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The New Zealand Evangelist

Biographical Sketches, No. IX — Adam Clarke, L.L.D., F.S., &c &c.

Biographical Sketches, No. IX.

Adam Clarke, L.L.D., F.S., &c &c.

The following sketch is extracted and abridged from a deeply interesting volume, entitled “An Account of the Infancy, Religious and Literary Life of Adam Clarke, L.L.D. &c., partly written by himself, and continued by one of his daughters.” (London, second edition, 1841.)

Adam Clarke was born in the village of Moybeg, parish of Kilchronaghan, county of Londonderry, Ireland, most probably in the spring of 1760. His family was of English descent, and had settled in Ireland in the 17th century; but had become matrimonially connected with some families of Scotch descent, as the Boyds who deducted their origin from of celebrated Boyds of Kilmarnock, “His mother was a descendant of the MacLeans of Mull, on of the Hebrides or Western Isles of Scotland.

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His father, John Clarke, was intended for the church, got a good classical education, studied successively at Edinburgh and Glasgow, where he proceede M.A., and afterwards enter as Sizer in Trinity College, Dublin. His stay here was but short; a severe fever, and afterwards a premature marriage, put an end to his studies, and blasted his prospects for the church; and although the latter step put him in possession of a woman who made him one of the best and most affectionate of wives, yet an increase of family and the uncertainty of any adequate ecclesiastical provision, caused him to adopt the creditable though gainless profession of a public parish schoolmaster. To make matters worse, in an evil hour he was persuaded to break up his establishment and sell his property, with the view of emigrating to America, where golden prospects then glittered bright in the distance; but after his passage had been taken, he was persuaded by his father to change his purpose, and remain in his native land. Whether this was wise in these circumstances is doubtful, but the immediate effects were nearly ruinous to the family, and finally Mr. Clarke was obliged to settle down as a teacher in the obscure village of Moybeg, where the subject of this memoir was born.

While an infant, Adam Clarke met with little indulgence, was comparatively neglected, nursed with little care, and often left to make the best of his own course. He was no spoiled child, was always corrected when he deserved it; and sometimes, when but a small degree of blame attached to his undirected conduct. Through this mode of bringing up, he became uncommonly hardy, was unusually patient of cold, took to his feet very early, and, before he was a year old, was accustomed to walk without guide or attendant, in a field before his father's door.

Adam Clark was frequently known to thank God for the hardy manner in which he had been brought up, and to say, “My heavenly Father saw that I was likely to meet with many rude blasts in journeying through life, and he prepared me in infancy for the lot his providence destined for me; so that through his mercy I have been enabled to carry a profltable childhood up to hoary hairs.” He would add, “He knew that I must walk alone through life, and therefore set me on my feet right early, that I might be prepared, by long practice, for the work I was appointed to perform.”

One day when he was about six years old, he was walking home with a school companion; they sat down on a bank and began to enter into very serious conversation: they both became much affected, and this was deepened to exquisite distress by the following observations made by his companion. “O Addy, Addy,” said he, “what a dreadful thing is eternity, and, O, how dreadful to be put into hell fire and to be burnt there for ever and ever.” They both wept bitterly, and, as they could, begged God to forgive their sins; and they made to each other strong promises of amendment. They wept till they were really sick, and departed from each other with full and pensive hearts. When he told his mother of this, she was both surprised and affected, gave him much en-page 264couragement, and prayed heartily for him. His father, though a good man, gave him less encouragement, but the impression though it grew faint, did not wear away.

There was little remarkable in Adam's childhood, but that he was a very inapt scholar, and found it very difficult to acquire the knowledge of the alphabet. For this dulness he was unmercifully censured and unreasonably chastised, which made him still worse. When he was about eight years of age, a neighbouring schoolmaster calling at the school, where he was then endeavouring to put vowels and consonants together, was desired by the teacher to assist in hearing a few of the lads their lessons: Adam was the last that went up, not a little ashamed of his own deficiency; he however hobbled through the lesson, though in a very indifferent manner, and the teacher apologised to the stranger, and remarked that, that lad was a grievous dunce. The assistant, clapping young Clarke on the head, said, Never fear, Sir, this lad will make a good scholar yet. This was the first thing that checked his own despair of learning, and gave him hope.

As soon as he was master of a little English reading, he was put into Lilly's Latin Grammar. This not being explained to him proved an insupportable task; but one day, in addition to some terrible threatening from the teacher, he was assailed by a series of bitter taunts and reproaches from a school-fellow who had got greatly a-head of him; the effect of this provocation was astonishing—young Clarke was roused as from a lethargy; he felt as if something had broken within him; his mind in a moment was all light. Though he felt evidently mortified, he did not feel indignant: what, said he to himself, shall I ever be a dunce and the butt of those fellows’ insults! He snatched up his book, in a few moments committed the lesson to memory, got the construction speedily, went up and said it without missing a word! took up another lesson, acquired it almost immediately, said this almost without blemish, and in the course of that day wearied the master with his so oft repeated returns to say his lessons. Nothing like this had ever appeared in the school before—the boys were astonished—admiration took place of mockings and insult, and from that hour, it may be said from that moment, he found his memory, at least, capable of embracing every subject that was brought before it, and his own long sorrow was turned into instant joy.

For such a revolution in the mind of a child it will not be easy to account. The reproaches of his school fellows were the spark which fell on the gunpowder and inflamed it instantly. The in flammable matter was there before, but the spark was wanting. This would be a proper subject for the discussion of those who write on the philosophy of the human mind. Not that after this A. Clarke found no difficulty in the cultivation of his mind: it was not so; he ever found an initial difficulty to comprehend any thing; and till he could comprehend in some measure the reason of the thing, he could not acquire the principle itself. There was one branch of knowledge in which Adam could never make any progress, viz., Arithmetic. He was put to this when he was very page 265 young, and the elementary books of those days were ill adapted for such beginners.

To supplement his small and often ill-paid school fees, Mr. Clarke rented and cultivated a small piece of land. Before and after school hours was the only time in which he could do any thing in his little farm; the rest of the labour, except in those times when several hands must be employed to plant and sow, or gather in the kindly fruits of the earth, was mostly performed by his two sons. This cramped their education. The two brothers went day about to school, and he who had the advantage of the day's instruction, gained and remembered all he could, and imparted on his return to him who continued on the farm, all the knowledge he had acquired in the day. Thus they were alternately instructors and scholars, and each taught and learned for the other. This was making the best of their circumstances.

Adam's love of reading was intense and unconquerable. To gratify this passion, and a passion it was in him, he would undergo any privations, and submit to any king of hardship. The pence that he and his brother got for being good boys, and doing extra work, &cc, they carefully preserved, never laying them out on toys, sweetmeats, &c., as other children did; but when their savings amounted to a sum for which they could purchase some interesting book, they laid it out in this way. At first they got penny and twopenny histories, afterwards sixpenny books, and so on, as their minds were improved and their pence increased.

Theirs was a little library—but to them exceedingly precious; for their books were their companions, and in their company every vacant hour was employed. Before and after labour, were their chief times for reading; and to gain time, the necessary hours of repose were abridged.

At this early age he read the Pilgrim's Progress, as he would have read a book of Chivalry. Beyond most children was he fond of the marvellous. He had heard and road much of magic and magicians, and he longed ardently to master the mysteries of this science. He had heard of the Occult Philosophy of Cornelius Agrippa, and he travelled several miles to borrow a copy of it from a neighbouring school-master, but the man refused to lend the book. Some time after a family of travelling tinkers came to the neighbourhood. It was reported that they were all conjurors, and possessed wonderful magical books. Adam got leave from his parents to visit them. His errand was soon made known. The father, a very intelligent man, began to entertain him with strange relations of what might be done by spells, figures, &c., and to the inexpressible joy of the young philosopher, a copy of the three books of the Occull Philosophy was produced. He touched it with fear, and read it with trembling, and asked liberty to take some notes, which was conceded. He visited these occult philosophers daily, so long as they continued in the neighbourhood. His instructor told him, however, that there was a fourth book of the incomparable Cornelins Agrippa, without which, as it contained the practice of the art, it would be useless to attempt any operations. page 266 This was discouraging, but it could not be helped. Adam was persuaded the whole was innocent, for every thing seemed to be done with a reference to and dependance upon God. This view of the subject tended greatly to impose on his mind.

The reputed magical powers of the young Clarkes, however, had a happy effect in deterring thieves from visitng their father's house. Previous to this many things, especially poultry, had been stolen; after this, for months, it was not necessary to bolt a door.

In Adam Clarke's juvenile library, there were three or four books that deserve to be noticed, for the influence they had on his future life and studies. The reading of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments gave him that decided taste for Oriental History which proved so useful to him in all his biblical studies. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe he read as a real history. From it, he has often said, he learned more expressly his duty to God and his parents, and a firmer belief in Divine Providence, than from all he heard or read from books or men during his early years. With the Fables of Æsop, and his life by Planudes, he was always much delighted. It was one of the first books he could read, and it was one of the last of his boyish companions that he relinquished. From the Countryman, whose Waggon had stuck fast in the mud, he learned the necessity of strenuous exertions while expecting the Divine succour. He often applied the words, Thou fool! whip thy horses and set thy shoulders to the wheels, and call upon Hercules, and he will help thee, to those who expected God by a miracle to bring them out of their difficulties, while sitting down in indolence, and supine self-despair. The Fable of the Lark and Young ones, taught him the folly of expecting that help from neighbours and friends which a man owed to himself, and which, by the exertions of himself and family, he could furnish. The Fables were all to him lessons of instruction, and from them he borrowed some of the chief maxims that governed his life.

Of his Religious education little has yet been said. At a very early age, as has been noticed, his mind was deeply impressed with divine and cternal things. This was not a transitory impression:—his mother was a woman decidedly religious:—she was a Presbyterian of the old Puritanic school. She had been well catechised in her youth, and had read the Scriptures with great care and much profit. She ever placed the fear of God before the eyes of her children, caused them to read and reverence the Scriptures, and endeavoured to impress the most interesting parts on their minds. If they did wrong at any time, she had recourse uniformly to the Bible to strengthen her reproofs and to deepen conviction. In these she was so conversant and ready, that there was searcely a delinquency for the condemnation of which she could not easily find a portion. She seemed to find them on the first opening, and would generally say, “See what God has guided my eye to in a moment.” Her own reproofs her children could in some measnre bear; but when she had recourse to the Bible, they were terrified out of measure; such an awful sense had they of page 267 the truth of God's word and the Majesty of the Author. One anecdote will serve to shew her manner of reproving, and the impressions made by such reproofs.

Adam one day disobeyed his mother, and the disobedience was accompanied with some look or gesture that indicated an undervaluing of her authority. This was a high affrout; she immediately flew to the Bible and opened on these words, Prov. xxx. 17, which she read and commented on in a most awful manner:— “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” The poor culprit was cut to the heart, believing the words had been sent immediately from heaven: he went out to the field with a troubled spirit, and was musing on this horrid denunciation of Divine displeasure, when the hoarse croak of a raven sounded to his conscience an alarm more terrible than the cry of fire at midnight! He looked up and soon perceived this most ominous bird, and actnally supposing it to be the raven of which the text spoke, coming to pick out his eyes, he clapped his hands on them with the utmost speed and trepidation, and ran towards the house as fast as the state of his alarm and perturbation would admit, that he might escape the impending vengeance!

To the religious instructions of his mother, Adam ever attributed, under God, that fear of the Divine Majesty, which ever prevented him from taking pleasure in sin. “My mother's reproofs and terrors never left me,” said he, “till I sought and found the salvation of God. And sin was generally so burdensome to me, that I was glad to hear of deliverance from it. She taught me such reverence for the Bible, that if I had it in my hand even for the purpose of studying a chapter in order to say it as a lesson, and had been disposed with my class-fellows to sing, whistle a tune, or be facetious, I dared not do either while the book was open in my hands. In such eases I always shut it and laid it down beside me. Who will dare to lay this to the charge of superstition!”

We need not say such a mother taught her children to pray. Every Lord's day was strictly sanctified, no manner of work being done in the family; and the children were taught from their earliest youth to sanctify the Sabbath. On that day she took the opportunity to catechise and instruct her children, would read a chapter, sing a portion of a psalm, and then go to prayer. While reading, she always accustomed the children who had discernment to note some particular verse in the reading and repeat it to her when prayer was over. This engaged all their attention, and was the means of impressing the word on their hearts as well as on their memories. She obliged them also to get by hearts the Church Catechism and the Assembly's Shorter Catechism.

Though the parents of A. C. belonged to different Christain Communities, they never had any animosities on religious subjects. The parish clergyman and the Presbyterian minister, were eqnally welcome to the house; and the husband and wife most cheerfully page 268 permitted each other to go on their own way; nor were any means used by either to determine their children to prefer one community to the other. They were taught to fear God and expect redemption through the Mood of the cross, and all other matters were considered by their parents of comparatively little moment.

As it was fashionable as well as decent for all those who attended public worship on the Lord's day to take a part in the public singing, so the youth spent a part of the long winter evenings in learning what was called sacred music. A person less or more skilled in this art, set up a night school in some of the most populous villages, and the young people attended him for two or three hours so many nights in the week. The music-master whose lessons A. C. attended, willing to stand on at least equal ground with all his competitors, and to secure a competent number of scholars, proposed that he would divide the hours into two parts, teach singing in the former part and dancing in the other. This brought him several additional scholars, and the school went on much to his own advantage. At first Adam despised this silly adjunct to what he had always deemed of great importance; and for a considerable time took no part in it, as it appeared little else than a mad freak as long as it lasted. At length, through, considerable persuasion, his steadfastuess was overcome; by long looking it began to appear harmless; by and bye graceful, and lastly an elegant accomplishment! It was now,” cast in your lot with us;” he did so; and it was always a maxim with him to do what-ever he did with his might; he bent much of his attention to this, and soon became superior to most of his school-fellows. Formerly he went to school for the sake of the singing—now he went most for the sake of the dancing: leaving his understanding uninfluenced, it took fast hold of his passions.

His own opinion of the whole of this business may be best told in his own words, “Mala Ave, when about 12 or 13 years of age, I learned to dance. I grew passionately fond of it, would scarcely walk but in measured time, and was constantly tripping, moving, and shuffling, in all times and places; I began now to value myself, which, as far as I can recollect, I had never thought of before; I grew impatient of control, was fond of company, wished to mingle more than I had ever done with young people; I got also a passion for better clothing than that which fell to my lot in life; was discontented when I found a neighbour's son dressed better than myself; I lost the spirit of subordination, did not love to work, imbibed a spirit of idleness, and in short, drank in all the brain-sickening” effluvia of pleasure; dancing and company took the place of reading and study; and the authority of my parents was feared indeed, but not respected; and few serious impressions could prevail on a mind imbued now with frivolity, and the love of pleasure; yet I entered into no disreputable assembly, and in no one case ever kept any improper company; I formed no illegal connection, nor associated with any whose characters were either tarnished or suspicious. Nevertheless, dancing was to me a perverting influence, an unmixed moral evil; for although, by the page 269 mercy of God, it led me not to depravity of manners, it greatly weakened the moral principle, drawned the voice of a well instructed conscience, and was the first cause of impelling me to seek my happiness in this life. Every thing yielded to the disposition it had produced, and every thing was absorbed by it. I have it justly in abhorrence for the moral injury it did me; and I can testify (as far as my own observations have extended, and they have had a pretty wide range,) I have known it produce the same evil in others that it did in me.” Against this branch of fashionable education he, on all proper occasions, lifted up his voice.

In boyhood A. C. escaped twice from the jaws of death: first by a fall from a horse, when he lay insensible for two hours, and all said “he is dead;” next he was all but drowned. He rode a mare of his father's into the sea to bathe her, and got beyond the breakers into the swells. A terrible swell came and overwhelmed both the horse and its rider; but a strong wave carried him into the shallow water, and by a merciful providence his life was saved.

We come now to the most important part of Adam Clarke's life: —his conversion, and the circumstances that led to it. He had been well trained at home. He generally attended the parish church with his father. The minister was a good man, and preached, so far as he knew it, most conscientiously the gospel of Christ; but on the doctrine of justification by faith, or the way in which a sinner is to be reconciled to God, he was either not very clear, or was never explicit. He went occasionally to the Presbyterian Meeting-house with his mother, but here the trumpet gave it very uncertain sound, both minister and people were verging closely on Socinianism. This deadly blight, which scathed the Synod of Ulster so fearfully, and from which it has but lately fully recovered, was then coming fast on. The state of experimental religion was very low in the parish, though there were still some old people who talked about the godliness of their ancestors; and seemed to feel no small satisfaction, and even a spiritual safety, in being able to say, “We have Abraham to our Father.” Even Mrs. Clarke, for the want of the means of grace, and the doctrine that is according to godliness, had lost ground, and began to be remiss in her domestic practice of piety.

About 1777, the Methodist preachers, from Coleraine, visted the parish of Agherton, where the Clarkes lived. This caused an excitement and many went to hear them, and among others Adam Clarke. The most noted of these preachers was Mr. Thomas Barber; with indefatigable diligence and zeal he went through all the country, preaching Christ crucified, and redemption through his blood: and many were awakened under his ministry. Mrs. Clarke went to hear and immediately pronounced,” This is the doctrine of the reformers—this is true unadulterated Christianity.” Mr. Clarke went, and ho bore testimony that it was “the genuine doctrine of the Established Church.” The preachers were ever after entertained at their house. Under the preaching and pious advices of his excellent man, Adam's mind got gradually enlightened and improved; he had no violent awakenings; his heart was in a good page 270 measure, by his mother's pious care, prepared to receive the seed of the kingdom. He followed this preacher everywhere within his reach; left all childish diversions; became sedate and sober, prayed in private and read the scriptures; till his parents began to think he was likely to be righteous overmuch; he however went on and attended to his work on the farm; sometimes from four o'clock in the morning till between six and seven at night; and then felt quite happy to be permitted to run three or four miles into the country to bear a sermon! By these means he was generally enabled to hear four sermons a week when the preacher was in that part of the county, and none could say that to attend this preaching he had ever left undone one half-hour's work, or omitted to perform any thing at its proper season. He ever bore testimony, that he had found in all his own religious experience, and in the acquaintance he had with the work of God in others, that men became economists of time, and diligent in their avocations, in proportion as they were earnest for the salvation of their souls.

Prayer also was his delight. He could no longer be satisfied with morning and evening; he was awakened from the dream that this was sufficient, by the following questions of Mr. Barber. “Adam, do you think that God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you your sins?” “No, Sir, I have no evidence of this.” “Adam, do you pray.?” “Yes, Sir.” “How often do you pray in private?” “Every morning and evening.” “Adam, did you ever hear of any person finding peace with God, who only prayed in private twice in the day?” He felt ashamed and confounded; and discovered at once that he was not sufficiently in earnest, nor sufficiently awakened to a due sense of his state.

From this time he was diligent in attending to all the means of Grace, and after careful and conscientious preparation partook of the Lord's Supper in the paaish church of Agherton. Satan did not let him escape, however, without a violent struggle. He was assailed with strong temptations, and had great doubts respecting the divinity of Christ. All became darkness within; but man's extremity is God's opportunity. While he was opprest with agonies indescribable, he felt strongly in his soul, Pray to Christ:—another word for. Come to the Holiest through the blood of Jesus. He looked up confidently to the Saviour of sinners, his agony subsided, and his soul became calm. A glow of happiness seemed to thrill through his whole frame, all guilt and condemnation were gone. He examined his conscience and found it no longer a register of sin against God. He looked to heaven and all was sunshine; he searched for his distress but could not find it. He felt indescribably happy, but could not tell the cause;—a change had taken place within him of a nature wholly unknown to him before, and for which he had no name. He sat down upon the ridge where he had been working fall of ineffable delight. He could now draw nigh to God with more confidence than he ever could to his earthly father;—he had freedom of access and he had freedom of speech.

He continued in peace and happiness all the week; the next Lord's day there was a love-feast at Coleraine;—he went to it. page 271 and during the first prayer, kneeled in a corner with his face to the wall. While praying, the Lord Jesus seemed to appear to the eyes of his mind, as he is described Rev. i. 13, 14, “clothed with a garment down to his feet &c.,” And though in strong prayer before, he stopped, and said, though not perhaps in a voice to be heard by those who were by him,—“Come nearer, oh! Lord Jesus, that I may see thee more distinctly.” Immediately he felt as if God had shone upon, the work he had wrought, and called it by its own name; he fully and clearly knew that he was a child of God; the spirit of God bore this witness in his conscience; and he could no more doubt of it, than he could have doubted of the reality of his existence, or the idenity of his person.

After this A. C. continued a little longer at school. Though he could not well enter the spirit of Lucian and Juvenal which he then read; yet he was surprised to find how easy, in comparison of former times, learning appeared. He has been often heard to say, “After I found the peace of God to my conscience, and was assured of my interest in the Lord Jesus, I believe I may safely assert, that I learned more in one day upon an average, than for merly I could do, with equal application, in a whole month.”

Except on the Lord's day, family prayer was not observed in his father's house. This was, to him, a cause of great affliction. He laboured to get it established; but all in vain, unless himself would officiat! This he found a cross which he feared he should never be able to take up, or, if taken up be able to bear. His youth was his principal hinderance. This burthen, however, it appeared God had laid upon his conscience. He struggled against it for a while till he felt condemned in his own mind. At last he took up this, to him, tremendous cross, and prayed with his father, mother, and family: they were highly pleased; 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 strength to bear it. “A prayerless family,” he said, “has God's curse. If the parents will not perform family prayer, if there be a converted child in the family it devolves on him; and should he refuse he will soon lose the comforts of religion.”

It was now necessary that A. C. should choose a profession for life. After various plans were proposed and set aside he was put apprentice to a linen merchant in Coleraine, but was never formally bound. In this situation be remained about a year. His religious friends were anxious that he should devote himself to the ministry. His residence in Coleraine was advantageous to his spiritual improvement, from the regular means of grace, and the religious society he there enjoyed. But the great adversary of souls was not idle with him; as he could not succeed in tempting him to commit outward sin, he strove to make him carry his religion beyond the requirements of scripture and reason; fasting, abstinence, and regard to truth, he carried out so as to injure both body and mind; by abstinence he was worn down to little else than skin and bone, and from his extreme solicitude to speak nothing but indubitable truth, he came to hesitate about every thing, which produced page 272 an almost fatal effect upon his memory; but out of all these temptations God mercifully delivered him, and the injury sustained by his memory was more than compensated by the care with which he was obliged to cultivate his understanding; and his own experience of temptation was of great advantage to him in all his future ministerial labours.

He was first employed as a class leader, then as an exhorter, and finally he was induced under some of the ministers to exercise his gift in preaching. One of the preachers wrote respecting him to the Rev. J. Wesley. Mr. Wesley gave every encouragement, and offered to place him in Kingswood School to advance his education. To this proposal of going to England his mother was at first strongly opposed; but by and bye both his father and mother were fully disposed to give up their son to the Lord for the work of the ministry; and in August 1782 Adam Clarke left his native land, reached Liverpool and proceeded to Kingswood to prosecute his education and fit himself for greater usefulness in the ministry. He arrived at his distination full of high, youthful hopes, but met with nothing but grievous, mortifying disappointment. God had other ways of teaching and training him for future labours.

(To be concluded in our next.)