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  • THE LIFE AND LABORS OF ADAM CLARKE -
    CHAPTER 14


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    CHAPTER 14

    The history of Dr. Clarke's religious opinions may be given in a small compass, though capable, had we room, of extensive illustration, in early life, as we have learned, and that from his own testimony, he "fixed his creed in all its articles, not one of which he ever after found reason to change." This remarkable instance of determination was independent of all extrinsic aids and influences. He founded his belief purely upon the New Testament, which he carefully perused; and it is remarkable, that, although he had not yet read any of the writings of the Methodists, the creed which, under Divine illumination, as he firmly believed, he constructed for himself, was, with one exception (he himself makes none), "precisely the same with theirs." Whether it was at this early period in his Christian course, that he arranged his creed in words, divided into distinct articles, does not clearly appear; but it is probable that this was not done until he had acquired that "full confidence" in his opinions, which he does not profess to have acquired without subsequent reading and reflection. Be this as it may, he has left behind him the following, as containing the "principal articles of his creed;" nor was he less than justified in saying that "the manner of proposing them is both original and precise, and well calculated to convey the sense of each":-

    "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 every thing 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 fullness 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 fullness of the Godhead bodily: so that his nature is twofold, divine and human, or God manifested in the 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 believer's 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 them; 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." Few of the readers of these pages will be surprised to find the creed of Dr. Adam Clarke so decidedly Arminian in its complexion. While, however, articles eleven, sixteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, thirty-one, and thirty-two, sufficiently evince his freedom from the least taint of Calvinistic sentiment, articles fourteen and fifteen are equally in proof that he had not imbibed the contrary opinions of Pelagius. To us, we confess, it seems impossible to derive, from the word of God, any other opinions on the subjects in question, than those which Dr. Clarke has so clearly, so concisely, and so scripturally expressed, whatever may be derived from the compositions of merely human writers. That part of the twenty-sixth article, which refers to baptism, may, perhaps, be excepted; for, with relation both to the mode and to the subject of the ordinance, he seems to have left the matter undetermined. This is an article to which, probably, both Bishop Marsh and Mr. Isaiah Birt might subscribe, and that, too, in each case, with perfect consistency. With respect to the thirty-first and thirty-second articles, which are as conclusive as they are scriptural, it may be remarked, that there is no theological error which Dr. Clarke repudiated with more of virtuous indignation. "Hence!" he exclaims, in one place, "hence, ye unconditional reprobarian notions; ye imputation of folly and sin to the Most Fligh, which teach that Infinite Wisdom and Love produced myriads of such beings as man, to be abandoned irrecoverably to eternal flames, merely to display the sovereignty of the Creator! From whence ye have originated, return, ye God-dishonoring principles! Surely ye have derived your origin from him who is the implacable enemy of God and man! He who can advocate them, if he be in human form, must have the heart of a Hyrcanian tiger."

    The doctrine maintained in article eighteen, is one to which Dr. Clarke gave great prominence, both in his preaching and in his writings. In one of the letters which he addressed to Mrs. Clarke before their marriage, he observed, "You cannot be too much in earnest for full salvation. Therefore, continue pleading the 'promise of the Father;' for it is yea and amen to you. The blessing is as free as the air you breathe. The willingness of God to fulfill his promise to you, infinitely exceeds my description and your conception. 1 allow, so long as mystical divinity is consulted, the promise of his coming must be looked upon as exceedingly distant, as that only breathes, ' A long work will God make upon the earth;' but the word of faith, by the Gospel, says, The kingdom of God is at hand: yea, the means of receiving it is in thy heart, and in thy mouth. In short, looking on it as distant, will make it distant: whereas, believing it as near, will bring it near." With sentiments like these he began his ministry; and so he continued and concluded it. Many evidences of this might be adduced, both from his own writings and from the testimonies of his brethren, as also from those who professed to have attained to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ by his instrumentality. "It was on this elevated topic," says Mr. Anderson, " that the man of God was oftenest seen in his glory. The whole strain of his preaching seemed to be one unceasing, burning desire, not simply to bring men into a state of salvation, but that he might, like his great exemplar, present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.' Mr. Dawson [of Barnbow] told me lately, that, a few years ago, Dr. Clarke declared to him his fixed belief, that, if the Methodists gave up preaching Christian Perfection in love, they would soon lose their glory! He added., too, that he purposed publishing a treatise on the subject; or, at least, if not published in his own life-time, leaving it in a state of readiness for publication after his death. His teaching on this point of theology was in exact consistency with what we were warranted to expect from a man of God, who, during a long life, had made those Scriptures his study, which were "given by inspiration of God, that the man of God might be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good words.'" We find an interesting notice of Dr. Clarke's belief in the doctrine of Christian Perfection in a letter which he wrote to the Rev. Mr. Hornby, Rector of Winwick, dated March 19, 1821:--"I rather think," he observes, " it is the privilege of every true believer to have all those destroyed which you call ' infirmities Of the flesh,' if, by that word, you mean any kind of transgression, any improper word, or any unholy temper; for I have been long taught, both by my Bible and my Prayer-book, to request ' Almighty God to cleanse the thoughts of my heart, by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit, that I might perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his holy name, through Christ our Lord.' To love God perfectly, is to love him with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to worthily magnify his name, is to begin, continue, and end every thing, work, purpose, and design, to his glory." And, again, "God can, and often does, empty the soul of all sin, ' in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye;' and then, having sowed in the seeds of righteousness, they have a free and unmolested vegetation."

    We are here reminded of one important doctrine, which Dr. Clarke has not included in his written creed; and yet it is one which none ever more cordially believed, or more clearly explained, or more powerfully enforced. The direct witness of the Spirit is alluded to. His frequent exhibition of this scriptural tenet, has struck the attention of his theological opponents. " There is no point," says a writer in the Christian Observer, " on which he dwelt more often and more earnestly, than on this. Even when casually called upon to preach, either at places where the people were utterly ignorant of the principles of the Gospel, or where there was already a body of religious persons, this topic; of ' the witness of the Spirit,' seems constantly to have presented itself to his mind, as one of the most important on which to address them. He considered this witness to be ' the privilege of all true believers.' We have read and thought much upon this prominent tenet of Methodism. But, to this hour, we do not clearly comprehend it." It is, therefore, not astonishing, that you do not receive it. And yet you add, " We do not doubt that the assurance spoken of has been often enjoyed, and that it is a privilege which the Christian should earnestly seek." Now, if it is the duty of Christians earnestly to seek it, it must surely be that of Christian ministers earnestly to preach it; and, therefore, Dr. Clarke is justified. To the reverend rector above-mentioned, who was in the same mist on this subject with the writer just quoted, Dr. Clarke gave an answer which ought to have cleared up the difficulty

    I should never have looked for the ' witness of the Spirit,' had I not found numerous Scriptures, which most positively asserted it, or held it out by necessary induction; and had I not found, that all the truly godly, of every sect and party, possessed the blessing. It was not persons of a peculiar temperament who possessed it: all the truly religious had it, whether, in their natural dispositions, sanguine, melancholy, or mixed.' I met with it everywhere, and met with it among the most simple and illiterate, as well as among those who had every advantage which high cultivation and deep learning could bestow. Perhaps I might, with the strictest truth, say, that, during the forty years 1 have been in the ministry, I have met with at least forty thousand, who have had a clear and full evidence, that 'God, for Christ's sake, had forgiven them their sins,' the Spirit himself bearing witness with their spirits, that they were the sons and daughters of God.' The number need not surprise you, when you learn, that every Methodist preacher converses closely, and examines thoroughly, every member of his Societies, concerning the work of God upon their souls, once every three months. This single point of their spiritual economy, gives them advantages to know and discern the operations of the Divine Spirit, in the enlightening, convincing, converting, justifying, sanctifying, and building up of the souls of men, which no other system affords, and no other ministers in the same degree possess."

    This gentleman, like the writer in the Christian Observer, seems to have thought that " the doctrine of necessary assurance (necessary is not Dr. Clarke's word) was essentially connected with that of final perseverance. They could not believe that the Holy Spirit really witnesses to any man that he is a child of God, whose conduct proves to-morrow that he is a servant of Satan." Of this objection Dr. Clarke thus satisfactorily disposes:-- "We never confound the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, with final perseverance. This doctrine has nothing to do with a future possession. The truly believing soul has now the witness in himself; and his retaining it depends on his faithfulness to the light and grace received. If he gives way to any known sin, he loses this witness, and must come to God through Christ as he came at first, in order to get the guilt of the transgression pardoned, and the light of God's countenance restored. For, the justification any soul receives, is not in reference to his future pardon of sin, since God declares his righteousness 'for the remission of sins that are past.' And no man can retain his evidence of his acceptance with God, longer than he has that ' faith which worketh by love.' The present is a state of probation: in such a state, a man may rise, fall, or recover; with this, the doctrine of the 'witness of the Spirit' has nothing to do. When a man is justified, all his past sins are forgiven him. But this grace reaches not on to any sin that may be committed in any following moment."

    Among multitudes of passages in which he has defended this doctrine against its assailants, both within the Christian church and without it, one may be selected from a sermon which he preached at Plymouth in the early part of his career. He was answering this objection:--that, "when the human mind gets under the dominion of superstition and imagination, a variety of feelings, apparently divine, may be accounted for on natural principles." To this he answered, "First, superstition is never known to produce settled peace and happiness. It is, generally, the parent of gloomy apprehensions and irrational fears. But, surely, the man who has broken the laws of his Maker, and lived in open rebellion against him, cannot be supposed to be under the influence of superstition, when he is apprehensive of the wrath of God, and fears to fall into the bitter pains of an eternal death? Secondly, imagination cannot long support a mental imposture. A person may imagine himself for a moment to be a king, or to be a child of God; but that reverie, where there is no radical derangement of mind, must be transient. Thirdly, but it is impossible that imagination can have any thing to do in this case, any farther than any other faculty of the mind, in natural operation: for the person must walk according as he is directed by the word of God; and the sense of God's approbation in his conscience, lasts no longer than he acts under the spirit of obedience. Has imagination ever produced a life of piety? If it can sustain impressions in spiritual matters for years together, this must be totally preternatural; and thus miracle must be resorted to, to explain away a doctrine which some men, because they themselves do not experience it, deny that any others can." Then, referring to his own experience, he added, "Most of you know that I am no enthusiast, that I have given no evidences of a strong imagination, that I am far from being the subject of sudden hopes or fears, that it requires strong reasons and clear argumentation to convince me of the truth of any proposition not previously known. Now, I do profess to have received, through God's eternal mercy, a clear evidence of my acceptance with God, it is now upwards of seven years since I received it; and I hold it, through the same mercy, as explicitly, as clearly, and as satisfactorily as ever." Another important point of theology, which has likewise been omitted in Dr. Clarke's written creed, is that concerning the foreknowledge of 'God. He labored to prove that God has not an absolute knowledge of future events. He maintained, that a certain anticipation implied a certain issue; and that no contingent issue can be reconciled with an infallible prognostication. in other words, he felt, that, if he admitted the doctrine of an absolute foreknowledge, he must become a fatalist. This may be classed among those matters, concerning which we should do well to remember,

    Sunt certi denique fines, Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum.

    It is possible for us to seek to comprehend what we never shall, until the final revelation of Jesus Christ. It is certain, that, while, on this point, Dr. Clarke went too far to satisfy one party, he did not go far enough to satisfy the other. Perhaps, he himself felt that he had ventured upon dangerous ground.

    That doctrine by maintaining which Dr. Clarke was more especially distinguished, remains now to be noticed. It is plainly stated in article ten of his written creed. In early life, as we have seen, he narrowly escaped the snares of Socinian sophistry. This escape, without any suggestions from man, led him to examine the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of Christ; which, he concluded, no man can hold, and hold the eternal, unoriginated nature of Jesus Christ. On this point, he has produced a simple argument in his note on Luke i. 35, an argument, in his own esteem, "absolutely unanswerable." The argument is this:-

    1. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his divine nature, then he cannot be eternal. Son implies a father; and father implies, in reference to son, precedence in time, if not in nature too. Father and son imply the notion of generation, and generation implies a' time in which it was effected, and time, also, antecedent to such generation. 2. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently, in Godhead, superior, to him. 3. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must have been in time; i. e. there must have been a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead. 4. To say that he was begotten from all eternity, is absurd; and the phrase Eternal Son is a positive self-contradiction. Eternity is that which had no beginning, and stands in no reference to time. Son supposes time, generation, and father, and time, also, antecedent to such generation. Therefore, the theological conjunction of these two terms, son and eternity, is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas." Dr. Clarke has often been heard to say:-- "Let my argument on Luke i. 35, be proved false, (which, if it could be, might be done in as small a compass as that of the argument itself,) then I am prepared to demonstrate, from the principles of the refutation, that Arianism is the genuine doctrine of the Gospel, relative to the person of Jesus Christ. But, as that argument cannot be confuted, and my argument in favor of the proper Divinity of Jesus Christ, in my sermon on Salvation by Faith, cannot be overthrown; consequently, the doctrine of the proper and essential and underived Deity of Jesus Christ must stand, and that of the Eternal Sonship must be overwhelmed in its own error, darkness, and confusion." In one of his letters to Mrs. Clarke before their marriage, there is the following reference to this subject:--"You once asked my opinion concerning the meaning of the phrase 'The Eternal Son of God.' I gave it you; and, howsoever singular, and unauthorized by Doctors, it may appear, yet I never had any reason to alter it, nor do I believe I ever shall. After having been sorely tossed in beating about the common bay for anchorage without success, I have at last, through the tender mercy of God, found it where I almost ride alone. As long as I believe Jesus Christ to be the Infinite Eternal I AM, so long, I suppose, I shall reject the common notion of his 'Eternal Sonship;' not only because it is an absurdity and a palpable contradiction, but because I cannot find it in the Bible. On his Godhead, the foundation of the salvation of my soul is laid. Every thing, therefore, that derogates from that, I most cordially reject."

    After the foregoing extracts, the following remarks by Mr. Anderson, though on a subject so serious, are calculated to excite a smile:-- " But, even here, [in opposing the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship,] his sterling good sense, his reverence for the mysteries of Christ, together with the grace of God which was in him and abounded, so completely triumphed, that, in him, the point in question was a harmless opinion. He had the courage of a great man to broach his sentiments as a commentator; he had the wisdom of a Christian man, not to give prominence in his ministrations to a tenet, which, he knew and confessed, was exploded in the standards of Wesleyan orthodoxy. Upon the whole, I strongly incline to the opinion, that, with him, it was rather a denial of the name than of the thing!! FOR (!) he strongly asserts the existence of a trinity in the Godhead; magnifies the divinity of the Lord Jesus as the Eternal Word; and, with that fundamental belief, associates all the kindred doctrines of the incarnation, atonement, and mediation of Immanuel!" Wonderful discovery!

    But this cursory review of the chief theological opinions of Dr. Clarke, has already exceeded its prescribed limits; and we must hasten to notice his works and his general character.

    * * * * * * *

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