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The Life of John Fletcher: Chapter 3 - Conversion & Orders


      1. It was not long after he had himself felt the powers of the world to come, that he was pressed in spirit to exhort others to seek after the same blessing. And he was the more strongly excited to this, by seeing the world all around him lying in wickedness. Being deeply sensible of the goodness of God on the one hand, and of the misery of mankind on the other, he found an earnest longing

      "To pluck poor brands out of the fire
      To snatch them from the verge of hell."

      This he began to do a considerable time before he was admitted into holy orders. And even his first labors of love were far from being in vain. For though he was by no means perfect in the English tongue, particularly with regard to the pronunciation of it; yet the earnestness with which he spoke, (seldom to be found in English preachers,) and the unspeakably tender affection to the poor, undone sinners, who breathed in every word and gesture, drew multitudes of people to hear him: and by the blessing of God, his word made so deep. an impression on their hearts, that very few went empty away.

      2. From this time, till he took the direct care of souls, he used to be in London during the sitting of the parliament, and the rest of the year at Tern-hall, (as it was then called,) instructing the young gentlemen. Every Sunday, when in the country, he attended the parish church at Atcham, But when the service was ended, instead of going home in the coach, which was always ready, he usually took a solitary walk by the Severn side, and spent some time in meditation and prayer. A pious domestic of Mr. Hill, having frequently observed him, one Sunday desired leave to walk with him, which he constantly did from that time. The account which he (Mr. Vaughan lately living in London) gave of Mr. Fletcher, when Mr. Wesley's edition of his life was published, is as follows: "It was our ordinary custom, when the church service was over, to retire into the most lonely fields or meadows; where we frequently either kneeled down, or prostrated ourselves upon the ground. At those happy seasons I was a witness of such pleadings and wrestlings with God, such exercises of faith and love, as I have not known in any one ever since. The consolations which we then received from God, induced us to appoint two or three nights in the week, when we duly met, after his pupils were asleep. We met also constantly on Sundays, between four and five in the morning. Sometimes I stepped into his study on other days. I rarely saw any book before him, beside the Bible and Christian Pattern. And he was seldom in any other company, unless when necessary business required, beside that of the unworthy writer of this paper.

      3. "When he was in the country, he used to visit an officer of excise at Atcham to be instructed in singing. On my desiring him to give me some account of what he recollected concerning Mr. Fletcher, he answered thus: 'As to the man of God, Mr. Fletcher, it is but little that I remember of him; it being above nine and twenty years since the last time I saw him. But this I well remember, his conversation with me was always sweet and savory. He was too wise to suffer any of his precious moments to be trifled away. When there was company to dine at Mr. Hill's, he frequently retired into the garden, and contentedly dined on a piece of bread, and a few bunches of currants. Indeed, in his whole manner of living, he was a pattern of abstemiousness [to spare]. Meantime, how great was his sweetness of temper and heavenly mindedness! I never saw it equalled in any one. How often, when I parted with him at Tern-hall, have his eyes and hands been lifted up to heaven, to implore a blessing upon me, with fervor and devoutness unequalled by any I ever saw! I firmly believe he has not left in this land, or perhaps in any other, one luminary like himself. I conclude, wishing this light may be so held up, that many may see the glory thereof, and be transformed into its likeness. May you and I, and all that love the Lord Jesus Christ, be partakers of that holiness which was so conspicuous in him!'

      4. "Our interviews for singing and conversation, (continues Mr. Vaughan, who was often present on these occasions,) were seldom concluded without prayer; in which we were frequently joined by her who is now my wife, (then a servant in the family,) as likewise by a poor widow in the village, who had also known the power of God unto salvation, and who died some years since, praising God with her latest breath. These were the only, persons in the country whom he chose for his familiar friends, But he sometimes walked over to Shrews-bury, to see Mrs. Glynne, or Mr. Appleton; (who likewise now rests from his labors, after having many years adorned the Gospel.) He also visited any of the poor in the neighborhood that were upon sick beds; and when no other person could be procured, performed even the meanest offices for them."

      5. About this time his father died, as appears by the following letter, addressed to Mr. Richard Edwards of London, to whose care as a leader, he was committed, when he was first received into the Methodist society in London. It is dated Tern, October 19, 1756. "Dearest Brother, -- This is to let you know that (praised be the Lord) I am very well in body, and pretty well in soul:-- but I have very few friends here, and God has been pleased to take away the chief of those few by a most comfortable death. And lately I heard that my aged father is gone the way of all flesh: but the glorious circumstances of his death make me ample amends for the sorrow which I felt. For some years I have written to him with as much freedom as I could have done to a son, though not with so much effect as I wished. But last spring God visited him with a severe illness, which brought him to a sense of himself. And after a deep repentance, he died about a month ago in the full assurance of faith. This has put several of my friends on thinking seriously, which affords me great cause of thankfulness. I am your unworthy brother and servant in the Lord, John Fletcher."

      6. During the early part of his residence in England, it is uncertain whether he entertained any thoughts of entering into holy orders, though he diligently prosecuted those studies which are generally regarded as preparatory to such a step. It is most probable that he had formed no design of this nature, till this, the second year of his continuance at Tern-hall, in Shropshire; when he became acquainted with the power of true religion, and experienced that important change of heart which has been before described. Receiving it that time an inestimable talent from the hand of God, he resolved, like a wise and faithful servant, to neglect nothing that might conduce to the due improvement of it; and from that period it became his grand inquiry, What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me? No service appeared too laborious to be undertaken, nor any sacrifice too valuable to be offered in return for the signal favors conferred upon him.

      7. But what service could he render, or what sacrifice could he offer, that might be acceptable to the God who had done so great things for him? The holy ministry, indeed, appeared to open before him a passage to the most important labors; and an entire consecration of his united powers to this momentous work he considered as the richest oblation he could make to the Father of mercies. But a variety of fears respecting his own unworthiness, prevented him from immediately offering his sacrifice, or hastily entering upon this work. He trembled at the idea of running before he was sent, and dreaded engaging in a warfare at his own cost. He believed himself unfurnished for the duties of the office to which he aspired. And though he considered the inclination of his heart as an internal call to the service of the Church, yet he judged it necessary to tarry till that call should be confirmed, if not by some providential opening, at least by the approbation of his Christian friends.

      8. The Rev. Mr. Wesley was one whom, among others, he consulted on this occasion. To him he now addressed the following letter:-- "Tern, Nov. 24, 1756. "Rev. Sir, -- As I look upon you as my spiritual guide, and cannot doubt of your patience to hear, and your experience to answer a question proposed by one of your people, I freely lay my case before you. Since I came to England I have been called outwardly three times to go into orders; but upon praying to God that if those calls were not from him, they might come to nothing, something always blasted the designs of my friends; and in this I have often admired the goodness of God, who prevented my rushing into that important employment as the horse into the battle. I never was so thankful for this favor as I have been since I heard the Gospel in its purity. Before I was afraid, but now I trembled to meddle with holy things; and resolved to work out my salvation privately, without engaging in a way of life which required so much more grace and gifts than I was conscious I possessed. Yet from time to time I felt warm and strong desires to cast myself and my ability on the Lord, if I should be called any more, knowing that he could help me, and show his strength in my weakness: and these desires were increased by some little success which attended my exhortations and letters to my friends.

      "I think it necessary to let you know, sir, that my patron often desired me to take orders, and said he would soon help me to a living; to which I coldly answered, I was not fit, and that, besides, I did not know how to get a title. Things were in that state when, about six weeks ago, a gentleman whom I hardly knew offered me a living, which, in all probability, will be vacant soon; and a clergyman I never spoke to gave me, of his own accord, the title of curate to one of his livings. Now, sir, the question which I beg you to decide is, Whether I must and can make use of that title to get into orders? For with respect to the living, were it vacant, I have no mind to it; because I think I could preach with more fruit in my native country, and in my own tongue.

      "I am in suspense: on one side my heart tells me I must try, and tells me so whenever I feel any degree of the love of God and man; on the other, when I examine whether I am fit for it I so plainly see my want of gifts, and especially of that soul of all the labors of a minister, LOVE, continual, universal, flaming LOVE, that my confidence disappears: I accuse myself of pride to dare to entertain the desire of supporting one day the ark of God, and conclude that an extraordinary punishment will, sooner or later, overtake my rashness. As I am in both of these frames successively, I must own, sir, I do not see which of these two ways before me I can take with safety; and shall gladly be ruled by you; because I trust God will direct you in giving me the advice you think will best conduce to his glory, which is the only thing I would have in view in this affair. I know how precious your time is, and desire no long answer. -- Persist, or forbear, will satisfy and influence, Rev. sir, your unworthy servant, J. F."

      9. We are not informed what answer Mr. Wesley returned to this letter. We can have no doubt, however, but that he encouraged him to proceed in his design; and that Mr. Gilpin is perfectly right when he observes that "a discovery of his sentiments was no sooner made, but many honorable elders in the household of God, who had discernment enough to distinguish the grace that was in him, and how admirably he was fitted for the work of an evangelist, rejoiced over him as a faithful laborer already hired into the vineyard of Christ. They not only ratified his internal call to the holy ministry by their unanimous approbation, but earnestly solicited him to obey that call without any farther delay. Meanwhile the word of the Lord was as-fire in his bones, ever struggling for vent, and not infrequently breaking forth, as occasion offered, in public reproof, exhortation, and prayer.

      10. "In this state he continued for about the space of two years, not only determined what course he should pursue, but patiently waiting to hear what the Lord God would say concerning him. And during this season he was much occupied in making a diligent preparation for the service of the altar, that, if ever he should be called to so honorable an employment, he might go forth thoroughly furnished to every good work. The chief objects of his pursuit were sacred knowledge and Christian purity; in both of which he made an uncommon proficiency, surpassing many who had studied for that knowledge, and struggled for that purity, through the greater part of their life. By his private exercises he was fitted for public labors, and by the holy discipline to which he submitted himself, without any reserve, he was trained to spiritual eminence in the school of Christ. To those who perfectly knew him in this state of retirement he appeared as a polished shaft, hid indeed for a season in the quiver of his Lord, yet ready for immediate service, and prepared to fly in any appointed direction.

      11. "He was not without promises of preferment in the Church: but these served rather to retard than to hasten his entrance into it. Having a sacrifice to perform, and not a fortune to secure, he was fearful lest his intention should be debased by views of an interested nature. At length, his humble reluctance was overcome, and, after the most mature deliberation, he solemnly determined to offer himself a candidate for holy orders. And to this solemn determination he was urged by the increasing force of two powerful motives, gratitude and benevolence; gratitude to God impelled him to declare the name of his great Benefactor, and bear public testimony to the word of his grace; while benevolence toward his fellow creatures incited him to spend and be spent in promoting their best interests. Constrained by these sacred motives, he publicly dedicated himself to the work of the holy ministry in the year 1757, when he received deacon's orders on Sunday, March 6th, and priest's orders on the following Sunday, from the hands of the bishop of Bangor, in the chapel royal at St. James'.

      12. "The same day that he was ordained a priest," says Mr. Wesley, "being informed that I had no one to assist me at West-street chapel, he came away as soon as ever the ordination was over, and assisted me in the administration of the Lord's Supper. He was now doubly diligent in preaching, not only in the chapels at West-street and Spitalfields, but wherever the providence of God opened a door to proclaim the everlasting Gospel. This he frequently did, not only in English, but likewise in French, his native language: of which he was allowed by all competent judges to be a complete master."

      13. The following letter, written to Mr. Wesley soon after his taking orders, manifests what a mean opinion he then had of himself both with respect to his grace and gifts. It is dated London, May 26, 1757.

      "Rev. Sir, -- If I did not write to you before Mrs. Wesley had asked me, it was not that I wanted a remembrancer within, but rather an encourager without. There is generally upon my heart such a sense of my unworthiness, that I sometimes dare hardly open my mouth before a child of God; and think it an unspeakable honor to stand before one who has recovered something of the image of God, or sincerely seeks after it. Is it possible that such a sinful worm as I should have the privilege to converse with one whose soul is sprinkled with the blood of my Lord! The thought amazes, confounds me, and fills my eyes with tears of humble joy. Judge, then, at what distance I must see myself from you, if I am so much below the least of your children: and whether a remembrancer within suffices to make me presume to write to you, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.

      "I rejoice that you find everywhere an increase of praying souls. I doubt not but the prayer of the righteous hath great power with God; and cannot but believe that it must tend to promote the fulfilling of Christ's gracious promises to his Church. He must, and certainly will come at the time appointed; for he is not slack, as some men count slackness; and although he would have all to come to repentance, yet he has not forgot to be true and just. Only he will come with more mercy, and will increase the light that shall be at evening tide, according to his promise in Zech. xiv, 7. I should rather think that the visions are not yet plainly disclosed; and that the day and year, in which the Lord will begin to make bare his arm openly, are still concealed from us.

      "I must say of Mr. Walsh, as he once said to me concerning God, 'I wish I could attend him everywhere, as Elisha did Elijah.' But since the will of God calls me from him I must submit, and drink the cup prepared for me, I have not seen him unless for a few moments, three or four times before Divine service, We must meet at the throne of grace, or meet but seldom. O, when will the communion of saints be complete! Lord, hasten the time, and let me have a place among them that love thee, and love one another in sincerity.

      "I set out in two days for the country. O, may I be faithful! harmless like a dove, wise like a serpent, and bold as a lion for the common cause!. O, Lord, do not forsake me! Stand by the weakest of thy servants, and enable thy children to bear with me, and wrestle with thee in my behalf. Oh bear with me, dear sir, and give me your blessing every day, and the Lord will return it to you sevenfold. I am, Rev, and dear sir, your unworthy servant, J. F."

      14. In less than three weeks, it seems, from the time of his going into the country, he had an opportunity of preaching, This, according to Mr. Vaughan, quoted by Mr. Wesley, was on the 19th of June following. "His text was James iv, 4, (a very bold beginning!) Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity against God? The congregation stood amazed, and gazed upon him as if he had been a monster, But to me he appeared as a messenger sent from heaven. "

      "It was not soon," proceeds Mr. V., "that he was invited again to preach in Atcham church, But he was invited to preach in several other churches in the neighborhood; as at Wroxeter, and afterward at the Abbey church in Shrewsbury, having preached twice before in St. Alkmond's in that town. But not being yet perfect in the English tongue, he wrote down all the sermons he delivered in churches, But I doubt whether he preached above six times in the six months which he spent in the country. On my telling him I wished he had more opportunities of preaching in this unenlightened part of the land, he answered, 'The will of God be done: I am in his hands. And if he do not call me to so much public duty, I have the more time for study, prayer, and praise.' "

      15. On this subject he signified his mind in the following letter, written at this time to his friend Mr. Edwards, before mentioned:-"

      I thank you for your encouraging observations; I want them, and use them by the grace of God. When I received yours I had not had one opportunity of preaching: so incensed were all the clergy against me. One, however, let me have the use of his church, the Abbey church at Shrewsbury. I preached in the forenoon with some degree of the demonstration of the Spirit. The congregation was very numerous: and I believe one-half, at least, desired to hear me again. But the minister would not let me have the pulpit any more. The next Sunday, the minister of a neighboring parish lying a dying, I was sent for to officiate for him. He died a few days after, and the chief man in the parish offered to make interest that I might succeed him. But I could not consent, The next Sunday I preached at Shrews-bury again, but in another church. The next day I set out for Bristol, and was much refreshed among the brethren.. As I returned, I called at New-Kingswood, about sixteen miles from Bristol. The minister offering me his church, I preached to a numerous congregation, gathered on half an hour's notice. I think the seed then sown will not be lost."

      16. In the spring of this year (1758) we find him in London, from whence he wrote as follows to Mrs. Glynne, of Shrewsbury, the pious lady of his acquaintance before mentioned. His letter is dated April 18, and is here inserted to show the state of his mind at this time. "Madam, -- As it is never too late to do what multiplicity of business, rather than forgetfulness, has forced us to defer, I am not ashamed, though after some months, to use the liberty you gave me, to inquire after the welfare of your soul; and that so much the more, as I am conscious I have not forgotten you at the throne of grace. Oh may my petitions have reached heaven, and forced from thence, at least, some drops of those spiritual showers of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, which I implore for you.

      "Though I trust the unction from above teaches you all things needful to salvation, and especially the necessity of continuing instant in prayer, and watching thereunto with all perseverance; yet I think it my duty to endeavor to add wings to your desires after holiness, by enforcing them with mine, Oh were I but clothed with all the righteousness of Christ, my prayers would avail much; and the lukewarmness of my brethren would not increase my guilt, as being myself an instance of that coldness of love which puts me upon interceding for them.

      "Though I speak of lukewarmness, I do not accuse you, madam, of having given way to it; on the contrary, it is my duty, and the joy of my heart, to hope that you stir up more and more the gift of God which is in you; that the evidences of your interest in a bleeding Lord become clearer every day; that the love of Christ constrain you more and more to deny yourself, take up our cross in all things, and follow him patiently, through bad and good report: in a word, that continually leaving the things which are behind, you stretch forward, through sunshine or darkness, toward the prize of your high calling in Jesus Christ, -- I mean a heart emptied of pride, and filled with all the fullness of God.

      "I have often thought of you, madam, in reading the letters of a lady, (Mrs. Lefevre,) who was a Christian, and an eminent Christian, not to say one of the brightest lights that God has raised since the late revival of godliness. The reproach of Christ was her crown of rejoicing, his cross her continual support, his followers her nearest companions, his example the pattern of her conversation. She lived a saint, and died an angel. Each one of her letters may be a pattern for Christian correspondents, by the simplicity, edification, and love they breathe in every line, Oh when shall I write as she did? When my heart shall be as full of God as hers was.

      "May the Lord enable you to walk in her steps, and grant me to see you shining among the humble, loving Marys of this age as she did but a few months ago. Her God is our God: the same Spirit that animated her is waiting at the door of our hearts, to cleanse them and fill them with his consolations, if we will but exclude the world, and let him in. Why should we then give way to despondency, and refuse to cherish that lively hope which if any one has, he will purify himself even as God is pure? Take courage then, madam, and consider that the hour of self-denial and painful wrestling with God will be short, and the time of victorious recompense as long as eternity itself. May the Lord enable you and me to consider this well, and to act accordingly.

      "I conclude, by commending you to the Lord, and to the word of his grace, and recommending myself to your prayers. I am, madam, your obedient servant for Christ's sake. J. F."

      17. This year there were many French prisoners on their parole, at Tunbridge. Mr. Fletcher being desired to preach to them in their own language, he readily complied. Many of them appeared to be deeply affected, and earnestly requested that he would preach to them every Lord's day. But some advised them first to present a petition to the bishop of London for leave. They did so, and(who would believe it?) the good bishop peremptorily rejected their petition! An odd incident followed. A few months after, the bishop died of a cancer in his mouth, "Perhaps," says Mr. Wesley, "some may think this was a just retribution for silencing such a prophet on such an occasion! I am not ashamed to acknowledge this is my own sentiment; and I do not think it any breach of charity to suppose that an action so unworthy of a Christian bishop had its punishment in this world."

      When he returned from London, in the same year, he was more frequently invited to preach in several of the neighboring churches. And before his quitting the country, he gave his friend a few printed papers to distribute, entitled, "A Christmas Box for Journeymen and Apprentices." This is mentioned the rather, because it is supposed it was the first thing which he ever published.

      18. In the spring of the next year he was again in London, and in the same humble and self-diffident state of mind, as appears by the following short extracts from three of his letters to the Rev. Charles Wesley. The first is dated March 22, 1759:-- "My DEAR SIR, -- You left me without permitting me to say, farewell; but that shall not hinder me from wishing you a good journey, and I flatter myself that you are in the habit of returning my prayers. "Since your departure I have lived more than ever like a hermit. It seems to me that I am an unprofitable weight upon the earth. I want to hide myself from all. I tremble when the Lord favors me with a sight of myself; I tremble to think of preaching only to dishonor God. To-morrow I preach at West-street with all the feelings of Jonah: Oh would to God I might be attended with success! If the Lord shall, in any degree, sustain my weakness, I shall consider myself as indebted to your prayers.

      "A proposal has lately been made to me, to accompany Mr. Nathaniel Gilbert to the West Indies. I have weighed the matter; but on one hand I feel that I have neither sufficient zeal, nor grace, nor talents, to expose myself to the temptations and labors of a mission in the West Indies; and on the other, I believe that if God call me thither, the time has not yet come. I wish to be certain that I am converted myself, before I leave my converted brethren to convert heathens. Pray let me know what you think of this business; if you condemn me to put the sea between us, the command would be a hard one; but I might, possibly, prevail on myself to give you that proof of the deference I pay to your judicious advice.

      "I have taken possession of my little hired chamber. There I have outward peace, and I wait for that which is within, I was this morning with Lady Huntingdon, who salutes you, and unites with me to say that we have need of you to make one in our threefold cord, and to beg you will hasten your return, when Providence permits. Our conversation was deep, and full of the energy of faith on the part of the countess; as to me, I sat like Saul at the feet of Gamaliel. J, FLETCHER. "

      The second was written in April following, and in this his words are, "With a heart bowed down with grief, and eyes bathed with tears, occasioned by our late heavy loss, I mean the death of Mr. Walsh, I take my pen to pray you to intercede for me, What! that sincere, laborious, and zealous servant of God! Was he saved only as by fire, and was not his prayer heard till the twelfth hour was just expiring? O, where shall I appear, 1 who am an unprofitable servant! Would to God my eyes were fountains of water to weep for my sins! Would to God I might pass the rest of my days in crying, Lord, have mercy upon me! All is vanity -- grace, talents, labors, if we compare them with the mighty stride we have to take from time into eternity! Lord, remember me now thou art in thy kingdom!

      "I have preached and administered the sacrament at West-street sometimes in the holidays. May God water the poor seed I have sown, and give it fruitfulness, though it be only in one soul!

      "I have lately seen so much weakness in my heart, both as a minister and a Christian, that I know not which is most to be pitied, the man, the believer, or the preacher. Could I at last be truly humbled, and continue so always, I should esteem myself happy in making this discovery. I preach merely to keep the chapel open, until God shall send a workman after his own heart. Nos numeri sumus; (I fill an empty space;) this is almost all I can say of myself. If I did not know myself a little better than I did formerly, I should tell you that I had ceased altogether from placing any confidence in my repentances, &c., &c., but I see my heart is so full of deceit, that I cannot depend on my knowledge of myself.

      "The day Mr. Walsh died, the Lord gave our brethren the spirit of prayer and supplication; and many unutterable groans were offered up for him at Spitalfields, where I was. Who shall render us the same kind office? Is not our hour near? O, my God, when thou comest, prepare us, and we shall be ready! You owe your children an elegy upon his death, and you cannot employ your poetic talents on a better subject. J. F."

      June 1st, he writes, "The Lord gives me health of body, and from time to time I feel strength in my soul. O, when shall the witness (meaning himself) who is dead, arise! When shall the Spirit enter into him, and fill him with wisdom, with power, and with love! Pray for me, and support my weakness as much as you can. I am here umbra pro corpore. (A shadow rather than a substance.) I preach as your substitute: come and fill worthily an office of which I am unworthy. My pupils return to Cambridge on Monday, and the whole family sets out for Shropshire on the 11th, Shall I not see you before that time? I have rejected the offer of Dr. Taylor, and have no other temptations than those of a bad heart, That is enough, you will say; I grant it; but we must fight before we conquer. Pray that my courage may not fail. Come, and the Lord come with you! I am, &c., J. F."

      19. Having returned from London to Tern-hall, and being now less frequently called to public duty, he enjoyed his beloved retirement, giving himself up to study, meditation, and prayer, and walking closely with God. Indeed, his whole life was now a life of prayer; and so intensely was his mind fixed upon God, that he sometimes said, "I would not move from my seat without lifting up my heart to God." "Wherever we met," says Mr. Vaughan, "if we were alone, his first salute was, 'Do I meet you praying?' And if we were talking on any point of divinity, when we were in the depth of our discourse he would often break off abruptly, and ask, 'Where are our hearts now?' If ever the misconduct of an absent person was mentioned, his usual reply was, 'Let us pray for him.' "

      20. It appears, however, that he was not without painful temptations of a spiritual nature, in this state of retirement. In a letter to the Rev. Charles Wesley, dated July 19th, of the same year, he observes, "Instead of apologizing for my silence, I will simply relate the cause of it, referring you to the remembrance of your own temptations for that patience you must exercise toward a weak, tempted soul. This is the fourth summer that I have been brought thither, in a peculiar manner, to be tempted of the devil in a wilderness: and I have improved so little by my past exercises that I have not defended myself better than in the first year. Being arrived here, I began to spend my time as I had determined, one part in prayer, and the other in meditation on the Holy Scriptures. The Lord blessed my devotions, and I advanced from conquering to conquer, leading every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ; when it pleased God to show me some of the folds of my heart, As I looked for nothing less than such a discovery, I was extremely surprised; so much so as to forget Christ: You may judge already what was the consequence. A spiritual languor seized on all the powers of my soul; and I suffered myself to be carried away by a current, with a rapidity of which I was unacquainted.

      "Neither doubt nor despair troubled me for a moment: my temptation took another course. It appeared to me that God would be much more glorified by my damnation than my salvation, It seemed altogether incompatible with the holiness, the justice, and the veracity of the supreme Being, to admit so stubborn an offender into his presence. I could do nothing but stand astonished, at the patience of God.

      "Yesterday, however, as I sung one of your hymns, the Lord lifted up my head, and commanded me to face my enemies. By his grace I am already conqueror, and I doubt not but I shall soon be more than conqueror. Although I deserve it not, nevertheless, hold up my hands till all these Amalekites be put to flight. I am, &c., "J. F."

      21. After his return to London, which was soon after, he still possessed the same spirit of contrition and self-abasement, I must here observe, however, that this spirit, however commendable in the general, and however essential to true Christianity, yet being carried to excess in his particular case, became, through the subtlety of Satan, a source of trial and discouragement to him, On the 14th of September he writes to the same faithful and intimate friend, as follows:-My Dear Sir, -- "Your last lines drew tears from my eyes: I cannot wait till your death to beseech you to give me that benediction of which you speak. I conjure you, in the name of Christ, to give it me when you read these lines, and to repeat it as often as you think of a poor brother who needs the prayers of every one, and who cannot part with yours.

      "I accept, with pleasure, the obliging proposal you make me for the approaching winter; and I entreat you to consider it less as a proposal than as an engagement into which you have entered, and of which I have a right to solicit the fulfillment. Permit me only to add to it one condition, which is, to make our reading, &c., tend as much as possible to that poverty of spirit which I so greatly need.

      "A few days ago the Lord gave me two or three lessons on the subject of poverty of spirit, but alas! how have I forgotten them! I saw, I felt, that I was entirely void of wisdom and virtue. I was ashamed of myself, and I could say with a degree of feeling which I cannot describe, Nil ago, nil habeo, sum nil; in pulvere serpo. (I do nothing, have nothing, am nothing; I crawl in the dust.) I could then say, what Gregory Lopez was enabled to say at all times, 'There is no man of whom I have not a better opinion than of myself.' I could have placed myself under the feet of the most atrocious sinner, and have acknowledged him for a saint in comparison of myself. If ever I am humble and patient, if ever I enjoy solid peace of mind?, it must be in this very spirit. Ah! why do I not actually find these virtues? Because I am filled with self-sufficiency, and am possessed by that self-esteem which blinds me, and hinders me from doing justice to my own demerits. Oh pray that the Spirit of Jesus may remove these scales from my eyes for ever, and compel me to retire into my own nothingness.

      "To what a monstrous idea had you well nigh given birth! What! the labors of my ministry under you deserve a salary! Alas! I have done nothing but dishonor God hitherto, and am not in a condition to do any thing else for the future! If then I am permitted to stand in the courts of the Lord's house, is it not for me to make an acknowledgment, rather than to receive one? If I ever receive any thing of the Methodist Church, it shall be only as an indigent mendicant [beggar] receives alms without which he would perish.

      "I have great need of your advice relative to the letters which I receive one after another from my relations, who unite in their invitations to me to return to my own country: One says, to settle my affairs there; another, to preach there; a third, to assist him to die, &c. They press me to declare whether I renounce my family, and the demands I have upon it; and my mother desires that I will at least go and see her; and commands me to do so in the strongest terms. What answer shall I make? If she thought as you do, I should write to her, 'Ubi Christiani, ibi patria.' (Where the Christians are, there is my country.) 'My mother, my brethren, my sisters, are those who do the will of my heavenly Father:' but she is not in a state of mind to digest such an answer: a mother is a mother long. On the other hand, I have no inclination to yield to their desires, which appear to me merely natural; for I shall lose precious time, and incur expense: my presence is not absolutely necessary to my concerns; and it is more probable that my relations will pervert me to vanity and interest, than that I shall convert them to genuine Christianity. Lastly, I shall have no opportunity to exercise my ministry. Our Swiss ministers, who preach only once a week, will not look upon me with a more favorable eye than the ministers here; and irregular preaching is impracticable, and would only cause me either to be laid in prison, or immediately banished from the country.

      "How does your family do? May the Almighty be your defence day and night! What he protects is well protected. Permit me to thank you for the sentence from Kempis, with which you close your letter, by returning to you another: 'You run no risk in considering yourself as the wickedest of men; but you are in danger if you prefer yourself to any one.' I am, &c., " J. F."

      22. With respect to the salary that had been offered him, a few weeks after he says, "I fear you did not rightly understand what I wrote about the proposal you made me at London. So far from making conditions, I feel myself unworthy of receiving them. Be it what it may, I thank God that I trouble myself with no temporal things: my only fear is that of having too much, rather than too little, of the things necessary for life. I am weary of abundance. I could wish to be poor with my Saviour; and those whom he hath chosen to be rich in faith, appear to me objects of envy in the midst of their wants. Happy should I be if a secret pride of heart did not disguise itself under these appearances of humility! Happy should I be if that dangerous serpent did not conceal himself under these sweet flowers, and feed on their juices."

      The following paragraphs of the same letter seem to deserve a place here, as they manifest still farther the lowly state of his mind, and his views of some important branches of experimental religion in this early stage of his Christian course:-- " Your silence began to make me uneasy, and your letter had well nigh made me draw my pen over one I had written to ask the cause of it. The Lord afflicts you; -that is enough to silence every complaint; and I will not open my mouth, except it be to pray the Lord to enable you and yours to bring forth those fruits of righteousness which attend the trials of his children. Take care of yourself for the sake of the Lord's little flock, and for me, who, with all the impatience of brotherly love, count every day till I can have the pleasure of embracing you.

      "If I know any thing of true brotherly love, which I often doubt, it agrees perfectly well with the love of God, as the sounds of the different parts in music agree with each other. Their union arises from their just difference, and they please so much. the more as they appear the more opposed. The Opposition of sentiments between Divine and brotherly love, together with the subordination of the latter, forms that delightful combat in the soul of a believer termed by the apostle the being divided between two, which concludes with a sacrifice of resignation, such as the natural man is incapable of. Your expression, 'Spread the moral sense all over,' [1] gives me an idea of that charity which I seek. The love of Gregory Lopez appears to me to have been too stoical. [2] I do not discover in it that vehement desire, those tears of love, that ardor of seeing and possessing each other in the bowels of Jesus Christ, which I find so frequently in the epistles of St. Paul. If this sensibility be a failing, I do not wish to be exempt from it, What is your opinion?

      "When I was reading Telemachus with my pupils, I was struck with this expression, 'He blushed to have been born with so little feeling for men, and to appear to them so inhuman.' I easily applied the first part; and the son of Ulysses gave me an example of Christian repentance which I wish to follow till my heart is truly circumcised. Send me some remedy, or give me some advice against this hardness of heart under which I groan. What you say about reducing a mother to despair, has made me recollect what I have often thought, that the particular fault of the Swiss is to be without natural affection. With respect to that preference which my mother shows me above her other children, I see clearly that I am indebted for almost all the affection she expresses for me in her letters to my absence from her, which hinders her from seeing my faults; and I reproach myself severely, that I cannot interest myself in her welfare as much as I did in that of my deceased father. I am, &c., J. F."

      23. The reader must not suppose, however; that amid the self-abasing thoughts which occupied his mind, and the contrition of spirit which he felt and manifested, he was devoid of confidence in God, of peace and consolation. Two days after we find him expressing himself in the following delightful language, in a letter to two pious women:-"

      My Dear Sisters, -- I have put off writing to you, lest the action of writing should divert my soul from the awful and delightful worship it is engaged in. But I now conclude I shall be no loser if I invite you to love Him my soul loves, to dread Him my soul dreads, to adore Him my soul adores. Sink with me, or rather let me sink with you before the throne of grace; and while cherubim veil their faces, and cry out in tender fear and exquisite trembling, Holy! holy! holy! let us put our mouths in the dust, and echo back the solemn sound, Holy! holy! holy! Let us plunge ourselves into that ocean of purity. Let us try to fathom the depths of Divine mercy; and convinced of the impossibility of such and attempt, let us lose ourselves in them. Let us be comprehended by God, if we cannot comprehend him. Let us be supremely happy in God. Let the intenseness of our happiness border on misery, because we can make him no return. Let our heads become water, and our eyes fountains of tears -- tears of humble repentance, of solemn joy, of silent admiration, of exalted adoration, of raptured desires, of inflamed transports, of speechless awe. My God, and my all! Your God, and your all! Our God, and our all! Praise him, and with our souls blended in one by Divine love, let us with one mouth glorify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, -- our Father, who is over all, through all, and in us all.

      "I charge you before the Lord Jesus Christ, who gives life, and more abundant life: I entreat you, by all the actings of faith, the exertions of hope, the flames of love you ever felt, sink to greater depths of self-abasing repentance, and rise to greater heights of Christ-exalting joy. And let Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly more than you can ask or think, carry on and fulfil in you the work of faith with power; with that power whereby he subdues all things to himself. Be steadfast in hope, immovable in patience and love, always abounding in the outward and inward labor of love, and receive the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls. I am, &c., J. F."

      24. Where Mr. Fletcher was, when he wrote the letter last quoted, is not certain; it seems most probable, however, that he was at Tern, And if his friend, Mr. Vaughan, be right, it was about the close of this summer that he was frequently desired, sometimes to assist, at other times to perform the whole service for Mr. Chambers, then vicar of Madeley, On these occasions it was that he contracted such an affection for the people of Madeley as nothing could hinder from increasing more and more to the day of his death. While he officiated at Madeley, as he still lived at the Hall, ten miles distant from it, a groom was ordered to get a horse ready for him every Sunday morning. But so great was his aversion to giving trouble to any one, that if the groom did not awake at the time, he seldom would suffer him to be called, but prepared the horse for himself.

      25. On the 15th of November the same year, Mr. Fletcher was again in London, where he had been at least eight or ten days. Here, as it appears from one of his letters to Mr. Charles Wesley, the countess of Huntingdon had proposed to him to celebrate the communion at her house sometimes in a morning, and to preach when occasion offered. This proposal was not meant, however, to restrain his liberty of preaching, where he might have an invitation, nor to prevent his assisting Mr. Wesley, or preaching to the French refugees; but only to fill up his vacant time, till Providence should open a way for him elsewhere.

      "Charity, politeness, and reason," says Mr. Fletcher, "accompanied her offer; and I confess, in spite of the resolution which I had almost absolutely formed, to fly the houses of the great without even the exception of the countess', I found myself so greatly changed, that I should have accepted on the spot a proposal which I should have declined from any other mouth; but my engagement with you (Mr. Charles Wesley) withheld me: and thanking the countess, I told her when I had reflected on her obliging offer, I would do myself the honor of waiting upon her again.

      "Nevertheless, two difficulties stand in my way. Will it be consistent with that poverty of spirit which I seek? Can I accept an office for which I have such small talents? And shall I not dishonor the cause of God, by stammering out the mysteries of the Gospel in a place where the most approved ministers of the Lord have preached with so much power, and so much success? I suspect that my own vanity gives more weight to this second objection than it deserves to have, What think you?

      "I give myself to your judicious counsels. You take unnecessary pains to assure me that they are disinterested; for I cannot doubt it. I feel myself unworthy of them; much more still of the appellation of friend, with which you honor me. You are an indulgent father to me, and the name of son suits me better than that of brother."

      26. He seems to have continued in London, assisting the Messrs. Wesley, and preaching wherever he had a call, till the beginning of March following, on the first day of which he writes to Mr. Charles Wesley, from Dunstable.

      "The fine weather invites me to execute a design I had half formed, of making a forced march to spend next Sunday at Everton, Mr. Berridge's parish. There may the voice of the Lord be heard by a poor child of Adam, who, like him, is still behind the trees of his own stupidity and impenitence!

      "If I do not lose myself across the fields before I get there, and if the Lord be pleased to grant me the spirit of supplication, I will pray for you, and your dear sister at P--, until I can again pray with you. Don't forget me, I beseech you. If the Lord bring me to your remembrance, cast your bread on the waters on my behalf, and perhaps you will find it again after many days. I would fain be with you on those solemn occasions when a thousand voices are raised to heaven to obtain those graces which I have not: but God's will be done.

      "Don't forget to present my respects to the countess. If I continue any time at Everton, I shall take the liberty of giving her some account of the work of God in those parts; if not, I will give it her in person. -- Adieu. The Lord strengthen you in soul and body."

      27. Where or how Mr. Fletcher spent the spring and summer of this year, I believe we have no certain information. But in September following he was at Tern-hall, in Shropshire, from whence on the 26th he wrote to Lady Huntingdon, and gave the following account of his call to Madeley:-"

      Last Sunday the vicar of Madeley, to whom I was formerly curate, coming to pay a visit here, expressed a great regard for me, seemed to be quite reconciled, and assured me that he would do all that was in his power to serve me; of which he yesterday gave me a proof, by sending me a testimonial unasked, He was no sooner gone than news was brought that the old clergyman I mentioned to your ladyship died suddenly the day before; and that same day, before I heard it, Mr. Hill, meeting at the races his nephew, who is patron of Madeley, told him that if he would present me to Madeley, he would give the vicar of that parish the living vacated by the old clergyman's death. This was immediately agreed to, as Mr. Hill himself informed me in the evening, wishing me joy. This new promise, the manner in which Mr. Hill forced me from London to be here at this time, and the kindness of the three ministers I mentioned, whose hearts seemed to be turned at this juncture to sign my testimonials for institution, are so many orders to be still, and wait till the door is quite open or shut. I beg, therefore, your ladyship would present my respects and thanks to Lady Margaret and Mr. Ingham, and acquaint them with the necessity which these circumstances lay me under to follow the leadings of Providence."

      "This (adds he in a letter to Mr. Charles Wesley) is agreeable to the advice you have so repeatedly given me, not to resist Providence, but to follow its leadings. I am, however, inwardly in suspense; my heart revolts at the idea of being here alone, opposed by my superiors, hated by my neighbor, and despised by all the world. Without piety, without talents, without resolution, how shall I repel the assaults, and surmount the obstacles which I foresee, if I discharge my duty at Madeley with fidelity? On the other hand, to reject this presentation, to burn this certificate, and to leave in the desert the sheep whom the Lord has evidently brought me into the world to feed, appears to me nothing but obstinacy and refined self-love, I will hold a middle course between these extremes; I will be wholly passive in the steps I must take, and active in praying the Lord to deliver me from the evil one, and to conduct me in the way he would have me to go.

      "If you see any thing better, inform me of it speedily; and, at the same time, remember me in all your prayers, that if this matter be not of the Lord, the enmity of the bishop of Litchfield, who must countersign my testimonials; the threats of the chaplain of the bishop of Hereford, who was a witness to my preaching at West-street; the objections drawn from my not being naturalized, or some other obstacle, may prevent the kind intentions of Mr. Hill. Adieu."

      28. Neither Mr. Charles nor Mr. John Wesley, nor it seems any of his other friends, to whom he communicated this business, offering any material objections, Mr. Fletcher accepted the presentation to the vicarage of Madeley, in preference to another that was of double the value. He embraced it as his peculiar charge, the object of his most tender affection. And he was now at leisure to attend it, being fully discharged from his former employment; for his pupils were removed to Cambridge. The elder of them died about the time of his coming of age. The younger first represented the town of Salop, (as his father had done,) afterward the country; till he took his seat in the house of peers, as Baron Berwiek, of Attingham-house. This is now the name that is given to what was formerly called Tern-hall.

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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