Are you a Christian?
BOOK 2, CH. 5,
PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER >> - HELP - FACEBOOK - GR FORUMS - GODRULES ON YOUTUBE
Though Wesleyan Methodism had not at that time risen to the massive strength in which it is now recognized as one of the established religious institutions of the country, it had nevertheless, so far back as the time of which we are now writing, unfolded the character of a vital and powerful system of Christian agency, which was exerting an enlightening, moralizing, and pacific influence over immense masses of the English people. Congregations, not on Sabbaths only, but from day to day, in all parts of the land, came in silent crowds to hear from its preachers the word of God; and hundreds of Societies, united in the faith, hope, and charity of our holy religion, walking in the comfort of the blessed Spirit, and being ever multiplied, gave proof that the word was not heard in vain. When, therefore, Mr. Adam Clarke entered on the sphere of labor assigned him under the circumstances we have recounted, he had not to feel his way with the uncertain step of a mere adventurer, but had only to make his credential s known, to secure for himself the welcomes of a numerous people prepared to receive all such as he with the benedictions of the Gospel of peace. Some of them, indeed, struck at first sight with the extreme juvenility of their new preacher, might have wished that a man of greater age and consequent experience had been appointed to them; and the pleasant tradition is yet repeated, that on his first visit to one of the chapels, as he walked with solemn step along the aisle to the pulpit, one of the seniors of the congregation was overheard giving a sort of vexed expression to his first view of the affair, with, “Tut, tut! what will Mr. Wesley send us next?” Yet they proved themselves fully able to appreciate and ever after to love the stranger, now such no longer, who had come among them. His own musings, too, upon this difficulty, were by no means agreeable. “His youth,” he writes of himself, “was a grievous trial to him, and was the subject of many perplexing reasonings. He thought, ‘ How can I expect that me n and women, persons of forty, three score, or more years, will come out and hear a boy preach the Gospel? And is it likely that, if through curiosity they do come, 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?’ “ Time, however, with its rapid wing, would too soon leave all these complaints behind him. Meanwhile the intellectual and religious characteristics of this youth placed him on a par with “persons of forty,” ay, and with some of the sages of “fourscore.” As to the people among whom he had come, young or old, — boy as he was, he could teach them all. He was himself taught of God. “The Bible was his one book, and prayer his continual exercise: he frequently read it on his knees, and often watered it with his tears.” When he says the Bible was his one book, he records his conviction that the sacred volume is the only absolute canon of Divine truth; the sole infallible rule of doctrine, an d the grand warrant of hope to man; from which all effectual teaching must be derived, and to which all creeds must be subjected. As the sun enlightens the face of the planet, so the Bible illumines the true teachers of the church. “Hither, As to their fountain, other stars repair, And in their golden urns draw light.”
The late Thomas Marriott, Esq., had a Bible of Dr. Clarke’s, which he believed to be the identical copy he brought with him from Kingswood, or rather from Ireland, to Trowbridge. It has, in addition to his name, the date, “Trowbridge, Wiltshire, August 9th, 1783. Bene orasse est bene studuisse.” At the end of the Old Testament is the memorandum, “June 10th. Read through:” while by another, at the beginning of Genesis, we judge that he recommenced the next day: “Incepi, June 11th, 1784.” I have myself a pocket Bible of his, in a stout red morocco case. On the top of the title-page are the words in his handwriting, “God is love. Glory to His name. Adam Clarke, May 21st, 1783.” This copy, therefore, must have been in his possession at Trowbridge, as well as that obtained by Mr. Marriott.
Searching thus the Scriptures, with habitual and devout meditation, he had already acquired a deep insight into the analogy of the Christian faith, and was enabled to embrace and ever hold fast the great principles of revealed theology. It was not far from this time that he drew up the following theses, which may be considered the alpha and omega of his religious creed, no article of which, he tells us, he ever saw occasion to alter: — “I. That there is but one uncreated, unoriginated, infinite, and eternal Being; — the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things. “II. There is in this Infinite Essence a plurality of what we commonly call Persons; not separately subsisting, but essentially belonging to the Deity or Godhead; which Persons are generally termed father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or, God, the Logos, and the Holy Spirit, which are usually designated the Trinity which term, though not found in the Scriptures, seems properly enough applied; as we repeatedly read of these three, and never of more persons in the Godhead. “III. The Sacred Scriptures or Holy Books, which constitute the Old and New Testaments, contain a full revelation of the will of God in reference to man; and are alone sufficient for everything relative to the faith and practice of a Christian; and were given by the inspiration of God. “IV. Man was created in righteousness and true holiness, without any moral imperfection, or any kind of propensity to sin; but free to stand or fall according to the use of the powers and faculties he received from his Creator. “V. He fell from this state, became morally corrupt in his nature, and transmitted his moral defilement to all his posterity. “ VI. To counteract the evil principle in the heart of man, and bring him into a salvable state, God, from His infinite love, formed the purpose of redeeming him from his lost estate, by the Incarnation, in the fulness of time, of Jesus Christ; and, in the interim, sent His Holy Spirit to enlighten, strive with, and convince men of sin, righteousness, and judgment. “VII. In due time this Divine Person, called the Logos, Word, Saviour, &c., &c., did become incarnate; sojourned among men, teaching the purest truth, and working the most stupendous and beneficent miracles. “VIII. The above Person is really and properly God: was foretold as such, by the prophets; described as such, by the evangelists and apostles; and proved to be such, by His miracles; and has assigned to Him, by the inspired writers in general, every attribute essential to the Deity; being One with Him who is called God, Jehovah, Lord, &c. “IX. He is also a perfect Man, in consequence of His incarnation; and in that Man, or Manhood, dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily: so that His nature is twofold — Divine and Human, or God manifested in flesh. “X. His Human Nature was begotten of the blessed Virgin Mary, through the creative energy of the Holy Ghost; but His Divine Nature, because God, infinite and eternal, is uncreated, underived, and unbegotten; and which, were it otherwise, He could not be God in any proper sense of the word: but He is most explicitly declared to be God in the Holy Scriptures; and, therefore, the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship must necessarily be false. “XI. As He took upon Him the nature of man, and died in that nature; therefore, He died for the whole human race, without respect of persons: equally for all and every man. “ XII. On the third day after His crucifixion and burial, He rose from the dead; and, after showing Himself many days to His disciples and others, He ascended into heaven, where, as God manifested in the flesh, He is, and shall continue to be, the Mediator of the human race, till the consummation of all things. “XIII. There is no salvation but through Him; and throughout the Scriptures His Passion and Death are considered as sacrificial: pardon of sin and final salvation being obtained by the alone shedding of His blood. “XIV. No human being, since the fall, either has, or can have, merit or worthiness of, or by, himself; and, therefore, has nothing to claim from God but in the way of His mercy through Christ: therefore pardon, and every other blessing promised in the Gospel, have been purchased by His Sacrificial Death; and are given to men, not on the account of anything they have done or suffered, or can do or suffer, but for His sake, or through His meritorious passion and death alone. “XV. These blessings are received by faith; because they are not of works, nor of suffering. “XVI. The power to believe, or grace of faith, is the free gift of God, without which no man can believe: but the act of faith, or actually believing, is the act of the soul under that power. This power is withheld from no man; but, like all other gifts of God, it may be slighted, not used, or misused: in consequence of which is that declaration, ‘ He that believeth shall be saved but he that believeth not shall be damned. ‘ “XVII. Justification, or the pardon of sin, is an instantaneous act of God’s mercy in behalf of a penitent sinner, trusting only in the merits of Jesus Christ and this act is absolute in reference to all past sin, all being forgiven where any is forgiven: gradual pardon, or progressive justification, being unscriptural and absurd. “ XVIII. The souls of all believers may be purified from all sin in this life; and a man may live under the continual influence of the grace of Christ so as not to sin against God: all sinful tempers and evil propensities being destroyed, and his heart constantly filled with pure love both to God and man. And as love is the principle of obedience, he who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself, is incapable of doing wrong to either. “XIX. Unless a believer live and walk in the spirit of obedience, he will fall from the grace of God, and forfeit all his Christian privileges and rights; and, although he may be restored to the favor and image of his Maker from which he has fallen, yet it is possible that he may continue under the influence of this fall, and perish everlastingly. “XX. The whole period of human life is a state of probation, in every point of which a sinner may repent, and turn to God; and in every point of it a believer may give way to sin, and fall from grace. And this possibility of rising or falling is essential to a state of trial or probation. “XXI. All the promises and threatenings of the Sacred Writings, as they regard man in reference to his being here and hereafter, are conditional; and it is on this ground alone that the Holy Scriptures can be consistently interpreted or rightly understood. “XXII. Man is a free agent, never being impelled by any necessitating influence, either to do good or evil; but has the continual power to choose the life or the death that are set before him: on which ground he is an accountable being, and answerable for his own actions; and on this ground, also, he is alone capable of being rewarded or punished. “XXIII. The free will of man is a necessary constituent of his rational soul; without which he must be a mere machine, — either the sport of blind chance, or the mere patient of an irresistible necessity; and, consequently, not accountable for any acts which were predetermined, and to which he was irresistibly compelled. “XXIV. Every human being has this freedom of will, with a sufficiency of light and power to direct its operations; but this powerful light is not inherent in any man’s nature, but is graciously bestowed by Him who is ‘the true Light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.’ “XXV. Jesus Christ has made, by His one offering upon the cross, a sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and atonement for the sins of the whole world; and His gracious Spirit strives with, and enlightens, all men; thus putting them into a salvable state: therefore, every human soul may be saved, if it be not his own fault. “XXVI. Jesus Christ has instituted, and commanded to be perpetuated in His church, two sacraments only: — 1. BAPTISM, sprinkling, washing with, or immersion in, water, in the name of the holy and ever-blessed Trinity, as a sign of the cleansing or regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, by which influence a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness are produced; and, 2. The Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, as commemorating the sacrificial death of Christ. And He instituted the first to be once only administered to the same person for the above purpose, and as a rite of initiation into the visible church; and the second, that by its frequent administration all believers may be kept in mind of the foundation on which their salvation is built, and receive grace to enable them to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things. “XXVII. The soul is immaterial and immortal, and can subsist independently of the body. “XXVIII. There will be a general resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust; when the souls of both shall be re-united to their respective bodies; both of which will be immortal, and live eternally. “XXIX. There will be a general judgment; after which all shall be punished or rewarded, according to the deeds done in the body; and the wicked shall be sent to hell, and the righteous taken to heaven. “XXX. These states of rewards and punishments shall have no end, forasmuch as the time of trial or probation shall then be for ever terminated; and the succeeding state must necessarily be fixed and unalterable. “XXXI. The origin of human salvation is found in the infinite philanthropy of God; and, on this principle, the unconditional reprobation of any soul is absolutely impossible. “XXXII. God has no secret will, in reference to man, which is contrary to His revealed will, — as this would show Him to be an insincere Being, professing benevolence to all, while He secretly purposed that that benevolence should be extended only to a few; a doctrine which appears blasphemous as it respects God, and subversive of all moral good as it regards man, and totally at variance with the infinite rectitude of the Divine Nature.”
We do not insert these remarkable articles as setting forth an exposition of the Methodist theology, (though substantially in harmony with it, with one exception, to which we shall have occasion, though reluctantly, to refer hereafter; I mean, that numbered the tenth, the concluding inference from which varies from the faith of the catholic church,) but merely to show with what effect Mr. Clarke had even then applied his honest and vigorous mind to the close investigation of the holy Scriptures. Hardly more than a boy in years, it is plain that he had already become a man in understanding.
The good people of Trowbridge and Bradford would not find his preaching to be “yea and nay,” but the steady inculcation of fixed principles, explained with precision, and applied with power, for doctrine and reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness.
But, though he was thus confident in what he believed to be Divine truth, the disposition with which he enforced it was not that of arrogant selfsufficiency, but of humble, lowly, and prayerful dependence on the grace of God. “He never entered the pulpit but with the conviction that, if God did not help him by the influence of His Spirit, his heart must be hard, and his mind dark; and, consequently, his word be without unction and without fruit. Under this influence be besought the Lord with strong crying and tears; and he was seldom, if ever, left to himself.”
He has given an instance of the favor thus shown him from on high, in giving him seals to his ministry and souls for his hire, which I cannot help transferring to our pages. On his first visit to Road, a country village between Trowbridge and Frome, where the congregation had been very small, a report had got abroad in the neighborhood, that “a boy was going to preach in the Methodist chapel that evening, 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: very few elderly persons could get in, the house being filled before they came.
As he preached, the attention was deep and solemn, and the place was still as death. He then gave out that affecting hymn, — “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. When the last verse was ended, he said, ‘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 to renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh and that we will keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of our life? This baptismal promise is precisely the same as that contained in this affecting hymn. Now, shall we promise, and not perform? vow, and not fulfill? God has heard! Now, what 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? We have no time to spare. The Judge is at the door. I have tried both lives; and find that a religious life has an infinite preference above the other. Let us, therefore, heartily forsake sin, and seek God by earnest prayer, nor rest till He has blotted out our guilt, purified our heart, and filled us with peace and righteousness. If we seek earnestly, and seek through Jesus Christ, we cannot seek in vain.’ — He thus prayed, and many were deeply affected.
That night and the next morning thirteen persons, young men and women, came to him, earnestly injuring 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; and many were deeply awakened, while others, who had become indifferent, were roused to renewed diligence and a hopeful revival of religion spread through the vicinity. Thus was he shown that the very circumstance, his youth, which he thought most against his usefulness, became a principal means, in the Divine hand, of his greatest ministerial success. Methodism in Road continued to prosper during the whole time he was in the Circuit; and when he visited them several years after, he found it still in a flourishing state. In fact, half a century from that time there were persons still living in Road who had maintained a faithful conversation from those days; and when Dr. Clarke preached his last sermon at Frome, shortly before his death, one of them came to that place to meet him.”
The Circuit in which he continued to labor during the remainder of the Methodistic year, extended into three counties, Wiltshire, Somerset, and Dorset; and comprehended the towns of Bradford, Trowbridge, Shaftesbury, Shepton-Mallet, Frome, Melksham, Wells, and Devizes, with a number of villages. His colleagues were Messrs. Wrigley, Pool, and Algar. With the last Mr. Clarke found much congeniality of heart, though not a man altogether of the same type with himself as to intellect or learning. From one influential quarter, he got no help in the latter department; but, no doubt unintentionally, a sore and injurious hindrance.
One of his counselors, though a man of undoubted integrity, labored under the disadvantage of a total lack of education, and a temperament in which sternness had a marvelous resemblance to obstinacy. At Motcomb, a village near Shaftesbury, Mr. Clarke, observing one day a Latin sentence written in pencil on the wall of the preachers’ room, relating to the vicissitudes of life, wrote under it a quotation from Virgil (with a verbal change) corroborative of the sentiment: — “Quo fata trahunt retrahuntque sequamur. Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum Tendimus in coelum.” This met the eye of the stern monitor, in whose esteem “human learning “ was a sin. He read the above words, but was not wicked enough to be able to understand them. There was something, however, in the very look of them, which stirred his godly ire, to which he gave expression in the following lines, inserted as a pendant to the Virgilian metre: — “Did you write the above To show us you could write Latin? For shame! Do send pride To hell, from whence it came. O, young man, improve your Time, eternity’s at hand.”
I make no comment on this effusion, and should consider it too insignificant for mention here, but that it helps to unfold an admirable trait of character in the subject of our biography; I mean, great tenderness of conscience, and a disposition to renounce favorite, unexceptionable, and even profitable pursuits, if they became stumblingblocks in the path of the weak-minded. On coming to the room at Motcomb, in his next turn, the poor youth read these words of sanctimonious folly with great confusion and dismay. He had evidently offended some sense of propriety which reigned in another’s mind, though not in his own; and the people of the house, who would no doubt have read them as a sentence of condemnation, would henceforth have misgivings about him as a preacher of the right kind. Moreover, he saw that scholarship might engender pride; and it was too plain that, instead of provoking honorable emulation, it might have no other tendency than to excite envy. Under the influence of these temptations, he sank upon his knees, and made a premature vow “that he would never more meddle with Greek or Latin so long as he lived!”
Whatever he thought of the wisdom of the objurgation on the wall, the manner in which it was exhibited, he felt, was most unkind; and, when he next saw the writer, he told him as much. “Why,” said he, “did you not admonish me in private, or send me the reproof in a note?” “I thought what I did was the best method to CURE you,” was the reply. Mr. Clarke then told his sagacious adviser what uncomfortable feelings the writing on the wall had produced in him, and how he had vowed to study literature no more. Whereupon the other applauded his teachableness and godly diligence, assuring him that he had never known a learned preacher who was not a coxcomb!
Let no reader imagine, that he who wrote on the wall was a representative of the views of the Methodists in their estimate of learning. There have been a very few exceptions to the common rule in these matters; but no body of men can entertain a more solemn and religious love for real erudition than they.
It was not till four years after that Mr. Clarke was able to get free from the scruples with which this rash vow had trammeled him. To this point we shall have need to recur further on. Meanwhile, those philological studies, without which he could never have been the expositor of the Septuagint and the Greek Testament, were rendered impossible. Had the evil spell continued to work on Mr. Clarke’s mind, this fanaticism would have deprived the church of God of his Commentary on the Bible.
At length the year rolled round, and his labors in his first Circuit were ended. He had preached, it appears, five hundred and six sermons, many of which had been delivered at five o’clock in the morning; in addition to a great number of public exhortations, class-meetings, and religious conversations in the numerous houses where he passed the intervals of time not spent in reading or travel.
The Conference of 1783 was held in Bristol. As Mr. Clarke had no authority to be there, whatever might have been his wishes, he cherished no thought of going, till on the 1st of August he received by letter a requirement to attend. The next day, Saturday, he set off, and reached Bristol that evening. An extract from his journal will give us a glimpse of a Conference Sunday in Bristol in those days: — “Sunday, August 3rd, 1783. — At five this morning I heard a very useful sermon from Mr. Mather, at the chapel, Broadmead, 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 sermon, on Romans 5:21. This ended, I returned to my lodging and breakfasted; and then, at ten o’clock, heard Mr. Wesley preach at Broadmead, 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, Broadmead, a nd read over a part of his journal relative to his late visit to Holland.
Thus have I 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!”
We need not remark here, that the rareness of the occasion only could justify this excess of hearing. No one in his senses would recommend either a young Christian or an old one to hear seven discourses in a day.
But it should be considered, that Mr. Clarke was himself a preacher who had never had an opportunity of listening to the great and good men of the time. All was new to him, and he did well to improve the season. No doubt he would also take notes of what he heard, as the material for future recollection. It was, therefore, very well for once; but, as a habit, an overplus of sermon-hearing must be pronounced unfriendly to true improvement. It bewilders the brain, and hardens the heart. Two good discourses on the Sunday, heard with attention, and retraced with one’s Bible in retirement, will yield the soul a profit it can never find in a succession of services, in which one set of ideas and impressions must be swept away by the influx of another.
The Conference were so well satisfied with the steadiness and promise of Mr. Clarke’s character, as to resolve to admit him into fall connection at the end of his first year’s itinerancy. He was by far the youngest man who had ever gone out “to travel;” and his reception into full orders was the earliest that had ever taken place. On this occasion his mind was deeply affected. “This day, Wednesday, August the sixth,” writes 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 Methodist ministers are admitted into full connection with the Conference, they receive from the president a manual which is called “The Large Minutes.” The copy which was presented to Mr. Clarke at this time I have now on the table. On the blank side of the title-page stands the usual formula of reception, signed by the secretary, Dr. Coke. “To ADAM CLARKE: “As long as you freely consent to, and earnestly endeavor to walk by, these Rules, we shall rejoice to acknowledge you as a fellowlaborer. “Thomas Coke.” Underneath, in a neat handwriting, we have the following: — “O Lord, Thou knowest that of myself I am unable to do these things. Therefore give me Divine strength and wisdom: so shall I be enabled to walk by these Rules, and consequently to glorify Thee in the land of the living. Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. A. C.”
The prayer was answered.