An Historical Perspective of Precious Bible Promises
by Tom Stewart
March 31, 2009
Samuel Clarke (1684-1759) was an English Nonconformist clergyman.
His name has often been confused with the prominent Anglican clergyman and philosopher
of the same name. (The writer of this WStS Introduction made that very mistake
in the previous online edition of this volume.) Nonetheless, God would judge thus
of Samuel Clarke: "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23).
Dr. Clarke ministered faithfully for 38 years to a congregation at St. Albans, a
city in southern Hertfordshire, England. This Book of Promises ---New
Window is in large part the reason we are familiar with
his name. "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" (Proverbs
22:1). It became popularly known as The Scripture Promises after its initial
release (1720). A later edition (1895) introduced this volume as A Collection
of the Promises of Scripture: Under Their Proper Heads. Its title page further
advertised that the Book was divided In Two Parts: Representing I. The Blessings
promised. II. The Duties to which Promises are made. Additionally, it prefaced
With a Recommendation by Dr. Watts. This was Isaac Watts, the popular English
hymnwriter, whose preface was added in the second edition of the volume (1738). Modern
readers will gather their primary understanding of the spirituality of Samuel Clarke,
not only from his collection of Promises, but also from his Introduction, containing
Observations upon the Excellency and Use of the Promises, and Directions for the
right Application of them. In his Introduction to the Promises, Clarke
asserted, "CONSTANTLY plead the Promises with God in Prayer. He has thereby
bound himself to his People, as with a Note under his Hand. Go with it therefore
to God, firmly depending upon his Faithfulness; He will acknowledge his own Handwriting,
and answer your Demands accordingly."
Clarke's early 18th century Introduction was matched by the convention of capitalizing the first letter of most prominent nouns, lengthy sentences separated by semicolons, Roman numerals in the Scriptural references, and no longer used spellings of common words. (The valuable Introduction is now included in this online version of Clarke's Bible Promises.) But, much like the reading of the ancient texts of Holy Scripture, the purpose of Samuel Clarke shines through in his Collection of the Promises of Scripture, that is, "to excite to, and give the greatest Encouragement in, a Course of Piety and universal Holiness." If we properly understand that the purpose of the Promises of God is to make us more like Christ, while preserving us from the sin in the world, then we will be appropriately prepared to use this Book of Promises. "Whereby are given unto us Exceeding Great and Precious Promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2Peter 1:4). Dr. Clarke recounts that he initially assembled his Collection of Promises "to assist some Young Persons, who very commendably and to their great Advantage, are employ'd in improving themselves, and one another, in the Knowledge of the Scriptures." Though he felt a small number of Promises was appropriate, he recalled, "At first I intended to put together a small Number, upon some principal Subjects; but, upon searching the Scriptures more and more Texts still offering themselves, which I thought equally to my purpose, this Collection at length grew so large, that the taking so many Copies as were wanted, would have been a tedious Work; For which Reason, and in hopes it might serve the same useful End to others, I at last gave way to its being made publick." Thank God for allowing such a large collection and allowing for it to be published! "The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it" (Psalm 68:11).
This book of Precious Bible Promises was also known by its 19th century readers as Clarke's Scripture Promises. In a time that already had seen the Authorized Version of the Scriptures from the Church of England-- the King James Version of 1611-- and had produced The Pilgrim's Progress (1675) from the Church of England's famous dissenter, John Bunyan (1628-1688)-- who was acquainted for twelve years with the hospitality of Bedford jail for preaching without a license-- a book of Precious Bible Promises was (and, still is needed) to encourage every True Believer in their pursuit of holy living. "Having therefore these Promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2Corinthians 7:1). The "Notice by Dr. Watts" affixed to the front of the Precious Bible Promises, identifies Samuel Clarke as the "worthy author of this collection, which I ["I. Watts"] have known with esteem and honor." "I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts" (Psalm 119:63). Of interest, Isaac Watts, the author of over 600 hymns, was himself the son of another dissenter from the Church of England. You will probably notice that a good number of Clarke's compiled Promises were gleaned from the Book of Psalms of the Old Testament, and Watts could especially identify with their Promises, since he had himself published the Psalms of David (1719) in which are found poetic paraphrases of Psalm 90 ("O God, Our Help in Ages Past") and Psalm 98 ("Joy to the World"). "10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it" (90:10, 17).
A notable 19th century advocate of Clarke's Scripture Promises was found in the person of the enigmatic, English General Charles G. Gordon (1833-1885)-- "Chinese Gordon," the "Hero of Khartoum," "Gordon Pasha." In January 1884, he had advised Lord Wolseley to distribute a copy of Clarke's Scripture Promises to every member of the Cabinet of Prime Minister William Gladstone upon Gordon's departure to handle the volatile situation of the revolting Mahdi in the Sudan. "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained Promises, stopped the mouths of lions" (Hebrews 11:33). Charles Gordon had early made his peace with Jesus Christ as a young officer in the Royal Engineers at Pembroke (U.K.) after being pursued for Christ by his sister Augusta and by a "very religious captain of the name of Drew." "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (8:12). Gordon had distinguished himself with conspicuous gallantry during the Crimean War (1853-1856), had successfully quelled the Taiping Rebellion in China (1863-1864), and had been instrumental in the suppression of the slave trade (1877-1880) in the Sudan (south of Egypt), during which he had been a solitary man of One Book-- his pocket Bible. "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having Promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1Timothy 4:8). Though the career of General Gordon was peppered with the intensity of great overcoming in times of conflict, he knew times of obscurity and grievous backsliding; but, as he once wrote to his sister Augusta, "I am glad to say that this disease [a smallpox experienced in China] has brought me back to my Saviour, and I trust in future to be a better Christian than I have been hitherto." "Whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6). In the timing of God's Providence, Gordon Pasha met his end on the morning of January 26th 1885, two days before the British relief column reached the newly subjugated city of Khartoum, where the unbowing Gordon had held out to the end. "Ye shall be hated of all men for My Name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:22).
Rosalind Goforth, a Canadian Christian missionary, was another who lived in 19th century China that gave a glowing recommendation of the value of Clarke's Scripture Promises. She wrote of the faithfulness of God in her testimonial book, How I Know God Answers Prayer. "They shall abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness" (Psalm 145:7). As she, her husband Jonathan, and her four children faced the bloody onslaught of the anti-foreigner, anti-Christian Boxer Revolt of the secret society "Harmonious Fists" of China (1900), they were advised by the American Consul in Chefoo to flee from the city of Changte in North Honan to the coastal seaport of Shanghai. "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper" (Isaiah 54:17). On the morning of July 8th 1900, their small party of missionaries was resting at an inn in the small town of Hsintien, while a boisterous mob awaited them outside casting stones and demanding their money. Rosalind wrote,
"Hints had been given us of coming danger, but that was all; none spoke of what all felt -- that we were probably going to our death. Suddenly, without the slightest warning, I was seized with an overwhelming fear of what might be awaiting us. It was not the fear of after death, but of probable torture, that took such awful hold of me. I thought, 'Can this be the Christian courage I have looked for?' I went by myself and prayed for victory, but no help came. Just then someone called us to a room for prayer before getting into our carts. Scarcely able to walk for trembling, and utterly ashamed that others should see my state of panic -- for such it undoubtedly was -- I managed to reach a bench beside which my husband stood. He drew from his pocket a little book, Clarke's Scripture Promises, and read the verses his eyes first fell upon. They were the following:
The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.
I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness... The Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
If God be for us, who can be against us?
We may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
The effect of these words at such a time was remarkable. All realized that God was speaking to us. Never was there a message more directly given to mortal man from his God than that message to us. From almost the first verse my whole soul seemed flooded with a great peace; all trace of panic vanished; and I felt God's presence was with us. Indeed, His presence was so real it could scarcely have been more so had we seen a visible form."
Needless to say, they all escaped with their lives with each able to give amazing stories of physical deliverance from innumerable attempts to kill, injure, or maim them. "Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver us" (2Corinthians 1:10).
The testimony from the past serves to remind us that the same God Who Promised Abraham that He would make him a father of a great multitude-- which He did-- has Promised us, "Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jeremiah 33:3). May we be like Abraham in rising to the challenge. "20 He staggered not at the Promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in Faith, giving Glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what He had Promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:20-21).
May God bless you as you lay hold of His Promises!
"Thy Counsels of old are Faithfulness and Truth" (Isaiah 25:1).
March 31st 2009
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