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MEMOIR OF MRS. CHARLOTTE COOPER,
BY THE REV. WILLIAM R. WILLIAMS. THERE are two purposes which religious biography is calculated to perve,--the benefit of the living, and the preservation in the annals of the Church of the memory of departed worth. The first of these ends may be promoted by the following Memoir; but it is with the special design of securing a more permanent remembrance of a “mother in Israel” that it has been written. The writer is indebted to Mrs. Mary Ann Church, of Northampton, a daughter of the deceased, for the materials from which it has been prepared.
MRS. CHARLOTTE COOPER, relict of the late Mr. William Cooper, printer, of Northampton, was born at Wollaston, in Northamptonshire, in the year 1785. Not much is known of her early days; but as her parents were not pious, her training was unfavourable to religion. Indeed, she was brought up in the midst of scepticism. When about fourteen years of age she was invited to a cottage prayer-meeting, and went, ignorant of the character of the service to be held. The Spirit of God, however, powerfully strove with her, and she was greatly troubled. So unhappy did she feel, that she resolved, when she left the place, never to enter it again. This was the beginning of her spiritual life, but she knew it not. Instead of her convictions ceasing at the close of the meeting, as she had expected, they became more powerful on her leaving it, and almost unconsciously she fell on her knees in the street. Aroused by a passing friend, who called her by name, she started to her feet, and ran to her home, but only to prostrate herself before God in prayer, and to cry earnestly for mercy. Had her parents then known anything of experimental religion, their instructions might have made this the decisive moment in their daughter's religious life; but she had to struggle alone,nay, to contend with much opposition.
Like many a youthful seeker of salvation, at this comparatively early period in the history of our Societies, when personal conversion to God was a strange thing to many people, she was thought to be
VOL. XIV.–FIFTH SERIES,
beside herself, and Methodism was severely reproached for her supposed madness. Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that she did not at this time attain settled peace, and become a true Christian. The seed was sown; but the uncongenial influences which surrounded her were prejudicial to its growth. Soon, however, in the order of Divine Providence, she was placed in a more favourable situation. The occasion is not stated; but about this time she removed to Northampton, where she frequently had the opportunity of attending the old Wesleyan-Methodist chapel in King-street. To the latest period of her life, she often referred with gratitude to the ministry of the Rev. John Woodrow, whicb it was then her privilege to attend ; and she retained a distinct remembrance of the first class formed in the above chapel. After a while, both her parents died ; and this afflictive bereavement rendered it necessary for her to reside at Great Billing, a village about four miles from Northampton. Such an event seemed the most likely to prevent her religious decision; but it was one of those minute links in the chain of Providential arrangements, by which God often accomplishes, in an apparently indirect manner, His gracious designs. At this time, the Methodists had preached in the village in question only twice. A small class, composed of a Mrs. Luck and her two pieces, had just been formed; and Mrs. Cooper, then Charlotte Bettles, was invited by them to join their company, for the purpose of assisting in singing. Trifling as this incident may appear, it led to momentous results in her history. With deep emotion she often spoke of it in after days, as marking the watchsul care of God over her. She was then on the brink of danger. Her fine voice, and her passionate fondness for music, singing, and dancing, exposed her to great temptations; and some peculiar snares beset her path. The invitation of the three friends mentioned proved the turning-point in her career, and was the opening of the door which led to a life of Cbristian devotedness and usefulness. She united herself to them; and the four formed what was known throughout the Circuit as the “praying band.”
Mrs. Luck had been a strict member of the Church of England; and much consternation was created in the parish when she left the Church. Under the Wesleyan-Methodist ministry she was aroused from her spiritual lethargy, brought to feel her lost condition, and led to seek the mercy of God. The fruit of this change immediately appeared ; she evinced real earnestness in the service of God; and, following the leadings of His providence, opened her own house for preaching, and other religious exercises. These were days of persecution wherever the “sect” appeared which was "everywhere spoken against." There was no exception to the rule at Billing.
“The praying band ” was sorely assailed by the ungodly world. Brickbats and other missiles were thrown down the chimney leading to the room in which the religious meetings were held; and it was no uncommon thing for the devoted four, in turns, to be pelted with rotten eggs, and subjected to other serious annoyances, as they passed through the village. On several occasions they would have rectived much personal injury, had it not been for the interference of a special Providence. They, however, knew that “all tbat will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” They had counted the cost; and, having entered into a solemn covenant with each other and with the Lord, to be faithful to Him, they yielded to do opposition ; but, praying for their persecutors,
"They were of one heart and soul,
And only love inspired the whole." The particular circumstances connected with Mrs. Cooper's personal closure with Christ, so as to find rest unto her soul, are not recorded, but of the fact there can be no doubt. It is believed that soon after she had made her choice, like Ruth, that the people of God should be her people, and their God hers, she sought earnestly the pardon of her sins, and obtained it to the joy of her heart. “Her path,” henceforth, was like that “ of the just,” that “ shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”'
In the year 1805 the Rev. Isaac Lilly, then Superintendent of the Northampton Circuit, officially formed the devoted four into a Society class, giving to each, for the first time, the usual ticket of membership, and appointing Mrs. Luck the leader. Thus commenced the cause of Wesleyan Methodism at Great Billing; though but for the decision and devotedness of these godly women it would have soon ceased to be. Such were the prejudices and worldliness of the population, that all means used for their religious improvement were unavailing; and for nearly two years the “praying band” prayed and laboured in vain. They saw no fruit of their example and toil. Their faith was tried to the utmost, but it was not destroyed. For this long period they had no accession to their number, but themselves remained faithful :
" Bold in their Master's cause they nobly stood.” Their exertions to do good were not confined to the immediate neighbourhood of their residence; but, like the evangelists, they visited surrounding villages, then as morally dark and degraded as their own. Ectop, Brayfield, Weston-Favell, and other places, witnessed their labours of love, and they rested not until their ministers, whom they accompanied in their journeyings, had preached the Gospel in the whole of them, and laid the foundation of the present Societies. The memory of these preachers was ever dear to Mrs. Cooper; and often in after-life has she spoken in glowing terms of the devotion of
such men as the Revs. John Woodrow, Isaac Lilly, Maximilian Wilson, Thomas Blanshard, James Blackett, John Simmons, Joseph Wilson, and others; and, as she approached her end, her countenance would brighten with holy joy, as she anticipated the happiness of meeting them again in the world of rest. Amongst the papers of Mrs. Cooper, there is this incident recorded by her--that the first sermon at Weston-Favell was preached by the Rev. James Blackett at an early hour on a Sunday morning, so as not to interfere with the service in the parish-church. Under this sermon the constable's wife became converted to God. He, not knowing what had happened, came to the place of meeting, armed with authority to disperse the congregation ; but, arrested by the service, he either forgot, or was unwilling, to execute his orders, and sitting down, listened attentively to the discourse. It is to be hoped that in obeying God rather than man, this officer ultimately found mercy ; but bis return home, on this occasion, was followed by severe marks of his employer's displeasure. The recollection of this period of her life prompted Mrs. Cooper, at a subsequent period, to write in her diary : "I witnessed some terrible things, also many glorious mani. festations of the Gospel at Billing and elsewhere, and am led to exclaim,
“O the infinite cares, and temptations, and snares,
Thy hand hath conducted me through!
And the mercies eternally new!" After living eight years at Billing, and witnessing an entire change in the moral and spiritual aspect of the place, she returned, in 1814, to Northampton, taking up her abode with a Mrs. Flecknoe and her two daughters, an eminently pious family. They were all remarkable for their Christian devotedness and usefulness, and the last of them has but recently died in Christ, and entered upon the rest she had long toiled to find. In 1818, the subject of this Memoir entered into the marriage state
Mr. William Cooper, a holy man of God. This union was, in all respects, a happy one. They were true yoke-fellows in the bonds of the Gospel. Having been baptized with the same spirit of piety and fervent zeal, they were keepers of each other's faith and patience, and co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. They were diligent in business, and spent much time
" "Twixt the mount and multitude,
Doing or receiving good.” Their home was, in every sense of the term, a Christian one. Family duties were not perfunctorily performed. Domestic worship was a means of grace. The children were trained up in the way they should go, and the soul of each in the household was regarded as entrusted to them, to be accounted for at the last day. Notwithstanding the increasing cares of her family and business, Mrs. Cooper relaxed not her exertions in the cause of God, esteeming it her highest honour, as it was her chief delight, to win sinners to Christ.
Intense love for souls was one of her most prominent characteristics. She was in the habit of fixing her attention upon certain unsaved individuals, and setting apart times for special prayer on their behalf in her closet; nor did she rest until their conversion was effected. Prayer was not only her “vital breath, her native air;" but she wrestled earnestly with God for blessings for herself and others. Her prevalence indeed in prayer was remarkable ; and it became a saying in her family circle, and amongst her kindred, that if Mrs. Cooper prayed for anything, she was sure to obtain it. Many times, when she was exercising this gift in public, some who had hitherto been careless about their spiritual interests, were suddenly arrested by the power of the Holy Spirit, and brought to the knowledge of saving truth.
In this respect, especially, she was a true Wesleyan. One of the most striking traits in the character of John Wesley was power in prayer. Many well-known instances of this are recorded in his Life. The writer, about twenty-seven years since, had an interview with an old man, then nearly ninety-six years of age, who, in his younger days in Cornwall, had frequently acted as postillion to Mr. Wesley. On one occasion, when conducting him on one of his western journeys, Peter Martin was exposed, together with our Founder, to great danger from the tide in St. Ive's Bay. In answer to prayer, they were Providentially preserved and delivered. It is distinctly remembered, how the eye of the old man sparkled as he related this incident, and how his countenance was lighted up with unusual animation when, in reply to the question, “ Peter, what did you think of Mr. Wesley ? he said, “Think, Sir! I think that whatever he asked God for, he got." The writer has never forgotten this answer. Wonder at the success of the Founder of Methodism ceases in view of such a fact. Like Jacob, he had power with God, and therefore prevailed over man, and overcame, humanly speaking, almost insuperable difficulties. Hence the startling events of his life, the wonderful effects which accompanied his labours, and the monument to his memory seen in Methodism at home and abroad. If the mantle of Wesley, in this che respect alone, had fallen on all his nominal followers, the world could not long have withstood the influence of their holy and selfTenouncing efforts.
Mrs. Cooper was equally eminent and successful as a class-leader, Bible and benevolent visiter, and tract-distributer. Possessing much firmness of character, undaunted courage, and an unshaken faith in