A Biographical Outline of Adam Clarke (1760-1832)

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This article is incomplete as part of an ongoing research project. It may be edited by the author at any time.

Biography & Significance

Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.A.S., was born in Moybeg, Londonderry Co., Northern Ireland, and was a British Methodist. At age seventeen he became a class leader. He was sent by John Wesley in 1782 to Kingswood where he bought a Hebrew Bible and learned the language. He was elected three times as conference president of British Methodism.  He is especially noted for his commentaries of the Bible which he published over a span of forty years. Some of his work was opposed by Richard Watson who accused him of heresy regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. He also translated some books from

German into English (Reflections on the Works of God in Nature and Providence for Every Day of the Year, Christopher Christian Sturm, 1833). 

Clarke’s significance is largely contained in the popularity of his commentaries. Although he did not write a significant systematic theology, his commentaries continue to be authoritative for Wesleyans regarding theological interpretation of the Bible. While he is not a major systematic theologian, he is a significant biblical theologian. His most popular theological work concerned his unorthodox view of the eternal Sonship of Christ.

Recognition among Peers and Historians

Literary Contributions to Methodist Thought & Life

  • A Short Account of the First Introduction of the Gospel into the British Isles (1816)
  • Commentary on the Bible (1826)
  • Christian Theology
  • The Christian Prophet and His Work
  • Memoirs of the Wesley Family (1836)
  • Sermons, addresses and correspondence 

Collected Works, Biographies, Dissertations

  • Miscellaneous Works of Dr. Clarke, 13 vols. (1836-1837)
  • The Life and Labors of Adam Clarke (John Middleton Hare, 1834)
  • An Account of the Religious and Literary Life of Adam Clarke (ed. JBB Clarke, 1839, 3 vols)
  • Adam Clarke Portrayed (James Everett, 1843)
  • Life of Clarke (JW Etheridge, 1858)
  • The Life of Adam Clarke (Samuel Dunn, 1863)
  • “Methodist theology in Great Britain in the Nineteenth Century: With Special Reference to the Theology of Adam Clarke, Richard Watson, and William Burt Pope,” Ph.D. diss. By Elden Dale Dunlap, Yale University, 1956.
  • “When Adam Clarke Preached—People Listened,” Ph.D. diss. By Wesley D. Tracy, San Francisco Theological Seminary, 1982.
  • “Adam Clarke, LL.D. (1760?-1832), as Church Leader in Early Methodism,” Ph.D. diss. By R. J. Wells, University of Edinburgh, 1957.

Archival Information

Historians’ View

 “Adam Clarke had few peers in the influence he wielded upon the grass roots of early Methodism.” (Peters, 103)

“Has Methodism ever produced a mind to surpass his? He is a good deal of a ‘liberal’ when it comes to theology—some of his views are so startling that the church feels compelled to repudiate them publicly—but his mental grasp is so astonishing, and his personal piety is so warm and attractive, that we see him go ahead unchallenged in his place of leadership.” (Luccock & Hutchinson, 397)

“Adam Clarke…was a scholar of the first order and one of the most important theologians of early Methodism….Known especially for his classical commentaries and linguistic accomplishments (he deciphered language on the Rosetta Stone), he was also a significant theological voice.” (Thomas Langford, Practical Divinity, 22).

David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).