Open main menu

COPPIN, RICHARD (fl. 1646–1659), universalist, was probably a native of Kent, where, early in the seventeenth century, there were several families of Coppin, at Bekesbourne and Deal. About 1530 one Coppin introduced the doctrines of the ‘spirituels,’ or brethren of the free spirit, at Lille. Richard Coppin says that he was brought up in the church of England, and spent an idle but not a vicious youth. In religion he was repelled by the formality of the services and the careless lives of the clergy in his neighbourhood. After the suppression of episcopacy (9 Oct. 1646) he attached himself for a short time to the presbyterians in London. He afterwards joined the independents and the anabaptists. Two years later he became the subject of an inward experience very similar to that of the early quakers, and received a commission to preach, ‘not from Oxford or Cambridge or the Schools of Antichrist,’ but ‘given by Christ at Sion house in Heaven.’ He was not to exercise a settled ministry, or receive ‘yearly maintenance;’ anything given him for his preaching he gave to the poor. He began to preach in Berkshire, whither he had removed from London, the effect of his first discourse being that he was ‘persecuted, hated, and rejected.’ Not having ‘freedom to speak,’ he ‘fell a writing.’ His first publication came out (1649) under the patronage of Abiezer Coppe [q. v.] Seven Berkshire ministers and several in Oxfordshire opposed his book and endeavoured to bring him to a recantation, some offering to help him in that case to preferment. A curious story is told of a Berkshire gentleman, who at the suggestion of the clergy bought up 10l. worth of his books, but who did not burn them as intended, remarking that he ‘did not know but that they might yield him his money again, if the things should after come in request.’ On 7 July 1651 he had a discussion at Burford, Oxfordshire, with John Osborn, or Osborne, minister of Bampton in the Bush; at this time he is described as of Westwell, a parish two miles from Burford (see Osborn, World to come, 1651). He first got into trouble by preaching on four successive days in the parish church of Evenlode, Worcestershire. He had been invited by parishioners, with the consent of the rector, Ralph Nevil. Nevil, however, brought neighbouring clergy to discuss matters with Coppin in the church, and eventually got a warrant against him for blasphemy. Coppin was tried before Chief Baron Wilde at the Worcester assizes on 23 March 1652. The jury found him guilty of denying heaven and hell; but Wilde reproved them for their verdict, and bound over Coppin to appear for judgment at the next assize. By that time his accusers had fresh evidence, relating to Coppin's proceedings at Enstone, Oxfordshire, whereupon Judge Nicholes bound him to appear at the next Oxford assize. On 10 March 1653 he was tried at Oxford before Serjeant Green; the jury at first disagreed, but eventually found him guilty. Green bound him over to the next assize, when Judge Hutton gave him his discharge. Preaching at Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, on 19 March 1654, Coppin was again apprehended and brought for trial at Gloucester on informations before Serjeant Glyn on 22 July. Glyn would not receive the informations, and so the matter ended. We next meet Coppin at Rochester. About 1650, Joseph Salmon, a Kentish minister, had 'set up a course of preaching every sabbath day' in Rochester Cathedral. Salmon was an allegorist, and is said to have 'sowed the seeds of ranting familism.' In midsummer 1655 Salmon went abroad, and his chief followers brought Coppin from London to fill his place. Whatever Salmon may have been, Coppin was no ranter, indeed he speaks of being persecuted by ranters; yet it is probable that his acquaintance with Abiezer Coppe introduced him to the sectaries of Rochester. At the end of September or beginning of October 1655, Walter Rosewell, incumbent of Chatham, went to hear Coppin preach, and gained the impression that he affirmed the peccability of Christ and denied the resurrection of the flesh. Rosewell, with other presbyterians, agreed to conduct a Tuesday lecture in the cathedral to counteract Coppin's heresies. A public discussion was held in the cathedral (from 3 to 13 Dec.) between Coppin and Rosewell, assisted by Daniel French, minister of Stroud, the mayor presiding; before it ended, Gaman, an anabaptist, put himself forward to oppose both parties. On Saturday night, 22 Dec., Coppin was served with a warrant forbidding him to preach next day, and requiring his attendance before the magistrates on Monday. He preached, not in the cathedral, where a guard of soldiers was set, but in the college-yard, and in the fields. On 24 Dec. Major-general Kelsie and other magistrates committed him to Maidstone gaol. Before 26 June 1656 he had been set free by habeas corpus. Nothing further has been ascertained of him beyond the date of his last publication, 1659.

It is not certain whether Coppin or Gerard Winstanley was the first in England to preach universal salvation; both began to publish in the same year, 1649. The universalist views of their contemporary, Jeremy White, were not published till 1712. Coppin writes with a good deal of unction, and deals more moderately with his opponents than they with him. There is no question of the blamelessness of his life. His followers seem to have formed a sect; the tenets of 'the Copinists' are given by S. Rogers (The Post-Boy robb'd of his Mail, 2nd ed. 1706, p. 428). In later times he has found an admirer in Cornelius Cayley [q. v.], and a critic in James Relly, a universalist of another type (see his 'The Sadducee detected,' &c. 1764, 8vo).

Coppin published: 1. 'A Hint of the Glorious Mystery of the Divine Teachings,' &c., 1649, 4to, with addendum by Abiezer Coppe [q. v.] 2. 'Antichrist in Man, opposeth Emmanuel, or, God in us,' &c., 1649, 4to (dedicated especially to his followers 'about Redding and Henly upon Thames;' paging runs on from no. 1). 3. 'The Exaltation of all things in Christ and Christ in all things,' &c., 1649, 4to (dated 18 Sept.; paging runs on from no. 2); 2nd ed. (really the 3rd), undated, 4to, with preface by Cornelius Cayley (dated London, 3 Oct. 1763). 4. 'Divine Teachings: in three parts,' &c., 1649, 4to (consists of the above three tracts bound together with general title); reprinted with title 'The Glorious Majestie of Divine Teachings, &c.' 1653, 4to. 5. 'Man's Righteousnesse examined,' &c., 1652, 4to (partly an exposition of 2 Pet. ii.) 6. 'Saul smitten for not smiting Amalek,' &c., 1653, 4to, re-printed without date [1763?], 12mo. 7. 'A Man-Child born, or, God manifest in Flesh,' &c., 1654, 4to (published 25 June; consists of a sermon preached at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, 25 Dec. 1653). 8. 'Truth's Testimony,' &c., 1655 (published 3 March); reprinted without date [1763?], 12mo (contains an account of the author's life and trials up to date). 9. 'A Blow at the Serpent,' &c., 1656, 4to; reprinted 1764, 4to (preface dated 12 Feb.; account of the Rochester discussion; prefixed are verses by J. L., i.e. Jane Leade. Replies were published by Rosewell, 'The Serpent's Subtilty,' &c., 1656, 4to; and by Edward Garland, minister at Hartlip, Kent, 'An Answer to ... a Blow at the Serpent,'&c., 1657, 4to). 10. ' The Three- fold State of a Christian' [1656?], reprinted at end of 1764 of No. 9. 11. 'Michael opposing the Dragon,' &c., 1659, 4to; reprinted, in weekly numbers, 1763, 4to (reply to Garland).

[Works cited above.]

A. G.