Are you a Christian?
BOOK 2, CH. 4,
THE OPENED ROAD ROUGH AT THE OUTSET
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THE OPENED ROAD ROUGH AT THE OUTSET
The life which was unfolding its perspective to our young preacher could have attractions only to one who, having counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, could find no peace or honor or joy but in doing the unearthly work of turning the sinner from the error of his ways, and saving the soul from death. This was a labor which, in a worldly point of view, would bring him no return. He had, indeed, respect to a recompense of reward, but it lay beyond the horizon of time; and the life he was to live meanwhile, he could then view only as one of toil and martyrdom. But none of these things moved him, neither counted he his life dear to him, so that he might fulfil his course, and the ministry be had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.
Such was the lofty principle which reigned in the breast of the lone young man, who, on the 17th of August, 1782, stood on the deck of a vessel bound from Londonderry to England. As to outward appearance, though something above the middle height, he was slightly made, and had the look of being worn to extreme thinness by fasting and ascetic exercises. Plain in his features, he had, nevertheless, a certain moral beauty, from the strong reflection of an intellect wakeful with high and solemn thought, and hallowed by the love of God. A by-stander would have judged that he had some relation to the ecclesiastical life, by the loose straight coat then worn by the preachers, and the broad triangular hat. In fact, the sailors of a press-gang let him pass free, from their having taken him for an Irish priest. His wardrobe was extremely light, his purse yet lighter; and his whole viaticum for the voyage to Liverpool, and the land-journey to Bristol, consisted of a little bread and cheese. Poor enough as he was, in t he career that was before him he was, to all human calculation, likely to remain so. The life of a Methodist preacher in those days was all work and no pay, or next to none. Scanty as is the remuneration which the greater number of these faithful and laborious servants of the public now receive, with the first race of the Wesleyan ministers it was unspeakably worse.
We shall see in what way Adam Clarke was destined for a time to feel this.
But the experience did not take him unawares when it came. If, according to Dean Swift, the man is blessed who expecteth nothing, our friend could lay claim to that beatitude. He was content to believe that Providence would grant him food and raiment: as to the latter, more strictly speaking, (as he himself says, when referring to this epoch,) he thought nothing about it. But there were obstacles to his entering even upon a course like this; and one arose from the difficulty which his father and mother felt with regard to it. His brother had already gone from home, and Mr. and Mrs. Clarke naturally looked to Adam to be the stay and support of their declining years; and, with all their respect for the Methodist ministers, they knew enough of their temporal affairs to be convinced that for their son to cast in his lot with theirs would be ruinous to all his interests in the present world. They gave the project therefore, at first, their most decisive refusal. Mrs. Clarke urged her objections in the most strenuous terms, and sealed them on his mind with the threatening of her curse. In this painful dilemma, Adam could only refer all to the Divine will. He took his burden to the throne of God, and by prayer and supplication commended all to His disposal. Grace was given in the time of need. He had prayed that, if it were the will of his Heavenly Father that he should go, the will of his earthly parents might be brought into harmony with it. Business called him into Coleraine for several days. On his return, he went to walk in the garden. His mother came to him, and informed him that their objections had been surmounted, and that, if his mind were still bent upon going, the way, so far as they were concerned, might be considered open. “She had got the persuasion,” says he, “that God required her to give up her son to do His work; she instantly submitted, and had began to use her influence with his father, to bring him to the same mind; nor had she exerted herself in vain. Both of them received him with a pleasing countenance; and though neither said, ‘Go,’ yet both said, ‘We submit.’ In a few days he set off for the city of Londonderry, whence he was shortly to embark for Liverpool. “On his departure, be was recommended by the pious Society of Coleraine to God. He had little money, and but a scanty wardrobe; but he was carried far above the fear of want; he would not ask his parents for any help; nor would he intimate to them that he needed any. A few of his own select friends put some money in his purse, and, having taken a dutiful and affectionate leave of his parents and friends, he walked to Derry, a journey of upwards of thirty miles, in a part of a day; found Mr. Bredin waiting, who had agreed for their passage in a Liverpool trader, which was expected to sail the first fair wind. “As he was young and inexperienced, (for he had not seen the world,) Adam was glad that he was likely to have the company and advice of his friend Mr. Bredin; but in this he was disappointed. “Just as they were about to sail, a letter came from Mr. Wesley, remanding Mr. Bredin’s appointment. There was no time to deliberate; the wind was fair, the vessel got clear out, and about to fall down the Lough: Adam got a loaf of bread, and about a pound of cheese, went instantly aboard, and the vessel sailed. By this step he had separated himself from all earthly connections and prospects in his own country, and went on what he believed to be a Divine command, not knowing whither he was going, or what God intended for him.”
In those days steam-navigation was unknown, and the voyage begun on the Saturday was not completed till the Monday afternoon. Adam would have improved the Sunday in the usual way, but was prostrate with seasickness.
He reproved the sailors for profane swearing, and they took it respectfully and refrained. He observed the captain to read a good deal at intervals, and found the author was Flavel. This opened the way for serious conversation, with which Captain Cunningham expressed himself much pleased. Off Hoylake a pilot came on board, and warned them that they would meet with “a hot press” up the river. This was soon explained by the sight of a man-of-war’s tender, which brought them to by a couple of guns. The captain could only obey, but exhorted the passengers to hide themselves as they best could below. The two steerage-passengers, the one a seafaring man, and the other a hatter, took his advice; but Clarke said to himself, “Shall such a man as I flee? I will not. I am in the hands of the Lord: if He permit me to be sent on board of a man-of-war, doubtless He has something for me to do there.” So he took a seat on the locker in the cabin, lifting up his heart in prayer. Presently the tender’s boat was alongside with six men and an officer. On boarding, the officer “with a hoarse voice summoned all below to come on deck. Adam immediately walked up, and stood, reclining against the gunwale. The lieutenant dived below, in quest of other passengers, but found only the hatter, — of whom, poor fellow, they made a capture. “And who have you got here?” said one of the gang, looking at Adam. “A priest, I’ll warrant. But we took a priest yesterday, and will let this one alone.” With that the lieutenant came, and, having scrutinized him from head to foot, took his hand and manipulated it, as if to judge whether he had been brought up to the sea, or hard labor; and, casting it from him, with an oath, gave it as his opinion that “he would not do.” Adam’s bosom swelled with indignation, not only then, but when, relating this circumstance afterwards, he used to inveigh against the tyranny of a custom, at once iniquitous and cruel in itself, and utterly at variance with the spirit and the letter of the British Constitution.
The worthy captain’s wife was the mistress of a boarding-house, and there our young traveler found a quiet and congenial sojourn during his brief stay in Liverpool. The inmates were a Scotch gentleman and a naval officer. The conversation at the tea-table gave Adam an occasion of respectfully admonishing the lady about a habit she had of asseverating [declaring solemnly] by her conscience. This led to a further discussion at supper, when the naval man avowed himself a member of the Roman Catholic Church; and, stating his belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation, demanded of Adam whether be had anything to say against that. “O yes, sir,” replied he; “I have much to say against it;” and then proceeded to argue largely to prove the dogma to be unscriptural and absurd. The captain then asked him, What he had to say against the invocation of saints, and the worship of images? He gave his reasons at large against these also. Purgatory, auricular confession, and the priest’s power to forgive sins, were then considered, and confuted from Scripture and reason.
But the last topic gave him the opportunity to speak on the nature of sin, the condemned state of fallen man, and the impossibility that any one could take away guilt, but He against whose law the transgression is committed; as well as on the terrible doom that awaits the unforgiven. He then showed that reconciliation with God was impossible except through the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, which becomes effectual to no man who does not truly repent and implicitly confide in it. While discoursing on these subjects, God gave him uncommon power and freedom of speech. The company heard him with a fixed and solemn gaze, and at length showed by tears that the word had entered their hearts.
Hereupon he rose, and invited them to pray. They fell on their knees, and he concluded this remarkable interview with fervent supplication, which seemed to find a mighty response in every one’s mind. The effects of these well-spent hours may hereafter be unfolded in a better world.
On leaving Captain Cunningham’s the next morning, he inquired for his bill. “No, sir,” said Mrs. Cunningham: “you owe us nothing. It is we who are deeply in your debt. You have been a blessing to our house; and were you to stay longer, you would have no charges.” He departed earnestly invoking that God would remember that family for good, for the kindness they had shown to a poor stranger in a strange land.
The same good Providence was over him in the journey to Bristol, which he performed as an outside passenger of a lumbering and slow-going conveyance miscalled the Fly. A young gentleman, one of the “insides,” came outside for a change, and commenced a gay rattling conversation, interlarded with an occasional oath. Here was another task for Adam, who at once accepted it, and told the swearer what he thought of his bad custom. “What,” said the gentleman, “are you a Presbyterian?” “No, sir,” said Adam, “I am a Methodist.” This provoked his risibility [humor] to an uncommon degree, and he made it the subject of a great deal of harmless but rather foolish wit. On returning inside, he told his tale in his own way, and this excited the curiosity of his companions to see the strange creature.
A gentleman from within accordingly offered Adam to exchange places with him. Adam preferred remaining where he was. Another overture was followed by the same result. At length, when the coach stopped, a lady asked him to favor them with his company. Adam, observing the still unsettled face of his risible friend, excused himself, on the plea that he did not think his company would be agreeable. She answered, “Sir, you must come in: this young gentleman will take your place, and you will do us good.” Thus challenged, he could no longer refuse. Questioned about his religion, the purposes of his journey, &c., he gave such an account of himself as visibly won their good sympathies, and some hours were passed in cheerful and profitable conversation. Adam, finding the gentleman was a scholar, fortified some remarks he made to him about the confidence that every true servant of God has in His favor and protection, by observing that the principle was not unknown among even the heathens, though many called Christians deny that we can have any direct evidence of God’s love to us; and quoted the verse from Horace: “Integer vitae, scelerisque purus Non eget Mauir jaculis neque arcu, Nec venenatis gravida sagittis, Fusce, pharetra.” “True,” said the gentleman; “but if we take Horace as authority for one point, we may as well do it in another; and in some of your received principles you will find him against you. Witness another ode: ‘Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero Pulsanda tellus.’” Adam acknowledged the propriety of this critique; and sometimes referring to it used to say, “We should be cautious how we appeal to heathens, even as to morality; because much may be collected from them on the other side. In like manner we must be careful how we quote the Fathers in proof of the doctrines of the Gospel; because he who knows them best, knows that on many of those subjects they blow hot and cold.”
When the coach stopped for dinner at Lichfield, they insisted on his being their guest, and would not suffer him to be at any charge; and, as they were going on to London, they urged him to go round to Bristol by the same way, with the assurance that they would defray his expenses. Anxious, however, to get to Kingswood by the most direct route, he took leave of this agreeable party with mutual good feelings.
At Birmingham Providence was equally kind, in opening to him the hearts and home of an excellent family, the relatives of Mr. Brettell, the first Methodist preacher he had heard in Ireland. He accompanied them to chapel in the evening, and heard old Parson Greenwood discourse on the words of the apostle, “I am in a strait betwixt two.” The preacher pointed out the example of many good men who have been constrained to make that confession: upon which Adam made the reflection, that, had he known the circumstances in which he himself was then found, he might safely have added him to the number.
It was well for him that he met with these kindnesses by the way; for, on coming to Bristol, he found that his little store of cash had dwindled to one shilling and sevenpence halfpenny. This was occasioned by the expense of the journey by coach, which he had designed at first to perform on foot, till he yielded to the dissuasions of Mr. Cunningham at Liverpool. On the last day of the journey, no dinner offering itself, he had subsisted on “a penny loaf and a halfpennyworth of apples.” Hungry and exhausted, he went into the kitchen of an inn in Broadmead, warmed himself at the fire, and asked for a piece of bread and cheese, and a drink of water. “Water!” said one of the servants: “had you not better have a pint of beer?” “No, I prefer water,” said he. It was brought; and for this homely supper he paid sixpence, and sixpence for his bed, before be lay down. He had now sevenpence halfpenny; sixpence of which the chambermaid charged for taking care of his box. Breakfast next morning was out of the question; so he left Bristol with his whole fortune of three-halfpence, and bent his steps up the hill towards Kingswood. He found the Wesleyan establishment, consisting of a mansion, school, and chapel, surrounded by a small grove of trees, in an open moorland country. It was seven in the morning, the hour for prayers and sermon, and several people were entering the chapel for the service. He joined them; and drank in some words of consolation which the preacher, Mr. Payne, spoke from the text, “Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” The topic was seasonable; for an unusual oppression weighed upon his mind. Mr. Brettell at Birmingham had given him some uneasiness, by expressing a strong opinion that his expectations of getting any profit at Kingswood would turn out to be fallacious; and he now suffered a presentiment of distress which he could not shake off. Immediately after the service he requested to be introduced to the head-master, Mr. Simpson, to whom he delivered Mr. Wesley’s letter. The master appeared surprise d, and told him that his coming was totally unexpected, and that, in effect, they had no room in the school for any one. He added, that Mr. Wesley, who was then in Cornwall, would not return for a fortnight; and that it would be necessary for him to go back to Bristol, and lodge there till he came. Crushed at heart with distress, poor Adam ventured to say, “I cannot return to Bristol, sir. I have expended all my money, and have nothing to subsist on.” The master said, “But why should you have come to Kingswood at all? It appears from this letter that you have been already at a classical school, and can read both Greek and Latin authors. If you are already a preacher, you had better go out into the work at large; for there is no room for you in the school, and not one spare bed in the house. At last it was decided he should have permission to occupy a room at the end of the old chapel, where the forlorn youth passed several days and nights, encountering meanwhile not a few annoyances. And when, at length, he was allowed to take a place at dinner at the family-table, all comfort was annihilated by the overbearing rigor of the hostess. It is needless to go minutely into the circumstances which embittered his transient sojourn: some of them it might be found impossible to recall with accuracy. I will be content to offer a remark which some readers may require, to obviate the scandal they might be led to attach to Kingswood School itself. The establishment at that place had been founded by Mr. Wesley with the combined object of affording an educational asylum for the sons of his preachers, and a seminary on the plan of a boarding-school for the children of Methodist parents who were desirous of giving them the benefits of a system in which the religious element formed a well-defined constituent, along with the essentials of secular learning. The design was noble and good, but it must be confessed that hitherto it had proved a failure. The staff of teachers seemed unexceptionable. Mr. Simpson himself was a Master of Arts, and, as Dr. Clarke records, “a man of learning and piety, but one too easy for his situation.” The Rev. Cornelius Bayley, afterwards Dr. Bayley, of St. James’s church, Manchester, was English teacher; Mr. Vincent De Baudry, professor of French; and Mr. Bond, assistant teacher. “The scholars, however, were none of them remarkable for piety or learning. The boarders had spoiled the discipline of the school; very few of its rules and regulations were observed; and it by no means answered the end of its institution. Though the teachers were men of adequate learning, yet, as the school was perfectly disorganized, every one did what was right in his own eyes. The little children of the preachers suffered great indignities; the parlor-boarders had every kind of respect, and the others were shamefully neglected.” Mr. Wesley had become acquainted with this state of things; and, in an exposition of the case which he gave shortly after at the Bristol Conference, expressed his determination “either to mend it or to end it.”
It was mended. The idea of the united school was given up, and the establishment henceforward devoted to the purpose of affording a wholesome and useful education to the children of the itinerant preachers.
Another branch was subsequently located at Woodhouse-Grove, in Yorkshire. Kingswood School has been improving steadily with the lapse of time, and is now one of the best educational institutions in the country.
Its locale has been transferred to the vicinity of Bath, where, on Lansdown Hill, it forms one of the ornaments even of that neighborhood, so distinguished by fine architecture. Nor has the other design been overlooked by the present generation of the Methodist people; of which their beautiful collegiate establishments at Sheffield and Taunton are conspicuous monuments. The Methodists are now, indeed, behind no religious communion in their enterprises for the promotion of knowledge and learning. They have founded hundreds of primary schools in various parts of the kingdom, all of them in connection with a noble Training College for teachers at Westminster. Their theological faculty accomplishes an effective training of devoted young men for the service of the church, at their colleges of Richmond, Surrey, and Didsbury, near Manchester. In India, Africa, and Australia, similar institutions are rising; while, in America, some of the best universities in Canada and t he United States are conducted under the auspices of the Methodist church. All Mr. Wesley’s ideas had the imprint of a mind which combined the characteristics of the refined scholar and the Christian apostle; and, in their ever-growing development, whole myriads of families are grateful partakers of benefits which have rendered his name a sacred symbol of whatever things are pure, or lovely, or of good report, or productive of virtue and of praise.
But now to return to our poor solitary. The authorities at Kingswood made him, as we have seen, dwell apart at first; and, when admitted to the table, laid him under restraints which rendered solitude more agreeable to him than their society. He had, however, by this time got his trunk with his few books and papers from Bristol; and he filled up the intervals of study by working in the garden, and occasional essays to do good, by speaking to the people, as occasion offered. Moreover, Mr. Rankin came, the superintendent preacher, who conceived a partiality for him at once, and set him to do some work in the Circuit. In one of his excursions he preached at the village of Pensford, when “a venerable man” in the congregation came and laid his hand upon him, and said, with a look of approval and solemnity, “Christ bless the word! Christ bless the word!
At length Mr. Wesley arrived at Bristol; and, having received Mr. Simpson’s statement in relation to the young stranger, expressed a wish to see him. The interview is described by Adam: — “I had this privilege for the first time on September the sixth. I went to Bristol; saw Mr. Rankin, who took me to Mr. Wesley’s study, off the great lobby of the rooms over the chapel in Broadmead. He tapped at the door, which was opened by this truly apostolic man. Mr. Rankin retired. Mr. Wesley took me kindly by the hand, and asked me how long since I had left Ireland. Our conversation was short. He said, ‘ Well, brother Clarke, do you wish to devote yourself entirely to the work of God?’ I answered, ‘Sir, I wish to do, and be, what God pleases.’ He then said, ‘We want a preacher for Bradford, in Wiltshire: hold yourself in readiness to go there. I am going into the country, and will let you know when you shall go.’ He then turned to me, laid his hands upon my head, and spent a few moments in praying to God to bless and preserve me, and to give me success in the work to which I was called. I departed, having now received, in addition to my appointment from God to preach His Gospel, the only authority I could have from man in that line in which I was to exercise the ministry of the Divine word.”
That evening he heard Mr. Wesley preach on these words, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” Two days after he first saw Charles Wesley, being not a little gratified to have the opportunity of seeing “the two men whom I had long considered as the very highest diameters upon the face of the globe, and as the most favored instruments which God had employed, since the days of the twelve apostles, to revive and spread genuine Christianity in the earth.” On the twenty-sixth of the month he received final instructions to repair to his Circuit.
He obeyed at once. There were no bands of love to detain him at Kingswood an hour. That very morning he walked away to Hanham, and from thence to Bath, where he again heard Mr. Wesley; and thence again next day to Bradford, lodging that night at the house of Mr. Pearce. The day following he found his way to Trowbridge, the headquarters for the preachers of the Circuit.