BRADFORD (WILTS) CIRCUIT, 1782-3
This circuit extended into three counties, Wilts, Somerset, and Dorset, and contained at that time the following places: Bradford, Trowbridge, Shaftsbury, Motcomb, Fontmill, Follard, Winsley, Shepton Mallet, Kingston Deverell, Longbridge Deverell, Bradley, Frome, Corsley, Buckland, Coalford, Holcomb, Oak-hill, Bruton, West Pennard, Alhampton, Ditcheat, Freshford, Seend, Melksham, Devizes, Pottern, Sandy Lane, Broomham, Wells, Walton, and Road; — more than one place for every day in the month; and the Preachers rarely stopped two days in the same place, and were almost constantly on horseback. This circumstance was advantageous to a young preacher, who could not be supposed to have any great variety of texts or of matter, and consequently not able as yet to minister constantly to the same congregation. But, as Adam Clarke diligently read the scriptures, prayed much, and endeavored to improve his mind, he added by slow degrees to his stock, and was better qualified to minister each time of his coming round his circuit.
His youth was often a grievous trial to him; and was the subject of many perplexing reasonings; he thought, “How can I expect that men and women, persons of forty, threescore, or more years, will come out to hear a boy preach the gospel! And is it likely, if through curiosity they do come, that they will believe what I say! As to the young they are too gay and giddy, to attend to divine things; and if so, among whom lies the probability of my usefulness?” — In every place, however, the attendance was good, at least equal to that with which his fellow laborers were favored; and the people in every place treated him with the greatest kindness. He was enabled to act so that no man despised his youth; and the very circumstance which he thought most against him, was that precisely from which he gained his greatest advantages.
When the little boy, as he was called, came to any place to preach, the congregations were always respectable, and in many places unusually large: and it soon appeared, that the Divine Spirit made the solemn truths he spoke, effectual to the salvation of many souls.
One circumstance relative to this, should not be omitted. Road, a country village between Trowbridge and Frome, was one of the places which belonged to his circuit: but it was so circumstanced that only two out of the four preachers, could serve it during the quarter: and when the next quarter came, the other two took their places. As Mr. C. came late into the circuit, as has been already noticed, it did not come to his turn to visit that place before the spring of 1783. The congregations here were very small, and there were only two or three who had the name of Methodists in the place. Previously to his coming, the report was very general that, “a little boy was to preach in the Methodists’ chapel at such a time:” and all the young men and women in the place were determined to hear him. He came, and the place long before the time, was crowded with young persons of both sexes, from fourteen to twenty-five; very few elderly persons could get in, the house being filled before they came. He preached, the attention was deep and solemn, and though crowded the place was as still as death.
After he preached he gave out that very affecting hymn, now strangely left out of the general Hymn book, —
Vain, delusive world, adieu, With all thy creature good!
Only Jesus I pursue, Who bought me with his blood.
All thy pleasures I forego, And trample on thy wealth and pride; Only Jesus will I know, And Jesus crucified.
The fine voices of this young company produced great effect in the singing. — As each verse ended with the two last lines above, when he sung the last, he stopped, and spoke to this effect, — “My dear young friends, you have joined with me heartily, and I dare say, sincerely, in singing this fine hymn. You know in whose presence we have been conducting this solemn service; — the eyes of God, of angels, and perhaps of devils, have been upon us. And what have we been doing? We have been promising in the sight of all these, and of each other, that we will renounce a vain delusive world — its pleasures, pomp, and pride, and seek our happiness in God alone, and expect it through Him who shed his blood for us. And is not this the same to which we have been long previously bound by our baptismal vow. Have we not, when we were baptized, promised, either by ourselves, or sureties, (which promise if made in the latter way, we acknowledge we are bound to perform when we come of age) ‘To renounce the devil and al l his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh: — that we will keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of our life! ‘This baptismal promise which you have so often repeated from your catechism, is precisely the same with that contained in the fine and affecting hymn which you have been now singing. Now, shall we promise and not perform? Shall we vow, and not keep our vow? God has heard what we have sung and said, and it is registered in heaven. What then do you purpose to do? Will you continue to live to the world, and forget that you owe your being to God, and have immortal souls which must spend an eternity in heaven or hell, according to the state they are found in when they leave this world? We have no time to spare, scarcely any to deliberate in: the judge is at the door, and death is not far behind. I have tried both lives: and find that a religious life has an infinite preference beyond the other. Let us therefore heartily forsake sin, vanity, and folly, and seek God by earnest prayer, nor rest till we find He has blotted out all our sins, purified our hearts, and filled us with peace and happiness. If we seek earnestly and seek through Christ Jesus, we cannot be unsuccessful.” He then prayed, and many were deeply affected. That night and the next morning, thirteen persons, young men and women, came to him earnestly inquiring what they should do to be saved.  A religious concern became general throughout the village and neighborhood; many young persons sought and found redemption in the blood of the Lamb. The old people seeing the earnestness, and consistent walk of the young began to reflect upon their ways: many were deeply awakened, and those who had got into a cold or lukewarm state, began to arise and shake themselves from the dust, and the revival of pure and undefiled religion became general.
Thus God showed him that the very circumstance (his youth) which be thought most against him and his usefulness, became a principal means in his Divine hand of his greatest ministerial success. Methodism in Road continued to prosper during the whole time he was in that circuit; and when he visited them several years after, he found it still in a flourishing slate.
In several other parts of this circuit, God blessed his work, and he and his brethren lived in peace and unity, and drew cordially in the same yoke; and the people were everywhere satisfied with their teachers. Many who had long rested on their lees, were stirred up afresh; and not a few were encouraged to seek and find full redemption in the blood of the cross. It was on the whole, a year of prosperity, and Mr. C.’s heart grew in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
He endeavored to cultivate his mind also in useful knowledge; but a circumstance took place which, through his inexperience, had nearly proved ruinous to the little knowledge which be had already acquired, and would utterly have prevented all future accessions to his little stock. This circumstance requires distinct relation. He had not been long in this circuit before he received the Hebrew Grammar, which, as we have already seen, he subscribed for at Kingswood. He entered heartily on the study of this sacred language, from this work; which, though it promised much, yet really did perform a good deal. The copious lessons precluded for a time, the necessity of purchasing a Hebrew Bible: and the analysis accompanying each lesson, soon led him into the nature of the Hebrew language; these are carefully compiled, and are, by far, the best part of that grammar. The other parts being confused, meager, and difficult, though its pious author had thought, (for he inserted it in his term page) that the whole was digested in so easy a way, that a child of seven years of age might arrive, without any other kind of help, at a competent knowledge of the sacred language; a saying, which is in every part incorrect and exceptionable. The lessons and analytical parts are good, the rest of the work is nearly good for nothing.
In his Latin, Greek, and French he could make little improvement, having to travel several miles every day; and preach, on an average, thirty days in every month, and to attend to many things that belonged to the work of a Methodist preacher. That he might not lose the whole time which he was obliged to employ in riding, he accustomed himself to read on horseback; and this he followed through the summer, and in the clear weather in general. In this way he read through the four volumes of Mr. Wesley’s History of the Church, carefully abridged from Mosheim’s larger work. In abridging from voluminous writers, Mr. Wesley was eminently skillful; and this is one of the best things he has done of this kind: but the original work by Mosheim, is the best Church History published before or since.
The practice of reading on horseback is both dangerous, because of the accidents to which one is exposed on the road; and injurious to the sight, as the muscles of the eye are brought into an unnatural state of contraction, in order to counteract the too great brilliancy of the light. Yet what could he do, who had so much to learn, so often to preach, and was every day on horseback? When he came in the evening to his place of residence for the night, he found no means of improvement, and seldom any place in which he could either conveniently study or pray. But the circumstance that had nearly put an end to his studies, is yet untold. 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 the following lines from Virgil, corroborative of the sentiment; — —-Quo fata trahunt retrahuntque, sequamur. — Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum, Tendimus in Coelum. — Eneid. lib. v. 709. Ib. lib. 1. 204, 5. — The next preacher that followed him in this place, seeing the above lines, which he could not understand nor see the relation they bore to those previously written, wrote under them the following words: — “Did you write the above to show 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 disdain 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 naturally 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 Christian 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. C., he was thrown into confusion: he knew not how to appear before the family who had a whole week to con over this 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 the vow had a paralyzing effect upon this, as well as on 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, for exposing in this most 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 method to cure you, replied Mr. _____. Mr. C. 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 man’s life depend!
The mind of Mr. C. 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. What a blessing it is for young tender minds to be preserved from the management of ignorance and sloth; and to get under the direction of prudence and discretion!
That such a vow as that now made by Mr. C. could not be acceptable in the sight of the Father of Lights, may be easily seen: 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 endeavored to forget all that he had learned; and labored to tear every thing of the kind for ever from him 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 this change took place. It has already been stated that Mr. C. when very young, 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 wa y.
About 1786, he met with a piece of no ordinary merit, entitled, Discours sur l’Eloquence de la Chaire, A Discourse on Pulpit Eloquence; by the Abbe Maury, then Preacher in Ordinary to Lewis XVI.; since, Cardinal Maury, and but lately deceased. Mr. C. 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 the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, in the year 1751.  This piece he translated, and sent to the Rev. J. Wesley, to be inserted, if he approved of it, in the Arminian 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. C., — “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. C. He began to reason with himself thus: “What would he have me to do? He certainly means that I should not forget the Latin and Greek which I have learned: but then he does not know, that by a solemn vow; I have abjured the study of these languages for ever. But was such a vow lawful: is the study of Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which God has given the Old and New Testaments, sinful? It must have been laudable in some, else we should have had no translations. Is it likely that what must have been laudable in those who have translated the Sacred Writings, can be sinful to any — especially to ministers of God’s holy Word? I have made the vow it is true; but who required this at my hand? What have I gained by it? I was told it was dangerous, and would fill me with pride, and pride would lead me to perdition: but who told me so? Could Mr. _____, at whose suggestions I abandoned all these studies, be considered a competent judge: a man who was himself totally illiterate as it regarded either language or science? And what have I gained by this great sacrifice, made most evidently without divine authority, and without the approbation of my own reason? Am I more humble, more spiritual; and above all, have I been more useful than I should have been, had I not abandoned those languages in which the words of the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles were written? I fear I have been totally in an error: and that my vow may rank in the highest part of the catalogue of rash vows. Allowing even that my vow in such circumstances, can he considered in any respect binding; which is the greater evil, to keep or to break it? — I should beg pardon from God for having made it; and if it were sinful to make it, it is most undoubtedly sinful to keep it.” — Thus he reasoned, and at last came to the firm purpose to be no longer bound by what he had neither the authority of God nor reason to make. He kneeled down and begged God to forgive the rash vow, and in mercy, to undo any obligation which might remain because of the solemn manner in which it had been made. He arose satisfied that be had done wrong in making it; and that God required him now, to cultivate his mind in every possible way, that he might be a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
He felt a conviction that he had done right, and such a satisfaction of mind as he did not find when he made that vow; the making of which, because of its consequences, (nearly four years’ loss of time) he had ever reason to deplore.
The chain being thus broken, Mr. C. had all his work to begin de novo; and was astonished to find how much he had forgotten of his school-boy learning. In short he was obliged to begin his grammar again, and found it hard work to lay a second foundation, till practice and the association of ideas, leveled and smoothed the rugged path.
It has been often said, that the Methodist, undervalue and cry down all human learning. This is not true: there is no religious people in the land that value it more, nor indeed is there any under greater obligation to it than they are: the learning of their Founder was as necessary, under God, to the revival and support of true religion in the land, as his zeal and piety were. The great body of the Methodists love learning; and when they find it in their preachers, associated with humility and piety, they praise God for the double benefit and profit by both.
In the course of this same year, 1782, he read Mr. Wesley’s Letter on Tea; when he had finished it, he said: “There are arguments here which I cannot answer; and till I can answer them to my own satisfaction, I will neither drink tea nor coffee.” He broke off the habit from that hour, never afterwards sought for arguments to overturn those of Mr. Wesley, and from that day to the present, never once tasted tea or coffee! Here is a perseverance rarely equaled: and to this he was providentially led. He spent that time in reading and study which he must otherwise have spent at the tea table: and by this, in the course of thirty-seven years, he has saved several whole years of time; every hour of which was devoted to self-improvement, or some part of that great work which the Providence of God gave him to do. For a short time after he left off the use of those exotics, he took in the evenings, a cup of milk and water, or a cup of weak infusion of camomile; but as he found that he gained no time by this means, a nd the gaining of time was his great object, he gave that totally up; never tasting any thing from dinner to supper. In the morning he found it easy to supply the place of tea and coffee by taking milk in some form or other; or any other aliment which the junior parts of the families where he lodged, were accustomed to take for their breakfast. In his Letter to a Preacher, since published, he has adverted strongly to this circumstance.
Mr. Wesley himself, after having left off the use of tea and coffee for twelve years, resumed it and continued the use of these beverages to his death: his pupil, A. C., followed his councils without attending to his practice, as zealously as ever the Rechabites did those of their founder Jehonadab. What A. C. has gained by this sacrifice, has amply compensated the cost.
This year, the Conference was held in Bristol; Mr. C. had no thought of attending, till on the first of August, a letter came, requiring him to attend: the next day, Saturday he set off; and reached Bristol the same day. How he spent the next day, which was the Sabbath, may, be seen from the following entry in his Journal. “Sunday, Aug. 3, 1783. At five this morning I heard a very useful sermon from Mr. Mather, at the chapel Broad Mead, On Isaiah 35:3,4. I then went to Guinea Street chapel, where I heard Mr. Bradburn preach on Christian perfection, from 1 John 4:19. This was, without exception, the best sermon I had ever heard on the subject. When this was ended I posted to the Drawbridge and heard Mr. Joseph Taylor preach an excellent and affecting discourse on Romans 5:21. This ended, I returned to my lodging and breakfasted; and then, at ten o’clock, heard Mr. Wesley preach at Broad Mead, on Acts 1:5. After sermon he, assisted by Dr. Coke, the Rev. B. B. Collins, and the Rev. Cornelius Bayley, delivered the Holy Sacrament to a vast concourse of people; which I also received to my comfort. When dinner was ended, I heard the Rev. B. B. Collins preach at Temple church, on Mark 16:15,16.
I next went and heard Mr. Wesley in Carolina Court on Hebrews 6:1; after which he met the society at the chapel Broad Mead, and read over a part of his Journal, relative to his late visit to Holland.
To conclude the whole, I then posted to King’s Down, where I heard Mr. T. Hanby preach an awakening sermon, on 1 Peter 4:18. Thus I have, in one day, by carefully redeeming time, and buying up every opportunity, heard SEVEN sermons, three of which were delivered out of doors. Surely this has been a day in which much has been given me; and much will the Lord require: O grant that I may be enabled to render Thee a good account. Though the whole of the day has been spent in religious exercises, yet such is my unprofitableness, that I could not stand in the judgment even for this day. But O, my glorious Saviour, Thou art still my Highpriest to offer my most holy things to God, which can be rendered acceptable to Him only through the sprinkling of Thy blood.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 6th, Mr. Clarke was admitted into Full Connection, after having traveled 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, as he expresses it in his Journal, the most solemn ordinance in which he had ever engaged. “This day,” says he, “I have promised much before God and His people: may I ever be found true to my engagements. In particular, I have solemnly promised, to devote my whole strength to the work of God, and never to be triflingly employed one moment. Lord, I fear much that I shall not be found faithful. But Thou hast said, my grace shall be sufficient for thee! Even so, let it be, Lord Jesus!”
When preachers on trial are admitted into Full Connection with the body of the Methodist preachers; — among many important questions put to them is the following, Are you in debt? To this the most satisfactory answer must be given. Through rather a whimsical incident, this question was likely to have deeply puzzled and nonplused Mr. Clarke. Walking in the Street that morning with another preacher, a poor man asked a halfpenny. Mr. C. had none, but borrowed one from the preacher who was walking with him. That preacher happening to go out of town, he could not see him during the day to repay this small sum. When he stood up with the others he knew not what to say, when the question, Are you in debt? should be proposed: he thought “If I say I am in debt, they will ask me how much? when I say I owe one halfpenny, they will naturally suppose me to be a fool. If I say I am not in debt, this will be a lie; for I owe one half-penny, and am as truly under the obligation to pay, as if the sum were twenty pounds, an d while I owe that I cannot, consistently with eternal truth, say, I am not in debt.” He was now most completely within the horns of a dilemma; and which to take he knew not, and the question being put to him before he could make up his mind — “Mr. Clarke, are you in debt?” he dissolved the difficulty in a moment, by answering — Not one PENNY. Thus both his credit and his conscience were saved. The Reader may smile at all this, but the situation to him was, for some hours, very embarrassing.
At this Conference he was appointed for Norwich, to which he set out on Monday, 11th, on horseback, and reached that city on the evening of Saturday, August 16th, 1783.
It may be necessary to say here, a few words relative to the state of is own mind, in this first year of his itinerant labors. During the little more than ten months he was in this circuit, he preached 506 times, beside 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 night, to pray with them and inquire 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, such as Bradford, Trowbridge, Frome, Devizes, Coalford, Shepton Mallet, Shaftsbury, &c. &c.
His mind was variously and powerfully exercised: he kept the 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 birthright 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. His Journals mark scarcely anything but the state of his soul, his spiritual conflicts, resolutions, consolations, and depressions. He tithed even mint and cummin, and never left unregarded the weightier matters of the law. The people he was incessantly urging to holiness of heart and life. Repentance; — justification by faith in the sacrificial death of Christ; — the witness of the Spirit in the consciences of true believers; — Christian perfection, or the purification of the soul from all sin in this life; — and the necessity of universal outward holiness; were the doctrines which he constantly pressed on the attention and hearts of his hearers; and under this preaching many were turned to the Lord; and many built up on their most holy faith.
His Journals, which he kept carefully for several years, bear ample proof of these things: but I have judged it better to give this general account, than to make extracts where there can be so little variety of matter, and where the same things, and things synonymous, are perpetually occurring.
From the unfortunate day already mentioned, on which he sacrificed by vow all farther prosecution of learning, he never attempted to mingle observations on men or manners in his Diaries, — the whole was merely spiritual, and necessarily monotonous. This became at last so heavy to himself, that he discontinued all regular entries of this kind, about the end of Aug. 1785: occasional remarks in his interleaved Ephemeris, relative to his progress in the knowledge of God and of his own heart, are all that remain of this species of writing. When he has been asked whether he would not publish his journal, or leave it to be published, he has answered: “I do not intend it: the experience of all religious people is nearly alike; in the main entirely so. When you have read the Journal of one pious man of common sense, you have read a thousand. After the first it is only the change of names, times, and places; all the rest as to piety, is alike.”  The intelligent reader will scarcely dissent from this opinion, who has read many religious Journals.