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The Life of John Fletcher: Preface


      By Joseph Benson

      Compiled From:

      The Narrative of Rev. Mr. Wesley;
      The Biographical Notes of Rev. Mr. Gilpin;
      From His Own Letters,
      Other Authentic Documents,
      Many of Which Were Never Before Published.

      New York:
      Published by T. Mason and G. Lane,
      For the Methodist Episcopal Church At the Conference Office,
      200 Mulberry Street
      J. Collord, Printer


      It has long been the desire of many of Mr. Fletcher's friends, to see a more full and complete account of that extraordinary man, than any that had appeared. Mr. Wesley's Narrative of his life was drawn up in great haste, and in the midst of so many important labors and concerns of another kind, that it is not at all surprising it should contain some small mistakes, and in other respects, should be imperfect. Mrs. Fletcher never intended to write his Life, but only to give an account of his death, with a few particulars of his character.

      The Rev. Mr. Gilpin's Biographical Notes, annexed to his translation of Mr. Fletcher's Portrait of Saint Paul, are very excellent, and very accurate, as far as they go. But neither did Mr. Gilpin intend to write his Life, but simply to give some more traits of his character, and add a few anecdotes concerning him, which had been omitted by Mr., Wesley and Mrs. Fletcher. Add to this, that Mr. Gilpin's Notes are scattered through that work without any order: and, however useful, as detached pieces, do not, in any respect, furnish the reader with a regular and connected history of that great and good man.

      In consideration of these things, it has been judged, by his friends, to be a debt due to his memory, and to the Christian world, to compile from the whole, and from such other documents as might be collected, such an authentic and properly arranged narrative of his life and death, as might be at once clear and sufficiently full, comprising every article of importance. Mrs. Fletcher, knowing that I had been particularly intimate with Mr. Fletcher from the year 1768, till his death, and that we had been in the constant habit of corresponding, earnestly desired I would undertake this work. And our general conference, held at Leeds in the year 1801, having joined with her in the same request, I have, at length, complied, and am not without hope, that the interests of pure and vital Christianity will be promoted by it.

      This narrative includes the whole of what is material in the fore-mentioned accounts, digested in regular order, together with much new matter, taken chiefly from Mr. Fletcher's own letters to myself, and some other friends, especially to the Rev. Mr. Perronet, late of Shoreham, and some members of his family. I have found it to be peculiarly useful to myself to be employed about this work: and I pray God that every reader may obtain similar, and even greater benefit from it, and be induced to follow him as fully as he followed Christ.

      Joseph Benson
      London, October 25, 1804


      The editor is aware that he must chiefly ascribe it to the high esteem entertained by the public in general, and by the members of the Methodist societies in particular, for the character of the late Rev. Mr. Fletcher, and the great veneration in which his memory is held by them, that the former impression of this work has had so rapid a sale, and that a second edition is so soon called for. He is, however, happy to find, by the testimonies he has received from different quarters, that the manner in which he has been enabled to execute his office of compiler, has been highly satisfactory to Mr. Fletcher's friends, and to the readers of the publication in general.

      It is true, the editors of a periodical work, termed the "Christian Observer," have represented it as an imperfection in its mode of compilation, that he did not "weave the whole of his materials into a completely new work." But this, he must observe, was not the task assigned him; nor would he, if desired, have consented to undertake it, well knowing, both that it would require more time than he could have spared from his other, not less important employments, and that the work would gain nothing thereby in point of real usefulness. For he was well persuaded that he could not express the same things in his own words so well as the Rev. Messrs. Wesley and Gilpin had expressed them, nor clothe the materials furnished by these truly pious and learned writers in more pure, elegant, and forcible language, than they had used. He knew, therefore, that to have pursued the plan the conductors of that miscellany have suggested, would not have rendered the work more interesting, or more instructive to the reader, or in any respect better calculated to answer the great and important ends of religious biography, which are not to gain honor and applause to the writer; but rather to excite and animate the reader to greater zeal and diligence in pursuit of whatever excellence might be described or exemplified in the subject of it.

      Add to this, he was sensible it was not the wish of any of the parties by whom he was pressed into this service, that the narratives of Messrs, Wesley and Gilpin should be superseded and lost sight of. He knew it was rather their desire, that these well written, though incomplete accounts should be brought forward afresh into public view, preserved and perpetuated, by being incorporated in one volume, with such other materials as might be collected; thereby furnishing the public with such a clear and full history of that incomparable man as might be of lasting use to the Church of Christ, and a mean[s] of edification to thousands yet unborn.

      But "the natural consequence of this mode of compilation," say they, "is, that the work is defective in clearness and uniformity, and that it is occasionally prolix [lengthy, tedious] and redundant." As to prolixity and redundance, the editor is under no concern. The persons for whose use chiefly he undertook to compile this volume, have such veneration for the memory of Mr. Fletcher, that any information concerning him that is authentic, and at all instructive, or calculated to cast light upon his character, is peculiarly welcome; although to readers less apprised of his worth, it might appear unnecessary, or even superfluous. Under a persuasion of this, at the same time that the editor has corrected two or three important mistakes, inadvertently made in the former impression, he has enlarged the narrative still more in the present publication, by inserting several anecdotes, original letters, and other communications which had not come to hand when his manuscript for the first edition was sent to the press.

      But as to this point of prolixity, the Christian Observers themselves have formed his apology. "It is but fair to observe, (say they,) as to this volume, that, as it was evidently intended chiefly for the perusal of the followers of Mr. Wesley, who are almost universally great admirers of Mr. Fletcher, the editor might not think it necessary to pay so much regard, in the construction of his work, to perspicuity of arrangement and elegance of manner as to the minuteness of his details, and the abundance of his matter." This statement, bating the unmerited insinuation contained in it against the followers, of Mr. Wesley as persons who have less taste than their neighbors for order and elegance in composition, the editor acknowledges to be pretty near the truth. He owns he did pay, and thought it his duty to pay, much more attention to the matter than to the form and manner of his work. He paid, however, considerable attention to the latter also, and ventures to say, while it has all the elegance which the fine pens of Messrs. Gilpin, Wesley, and Fletcher could give it, the greatest part of its contents being expressed in their words, it has all the perspicuity and clearness which "an arrangement according to the date of the events," could bestow -- an arrangement which these observers themselves acknowledge to have been attended to.

      As to uniformity, it has what is quite sufficient for a work of the kind; a uniformity, not indeed of language, the simple and laconic style of Mr. Wesley differing very materially from the diffuse and florid manner of Mr. Gilpin and the copiousness of Mr. Fletcher; but, what is infinitely more important, a uniformity of testimony, respecting the amiable and excellent subject of the narrative, and that blessed Gospel which he preached, which he lived, and which his most eminent gifts and graces highly adorned, It is also uniform as to its design, and it is hoped that all its parts co-operate to produce the important effect intended, and that is, to induce every reader to follow Mr. Fletcher as he followed Christ.

      In short, the editor believes that he has pursued the best plan which he could have chosen, in order to trace, exhibit, and attest, from the mouths of different witnesses, Mr. Fletcher's character and conduct through every period of his life; and to give the reader at once a clear and full view of his progressive wisdom, piety, and usefulness, and especially of that heavenly and divine mind whereby he was prepared for the great and glorious reward awaiting him in the kingdom of his Father.

      But without entering farther into the examination of what he cannot but think to be the unkind and illiberal remarks, contained in the aforementioned publication, on these two most eminently useful men, the Rev. Messrs. Wesley and Fletcher, and on the Methodists in general; as a proper contrast to their critique, and a confirmation of the observations just made, the editor will now take the liberty of laying before the reader the judgment passed upon this work, by the conductors of two other periodical publications. Although no followers of Mr. Wesley, but persons of very different sentiments, as to some important points of Christian doctrine, nevertheless they could not close their eyes to the uncommon piety and other excellences of the subject of this narrative.

      "Whatever difference of opinion," say the editors of the Theological and Biblical Magazine, (see their number for April, 1805,) "may be entertained respecting some important points of doctrine, which the late Mr. Fletcher publicly maintained, we believe that there is but one opinion as to the exalted piety of this eminent Christian. We have perused these memoirs with deep interest, and we hope also not without profit. His humility, disinterestedness, affection, zeal, and heavenly mindedness have, perhaps, been seldom equaled; and few, we believe, will rise from the perusal of the volume before us, without being ashamed of their own unprofitableness, and adoring the riches of Divine grace, which were so extraordinarily manifested to this man of God. While reading this account of Mr. Fletcher, we frequently called to mind the late most amiable Mr. Pearce, of Birmingham, whose life has been written by Mr. Fuller. There seems, indeed, to have been a very great resemblance in these two characters, both in the ardency of their Christian love, their entire devotedness to God, and the constant communion they held with the Father of spirits. We have not room for quotations, yet we feel strongly inclined to give a few expressions of his, which indicate great candor toward those who thought differently from him in some less important particulars of doctrine."

      After producing a passage to this purpose, which the reader will find in page 332, "God forbid, &c.," they add, "We, among many others, differ widely from Mr. Fletcher in some points of doctrine, but we cannot withhold our admiration of a character so truly lovely and exalted. Mr. Benson has performed his part, in collecting the materials for this Life of Mr. Fletcher in a very respectable manner."

      The following sentences are transcribed from the Eclectic Review for June, 1805, in which this work is considered at large: "There have been some, in most ages of Christianity, and in most countries where it is professed, who have emulated its primitive and genuine excellence. Among these exalted few, the subject of the biography before us is unquestionably to be ranked. In whatever period he had lived, to whatever department of Christians he had belonged, he would have shone in the religious hemisphere, as a star of the first magnitude." After giving, from the volume, a general outline of his history, they add, "We must refer to the narrative of his short illness, given by Mrs. Fletcher, and to an ample character of him previously introduced, for a more adequate idea of this excellent man than we can attempt to impart. It was deemed preferable to give the preceding outline, rather than extracts of the work, as those (parts) which describe the more striking scenes of Mr. Fletcher's life have formerly been printed. Mr. Benson has very judiciously connected and completed, either from his own knowledge, or authentic documents, the detached accounts which had appeared in various publications."

      After mentioning a few passages, by the omission of which, and by the accession of Mr. Fletcher's character, as a tutor and as a writer, the authors of the Eclectic Review think the volume might be amended, they add, "We can cordially recommend it, in its present state, to serious and candid Christians, of every variety of form and sentiment: and it would greatly surprise us, should any person of this description rise up from the perusal of it, and assert that it had not afforded him pleasure and improvement."

      The Editor


      No man in England has had so long an acquaintance with Mr. Fletcher as myself. Our acquaintance began almost as soon as his arrival in London, about the year 1752, before he entered into holy orders, or (I believe) had any such intention. And it continued uninterrupted between thirty and forty years, even till it pleased God to take him to himself. Nor was ours a slight or ordinary acquaintance; but we were of one heart and of one soul. We had no secrets between us for many years; we did not purposely hide any thing from each other. From time to time he consulted me, and I him, on the most important occasions. And he constantly professed, not only much esteem, but (what I valued far more) much affection. He told me, in one of his letters, (I doubt not from his heart,)

      "Tecum vivere amen; tecum obeam lubens:
      With thee I gladly would both live and die."

      I therefore think myself obliged, by the strongest ties, to pay this small tribute to his memory. But you may easily observe that, in doing this, I am little more than a compiler. For I owe a great, if not the greatest part of the ensuing tract to a few friends, who have been at no small pains in furnishing me with materials: and, above all, to my dear friend, (such she has been almost from her childhood,) Mrs. Fletcher. I could easily have altered both hers and their language, while I retained their sentiments. But I was conscious I could not alter it for the better: and I would not alter for altering's sake: but judged it fairest to give you most of their accounts very nearly in their own words.

      Amsterdam, September 12, 1786

Back to John Fletcher index.

See Also:
   Chapter 1 - Of His Parentage and Youth
   Chapter 2 - Account of His Conversion
   Chapter 3 - Conversion & Orders
   Chapter 4 - Faithfulness in Ministry
   Chapter 5 - Excursions & Visits
   Chapter 6 - Decline of Health
   Chapter 7 - Leaving Newington
   Chapter 8 - Of His Marriage
   Chapter 9 - From His Marriage Till the Beginning of His Last Illness
   Chapter 10 - His Character
   Chapter 11 - His Character By Mrs. Fletcher and Others
   Chapter 12 - His Death


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