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THE LIFE OF ADAM CLARKE: INTRODUCTION
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It is to be regretted that few persons who have arrived at any degree of eminence or fame, have written Memorials of themselves, at least such as have embraced their private as well as their public life. By themselves or contemporaries their public transactions have been in general amply recorded, with the apparent motives which led them to their particular lines of action, and the objects they aimed at by thus acting: but how they became capable of acting such parts; how their minds acquired that impulse which gave them this direction; what part an especial Providence, parental influence, accident, or singular occurrence, and education, had, in forming the man, producing those habits which constitute his manners, and prepared him for his future lot in life, we are rarely told. And without this, we neither can trace the dispensations of Providence, nor the operations of those mental energies by which such effects have been produced. Hence the main benefit of biography is lost, emulation leading to imitation has no scope. We cannot follow the man because we do not see his previous footsteps: he bursts generally on our sight, like a meteor, and we are dazzled with the view: to us he is inimitable because he is enrobed with all his distinguishing perfections and eminence before we are introduced to his acquaintance. Were it otherwise, we should probably see that those who have reached the highest degrees of elevation beyond those who were born in the same circumstances and line of life, were not indebted so much to anything extraordinary in themselves, as to a well-timed and sedulous use of their own powers, and such advantages as their circumstances afforded; and that what occurs to others, as mere accidents, were by them seized and pressed into their own service, and showed them the necessity of attentive observation, that neither occurrence nor moment, should pass by unnoticed or unimproved.
We may rest satisfied that effects, which evidently have nothing in them supernatural, spring from natural causes: that the whole is an orderly procession, and appears astonishing to us, only because we do not see that concatenation of circumstances which, by a steady operation, produced the result.
Few men can be said to have inimitable excellencies: let us watch them in their progress from infancy to manhood, and we shall soon be convinced that what they attained was the necessary consequence of the line they pursued, and the means they used. But these things are not known, because we have not the history of their lives in any consecutive order that of their infancy, when life ordinarily gets its direction and coloring, is generally suppressed by themselves or narrators; possibly, because it is deemed insignificant; or because men who have risen out of the lower or middle classes of life, to literary or civil distinction, are unwilling to tell their small beginnings; and thus, through false shame, what would really redound to their honor, explain apparent mysteries in the Providence which conducted the affairs of their lives, and would render those lives truly and endlessly useful, by showing that they were perfectly inimitable, is lost to mankind. I say nothing of those things which may not be improperly termed biographical romances, lives which were never lived, and virtues which were never practiced.
To exhibit a man through every period of his life, who has obtained some distinction as well in the republic of letters as in religious society; and how he acquired this distinction, is the principal design of the following sheets: and the reason for doing this, is threefold: 1. To manifest the goodness of God to those who trust in Him; and how He causes all things to work together for the good of such persons; that He may have the praise of His own grace: and, 2dly , To prevent the publication of improper accounts, the only object of which is to raise unholy gains, by impositions on the public. 3dly . To show to young men, who have not had those advantages which arise from elevated birth and a liberal education, how such defects may be supplied by persevering industry, and the redemption of time.
Young ministers, especially, may learn from these Memoirs a useful lesson. They see what has been done towards mental improvement, in circumstances generally worse than their own, and that a defect in talents frequently arises from a defect in self cultivation: and that there is much less room for excuse than is generally supposed: in short, that no quarter should be shown to those who while away time, and permit a sort of religious gossiping to engender in them the disgraceful habits of indolence or sloth. It is hoped, and not unreasonably, that they will see from a perusal of this work, that the divine Providence is never parsimonious in affording all necessary advantages, and if duly improved, neither they, nor the people to whom they minister, will have much cause to complain of a deficiency of gifts through inadequate supplies of Providence, or inefficient influence from grace. Those who consider such cases as that here exhibited without profit, must have an incurable hebitude of disposition, with which it would be in vain to contend, as they have reconciled themselves to its indulgence, and thus have become such as cannot teach, and will not learn.