What in the world is that young man doing? Surly he is not trying to steal from the church--It is full of people!" Had you walked by the chapel of St. Austell in Cornwall, you might have seen the oddest sight: a ruddy youngster, dressed as a Methodist preacher crawling into the packed chapel through a window! If you asked one of the people pressing against the door what was up, you would have been informed that this was common. The "little boy" was the notable Methodist preacher Adam Clarke, who, despite his youthful looks, was nearer thirty than twenty. His chapel was often so crowded, he could only get in by crawling through the window. In any given week, somewhere on his circuit, he could expect to draw such a crowd that he would have to preach out of doors.
Today, those who know the name of Adam Clarke usually do so because of the Bible commentary he wrote. In his own day, he was one of the best known and most beloved Methodist circuit writers.
Adam was born in Ireland around 1760. His mother was a Scottish Presbyterian, his father a Church of England man and for each of them faith was important. The boy was deeply concerned about religion, too. When he was six, he and his friend James who was about the same age were walking in the fields. They began to talk about religious truth. "Oh Addy, Addy," exclaimed James, "what a dreadful thing is eternity. And how dreadful to be put into hell-fire, and to be burned there forever and ever!" Both began to cry and ask God to forgive their sins. Adam remembered it as his first true sense of conviction.
At school, Adam showed little desire to learn his Latin. One day teacher and students ridiculed him. Humiliated, Adam took up his book with a new attitude, applying himself as never before. By the time he completed his commentary, (which was one of the best for its time on the Old Testament), he knew twenty languages, including Hebrew, Persian, and other Middle Eastern tongues.
Adam first heard a Methodist sermon when he was in his late teens. Once again, he came under great conviction of his sin and separation from God. He went into an open field and prayed earnestly for God to save him. Nothing happened. He had no peace. Adam started to leave in despair when he heard a voice say, "Try Jesus." He went back to his place of prayer and called to Jesus. At once he was flooded with peace and joy.
He began telling everyone about Jesus, walking from village to village, asking neighbor after neighbor if he might read the Bible and pray with them. He trained at a Methodist school--where he was humiliated and forced to live in a closet by school masters who didn't accept him. That changed when John Wesley visited the school, examined him, and took his side. It is well he did, for Adam became the most notable Methodist in the generation after Wesley, leading England's Methodists.
When Adam became a circuit rider, he studied as he rode his horse. He married and was happy with his wife and family. Because his wife was of a higher class than he, it took the persuasion of John Wesley himself to convince the parents to allow their daughter to wed a circuit rider!
Adam died on this day, August 26, 1832. His commentary, based on a deep knowledge not only of scripture, but of its languages, lives on and greatly affected the rise of the sanctification doctrines of American Methodists and holiness groups. Typical of his style is this pithy comment on 1 Thessalonians 4:3, where Paul writes, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." Adam comments, "God has called you to holiness; he requires that you should be holy, for without holiness, none can see the Lord."
- "Adam Clarke, Holiness Saint and Scholar." (www.preteristarchive.com/StudyArchive/c/clarke-adam_methodist.html)
- Daniels, W. H. The Illustrated History of Methodism in Great Britain, America, and Australia : from the days of the Wesleys to the present year; with an introduction by Bishop Harris New York: Hunt& Eaton, 1890.
- Demaray, Donald E. Pulpit Giants; what made them great. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1973.
- Olsen, Bessie G. Adam Clarke. Walfred Publishing Co, 1944.
- "Sketch of Clarke's Life." in Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible; edited into one volume by Ralph Earle. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.