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BOOK 2, CH. 3,
FIRST ESSAYS IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST
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FIRST ESSAYS IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST
The love of God, when kindled in the heart, burns into a flame which reveals itself in our life. When Christ said to His disciples, “Ye shall be My witnesses,” He pronounced the words of a moral law which has been a binding one in His people’s conscience ever since. The constraining impulses of this principle began now to move in the breast of Adam Clarke, and urged him to make known the Saviour he had found. He began with those nearest to himself, and made the circle of his own domestic life the first sphere of his evangelic efforts. Family worship, except on Sundays, had fallen among them into desuetude [disuse]. He stated to them his convictions about the necessity of observing this duty; but without avail, unless he himself would perform it. The diffidence of a modest youth rendered this a formidable task; but it had been so laid upon his conscience, that he dared not shrink. “At last he took up this, to him, tremendous cross, and prayed with his father, mother, and family. And as long as he was under their roof, he was, in this respect, their chaplain. Yet he ever felt it a cross, though God gave him power to bear it. A prayerless family has God’s curse. If the parents will not perform family prayer, if there be a converted child, it devolves on him; and should he refuse, he will soon lose the comforts of religion.”
The influence of his holy life soon began to show its effects in the more serious spirit of his relatives. The Bible was more read, and private prayer resorted to. Hannah, his fourth sister, soon joined the Society, and lived to be one of its ornaments, at Bristol, when the wife of that eminent scholar and true-hearted servant of God, the late Thomas Exley, M.A. The eldest sister soon took the same course. This lady was afterwards united in marriage with the Rev. Dr. Johnson, rector of St. Perrans Uthnoe, Cornwall. In short, most of the family became hearers of the word among the Methodists, and ultimately members of that communion.
Outside of this circle, the next objects of his solicitude were his old schoolfellows and companions. He reasoned with them in their social intercourse, and prevailed on some of them to go with him and hear the word of God. Here, too, he had some first fruits of usefulness; and among these youthful comrades, whose friendship was strengthened and purified by the sanctities of religion, was one who himself became a preacher. This was Andrew Coleman, a young man of good education and great promise, of whom Clarke had afterwards the sacred task of writing a beautiful biography, which was published in the Methodist Memorial.
These incipient efforts soon took a wider range. He now filled up his occasional hours of leisure in going from house to house, and from village to village; doing, in his simple way, and from sheer love to the souls of the people, the work of a Scripture-reader and home-missionary. The Sunday he would entirely devote to this work, and he made full proof of his opportunity. He had undertaken to lead a class at a place six miles away from home, and this at an early hour, which required him in winter to set out two hours before daylight. When this was done, he would go to a neighboring village, and, entering the first open door, say, “Peace be to this house,” and inquire if they were willing that he should hold a short religious service with them, and such of their neighbors as would like to come in. Having done so, (and he rarely met with a refusal,) he proceeded to another village, and so labored through the day. Thus, while “not slothful in business,” but more diligent than ever in the farm and the school, and in the earnest study of the classics, the French language, and the practical mathematics, he was “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” We have here, coming out more and more distinctly to our view, the types of that character which the church and the world have since looked upon with undissembled admiration. Does any young man wish to know the sure way to prosperity and greatness? He will find it if he track the footsteps of Adam Clarke.
The zeal of our young convert extended to everything in his power to help the cause of religion. A congregation having been raised at Upper Mullihical, the want of some place to meet in was greatly felt. The people, led on by Adam, resolved to build one for themselves; and in the manual labor of the undertaking he took no inconsiderable part. Many years after, when opening a chapel at Halifax, he said, — “It has been one of the most pleasurable feelings of my life, in connection with the worship of God, that I have an interest in a place reared to His honor, by having helped to build it. The good people fixed upon having a chapel, near the place where my father resided. I loved God, and rejoiced in the prosperity of His work.
My father allowed me to take his own horse and cart, and to and from the cart I carried stones nearly twice the size of what ought to have been lifted by me in proportion to my strength: but I seemed inspired on the occasion; and if any person had offered me twenty thousand pounds for every twenty pound of stone I carried, as an inducement to abandon the work, I would have rejected the proposal with contempt.”
Meanwhile the question as to his future vocation in life was becoming at home more pressing every day. His father had always a kind of presentiment that Adam would be a clergyman of some order or other. His own predilections would, of course, have chosen for his son the office to which he had himself aspired in early life, — that of the ministry of the Established Church; but the influence of his own disappointment, and the scanty resources of the family, combined to paralyze any effort to fit him for it at the University. At the same time Mr. Bennett, a relative, who carried on an extensive linen-trade in Coleraine, made him a liberal offer to receive Adam into his establishment, which, in the wavering state of Mr. Clarke’s will, gave the casting decision to it to devote his son to the pursuits of commerce. Adam, as an obedient son, yielded his assent, though without any faith in the enterprise, as he felt no response to it in his own mind, and could not divest himself of an ever-strengthening conviction that God had designed him for a more spiritual career. However, to Coleraine he went and, though he did not become a linen-merchant, he gave proof, during the eleven months spent under Mr. Bennett’s roof, that in his young relative that gentleman had a diligent and conscientious servant; but one who, at the same time, from the peculiar habitudes of his mind, was not the best fitted for the customs and speculations of mercantile life. The employment, moreover, was not congenial with his physical constitution. Health drooped, and his memory became strangely oblivious. Everything within and without him seemed to indicate that he was not in his proper place. His religious diligence did not flag: he was earnest in reproving sin, and the Lord made him useful in the conversion of sinners, as in the case of a wicked, blaspheming domestic of his master’s, and others in the town. He sought to promote the work of God among the people in Coleraine; helping the morning preacher by going round before five o’clock with a b ell to give them a reveil [reveille — a military waking- signal] for the house of prayer; and on Sabbath-days taking his now accustomed part in the work of exhortation in the villages. The pious and intelligent Society in the town took knowledge of him, and learned to love him for his work’s sake. They considered “the end of his conversation,” Jesus Christ ever the same: they appreciated his strong native talent, and educational advantages; and expressed their conviction that his true predestined calling was not the Irish linen-trade, but the Gospel ministry.
This tended to strengthen, the latent bias of his own mind, and gave a more distinct pronunciation to the voice which was bidding him to be free from the entanglements of the world, that be might become a soldier of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Mr. Bennett’s esteem for him was shown in a kind offer, that, if he did not like his business, he would advance him money to enter upon another; at the same time recommending the trade in Irish produce (butter , hides, and tallow) to England. But the die had been virtually cast: he was to be “a merchantman” who should seek “goodly pearls,” in souls for ever saved. Equally futile was the other alternative, to become, like his father, a tiller of the ground: he was to “go forth bearing” more “precious seed,” and “gather fruit unto life eternal.” The issue of this episode of his life was, that he and Mr. Bennett parted with mutual affection and lasting respect, and Adam returned to the farm-house at Agherton.
Providence now spoke at once. The superintendent, Mr. Bredin, enlisted him as an occasional helper in the Circuit. On going forth on his first expedition, a journey of thirty miles, he tells us, that, “just before he set out, early on the Monday morning, he took up his Bible, and said, ‘Lord, direct me to some portion of Thy word that may be to me a subject of useful meditation on the way.’ “ He then opened the book, and the first words that met his eyes were these: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.” ( John 15:16.) This word gave him great encouragement, and he went on his way rejoicing. When he came to the city, Mr. Bredin desired him to go the next night and supply his place at a village called New Buildings, about five miles from Derry. To this he agreed. “But,” says Mr. Bredin, “you must preach to the people.” “I will do th e best I can,” says Adam, “with God’s help.” “But,” says Mr. Bredin, “you must take a text, and preach from it.” “That I cannot undertake,” said Adam. “You must and shall,” said Mr. Bredin. “I will exhort as usual, but cannot venture to take a text.” “Well, a text you must take; for the people will not be satisfied without it. A good exhortation is a sermon, and you may as well have a text as not.” To this authority he was obliged for the present to bow, though he went with rather a perplexed than a heavy heart. “I will go,” thought he to himself: “ I can only bring back the tidings that I went, tried, failed, and brought a disgrace upon Methodism.” He arrived near the place a good while before the time, and, not knowing any one, strolled on the bank of the river; so depressed and melancholy as to lie down on the grass and weep. He tried to obtain relief in prayer, and then had recourse to his Bible. While reading, he was forcibly struck with the words, “We know that we are of God,” upon which he felt his mind could fasten, as the text he wanted. Just as he had risen from the grass, a man passed, of whom he inquired for the place of preaching occupied by the Methodists. “He asked, ‘Are you the preacher? ‘ Adam answered, that he had been sent in that capacity by Mr. Bredin.
The man measured him apparently with his eye, from head to foot, and then, in a tone of despondency mingled with surprise, said, ‘You are a young one to unravel the word! ‘ It was on that evening, June 19th, 1782, that he preached his first sermon.
The text was the passage that had made the impression on his mind in the field,1 John 5:19: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness:” from which he extemporized a discourse on the following topics: — 1. That the world lies in wickedness: proved by appeals to the state of man’s nature, and the actual condition of human society. 2. That it is only by the power of God that men are saved from this state of corruption; those who are converted being converted by Him: “We are of God.” 3. Those who are converted know it; not only from its outward effects in their lives, but from the change made in their hearts: “We know that we are of God.”
When we look at this logical and striking distribution of the subject, we are not surprised to find that “the people seemed gratified, and gathered round him when he had finished, and entreated him to preach to them at five the next morning, at a place a mile or so off, where many gathered together, to whom he explained and applied 1 John 4:19: “We love Him, because He first loved us.”
After a fortnight’s work, he returned home, with a strong persuasion in his mind, that God had called him to preach His word; and that the verse to which he was directed on his outset was the evidence of a call which He had graciously given him. Whatever some persons may think of them, these convictions were sacred to the young man’s heart, and the issues of his life have abundantly proved that they were not fallacious.
Some time before this, Mr. Bredin, believing that Adam Clarke was so called of God to the ministry, had written about him to Mr. Wesley, who, in reply, offered to take him to the school he had established at Kingswood, near Bristol; where he might increase his classical knowledge, and, by occasional pulpit-exercises, become more fully prepared for the work. He had not long returned from Derry, when another letter arrived from Mr. Wesley to Mr. Bredin, appointing the latter to an English Circuit, and directing that he should bring Adam Clarke with him.