Adam Clarke

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Adam Clarke
Adam Clarke.jpg
President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference
In office
Preceded byThomas Coke
Succeeded byJohn Barber
In office
Preceded byWalter Griffith
Succeeded byJohn Barber
In office
Preceded byGeorge Marsden
Succeeded byHenry Moore
Personal details
Moybeg Kirley, Tobermore, Northern Ireland
Died26 August 1832 (1832-08-27) (aged 70)
OccupationBiblical scholar

Adam Clarke (1762 – 26 August 1832) was a British Methodist theologian who served three times as President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference (1806–07, 1814–15 and 1822–23). A biblical scholar, he published an influential Bible commentary among other works. He was a Wesleyan.


Early life and education[edit]

Clarke was born in 1760 or 1762,[1][2] in the townland of Moybeg Kirley near Tobermore in Northern Ireland.[3]

His father, an Anglican, was a village schoolmaster and farmer; his mother was a Presbyterian.[4] His childhood consisted of a series of life-threatening mishaps.[1] After receiving a very limited education he was apprenticed to a linen manufacturer, but, finding the employment uncongenial, he resumed school-life at the institution founded by Wesley at Kingswood.[5]

In 1778, at the age of fourteen, Rev. John Wesley invited him to become a pupil in the Methodist seminary lately established at Kingswood, Bristol. In 1779, he converted to Methodism after listening to a preacher.[6]


In 1782, at nineteen he became an itinerant preacher, appointed to the circuit of Bradford, Wiltshire, until 1805.[7] He afterwards resided chiefly in London, and devoted much of his time to literary research.

While second to none in the labours of the ministry, Clarke was a most assiduous scholar. First the classics engaged his especial attention, then the early Christian fathers, and then Oriental writers; Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, and other Eastern tongues, with the literature which they represented, being among the subjects of his study. Natural science was a favourite subject, and he had an interest in what are called the occult sciences. He contributed to the Eclectic Review from the date of its establishment in 1804, and rendered much literary assistance to the British and Foreign Bible Society.[4]

In 1807 he received the diploma of M.A. from the university and King's College, Aberdeen.[7] In 1808 the University of Aberdeen conferred on Clarke the honorary degree of LL.D., the university highest academic honour.[6]

In 1815, Clarke removed and resided in an estate in Millbrook, for several years. In 1823, Clarke removed to London and afterwards to Haydon Hall, where he resided until his death.[8]


As a preacher, he soon became remarkably popular. He rose to high rank in the Wesleyan body. Clarke was thrice President of the Conference in 1806, 1814 and 1822. At first he was moved from place to place, according to the Wesleyan arrangement, being engaged at various times in Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands, and Shetland (1826).[7][9] Clarke was a preacher of rare power and gifts and particularly in his latter years, he preached to crowded churches.[6][10]

Rosetta Stone[edit]

Clarke was an amateur historian and scholar, and was invited by Brandt, secretary of the Royal Society of Antiquarians to see the newly acquired Rosetta Stone.[11] At that time in 1803, the writing and composition of the stone had not been translated, nor had all three languages been positively identified. Clarke proposed that the stone was basalt, a theory which while recently was found to be incorrect was thought to be correct until the late 1900s when better scanning equipment was developed. He also proposed that the third language was Coptic (it was actually Demotic, an earlier form of the Egyptian language that would become Coptic),[12] a clue which was used by Jean-François Champollion who successfully completed the translation in 1822.[13]


He was elected a member of six of the most learned societies of his day.[6] He was a member of the British and Foreign Bible Society,[14] Fellow of the American Antiquarian Society in 1816,[15] a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, an Associate of the Geological Society of London, a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and a member of the American Historical Institute.[7]


Clarke died from an attack of cholera, 26 Aug. 1832.[7][16] There is a memorial to Adam Clarke in Portrush, Antrim, County Antrim.[17]

Theological contribution[edit]

Commentary on the Bible[edit]

He is chiefly remembered for writing a commentary on the Bible which took him 40 years to complete and which was a primary Methodist theological resource for two centuries.[18] Comments on this work are mixed, but recognize its erudition.[19][20] By himself he produced nearly half as much material as the scores of scholars who collaborated on the twelve-volume The Interpreters' Bible. His commentary, particularly that on Revelation, identified the Catholic Church with the Antichrist.

Clarke followed Wesley in opposing a Calvinistic scheme of salvation, preferring instead the Wesleyan-Arminian positions regarding predestination, prevenient grace, the offer of justification to all persons, the possibility of entire sanctification, and assurance of salvation.[21][4]

Theological views[edit]

As a theologian, Clarke reinforced the teachings of Methodist founder John Wesley. He taught that the Bible provides a complete interpretation of God's nature and will. He considered Scripture itself a miracle of God's grace that "takes away the veil of darkness and ignorance."[22]

Perhaps his most controversial position regarded the eternal Sonship of Jesus.[7] Clarke did not believe it biblically faithful to affirm this doctrine, maintaining that prior to the Incarnation, Jesus was "unoriginated". Otherwise, according to Clarke, he would be subordinate to God and therefore not fully divine. This was important to Clarke because he felt that Jesus' divinity was crucial to understanding the atonement.[4]

Clarke's view was opposed by many Methodists, notably Richard Watson. Watson and his allies argued that Clarke's position jeopardized the integrity of the doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke's christological view was rejected in large part by Methodist theologians in favour of the traditional perspective.[4]

Support for abolitionism[edit]

He joined with other ministers in being an early critic of slavery. In his commentary of Isaiah 58:6, he writes :

"Let the oppressed go free – How can any nation pretend to fast or worship God at all, or dare to profess that they believe in the existence of such a Being, while they carry on the slave trade, and traffic in the souls, blood, and bodies, of men! O ye most flagitious of knaves, and worst of hypocrites, cast off at once the mask of religion; and deepen not your endless perdition by professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, while ye continue in this traffic!".[23]


Here are important books written by Clarke.[24] There are also : three volumes of Sermons, besides several single discourses and detached pieces ; and many anonymous articles in the Classical Journal, in the Eclectic Review, and in various other respectable journals. To these may be added the new edition for the Record Commission of Thomas Rymer's Foedera, in folio, of which he saw the first volume, and part of the second, through the press.[25] The edition was abandoned because of dissatisfaction with his efforts.[26]

In literature[edit]

The poem Dr. Adam Clarke and the Two Priests of Budha of 1835 by Letitia Elizabeth Landon is based on an illustrated incident in Dr Clarke's life. The notes to this refer to Liverpool, so it presumably occurred late in his life.
Wikisource-logo.svg Dr. Adam Clarke and the Two Priests of Budha, a poem by L. E. L..

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sellers 2004.
  2. ^ [Hare] 1842, p. 2. "either 1760 or 1762, most probably the former"
  3. ^ [Hare] 1842, pp. 2–3.
  4. ^ a b c d e Daniels 1890.
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  6. ^ a b c d McGonigle 1891, p. 13.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Blaikie 1887.
  8. ^ Read 1879.
  9. ^ Kelly 1891, p. 71.
  10. ^ Tracy 1981.
  11. ^ Methodist Episcopal Church 1897.
  12. ^ Clarke 1833b, p. 65.
  13. ^ Fontaine 1872, p. 38.
  14. ^ Schaff & Herzog 1953.
  15. ^ American Antiquarian Society 2019.
  16. ^ [Hare] 1842, pp. 337–338. Death : Sunday the 26th Aug. 1832, "twenty minutes past eleven on the evening of that day"
  17. ^ Etheridge 1858, p. 399.
  18. ^ Clarke 1817.
  19. ^ Read 1879, ""It is assuredly a wonderful performance," says Archbishop Lowndes, "carried on as it was in the midst of journeying and privations, of weariness and painfulness, of care and distraction; and carried on too by an unaided and single-handed man, for he himself affirms that he had no mortal to afford him the smallest assistance."".
  20. ^ Kelly 1891, pp. 70–71. "[...] his chief works is his Commentary on the Holy scriptures, on which he was engaged for thirty years, and which says Dr. Etheridge, "is one of the noblest works of the class in the entire domain of sacred literature.'
  21. ^ Clarke 1817, Acts 13:48. "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed : This text has been most pitifully misunderstood. Many suppose that it simply means that those in that assembly who were fore-ordained; or predestinated by God's decree, to eternal life, believed under the influence of that decree. Now, we should be careful to examine what a word means, before we attempt to fix its meaning. Whatever τεταγμενοι may mean, which is the word we translate ordained, it is neither προτεταγμενοι nor προορισμενοι which the apostle uses, but simply τεταγμενοι, which includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind. [...] what does the word τεταγμενος mean? The verb ταττω or τασσω signifies to place, set, order, appoint, dispose; hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation, such as the religious proselytes mentioned Acts 13:43"
  22. ^ Langford 1983, p. 56. (Adam Clarke quoted)
  23. ^ Clarke 1817, Isaiah 58:6.
  24. ^ ([Hare] 1842, p. 366) The following list contains the chief, perhaps all, that added to the writer's reputation. Two or three small pieces which he published are not specified.
  25. ^ [Hare] 1842, pp. 366–367.
  26. ^ Hardy 1873, p. xxxiv-xxxvi.


Further reading[edit]

  • Everett, James (1843a). Adam Clarke Portrayed. Vol. 1. London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., Paternoster Row.
  • Everett, James (1843b). Adam Clarke Portrayed. Vol. 2. London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., Paternoster Row.
  • Everett, James (1843c). Adam Clarke Portrayed. Vol. 3. London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., Paternoster Row.
  • Sellers, Ian (1976). Adam Clarke, controversialist : Wesleyanism and the historic faith in the age of Bunting. [St Columb Major]: [Wesley Historical Society].

External links[edit]