THE Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Glasgow
University was born at Elgin, 13th February, 1846. At Elgin Academy, where he
received his schooling, he came under the influence of several notable teachers.
Of these were the late Dr. Donald Morrison, of Glasgow Academy, and the late Dr.
James Macdonald, of the same school, the latter of whom gave his pupil a taste
for history. At the University of Aberdeen, again, which he entered in 1863, he
had for teachers, among others, Professors Bain and Milligan and Principal
Geddes, of whom the two last, as well as the professor of law, Dr. Grub, the
ecclesiastical historian, became his intimate friends. He graduated M.A. in
1867, and took a summer in 1868 at Heidelberg. He also travelled in Switzerland,
Italy, and Germany in 1870-71. He was then licensed, and went as assistant to
Dr. Hutchison, of Banchory Ternan, who took great pains to initiate him in the
details of parish work. His next post was that of assistant to Dr. Alexander, of
the East Church, Stirling. There, on the recovery of the Prince of Wales, now
King Edward VII., from his historic illness, it happened that Dr. Alexander was
indisposed, and the young assistant conducted a thanksgiving service and
preached a sermon which made much stir in the town. From Stirling he went as an
assistant to his native Elgin, and while there, in February, 1873, he received
an unexpected call to the new church of St. Stephen's at Broughty Ferry. In this
charge he remained for eight years. Under his ministry the church was endowed,
and erected into a parish; the congregation also greatly increased, and a
chancel, one of the first purposely erected in Scotland, was built. During that
period it fell to him to refer in his sermons to the death of three notable
Dundee divines - Bishop Forbes, Mr. Gilfillan, and Dr. Watson. He made the
fruitful acquaintance of Dr. Sprott and Dr. A. K. H. Boyd, of St. Andrews,
became a member of the Editorial Committee of the Church Service Society, and of
the General Assembly's Hymn Committee, and was definitely confirmed in the views
he had held as a student, which have been, in fact, the opinions of his life.
His family tradition was Jacobite and Tory. His mother's great-grandfather
fought for Prince Charles Edward at Culloden, while his father was descended
from Mr. Gadderar, the elder brother of the notable Scottish non-juring Bishop
Gadderar, the introducer into Scotland of "the Usages," rabbled in 1688 from the
church of Girvan.
In May, 1881, he went to the church of St. Nicholas at Aberdeen, being recommended to his new charge by Dr. Milligan as likely to be useful because of his opinions, and by Dr. Flint as likely to be useful notwithstanding them. Here it may be noted that Dr. Cooper has thrice removed to new charges, and on each occasion the removal implied the acceptance of smaller money emoluments. At Aberdeen he established a daily morning service, and some years later instituted a second service each day, the former being the first daily service introduced in the Church of Scotland. He was also the first in the Church of Scotland to institute a Women's Guild (1882). These actions, together with his outspoken teaching on certain doctrinal subjects, led to considerable discussion, and eleven of the elders, a minority of his kirk session, initiated a prosecution before the church courts, which got as far as the Synod, but was sent back to the Presbytery, where it speedily took end. He had received that year the appointment of Chaplain to the Moderator of the General Assembly, his old professor, Dr. Milligan; and when the prosecution began he sent in his resignation of the post, but this Dr. Milligan, with much kindness and no little courage, declined to accept.
Under his charge the congregation at Aberdeen increased by leaps and bounds, and a great deal was done for efficient mission work in the parish, for improving the service, and for providing suitable ornaments. In addition to the direct work of his ministry he suggested, and was the chief founder of, Aberdeen Ecclesiological Society, now merged in the Scottish body, to whose transactions he has been a main contributor; and at the formation of the Scottish Church Society he was elected to the post of secretary, which he has since retained. He delivered a lecture on the Ecclesiology of Scotland to the St. Paul's Ecclesiological Society in the chapterhouse of St. Paul's, London. It was by his enthusiasm on this subject that the restoration of the crypt of his own church of St. Nicholas was effected. The people of Aberdeen, when he left, commemorated this service by placing a memorial window in the crypt, and presenting him with a silver chalice of unique and beautiful design.
In 1892 his services were recognised by the University of Aberdeen, which conferred upon him the degree of D.D., and in 1898 he was appointed Professor of Church History in the University of Glasgow by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, then Secretary for Scotland. In this position he has entirely fulfilled every expectation which had been formed from his previous record. His experience in the actual work of the Church enables him to be of service to his students in more than one way, and it must be admitted that the training of men for the practical work of the ministry is of not less importance than the imparting of exact historical knowledge. In the domain of scholarship Professor Cooper looks on Dr. Grub and Dr. Sprott as historical experts, and on Dr. Milligan and Dr. John Macleod as theologians, as influences of the highest value. In the work of his class Dr. Cooper was the first Scottish professor to lecture regularly on the history of the Church of England. On this subject he lectures twice a week to his senior class, and he also lectures twice a week on the history of the Church of Scotland.
In addition to the work of his chair he has preached almost every Sunday since coming to Glasgow. A strong upholder of the observance of the Christian year, he has, ever since receiving licence, preached according to its order. He is deeply interested in the project of ecclesiastical reunion, which, he holds, must, to be of real service, be thoroughly national and must therefore embrace the Scottish Episcopalians.
Among his numerous contributions to literature he has edited Henry Scougal's "Life of God in the Soul of Man," one of the few devotional classics produced in Scotland. Dr. Cooper also edited for the New Spalding Club the Chartulary of St. Nicholas of Aberdeen. He is the author of a volume of sermons entitled "Bethlehem," as well as a very large number of sermons and addresses on subjects of the day, not yet collected. His "Office for the Annual Visit of his class to Glasgow Cathedral" was declared by Bishop Dowden to be written in the true spirit of the ancient liturgies. He has contributed to the Transactions of the Scottish Church Society, and he helped with Dr. Sprott and Mr. Stevenson of Auchtertool to found the Church Law Society. He was the joint editor, with Bishop Maclean, of "Testamentum Domini," a liturgical work of the fourth century, and he edited for the Church Service Society the Scottish Liturgy of 1637, commonly called Laud's Liturgy. Last year he issued a compendious historical work on "Confessions of Faith and Formulas of Subscription in the Reformed Churches of Great Britain." He has always taken great interest in the work of the Church courts. He sits in the Presbytery of Glasgow as an elder for Oatlands Parish, of which his friend, the Rev. A. W. Wotherspoon, is minister, and is also a trustee of St. Bride's Parish Church; and he has been often a member of the General Assembly, where his voice is not infrequently heard.
Dr. Cooper is unmarried, and was devoted to his mother, who lived with him till her death in 1909. This lady wore a black ribbon during the public mourning for the Princess Charlotte, but she possessed to the last a remarkable memory, and was able from its store to furnish Mr. J. M. Bullock, the editor of "The House of Gordon," with a complete genealogy of her forbears, the Gordons and Stuarts of Birkenburn, for a period of two hundred years.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)