THE LIFE OF THE REV. ADAM CLARKE: INTRODUCTORY
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The most ancient book in the possession of mankind, the Genesis of Moses, has enregistered for all time a series of biographical memoirs. The Spirit of God, in dictating those recitals by His own inspiration, has thus given a Divine and eternal signature to the lawfulness and utility of a description of writing which perpetuates the names of the great and good, re-echoes the words of the silent dead, and preserves, in imperishable fragrance, the sanctities of their ended life. The same principle is inculcated throughout the Bible. “The memory of the just is blessed.” “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” Upon the Christian church the duty is enjoined by an express command, to “remember them who have spoken to us the word of God,” -and to imitate their faith. May he then who now writes, and they who shall read, the words of this record, be stirred up to follow the high example of him to whose memory these pages are consecrated; remembering “the end of his conversation, Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and today and for ever.”
A quarter of a century has already passed since this eminent servant of God descended to the grave: yet, not for a day in this long interval has he ceased to preach among the living the truths which it was the labor of his life to illustrate and practice. And while some of his contemporaries, who, in their day, made a considerable figure, have already disappeared in oblivion, time, the great prover of all things, has, for the name of Adam Clarke, authenticated a title to immortality. The worth of his character, his massive and consecrated learning, the high motives of his laborious life, and the enduring beneficence of its results, have all been verified by a scrutinizing world.
The retrospect of such a career will strengthen the best aspirations of the heart, and show us the way to attain their objects. Adam Clarke uplifts his eyes, at the outset, to the true standard of human effort, — the glory and approval of the Most High God. With this great ideal he holds such habitual converse, as greatly to think, and feel, and live, till at length his character brightens into a deathless grandeur, and he “stands in his lot” with those nobles of the universe who are “a kind of first-fruits” of the creatures of God.
Few ministers of the Gospel in the present age, by the integrity of their character, the splendor of their learning, and the sterling merit of their works, have acquired more largely the veneration of enlightened and impartial men in all parts of Christendom, than Dr. Clarke: and, if so many of the good and great in every branch of the catholic church have learned to esteem his memory, it well becomes that particular communion of which he was a conspicuous ornament, and in the most intimate fellowship with which he lived and died, to enshrine his name in her heart, and to teach it to her children. “He was a burning and shining light;” and we, who, while he was yet personally with us, rejoiced in the benefit of his luminous ministration, should give some worthy attestation of our grateful estimate of his labors and his love, and of our desire that those who follow us may profit, to distant ages, by the unfading reflections of his wisdom, and the inspirations of his great example.
Nor is there any need that this sacred tribute should be spoiled of its moral effect by the use of exaggerated eulogy, or the pompous imbecilities of laborious panegyric. No man requires this at our hand. We do not ask that the name of Adam Clarke should be canonized, nor seek for him a niche in the pantheon of imaginary saints, around whose heads a paganized Romanism has traced the aureole of unearthly perfection. It is our aim to fulfill the far more difficult but more fruitful task of portraying the actual life of a sincere Christian, a diligent inquirer after truth, and a hard-working and effective servant of God, and of man, in the diffusion of it, — clad, all the while, in the everyday habiliments of suffering humanity.
And, if the most sun-like of characters have had their spots, and no mere man, however great, has ever appeared without some imperfections and littlenesses, the subject of our memoir will not be depreciated, if we find that in opinion he was sometimes in error, or that in any of the partialities or prejudices of the heart he gave evidence of being a fellow-creature, of like passions with ourselves. But, after all, it will, I believe, be a common conclusion, that he was more free from these inevitable blemishes than most men; while, on the other hand, few instances may be adduced, in which a nobler model has been offered to the study and imitation of the aspirant after real excellence. The lessons of his life teach those who are asking after the way of salvation the secret of attaining true repose for the conscience, and purification for the heart; the heroic enterprises of his intellect animate the student to press into those regions of knowledge into which he went as a pioneer, and where there remains so much land to be possessed; the evangelist will be stirred up to seek the needed and promised gifts of the Spirit, with whose uncreated flame this great doctor of the church was so richly baptized; and, even with regard to secular interests, in his advancement from the humblest circumstances to an elevation in which he became the recognized teacher of teachers, and the familiar friend of the prelate and the prince, young men may learn how, in a country and age like ours, integrity and diligence in one’s allotted sphere will not fail of their recompense of reward. In a word, in the progress of his career, the living may learn how to live; and in its consummation, the dying, how to die.
The providence and grace of God have, from age to age, raised up men whose lives should be a beacon of hope to them who come after. “A true intellect stands like a watchtower upon the shore.” The waves thunder against it, and vanish in spray. Its clear and steady lamp burns in the storm; a consolation and a guide, over the dark sea, to the haven of glory.