By Harry Osborne
At the passing of influential brethren, the words of David in mourning for Abner are often heard: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” (2 Sam. 3:38). It is not a stretch of language to use these words in reference to the death of James R. Cope. He was a figure in many ways larger than life because of his stand for truth and his influence on many of our lives.
Brother Cope was born in a small community near Sparta, Tennessee on January 27, 1917. He passed from this life early on June 18, 1999. The funeral service was held the morning of June 22, 1999 in Hutchinson Auditorium on the campus of Florida College. Numerous family, brethren, and friends were present to pay their last respects. His body was laid to rest by the side of his beloved Georgia Deane at the Hillsboro Memorial Gardens in Brandon, Florida. In keeping with our hope for faithful saints, we trust that brother Cope’s soul is at home with his “loving Father” where his mind is restored and he awaits the spiritual body in the resurrection.
Brethren of his generation will no doubt write more eloquently about the work of brother Cope throughout the years. Close friends for many years can share more personal stories about his life and their associations. However, as one of the students who was deeply influenced by brother Cope, it seemed proper to write a short remembrance of his impact on my life.
While at Florida College in the fall semester of 1975, I began to attend the Antioch congregation in Thonotosassa, Florida where brother Cope was preaching. During the next year, brother Cope asked if I would work with the congregation in teaching classes and preaching in his absence. In the year that followed, I had a great opportunity to learn many lessons from brother Cope and I grew to love him.
Brother Cope arranged for me to come to his office for a visit each week he was in town so that we could discuss the work and other things. In the midst of the conversation, brother Cope would usually reminisce about the past. Before that time, I only knew brother Cope as the President of Florida College and as a renown preacher of the gospel. Since that time, I have seen him as a man of great courage, deep spirituality and tender emotion.
Brother Cope’s reputation as a man of courage was well secured by the time I first heard his name. His defense of the truth in discussion over the years was widely reported and held in great respect. As the issues regarding institutional- ism began, most brethren had heard of his firm stand for the truth in a faculty meeting at Freed-Hardeman College. Brother Cope’s convictions were never for sale or rent.
When he became President at Florida College, that same character caused him to stand against the encroachment of liberalism even in the midst of strong opposition. By the time my generation was able to attend Florida College, Jim Cope was generally conceded to be the main reason the college had not been swept into the control of institutional brethren. Though there was always a need for greater funds to maintain the school, brother Cope was known for several stands on principle despite the fact that such stands might cost contributions. Such stands were not a result of a lack of love for the school, but because of a greater love for the Lord and his truth.
Having grown up at the very end of the division over the institutional issues, I viewed preachers who endured hardship and ridicule to stand for the truth as heros. I still do. However, I never saw the depth of the price they paid within for their stand. During one of our talks, I asked brother Cope what had been most disappointing to him during the institutional division. Almost immediately, his eyes began to tear and he replied that it was when he real- ized Guy Woods and several others would never be beside him in the work again. Brother Cope spoke of several of his peers with whom he thought he would grow old as co- laborers in the kingdom and how it hurt to know that such would never be. I remember that as the first time I realized how deeply painful the effects of such courageous stands were upon such men. Though he knew friendship of long standing would be severed as a result, Jim Cope did what was right and took his stand with the Lord. May the Lord increase his tribe in our time.
During my second year at Florida College, I took an Epistles class from Melvin Curry. For some reason, brother Curry had to be out for a period and brother Cope stepped in to teach the book of Philippians. It was an excellent class. Brother Cope dealt in depth with the text. I still go back to my notes from that class and gain from the rich material he brought out.
In his last class with us, brother Cope said he would take the last part of the class time to review and prepare us for the test. When that time came, one of the first questions asked by a student was something like, “What do we really have to know for the test?” I can still see brother Cope’s jaw clinch and his eyes begin to burn and I knew we were in trouble. He responded by asking the questioner what he was wanting, all the things which he did not need to study for the test. With his index finger pointing out to the class, brother Cope told us in no uncertain terms what we needed to know to get a good grade on the test. He said that if we memorized the book and committed everything he said in the class to memory, we should have no trouble with the test. Having so stated, he walked out the door. This was the only time I have ever known of brother Cope stopping before the allotted time. Two days later at test time, we all found out he was not joking. The expectation for students to know the text and the depth of its teaching was an expectation brother Cope had of himself and of all others because it came first of the Lord (2 Tim. 2:15). He did all of us in the class a great favor by reminding us of that fact.
Two things will always remind me of brother Cope. The first is a book he gave me, Christ’s Second Coming by Da- vid Brown. He gave it as an award, but told me to use it to learn about the error of premillennialism and how to combat that error with the truth. To me, it is a constant reminder of brother Cope’s militant stand for truth and opposition to error (Psa. 119:128). The second reminder of brother Cope is a song, God Will Take Care of You. At the close of every service at Antioch, brother Cope would lead us in one verse of that song. At his funeral, it was also the final song. I could not sing it then with dry eyes, nor do I think I will do so for some time. No song could better express the confidence brother Cope had in his “loving Father” to provide for the faithful Christian, nor could any song better express the trust I have in the care now being provided to one who meant so much to my life. Indeed, beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of Jim Cope.