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prosecution of his studies, and for the education of his mind. Mr. English's school consisted of some boarders and day scholars, children of respectable inhabitants, and of his own friends. He was also the pastor of a small church, which had been formed at Wooburn some considerable time before, by the labours of the Rev. T. Grove, afterwards of Walsal, who had been one of the six Oxford students expelled from that University, for praying and reading the Scriptures in private houses; and upon whom Macgowan wrote his celebrated tract, entitled, "The Shaver."
During Mr. Cooke's residence with Mr. English, he prosecuted the study of Latin, and commenced that of Greek, and Hebrew. But he appears to have paid particular attention to the examination of the Holy Scriptures. Whether he enjoyed any assistance in these studies, is, I apprehend, more than doubtful. The difficulties of self-instruction in the learned languages, especially at the period of Mr. Cooke's youth, were so formidable, that it will be readily inferred, notwithstanding the vigour of his mind, his success could not be great. With all the assistance supplied by the abundant apparatus of modern improvements, it is still a task of almost insurmountable difficulty. It will not be expected, therefore, that I should say much of Mr. Cooke's classical attainments. I believe that he acquired just knowledge enough to qualify him to understand and appreciate works on biblical criticism. He, probably, attained to so much acquaintance with Greek, and Hebrew, as to enable him to read the Scriptures in the original tongues. I do not think that he pursued these studies to any length, after entering upon the stated duties of the ministry. The probability is, that in later years he almost totally relinquished them; and this may naturally enough have arisen from never having thoroughly mastered the difficulties of an initiation. I have occasionally glanced at the subject in conversation with him, and have frequently heard him regret the defects, or, more properly, the brevity, of his early education*. Indeed he never professed any minute acquaintance with either of the learned languages, and always spoke with modesty and deference upon every point connected with such knowledge.
* I have been informed upon good authority, that the School at Maldon, in which he was educated, was an endowed Grammar School, and one of considerable reputation. We may, therefore, infer, that his initiation was at least sound. His attention to business, however, had, probably rendered this part of his education comparatively useless.
His residence at Wooburn was, however, a most important event in his life. The providence of God was signally dis-played in all its direct results, both in determining the nature of his subsequent engagements, and leading at once to the sphere of his future labour and usefulness. After a short period, it became manifest to Mr. English and some of his principal friends, that Mr. Cooke possessed talents capable of being turned to the service of the church of Christ. He was, accordingly, invited to engage in their meetings for social worship. This led, by degrees, in the ordinary way adopted by dissenters, to a trial of his abilities in villagepreaching. The result of the experiment was highly encouraging. His services were acceptable, and edifying to the village-congregations.
Thus he continued, for something more than a year to exercise his talents and to assist Mr. English in his school. Before the lapse of a second year, Mr. English determined on relinquishing his school, and it was, in consequence, proposed that Mr. Cooke should continue it on his own account. The attempt was made, and probably would have succeeded, had not Providence opened other prospects, and pressed upon his mind an engagement of a far higher nature. His occasional services had already excited so much attention, that his pious friends recommended a more serious and devoted attention to the work of the ministry. His talents at public speaking were rapidly developed, and the impression, even of these his earliest efforts, was so considerable, that several stated congregations in the neighbouring towns began to call for his services. While Providence was thus leading him by external circumstances, and the decided approbation of ministers and private Christians, it was no less decisively inclining his mind to the work, and strengthening his attachment to those studies which were connected with the Gospel ministry. All things appeared to certify that he was called of God to minister in holy things. The wisest and best of Christians, who had opportunity of judging, expressed their decided approbation, and rejoiced in the prospect of his growing usefulness. About this period, he was called to officiate in the destitute congregation at Maidenhead; but his first prospects extended no further than an occasional service.
The description of the workings of his mind at this period is highly interesting, and presents a beautiful picture of the powerful and gentle leadings of the Spirit of God. He says,
"During my stay at Mr. English's, the Lord left not himself without witness that he was gracious.' My studies were embraced every spare moment, frequently until one or two o'clock in the morning. So close an application to study in my leisure moments, soon brought my body very low. In the evening, my usual walk was round a large field, where (Isaac-like) I used myself to meditation; and God, by this, opening his word to my mind, encouraged me to think of the ministry. But how often has Satan and my diffident heart cast me down. Sometimes I thought I would never attempt it; at other times the Lord enlarged my heart to pray for it; then again, by night, on my bed, or in the field, I would talk upon a subject to myself, and refreshing were such moments. I could not kill the desire, but I was jealous of my deceitful heart. I feared it was pride that excited it. I prayed the Lord to give me a sign, which was this-that if it was his will for me to preach his word, I might have the desire increased; if not, decreased. However wrong I might be in asking, God was gracious in giving, a growing wish to be employed in the sacred work. Fresh discoveries into his word inflamed my mind with a warmer zeal to open my mouth for Jesus.'
While these thoughts were working in his breast, he greatly desired to open his mind to a wise and indulgent friend. For reasons which cannot be now ascertained, nor stated if they could, his intercourse with Mr. English was not of that frank and unbosomed kind, which, in the existing crisis of his feelings and prospects, would have been desirable. He was fearful of intimating to any one his wish to be entirely devoted to the ministry, lest it should be thought that he was presuming to aspire to a work for which he had received no qualification, and to which God had not called him. But yet the inward impulse of holy love could not be repressed.
The following interesting document will display the workings of his mind, and the remarkable dealings of Providence with him at this period.
"When I first perceived and felt Christ as my life and my light, I began a new course of action; not by plan, and easy execution of it, but as a child begins his awkward attempt to walk. I felt that I must pray, and pray as I felt. I kneeled in my closet, and opened my mouth to God: but not having been on speaking terms with him, I could not order my
speech by reason of darkness.' I uttered a few sentences, repeated them, and was exhausted. The verse of a hymn occurred to me, and I uttered it:
'Take my poor heart just as it is,
Set up therein thy throne;
And live to thee alone.'
These lines I repeated in every prayer for six months. My petitions increased in number with my conviction and the sense of my wants. My praises advanced with the sensibility of my mercies. I soon increased my requests from four to six, and from six to twelve, but my feelings always exceeded my expressions; and although God accepted my prayers, I was always dissatisfied with them. By reading the Scriptures, hearing the word, observing the workings of my own heart, and hearing the prayers of good men, I learned my own deficiency, and found enlargement in my addresses to God in secret. The first time I was compelled to pray in a family, my spring was dry in three minutes. I wished to hide myself: but a minister present said, it was a good beginning, and that although I had more grace than gifts, my grace would increase my gifts, if I exercised what gifts I had.' I was called upon at the prayer-meetings, and always was short, until the duty became a delightful privilege to me, and very acceptable to my brethren. I was sent for to the distressed in mind and afflicted in body, and went on from strength to strength.' Other members perceiving the progress and acceptableness of my gifts, called on me to expound a few verses of the Scriptures. I yielded to their requests in my best manner, until report brought my minister to hear me at the shutter. One evening he came in, and I was confused. Never mind,' said he, if I have destroyed your self-complacency.' I was then called to preach in small congregations, and very soon in his pulpit. The broad seal of heaven was annexed to my youthful testimony, in the conversion of six persons, who joined the church; this so endeared me to the church, that they followed me to every place. My peace flowed like a river, and my blessedness like the waves of the sea.' God was my life, and made me the life of the church. I discharged the duty of the deacons in visiting the sick, speaking in the villages, leading the singers, and enlivening the prayer-meetings. My duties were my element; I lived in the region of life and peace.' The glory of God, that God who had so evidently plucked
him as a brand from the burning, lay near his heart. There was a longing of soul to tell the Gospel message to others, which would not be appeased, and which made all the labours of his school an unwelcome and irksome drudgery. His religious connexions, however, at Wooburn, soon endeavoured to relieve his mind from all embarrassment on the point of duty, by unanimously expressing their approbation, and by formally inviting him to engage in the gospel ministry.
As a member of the church of Christ at that place, it was deemed proper that he should receive the sanction of that Christian society, and be publicly called, in their name, to the work of preaching the Gospel. This was accordingly done, at a meeting of the church, when Mr. English, the pastor, delivered an address to his young friend, and a Mr. Blackwell, a respectable and very useful lay preacher, who resided at Loudwater, engaged in the solemn prayer, by which the young man was dedicated to the work of an Evangelist.
He was now frequently engaged, and with great acceptance, in the neighbouring towns of Wycomb, Uxbridge, and Chesham. His ripening talents commanded respect and attention in all the surrounding churches, and upon a renewal of his occasional services at Maidenhead, he received an invitation to preach regularly for six months. He was, however, diffident of his ability to fulfil an engagement for so long a period; and it was not without much deliberation, and fervent prayer for divine direction, that he yielded. He had many anxieties respecting the line of duty generally, and many fears as to the results of the specific attempt he was about to make. The difficulties experienced by our friend at this crisis were not peculiar. The Christian ministry presents to a thoughtful mind a fearful degree of responsibility, and the dread of rashly involving one's self in its tremendous results, is wisely employed by Providence, to sift and purify the motives which induce men to engage in it. Most young ministers of deep piety and serious reflection, when first prompted to undertake this great work, have felt an intense anxiety, and many, who have become singularly useful and eminent, have felt it in the strongest degree. In the minds of some the desire may wax and wane for a long period, but where it is found to be a genuine prompting of the divine spirit, its delay and retardation seem only to give it deeper root. It may also be observed, that the more severely the individual himself is tried, and the greater the difficulties and doubts he has to surmount, in coming to a final decision, the more