By John Fletcher
It is unfortunate that the name of John Fletcher is not held in such high honour by Christians today, as it once was; considering that his ministry was exceptional by any standard, and that his writings continued to be used by God for years after his death, he ought to have a place in our regard. Even if it is not true to say, as some have done most readily, that he was the most saintly man who ever lived, a knowledge of his life and some acquaintance with his literary efforts, will not go amiss now.
This particular book was not written by him for mass circulation; he intended it for only one reader-a gentleman friend who was bewildered and who could not obtain proper spiritual help in his local church. The six chapters here presented originally took the form of letters in Mr. Fletcher's own handwriting. It was not until fifteen years after the author's death that these letters, along with many other manuscripts, were gathered into two large volumes and published. The edition from which I have taken this manuscript was published by Messrs. Jones and Company, of Finsbury Square, London, in 1830.
In the churches of our generation, it is not uncommon to hear ministers speak lightly of the miracles of Christ and suggest the lack of need for anything supernatural. A more sensitive awareness of the universe and the challenge of scientific discoveries have combined to blind even the most evangelical of Christians into presuming that the Gospel has old-fashioned limitations. It is even said, in some circles, that a belief in anything which cannot be explained in materialistic terms is but superstition; any mention of divine supernatural events is smiled at with cynicism.
This influence has so invaded the Church, and so affected preaching, that the doctrine of the New Birth is correctly expounded in very few places of worship. Emphasis has shifted from a mention of the work which only God can do in the life of a sinner, by regenerating him into the kingdom of Christ, to an appeal that even unconvicted persons should decide to put their trust in the Saviour. In other words, it is not popular now to exclaim that men need a miraculous experience in order to be saved; it seems that if one wishes to be an acceptable preacher, he must declare only the importance of the congregation doing things-the more humanistic the preacher is, the more popular he is likely to become.
This situation is not new; the Church appears to have suffered many tides of unbelief like this, over the centuries. Although we may think that the challenge is new today, spiced as it is with scientific overtones, the problem is the same basically; truth is being attacked by the forces of logical doubt. This being the case, we must confess that if there is a way to combat such an invasion, it must be - as our Christian forefathers well knew-to state, repeatedly, biblical truth with authority. In due course, even though many years may pass, the scriptural preacher will be vindicated, at last.
The title which the first publishers gave to this short work seemed ungainly for the demands of twentieth century librarians, and so the one on the cover has been selected, after much discussion; it is not in either the past or present tense; it depicts a spiritual event in the life of the believer. It was the opinion of the author, and is also that of myself, that the Lord Jesus Christ has many ways of making Himself known to His followers; some of these -if described in human terms-seem to be more remarkable than others, but all can be considered to be manifestations-that is, experiences which affect the spiritual senses. The following chapters seek to prove this opinion, from the Bible.
Spiritualists have made use of the word manifestation and frightened some people sufficiently to cause them to have no association with the word. This is sad if we recall that the translators have not hesitated to use it in their endeavours to interpret the ancient Scriptures. The word means something on display, shown plainly, revealed, uncovered, made visible, and which provides evidence for proof. Just because one group of heretics has misused a word which is well known in christendom, it does not follow that we can no longer lay claim to it. Rather, it seems to me, we ought to take every opportunity to make the correct meaning obvious. Spiritual manifestations have been with us from the beginning; the devil may have his own characteristic activities, but this does not mean that the Lord has ceased to manifest Himself in ways of His choosing. We must put up with satanic counterfeits, but we have no reason-just on the grounds of these evil imitations-to deny the Almighty the opportunity of showing His glory, from time to time, in ways that are acceptable to Him. Angels have not ceased to exist simply because some people have said that they have not seen one. Divine manifestations are real to those who have been favoured with an experience of the same.
John Fletcher interchanged the word manifestation with the word revelation in such a way that one is forced to the conclusion that these two interesting words were, in his opinion, almost equivalent. Although they stem from different roots, there is-especially if one limits their use to the religious sphere-a close similarity. A revelation can be defined as something which makes known, discloses, divulges, unveils, or reveals knowledge; the word is clearly akin to manifestation, therefore, although there must be times when each is preferable. These English definitions are hardly different from those which apply to the Greek New Testament words originally chosen by the inspired writers. This being the case, I have not altered the author's choice of either one or the other in this new edition; in fact, I have encouraged it by my choice of chapter titles.
Every theologian knows that there are good grounds for denouncing the theory that divine revelation is a continuous experience which enables us to learn more about the nature of God, and His purposes, day-by-day; fanaticism and heresy breed in the fertile soil of such ideas. Also, for similar reasons, it is undesirable to encourage people to think that the canon of Scripture is incomplete and that, therefore, it does not furnish the reader with all the information about his salvation, his edification, and his church, that he needs. It is one thing to say that there is still more light and truth to break forth from God's Word, but quite another thing to state that the Church-or some upstart prophet-can add to the divine revelation already committed to print in the Bible. Although the author pleads for personal experiences of Christ that will enrich the individual soul, he is as anxious as anyone else to uphold the sufficiency of the Scriptures. He does not deride a love of the Bible-no minister ever loved it more than he did; he does exhort the reader to discover Christ in the way that enables Him to come and abide with us, and sup with us.
To meet Christ in an intimate way, in the privacy of one's own room, does not make a fanatic out of a man, it humbles him in the way that John Fletcher indicates in the last chapter. Extremism is caused by egotistical activities in the mind of someone who considers that he knows better than the Scriptures.
If the reader, having ploughed his way through every argument here presented, comes to the last page unmoved -without any desire to voice his own 'amen'-he should ask himself if he is but an unbeliever; however unpleasant a fact this may seem to be, it is likely to be true. The pure spirituality of the author's reasoning, and overwhelming presentation of the biblical case, suggest that his opinion is not at fault. Opposition to such a display of divine truth can only be equated with unbelief, as he makes abundantly clear, despite any statements to the contrary. If a man is 'born-again of the Spirit of God' he is no longer earth-bound and essentially materialistic; he is just as aware of the things of the Lord as he is of the things of man. If they do nothing else, these pages may shake some people, who have only a profession of faith now, into realising that one can know Him, whom to know is life everlasting.
The reader will learn, after only a few pages, that John Fletcher was a faithful member (although a protesting one!) of the established church, and that he knew the Book of Common Prayer as well as he knew his Bible. The modern non-conformist may find the regular references to the Church of England a little overpowering. It should be remembered that non-doctrinal ecumenism had not then developed and the liberal theology movement had not yet descended upon the scene when the author wrote these pages. It is possible that he would not have been an Anglican vicar, if he had lived in this century. However, I have no right to presume upon these things, and neither have I any authority to edit another's work in the light of present-day opinions. It would be improper for me to delete any of the references to either the established church or the prayer book since they were all important to the author's theme and argument. If the reader is a non-conformist either in England, or overseas, he should take heart at what he reads, for in this book there is proof that the compilers of the Book of Common Prayer believed in experimental religion of the kind that the author pleads for.
It appears to me that although all Christians should have the ability to recognise and comprehend divine manifestations, they do not all do so to the same degree. This may not only depend on the understanding which the Lord gives us on these glorious occasions, but also on the type of persons we are. Some are more sensitive than others, and some are more easily able to discern the presence of divine influences. This must reflect itself in the personal experiences which we have of the Saviour. It was William Guthrie - a famous divine of yesterday-who explained lucidly that although the vast majority of sinners ought to experience a law-work in their souls as the Holy Spirit strives with them, before they come to know saving faith, not all pass through this state. There are those who are called from conception, like John the Baptist; those who are brought to Christ in a sovereign way, like Zaccheus; those who leave all behind and follow Christ without reserve, upon hearing a single call from the Master; others who discover salvation-in moments-upon their deathbeds. To make rules in these matters, even though one can see a plain pattern for the vast majority, is to harm the souls of a few. The author of the fascinating thesis now in your hands, does not make the mistake of demanding that all believers have one kind of experience; he only intends to show that Christ seeks to manifest Himself spiritually, to every Christian, in one way or another, sooner or later.
As I have said already, we hear much today of the need for people to do things; little is heard from the pulpit of the need which the Christian has to foster the presence of his Lord and to know Christ more and more intimately. One could argue that this is not a bad state of affairs and that, if nothing else, it encourages each believer to be unselfish and outward-looking. However, despite its virtues, this approach does tend to make the believer lose interest in personal prayer communion with Christ. Considering the extent of the biblical teaching upon such a personal relationship, we ought to bemoan the lack of this emphasis in modern preaching. It does not matter how intelligently we approach the things of God, nor what wealth of information we have at our fingertips, there yet remains all the difference in the world between knowing a doctrine and knowing the Person of whom the Bible speaks.
If I had not been lovingly encouraged to edit these six letters of John Fletcher and then compile them into this new book, I would not have attempted it; my awareness of the ministry of the author (to say nothing of his saintly life!) make me unwilling to consider altering anything from his hand. However, in view of the fact that this generation needs such a challenge as this title offers, and since I am indebted to Mr. Fletcher for much past inspiration, I have dared to obey the pressure placed upon me. Although fearful of the task, as I first approached it, I now have a sense of gratitude towards those who thrust this honour my way.
I have altered as little as possible, confining myself-as much as I could-to punctuation and style. Also, I have bent over backwards to express the beloved minister in the way that I believe he would have done today, if he had lived in our generation. I have retained the old-fashioned sentence formation, and have changed words only when I suspected that to leave them would make for confusion. Throughout, I have presumed that the reader will not need to be told where the many quotations are to be found; the few scriptural references I have given are intended only to save the reader from misunderstanding the point being made. With reluctance, I have broken my silence in one or two places and added necessary footnotes.
I am indebted to the Epworth Press and the Evangelical Library for their help, and to those friends who have read the manuscript in order to provide me with the benefit of their opinions; all of their helpful advice has been used.
I consider that the contents of this slim volume are unique and that they will encourage many seekers to enter into much assurance. If my opinion is correct, the hours which I have spent in translating these chapters-for the sake of modem readers-will not have been wasted.
DAVID R. SMITH (1968)