Adam Clarke the Literary Giant

This is the day that … The Reverend Adam Clarke died in 1832.

Born 1760 or 1762, in the little village of Moybeg, county of Londonderry, this friend and fellow preacher with John Wesley is especially remembered for his massive Bible commentary, which is still in print.

In his childhood his mother taught him to have strong faith in God, while his father was a village schoolmaster who needed to run a farm to supplement the meagre income. Adam and his brother also worked on the farm, attending school on each alternate day and having to pass on their lessons to the other before school the next day. This student-tutor experience stood him in good stead as both a preserver and interpreter of truth.

John Wesley rescued young Adam from a directionless youth by inviting him to study at the new Kingswood Methodist seminary. There Clarke excelled and Wesley invited him to become a circuit preacher at the age of 19, a profession he pursued for more than a quarter century.

He then devoted much of his time to literary research and to writing. His first work was A Dissertation on the Use and Abuse of Tobacco, followed by texts which catalogued or translated works from antiquity. Consequently he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1806 received an LL.D. from the University of St Andrews. He was also chosen a member of the Royal Irish Academy and of other literary societies in the UK and America.

In 1810 he released the first volume of The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes. The completed work included eight volumes, the last of which was issued in 1826. Archbishop Lowndes acclaimed the work, pointing out that Clarke produced it single-handedly, amid all his other duties and distractions.

Spurgeon wrote in his Commenting on the Commentaries: “Adam Clarke is the great annotator of our Wesleyan friends, and they have no reason to be ashamed of him, for he takes rank among the chief of expositors … his commentary is filled with valuable rarities, such as none but a great man could have collected.” Adds Spurgeon, “Notwithstanding his peculiarities, Adam Clarke still stands a prince among commentators.”

One of those ‘peculiarities’ is surely the comment that Eve was tempted, not by a serpent, but by an orangutan! And his notes on the death of Judas are not for the dainty ears of my readers!

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.