Are you a Christian?
BOOK 3, CH. 13,
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Dr. Clarke was one of a long succession of men who, in every age of the Christian church, have applied the best energies of their intellect and heart to the study and interpretation of the Scriptures of truth. Regarding the Holy Bible as an authenticated revelation from God to mankind, the immutable canon of their duty, the Gospel of their redemption from sin and perdition, and the covenant-charter of their hope of everlasting life, they have made it the grand business of their lives to lay open its mines of wisdom, for the edification of the church in her holy faith, and the conversion of the world to God.
A volume which enshrines the thoughts of an infinite Intelligence, and bears relation not only to the concerns of human life in the remotest past, but to its destines in the endless future, may well awaken the earnest scrutiny of the wisest and most thoughtful of mankind. Nor, when we consider the peculiar character of its contents, and the circumstances of time, locality, and language, in which it was written, need we be surprised that so much resolute labor has been needed for the satisfactory explication of many of its parts. Let us rather be thankful that these attempts have been so well sustained, and crowned with such measures of success, that the holy Book may now be read in so many of the languages of our race, and understood by all who are willing to be made wise.
One result of these persevering studies has been to fix the principles on which the Bible may be truly expounded. Severe investigation and careful experiment have reduced those principles to a well-defined system, designated, in technical phrase the science of Hermeneutics or Exegesis. But the present comparatively satisfactory state of this science has been, like most other human attainments, arrived at by slow and laborious approaches.
Though the written word of God had its public interpreters in the Old Testament time, we have no monuments of their labors except the version of the Septuaginta, completed about 140 B.C.; the Aramaic Targum of Onkelos on the Pentateuch, and of Yonathan ben Uzziel on the Prophets, executed somewhere towards the opening of the Gospel dispensation: the Septuagint being in general a grammatical translation of the Hebrew Bible, and the Targums a tolerably close paraphrase in the vernacular of Palestine at that time. In these productions we have, no doubt, an embodiment of the expository ideas propounded in the synagogue by the Meturgemanin, or official interpreters of the Hebrew text, who, ever since the days of Ezra, had accompanied the Sabbath-readings of Moses and the Prophets with such oral translations as would make them intelligible to the people.
To these we may add the fanciful expositions of Philo the Alexandrian Jew, and the more substantial but often random explanations of Joseph ben Mattathja, in his work on the Antiquities of the Jews. In the Mishna, too; and subsequently in the Talmud, (works which were elaborated in the first five centuries of the Christian era,) a multitude of biblical texts are expounded with various degrees of correctness or absurdity. So, also, in the books called Sifra, Sifree, and Mekiltha, we have commentaries on the Pentateuch, and in the Boraitha of Rabbi Eleazar an exposition of various historical portions of the Old Testament.
But the first among the known Jewish authors who is worthy of the name of a professed commentator, is Saadya the Gaon, president of the Rabbinical College at Sora, in Babylonia, in the tenth century. He translated the Pentateuch into Arabic without notes, but wrote commentaries on the Psalms, Canticles, Job, and Daniel. He was followed in the same labors by Hai Gaon, in the same century; by Tobia ben Eliezer, Salomo Jizhaki, (or Rashi,) Abraham ibn Ezra, Moses bar Nachman, and Moses ben Maimun, in the twelfth; in the thirteenth, by Simeon Haddarshan, (the compiler of the Yalkut, so often quoted by Dr. Clarke, — a collection, as the word means, a repertory, or thesaurus, comprising in a stout folio the substance of the preceding commentators,) by Moses and David Kimchi, whose grammatical scholia are of great value in the study of the Hebrew Bible; and by Levi ben Gershom, or Banola, who supplemented the literal exposition of the text with suitable moral applications. These, with Don Isaac Abravanel in the fifteenth century, are the principal of a multitude of Jewish expositors, whose works, however worthy of examination, repose from age to age in slumbers but very rarely disturbed. Among these Hebrew commentators there are four methods of interpretation. Some unfold the simple or literal meaning; others advance from the literal to the allegorical, and consider the letter of the document as the signature or indication of a higher and more spiritual teaching. Others, again, bring to their aid the mythical apparatus of the Medrashim, and crowd their pages with the legends and sagas of the Hagadoth; while a fourth class, disdaining all these lower modes of exegesis, seek the transcendental regions of the Kabbala.
The first of these four modes of interpretation is called by the Rabbins the Derek Peshet or simple way; the second, Remez, or intimation, suggestion as to meaning; the third, Derush, or illustrative exposition; the fourth, Sod, the drawing out of latent mystical significations. They contract these four terms into a technical one, composed of the initials, PaRaDiSe.
Principles nearly similar are developed in the early commentaries of the Christian church. While Irenaeus adhered to the simple method, Origen, Clement, and others adopted three modes of exposition, — the grammatical, anagogical, and allegorical. The learned catechist of Alexandria held that Scripture has a threefold sense, answering to the trinal elements of human nature: the grammatical, somatikos = the body; the moral, Psuchikos = soul; the mystical, pneumatikos = spirit. The excesses of Origen’s disciples gave way afterwards to the more severe method of the Antiochian school under Diodorus of Tarsus, and Theodore of Mopsuestia; men who were too much disposed to exaggerate on the opposite side, and indulge in a frigid, rationalistic exposition of the Scriptures: while Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, and Augustine preferred the via media.
In the Middle Ages, when the study of the Hebrew and Greek originals of the Bible had been almost forgotten, some of the schoolmen, in their interpretations of the Vulgate, closely followed the traditions of the church, while others launched upon the ocean of allegorical fancy. Some held that in Scripture there was a threefold sense, — the literal, the spiritual, and the moral; others, a fourfold sense, — historical, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical; yet others, a sevenfold sense, — historical, allegorical, intermediate, tropical, parabolical, Christological, moral; nay, others, an eightfold sense, — literal, allegorical or parabolical, tropological or etymological, anagogical or analogical, typical or exemplary, anaphorical or proportional, mystical or apocalyptical, Boarcademical or primordial; and, to crown all, others, an infinite sense, — thus giving the interpreter space and verge enough to range wherever the wings of imagination might bear him.
By reverting to these things, which is like glancing into a dark and roaring vortex, we become the more sensible of the great advantages which the church now possesses in those surer principles of interpretation which have been carried with increasing effect into their practical results since the time of the Reformation. At that great epoch the necessity which was felt for an appeal to the Bible, as the record of Divine revelation, and the high rule of faith to the church, led to a revived study of the languages in which it was first written, and to the investigation of the sacred text in its philologic [Philology = the science of language, esp. in its historical and comparative aspects] and simple meaning. With what good effect these pursuits were followed out, may be seen in the works of the Romanist commentators, Erasmus, Clarius, Cornelius a Lapide, the Jansenist Quesnel, and the learned Benedictine, Augustine Calmet and among the Protestants, in the exegetical labors of Calvin and Beza, Tremellius, Grotius, Munster, Louis de Dieu, Crozius, and Bengel.
In Germany, the Protestant commentators, under the influence of the skeptical spirit which pervaded Europe toward the latter end of the last century, gave way to the temptation of compromising with the prejudices of infidelity by reducing the Scriptures almost to the level of human compositions, and of ignoring or explaining away whatever is supernatural in the events they record, or suprarational in the doctrines they inculcate.
In this deplorable error the early Socinians led the way, and they have been followed with strides too firm and rapid by the whole tribe of Continental Rationalists.
In our day, thanks be to God, a wholesome reaction has taken place; and the more Christian and evangelical expositions of Tholuck, Olshausen, Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, and several others, are every day rising into a higher ascendant over the Lessings, the Bauers, the Pauluses, and Bretschneiders of a school whose cold and hopeless words had struck the church with a palsy which no power can heal but the power of the Cross.
Our own British Christianity has been mercifully sheltered from this destructive blight; and, in the department of biblical exposition, the divines of England, while they may not have been equal to their Continental brethren in the breadth and depth of their philological learning, have nevertheless left them immeasurably behind in soundness of exegetic principle, and ability in expounding the holy Scriptures, so as to promote the edification of the church in faith and virtue, and the fulfillment of the merciful designs for which the Bible was given to mankind.
In the erudite criticism of the Scriptures, the nine folio volumes of the CRITICI SACRI formed an Appendix to the London Polyglot worthy of the learning and labor which had been displayed in that grand undertaking.
This work, which embodies the principal commentators, Romanist and Protestant, who had flourished since the Reformation, was ably condensed (with additions) in the “SYNOPSIS CRITICORUM” of Matthew Poole in five volumes folio. These enterprises were followed up by the more indigenous labors of Ainsworth on the Pentateuch and Psalms, Caryl on Job, Owen on the Hebrews, Gill in a learned Commentary on the Bible which is not sufficiently known, Lightfoot’s Talmudical illustrations of the New Testament, Hammond and Whitby on the same book, and Bishops Patrick, Lowth, &c., on Isaiah and the other prophets; nor, among several others who might claim to be mentioned, should we forget Campbell on the Gospels, and Macknight on the Apostolical Epistles.
Then, for the more substantial and homiletic class of Commentaries, there were — Burkitt, who published in that way the substance of his own preaching; Matthew Henry, a venerable name, loved by all good men, whose comments have a heavenly charm which has attracted and improved the most lofty minds in all religious communions; Wesley, who expresses more in a sentence than many writers in whole pages; Doddridge, gracious and devout; Scott, masculine in reason, as well as steadfast in faith; Dodd, whose Commentary condenses the best parts of Calmet, with matter supplied by his own resources and the inedited papers of other eminent scholars; and among the Methodists, Benson, who expanded the notes of Mr. Wesley, adding much rich material from other sources; and Coke, who, by the editorial labors of Mr. Drew, published a Commentary which, though not in all parts original, (being in fact a rifacimento of Dodd’s, just as the latter was of Calmet,) is nevertheless a thoroughly good and useful exposition of t he sacred text. Most of these English Commentaries are reducible to two classes. Some are dryly critical, without being popular; others popular, without being critical. Now Dr. Adam Clarke seems to have entertained the idea of producing a work which should combine the advantages of both classes; sufficiently critical to aid the inquiries of the more serious student, and yet sufficiently popular to serve the purposes of general edification. It was his purpose to give a lucid view of the several books of Scripture, as to their dates and authors, their scope and connection; to expound the original text in a manner to adapt itself to the deficiencies of the English reader; to elucidate [throw light upon, explain] difficulties in chronology, history, and Oriental manners; to develop the grand doctrines of revelation, and apply the whole to the great concerns of human salvation and duty.
To the accomplishment of this task he brought qualifications which proved his designation to it by the providence and grace of God: strong and expansive powers of intellect; an almost universal erudition; a faith of the heart, inwrought by the Holy Spirit whose words he sought to interpret; and a resolute will, which bore him up in body and mind, from year to year, till the great labor should be completed. The seven gifts which, according to Augustine, the true expositor of Scripture must possess, — reverence, piety, science, fortitude, prudence, cleanness of heart, and heavenly wisdom, — the Lord had vouchsafed him in blessed degrees; and by the diligent improvement of them, in this and the other endeavors of his devoted life, these graces increased with his years. He was moved also by a conviction of responsibility. He heard the voice of God.
The studies of his earlier years had always a bearing on this grand design.
From the beginning, he felt the need of being taught by God to understand His own word. Referring to his comparatively juvenile life, he says: “No man ever taught me the doctrine I embraced; I received it singly by reading the Bible. From that alone I saw that justification by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and the sanctification of the heart, were all attainable. These I saw as clearly as I do now; and from them I have never swerved. I often read the Bible on my knees. When I came to a passage I did not fully understand, I said, ‘Lord, here is Thy Book; it is given for the salvation of man; it can be no salvation to him unless he understand it: Thou hast the key of this text, unlock it to me;’ and, praying thus, I generally received such light as was satisfactory to myself.” Thus he had grace to approach the fountain itself, and draw.
We have seen that, while in the Norman Isles, he applied himself to the study of the Septuagint, in reading which he noted down the most important differences between that venerable translation and the Hebrew text, with which he had already become familiar. In reading thus carefully the version of the Old Testament in the Alexandrine Greek, he acquired an intimacy with the peculiar diction of the New Testament writers; and, when afterwards at Dublin he began some notes on the latter, he saw the necessity of a thorough and critical perusal of the printed text of the New Testament, as collated with the manuscripts, either by himself, so far as his opportunities reached, or through the labors of Wetstein and others, and especially of Griesbach, who was at that time zealously employed on his edition of the Greek Testament. To make his investigation more minute and definite, he resolved to translate the text in writing; a task which was began in June, 1794, and finished in eleven months. In January, 1797, he commenced the same process with the Hebrew and Chaldee text of the Old Testament; and this written translation was finished in about fourteen months. Along with the translation, he had made occasional notes and memoranda for his future work. Two months after, May 1st, 1798, he began in good earnest the actual Commentary, commencing with the Gospels.
He now wrote with a vigor and determination which enabled him, towards the close of the year, to give a good account of the work in a letter to Mr. Butterworth: — “A few moments before your letter came, I was on my knees returning thanks to God for supporting and assisting me in my work, and enabling me to bring one part of it to completion. What think you? I have finished Matthew: I have done more, I have finished Mark. I began May 1st; wrought till July 22nd, when I set off for Bristol. I could not get things to bear, to recommence, till September 22nd. Yesterday, December 1st, I finished Mark; leaving spent, in the whole, about five months. While in London, though I labored hard, I could make but little way; so that nearly three months were employed on the first twelve chapters of Matthew, occasioned by the miserable place where I was obliged to study. Any that had less of the mule’s disposition than I have, would have abandoned it in settled dislike. Since I came here, my labor has been great indeed, — constant and severe preaching, and early and late writing. For nearly a month post I wrote nine or ten hours a day; some days, more. Mark was easy work, after Matt hew; yet even on Mark I have written upwards of 100 close quarto pages; the whole, 740 pages. “You will be able to form some estimate of the quantum of letterpress this will make, when I inform you that each page contains about 28 lines; total, 20,720 lines: each line, 34 letters; total, 704,480 letters. You will at once see that I must not go on at this rate, or the book will be unbuyable. I assure you I do not intend it. My aim from the beginning was to make the comment on Matthew perfect, — not by saying all that might be said, but by saying all that should be said. To the best of my knowledge, I have not inserted one useless sentence. I have no doubt but that Gospel is the grand source from which all the apostolic doctrines have been drawn. I have written: six hundred pages upon it, and I humbly trust no godly mind will ever feel wearied in reading them. I have done everything in my own way. I have no more of my translation revised for the comment; and it will take nearly a month to prepare Luke and John to go on with. I bought Geddes’s Bible, expecting much, got nothing, and sold it.”
In the course of the following year he had got so far into the New Testament, as to venture to advertise it; and he tells Mr. Butterworth that he had got a couple of pages set up, “merely to see how it will look I have made up my mind to send the old text alongside of the new. The book will be better received on this account, and be more useful. My translation will suffer no loss by the comparison. I have had this specimen taken off on royal 4to. You must not let it go out of your hand. My plan of interpreting the Transfiguration is new, so far as I know; and I do not wish that everybody should have it before the work sees the sun. At first view there will appear little difference in the two translations. I do not wish it, except where essentially necessary; but the fifth and eleventh verses will show the importance of making the Holy Spirit speak English as He speaks Greek. I did not choose this portion because of any difference between the texts, but merely because the subject was complete in it.”
He reached the end of the fourth Gospel in November, 1799; but, though so far in readiness, the work was not consigned to the printer till nearly ten years after. He accounts for this delay in a Prospectus issued in 1809, by the sudden rise in the price of paper, and the announcement of another work on the Scriptures by a friend. “As I could not bear the thought,” he says, “of even the most distant appearance of opposition to any man, I gave place, being determined not to attempt to divide the attention of the public, nor hinder the spread of a work which, for aught I then knew, might supersede the necessity of mine.” That work, however, had been for some time completed, and the subscribers supplied with their copies; and, as repeated requests reached Mr. Clarke for the production of his longpromised Commentary, he hesitated no longer. No doubt the interval had conduced to improve the work, by giving space for reconsideration and correction. By this time a considerable portion of the Old Testament was in readiness; so that the actual publication began, not with the Gospels, but with the Book of Genesis. In the interim he had also damaged the plan of the work. His own translation of the sacred text had been intended to be printed at large. This idea was now abandoned, and the new translation incorporated, in successive clauses or fragments, in the notes, as often as a modification of the authorized English text seemed to be required.
Mr. Butterworth now followed up the Prospectus with another of his own, in which he solicited subscriptions for the work on the author’s behalf; an appeal which was responded to by a list of sixteen hundred subscribers, among whom were several noblemen, and other persons of rank and influence belonging to the Church of England, as well as to the Dissenting and Methodist communions. Mr. Butterworth, the publisher, was so encouraged by this demonstration, as to resolve on striking off ten thousand copies on common paper, and one thousand on a finer paper and larger page. Nor did he over-calculate; for, in fact, not only did the eleven thousand copies go off, but nearly eight hundred more were required before the first demand could be supplied. We have no room to enter more largely into these details, or to follow our commentator minutely in the further prosecution of his toilsome career.
Let it suffice to say, that when the Pentateuch and Gospels were thus launched upon the world, and the expositor was committed with his subscribers to the plighted engagement of completing the series of the holy Books, the great body of the Old Testament and apostolic writings remained to be yet undertaken; and that the accomplishment of this task, and that, too, with the heavy responsibilities of his ministerial charge, his duties in the Record Commission, and the completion of several other works, rendered the next fifteen years of his life one almost unremitting agony of labor. At length, in great exhaustion, he approached the goal. In the beginning of March, 1826, he remarks to a friend: “For some time past I have suffered much in my eyes: it is impossible they should last. All winter I have written several hours before day, and several after night.
Under th is they have failed. But I want to get the Commentary done. I have got to the end of the sixth of the twelve minor prophets; so there are six more to do. Jeremiah and Daniel are finished and Printed. Of Ezekiel, thirty chapters. You see, then, that I am fully in sight of land.”
At length the hour of its completion struck. Adam Clarke closed the work of his Commentary, as he had begun it so many years before, kneeling in the presence of God “It will give you pleasure,” writes he to a friend, “to hear that on March 28th, 1825, at eight o’clock in the evening, I wrote upon my knees the last note on the last verse of the last chapter of Malachi. Thus terminated a work on which I have painfully employed upwards of thirty years.” On referring to the last note itself, we find the following devout and worthy record: — “To God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be eternal praises. Amen. I have this day completed this Commentary, on which I have labored above thirty years, and which, when I began, I never expected to live long enough to finish. May it be a means of securing glory to God in the highest, and peace and good-will among men upon earth! Amen. Amen.”
He says elsewhere: “In this arduous work I have had no assistants, not even a single week’s help from an amanuensis; no person to look for commonplaces or refer to an ancient author, to find out the place and transcribe a passage of Latin, Greek, or any other language, (which my memory had generally recalled,) or to verify a quotation; the help excepted which I received in the chronological department from my own nephew, Mr. John Edward Clarke. I have labored alone for twenty-five years previously to the work being sent to the press, and fifteen years have been employed in bringing it through the press; so that nearly forty years of life have been so consumed.”
We have the family-memorandum, that on the evening that the work was finished Dr. Clarke came into the parlor, and, without speaking, beckoning to his youngest son, took him away to the study. On entering he found the usual signs of work all laid aside; the books marshaled in their shelves, the study-table clear, with the exception of a copy of the Bible, and the whole place with an unwonted appearance of repose. The Doctor then spoke: “This, Joseph, is the happiest period I have enjoyed for years: I have put the last hand to my Comment. I have written the last word. I have put away the chains that would remind me of my bondage; and there” — pointing to the steps of his library ladder — “have I returned the deep thanks of a grateful soul to the God who has shown me such great and continued kindness. I shall now go into the parlor, tell my good news to the rest, and enjoy myself for the day.”
Of the Commentary we have no need to say anything in the way of description: a book found alike on the shelves of the peer and the peasant is too well known to require this. Its merits and blemishes have long ago been pointed out, and call for no new criticisms. One leading feature in its character is independence in thinking. English commentators in general are not distinguished by originality. Several of them have notoriously borrowed from their predecessors, and appear to have been either unable or unwilling to think for themselves. Clarke, while he availed himself largely of the labors of other scholars in almost every branch, yet knew how to transmute their material so as to subserve his own ideas, and to give it the imprint of his personal mind. But the greater number of his expositions are emphatically his own.
In a work, then, thus marked by original thinking, we are prepared here and there to find traces of a strong idiosyncrasy. We should recollect that the author is a man who is used to decide for himself, and that “with a will;” so we are not to be astonished if he even argues that Judas will be saved, or that the serpent which tempted Eve was a baboon.
This latter opinion, it must be confessed, when first enunciated, took the learned world by surprise; and intelligent men wise wished well to the author’s enterprise felt some misgivings for the success of a work which proclaimed at the very outset a novelty so startling. Some critics assailed him with raillery, and others with reproach. The Doctor, in general, was indifferent to attacks of either kind; but, in defense of this favorite opinion, he surmounted for once his dislike to controversial discussion, and met his antagonists in open fight, — if that, indeed, could be called open, in which his principal antagonist appeared with a visor. A writer in the Classical Journal had penned, under the Arabic name of Al Tefteesh, “the Investigator,” a series of animadversions [criticisms] on Dr. Clarke’s interpretation of the word nachash, which called forth a reply from the author in the same serial, in which the subject receives a more extensive examination than he had given it in the Commentary, and is put before the reader in such points of view, and with such ingenuity, as to insure a respectful attention, if it fail to command his final acquiescence. The paper in question will be found printed in the tenth volume of the Miscellaneous Works. He here admits that the word nachash, rendered “serpent” in Genesis 3:1, sometimes has that meaning, but shows that it has others, and attempts to make out that it has another meaning in that text.
A more grave error, in the estimation of many divines of the day, was committed by the commentator in adopting, in his notes on the Epistle to the Romans, the view of Doctor John Taylor, as developed in his “Key” to that Epistle. But here Dr. Clarke should have the benefit of his own explanation, and we will hear him for himself: — “In my notes on the Epistle to the Romans, I have entered at large into a discussion on the subjects to which I have referred in the Epistle to the Galatians; and, to set the subject in a clear point of view, I have made a copious extract from Dr. Taylor’s Key to that Epistle; and I have stated that a consistent exposition of it cannot be given but upon that plan.” Hereby we see “that the doctrines of eternal, unconditional reprobation and election, and the impossibility of falling finally from the grace of God, have no foundation in the Epistle to the Romans. Taylor has shown that the phrases on which these doctrines are founded refer to national privileges, and those exclusive advantages which the Jews, as God’s peculiar people, enjoyed, during the time in which that peculiarity was designed to last; and that it is doing violence to the sense in which those expressions are generally used, to apply them to the support of such doctrines. In reference to this I have quoted him, and those illustrations of his which I have adopted I have adopted on this ground; taking care never to pledge myself to any of his peculiar or heterodox opinions In this sense alone those quotations ought to be understood, and my whole work sufficiently shows that Dr. Taylor’s peculiar theological system makes no part of mine; that on the doctrine of the fall of man, the eternal Deity of Jesus Christ, of justification by faith in the atoning blood, and the inspiration and regenerating influence of the Holy Ghost, we stand in diametrical opposition to each other. Yet this most distinguishing difference cannot blind me against the excellence I find in his work.” And again: “If I have quoted, to illustrate the sacred writings, passages almost innumerable from Greek and Roman heathens, Jewish Talmudists, the Koran, and from Brahminical Polytheists, and these illustrations have been well received by the Christian public; surely I may have liberty to use, in the same way, the works of a very learned man, and a most conscientious believer in the books of Divine revelation, however erroneous he may be in certain doctrines which I myself deem of vital importance to the creed of an experimental Christian. Let it not be said that, by thus quoting largely from his work, I tacitly recommend an Arian creed: I no more do so than the Indian matron who, while she gives the nourishing rind of the cassava to her household, recommends them to drink of the poisonous juice which she has previously expressed from it.” These explanations ought to suffice with all reasonable men.
There was yet another topic introduced by the commentator, which led to a more serious controversy: I refer to his doctrine regarding the Divine Sonship of the Redeemer. I allude to it with extreme reluctance, as it is the only embarrassing subject in the entire biography of this most excellent servant of God; — embarrassing, on account of any implied censure that it might seem to associate with his honored name. And this painful feeling of reluctance, I venture to believe, is participated by my reverend fathers and brethren who are the promoters of the present volume. I presume it is not their wish, and it cannot be my own, to give a renewed prominence to a subject so unpleasant. I am thankful to recollect that but few words are needed in alluding to it, as the controversy has long ago been brought to a peaceful termination. When the question was discussed, it was not discussed in vain. It was done in sorrow on both sides, but was productive, after all, of beneficial results, in bringing a solemn truth o f revelation more fully before the eyes of the church, and in giving a greater clearness, rigor, and steadfastness to the faith of believers in the Divine — and therefore eternal — Sonship of the Saviour of the world.
The infirm and glimmering intellect of man can know nothing of the tremendous mysteries of the Infinite Nature, but by revelation. We must go to the word of God, with an humble and believing heart. It is there revealed, not only that in the Divine Subsistence there are Three Persons, but that the relation of the Second Person to the First is that of SON.
Dr. Clarke was a devout believer in the Trinity, but he demurred as to this relationship. He considered that the name of “the Son of God” was a Messianic title of the Redeemer, as the consequence of His having been born of the Virgin: he denied that it was descriptive of His mode of existence prior to the Incarnation. Now revelation affirms that the only begotten Son was in the bosom of the Father; that God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son; that the Son of God was sent into the world that the Son of God was manifested in the flesh; that the Word who was in the beginning with God, and who was God, was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and that the glory which He then made manifest was the glory of the only-begotten of the Father.
But Dr. Clarke believed that the Second Person of the Trinity, who was thus revealed in the flesh, was thenceforward to be known as the Son of God, but not as the eternally begotten of the Father; because, according to his view, no such relation was possible.
In this respect, and this only, Dr. Clarke made a certain divergence from the faith of the catholic church. The church from the beginning has taken those emphatic statements of Scripture in their true and literal meaning, and has evermore taught and testified that the Second Person of the Trinity is, by an ineffable and eternal generation, the Son of God. That such is the sense in which the church has received these scriptures, is evident from those solemn enunciations of doctrine we call the Creeds. Even before the increasing heresies of the fourth century rendered an ecumenical declaration of that kind necessary, (at the council of Nicaea,) most of the great Christian communities had given their profession of faith in this particular, as well as others: — That, for example, of Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians: — “I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, His Only begotten Son, born of Him before all worlds; True God of True God; by whom also the worlds were framed, and all things mad e.” Or that of Jerusalem, the mother of us all, as it is found in the Catechetics of St. Cyril, bishop there in 345: — “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; the true God, by whom all things were made.”
In the great assembly of Nicaea the universal church pronounced the faith once delivered to the saints, and called upon the faithful, in all ages to come, to abide in the same truth: — “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father; that is, of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made; consubstantial with the Father; by whom all things were made.”
No man had a greater abhorrence of Arianism than Dr. Adam Clarke; yet with this main point in the testimony of the church against Arianism he could not bring his mind to concur. He had embraced, and ever held fast, certain rationalistic arguments which prevented him from believing that “the Son of God was begotten of the Father before all worlds.”
This unhappy twist in the Doctor’s judgment was formed in his juvenile years, but never rectified. An intellectual conservative in the strictest sense, whatever he mentally apprehended he no more renounced; and, when far advanced in life, could affirm that he had never changed his creed.
When the gravity of the subject is considered, we are not surprised that the thesis laid down so formally by the learned and influential commentator, and defended by him with such an array of argument, should have called forth the most serious recriminations from his brethren in the ministry: but we are surprised that these remonstrances, though expressed in respectful terms, and enforced by earnest reasonings out of the Scriptures, should have been represented by some as betraying an animas of personal dislike to the Doctor, and as amounting, in fact, to a sort of ecclesiastical persecution. Certainly such divines as William France and Richard Watson had as good a right to show their opinion, as Dr. Clarke had to state and defend his own; nor did the practical assertion of this right involve the necessity of indulging in either disposition or language discordant with the veneration which they entertained for the sanctity of his life, the multitude of his learning, and the dignity and honor of his name.
Writing a simple biography, and not a theological treatise, I abstain from any attempt to give an analysis of this controversy, content with recording the circumstances under which it arose. The discussion of the subject itself would require a volume. Happily, the question has been sufficiently settled, and determined, too, on the right side. Most of the pamphlets in which the discussion was carried on are now out of print; but whoever would master the entire argument should study Mr. Watson’s “Remarks,” and the “Inquiry into the Doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Richard Treffry, Junior.” The latter work, distinguished as it is by genuine theologic science, consummate criticism, and Christian temper, has taken an abiding place among the classics of English divinity. From many years of intimate friendship with the lamented author, and repeated opportunities of conversation with him while engaged in the labor of that work, I can testify that, so far as Dr. Clarke was personally concerned, he had in Mr. Treffry an admirer whose reverence for him was almost boundless.
This, it should be remarked in conclusion, is the flaw in the Doctor’s otherwise sound and scriptural theology. No man was more steadfast than he, in life and death, in his affiance in the great truth [betroth to the great truth] that Jesus Christ his Redeemer was “over all, God blessed for ever;” and to make this truth known to the world by preaching it, writing it, and living it, became his peace, his glory, and his joy. As to the peculiar point in which he differed from his brethren, he never gave prominence to it, except in the statements in his Commentary upon a very few texts. In his public preaching, he carefully abstained from making any allusion to it; and that, from a sense of honor, as a minister of a body which, in common with the church at large, held a doctrine in this one solitary instance opposite to his own; and from a persuasion, no doubt, that, could he otherwise make it with propriety an element in his popular addresses, it would be very far from promoting the edification of the people. *  Dr. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures is, on the whole, one of the noblest works of the class in the entire domain of sacred literature. It is a thesaurus of general learning; and, as the exposition of an Eastern book, it abounds very properly with a great variety of Oriental illustrations, philological, ethnic, and antiquarian. In amassing these he drew from the most choice lexicons of the Hebrew and cognate languages; from the rabbinical writings, either the authors themselves, or the collections of Schoettgen, Lightfoot, and others, who have made selections of the most eligible places in those writings which are available for the commentator; from translations of the Indian mythologists, lawgivers, moralists, and poets; and from a whole library of historians, naturalists, travelers, and writers on the archaeology of the Oriental nations. When we consider that this great undertaking was begun, continued, and ended by one man, and that man engaged in the zealous and faithful discharge of so many public duties; instead of reasonably complaining that here and there it has a blemish, or that its general plan is not in all respects filled up as completely as could be desired, our wonder is rather excited that he should have brought it so far as he did toward perfection. The Commentary is not equal through all its parts. On some books he is more diffuse and effective than on others. The Pentateuch and the Gospels are done well; and so are the apostolical Epistles. On the historical books, also, he is in general satisfactory. But on the prophetic portions of the word of God he commonly fails. This, in one way or another, is a fault common with nearly all our popular expositors of the Bible. In effect, we are greatly in want of a Commentary, which, interpreting the oracles that relate to the future destines of our world, upon sound principles, avoiding the rationalistic tendencies of the spiritualizing school on the one hand, and the extravagances of the ultra-millenarians on the other, shall be worthy of the present advanced stage made in the study of prophetical theology.
But, in comparison with the substantial excellencies of the work, these defects appear almost inconsiderable. Its luminous expositions of the Law and the Gospel; its earnest and forcible appeals to the conscience of the sinner and the unbeliever; its rich counsels for the well-understood wants of the Christian’s inner life; its endless exhibitions of general knowledge, and its valuable aids to the students of those holy tongues in which revelation took its first recorded forms; — all will render this book the companion and the counselor of multitudes as long as the English language may endure. The man who accomplished it achieved immortality, his name having become identified with an indestructible monument of learning and religion: — Aere perennius, Regalique situ pyramidum altius; Quod non, imber edax, non Aquilo impotens Possit diruere, aut innumerabilis Annorum series, et fuga temporum.”
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