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The New Zealand Evangelist

Biographical Sketches, No. IX — Adam Clarke, L.L.D., F.A.S., &c. &c.

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Biographical Sketches, No. IX.

Adam Clarke, L.L.D., F.A.S., &c. &c.

(Concluded from page 272.)

When Adam Clarke came to Mr. Wesley's school at Kingswood he found it conducted in the most inefficient manner that could well be conceived; so much so, indeed, that Mr. Wesley found it necessary to bring its condition before the Conference at its next meeting. A. C. therefore never entered it as a student, but remained in it only as a stranger for a few weeks, till Mr. Wesley's return from Cornwall. When Mr. Wesley met him in Bristol, after a short interview, he solemnly commended him to God and to the work of the ministry, and appointed him to the Bradford (Wilts) Circuit, as a preacher.

Although A. C. received no instructions at Kingswood, a small incident occurred to him then that told much on his future history. Digging one day in the garden to keep himself in heat, he found a half-guinea; and unable after much enquiry and anxiety to find an owner for it, he was obliged to keep it. “Besides two or three necessary articles,” he says, “which I purchased, I gave Mr. Bayley 6s. as my subscription for his Hebrew Grammar, by which work I acquired a satisfactory knowledge of that language, which ultimately led me to read over the Hebrew Bible, and make those short notes which form the basis of the commentary since published! Had I not got that Grammar, I probably should never have turned my mind to Hebrew learning; and most certainly had never written a Commentary on Divine Revelation! Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”

A younger person than Adam Clarke had possibly never gone out into the work of the ministry among the Methodists or perhaps any other people. He was judged at this time to be about eighteen, and even small and youthful taken for that age : he was a mere boy, and was generally denominated “the little boy.” But he was in a very particular manner fitted for the work, by strong exercises of spirit, and by much knowledge and experience of his own heart, of the temptations of Satan, and of the goodness of God.

He was remarkably diligent in his studies and in his work, and God blessed his endeavours for the acquisition of knowledge and the salvation of souls. He prosecuted his studies amid great disadvantages, and one circumstance had nearly put a stop to them for ever. In the preachers, room at Motcomb, near Shaftsbury, observing a Latin sentence written on the wall in pencil relative to the vicissitudes of life, he wrote under it some lines from Virgil corroborative of the sentiment. The next preacher that followed him in this place seeing these lines, which he could not understand nor see the relation they bore to those previously written, wrote under them the following words.

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“Did you write the above to shew us you could write Latin? For shame! Do send pride to hell, from whence it came. Oh, young man, improve your time, eternity's at hand.”

They who knew the writer would at once recollect, on reading these words, the story of Diogenes and Plato. The latter giving an entertainment to some friends of Dionysius, Diogenes being present, trampled with dislain on some rich carpeting saying, “I trample under foot Plato's vain glory.” To whom Plato replied, “How proud thou art, O Diogenes, when thou supposest that thou art condemning pride!” Mr. —— was actually a proud man, though born in the humblest department of life; and it required all his grace to enable him to act with even the humble exterior which became a Christain minister: he could ill brook an equal; and could worse tolerate a superior. The words, contemptible as they may appear, the circumstance considered which gave them birth, had a very unfriendly effect on the inexperienced simple heart of Mr. Clarke; he was thrown into confusion : he knew not how to appear before the family who had a week to con over the reproachful effusion of a professed brother: in a moment of strong temptation, he fell on his knees in the midst of the room, and solemnly promised to God that he would never more meddle with Greek or Latin as long as he lived. As to Hebrew he had not yet begun, properly speaking, to study it; and therefore it could not be included in the proscription : but it had a paralyzing effect on this as well as upon all his other studies : and generally prevented the cultivation of his mind. He saw that learning might engender pride; and it was too plain that instead of provoking emulation, it would only to him excite envy. When he next saw Mr. —– he expostulated with him, in exposing in this unkind manner what he deemed to be wrong. “Why,” said he, “did you not tell me privately of it, or send the reproof in a note?” “I thought what I did was the best to cure you,” replied Mr. ——. Mr. Clarke then told him what uncomfortable feelings it had produced in him, and how he had vowed to study literature no more! The other applauded his teachableness, and godly diligence, and assured him, that he had never known any of the learned preachers who was not a conceited coxcomb, &c., &c.

On what slight circumstances do the principal events of a man's life depend! The mind of Mr. Clarke was at this time ductile in the extreme, in reference to every thing in Christian experience and practice. He trembled at the thought of sin. He ever carried about with him not only a tender but a scrupulous and sore conscience. He walked continually as in the sight of God, and constantly felt that awful truth, “Thou God seest me!” To him, therefore, it was easy to make any sacrifice in his power; and this now made had nearly ruined all his learned researches and scientific pursuits for ever; and added one more to the already too ample company of the slothful servants and religious loungers in the Lord's inheritance.

That such a vow as that now made by Mr. Clarke, could not be aceeptable in the sight of the Father of Lights, may be easily seen; page 302 but it was sincere, and made in such circumstances as appeared to him, to make it perfectly and lastingly binding. He now threw by, yet not without regret, his Greek Testament, endeavoured to forget all that he had learned and laboured to tear every thing of the kind for ever from his heart! This sacrifice was made about the end of the year 1782, and was most religiously observed till about the year 1786, to his irreparable loss. That this vow was afterwards, on strong evidence of its impropriety, rescinded, the reader will at once conjecture, who knows any thing of the general history of Mr. Clarke; and it is time to inform him how the change took place. When very young Mr. Clarke had learned a little French; as this was not included in the proscription already mentioned, he found himself at liberty to read a portion of that language when it came in his way. About 1786, he met with a piece of no ordinary merit, entitled “A discourse on Pulpit Eloquence, by the Abbe Maury, the preacher in ordinary to Lewis XVI., afterwards Cardinal Maury. Mr. Clarke was much struck with the account there given of the preaching and success of one of the French Missionaries, of the name of Bridaine, and particularly with an extract of a sermon, which the Abbe heard him preach in Paris, in 1751. This piece he translated and sent to the Rev. J. Wesley to be inserted, if he approved of it, in his Magazine. Mr. Wesley kindly received and inserted the piece; and as he was ever as decided a friend to learning as he was to religion, both of which he illustrated by his life and writings, he wrote to Mr. Clarke—“Charging him to cultivate his mind as far as his circumstances would allow, and not to forget any thing he had ever learned.” This was a word in season, and next to the divine oracles, of the highest authority with Mr. Clarke. He began to reason calmly and seriously on the subject, and came to the conclusion that he had done wrong in making the vow, and that as no advantage to himself or any one else, but evil only could arise from the keeping of it, that it was his duty to seek forgiveness for making it so rashly, and keep it no longer. This he accordingly did, and felt a satisfaction of mind, to which he was a stranger when he made the vow.

On the 6th of August, 1783, Mr. Clarke was admitted into full connexion, after having travelled only about eleven months. Even at that time, before it was determined that each preacher should travel four years on trial, this was, perhaps, the earliest admission that had ever taken place. It was to him the most solemn ordinance in which ever he was engaged. At this Conference at which he was admitted he was appointed to Norwich.

In the first year of his itinerant labours, and during the little more than ten months he was in the Bradford Circuit, he preached 506 times, besides giving a great number of public exhortations, and paying innumerable visits to the different families of the societies, where he resided even for a day and a night, to pray with them and enquire into the state of their souls. He preached also at five o'clock every morning winter and summer, in the different towns in the Circuit.

His mind was variously and powerfully exercised : he kept the page 303 strictest watch over his heart; and scrutinized daily and hourly the walk of every affection, passion, and appetite : and was so severe a censor of his own conduct, that he frequently condemned himself, in matters which were either innocent in themselves, or perfectly indifferent. His almost incessant cry was after holiness; to be cleansed from all sin, and filled with God he saw to be the high calling of the Gospel, and the birth-right of every son and daughter of God. He could not be satisfied while he felt one temper or disposition that was not in harmony with the will and word of God. His mind was full of light and his conscience was tender; and he was ever, either walking with God or following hard after him. Repentance towards God, faith in Christ and holiness in heart and life, were the truths he pressed upon his hearers, and under his preaching many were turned to the Lord, and many built up in their most holy faith.

When he came to Norwich, he found that in every respect the Circuit was low; there was no place in it in which religion flourished, either among the Methodists or others. Yet there were many good and sensible people in the society, and in the course of the year religion revived a little. There was but one horse in the Circuit for four preachers, which, when the preacher who had it out on the Circuit came to town, he who had been the resident preacher the week before, immediately mounted, and rode off to the country in order to save expense. Thus it frequently happened that, while another was riding his horse, Mr. Clarke was obliged to walk the Circuit and carry his saddle-bags on his back. But this was far from being the worst: except in a very few places the accommodations were extremely bad. Sometimes in the severest weeks of one of the severest winters, he was obliged to lodge in a loft, where through the floor he could see every thing below; and sometimes in an out-house, where perhaps for several years together there had not been a spark of fire lighted. The winter of 1783 was exceedingly severe and the cold intense—even warm water in his room has been frozen in a few seconds! He has often been obliged to get into bed with a part of his clothes on; strip them off by degrees as he got warm; and then lie in the same position, without attempting to move his limbs, every unoccupied place in the bed, which his legs or other parts touched, producing the same sensation as if the parts had been in contact with red hot iron. It was here that he learned that the extreme of cold produced on the living muscles the same sensation as the extreme of heat. In the poor cabins where he lodged,—and where there was no other kind of fire, than what was produced by a sort of dried turf, almost entirely red with earth, that never emitted any flame, and where the clothing on the bed was very light,—he suffered much; going to bed cold, lying all night cold, and rising cold. He has sometimes carried with him a parcel of coarse brown paper and with a hammer and chisel payed up some of the large crevices under the bea to prevent him from total starvation! Add to this very homely food, and sometimes but little of it, which the poor people most readily shared with him who came to their houses and their hearts with the Gospel of their Salvation.

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This was a year of severe labour and suffering, yet of but little apparent fruit; though a good seed was sown which in more auspicious times sprang up to the glory of God. In this circuit he laboured much to improve his mind; and also to grow in grace and in the knowledge of himself and God.

The next year he was appointed for St. Austell Circuit, East Cornwall; a journey of nearly four hundred miles from where he then was; and, with the appointment, a guinea was sent him to defray his expences by the way! This Circuit was exceedingly severe, but the prospect was widely different from that of his last Circuit. Here there was a general spirit of hearing; and an almost universal revival of the work of God. His popularity was great, but he was not lifted up by it; he felt too much of weakness, ignorance, and imperfection in himself, to allow the foot of pride to come against him; therefore his popularity promoted his usefulness, and of it he made no other advantage.

For the following year he was appointed to Plymouth Dock. It was while he was on this Circuit that the vow relative to the total abandonment of classical learning was broken; and here, having more leisure, he bent his mind to study. A gentleman, among other books, lent him Chambers’ Encyclopedia, 2 vols. fol. In this work, which was a library of itself, he spent almost every spare hour: here his philosophical taste was gratified, and his knowledge greatly increased. It is almost impossible to conceive how much he profited by this work; he made nearly every subject there discussed his own, and laid in a considerable stock of useful knowledge, which he laid under constant contribution to his ministerial labours. The gift of a thousand indiscriminate volumes would not have equalled the utility of this loan. While prosecuting his Hebrew studies, he was laid under great obligations to a lady to whom he was personally unknown, Miss Kennicott, of Dock; who, hearing of his thirst for knowledge, lent him her brother's (Dr. Kennicott's) edition of the Hebrew Bible. This book, which he carefully studied, gave him the first knowledge of Biblical criticism. The work had been but lately published; and had he not seen it in this providential way, several years must have elapsed before it could have fallen under his notice.

For the next three years he was stationed in the Norman Isles; being sent there, among other reasons, because he had some knowledge of the French languages. Here he laboured with his accustomed diligence, and having less travelling, he had more time for mental improvement. He commenced the study of the Septuagint or Greek version of the Scriptures, comparing it as he went along with the Hebrew, and making notes as he proceeded. When he visited the island of Jersey, he had much assistance from the public library in St. Hilliers. Here, for the first time, he had the use of a Polyglott Bible, that of Bishop Walton, which he turned to all the advantage in his power; all the time that he could spare from the more immediate duties of his office, he spent in the public library, reading and collating the original texts in the Polygolts, particularly the Hebrew, Samaritau, Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate, and page 305 Septuagint. Knowing that he could not always enjoy the benefit of the Polyglott in the public library, he began earnestly to wish to have a copy of his own; but three pounds per quarter and his food, which was the whole of his income as a preacher, could ill supply any sum for the purchase of books. Believing that it was the will of God, that he should cultivate his mind in biblical knowledge, both on his own account, and on that of the people to whom he ministered; and believing that to him the original texts were necessary for that purpose, and finding that he could not hope to possess money sufficient to make such a purchase, he thought that in the course of God's providence, He would furnish him with this precious gift. He acquired a strong confidence that by some means or other he should get a Polyglott. One morning, a preacher's wife who lodged in the same family, said, “Mr. Clarke, I had a strange dream last night.” “What was it, Mrs. D.,” said he? “Why, I dreamed that some person, I know not who, had made you a present of a Polyglott Bible.” He answered, “That I shall get a Polyglott soon, I have no doubt, but how, or by whom, I know not.” In the course of a day or two he received a letter containing a bank note of £10, from a person from whom he never expected any thing of the kind : he immediately exclaimed,” Here is the Polyglott!” He laid by the cash, wrote to a friend in London, who procured him a tolerably good copy of Walton's Polyglott, the price exactly £10.

It was a remarkable circumstance by which he obtained the money at Kingswood to purchase a Hebrew Grammar. These two providential circumstances were the only foundation of all the knowledge he afterwards acquired either in Oriental learning or Biblical literature. In obtaining both these works he saw the hand of God, and this became a powerful inducement to him, to give all diligence to acquire, and fidelity to use that knowledge which came to him through means utterly out of his reach, and so distinctly marked to his apprehension by the especial providence of God. He continued in the Norman Islands three years, labouring incessantly for the good of the people who heard him; though by the abundance of his labours and intense study he greatly impaired his health.

On April 17,1788, Mr. Clarke was married to Miss Mary Cooke, eldest daughter to Mr. John Cooke, clothier, of Trowbridge, Wilts, by whom he had six sons and six daughters. Three of the sons and three of the daughters died young, the other six arrived at mature age, and were most respectably and comfortably settled in life. Miss Cooke was well educated, of a fine natural disposition, deep piety, and sound judgment. They had been acquainted for several years, and their attachment to each other was founded upon the purest principles of reason and religion, and was consolidated with that affection which, where the natural dispositions are properly suited, will never permit the married life to be a burden; but on the contrary, the most powerful help to mental cultivation and the growth of genuine piety. The connexion, nevertheless, was much opposed. Some of her friends supposed page 306 she should be degraded by her alliance with a Methodist preacher; but pretended to cover their opposition with the veil, that one so delicately bred up would not be able to bear the troubles and privations of a Methodist preacher's life. These persons so prejudiced Mr. Wesley himself, that he threatened to put Mr. Clarke out of the Methodist connexion if he married Miss Cooke without her mother's approbation! But upon the whole case being laid before him, Mr. Wesley, like a tender parent, interposed his good offices in their behalf, and wrote a letter to Mrs. Cooke, whose opposition was thereby modified, and she lived to see that she had been imposed upon and deceived. Few marriages were ever more happy.

Mr. Clarke pursued the even tenor of his way for many years, proceeding from Circuit to Circuit, till he was appointed the second time to London, in 1805. The British and Foreign Bible Society was at this time proceeding with great energy in diffasing the word of life in various languages. Mr. Clarke's eminent Biblical and Oriental scholarship rendered him a fit person to aid in this work. His brother-in-law, J. Butterworth, Esq., M.P., induced him to add the labours of this to his already long catalogue of engagements. He was of great service in guiding the committee to select a proper translation from which to print the Bible in Arabic. The preparation of types for a Tartar New Testament was implicitly confided to him. He submitted to the committee a scale of types constructed by himself, and executed with singular beauty, which met their cordial approbation. At the special request of the committee of the Bible Society to the Methodist Conference, Mr. Clarke was continued in London after the usual term of his appointment, that he might be in more advantageous circumstances to aid the Bible Society, by superintending the press. He laboured to bring about a translation of the Holy Scriptures into the Tartar and Arabic languages, and likewise into the modern Greek, and he sought to obtain the printing of a Syriac New Testament. The committee of the Bible Society very handsomely requested permission to present him with fifty pounds, as an acknowledgment for his eminent services and his sacrifices of time and labour; but he most generously declined to accept of a single farthing, considering this labour as rendered to God himself.

In 1807 the literary honour of M.A. was conferred upon Mr. Clarke; and in 1808 he was presented with a diploma of L.L.D.: both of them from the University and College of King's College, Aberdeen. The two diplomas were sent in the most honourable and flattering manner, the College refusing to accept even the customary clerk's fees given on such occasions. He was also elected Fellow of the Asiatic and several literary and scientific societies.

Dr. Clarke was at this time, 1808, applied to, to collect those State Paper which might serve to complete and continue that collection of State Papers generally called “Rymer's Foedera,” to be conducted under the direction of His Majesty's Commissioners of the Public Records of the Kingdom. With very great reluctance and hesitation Dr. Clarke undertook the superintendance of thi [sic: this] page 307 publication. He continued to be engaged on it for ten years, and during that time carried nearly four folio volumes of the continuation of “Rymer's Feodera” through the press, to the very great satisfaction of the Commissioners. When Dr. Clarke was applied to, the situation had been open for seven years, as the Commissioners could not find a qualified person to undertake the office.

But the work on which Dr. Clarke bestowed the greatest labour, and on which his fame as a scholar will mainly rest, is his Commentary on the Old and New Testament, in eight quarto volumes; an account of which and the labour it cost him, we shall give in his own words:

“In this arduous labour I have had no assistants, not even a single week's help from an amanuensis:—no person to look for common places, or refer to an ancient author, to find out the place and transcribe a passage of Latin, Greek, or any other language, which my memory had generally recalled, or to verify a quotation : the help excepted which I received in the Chronological department from my own nephew Mr. J. E. Clarke. I laboured alone for nearly twenty five years previously to the work being sent to the press; and fifteen years have been employed in bringing it through the press to the public; and thus about forty years of my life have been consumed; and from this the reader will at once perceive that the work, be it well or ill executed, has not been done in a careless or precipitate manner, nor have any sources within my reach been neglected, to make it in every respect, as far as possible, what the title page promises—‘A Help to a better understanding of the Sacred Writings.’—Thus through the merciful help of God, my labour in this field terminates, a labour which were it yet to commence, with the knowledge which I now have of its difficulty, and in many respects, my inadequate means, millions even of the Gold of Ophir, and all the honours that can come from men, could not induce me to undertake. Now that it is finished, I regret not the labour: I have had the testimony of many learned, pious, and judicious friends relative to the execution and usefulness of the work. It has been admitted into the very highest ranks of society, and lodged in the cottages of the poor. It has been the means of doing good to the simple of heart, and the wise man, and the scribe: the learned and the philosopher, according to their own generous acknowledgements, have not in vain consulted its pages. For these and all His other mercies to the Writer and the Reader, may God, the fountain of all good, be eternally praised.”

His Commentary was completed in 1826.

Our narrow limits will not permit us to detail at any greater length. Dr. Clarke's numerous, arduous, and successful labours in advancing Christ's Kingdom,—his other publications—his preaching tours through England and Ireland—his persevering and successful efforts to establish Missions in the Shetland Islands and Ireland—or the honours that were heaped upon him as he advanced in life by the high and learned of the land, from the royal Mascenas, —the Duke of Sussex, downwards—or the blessings that were invoked upon him by the thousands of the poor and the ignorant, page 308 whose spititual, and even physical wants he did so much to supply. Our object has been rather to exhibit to our readers, especially the young—the physical, intellectual, and spiritual training through which Dr. Clarke passed—the deep foundations of industry and piety upon which his usefulness and eminence rested,—that they may be further convinced, that there is no royal road to eminence of any kind—that every thing excellent has its price—but that the very highest places of usefulness and honour are open to the very humblest in the community, if they will submit to the conditions on which they are obtained. The Divine exhortation is “Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Dr. Clarke died of Cholera in 1832. His illness was short; and his end was peace. “He rests from his labours, and his works do follow him.”