PURE AND UNDEFILED RELIGION
I come now to the most important part of A. C.’s life; that in which he began to perceive the importance of pure and undefiled Religion: and in which he began to discern and relish the power of divine truth. It is not to be supposed that there can be any great variety in the experience of religious people. Repentance, faith, and holiness, are unchangeable in their nature, and uniform in their effects. Religion has to do with one God, one Mediator, one sacrifice it recommends one faith, enjoins one baptism, proclaims one heaven, and one hell. All these are unchangeable both in their nature and their effects. One Gospel is the fountain whence all these things are derived; and that Gospel being the everlasting Gospel, was, is, and will be, the same, from its first publication, till time shall be no more.
Novelty, therefore, on such subjects, cannot be expected: he who has read the conversion and religious experience of one sensible man, has, in substance, read that of ten thousand.
Yet still it is a subject of laudable curiosity to know, how a mind such as that of Adam Clarke’s became first enlightened; on what grounds he first received that religious creed of which he was afterwards so powerful an advocate; and why he became so decisively attached to that body of religious people in whose communion he still remains.
We have already noticed the bringing up of A. C. and the care that a religious mother took of the spiritual concerns of her children; and the good effects of that education, in opening their minds to religious truth, and keeping their hearts susceptible of divine impressions. We have also seen, what effects this produced on the mind of Adam in particular, filling his heart with the fear of God, a deep reverence for the Bible, and the most cordial approbation of the principles of Christianity in general. We are now to witness the vegetation of that seed which was cast into a soil which God had fitted for its reception; where it took deep root, and brought forth such fruits as gave no equivocal evidence of a thorough scriptural conversion. He had hitherto sat principally under the ministry of the Rev. W. Smith, of Millburn, near Coleraine, Rector of the parish of Agherton. He was a good man, full of humanity and benevolence, and preached, as far as he knew it, most conscientiously, the Gospel of Christ; but on the doctrine of justification by faith, or the way in which a sinner is to be reconciled to God, he was either not very clear, or was never explicit.
He was fond of Adam because he was almost the only person who assisted the clerk in the Church service, and especially the singing.
Besides his general attendance at church with his father, Adam occasionally went to the Presbyterian meeting-house, where the trumpet gave a very uncertain sound, as both pastor and people were verging closely an Socinianism. A general forgetfulness of God prevailed in the parish; which, as to religious matters, was divided between the Church and the Presbyterians: and there was scarcely a person in it, decidedly pious, though there were several that feared God, and but few that were grossly profane or profligate. In that parish there was not one Roman Catholic family. The state of experimental religion was very low, though there were still some old people who talked about the godliness of their ancestors; and seemed to feel no small satisfaction, and even spiritual safety, in being able to say We have Abraham for our father. Even Mrs. Clarke, for the want of the means of grace, and the doctrine that is according to godliness, had lost ground, and began to be remiss in her domestic practice of piety.
The place needed reformation, but faithful reprovers were wanting; — like the foolish virgins, they were all either slumbering or sleeping, and it required a voice like the midnight cry, to awake them. This voice, God, in his endless mercy, shortly sent.
About the year 1777, the Methodist preachers, who had been for some time established in Coleraine visited the parish of Agherton. Of this people A. C. had never before heard, except once from a paragraph in a newspaper, where it was remarked as a singular thing, and well worthy of notice, that “A Methodist preacher, ministering in the open air, to a large congregation, a heavy shower of rain falling, the people began to disperse to seek shelter in their houses, which the preacher observing, told them that ‘rain was one of the chief blessings of God’s providence, that without it there could be neither seed time, nor harvest, nor indeed any green thing on the face of the earth: and will you,’ said he, ‘fly from the gift of God?’
The people felt the reproof, gathered more closely together and though the rain continued to descend, heard patiently and piously to the end of the discourse.”
One evening, after school hours, a young gentleman, one of A. C.’s schoolfellows, came to him, and surprised him, saying, “Come, Adam, let us go to Burnside, there is a Methodist preacher to be there this evening, and we shall have nice fun.” Now, although Adam was sufficiently playful, and was always ready to embrace any opportunity for diversion and amusement, yet he was puzzled to understand how preaching and playing could be associated; or how a time set apart for devotion, could be proper for amusement; for he had been always taught to hold preaching in reverence, whether he heard it in the church, or in the Presbyterian meeting. He engaged however to go, yet without the slightest expectation of the promised diversion. He went accordingly, and found many people assembled in a BARN: in a short time the preacher entered, a plain, serious looking man, but widely different in his dress, from any clerical gentleman he had ever before seen. His name was John Brettel; he was many years a very respectable itinerant preacher among the Methodists, as was also his brother Jeremiah, and sprung from a very respectable family in Birmingham. A. C. fixed his eyes upon him, and was not at all surprised with his first sentence, which was this, “I see several lads there, I hope they will be quiet and behave well; if not, they shall be put out of the house.” As Adam expected no diversion, he was not disappointed by this declaration. He did not recollect the text, and the discourse did not make any particular impression on his mind: but he was rather surprised by the following assertion, “The Westminster divines,” said the preacher, “have asserted in their Catechism, that no mere man, since the fall, can keep God’s commandments: but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed: but the Scriptures promise us salvation from all our sin: and I must credit them in preference to the Westminster divines.” Adam had learned his Catechism, as before stated, and had given implicit credence to this assertion: but he reasoned thus with himself, “If the Scriptures say the contrary, certainly I should believe the Scriptures in preference to the catechism.”
After preaching was ended, Mr. Brettel went into the man’s house, whose barn he had occupied, and several people followed him and among the rest, young Clarke. He talked much on the necessity of Repentance, Faith, Holiness, &c.; and exhorted the people to turn to God with all their hearts, and not to defer it. This second meeting broke up in about half an hour, and the preacher and his friends returned to Coleraine. There was with him, among others, Mr. Stephen Douthitt, well known in Coleraine, as an irreproachable pattern of practical Christianity; and an ornament to the Methodist’s society in that place, for nearly half a century.
On his return to his father’s house, Adam reflected a good deal on the man, his manner, and his conversation. And thought, if these people talk so continually about religion, both in public and private, they must have a painful time of it.
The next week Mr. B. came to another part of the neighborhood, and Adam went to hear him: his text was, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” — Revelation 3:20. He pointed out the various methods which God used in order to awaken and alarm impenitent sinners; and the dreadful consequences of slighting, resisting, or neglecting these calls, — ruin final and eternal must be the inevitable consequence; “but God” said he, “always fires the warning cannon before he discharges the murdering piece.” This was the last time he heard Mr. Brettel: other preachers succeeded him in Coleraine, and occasionally visited Agherton and most of the neighboring towns and villages; and when they were within is reach A. C. attended their ministry. At length that truly apostolic man, Mr. Thomas Barber, came to the place; and with indefatigable diligence and zeal went through all the country, preaching Christ Crucified, and Redemption through his Blood; in dwelling-houses, barns, school-houses, the open air, &c. &c.; and many were awakened under his ministry. Mrs. Clarke, Adam’s mother, went to hear, and immediately pronounced, this is the doctrine of the Reformers — this is true unadulterated Christianity.” In this she greatly rejoiced, and pressed all her family to go and hear for themselves. Mr. Clarke went, and he bore testimony that it was “the genuine doctrine of the Established Church.”
The preacher was invited to their house, which he and all his successors, ever had as their home, and were always entertained according to the best circumstances of the family. Under the preaching and pious advices of this excellent man, Adam’s mind gradually enlightened and improved: he had no violent awakening — his heart was in a good measure, by his mother’s pious care, prepared to receive the seed of the kingdom, and the doctrine of God “dropped on him as the rain, his speech distilled on him as dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass.” He followed this preacher every where within his reach; left all childish diversions, became sedate and sober, prayed in private and read the Scriptures; till at last his parents began to think he was likely to be righteous over much; he however went on and attended closely to his work in the farm; sometimes from four o’clock in the morning till between six and seven at night; and then felt quite happy to be permitted to run three or four miles into the country to hear a sermon! By these means he was generally enabled to hear four sermons a-week, when the preacher was in that part of the country: and none could say, that to attend this preaching he had ever left undone one half hour’s work, or omitted to perform any thing in its proper season. Far from making him slothful, the desire he had for his salvation, tended to make him still more active in the secular concerns of the family. Formerly he could while away time and often play when he should have been at work: now, he did every thing from conscience, he served his father as he would have served the merest stranger, in whose employment he should spend every hour of the day.
Nay, to labor with his hands was now his delight — he felt it the full force of those words of the apostle, Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit serving the Lord. From his own experience he could say, I love to work with my hands; and as he saw others who were under the same religious concern doubly active in their affairs of life, while earnestly seeking the salivation of their souls, he knew that the reproach which many raised against those who were so intent in their attendance on the means of grace — Ye are idle, ye are slothful, — ye do not love work — ye neglect your families to gad after preaching, &c. — was a most unfounded slander, deduced from Pharaoh the first persecutor of the Church of God; and shamelessly continued until now. He ever bore testimony, that he had found in all his own religious experience, and in the acquaintance he had with the work of God in others, that men became economists of time, and diligent in their avocations, in proportion as they were earnest for the salvation of their souls. This reproach has long been urged against the Methodists, by those who had no religion; because the diligence of the former in their spiritual concerns, was a standing reproof to the others who were living without a Scriptural hope, and without God in the world.
Prayer also was his delight. He could no longer be satisfied with morning and evening; he was awakened from the dream that this was sufficient, by the following questions of Mr. Barber. “Adam, do you think that God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you your sins?” “Sir, I have no evidence of this.” “Adam, do you pray?” Yes, Sir. “How often do you pray in private?” Every morning and evening.” “Adam, did you ever hear of any person finding peace with God, who only prayed in private twice in the day?” He felt ashamed and confounded; and discerned at once that he was not sufficiently in earnest, nor sufficiently awakened to a due sense of his state. Though he could say, that often during the day, he was accustomed to lift up his heart to God; yet he was not then aware that this requires much less light and heat than are requisite in solemn pleading with God.
He now began to quicken his pace, for he heard in almost every sermon, that it was the privilege of all the people of God to know, by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their consciences, that their sins were forgiven them, for Christ’s sake; and that when they became adopted into the heavenly family, and were made children of God, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, crying Abba, Father. This he earnestly sought, but was damped in his ardor after this blessing by the sayings of man, of whose judgment he had a favorable opinion, that to know their sins forgiven them, was the privilege only of a few, and those the most favored of God’s people. On this point they made the following distinctions: — There is a twofold species of saving faith, — the faith of assurance, and the faith of adherence. The former the privilege of very few; the latter, the privilege of all true Christians. The former the most comfortable, but the latter equally safe. Trusting in an unseen Christ, will deceive no man but if he may have the comforts of the Spirit, so much the better.”
He now determined to search the Scriptures to see whether these things were so; and as he had never yet read the New Testament regularly through, he began that work; and, with deep attention and earnest prayer, read over the whole from beginning to end; spending in this employment almost every leisure moment. With this diligence the merciful God was well pleased, for he shed light both upon his heart, and upon his book. It was indeed a new book to him, — he read, and felt, and wept, and prayed; was often depressed then encouraged; his eyes were opened, and he beheld wonders in this divine Law. By this reading he acquired and fixed his Creed in all its articles, not one of which he ever after found reason to change, though he had not as yet that full confidence of each which he afterwards acquired. At this time he had read none of the writings of the Methodists; and from them he never learned that creed, which, on after examination he found to be precisely the same with theirs. He could say, “I have not received my creed from man, nor by man.” He learned it — (without consulting bodies of divinity, human creeds, confessions of faith, or such like) — from the fountain head of truth, the Oracles of the living God.
He now felt increasing anxiety, not only for his own soul but for those of his family, his school-fellows, and his neighbors. He rejoiced to see numbers attending the word preached, and a society formed in an adjoining village called Mullihicall, though himself never thought of becoming a member in it, or in any other. His mother had gone to see how what was called class-meeting was conducted, and on her return spoke highly of the meeting. She desired her son Adam to accompany her the next Lord’s day to the said meeting. He went with some reluctance. After singing and prayer, the leader spoke to each person severally concerning his spiritual state. Adam listened with deep attention, and was surprised to hear one of his neighbors speak to this effect: “I was once darkness, but now I am light in the Lord: I was once a slave to sin, but now I am made free by the grace of Christ: I once felt that horrors of a guilty conscience, but now I know and feel that God has blotted out my sins.” He was deeply struck wit h these declarations; and though he knew that this man had been a giddy foolish trifler, a drummer to a company of volunteers, yet knowing that he had seriously attended the preaching for some time, he had no doubt a the truth of this testimony. Some others expressed themselves in the same way; while others deplored their hardness of heart, and darkness of mind. He now began to feel very uneasy: he thought “this is no place for me to be in: I have no right to be here: these people should have none to witness their religious meetings, but those who belong to some society and, in short, he felt grieved that his mother should have been so inconsiderate as to have brought him there. He was afraid lest the leader should question him; and he knew he had no thing to say that would be creditable to himself or profitable to others: at last he was questioned, and got off with a sort of general answer. The meeting broke up, and he was returning home, melancholy and unhappy. The leader, Mr. Andrew Hunter, of Coleraine, joined him on the road, and began to speak to him on spiritual matters, in a most affectionate and pathetic way; earnestly pressed him to give his whole heart to God; for, said he, “You may be a burning and shining light in a benighted land.” Why these words should have deeply affected him he could not tell; but so it was; he was cut to the heart: instead of being rich and increased in spiritual goods, as he once fondly thought, he now saw that he was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. All his past diligence, prayer, reading, &c., appeared as nothing, — in vain he looked within and without for something to recommend him to God; but there was nothing — multitudes of evils which before were undiscovered, were now pointed out to his conscience as by a sunbeam. He was filled with confusion and distress; wherever he looked he saw nothing but himself. The light which penetrated his mind, led him into all the chambers of the house of imagery; and everywhere he saw idols set up in opposition to the worship of the true God. He wished to flee from himself, and looked with envy on stocks and stones, for they had not offended a just God, and were incapable of bearing his displeasure.
The season was fine, the fields were beautifully clothed with green, the herds browsed contentedly in their pastures, and the birds were singing melodiously, some in the air, some in the trees and bushes; but, alas, his eyes and his ears were now no longer inlets to pleasure. In point of gratification, nature was to him a universal blank, for he felt himself destitute of the image and approbation of his Maker; and, besides this consciousness, there needed no other hell to constitute his misery. His doleful language was, “O that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to his seat! Behold, I go forward, but he is not there: and backward, but I cannot perceive Him: on the left hand, where be doth work, but I cannot behold Him, he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him.” — Job 23:3,8,9. He was afraid even to look towards God, because he felt himself unholy, and yet he knew that his help could come from none other than Him whom he had offended; and whose image he did not b ear, and consequently could not have his approbation. On a subject of this kind, even an enemy to the Christian faith may teach an important truth. “It was once demanded of the fourth Calif Aalee, ‘If the canopy of heaven were a bow and the earth were the cord thereof; if calamities were arrows and mankind were the mark for these arrows, and if almighty God, the tremendous and the glorious, were the unerring Archer, to whom could the sons of Adam flee for protection?’ The Calif answered, saying; ‘The sons of Adam must flee, unto the Lord.’” — Teemour.