled. Thousands were outside from Commercial-road to Whitechapel. While he was preaching inside, four preachers were addressing congregations without. Soon after this his first sermon to that ancient people, he attempted to preach to them in the open air, in Duke's-place. He was accompanied by the late Rev. S. Roberts, Baptist minister, of Bristol-a young man with whom he had become acquainted at the early prayer-meetings. Missiles of every kind were hurled at the youths from the streets, windows, and roofs of houses; and, at length, the mob raised an incessant yell, which compelled the preacher to adjourn to the Pipe Fields, at the back of Spafields Chapel. The multitude followed, increasing as they moved to the place. They listened with intense and untiring interest. Many shed tears. Anxious inquirers came to him the next day to learn more of the precious truths they had heard.

In June, 1797, he was ordained to the ministry in the Countess of Huntingdon's connexion, by Dr. Haweis, in Zion Chapel, London. Shortly before, he had married Miss Elizabeth Gager, youngest daughter of Mr. John Gager, of London, a lady somewhat younger than himself, a woman of great piety, and possessing a fine and highly-cultivated mind. She was zealous in every good work, willing at all times to sacrifice her own feelings and comforts that the cause of Christ should not in any way be hindered. Through a long life of devotion and usefulness, she proved herself worthy of his choice."

Accompanied by his wife, he supplied the chapels at Bristol, Bath, Canterbury, Birmingham, &c. At each place he had frequent opportunities of preaching to the Jews, in whom he felt a great and increasing interest. His labours in Bristol continued from June 15th to August 25th, embracing often four ser

She died Feb. 11, 1851. Her remains were laid beside those of her husband.

vices on the Sabbath, and one-sometimes two-on each day of the week. At seven o'clock on the Sabbath morning, he preached on the draw-bridge over the river Frome, to two thousand or three thousand people, among whom were many soldiers and sailors. Not unfrequently were the tears seen to flow fast down the cheeks of a weather-beaten tar. At Brandon-hill, thousands met to hear the words of eternal life, many of whom were brought to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. From Bristol he proceeded to Bath, where his labours were equally unremitting. Here he remained until the birth of his eldest son, which took place November 8th, 1797, whom he named William Haweis,* the second name after his venerable friend and father in Christ, Dr. Haweis. From Bath he returned to London, preached at Zion Chapel every Sabbath, and at Spafields Chapel every Wednesday.

The year from February, 1798, to March, 1799, was spent in labours at Canterbury, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, &c., and in preaching at Zion Chapel and Spafields Chapel, London. At the last date, he received a letter from the Rev. George Hamilton, of Armagh, giving him a very pressing invitation from the Evangelical Society of Ulster, to spend four months of the ensuing summer in this benighted land. His relatives and almost all his friends were very much averse to his going, and used many arguments to dissuade him from an undertaking which they considered to be fraught with peculiar dangers and difficulties. After mature deliberation he consented. His reasons for compliance are thus stated in a letter to a friend:-" In the first place, I have

*He was for twenty-seven years the muchesteemed pastor of the church worshipping in Zion Chapel, Dublin, in which building his friends have erected a handsome marble tablet to his memory, as well as another to that of his aged father. William Haweis Cooper died March 1st, 1847. See Congregational Year Book for 1847, p. 144.

never sought to go to Ireland, but was | ing with his wife and friends, and being well supplied with Bibles and Testaments, he left London on the 15th of May, 1799, with the Rev. G. Hamilton, who had come over to accompany him. They arrived in Dublin on Sabbath night the 19th of May; and on the following evening (Monday) Mr. Cooper preached his first sermon in Ireland, in the Scots Church, Usher's Quay, to about one hundred and fifty people. On the next evening he addressed between three and four thousand. On the ensuing Thursday he preached in Mr. Hamilton's chapel, Armagh, and again on the Sabbath evening. Daily he continued labouring in Armagh and the neighbourhood for miles around, preaching in fields, barns, court-houses, private rooms, and the huts of the peasantry. Hundreds of attentive hearers followed him, among whom were many Roman Catholics. At Londonderry, he combated the Socinian errors. At Newry, he was opposed by the Arminians, who were there numerous. On his way to Cookstown, he was attended by a thousand on foot, and upwards of sixty on horseback, beside many on cars all eager to hear him.

sought for. I have been all along quite passive; only I have prayed constantly and earnestly in the business, whether to go or stay. In the next place, I know that God is the hearer and answerer of prayer. If it had not been His will, he could and would have prevented me; but providential circumstances lead me to see the door opening wider and wider. Thirdly, No one who appeared calculated for the work in London came forward to offer his services; and it appears absolutely necessary, from the statements I have received of the gross darkness and ignorance reigning throughout the length and breadth of the country, that so important a field should not longer be neglected. The people literally write, 'Come over and help us.' Fourthly, God, it seems, has given me a great name in Ireland as well as here; and this, to me, appears to be in order to prepare the way before me. What is this popularity given to me for, but that I should, with this gift, honour and glorify His name, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and be enabled by it the more effectually to do His work? And, lastly, although my services are much needed in the Countess of Huntingdon's connexion, and I can be ill spared at present, yet Lady Ann Erskine, on the first application, at once promised to find some person to supply my place during my absence. I know," he continues, "I shall have many difficulties to contend withhard lodgings, bad fare, and, probably, worse usage, for my pains. Yet for Christ his sake, I am willing to endure all things, and 'to spend and be spent in his service.' O Lord, go with me, and preserve in health my beloved wife and child during my absence! Thou knowest I am willing to make every sacrifice for thee; and after I have done all, I have done but my duty, and must be as dependent on free grace as ever for the salvation of my own soul."

He continued these missionary labours in the north of Ireland until the 24th of September, when he returned to Dublin, and again preached in Usher's Quay Meeting-house on several occasions, to large congregations; also in the Scots Church, Mary's Abbey, and to a large assembly convened once a week in Alderman Hutton's diningrooms. The time approached for him to recross the Channel. His ministry in Ireland had been singularly blessed. Many Romanists had been brought to a knowledge of the truth; and not a few nominal Protestants had been roused from their lethargy. He left Ireland with deep regret, earnestly desiring to be permitted, in the providence of God, to visit it again.

On arriving in London he resumed After an affecting and solemn part- his ministerial labours in Zion Chapel

« PreviousContinue »