Vic Reasoner, “The Earle & Clarke Exposition”

, posted by Jon Gossman

Adam Clarke was once considered a dunce, yet he learned twenty languages. He overcame his fears to become the most able biblical scholar of his time in the English-speaking world. When he died the Conference recorded in its minutes, “No man is any age of the church, was ever known for so long a period, to have attracted larger audiences.” Three times Clarke was elected president of the British Conference of the Methodist Church.

Yet Clarke is known primarily for his commentary on the entire Bible. Before he began the commentary, he translated the whole Bible from the original languages. Unlike W. B. Godbey who dictated his random thoughts to a secretary, Clarke spent thirty years of hard work on his commentary.

Milton S. Terry wrote in 1885 that next to Matthew Henry, no commentary of similar scope and magnitude “has had a wider circulation or is better known than the commentary of Adam Clarke.”

From the first edition which quickly sold out in 1810, his commentary has remain in print until the present. However, in 1967, Ralph Earle produced a one volume abridged edition. Earle stated that dated or extraneous material was eliminated and I would concede that the commentary does contain extraneous material. My concern is that Earle has omitted Clarke’s teaching at one significant point while claiming to allow “the great scholar to speak for himself.”

In the Preface Earle claims “the actual words of Adam Clarke have not been changed, except to modernize the language and to abbreviate where appropriate.” Judge for yourself.

At Ezekiel 36:27 Earle omits one half of one page, including Clarke’s comment that “true Christians are those who are filled with the nature and Spirit of Christ.”

Jesus said in John 3:5, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Clarke wrote,

Reader, hast thou never had any other baptism than that of water If thou hast not had any other, take Jesus Christ’s word for it, thou canst not, in thy present state, enter into the kingdom of God. I would not say to thee merely, read what it is to be born of the Spirit: but pray, pray to God incessantly, till He give thee to feel what is implied in it! Remember, it is Jesus only who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. He who receives not this baptism has neither right nor title to the kingdom of God; nor can he with any propriety be termed a Christian, because that which essentially distinguished the Christian dispensation from that of the Jews was, that its author baptized all His followers with the Holy Ghost.

Ralph Earle omitted this entire paragraph.

Where Jesus teaches His disciples that the Holy Spirit is with them and will be in them (John 14:17), Clarke explains:

It is certain the Holy Spirit was not yet given to the disciples so as to dwell in them; this St. John himself assures us, 7:39. And it is evidently of that Spirit and its influences, which was not given till the day of Pentecost, that our Lord here speaks.

Ralph Earle has omitted this paragraph.

At Acts 2:28 Peter preached, “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Clarke points out:

In reference to the remission or removal of sins: baptism pointing out the purifying influences of the Holy Spirit; [and it is in reference to that purification that it is administered, and should in consideration never be separated from it. For baptism itself purifies not the conscience; it only points out the grace by which this is to be done. If ye faithfully use the sign, ye shall get the substance.]

Clarke is making a connection between Spirit baptism and water baptism (see also Clarke’s Christian Theology, 255). Earle omits everything bracketed which does not allow this connection to be made.

Earle sees Acts 8:14-17 as an experience subsequent to conversion. He believes “unquestionably, the receiving of the Spirit was subsequent to conversion” [Beacon Bible Commentary, 7:353]. Clarke, however, said the gift of the Spirit was “certainly not for the sanctification of the souls of the people . . . . It was the miraculous gifts of the Spirit which were thus communicated.”

Where Paul was filled with the Spirit in Acts 9:17, Clarke comments that prior to this point in time Paul “was not even a Christian; and the Holy Ghost, which he received now, was given more to make him a thorough Christian convert than to make him an apostle.”

Earle omits this reference. However, Earle believes that “one is filled with the Holy Spirit when his heart is cleansed from all sin in the experience of entire sanctification” [Beacon, 7:305].

When Cornelius receives the Spirit and is then baptized in water, Clarke again makes the tie between Spirit baptism and water baptism (Acts 10:47).

These had evidently received the Holy Ghost, and consequently were become members of the mystical body of Christ; and yet St. Peter requires that they shall receive baptism by water, that they might become members of the Christian Church.

Clarke concludes by noting that the baptism of the Spirit did not supersede the baptism by water, “nor indeed can it.”

Earle quotes the paragraph, but omits the concluding note. However, in Earle’s own commentary on Acts, he states the experience of Cornelius is “commonly known as entire sanctification” [Beacon, 7:380].

At Acts 11:16 Clarke observed that the promise of the Spirit’s baptism was made to all “who should believe on Jesus Christ.” Earle let this statement stand, but omitted Clarke’s closing comment, “Hence we learn that the promise of the Holy Spirit is given to the whole body of Christians – to all that believe on Christ as dying for their sins, and rising for their justification.”

Two verses later it is recorded that at the household of Cornelius God granted the Gentiles repentance unto life. Clarke says they embraced the Christian religion. Earle omits this reference.

At Acts 19 Earle does let stand Clarke’s note that the Ephesian disciples “therefore were not Christians.” Earle, however, omits the following paragraph:

And to this day the genuine disciples of Christ are distinguished from all false religionists, and from nominal Christians, by being made partakers of this Spirit, which enlightens their minds, and convinces of sin, righteousness, and judgment; quickens their souls, witnesses to their conscience that they are the children of God, and purifies their hearts. Those who have not received these blessings from the Holy Spirit, whatever their profession may be, know nothing better than John’s baptism: good, excellent in its kind, but ineffectual to the salvation of those who live under the meridian of Christianity.

In Earle’s own commentary he states that those who have believed and entered the Christian faith still need to be filled with the Spirit as a subsequent experience [Beacon, 7:477].

At Romans 8:9 Clarke can almost be heard preaching.

God made man in union with Himself, and his heart was His temple. Sin being committed, the temple was defiled, and God abandoned it. Jesus Christ is come by His sacrifice and Spirit to cleanse the temple, and make man again a habitation of God through the Spirit. And when this almighty Spirit again makes the heart His residence, then the soul is delivered from the moral effects of the fall. And that this is absolutely necessary to our present peace and final salvation is proved from this: that if any man have not the Spirit of Christ – the mind that was in him, produced there by the power of the Holy Ghost – he is none of His; he does not belong to the kingdom, flock, or family of God. This is an awful conclusion! Reader, lay it to heart.

Earle did not see fit to include anything cited above. At Ephesians 1:13 Clarke said:

The Holy Spirit, which is promised to them who believe on Christ Jesus, was given to you and thus you were ascertained to be the children of God, for God has not child who is not a partaker of the Holy Ghost, and he who has this Spirit has God’s seal that he belongs to the heavenly family.

At 1 John 4:18 Clarke exhorts:

Let such earnestly seek, and fervently believe on the Son of God; and he will son give them another baptism of his Spirit, will purge out all the old leaven, and fill their whole souls with that love which is the fulfilling of the law.

This exhortation was omitted by Earle.

Ralph Earle said he found it “difficult to understand the almost universal neglect in the Christian Church of the baptism of the Holy Spirit” [The Gospel According to Mark, 30]. However, he omits most of Clarke’s references to Spirit baptism. This is probably because Clarke did not connect Spirit baptism exclusively to entire sanctification.

Wesley Tracy concluded, “Clarke strongly emphasized the Holy Spirit in conversion.” In entire sanctification the believer is baptized with a great effusion of the Spirit, but Clarke did not connect Pentecost and the experience of sanctification “in any direct way” [When Adam Clarke Preached, People Listened, 124]. However, Earle does in his commentary [Beacon, 7:274].

Who gave Ralph Earle the authority to edit out those passages which do not fit his theology and publish the results under Clarke’s name? If the holiness movement teaches the same doctrine as early Methodism, why was so much editing necessary? How many people will think they are actually reading Clarke when they are only reading a sanitized version? Perhaps Clarke should have been abridged by someone who was more sympathetic to Clarke’s theology.

Thomas Oden has raised his voice against “modern Chauvinists” which he defines as:

those who have decided that there is precious little worth learning from any premodern voice. They assume the intrinsic inferiority of all premodern texts and the intrinsic superiority of all modern methods of investigation of those texts [Life in the Spirit, 469].

In the early history of our nation the Lewis & Clark Expedition paved the way for expansion. However, the Earle & Clarke Exposition leads to suppression of the truth.


From: Reasoner, Vic. “The Earl & Clarke Exposition.” The Arminian: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, vol. 12, no. 1, 1994. Web.