Adam Clarke - This immortal man, so mighty in the Scriptures, so lovable in his private character, and so ardent withal in his love for, and loyalty to, the leader and the principles of the Methodist revival, was born in the village of Moybeg, in the township of Cootinaglugg, in the parish of Kilchronaghan, in the barony of Loughinshaallin, in the County of Londonderry, in the province of Ulster, Ireland, sometime about 1760, though, as the parish clerk failed to enter him in the register of the Church, the exact date of his advent is unknown.
He was a Scotch-Irishman of English descent; the Clarkes having crossed over from England in the seventeenth century, and settled in the region of Carrickfergus, where the great-great-grandfather, William Clarke, was an estated gentleman as well as a sturdy Quaker. The father, John Clarke, M.A., was intended for the Church, but before finishing his final course at Trinity College, Dublin, he became so charmed with a young Scotch lassie that he forsook divinity for matrimony, and began life for himself as a parish school-master.
The mother of Adam Clarke was a descendant of the Laird of Dowart, in the Hebrides, the chief of the clan of the Mac Leans.
In his youth Adam was a stout lad, full of life, and not over fond of his books. He delighted in the wild Irish stories of ghosts and fairies, but for the Latin grammar, and more especially for mathematics, he had a thorough abhorrence. His father had a little bit of land which he cultivated according to the rules laid down by Virgil in the Georgics; and Adam and his brother were employed alternately in work on the farm and helping one another along in the rudiments of classical learning, of which their father was a notable master. His mother was a rigid Presbyterian, and taught him the Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, while his father was an Episcopalian, and taught him the Apostles Creed--a mixture of doctrine which suited the boy well enough, for he was of a religious turn of mind; but he was in great danger of growing up a dunce in other respects; the only studies to which be would apply himself being the English translation of the Fables of Aesop, Robinson Crusoe, the native fairy literature of Ireland, and the arts of magic, which latter was taught him by a traveling tinker who had strayed into Cootinaglugg.
One day, after being scolded by the master and mocked by his fellow-pupils for his slow progress in his tasks, he declares that in his agony of shame he "felt as if something had broken within him," and, seizing his book, he began to study with a sense of power which was quite a revelation to him, and from that moment he became the wonder of the school.
During the year 1777 a Methodist preacher, by the name of John Brettel, began preaching in the neighborhood, in barns, stables, school, horses, and in the open air, and young Clarke, now about seventeen years old, was among his most attentive hearers. His father approved too the teachings of the itinerant as "the genuine doctrine of the Established Church," while his Presbyterian mother, with equal admiration, declared, "This is the doctrine of the :Reformers; this is the true, unadulterated Christianity;" therefore the preacher was made doubly welcome at the school-master's little farm-house, which thenceforth became, a "ministers' tavern."
After an awakening and conviction of sin, which was intelligent, protracted, and at the last marked with great agonies of mind, Adam was soundly converted. He was already a well-learned lad, for, though he had been obliged to spend his days on the farm, his nights afforded him time for study; and now that he had found Christ as his personal and present Saviour he straightway began to show him to others. He would often toil from four in the morning till six in the evening, and then walk three or four miles to a Methodist meeting. He also began in earnest to study the Scriptures, and presently to exhort in neighboring villages, sometimes making a circuit of nine or ten hamlets on a single Sunday. He also applied himself with new diligence to the study of mathematics, philosophy, and the languages, thus laying the foundation for that varied and extensive learning in which he ranks with the most eminent of British scholars.
Sometime in the year 1782 one of the preachers of the Londonderry Circuit observing the promise of the lad, wrote to Mr. Wesley about him, and Wesley invited him over to the Kingswood School. On the passage from Ireland the vessel was boarded by a press-gang, and young Clarke had a narrow escape from being dragged into His Majesty'snavy. The officer seized his hand to feel if it indicated hard work, but found it too white and soft for his liking, and so passed him by as unfit material of which to make a man-of-wars man, and Clarke made his way to the Methodist school.
At this time the Kingswood School was at its worst. In the following year, 1783, Mr. Wesley wrote concerning it: "It must be mended or ended, for no school is better than the present school." Poor Adam, who had arrived at Kingswood with only three half-pence in his pocket, found to his dismay that his coming had not been expected, nor was his stay desired; and so far from being able to profit by the course of instruction, he found himself too good a scholar already to suit the convenience of his tutor. Being too poor to pay his way he was lodged in a miserable little closet which opened off the chapel, whore his scanty allowance of bread and milk was brought to hin by a servant; and, still further to his torment, he was compelled by the stewardess to anoint himself all over with sulphur as a safeguard to the institution against a certain cutaneous disease, which, coming from that unknown region called Ireland, it was presumed the young man might have brought over with him.
"And they Scotch people, too!" groans out poor Adam, who had exhibited a cuticle as fair as a babys, all to no purpose; and who was enduring this treatment as patiently as possible till the great Wesley himself should come.
A piece of good fortune, however, brightened those miserable weeks. One day while digging in the school-house garden - perhaps by way of making himself useful in return for the charity he was receiving - he turned up a bright half-guinea, with which, after vainly trying to find the rightful owner, he bought a Hebrew grammar, and this helped him to lay the foundation for that splendid Oriental learning in which he surpassed all the scholars of his time.
Ordination of Adam Clarke. At length Mr. Wesley arrived at the school - the prison - tile house of torture, and having tested the quality of the young Irishman, he said to him:
"Do you wish to devote yourself entirely to time work of God?"
"I wish to be and do whatever God pleases," was the reply.
Mr. Wesley then laid His hand on the young mans head, and prayed over him; an act which Clarke called his "ordination," and with which he was so fully satisfied that he never sought any other.
A vacancy presently occurring on the Bradford Circuit, he was sent lo that work. He was the youngest man in the whole itinerant fraternity, being now only about twenty-two years of age, and of such a youthful and ruddy appearance that he was generally called "the little boy." But it very soon transpired that "the little boy" had the making of a great man. The Bradford Circuit was a four weeks circuit, comprising thirty-three preaching-places, in as many different towns and villages; wherefore time young recruit was obliged to spend a large part of his time on horseback, and to preach every day, each time to a new congregation; an arrangement well - suited to the condition of the lad, who speedily acquired the Wesleyan habit of reading in the saddle; and, as one sermon would go a long way, he found ample time for pursuing his other studies.
His success was immediate and brilliant, and at the next Conference, that of 1783, he was admitted to membership without the customary probation. His next field of labor was the Norwich Circuit, on which he preached, in about eleven months, four hundred and fifty sermons, besides exhortations innumerable; beginning every day at five oclock in the morning, and regularly visiting twenty-two towns and villages, through a route of two hundred and sixty miles, much of which had to be traveled on foot, with his saddle-bags on his back, as there was but one horse on the circuit for four preachers, and he was the youngest of them all.
His next circuit was that of St. Austell, in Cornwall, where Methodism now had general sway, and where his talents found a befitting field. His popularity at once became universal; his congregations were so crowded that he sometimes had to climb into the chapel by a window, and almost every week in the year he was compelled to preach in the open air to crowds which no chapel could accommodate, where he held them spell-bound by his words under pelting rains and on deep snow. A general revival prevailed on his circuit, and from this time forward Adam Clarke was one of the chiefs of the Wesleyan Connection.
His daily travels gave him daily solitude for his books, and his daily preaching was an invigorating exercise to his mind and body. Wesley himself studied more than most students, and did it on horseback. He says that by his rides he was "as much retired ten hours a day as if he were in a wilderness," and thus few persona spent so many hours secluded from all company as he. Clarke admired and imitated him, and at length mastered the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldee, and Syriac versions of the Scriptures, as well as most of the languages of Western Europe. Ho studied nearly every branch of literature and of physical science, and was honored with membership in the London, Asiatic, Geological, and other learned societies, as well as with highly honorable positions under the Government, and in connection with the British and Foreign Bible Society.
A Narrow Escape. In the life of Adam Clarke, written by his son, an incident is related which shows how nearly this great biblical scholar had been lost to the Church and the world. In 1782, while traveling the Bradford Circuit, he chanced to find a Latin sentence written on the wall of his chamber, to which he added, as being in the same vein, these lines of Virgil, changing the last word to suit the wanderings of the preachers rather than those of AEnoas:
"Quo fata trahunt, retrahuntque, sequamur. Per rarios casus, per tot discrimina rerurn, Tendimus in" Coelum.
The next preacher who saw it, by way of reproving the pride of the young scholar, wrote underneath these words:
"Did you write the above to show us that you could write Latin? For shame! Do send pride to hell, from whence it came. 0 young man, improve your time; eternitys at hand."
On his next round the "little boy preacher" read and accepted the reproof, and, falling on his knees, he vowed never to meddle with Greek or Latin again as long as he lived! A long time afterward, coming upon a French essay which pleased him, he translated it, and sent it to Mr. Wesley for his Arminian Magazine, and Wesley, who knew that ignorance and pride are twins, and that one of the best ways to drive out thoughts of self is to keep the mind full of sound knowledge, wrote to the young preacher accepting the piece, and charging him to cultivate his mind as far as circumstances would allow, and "not to forget any thing he had ever learned."
Alas! through the counsel of an ignorant, ambitious, and perhaps envious itinerant, Clarke had not looked at his Greek and Latin for nearly four years; but now he saw his error, and with the same teachable spirit, but under a bettor instructor, he begged the Lord to forgive his rash vow, and at once set about the task of recovering the knowledge he had nearly lost.
As a preacher he was wonderfully successful. His deep devotion to learning won for him the admiration of scholars and the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of Laws from the Scotch University of Aberdeen, while his warm Irish heart, his polite manners, and his Christian temper made him a universal favorite with the common people, who throughout the history of Methodism have, shown such high admiration of real scholarship as to disprove the slander which charges the Wesleyan revival with hostility to learning.
The records of its ministry abound with the marvelous successes of unlearned men, whose want of literary training was quite forgotten in view of the baptism of power which descended upon their heads and hearts. In view of such successes some, both among the ministry and the laity, have rushed to the conclusion that scholarship and piety did not agree together, and the loud, empty tone in which these views have been set forth have by some superficial observers been mistaken for the voice of Methodism itself. But, so far from being the rule, this is only the exception. Methodist preachers have made more efforts and overcome more obstacles to acquire sound learning than any other class of men on earth of equal numbers; and Methodist congregations, though at first chiefly composed of people to whom ignorance was a sad necessity, have proved their appreciation of "book learning" by adopting as their prime favorites, in the pulpit and on the platform, the most largely learned and the most throughly accomplished ministers of the Connection. In the highest circles as well as the lowest, native genius and rough common sense are preferred to pretentious exhibitions of the polish of the schools; but among the lowest, not loss than among the highest, as these social distinctions go, ignorance is and always was regarded as contemptible in those who assumed to teach religion. Courtly manners and splendid powers, along with genuine Christian manhood--the want of which nothing can excuse--so far from putting the common people of Methodism in an unsympathetic attitude, always warm their hearts and call forth their loving admiration; and, in spite of the fact that so large a proportion of the approved course of liberal learning has been above their comprehension, and almost useless from their point of view, still the instinct of Methodism has upheld the academy and the college, and some of the brightest ornaments of Methodist pulpits and professors chairs have been the children of the poor.
When the school of heraldry shall make for Methodist preachers a coat-of-arms, it will surely have a man on horseback in its field; but, if the artist would be true to history, the itinerant must have an open book before him resting on the horn of his saddle.
Clarke's Commentary is the chief foundation of his fame; and few scholars since the world began have had one broader or deeper. Certain recent critics have tried to superannuate this great Methodist classic; but it still remains on the effective list. Never has any other one man achieved such a triumph in biblical exposition, especially of the Old Testament, as this great Irish Methodist preachier and scholar. Unaided and alone, with the cares of great societies pressing heavily upon him, at a time when the materials for the study of the Oriental tongues were far from perfect, he explored the mysteries of the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, tracing them through their translations into Arabic, Persian, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, French, Danish, etc.; following them through the Chaldee and Samaritan versions, and, in order to gather up the fragments that nothing might he lost, traversing time vast wilderness of Talmuds and Tar as well as the cognate literature of all other known religions.
"In this arduous work," he writes, "I have had no assistants, not even a single weeks help from an amanuensis, time help excepted which I received in the chronological department from my nephew, John Edward Clarke. I have labored alone for twenty-five years previously to the work being sent to press, and fifteen years have been employed in bringing it through the press, so that nearly forty-five years of my life have been so consumed." The first part of his commentary was published in 1810, the last in 1825.
While preaching in London he was called into the committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and for several years its publications in the Oriental languages were largely under his direction. His only other literary work of any magnitude was his "Biographical Dictionary" in six volumes, published in 1802, by which, he made his first fame as an author.
Adam Clarkes Views of Marriage. The wife of Adam Clarke was Miss Mary Cooke, an admirable and accomplished English lady. The marriage was an exceedingly happy one, though it was not brought about without a good deal of opposition. The pride of the parents was shocked at the thought of their daughter becoming the wife of a Methodist itinerant, and Mr. Wesley, learning the state of the case, declared that if his young preacher married the girl without the consent of her friends he would turn him out of the Connection; but at length that great man, becoming aware of the admirable quail ties of Miss Cooke, made intercession with her parents on Adam behalf, and they were married in the Wanbridge Church on the 17th of April, 1788, and about a week after sailed for his appointment in the Norman Islands.
Like the most of his countrymen, Clarke was a great admirer of fine women, his true gallantry appearing on all occasions; notably his charming pen portrait of the mother of the Wesleys, whom he regarded as the perfect model of a Christian matron. His oft-quoted remark in defense of matrimony, that a man ought to be grateful for even a bad wife, because she was so much better than none, shows how much happier he was than his great chief in his married life, and how much more natural, as well as orthodox, were his views of this first sacrament, this oldest means of grace. Adam Clarke and his wife were blessed with six sons and six daughters; three sons and three daughters died in childhood, the rest, in the language of his biographer, being "respectably and comfortably settled in life." Reference has already been made to the singular appointment of "Adam Clarke and his wife" to the Dublin Circuit; a sufficient indication of the esteem in which that lady was held by Mr. Wesley.
Adam Clarkes Theology. How he escaped from the Churchmanship of his father, or the Presbyterianism instilled into him
by his mother, does not appear in his biography. The whole family seem to have been captivated by the first Methodist
preacher they ever heard, and it may be that the elasticity of the Irish nature will allow the indwelling of a whole brood of
dogmatic theologies in a single Irish soul.
There was one difficult point in the orthodox creed which. Dr. Clarke ventured to dispute, and for which he was severely taken to task by Richard Watson; namely, The Eternal Sonship of the Son of God. To the mind of the great Irish divine the words "Father" and "Son" necessarily carried with them the idea of a difference of age, which opinion it is the especial mission of "the eternal Son-ship" to deny. His notion, also, that the creature which tempted our first parents in the garden of Eden was not a serpent at all, but something of a humanish shape--a monkey or a baboon, perhaps was received with small respect; for the gorilla, which, from his looks, might easily be the devil, had not yet been discovered nor had the-theory been much mooted that through this class of animals the rise and not the fall of the human race had been secured.
The commentary of Dr. Clarke and the hymns of Charles Wesley are the Methodist writings which have had the widest use outside of the Methodist Connection. The skill, the care, and the catholicity of the one has given it place among the best products of Christian scholarship, while the deep soul-knowledge and the divine 'inspiration of the other has been so widely felt and so highly prized, that now Charles Wesley belongs not only to the Methodists, but to the whole English-speaking world.
In 1795, and again in 1805, the Conference conferred on Dr. Clarke the highest honor then within the reach of the itinerants, by appointing him to the London Circuit, whose center was the Methodist cathedral--the City Road Chapel. Three times was he elected to the presidency of the British Wesleyan Conference, and at length, having won imperishable renown for himself, and worthily maintained the Wesleyan succession as a Christian scholar and author he sunk under the weight of his literary labors, retired to a small estate called Hayden Hall, at Bayswater, then a Middlesex village, now a part of London, where, after nine invalid years, he departed this life on the 26th of August, 1832, at about the age of seventy two.