Cooke, Joseph

Founder of the Methodist Unitarian Movement, he was born near Dudley on 8 May 1775. Early in life he was converted, became a WM local preacher and was accepted on trial for the ministry in 1795 and into full connexion in 1799. Appointed to Rochdale in 1803, he proved a popular preacher. But his intellectual independence, together with his study of the Bible, led him in 1805 to preach sermons on justification by faith and the witness of the Spirit which were criticized as heretical. His view was that of John Wesley later in his life, that someone might be forgiven by God without necessarily experiencing assurance. He was examined in Conference that year and appointed to Sunderland on conditions which he was deemed to have broken by both preaching on the same subjects and publishing the offending sermons (though he denied this).

Expelled in 1806, he returned to Rochdale, where many of his supporters from the Union Street chapel seceded and built Providence Chapel. A pamphlet war between him and Edward Hare, his successor at Rochdale, led to Jabez Bunting's sermon on justification by faith, preached and published in 1812 at the Conference's request. Cooke's thinking moved from Socinianism towards Unitarianism, a direction which led to the term 'Cookites' being applied to the Methodist Unitarian movement. Cooke himself died in Rochdale of tuberculosis on 14 March 1811. His publications included A Sunday Evening's Companion for Parents and Children (1810) and a hymn book published posthumously.

  • H. McLachlan, The Methodist Unitarian Movement (1919) pp.1-30
  • Alan Ruston, 'New Light on Joseph Cooke', in Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 21 (1995-98) pp.205-12
  • Oxford DNB