The Life of John Fletcher: Chapter 4 - Faithfulness in Ministry
OF HIS QUALIFICATIONS FOR, AND FAITHFULNESS IN, THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY; AND OF HIS LABORS AT MADELEY, AND ELSEWHERE
1. "He who engages himself to fight the battles of the Lord," says the Rev. Mr. Gilpin, "has need of uncommon strength and irresistible arms; and if he be destitute of one or the other, he vainly expects to stand in the evil day. The Christian warrior is exposed to a vast variety of dangers, and beset with innumerable enemies. His whole life is one continued scene of warfare, in which he wrestles sometimes with visible, and at other times with invisible adversaries. For the labors of this sacred warfare no man ever esteemed himself less sufficient than Mr. Fletcher. He ever considered himself as the weakest of Christ's adherents, and unworthy to follow his glorious standard. But while he boasted no inherent strength, and was ready to occupy the meanest post, he was regarded by his brethren as a man peculiarly strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. United to Christ, as the branch is united to the vine, he was constantly deriving abundant supplies of rigor from the fountain head of power. And as the source of his strength was inexhaustible, so its operations were various and incessant. Now it was engaged in subduing sin; and now, in laboring after that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, there it inspired the courage of the mighty, and here it sustained the burdens of the weak: at one time it was discovered by resolution and zeal; at another, by resignation and fortitude: by the former, this man of God was enabled to grapple with his strongest enemy; by the latter, he was taught to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2. "Mr. Fletcher's arms were equal to his strength, and served to make him truly invincible in the cause of godliness. From his first admission into the true Church militant, he was fully persuaded that armor forged by the art of man must needs be insufficient, either for conquest or security, in a spiritual warfare. He saw it absolutely necessary to be furnished with weapons of celestial temper, and was altogether dissatisfied with his state till he had put on the whole armor of God, with a determined resolution never to put it off till his last conflict should be decided. He then appeared in the complete Christian uniform; from the helmet of salvation to the sandals of peace, all was entire, and perfectly fitted to his spiritual frame. No mortal part was left unguarded, nor was any joint of his harness so loose as to admit a thrust from the enemy. No part of his sacred panoply [sacred armor] appeared uncouth or cumbersome, no part of his carriage constrained or unnatural: he appeared in arms as in his proper dress, and not as David, when he essayed to go forth in the armor of Saul. On no occasion was he ever known to affect any thing like spiritual pomp; yet, on every occasion, there was a dignity of character in his deportment that raised the veneration of every beholder. As the heroes of antiquity were distinguished from warriors of an inferior order by the splendor of their arms, so, by the uncommon luster of his graces, he was distinguished as a chieftain in the Christian bands."
3. By the account given in the preceding pages, the reader will observe that it was not "immediately (Gilpin's Notes) upon his entering into orders that Mr. Fletcher was appointed statedly to labor in any particular place. As he still continued in the family of Mr. Hill, he was but occasionally called to exercise the ministry he had received. But, wherever he was invited to speak in the name of his Master, he effectually distinguished himself from the generality of ministers by the earnestness and zeal with which he delivered his message. Whatever his hand found to do, in any part of the sacred vineyard, it may truly be said that he did it with all his might: and there is much reason to believe that even these occasional labors were not in vain in the Lord. It was about three years after his ordination that he was presented to the living of Madeley, where he had officiated for some time previous to this appointment. As Madeley was the place of his choice, so it was a place to which, by his rare endowments, he was peculiarly adapted, and for the reformation of which he appears to have been eminently appointed by the providence of God. Celebrated for the extensive works carried on within its limits, Madeley was remarkable for little else than the ignorance and profaneness of its inhabitants, among whom respect to man was as rarely to be observed as piety toward God. In this benighted place the Sabbath was openly profaned, and the most holy things contemptuously trampled under foot; even the restraints of decency were violently broken through, and the external form of religion held up as a subject of ridicule. This general description of the inhabitants of Madeley must not, however, be indiscriminately applied to every individual among them; exceptions there were to this prevailing character, but they were comparatively few indeed. Such was the place where Mr. Fletcher was called to stand forth as a preacher of righteousness, and in which he appeared for the space of five and twenty years as a burning and shining light.
4. "Immediately upon his settling in this populous village, which was in the year 1760, he entered upon the duties of his vocation with an extraordinary degree of earnestness and zeal. He saw the difficulties of his situation, and the reproaches to which he should be exposed, by a conscientious discharge of the pastoral office: but, persuaded of the importance of his charge, and concerned for the welfare of his people, he set his face like a flint against all who might oppose the truth or grace of God. As a steward of the manifold grace of God, he faithfully dispensed the word of life according as every man had need; instructing the ignorant, reasoning with gainsayers, exhorting the immoral, and rebuking the obstinate. Instant in season and out of season, he diligently performed the work of an evangelist, and lost no opportunity of declaring the truths of the Gospel. Not content with discharging the stated duties of the Sabbath, he counted that day as lost in which he was not actually employed in the service of the Church. As often as a small congregation could be collected, which was usually every evening, he joyfully proclaimed to them the acceptable year of the Lord, whether it were in the place set apart for public worship, in a private house, or in the open air. And on these occasions, the affectionate and fervent manner in which he addressed his hearers was an affecting proof of the interest he took in their spiritual concerns. As the varying circumstances of his people required, he assumed a different appearance among them: at one season he would open his mouth in blessings; and at another, he would appear, like his Lord, amid the buyers and sellers, with the 'lash of righteous severity in his hand. But, in whatever way he exercised his ministry, it is evident that his labors were influenced by love, and tended immediately, either to the extirpation of sin, or the increase of holiness.
5. "Nor was he less attentive to the private duties of his station than to public exhortation and prayer. Like a vigilant pastor, he daily acquainted himself with the wants and dispositions of his people, anxiously watching over their several households, and diligently teaching them from family to family. Esteeming no man too mean, too ignorant, or too profane to merit his affectionate attention, he condescended to the lowest and most unworthy of his flock, cheerfully becoming the servant of all, that he might gain the more. In the performance of this part of his duty he discovered an admirable mixture of discretion and zeal, solemnity and sweetness. He rebuked not an elder, but entreated him as a father; to younger men he addressed himself with the affection of a brother, and to children with the tenderness of a parent; witnessing both to small and great the redemption that is in Jesus, and persuading them to cast in their lot with the people of God. In some of these holy visits, the earnest and constraining manner in which he has pleaded the cause of piety has melted down a whole family at once; the old and the young have mingled their tears together, and solemnly determined to turn right humbly to their God. There were indeed several families in his populous parish, to which he had no access, whose members, loving darkness rather than light, agreed to deny him admission, lest their deeds should be reproved. In such cases, where his zeal for the salvation of individuals could not possibly be manifested by persuasion and entreaty, it was effectually discovered by supplication and prayer: nor did he ever pass the door of an opposing family without breathing out an earnest desire that the door of mercy might never he barred against their approaches.
6. "With respect to his attendance upon the sick, he was exemplary and indefatigable. 'It was a work (says Mr. Wesley) for which he was always ready: if he heard the knocker in the coldest winter night, his window was thrown open in a moment. And when he understood either that some one was hurt in a pit, or that a neighbor was likely to die, no consideration was ever had of the darkness of the night, or the severity of the weather; but this answer was 'always given, I will attend you immediately.' Anxious (proceeds Mr. Gilpin) upon every suitable occasion to treat with his parishioners on subjects of a sacred nature, he was peculiarly solicitous to confer with them when. verging toward the borders of eternity. At such seasons, when earthly objects lose their charms, and the mind is naturally disposed to look for support from some other quarter, he cheerfully came in to improve the providential visitation, either by salutary advice or seasonable consolation. These were valuable opportunities, which nothing could prevail upon him to neglect, fully convinced that the dictates of truth are never more likely to make a due impression upon the heart than when they are delivered in the antechamber of death. His treatment of the dying was always regulated by their peculiar circumstances,. and his fidelity toward them was sweetly tempered with compassion. If the departing soul was prepared for the promises of the Gospel, he thankfully administered them with a lavish hand; if otherwise, he was importunate in prayer that the mercy of God might be magnified upon his languishing creature, though it should be as at the eleventh hour. As he never visited the chambers of the dying but in the spirit of earnest supplication, so he seldom quitted them without some degree of consolatory hope.
7. "There is still another part of his duty, in the discharge of which he discovered unusual earnestness and activity. It was a common thing in his parish for young persons of both sexes to meet at stated times, for the purpose of what. is called recreation, and this recreation usually continued from evening to morning, consisting chiefly in dancing, revelling, drunkenness, and obscenity. These licentious assemblies he considered as a disgrace to the Christian name, and determined to exert his ministerial authority for their total suppression. He has frequently burst in upon these disorderly companies with a holy indignation, making war upon Satan in places peculiarly appropriated to his service. Nor was his labor altogether in vain among the children of dissipation and folly. After standing the first shock of their rudeness and brutality, his exhortations have been generally received with silent submission, and have sometimes produced a partial if not an entire reformation in many who were accustomed to frequent these assemblies. With one of these persons I am perfectly acquainted, who, having treated this venerable pastor with ridicule and abuse in one of these riotous assemblies, was shortly afterward constrained to cast himself at his feet, and solicit his prayers. This man is now steadily walking in the fear of God, with a thankful remembrance of the extraordinary manner in which he was plucked as a brand from the burning.
"These, and every other duty of his sacred vocation, among which I might have particularly noticed the public and private instruction of children, were performed by this apostolic minister with an earnestness and zeal of which I can convey but a very imperfect idea. Never weary of well doing, he counted it his greatest privilege to spend and be spent in ministering to the Church, which he constantly honored as the body of Christ, and in the service of which he sacrificed his strength, his health, and his life."
8. So far Mr. Gilpin, who, living in the neighborhood, and being well acquainted both with the state of the parish of Madeley, and with Mr. Fletcher's conduct and labors among its inhabitants, could speak from personal knowledge of the facts he relates. It is certain, as Mr. Wesley has also testified, that, "from the beginning of his settling there, he was a laborious workman in his Lord's vineyard;" endeavoring to spread the truth of the Gospel, and to suppress vice in every possible way. "Those sinners who endeavored to hide themselves from him he pursued to every corner of his parish; by all sorts of means, public and private, early and late, in season and out of season, entreating and warning them to flee from the wrath to come. Some made it an excuse for not attending the Church service on a Sunday morning that they could not awake early enough to get their families ready. He provided for this also. Taking a bell in his hand, he set out every Sunday for some months, at five in the morning, and went around the most distant parts of the parish, inviting all the inhabitants to the house of God."
9. In the meantime it was his constant care rightly to divide to all the word of truth. This, it will readily be acknowledged, is a work of no little importance in the Church of God. "Here fidelity and skill are equally necessary, and if either be wanting the work will be incomplete. With respect to the latter, either as it regards the word of God, or as it relates to the human heart, Mr. Fletcher was abundantly qualified for the discharge of his office. As to the human heart, he had so long and so accurately investigated his own, that he was not easily deceived in forming a judgment of his neighbor's. He knew its depths as well as its shallows, and its subtle artifices as well as its natural tempers; he explored its intricate mazes, and unlocked its secret recesses with wonderful ease; and could generally discover its real situation through every disguise. With regard to the word of God, he had studied it with so much constancy and care that he was perfectly familiar with every part of it. He was deeply read in the spiritual sense of the word, and had a happy talent at reconciling its apparent contradictions. He could select from it with the utmost readiness truths of every different tendency, and knew how to apply them, not only in common cases, but in the most extraordinary exigencies [requiring immediate aid or action] of God's people.
10. "His fidelity in addressing the different classes of his hearers was correspondent to that spirit of discernment and wisdom with which he was so eminently favored. On the one hand, he never attempted slightly to heal the hurt of his people: and, on the other, he was solicitous never to make sad the heart of the righteous, whom God had not made sad. Wherever he discovered impiety in the conduct, or hypocrisy in the heart, he immediately levelled against it the keenest arrows of conviction. He warned the wicked of his way, and frequently endeavored to draw him from it by alarming his heart with salutary fears; selecting and applying upon these occasions those passages of Holy Writ which are peculiarly profitable for reproof and correction. And whenever it became necessary, he marshalled against the careless sinner the most terrible denunciations of the Almighty's wrath. In the performance of this part of his duty, he paid but little regard to the outward circumstances of the offending party. Whether the enemies of God appeared in the splendor of riches, or in the meanness of poverty; whether they were distinguished by their erudition, or despicable by their ignorance, he met them with equal firmness in the cause of truth.
11. "The style of his reproofs was adapted, indeed, to the various capacities. and habits of those different classes of men; but the substance of these reproofs was invariably the same, to whatever class they were directed, neither sharpened by contempt, nor blunted by respect. Unawed either by the majesty of kings, or the madness of the people, he was equally fitted to appear with Moses at an impious court, or to stand with Stephen in a turbulent assembly. But though he was far from betraying any pusillanimity [cowardliness] in applying the severe threatenings of the Gospel to the obstinately impenitent, yet his heart in this awful employment was never steeled against the feelings of humanity. His fidelity in this part of his duty was never unaccompanied with compassion and sorrow. He possessed the firmness of Daniel, with all the benevolence of that favored prophet. Daniel was once directed to interpret and apply to Nebuchadnezzar a mysterious vision of Divine vengeance, and the fidelity with which he performed so painful a duty is worthy of admiration. But while his interpretation was plain, and his application pointed, it is observable that they were preceded by evident regret, and followed by affectionate counsel. Such was the manner of Mr. Fletcher, who had learned from a greater than Daniel, to pronounce a sentence of condemnation with anguish and tears, Luke xix, 41.
12. "But while he was faithful in proclaiming the day of vengeance to the disobedient, he neglected not to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound. Both these parts of his duty he performed with fidelity, but the latter only with alacrity and cheerfulness. Peculiarly to fit him for this evangelical service, the Lord God had given him the tongue of the learned, that he should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary; and in the discharge of this favorite part of his office he was equally skilful, tender, and happy. His watchful eye was upon the weak, the faint, and the afflicted. He diligently acquainted himself with the nature and causes of their distress; and whether they fainted through the anguish of remorse, or groaned beneath the violence of temptation, he had a suitable cordial prepared for their relief. He placed before their eyes a rich display of God's everlasting love, and assisted them to extract healing virtue from his unchangeable promises. He feelingly exhorted them to stretch out the withered hand; and till they were enabled actually to lay hold on the hope set before them he ceased not to proclaim the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin!
13. "He was thoroughly acquainted with the treatment of afflicted consciences. He knew when to probe, and when to heal; when to depress, and when to encourage: and no man's case was so perplexed or desperate, but he was in some measure prepared to explain and relieve it. He discovered hope for the spiritual mourner amid the most hopeless circumstances, and furnished the tempted with a clew [clue] to guide them through the intricacies of their situation. As the psalmist addressed his own heart in distress, so he addressed himself to every son of affliction in the day of his trouble. He reasoned over the particular case of the afflicted person: Why art thou so full of heaviness, and why is thy soul so disquieted within thee? Art thou afflicted beyond the common lot of thy companions in tribulation, or has any temptation befallen thee, except such as is common to man? From reasoning he proceeded to encouragement. Hope thou in God: reflect upon his nature, depend upon his word, and ask of the generations that are past, who ever trusted in the Lord and was confounded? From encouragement he rose to assurance: Thou shalt yet praise him, notwithstanding the present unpromising appearances: the God of all consolation shall be thy God, the health of thy countenance, and thy portion for ever.
14. "He was very anxiously desirous that the voice of joy and health might be heard in the dwellings of the righteous; nor would he be contented till he could prevail upon the sorrowful to bear some harmonious part in the work of adoration and thanksgiving. But, it is impossible to give a just representation of the sweet and condescending manner in which he treated every spiritual mourner. He would take up their neglected harps, and tune them to the praises of redeeming love. He would furnish them with a variety of sacred themes, and solicit them at least to attempt one of the songs of Sion. And while they lingered, he would sweetly take the lead in celebrating the Divine goodness. Now he recorded mercies past, and now he recounted promised blessings; now he sung the wonders of grace, and now he pointed to the mysteries of glory. But if it appeared, after all these animating efforts on his part, that the mourners among his people were unable to accompany him in these joyful exercises, he would suddenly change his song of praise into a strain of supplication, and earnestly implore for them the light of His gracious countenance whose prerogative it is to appoint beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
"Thus, with all possible plainness and fidelity, this animated preacher administered the good word of God in his day and generation, whether it was a word of threatening to the careless and impenitent, or a word of consolation to the fearful and afflicted."
15. Yet notwithstanding all the pains he took, he saw, for some time, little fruit of his labor: insomuch that he was more than once in doubt whether he had not mistaken his place; whether God had indeed called him to confine himself chiefly to one town, or to labor more at large in his vineyard. He seems to have been especially harassed with doubts upon this subject, if at any time he was weak in faith, and in an uncomfortable state of mind. Thus in a letter to Mr. Charles Wesley, dated March 10, 1761, he says, "As I read your elegy (on Dr. M___ n) I could not refrain my tears; tears so much the more sweet as they originated in a secret hope that I should one day strip off the polluted rags of my own righteousness, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, like the Christian hero of your poem.
"I feel more and more, that I neither abide in Christ, nor Christ in me; nevertheless, I do not so feel it as to seek him without intermission. Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this heart of unbelief? -- Blessed be God, who has promised me this deliverance, through our Lord Jesus Christ!
"A few days ago, I was violently tempted to quit Madeley: the spirit of Jonah had so seized upon my heart, that I had the insolence to murmur against the Lord; but the storm is now happily calmed, at least for a season. Alas ! what stubbornness is there in the will of man; and with what strength does it combat the will of God under the mask of piety when it can no longer do so with the uncovered shameless face of vice ! If a man bridleth not his tongue, all his outward religion is vain. May we not add to this observation of St. James, that if a man bridleth not his will, which is the language of his desires, his inward religion is vain also? The Lord does not, however, leave me altogether; and I have often a secret hope that he will one day touch my heart and my lips with a live coal from his altar; and that then his word shall consume the stubble, and break to pieces the stone."
Again a few weeks after he writes to the same, "I know not what to say to you of the state of my soul: I daily struggle in the slough of Despond, and I endeavor every day to climb the hill of Difficulty. I need wisdom, mildness, and courage; and no man has less of them than I. Oh Jesus, my Saviour, draw me strongly to Him who gives wisdom to all who ask it, and upbraideth them not! As to the state of my parish, the prospect is yet discouraging. New scandals succeed those that wear away; but offences must come: happy shall I be, if the offence comes not by me!"
16. He seems also to have had some scruples respecting some expressions in the Church service: alluding to a passage in the office for the public baptism of infants, he observes in a letter to Mr. Charles Wesley, September 20, 1762
"Truly you are a pleasant casuist.[one skilled in the resolution of questions of right and wrong] What! 'it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church.' Does all this signify nothing more than being taken into the visible Church?
"How came you to think of my going to leave Madeley? I have, indeed, had my scruples about the above passage, and some in the burial service; but you may dismiss your fears, and be assured I will neither marry, nor leave my Church, without advising with you. Adieu. Your affectionate brother, J. F."
17. Beside the uncomfortable state in which he sometimes found his soul, upon his first going to Madeley, he was discouraged by the smallness of the congregations, and the great opposition which he met with from persons of different descriptions, The first of these causes of discouragement, however, was soon removed. Within a year, it seems, of his first settling here, he writes to Mr. Charles Wesley, as follows
"When I first came to Madeley I was greatly mortified and discouraged by the smallness of my congregations; and I thought that if some of our friends at London had seen my little company, they would have triumphed in their own wisdom; but now, thank God, things are altered in that respect, and last Sunday I had the pleasure of seeing some in the church yard, who could not get into the church. I began a few Sundays ago to preach in the afternoon, after catechizing the children; but I do not preach my own sermons. Twice I read a sermon of Archbishop Usher's, and last Sunday one of the homilies, taking the liberty to make some observations on such passages as confirmed what I advanced in the morning, and by this means I stopped the mouths of many adversaries."
The church now, in a little time, began to be so crowded that the church wardens, enemies, it seems, to God and his truth, began to speak of hindering strangers (persons of other parishes) from coming, and of repelling them from the Lord's Supper. But in these points Mr. Fletcher withstood them. It appears, however, that toward the latter end of the year the congregation began rather to decline. For, October 12, he writes to the same person:
"My church begins not to be so well filled as it has been, and I account for it by the following reasons:-- The curiosity of some of my hearers is satisfied, and others are offended by the word; the roads are worse, and if it should ever please the Lord to pour his Spirit upon us, the time is not yet come; for instead of saying, Let us go up together to the house of the Lord, they exclaim, Why should we go and hear a Methodist? I should lose all patience with my flock, if I had not more reason to be satisfied with them than with myself. My own barrenness furnishes me with excuses for theirs; and I wait the time when God shall give seed to the sower, and increase to the seed sown. In waiting that time, I learn the meaning of this prayer, Thy will be done! Believe me your sincere, though unworthy friend, J. F."
18. Although he did not immediately see much fruit of his labors, yet God soon gave him some proofs that his word was not altogether without its desired effect. In a letter written soon after his going to Madeley, he mentioned three persons who "professed that they had received the consolations of Divine love under his ministry:" but, says he, "I wait for their fruits?' Another instance is mentioned by Mr. Wesley, which, it seems, occurred when he was under great discouragement: "A multitude of people had flocked together at a funeral. He seldom let these awful opportunities slip without giving a solemn exhortation. At the close of the exhortation which was then given, one man was so grievously offended that he could not refrain from breaking out into scurrilous, yea, menacing language. But notwithstanding all his struggling against it, the word fastened upon his heart. At first, indeed, he roared like a lion; but he soon wept like a child. Not long after he came to Mr. Fletcher, in the most humble manner asking pardon for his past outrageous behavior, and begging an interest in his prayers. This was such a refreshment as he stood in need of; and it was but a short time before the poor broken-hearted sinner was filled with joy unspeakable: he then spared no pains in exhorting his fellow sinners to flee from the wrath to come."
19. From the beginning Mr. Fletcher did not confine his preaching to the church, nor his labors to his own parish. Soon after his going to reside at Madeley, we find him expressing himself thus to a friend in one of his letters: "I have frequently had a desire to exhort in Madeley Wood, and Coalbrook Dale, two villages of my parish; but I have not dared to run before I saw an open door: it now, I think, begins to open, as two small societies of twenty persons have formed themselves in those places."
To a little society which he gathered about six miles from Madeley, he preached two or three times a week, beginning at five in the morning. Nay, for many years he regularly preached at places eight, or ten, or sixteen miles off; returning the same night, though he seldom got home before one or two in the morning.
20. In these, his labors of love, however, although undertaken and prosecuted with the sole view of glorifying God, and saving souls from death eternal, he met with no little opposition and persecution. Indeed the highest degrees of piety to God, or of benevolence to mankind, are found insufficient to secure a man from the reproaches of the world. "On the contrary," as Mr. Gilpin has justly observed, "religion and virtue, when carried to an extraordinary pitch of excellence, have generally exposed the possessors of them to the slander of malevolence, and the rigors of persecution." Many were the instances of opposition which the enemies of God and his truth made to this holy and benevolent man; and various were the snares which they laid to entangle him, out of all which, however, the Lord graciously delivered him, not suffering them to hurt a hair of his head.
One Sunday evening, after performing the usual duty at Madeley, he was about to set out for Madeley Wood to preach and catechize as usual. But just then notice was brought (which should have been given before) that a child was to be buried. His waiting till the child was brought prevented his going to the Wood. And herein the providence of God appeared. For, at this very time, many of the colliers, who neither feared God nor regarded men, were baiting a bull just by the place of preaching. And having had plenty of drink, they had all agreed, as soon as he came, to bait the parson. Part of them were appointed to pull him off his horse, and the rest to set the dogs upon him. But in the mean time the bull broke loose, and threw down the booth in which the gentlemen were drinking, and the people, fearing for themselves the evil they intended for him, were all dispersed; while the serious friends, who had come together to hear him preach, were waiting for him in quietness and safety.
21. But drunken colliers were not the only persons who opposed and persecuted him. Several of the gentlemen, as they were called, and even some of the neighboring clergy and magistrates, set themselves against him from the first; but without being able to accomplish their purpose. August 15, 1761, he writes as follows to Mr. Charles Wesley "I do not know whether I mentioned to you a sermon preached at the archdeacon's visitation, It was almost all levelled at the points which are called the doctrines of Methodism, and as the preacher is minister of a parish near mine, it is probable he had me in his eye. After the sermon another clergyman addressed-me with an air of triumph, and demanded what answer I could make. As several of my parishioners were present, beside the church wardens, I thought it my duty to take the matter up; and I have done so by writing a long letter to the preacher, in which I have touched the principal mistakes of his discourse with as much politeness and freedom as I was able: but I have as yet had no answer. I could have wished for your advice before I sealed my letter; but as I could not have it, I have been very cautious, intrenching myself behind the ramparts of Scripture, as well as those of our homilies and articles."
About two months after he writes to the same friend:-- "You have always the goodness to encourage me, and your encouragements are not unseasonable; for discouragements follow one after another with very little intermission. Those which are of an inward nature are sufficiently known to you; but some others are peculiar to myself, especially those I have had for eight days past during Madeley wake. Seeing that I could not suppress these bacchanals, [revelers] I did all in my power to moderate their madness; but my endeavors have had little or no effect; the impotent dike I opposed only made the torrent swell and foam, without stopping its course, You cannot well imagine how much the animosity of my parishioners is heightened, and with what boldness it discovers itself against me, because I preach against drunkenness, shows, and bull-baiting. The publicans and maitmen will not forgive me: they think that to preach against drunkenness, and to cut their purse, is the same thing."
The 16th of May following, he says, "Since my last, our troubles have increased. A young man having put in force the act for suppressing swearing against a parish officer, he stirred up all the other half gentlemen to remove him from the parish, Here I interposed, and to do so with effect, I took the young man into my service. By God's grace I have been enabled to conduct myself in this matter so as to give them no handle against me; and in spite of all their cabals [attempts to overturn or usurp], I have got the better.
"What has greatly encouraged them is the behavior of a magistrate, who was at the first inclined to favor me, but afterward turned against me with peculiar malevolence, and proceeded as far as to threaten me, and all my flock of the Rock Church,  with imprisonment. Hitherto the Lord has stood by me, and my little difficulties are nothing to me; but I fear I support them rather like a philosopher than a Christian. We were to have been mobbed with a drum last Tuesday at the Rock Church, but their captain, a papist, behaved himself so very ill that they were ashamed of him, and are made peaceable for the present. Ask of God to give me wisdom, resolution, and love."
It appears by a letter of his, written to Mr. Charles Wesley in July following, that he presented the papist above mentioned at the succeeding visitation, although without effect. "Three weeks ago (says he) I went to Ludlow to the bishop's visitation, and I thought the occasion favorable for my purpose: but the church wardens, when we were upon the spot, refused to support me, and the court has paid no regard to my presentation. Thus I have gained some experience, though at my own cost.
The sermon did not touch the string with which I was whipped the last visitation, and I afterward had the boldness to go and dine with the bishop.
"Many of my parishioners are strangely disconcerted at my bringing my gown back from Ludlow. [They thought the bishop would have stripped him of it.] With respect to the magistrate I mentioned, who, because he acted as judge of the circuit two years ago, believes himself as able a lawyer as Judge Foster; he, for the present, contents himself with threatenings. I met him the other day, and after he had called me Jesuit, &c., and menaced me with his cane, he assured me again that he would soon put down our assemblies. How ridiculous is this impotent rage!
"I have attempted to form a society, and in spite of much opposition and many difficulties, I hope, by God's grace, to succeed. I preach, I exhort, I pray, &c., but as yet I seem to have cast the net on the wrong side of the ship. Lord Jesus, come thyself, and furnish me with a Divine commission! For some months past I have labored under an insuperable drowsiness; I could sleep day and night; and the hours which I ought to employ with Christ on the mountain I spend like Peter in the garden." Thus we see this man of God was not without his infirmities. But these he always magnified.
22. As the reader will probably wish to see a little farther account of this persecution, and of the behavior of this good man under it, I shall insert here also an extract from another letter. In August of the same year (1762) he writes as follows to the same friend, in whom he always put entire confidence:-"
I have received your last, and I rejoice that Dr. Turner, by whose skill the Lord once brought me up from the grave, has undertaken your cure. May he have the same success with you that he had with me; but, be that as it will, our comfort is to know that God will do all for the best.
"I have still trials of all sorts. First, Spiritual ones. My heart is hard: I have not that contrition, that filial fear, that sweet, humble melting of heart before the Lord, which I consider as essential to spiritual Christianity.
"Secondly, The opposition made to my ministry increases. A young clergyman who lives in Madeley Wood, where he has great influence, has openly declared war against me, by pasting on the church door a paper, in which he charges me with rebellion, schism, and being a disturber of the public peace. He puts himself at the head of the gentlemen of the parish, (as they term themselves,) and supported by the recorder of Wenlock, he is determined to put in force the Conventicle Act against me. A few weeks ago, the widow who lives in the Rock church, and a young man who read and prayed in my absence, were taken up. I attended them before the justice, and the young clergyman with his troop were present. They called me Jesuit, &c., and the justice tried to frighten me by saying 'that he would put the act in force, though we should assemble only in my own house.' I pleaded my cause as well as I could; but seeing he was determined to hear no reason, I told him 'he must do as he pleased, and that if the act in question concerned us, we were ready to suffer all its rigors.' In his rage he went the next day to Wenlock, and proposed to grant a warrant to have me apprehended; but, as the other justices were of opinion that the business did not come under their cognizance, but belonged to the spiritual court, he was obliged to swallow his spittle alone. The church wardens talk of putting me in the spiritual court, for meeting in houses, &c. But what is worst of all, three false witnesses offer to prove upon oath that I am a liar; and some of my followers (as they are called) have dishonored their profession, to the great joy of our adversaries.
"In the midst of these difficulties I have reason to bless the Lord that my heart is not troubled. Forget me not in your prayers. Yours, J. F."
23. Such was a part, and but a very small part, of the opposition which, from time to time, for many years, he met with. "His situation, with respect to the unworthy part of his parishioners," says Mr. Gilpin, "was similar to the situation of Daniel, with respect to the Babylonish courtiers: his whole conduct was so admirably regulated by circumspection and prudence, that malice itself could find no occasion against him, except concerning the law of his God. The voluptuary detested his temperance and self-denial; the man of pride poured contempt upon his humility and condescension; the licentious were offended at his gravity and strictness; and the formal were roused to indignation by that spirit of zeal and devotion which influenced his whole conversation and conduct. All of these, however they might differ among themselves, were leagued together as the inveterate enemies of this venerable pastor. They wrested his words, they misrepresented his actions, and cast out his name as evil. But, whatever he was called to suffer from the malice and opposition of his enemies, he endured it with the utmost magnanimity and composure, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise, blessing. While some indignant professors are ready, with James and John, to command fire from heaven for the destruction of their opposers: and while others are inquiring with Peter, how often they are to meet their offending brethren with unfeigned forgiveness, he gave himself an example of that uncommon charity which suffereth long, and is kind; which is not easily provoked, and thinketh no evil, When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.'
"Whether he was insulted in his person, or injured in his property; whether he was attacked with open abuse, or pursued by secret calumny; through the testimony of a good conscience, he walked amid the most violent assaults of his enemies, as a man completely invulnerable; and while his firmness discovered that he was unhurt, his forbearance testified that he was unoffended. His love was truly unconquerable: the cold waters of disrespect could not quench it, neither could floods of reproach drown it. Being reviled, he blessed; being persecuted, he suffered it; being defamed, he entreated; provoking his enemies by every affectionate method to love and good works. Whenever he discerned a virtue in the character of an adversary, he commended it, he magnified it, he rejoiced over it, and endeavored to make it a medium of reconciliation. Whenever he discovered an enemy in distress, he hastened to meet him with tokens of generosity and kindness; if he hungered, he fed him; if he thirsted, he gave him drink; if he was oppressed, he maintained his cause; if his heart was brought down through heaviness, he endeavored to support and console him; embracing, with thankfulness, every possible opportunity of heaping coals of fire on his head."
24. It must be observed here, however, that the opposition which some of his parishioners and others made to him, was of that nature, that he was constrained, although reluctant, to denounce upon them the judgments of God, and to warn them, if they did not repent, God would speedily cut them off. And the truth of these predictions, as I may not improperly term them, was shown over and over by their signal accomplishment. January 13th, 1766, he wrote to a friend as follows:-" This evening I have buried one of the warmest opposers of my ministry, a stout, strong young man, aged twenty-four years. About three months ago, he came to the church yard with a corpse, but refused to come into the church. When the burial was over, I went to him and mildly expostulated with him. His constant answer was, 'that he had bound himself never to come to church while I was there; adding that he would take the consequences, &c.' Seeing I got nothing, I left him, saying with uncommon warmth, (though as far as I can remember without the least touch of resentment,) 'I am clear of your blood; henceforth it is upon your own head; you will not come to church upon your legs, prepare to come upon your neighbor' shoulders.' He wasted from that time, and to my great surprise hath been buried on the spot where we were when the conversation passed between us. When I visited him in his sickness, he seemed tame as a wolf in a trap. Oh may God have turned him into a sheep in his last hours !"
25. Many other instances might be produced, if need were, of God's confirming the word of his servant, and many were the indisputable proofs which were given in the parish and vicinity of Madeley, that the weapons of this eminent minister's warfare were mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. Indeed, as he attacked sin in public and in private, under all its wonderful variety of appearances; so he never quitted. the charge till he had either subdued or put it to shame. Unawed either by numbers or by power, he was superior to all the opposition that could be raised against him; and it may be confidently asserted that no man was able to stand before him all the days of his life. That he had enemies who were never subdued, will readily be granted: but that any of those enemies were hardy enough openly to encounter him, is absolutely denied. The despisers of religion considered him as a man of an undaunted spirit in the cause of God; and the most daring among them, at the whisper of his approach, would seek the nearest shelter to screen themselves from his deserved rebuke.
26. The weapon by-which he was enabled to perform the most memorable of his public services, was that sacred word which is emphatically called the sword of the Spirit. In the exercise of this two-edged instrument he was expert beyond description, turning it every way for the defence of the Gospel, and the overthrow of its opposers. With this he cut in pieces all the snares of the wicked, and with this he struck at the deepest root of sin. With this he divided asunder soul and spirit, joints and marrow; and wherever he aimed the determined blow, it was impossible for all the address of the sinner effectually to ward it off. Upon this he chiefly depended for the success of his ministry, as the only weapon by which he could ever hope to penetrate through the prejudices of his people, and subdue their aversion to the glorious Gospel. While others are anxious to charm their hearers with "the studied ornaments of artificial eloquence," his first care was, in simplicity and godly sincerity, to declare the truth as it is in Jesus. Had he aimed at celebrity as a public speaker, furnished as he was with all the united powers of learning, genius, and taste, he might have succeeded beyond many who are engaged in so insignificant a pursuit. But his design was to convert, and not to captivate his hearers; to secure their eternal interests, and not obtain their momentary applause. Hence, his speech and his preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. He spoke as in the presence of God, and taught as one having Divine authority. There was an energy in his preaching that was irresistible. His subjects, his language, his gestures, the tone of his voice, and the turn of his countenance, all conspired to fix the attention and affect the heart. Without aiming at sublimity, he was truly sublime; and uncommonly eloquent without affecting the orator.
27. "He was wondrously skilled in adapting himself to the different capacities and conditions of his hearers. He could stoop to the illiterate, and rise with the learned; he had incontrovertible arguments for the skeptic, and powerful persuasions for the listless believer; he had sharp remonstrance for the obstinate, and strong consolation for the mourner: and, like a scribe, thoroughly instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, he brought forth out of his treasures things new and old, as occasion required. To hear him without admiration was impossible; without profit, improbable. The unthinking went from his presence under the influence of serious impressions, and the obdurate with kindled relentings, Many an unsuspecting trifler has he enclosed in the Gospel net, and many a happy captive has he led, in the course of his public ministry, from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. I shall here transcribe a short passage from a letter addressed to me by one of the author's esteemed friends. 'I would rather have heard,' says the writer, 'one sermon from Mr. Fletcher, viva voce, than read a volume of his works. His words were clothed with power, and entered with effect. His writings are arrayed in all the garb of human literature. But his living word soared on eagles' flight above humanity. He basked in the sun, carried his young ones on his wings, and seized the prey for his Master. In short, his preaching was apostolic; while his writings, though enlightened, are but human.'"
28. But however quick, penetrating, and powerful, his word in general was, Mr. Fletcher was accustomed "to place his chief glory and pleasure in spreading abroad the benedictions of the Gospel. He considered the ministration of mercy as abundantly more glorious than the ministration of condemnation, and was disposed to magnify it as such upon all occasions. Experiencing in his own heart the inestimable effects of mercy, he was anxious that all men should be partakers of his joy: and whenever he was engaged in pointing out the source of that mercy, its nature, its design, or the different degree of its manifestation, he was then engaged in an employment peculiarly suited both to his inclination and his state. These were subjects upon which he delighted to dwell, and upon which he had astonishing things to offer. His disposition to universal benevolence was conspicuous through the whole of his spiritual progress, but especially in the latter years of his life, when his heart was as a vessel running over with Christian charity. As the holy ointment ran down from the head of Aaron to the very skirts of his clothing, so the charity of this exemplary pastor descended to, and embraced the very least and lowest of the human race. Wherever the smallest religious desire was expressed, he pronounced a blessing upon it; and wherever the weakest endeavor after spiritual attainments was discoverable, he encouraged it with his congratulations, and strengthened it with his prayers: nay, wherever impiety opposed him under its most malignant appearances, he met it with mingled commiseration and hope. Like a faithful imitator of the blessed Jesus, he came preaching peace, and breathing the most undissembled good will to all around him. Like his beneficent Master, he went about either doing, or seeking to do good, in every possible way; and where ever he came, he appeared like some superior being, whose sole employment was to benefit and bless the children of men. In those houses where the sons and daughters of peace were found, he was welcomed as a messenger of the most joyful tidings, and honored as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. These happy families submitted with joy to his paternal authority, and considered his pastoral visits as an invaluable privilege. They looked upon their houses as consecrated by his prayers, and received his benedictions with reverence and gratitude."
29. It is justly observed, farther, by the same reverend and pious author, that "the weak and the wavering have, in every age, outnumbered the vigorous and unshaken professors of Christianity. Mr. Fletcher beheld in his day, with inexpressible concern, the increasing class of such unsteady believers: but, while he bewailed their instability, he allowed them an ample share of his affection. Far from despising the day of small things, he labored with the most affectionate solicitude to strengthen the weak hand, and confirm the feeble knee of every wavering professor.
His anxiety for their advancement in grace was discovered in every possible way, and his whole deportment toward them was marked with unusual tenderness and regard. He followed them with unweaned attention till he could discover the particular causes of their spiritual decay; and when these were once ascertained, he employed the most laborious efforts for their removal. He carefully acquainted himself with the peculiar circumstances and disposition of the unstable party, skilfully adapting both his language and his manner to the nature of their past attainments and their present deficiencies. He argued against their fears, he satisfied their doubts, he bewailed their lukewarmness, and reminded them of their privileges; entreating or rebuking, consoling or censuring them, with all longsuffering. In the meantime he not only avoided, in his own conduct, whatever might have a tendency to offend or unsettle their minds, but admonished the stronger brethren to maintain toward their feeble companions a carriage regulated by more than ordinary circumspection and kindness.
"Thus, after having used every generous endeavor for the restoration of the weak, and after having removed every apparent obstacle from their path, in the spirit of supplication and prayer he would watch for their return. And wherever he perceived in them the first indications of a holy resolution, it cannot be told with what meltings of heart he would fly to embrace them; how graciously he would condescend to their weakness, how carefully he would support their steps, and with how much affectionate counsel he would guide them in the way. On these occasions, especially, he put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and forbearance, exhibiting through his whole conduct a lovely imitation of that great Shepherd who gather the lambs with his arm, and gently leads those that are with young."
30. As a specimen of the manner in which he addressed the weak in faith, I shall here lay before my readers an extract from some of his letters written about this time. To Mr. Vaughan, Sept. 4, 1762, he says, "I rejoice that you inquire where Christ makes his flock to rest at noon. The rest from the guilt and power of sin you will find only in inward holiness: and this I apprehend to consist in what St. Paul calls the kingdom of God -- righteousness, which excludes all guilt; peace, which banishes all fear that hath torment; and joy, which can no more subsist with doubts, anxiety, and unstableness of mind, than light can subsist with darkness. That there is a state wherein this kingdom is set up, firmly set up in the heart, you may see by our Lord's sermon on the mount, by his priestly prayer in St. John's gospel, chap. xvii, by the epistle of that apostle, and various parts of the epistles of St. Paul and St. James.
"To aim aright at this liberty of the children of God requires a continual acting of faith -- of a naked faith in a naked promise or declaration, such as, 'The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. The law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath made me free from the law of sin and death:-- I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me.' By a naked faith in a naked promise, I do not mean a bare assent that God is faithful, and that such a promise in the book of God may be fulfilled in me; but a bold, hearty, steady venturing of my soul, body, and spirit, upon the truth of the promise, with an appropriating act. It is mine, because I am a penitent sinner; and I am determined to believe, come what will, Here you must stop the ear of the mind to the suggestions of the serpent; which, were you to reason with him, would be endless, and would soon draw you out of the simple way of that faith by which we are both justified and sanctified.
"You must also remember that it is your privilege to go to Christ by such a faith now, and every succeeding moment: and that you are to bring nothing but a distracted, tossed, hard heart; just such a one as you have now. Here lies the grand mistake of many poor but precious souls: they are afraid to believe, lest it should be presumption, because they have not as yet comfort, joy, love, &c,: not considering that this is to look for fruit before the tree be planted. Beware, then, of looking for any peace or joy previous to your believing; and let this be uppermost in your mind.
"The Lord make you wise as a serpent, and harmless as the loving dove; but beware of the serpent's. food, dust; and the dove's bane, birdlime, I mean worldly cares. O, my friend, what is the world? -- A flying shadow. As we fly through it, let us lose ourselves in the eternal substance. Farewell in the Lord. Yours, J. F."
Two months after, he writes thus to Miss Hatton:-- "I thank you for the confidence you repose in the advice of a poor fellow sinner: may the Father of lights direct you through so vile an instrument! If you build all your hopes of heaven upon Jesus Christ in all his offices, you do not build without a foundation, but upon the true one.
"That there is a seal of pardon, and an earnest of our inheritance above, which you are as yet a stranger to, seems clear from the tenor of your letter; but had I been in the place of the gentleman you mention, I would have endeavored to lay it before you as the fruit of faith, and a most glorious privilege, rather than as the root of faith, and a thing absolutely necessary to the being of it.
"I believe many people know when they receive faith, and all people, when they receive the seal of their pardon. When they believe in Christ, they are justified in the sight of God; and when they are sealed by the Spirit, they are fully assured of that justification in their own conscience. Some receive faith, and the seal of their pardon, in the same instant, as the jailer, &c.; but others receive faith first, as the dying thief, the woman of Canaan, David, the people of Samaria, Acts viii, 12 -- 16, and the faithful at Ephesus, Eph. i. 13. Suppose, then, God gave you faith, i. e., a hearty trust in the blood of Christ, and a sincere closing with him, as your righteousness and your all, while you received the sacrament, (which seems to me very probable, by the account you give me,) your way is exceeding plain before you. Hold fast your confidence, but do not rest in it; trust in Christ, and remember he says, I am the way; not for you to stop, but to run on in him. Rejoice to hear that there is a full assurance of faith to be obtained by the seal of God's Spirit, and go on from faith to faith, until you are possessed of it. But remember this, and let this double advice prevent your straying to the right or left:-- First, That you will have reason to suspect the sincerity of your zeal, if you lie down easy without the seal of your Pardon, and the full assurance of faith. Secondly, While you wait for that seal in all the means of grace, beware of being unthankful for the least degree of faith and confidence in Jesus; beware of burying one talent because you have not five; beware of despising the grain of mustard seed, because it is not yet a tree.
"May the Lord teach you the middle path between resting short of the happiness of 'making your calling and election sure,' and supposing you are neither called nor chosen, and that God hath not yet truly begun his good work in you. You can never be too bold in believing, provided you still aspire after new degrees of faith, and do not use your faith as a cloak for sin. The Lord despises not the day of small things.; only beware of resting in small things. And look for the seal and abiding witness of God's Spirit, according to the following direction:-
Restless, resigned, for this I wait, For this my vehement soul stands still,'
As to deep sights of the evil of sin, the more you go on, the more you will see Christ exceeding lovely, and sin exceeding sinful: therefore, look up to Jesus, as a vile and helpless sinner, pleading his promises: this is going on, and trust him for the rest.
"With respect to myself, in many conflicts and troubles of soul, I have consulted many masters of the spiritual life, but Divine mercy did not, does not suffer me to rest upon the word of a fellow creature. The best advices have often increased my perplexities; and the end was to make me cease from human dependence, and wait upon God from the dust of self-despair. To him, therefore, I desire to point you and myself, in the person of Jesus Christ. This incarnate God receives weary, perplexed sinners still, and gives them solid rest. He teaches as no man ever taught; his words have spirit and life; nor can he possibly mistake our case. I am, madam, your fellow servant in the patience and kingdom of Jesus, J. F."
To the same person he says in another letter, dated January 28th, 1763, "I share in the joy which your deliverance from your late trials gives to those who shared in your perplexity. Heaviness may endure for a night, but gladness comes in, the morning; and when it comes after a long uneasy night, it is doubly welcome, and deserves a double tribute of praises. Oh be not wanting in that sweet duty! -- I mean praising from a sense of the Divine goodness, love, and patience toward us. Remember that you are brought from darkness to light, to show forth the praises of Him who called you; and that your feet are set at liberty for you to run with patience the race of prayer and praise, self-denial and obedience, which the Lord hath set before you.
"Would you go on comfortably and steadily for the time to come, beg of the Lord to give you grace to observe the following advice, l. Live above earthly and creature comforts. 2. Beware of flatness and lukewarmness: this, if not carried immediately to the Lord's ends often in darkness and deadness. 3. Value Divine comforts above all things, and prize Christ above all comforts, that if they should fail, you may still glory in the God of your salvation. 4. Let that which torments others make your happiness -- I mean self-denial and renouncing your own will. 5. Be ready to yield with joy to every conviction of the Spirit of God. Be faithful to present grace, and aspire after a continual growth 6. Live the present moment to God, and avoid perplexing yourself about your past or future experience: by giving up yourself to Christ, as you are, and being willing to receive him now, as he is, leaving all the rest to him, you will cut up a thousand temptations by the roots."
A few weeks after, he adds, "I am glad you persist in taking up your cross, and following the Captain of our salvation, You must expect many difficulties: some of your greatest trials may come from your dearest friends without, and your nearest part within, I have always found it profitable to expect the worst, for a temptation foreseen is half overcome. Let us count the cost daily, and learn to value all outward things as dung and dross, that we may win Christ.
"My heart is at present full of an advice which I have just given, with some success, to the Israelites in the wilderness about this place:-- Spend, in 'feeling after Christ, by the prayer of such faith as you have, whether it be dark or luminous, the time you have hitherto spent in desponding thoughts, in perplexing considerations upon the badness or uncertainty of your state, and come now to the Lord Jesus with your present wants, daring to believe that he waits to be gracious to you.' Christ is the way, the highway to the Father, and a highway is as free for a sickly beggar as a glorious prince. If it be suggested, 'You are too presumptuous to intrude without ceremony upon Him that is glorious in holiness, and fearful in praises,' answer in looking up to Jesus:-
'Be it I myself deceive, yet I must, I must believe.'
"I am with sincerity, &c., J. F."
In August his words to this lady are, "I am heartily glad to find that your heart is set upon obtaining the one thing needful, Christ in us, with all his graces, the hope of glory. I beg, in my Master's name, you would cherish the conviction of the need of this prize of your high calling, and pursue it in the new and living way in which the fathers trod, that of the cross, and that of faith. We travel in the first, by continually denying ourselves in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life; and we advance in the second by aiming at Christ, claiming Christ, embracing Christ, delighting and rejoicing in Christ received in the heart, through the channel of the Gospel promises. To he able to go on in the way of the cross and that of faith, you stand in need, madam, of much recollection and steady watchfulness over the workings of your own heart, and diligent attention to the whispers of Divine grace. That the Lord would powerfully enable us to run on with faith and patience, till we inherit the promises, is the prayer of, madam, your servant in Christ, J. F."
31. The following directions, sent, I believe, about the same time, to this well disposed, but diffident friend, show still more fully how well qualified he was to strengthen the weak hands, and to speak a word in season to such as were weary:-- "(1.) It is better to perish for believing wrong, than for not believing at all: venture, then, with Esther, If I perish, I perish, I had rather perish in trying to touch the scepter of grace, than in indolently waiting till the King touches me with it.
"(2.) Christ often reveals himself as a babe, a feeble infant. Do not you despise him in his lowest, weakest state: do not say to your Saviour, I will not receive thee, unless thou appear in a blaze of glorious light. Reject not the little leaven and if your grain of faith is small as a mustard seed, be the more careful not to throw it away as dirt. The Holy Ghost says, The light of the just shines more and more to the perfect day; and how feeble is the light of the early morning, now indiscernible from darkness!
"(3.) Sin gives you your first title to the Friend of sinners, and a simple and naked faith the second. Do not then puzzle yourself about contrition, faithfulness, love, joy, power over sin, and a thousand such things, which Satan will persuade you you must bring to Christ. He will receive you gladly with the great mountain of sin; and the smallest grain of faith, at Christ's feet, will remove that mountain.
"(4.) At the peril of your soul, do not puzzle yourself at present about joy or love. Only desire that this blessed Man may be your bridegroom, and that you may firmly believe that he is so, because he hath given you his flesh and blood upon the cross: and continue believing this, and trusting in him. Your business is with Jesus, with his free, unmerited love, with his glorious promises, &c., &c.
"(5.) Strongly expect no good from your own heart: expect nothing but unbelief, hardness, unfaithfulness, and backsliding, And when you find them there, be not shaken nor discouraged; rather rejoice that you are to live by faith on the faithful heart of Christ, and cast not away your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.
"(6.) When you are dull and heavy, as will often be the case, remember to live on Christ, and claim the more by naked faith. I have not time to say more, but Jesus, whom you hold by the hem of his promise, will teach you all the day long. Look unto him and be saved, and remember he forgives seventy times seven, May his dawning love attend you till it is noonday in your soul; and pray for your unworthy servant, J. F."
32. It must be allowed that these directions were well adapted to beget faith in the unbelieving and diffident, in order to their obtaining justification and peace with God, and to strengthen that faith. In the meantime he was not wanting in giving other advices calculated to guard and improve it. To Mr. Vaughan he says, "As you desire me to tell you simply what I think of the state of your soul as described in your letter, I will do it as the Lord shall enable me. "I praise him that he has begun a good work in you, which I make no doubt he will finish, if you do not counteract the operations of his grace. Your having sometimes free access to the throne of grace, but soon falling back into deadness and darkness, is the common experience of many who walk sincerely, though slowly, toward Sion. It argues, on one side, the drawings of faith; and on the other, the power of unbelief, I would compare such souls to the child of the patriarch who came to the birth, nay, saw the light of this world, and yet returned again into his mother's womb, until, after a greater struggle, he broke through all that was in his way, and left the place where he had been so long in prison.
"If you fall short, yet be not cast down, but strive more earnestly to enter in at the strait gate. Watch more unto prayer, and pray for that faith which enables the believer now to lay hold on eternal life. Remember, however, that your prayers will not avail much, unless you deny yourself, and take up every cross, which the Lord suffers men, devils, or your own heart, to lay upon you. In the name of Jesus, and in the power of his might, break through all; and you will find daily more and more, that Jesus is the light of the world, and that he who follows him, shall not walk in darkness. The peace of Jesus be with you. Farewell. J. F."
To Miss Hatton, who seems to have been in a similar state of mind, he writes more largely as follows:-- "You seem, madam, not to have a clear idea of the happiness of the love of Jesus, or, at least, of your privilege of loving him again. Your dulness in private prayer arises from the want of familiar friendship with Jesus. To obviate it, go to your closet, as if you were going to meet the dearest friend you ever had cast yourself immediately at his feet, bemoan your coldness before him, extol his love to you, till your heart break with a desire to love him, yea, till it actually melts with his love. Be you, if not the importunate widow, at least the importunate virgin, and get your Lord to avenge you of your adversary -- I mean your cold heart.
"You ask from me some directions to get a mortified spirit. To get this get recollection.
"Recollection is a dwelling within ourselves; being abstracted from the creature, and turned toward God. It is both outward and inward. Outward recollection consists in silence from all idle and superfluous words; and a wise disentanglement from the world, keeping to our own business, observing and following the order of God for ourselves, and shutting the ear against all curious and unprofitable matters. Inward recollection consists in shutting the door of the senses; in a deep attention to the presence of God; and in a continual care of entertaining holy thoughts, for fear of spiritual idleness. -- Through the power of the Spirit let this recollection be steady even in the midst of hurrying business: let it be calm and peaceable; and let it be lasting. Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.
"To maintain this recollection, beware of engaging too deeply, and beyond what is necessary, in outward things; beware of suffering your affections to be entangled by worldly vanities, your imagination to amuse itself with unprofitable objects, and of indulging yourself in the commission of what are called small faults.
"For want of continuing in a recollected frame all the day, our times of prayer are frequently dry and useless, imagination prevails, and the heart wanders: whereas we pass easily from recollection to delightful prayer. Without this spirit there can be no useful self-denial, nor can we know ourselves; but where it dwells, it makes the soul all eye, all ear; traces and discovers sin, repels its first assaults, or crushes it in its earliest risings.
"But take care here to be more taken up with the thoughts of God than of yourself; and consider how hardly recollection is sometimes obtained, and how easily it is lost. Use no forced labor to raise a particular frame; nor tire, fret, and grow impatient, if you have no comfort; but meekly acquiesce and confess yourself unworthy of it; lie prostrate in humble submission before God, and patiently wait for the smiles of Jesus.
"May the following motives stir you up to the pursuit of recollection. 1. Without it, God's voice cannot be heard in the soul. 2. It is the altar on which we must offer up our Isaacs. 3. It is instrumentally a ladder (if I may be allowed the expression) to ascend to God. 4. By it the soul gets to its center, out of which it cannot rest. 5. Man's soul is the temple of God -- recollection the holy of holies. 6. As the wicked by recollection find hell in their hearts, so faithful souls find heaven. 7. Without recollection all means of grace are useless, or make but a light and transitory impression.
"If we would be recollected, we must expect to suffer. Sometimes God does not speak immediately to the heart; we must then continue to listen with a more humble silence. Sometimes assaults of the heart or of the temper may follow, together with weariness, and a desire to turn the mind to something else: here we must be patient. By patience unwearied we inherit the promises.
"Dissipated souls are severely punished. If any man abide not in Christ he is cast out as a branch -- cast out of the light of God's countenance, and barrenness follows in the use of the means.
The world and Satan gather and use him for their service. He is cast into the fire of the passions, of guilt, of temptation, and perhaps, of hell.
"As dissipation always meets its punishment, so recollection never fails of its reward. After a patient waiting comes communion with God, and the sweet sense of his peace and love. Recollection is a castle, all inviolable fortress against the world and the devil; it renders all times and places alike, and is the habitation where Christ and his bride dwell.
"I give you these hints, not to set Christ aside, but that you may, according to the light and power given to you, take these stones and place them upon the chief corner stone, and cement them with the blood of Jesus, until the superstructure, in some measure, answer to the excellence of the foundation. I beg an interest in your prayers for myself and those committed to my charge, and am, with sincerity, madam, your servant for Christ's sake.J. F."
These important advices were given March 5, 1764, and September following he adds:-- " With respect to the hindrances your worldly business lays in the way of your soul, I would have you to be persuaded that they are by no means insurmountable. The following means, in due subordination to faith in Jesus, may, by the blessing of God, be of service to you
"(1.) Get up early, and save time before you go to business, to put on the whole armor of God, by close meditation and earnest prayer.
"(2.) Consider the temptation that most easily besets you, whether it be hurry, or vanity, or lightness, or want of recollection to do what you do as unto God. Ponder the consequences of those sins, see your weakness to resist them, and endeavor to obtain a more feeling sense of your helplessness: when you have it, you will naturally watch unto prayer, and look to Christ for strength from moment to moment.
"(3.) When your mind hath been drawn aside, do not fret, or let yourself go down the stream of nature, as if it were in vain to attempt to swim against it; but confess your fault, and calmly resume your former endeavor, but with more humility and watchfulness.
"(4.) Steal from business now and then, though for two or three minutes only, and in the corner where you can be least observed, pour out your soul in confession, or a short ejaculation at the feet of Jesus, for power to watch, and to believe that he can keep you watching. May you feelingly believe that he hath bought the power for you, and then, of a truth, you will find it done to you according to your faith. I am, &c., J. F."
33. These extracts from his letters may serve to show us how this servant of the Lord Jesus was wont to exercise his ministry toward the weak and wavering, and how well the Lord had furnished him with grace and gifts for the important office of binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound. But this was not the only way in which he comforted those that mourned, and gave them "the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
34. "As the parish of Madeley was uncommonly populous, so it abounded with persons who, either through infirmity or misfortune, were reduced to a state of indigence and distress. Over this despised and destitute part of his flock, Mr. Fletcher was accustomed to watch with unusual attention and concern. He regarded them as his peculiar charge, and exerted himself to the utmost for their encouragement and support. Not content with freely offering them the consolations of the Gospel, he contributed largely to the relief of their temporal necessities, and generally divided among them the greater part of his income. He sought them out with the most industrious care, and expressed a great degree of thankfulness to any person who would direct him to the abodes of wretchedness and poverty. To such abodes, indeed, he was seldom a stranger, nor could any consideration prevail with him to pass them by, without attempting to dry up the tears, and supply the wants of their afflicted inhabitants. His daily walks were among the fatherless and the widows, the friendless and the oppressed: and while he counted it his indispensable duty to labor for their relief, he considered that very labor as one of the sublimest pleasures he was capable of enjoying.
35. "The profusion of his charity toward the poor and needy is scarcely credible: it constantly exhausted his purse, it frequently unfurnished his house, and sometimes left him destitute of the most common necessaries. He was accustomed to make an exchange of state with his indigent brethren, freely bartering his ease for their woe, and his plenty for their penury. That he might feed the hungry, he led a life of abstinence and self-denial; that he might cover the naked, he clothed himself in the most homely attire; and that he might cherish such as were perishing in a state of extreme distress, he submitted to hardships of a very trying nature." He not only relieved their necessities himself, to the uttermost of his power, but was the mean of procuring help for them from others that were of greater ability. This appears from his letters of thanks to some of those persons. James I -- d, Esq., in particular, sent them frequent relief in different ways. "Yesterday, (says Mr. Fletcher to that friend of the poor, in a letter, dated Madeley, March 30, 1767,) I received your kind letter; and your kind present about a month ago. It came safe, and is a large stock for the poor and me. The Lord return it you in living water. May it flow like a never failing stream through your soul, and the souls of all that are near and dear to you; that is, not only those of your own household, but also of the household of faith. What a pleasure to love all, and be a well wisher to all!"
Again, in a latter dated March 26, 1769, he says to the same:-- "Your rich present of meat came last week, and shall be distributed to the pious poor agreeably to your orders, as a proof that Jesus, the liberal Jesus, the Bread of life, is indeed risen, and lives in his members, who mutually aid and comfort each other, We are happy to receive your bounty, but you are more happy in bestowing it upon us: witness the words of Jesus, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' Nevertheless, receive by faith the presents of the Lord, the gifts of his Spirit, and reject not the bread which came down from heaven, because the Lord gives it you with so much love."
He writes to the same friend some time after, "I think I wrote my last two days before I received your bounty -- a large hogshead of rice, and two cheeses. Accept the thanks of our poor and mine on the occasion. I distributed it on Shrove Tuesday, and preached to a numerous congregation on, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you. ' May you and I find the bread we scattered that day, though it should not be till after many days. We prayed for our benefactor, that God would give him a hundredfold in this life, and eternal life, where life eternal will be no burden. I saw then what I have not often seen on such occasions, gladness without the appearance of envying on grudging." "But it is impossible (proceeds Mr. Gilpin) to declare in how many ways he discovered his tenderness toward the friendless, and to how many inconveniences he cheerfully exposed himself, for the alleviation of their various distresses. He followed them to the most secret scenes of their wretchedness, and in all their afflictions he was afflicted; he literally bore their several burdens, and freely drank of their sorrowful cup, that he might make room in it for a mixture of consolation and joy. He was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; he was a father to the poor, and a friend to him that had no helper; the blessing of such as were ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. Such was the attention of this compassionate pastor to the necessitous among his people, and such was the liberality which he exercised toward them to the close of his life; when a concern for their welfare accompanied him to his deathbed, where he tenderly bewailed their distresses, and earnestly recommended them to the favor of that God who had promised that the poor shall not always be forgotten.
36. "The concern which Mr. Fletcher expressed for the relief of the unfortunate and afflicted, was truly uncommon; but his compassion was still more abundant toward the immoral and profane, whom he constantly regarded as the most miserable of men. While he detested vice, he pitied the vicious: and while he fled from sin, as from the face of a serpent, he turned to the sinner with the warmest emotions of benevolence and charity. Considering the wicked as poor beyond the power of expression, he joyfully presented them with the pearl of great price. He saw them wandering as sheep without a shepherd, and endeavored to conduct them to the fold of God: he beheld them attempting to quench their thirst at the poisoned streams of worldly pleasure, and affectionately invited them to the fountain of living waters: he saw them heedlessly rushing to the gates of death, and labored to turn their feet into the way everlasting.
"Animated with that burning charity, by which St. Paul was impelled to publish the Gospel from nation to nation, this evangelical preacher was constrained, not only within, but, as has been observed above, beyond the limits of his parish, to follow after the ignorant, the careless, and the abandoned, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom., that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Considering the business with which he was charged, as an employment of the highest importance, without paying any servile attention to times or places, he lost no opportunity of executing the commission he had received. His highest wish was to convert the wicked from the error of his way; and in the course of so arduous an undertaking, he was prepared, at the command of his Lord, to go forth into the highways and hedges with the invitations of the Gospel: anxious to do the work of an evangelist, with all possible fidelity, and not ashamed that every hour and every place should bear testimony to the affectionate zeal with which he labored for the welfare of the Church,
37. "As the miser toils to increase his hoards, and as the ambitious person studies to advance his reputation in the world; with equal assiduity and desire this holy man endeavored to promote the reformation of the ungodly. Rising up early, and late taking rest, he was employed, either directly or indirectly, through the whole of the day, in hiring laborers into the service of his Lord. To engage their attention and excite their desire, he set before them the freedom of that service, the honors that attend it, and the rewards that follow it; to strengthen their feeble resolution, he joyfully offered them every brotherly assistance; and to shame their inactivity, he pointed them to the example of those who cheerfully bore all the burden and heat of the day. As an affectionate father conducts himself toward his disobedient children, reproving and alluring, admonishing and persuading them, with every affecting testimony of parental tenderness; so this spiritual father conducted himself toward the children of transgression and impiety, seeking, by every affectionate method, to engage them in the pursuit of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
38. "With respect to individuals, he was peculiarly careful to choose the fittest opportunities of conversing with them upon sacred subjects. In the day of their prosperity he sometimes spoke to them as it were at a distance; but in the day of their adversity he redoubled his efforts, and followed them with the most familiar attention; fully persuaded that religious impressions can never be made in a more favorable season than when the heart has been softened by previous afflicting providences. Were they destitute of spiritual knowledge? -- he explained to them the mysteries of evangelical truth. Were they presuming upon the mercy they had formerly abused? -- he awakened their fears by representations of that righteous wrath which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness. Were they doubtful of ever finding acceptance with God? -he animated their hopes, and encouraged them to a steady dependence upon the promises of God; happily adapting his several applications to the circumstances of his spiritual patients. Such was the ardent charity of this father in Christ toward the depraved and unbelieving, wherever he discovered them; a charity which was frequently no less effectual in its operations, than powerful in its essence. A number of instances of this might be produced, if need were."
39. It was his concern for the salvation of his parishioners, of whatever description, which induced him to write pastoral letters to them when at any time duty to others called him to commit them to the care of another minister for a few weeks. These letters, which are many in number, all breathe the spirit of deep humility, ardent zeal, and active disinterested benevolence, and show, in a striking light, how he watched over the souls of his people as one that must give an account. Justice to his character as a minister of Christ, and a servant of his Church, seems to require that I should insert at least one or two of these, which shall be the first in order, written in the years 1765 and 1766. I refer those who wish to see more of them to the volume of his letters, published by the Rev. Melville Home. The former is dated Bath, October 30, and is as follows:-" To those that love the Lord Jesus Christ, in and about Madeley: Peace be multiplied to you from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, through the operations of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
"By the help of Divine Providence, and the assistance of your prayers, I came safe here. I was, and am still, a good deal weighed down under the sense of my own insufficiency to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to poor dying souls.
"This place is the seat of Satan's gaudy throne: the Lord hath, nevertheless, a few names here, who are not ashamed of him, and of whom he is not ashamed, both among the poor and among the rich. There are not many of the last, though blessed be God for any one: it is a great miracle if one camel passes through the eye of a needle, or in other words, if one rich man enters into the kingdom of heaven. I thank God, none of you are rich in the things of this world. You are freed from a double snare, even from Dives' portion in this life. May you know the happiness attending your state! It is a mercy to be driven to the throne of grace, even by bodily want, and to live in dependence on Divine mercy for a morsel of bread.
"I have been sowing the seed the Lord hath given me both in Bath and Bristol, and I hope your prayers have not been lost upon me as a minister; for though I have not been enabled to discharge my office as I would, the Lord hath yet, in some measure, stood by me, and overruled my foolishness and helplessness I am much supported by the thought that you bear me on your hearts, and when you come to the throne of grace to ask a blessing for me in the name of Jesus, the Lord doth in nowise cast you out.
"In regard to the state of my soul, I find, blessed be God, that as my day is, so is my strength to travel on, either through good or bad report. My absence from you answers two good ends to me:-- I feel more my insufficiency, and the need of being daily ordained by Christ to preach his Gospel; and I shall value the more my privileges among you, please God I return safely to you. I had yesterday a most advantageous offer made me of going, free of cost, to visit my mother, brothers, and sisters in the flesh, whom I have not seen for eighteen years; but I find my relations in the spirit nearer and dearer to me than my relations in the flesh. I have, therefore, rejected the kind offer, that I may return among you, and be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me.
"I hope, dear brethren, you improve much under the ministry of that faithful servant of God, Mr. Brown, whom Providence blesses you with. Make haste to gather the honey of knowledge and grace as it drops from his lips; and may I find the hive of your hearts so full of it on my return, that I may share with you in the heavenly store. In order to this, beseech the Lord to excite your hunger and thirst for Jesus' flesh and blood, and to increase your desire of the sincere milk of the word: When people are hungry they will find time for their meals, and a good appetite does not think a meal a day too much. As you go to your spiritual meals do not forget to pray all the way, and to feast your souls in hopes of hearing some good news from heaven, and from Jesus, the faithful, loving Friend whom you have there: and when you return, be sure to carry the unsearchable riches of Jesus' dying and rising love home to your houses, in the vessel of a believing heart.
"Let your light be attended with the warmth of love. Be not satisfied to know the way to heaven, but walk in it immediately, constantly, and joyfully. Be all truly in earnest: you may, indeed, impose upon your brethren, by a formal attendance on the means of grace, but you cannot deceive the Searcher of hearts. Let him always see your hearts struggling toward him; and if you fall through heaviness, sloth, or unbelief, do not make a bad matter worse, by continuing helpless in the ditch of sin and guilt. Up, and away to the fountain of Jesus' blood. It will not only wash away the guilt of past sins, but strengthen you to tread all iniquity under your feet for the time to come. Never forget that the soul of the diligent shall be made fat, and that the Lord will spew the lukewarm out of his mouth, unless he gets that love which makes a person fervent in spirit, diligent in business, serving the Lord.
"You know the way to get this love is, 1. To consider the free mercy of God, and to believe in the pardoning love of Jesus, who died the just for the unjust to bring us to God. 2. To be frequently, if not constantly applying this faith, with all the attention of your mind, and all the fervor of your heart, 'Lord, I am lost, but Christ hath died.' 3. To try actually to love, as you can, by setting your affections on Christ, whom you see not; and for his sake, on your brethren, whom you de see. 4. To use much private prayer for yourselves and others; and to try to keep up that communion with God and your absent brethren. I beg, in order to this, that you will not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is: and when you meet as a society, be neither backward, nor forward to speak. Esteem yourselves every one as the meanest in company, and be glad to sit at the feet of the lowest. If you are tempted against anyone, yield not to the temptation, and pray much for that love which hopes all things, and puts the best construction even upon the worst of failings. I beg, for Christ's sake, I may find no divisions nor offences among you on my return. 'If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.'
"I earnestly request the continuance of your prayers for me, both as a minister, and as your companion in tribulation. Ask particularly that the Lord would keep me from hurting his cause in these parts; and that when Providence shall bring me back among you, I may be more thoroughly furnished for every good work. Pardon me, if I de not salute you all by name: my heart does it, if my pen does not. That the blessing of God in Jesus Christ may crown all your hearts, and all your meetings, is the earnest prayer of, my very dear brethren, yours, &c., J. F."
The other letter to which I referred was written about a year after, from Oakhall, which place and neighborhood he seems to have had a peculiar reason for visiting at this time. It is in the following words:-
"To those who love or fear the Lord Jesus Christ at Madeley: Grace, peace, and love, be multiplied to you from our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
"Providence, my dear brethren, called me so suddenly from you, that I had not time to take my leave, and recommend myself to your prayers. But I hope the good Spirit of our God, which is the Spirit of love and supplication, has brought me to your remembrance, as the poorest and weakest of Christ's ministers, and consequently as one whose hands stand most in need of being strengthened and lifted up by your prayers. Pray on then for yourselves, for one another, and for him whose glory is to minister to you in holy things, and whose sorrow it is not to do it in a manner more suitable to the majesty of the Gospel, and more profitable to your souls.
"My heart is with you, and yet I bear patiently this bodily separation for three reasons. First, the variety of more faithful and able ministers, whom you have during my absence, is more likely to be serviceable to you, than my presence among you: and I would always prefer your profit to my satisfaction. Secondly, I hope Providence will give me those opportunities of conversing and praying with a greater variety of experienced Christians, which will tend to my own improvement, and, I trust, in the end, to yours. Thirdly, I flatter myself that, after some weeks' absence, my ministry will be recommended by the advantage of novelty, which, the more the pity, goes farther with some than the word itself. In the meantime, I shall give you some advice, which, it may be, will prove both suitable and profitable to you.
"1. Endeavor to improve daily under the ministry which Providence blesses you with. Be careful to attend it with diligence, faith, and prayer. Would it not be a great shame if, when ministers come thirty or forty miles to offer you peace and pardon, strength and comfort, in the name of God, any of you should slight the glorious message, or hear it as if it were nothing to you, and as if you heard it not? See, then, that you never come from a sermon without being more deeply convinced of sin and of righteousness.
"2. Use more prayer before you go to church. Consider that your next appearance there may be in a coffin; and entreat the Lord to give you now so to hunger and thirst after righteousness that you may be filled. Hungry people never go fasting from a feast. Call to mind the text I preached from the last Sunday but one before I left you, -- Wherefore, laying aside all malice, &c., i Peter ii, I.
"3. When you are under the word, beware of sitting as judges rather than as criminals. Many judge of the manner, matter, voice, and person of the preacher. You, perhaps, judge all the congregation, when you should judge yourselves worthy of eternal death, and yet worthy of eternal life, through the worthiness of Him who stood and was condemned at Pilate's bar for you. The moment you have done crying to God as guilty, or thanking Christ as reprieved criminals, you have reason to conclude that this advice is levelled at you.
"4. When you have used a mean of grace, and do not find yourselves sensibly quickened, let it be a matter of deep humiliation to you. For want of repenting of their unbelief and hardness of heart, some get into a habit of deadness and indolence; so that they come to be as insensible, and as little ashamed of themselves for it, as stones.
"5. Beware of the inconsistent behavior of those who complain they are full of wanderings, in the evening, under the word, when they have suffered their minds to wander from Christ all the day long O! get acquainted with him, that you may walk in him, and with him. Whatsoever you do or say, especially in the things of God, do or say it as if Christ were before, behind, and on every side of you. Indeed he is so, whether you consider it or not; for if, when he visibly appeared on earth, he called himself the Son of man who is in heaven, how much more then is he present on earth now, that lie makes his immediate appearance in heaven? Make your conscience maintain a sense of his blessed presence all the day long, and then all the day long you will have a feast. For can you conceive any thing more delightful than to be always at the fountain of love, beauty, and joy; -- at the spring of power, wisdom, goodness. and truth? Can there be a purer and more melting happiness than to be with the best of fathers, the kindest of brothers, the most generous of benefactors, and the tenderest of husbands? Now Jesus is all this, and much more to the believing soul. O! believe, my friends, in Jesus now, through a continual now. And until you can thus believe, mourn over your unbelieving hearts; drag them to him, as you can; think of the efficacy of his blood shed for the ungodly, and wait for the spirit of faith from on high.
"6. Some of you wonder why you cannot believe; why you cannot see Jesus with the eye of your mind, and delight in him with all the affections of your heart. I apprehend the reason to be one of these, or, perhaps, all of them:-
"First, You are not poor, lost, undone, helpless sinners in yourselves. You indulge spiritual and refined self-righteousness; you are not yet dead to the law, and quite slain by the commandment. Now the kingdom of heaven belongs to none but the poor in spirit. Jesus came to save none but the lost. What wonder, then, if Jesus be nothing to you, and if you do not live in his kingdom of peace, righteousness, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
"Secondly, Perhaps you spend your time in curious reasonings, instead of casting yourselves down, as forlorn sinners, at Christ's feet: leaving it to him to bless you when, and in the manner, and degree he pleases. Know that he is the wise and sovereign Lord, and that it is your duty to lie before him as clay -- as fools -- as sinful nothings.
"Thirdly, Perhaps some of you willfully keep idols of one kind or other; you indulge some sin against light and knowledge, and it is neither matter of humiliation, nor confession to you. The love of praise, of the world, of money, and of sensual gratifications, when not lamented, are as implacable enemies to Christ as Judas and Herod. How can you believe, seeing you seek the honor that comes of men? Hew, then, your Agags in pieces before the Lord: run from your Delilahs to Jesus: cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye that offends you. Come out from among them, and be separate, saith the Lord, and I will receive you. Nevertheless, when you strive, care not to make yourself a righteousness of your strivings. Remember that meritorious, justifying righteousness is finished and brought in, and that your works can no more add to it than your sins can diminish from it. Shout, then, the Lord our righteousness; and if you feel yourselves undone sinners, humbly, yet boldly say, In the Lord I have righteousness and strength.
"When I was in London I endeavored to make the most of my time; that is to say, to hear, to receive, and practise the word. Accordingly I went to Mr. Whitefield's tabernacle, and heard him give his society a most excellent exhortation upon love. He began by observing, 'That when the Apostle St. John was old, and past walking and preaching, he would not forsake the assembling himself with the brethren, as the manner of too many is, upon little or no pretence at all. On the contrary, he got himself carried to their meeting, and with his last thread of voice, preached to them his final sermon, consisting of this one sentence, 'My little children, love one another.' I wish, I pray, earnestly beseech you, to follow that evangelical, apostolical advice; and till God make you all little children, little in your own eyes, and simple as little children, give me leave to say, my dear brethren, love one another, and of course judge not, provoke not, and be not shy of one another; but bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Yea, bear with one another's infirmities, and do not easily cast off any one; no, not for sin, except it be obstinately persisted in.
"My sheet is full, and so is my heart, of good wishes for you, and ardent longings after you all. When I return, let me have the comfort of finding you all believing and loving. Farewell, my dear brethren. The blessing of God be with you all! This is the earnest desire of your unworthy minister, J. F."
40. The same concern for the spiritual welfare of his flock, together with the very mean opinion which he had formed of himself, induced him from time to time to invite other ministers to visit his parish, and assist him to make known to the inhabitants thereof the riches of the grace of God. The Rev, Mr. John Wesley frequently visited him and many are the invitations which we find to Mr. Charles Wesley, in his letters to that servant of God. Nor did he confine his invitations to ministers of the Established Church, but requested the aid even of such as had not been episcopally ordained. In or about the year 1764, he writes as follows to Mr. Mather, a well known and eminent preacher in Mr. Wesley's connection:-- " I desire you will call at the Bank  as often as you have opportunity. An occasional exhortation from you or your fellow laborer, at the Bank, Dale, &., will be esteemed a favor; and I hope that my stepping, as Providence directs, to any of your places (leaving to you the management of the societies) will be deemed no encroachment. In short we need not make two parties. I know but one heaven below, and that is Jesus' love; let us both go and abide in it, and when we have gathered as many as we can to go with us, too many will still stay behind." May 27, 1766, he says to a friend:-- " The coming of Mr. Wesley's preachers into my parish gives me no uneasiness. As I am sensible that every body does better, and of course is more acceptable than myself, I should be sorry to deprive any one of a blessing; and I rejoice that the work of God goes on by any instrument or in any place."
41. Nor did he refuse the help even of such as differed from him in judgment, and that as to points which have been always thought, in the Christian Church, of considerable importance, supposing he had reason to think that they loved our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. It is well known that he was firmly established in the belief of the doctrine of general redemption; yet he was glad to receive any pious minister of a contrary sentiment, and to give him an opportunity of calling sinners to repentance in his parish. This appears from the following letter to the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, dated Madeley, May 18, 1767, which speaks of Capt. Scott as having preached at Madeley, on Mr. Fletcher's invitation, and urges Mr. Whitefleld to visit them also for the same purpose. I insert this letter here, because it is a striking picture of the state of his mind at this time, and breathes that spirit of humility, benevolence, and zeal, for which he was so conspicuous through his whole life.
"Rev. and Dear Sir, -- I am confounded when I receive a letter from you; present and eternal contempt from Christ and all his members is what I deserve. A sentence of death is my due; but instead of it, I am favored with lines of love. God write a thousand, for them, upon your own heart! and help you to read, with still more triumphant and humbler demonstrations of gratitude, redeeming love, so deeply engraved upon the palms of our Saviour's hands, and to assist many thousands more to spell out the mysterious words!
"Your mentioning my poor ministrations among your congregation opens again a wound of shame that was but half healed. I feel the need of asking God, you, and your hearers, pardon for weakening the glorious matter of the Gospel, by my wretched broken manner; and spoiling the heavenly power of it, by the uncleanness of my heart and lips, I should be glad to go and be your curate some time this year; but I see no opening, nor the least prospect of any. What between the dead and the living, a parish ties one down more than a wife. If I could go anywhere this year it should be to Yorkshire, to accompany Lady Huntingdon, according to a design that I had half formed last year; but I fear that I shall be debarred even from this. I set out, God willing, to-morrow morning for Trevecka, to meet her ladyship there, and to show her the way to Madeley, where she proposes to stay three or four days, in her way to Derbyshire. What chaplain she will have there, I know not; God will provide. I rejoice that though you are sure of heaven, you have still a desire to inherit the earth, by being a peacemaker. Somehow you will enjoy the blessing that others may possibly refuse.
"Last Sunday sevennight, Captain Scott preached to my congregation a sermon which was more blessed, though preached only upon my horseblock, than a hundred of those I preach in the pulpit. I invited him to come and treat her ladyship next Sunday with another, now the place is consecrated. If you should ever favor Shropshire with your presence, you shall have the captain's or the parson's pulpit at your option. Many ask me whether you will not come to have some fruit here also; what must I answer them! I, and many more complain of a stagnation of the work. What must we do! Every thing buds and blossoms about us, yet our winter is not over. I thought Mr. N -, who hath been three weeks in Shropshire, would have brought the turtle dove along with him; but I could not prevail upon him to come to this poor Capernaum. I think I hardly ever met his fellow for a judicious spirit. Still, what hath God done in him and me? I am out of hell, and mine eyes have seen also something of his salvation; though I must and do gladly yield to him and all my brethren, yet I must and will contend that my being in the way to heaven makes me as rich a monument of mercy as he or any of them, Oh that I may feel the wonderful effect of the patience that is manifested toward me! Lord, break me, and make me a vessel capable of bearing thy name, and the sweet savour of it, to my fellow sinners! Ask this for me, dear sir, and present my Christian respects to Mrs. Whitefield, Mr. Hardy and Keen, Mr. Joyce, Croom, and Wright. Tell Mr. Keen I am a letter in his debt, and postponed writing till I have had such a sight of Christ as to breathe his love through every line. I am, Rev, and dear sir, with, blessed be God, a measure of sincere affection and respect, your willing, though halting and unworthy servant, J. F."
42. The inexpressible concern which he felt for the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ, and the salvation of souls, induced him not only to speak concerning Divine things in all companies, where he had any prospect of doing good thereby; but also, as we have already seen, to write spiritual letters from time to time to sundry persons, friends, or strangers, who appeared to need advice, reproof, or consolation, and especially to such as were afflicted. The reader may find many of these in that small collection of his letters before mentioned, published first in 1791, and since then frequently republished. All these letters are excellent, especially those which are addressed to persons under affliction. For the sake of such as have not the volume at hand, and to give the reader a farther specimen of his manner of writing to his friends, particularly such as had laid him under obligations by their favors, or were in a state of affliction, I shall here insert two of his letters written about this time. To one from whom he seems to have received a present of some articles of wearing apparel, he writes as follows:-"
My Very Dear Friend, -- The providence of our good God brought me safe here last Thursday, loaded with a sense of your excessive kindness and my excessive unworthiness of it. Your Araunahlike spirit shames and distresses me: I am not quite satisfied about your evasions with respect to the bill; and though I grant it more blessed to give than to receive, I think you should not be so selfish as to engross all that blessedness to yourself. Nevertheless I drop my upbraidings, not to lose that time in them which I should save to thank you, and to praise Jesus. I thank you, then, for all your favors, but above all for your secret prayers for a poor, unworthy, unprofitable wretch, who deserves neither the name of a minister, nor of a Christian. If you are so kind as to continue them, (which I earnestly beg you will,) I beseech you pray that I may have power to tarry at the footstool of Divine mercy for a day of pentecost till I am endued with power from on high for the work of the ministry and the blessings of Christianity.
"I know not whether I am wrong in this respect, but I expect a power from on high to make me what I am not -- an instrument to show forth the praises of the Redeemer, and to do some good to the souls of my fellow creatures. Until this power come, it appears to me that I spend my paltry strength in vain, and that I might almost as well sit still. But I know I must keep rowing, though the wind be contrary, till Jesus come walking upon the waters, though it were in the last watch of the night.
"You see that while you praise on the top of the mountain, I hang my untuned harp on the mournful willow at the bottom. But Jesus was in Gethsemane as well as on Tabor, and while he blesses you, he sympathizes with me. But this is speaking too much about self; good and bad self must be equally denied, and He that is ' the fullness of Him who fills all in all,' must fill my thoughts, my desires, my letters, and my all. Come, then, Lord, come and drop into our souls, as the dew into Gideon's fleece; drop thy blessing on these lines, and may thy sweet name, Jesus, EMANUEL, GOD WITH us, be as ointment and rich perfumes poured upon my dear sister's soul! Spread thy wings of love over her; reward her a hundredfold in temporal and spiritual blessings, for the temporal and spiritual mercies she hath bestowed upon me as thy servant; and vouchsafe to make and keep me such!
"I want you to write to me what you think of the life of faith, and whether you breathe it without interruption; whether you never leave that rich palace -- Christ, to return to that dungeon, self; what your feelings are when faith is at its lowest ebb, and when it acts most powerfully? I should be glad also if you would answer these questions, What views have you of another world? What sense have you of the nearness of Christ? What degree of fellowship with the souls nearest your heart? What particular intimations of the will of God in intricate affairs and material steps? and whether you can reconcile the life of faith with one wrong temper in the heart?
"If you are so good as to answer these questions at large, you will oblige me more than if you were to send me two hundred waistcoats and as many pair of stockings. Jesus is life, love, power, truth, and righteousness. Jesus is ours; yea, he is over all, through all, and in us all. May we so fathom this mystery, and so evidence the reality of it, that many may see, and fear, and turn to the Lord! My kind love and thanks wait upon your sisters, &c. Farewell in Jesus. Pray for your obliged unworthy servant, J. F."
To Miss Ireland, who was under affliction, and approaching fast toward her great and final change, his words are:-
"December 5, 1768.
"My Dear Afflicted Friend, I hear you are returned from the last journey you took in search of bodily health. Your heavenly Father sees fit to deny it you, not because he hateth you, (for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,) but because health and life might be fatal snares to your soul, out of which you could not escape, but by tedious illness and an early death. Who knows, also, whether by all you have suffered, and still suffer, our gracious Lord does not intend to kill you to the flesh and to the world, and both to you? Besides, our hearts are so stupid, and our insensibility is so great,. that the Father of our spirit sees it necessary to put some of his sharpest and longest thorns into our flesh to make us go to our dear Jesus for the balmy graces of his Spirit.
"I believe some are driven out of all the refuges of crafty and indolent nature only by the nearest and last approaches of that faithful minister and servant of Christ -- Death. Of this I had a remarkable instance no longer ago than last Monday, when God took to himself one of my poor afflicted parishioners, a boy of fifteen years of age, who was turned out of the infirmary two years ago as incurable, From that time he grew weaker every day by the running of a wound; but his poor soul did not gather strength. In many respects one would have thought his afflictions were lost upon him. He seemed to rest more in his sufferings, and in his patience under them, than in the Saviour's blood and righteousness. Being worn to a skeleton, he took to his deathbed; where I found him the week before last with his candle burning in the socket, and no oil seemingly in the vessel. I spent an hour in setting before him the greatness of his guilt in this respect, that he had been so long under the rod of God, and had not been whipped out of his careless unbelief to the bosom of Jesus Christ. He fell under the conviction, confessed that particular guilt, and began to call on the Lord with all the earnestness his dying frame would allow. This was on Wednesday, and on the Wednesday following, the God who delivers those that are appointed to die, set one of his feet upon the Rock, and the next Sunday the other. He had chiefly used that short petition of the Lord's prayer, Thy kingdom come; and spent his last hours in testifying, as his strength would allow, that the kingdom was come, and he was going to the King, to whom he invited his joyful mournful mother to make the best of her way after him. Five or six days before his death, my wicked, unbelieving heart might have said, To what purpose hath God afflicted so long and so heavily this poor worm? But the Lord showed that he had been all that while driving the spear of consideration and conviction, till at last it touched him in a sensible part, and made him cry to the Saviour in earnest. And who ever called upon him in vain? No one. Not even that poor indolent collier boy, who for two years would not so much as cross the way to hear me preach. Yet how good was the Lord! because his body was too weak to bear any terrors in his mind, he showed him mercy without. The moment I heard him pray, and saw him feel after a Saviour, my fears on his account vanished; and though he had not been suffered to testify so clearly of God's kingdom, yet I should have had a joyful hope that God had taken him home.
"Like the poor youth and myself, you have but one enemy, my dear friend -- an indolent, unbelieving heart; but the Lord hath driven it to a corner, to make you cry to Him who hath been waiting at the door all these years of trouble, to bring you pardon, peace, and eternal life, in the midst of the pangs of bodily death. Jesus is his name. Salvation and love are his nature. He is the Father of eternity -- your Father of course. All the love that is in Mr. Ireland's breast is nothing to the abyss of love that is in your Creator's heart. A mother may forget her sucking child, but I will not forget thee, says he, to every poor distressed soul that claims his help.
"O fear not, my friend, to say, I will arise and go to this Father, though I have sinned greatly against Heaven, and in his sight. Lo, he rises, and runs to meet and embrace you. He hath already met you in the virgin's womb; there he did so cleave to your flesh and spirit, that he assumed both, and wears them as a pledge of love to you. Claim in return, claim as you can, his blood and Spirit. Both are now the property of every dying sinner that is not above receiving, by faith, the unspeakable gift.
"Your father has crossed the sea for you. Jesus has done more. He hath crossed the abyss that lies between heaven and earth, between the Creator and the creature. He has waded through the sea of his tears, blood, and agonies, not to take you to the physician at Montpelier, but to become your Physician and Saviour himself, to support you under all your bodily tortures, to sanctify all your extremities, and to heal your soul by his multiplied stripes, Your father has spared no expense to restore you to health; but Jesus, who wants you in your prime, hath spared no blood in his veins to wash you from your sins, write your pardon, and seal your title to glory.
"O my friend, delay not cheerfully to surrender yourself to this good Shepherd. He will gladly lay you on the arm of his power, torn as you are with the bruises of sin and disease, and will carry you triumphantly to his heavenly sheepfold. Look not at your sins without beholding his blood and righteousness. Eye not death but to behold through that black door your gracious Saviour, saying, Fear not, Oh thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt? Consider not eternity but as the palace where you are going to enter with the Bridegroom of souls, and rest from all your sins and miseries. View not the condemning law of God, but as made honorable by Him who was a curse for you, and bore the malediction of the law, by hanging, bleeding, and dying, on the cursed tree in your place. If you think of hell, let it be to put you in mind to believe that the blood of God incarnate hath quenched its devouring flames. If you have no comfort, mistrust not Jesus on that account; on the contrary, take advantage from it to give greater glory to God by believing, as Abraham, in hope against hope. And let this be your greatest comfort, that Jesus, who had all faith and patience, cried for you in his dying moments, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? As your strength will bear exertion, and his grace apprehended will allow, surrender yourself constantly to him as the purchase of his blood, and invite him earnestly to you as a poor worm perishing without him. In this simple Gospel way wait the Lord's leisure, and he will comfort your heart. He will make all his goodness to pass before you here, or take you hence to show you, what you could not bear in flesh and blood, the direct beams of the uncreated beauty of your heavenly Spouse.
"I hope you take care to have little or nothing else mentioned to and about you, but his praises and promises. Your tongue and your ears are going to be silent in the grave; now or never use them to hear and speak good of his name. Comfort your weeping friends. Reprove the backsliders. Encourage seekers. Water, and you shall be watered. Death upon you makes you, through Christ, a mother in Israel. Arise, as Deborah, Remember the praying, believing, preaching, though dying thief; and be not afraid to drop a word for Him who opens a fountain of blood for you in his dying, tortured body. Suffer, live, die at his feet -- and you will soon revive, sing, and reign in his bosom for evermore. Farewell in the Conqueror of death and Prince of life. J. F."
43. The pious lady addressed in the preceding letter, died, it appears, soon after, and we find Mr. Fletcher, in March following, comforting her father on the event of her death, and of the affliction of Mrs. Ireland and a sister. Indeed he had most tenderly sympathized with him in his sorrow during her affliction, and labored to prepare his mind, by his consolatory letters and conversation, for the change which, it was but too evident, was daily approaching. "Uncertain as I am," says he, the July preceding, "whether your daughter is yet alive, or whether the Lord hath called her from this vale of darkness and tears, I know not what to say to you on the subject, but this, that our heavenly Father appoints all things for the best. If her days of suffering are prolonged, it is to honer her with a conformity to the crucified Jesus; if they are shortened, she will have drunk all her cup of affliction; and I flatter myself that she has found, at the bottom of it, not the bitterness and the gall of her sins, but the honey and wine of our Divine Saviour's righteousness, and the consolations of his Spirit.
"I had lately some views of death, and it appeared to me in the most brilliant colors. What is it to die, but to open our eyes after the disagreeable dream of this life, after the black sleep in which we are buried on this earth? It is to break the prison of corruptible flesh and blood, into which sin hath cast us; to draw aside the curtain, to cast off the material veil which prevents us from seeing the supreme Beauty and Goodness face to face. It is to quit our polluted and tattered raiment, to be invested with robes of honer and glory; and to behold the Sun of righteousness in brightness without an interposing cloud. Oh my dear friend, how lovely is death, when we look at it in Jesus Christ! To die is one of the greatest privileges of the Christian.
"If Miss Ireland is still living, tell her a thousand times that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; that he hath vanquished and disarmed death; that he hath brought life and immortality to light; and that all things are ours, whether life or death, eternity or time. These are those great truths upon which she ought to risk, or rather to repose her soul with full assurance. Every thing is shadow and a lie in comparison of the reality of the Gospel. If your daughter he dead, believe in Jesus, and you shall find her again in Him who fills all in all, who encircles the material and spiritual world in his arms; -- in the immense bosom of his Divinity.
"I have not time to write to Mrs. Ireland; but I entreat her to keep her promise, and to inform me what victories she has gained over the world, the flesh, and sin. Surely when a daughter is dead or dying, it is high time for a father and a mother to die to all things below, and aspire, in good earnest, to that eternal life which God has given us in Jesus Christ. Adieu, my dear friend. Yours, J. F."
44. Again, October 14, he writes:-- " If the last efforts of the physicians fail with respect to Miss Ireland, it will at least be a consolation to you to know that they have been tried. When the last reed shall break under her hand, that will be the great signal to her to embrace the cross and the Crucified, the Tree of life and the fruit it bears, which give everlasting health and vigor. When we consider these things with an evangelical eye, we discover that every thing dies. Things visible are all transitory; but invisible ones abide for ever. If Christ is our life and our resurrection, it is of little importance whether we die now or thirty years hence; and if we die without embracing him, by dying now we shall have abused his mercies thirty years less than if we had lived so many years longer. Every thing turns out well, both life and death, our own and that of those who are near to us."
After receiving tidings of her death, he says:-- "MY DEAR FRIEND, -- The Lord is desirous of making you a true disciple of his dear Son, the man of sorrows, by sending you affliction upon affliction. A sister and a wife, who appear to hasten to the grave, in which you have so lately laid your only daughter, place you in circumstances of uncommon affliction. But in this see the finger of Him who works all in all, and who commands us to forsake all to follow him. Believe in him; believe that he does all for the best, and that all shall work for good to those who love him, and you shall see the salvation of God: and with your temptations and trials he shall open a door of deliverance for you and yours. His goodness to your daughter ought to encourage your faith and confidence for Mrs. Ireland. Offer her upon the altar, and you shall see that, if it be best for her and you, his grace will suspend the blow which threatens you. "
Two months afterward he adds:-- " I sympathize with you with all my heart, and I pray that you may have patience and wisdom proportioned to your difficulties. You must take up your cross, and pray in secret, like a man whose earthly cisterns are broken on every side, and who hath need of consolation from feeling the fountain of living water springing up in his soul unto eternal life. I have every moment need to follow the advice I give to you; but my carnal mind makes strong resistance. I must enter into life by death: I must be crucified on the cross of Christ before I can live by the power of his resurrection. The Lord give us grace to die to ourselves; for it is not enough to die to our relatives. Blessed indeed is that union with Jesus Christ by which a believer can cast upon that Rock of ages, not only his burdens, but himself -- the heaviest burden of all. Oh Lord, give us power to believe with that faith which works by the prayer of confidence and love!
"I am, &c., J. F."
Thus this man of God labored to be useful in every possible way. By preaching, conversing, writing; by instructing, reproving, encouraging, exhorting; by warning and beseeching; by word and deed; by acting and suffering; and especially by letting his light shine before men, and exhibiting to their view an example of sincere and genuine piety and virtue, he endeavored, with the most ardent zeal and unwearied diligence, to advance the honer and interest of his Divine Master. At home and abroad, in company and alone, in public and in private, he ceased not to keep in view and prosecute his great and important design.
But although, as will readily be allowed by every unprejudiced reader of this narrative, "he (Gilpin's Notes) was far more abundant in his public labors than the greater part of his companions in the holy ministry; yet," as Mr. Gilpin justly observes, "these bore but little proportion to those internal exercises of prayer and supplication to which he was wholly given up in private. The former, of necessity, were frequently discontinued, but the latter were almost uninterruptedly maintained from hour to hour. He lived in the spirit of prayer; and whatever employments he was engaged in, this spirit was constantly manifested through them all. Without this he neither formed any design, nor entered upon any duty: without this, he neither read, nor conversed; without this, he neither visited, nor received a visitant.
"Before I was of sufficient age," proceeds the last mentioned reverend author, "to take holy orders, I thankfully embraced the offered privilege of spending a few months beneath the roof of this exemplary man to whom I was at that time an entire stranger; and I well remember how solemn an impression was made upon my heart by the manner in which he received me. He met me at his door, with a look of inexpressible benignity; and conducting me by the hand into his house, intimated a desire of leading me immediately into the presence of that God to whom the government of his little family was ultimately submitted. Instantly he fell upon his knees, and poured out an earnest prayer that my present visit might be rendered both advantageous and comfortable, that the secret of the Lord might rest upon our common tabernacle, and that our society might be crowned by an intimate fellowship with that promised Immanuel in whom all the families of the earth are called to inherit a blessing. This may serve as a specimen of the manner in which he was accustomed to receive his guests.
45. "In his social prayers he paid but little attention to those rules which have been laid down with respect to the composition and order of these devotional exercises. As the Spirit gave him utterance, so he made his requests known unto God. But, while he prayed with the Spirit, he prayed with the understanding also. His words flowed spontaneously, and without any premeditation, yet always wonderfully adapted to the occasion. Nothing impertinent, artificial, or superfluous, appeared in his addresses to God: and while he presented those addresses, there was a solemnity and animation in his manner which tended not only to edify, but to quicken and exalt the soul. There have been seasons of supplication in which he appeared to be carried out far beyond the ordinary limits of devotion; when, like his Lord upon the mount, while he has continued to pour out his mighty prayer, the fashion of his countenance has been changed, and his face has appeared as the face of an angel. None, except those who have frequently joined with him in this enlivening duty, can have any just conception of the manner in which he performed it. They who have enjoyed this privilege have seen and felt what is not to be described: and to others it can only be said that his prayer was the prayer of faith, always fervent, often effectual, and invariably a mingled flow of supplication and gratitude, humility and confidence, resignation and fervor, adoration and love.
46. "By the ardor of his social prayers, some judgment may be formed of his secret supplications: but of his frequent vehement struggles, and unutterable breathings, in these private exercises, He alone can judge who seeth in secret. His deepest and most sensible communications with God were enjoyed in those hours when the door of his closet was shut against human creatures as well as human cares. And though he rejoiced to lift up his hands in company with his friends, yet when his heart was at any time peculiarly inflamed with desire, or pressed with affliction, he would say to his friends, as Christ to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. His closet was the favorite retirement, to which he constantly retreated, whenever his public duties allowed him a season of leisure. Here he was privily hidden, as in the presence of God. Here he would either patiently wait for, or joyfully triumph in the loving kindness of the Lord. Here he would plunge himself into the depths of humiliation; and from hence, at other seasons, as from another Pisgah, he would take a large survey of the vast inheritance which is reserved for the saints. Here he would ratify his solemn engagements to God; and here, like the good King Hezekiah, he would spread the various circumstances of his people at the feet of their common Lord. In all cases of difficulty he would retire to this consecrated place to ask counsel of the Most High; and here, in times of uncommon distress, he has continued during whole nights in prayer before God.
47. "At one period of his life he was brought into such an intricate situation that he was wholly at a loss to discover what God required at his hand: and such was the difficulty before him, that the opinions of his most experienced friends could afford him but little light with respect to it. In this state, for three months successively, he spread the intricacies of his case before the Judge of all the earth, entreating that he would direct the course of his conduct, by the order of his providence, and the influence of his Spirit. His request was continued till an answer was obtained, which was not till the wall of his chamber could exhibit a proof of his vehement intercession; that part of it, against which he was accustomed to kneel, appearing deeply stained with the breath he had spent in fervent supplication such was the ardor of his spirit, and such the devotion of his heart! The above circumstance was discovered by some about him who were well acquainted with his manner in trying situations.
48. "His preaching was perpetually preceded, accompanied, and succeeded by prayer. Before he entered upon the performance of his duty he requested of the great Master of assemblies a subject adapted to the conditions. of his people; earnestly soliciting for himself wisdom, utterance, and power; for them a serious frame, an unprejudiced mind, and a retentive heart. This necessary preparation for the profitable performance of his ministerial duties was of longer or shorter duration, according to his peculiar state at the time: and frequently he could form an accurate judgment of the effect that would be produced in public by the languor or enlargement he had experienced in private, The spirit of prayer accompanied him from the closet to the pulpit; and while he was outwardly employed in pressing the truth upon his hearers, he was inwardly engaged in pleading that last great promise of his unchangeable Lord, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
"From the great congregation he again withdrew to his sacred retreat, there requesting in secret that a blessing might accompany his public labors, and that the seed which he had sown, being treasured up in honest and good hearts, might sooner or later become abundantly fruitful.
49. "While it is here recorded that this faithful servant of God was accustomed to pray without ceasing, it must be noted, at the same time, as a distinguishing part of his character, that in every thing he gave thanks. His heart was always in grateful frame, and it was his chief delight to honer God by offering him thanks and praise. Frequently, when he has been engaged in recounting the gracious dealings of God with respect to himself, or his signal favors conferred upon the Church, he has broken out in a strain of holy rejoicing, Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness, and declare the wonders that he does for the children of men! He considered every unexpected turn of providence as a manifestation of his Father's good pleasure, and discerned causes of thanksgiving, either obvious or latent, in every occurrence. Thus, either in the expectation, or in the possession of promised mercies, he rejoiced evermore. The immediate causes of his joy were manifold, public and private, spiritual and temporal; but they all were swallowed up in the advancement of Christ's kingdom upon earth. This he considered as a subject of universal rejoicing, and for this he more especially desired to praise the name of God with a song, and to magnify it with thanksgiving.
50. "As he has justly expressed in his Portrait of St. Paul, p. 103, second edition, 'Pastors who pray for their flocks, pray not in vain. Their fervent petitions are heard, sinners are converted, the faithful are edified, and thanksgiving is shortly joined to supplication.' With respect to himself it was abundantly so. The seed which he had watered with his tears, and followed with his prayers, produced at length a plentiful harvest. His ministry was attended with unusual success, and a considerable body of his people saluted each other as brethren in Christ. His exultation over these, in their regenerate estate, was equal to his former solicitude on their account; and as often as an occasion has presented itself of leading a penitent prodigal into the household of God, his carriage has been marked with every possible demonstration of joy. Leading the returning wanderer into his spiritual family, he would cry out, with a countenance full of holy triumph, 'If there be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, then it is meet that we should rejoice and he glad together this day, for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.' His joy was continually receiving some accession of this kind. From year to year, sinners were converted from the error of their ways, and believers were built up in their most holy faith; while he appeared among them as a happy father, rejoicing in their prosperity, and blessed in the blessings of his spiritual children.
"Such were the different states of earnest prayer, and joyful praise, with which this evangelical preacher was deeply acquainted, and which mutually preceded and succeeded each other in his Christian experience.
51. "It was observed to the disgrace of the ancient scribes, that they bound heavy burdens upon others, which they themselves refused to touch with one of their fingers: and their uncharitable conduct, in this respect, was publicly condemned by the blessed Jesus, who pronounced the severest judgments upon their self-indulgence. Contrasted with the carriage of those illiberal pretenders to piety, the conduct of Mr. Fletcher appeared in a truly admirable and exemplary point of view. Far from subjecting others to those hardships and restraints which he refused to impose upon himself, he cheerfully endeavored to lighten the burdens of his brethren, though it was by redoubling his own. He labored to quicken, and not to retard the progress of the weak and inexperienced. He compassionated their defects, and made excuse for their constitutional infirmities, in the manner of his gracious Master, who kindly apologized for the inattention of his sleeping disciples.
"He studied to present the religion of Jesus in its most alluring form, not as a vial of wrath, but as a cup of consolation; not as a galling yoke, but as a sacred tie; not as a depressing burden, but as a never failing support. When he beheld the incautious entangled in the mazes of temptation, he tenderly lamented the effects of their indiscretion; and instead of throwing unnecessary impediments in the way of their escape, he affectionately labored to break through the snare, and deliver the captive. If his brother was overtaken in a fault, he endeavored to restore him in the spirit of meekness; if his conscience was wounded with a sense of guilt, he hastened to meet him with healing remedies; if he was overwhelmed with the dread of his besetting sin, and harassed with the apprehension of future miscarriages, he encouraged him to come boldly to the throne of grace, that he might obtain mercy, and find grace to help him in every time of need. In his whole deportment toward the ignorant and unfaithful, he copied the character of a skilful and affectionate preceptor, who keeps future difficulties as far removed as possible from the view of his pupils, accommodating their exercises to their several capacities, overlooking their past negligence, supplying their present deficiencies, and mentioning their poor attainments with commendation and praise.
52. "But while his conduct toward others was marked with unusual lenity and tenderness, he exercised the strictest severity with regard to himself. He sought after an entire conformity to the perfect will of God. And to accelerate his progress toward this desirable state, he cheerfully renounced his natural habits, and resolutely opposed his own will, unweariedly laboring to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. He struggled against the most innocent of his infirmities; he entered upon the most painful exercises; and refused to allow himself in the least temporary indulgences which were not perfectly consistent with a life of unfeigned mortification and self-denial. He engaged himself in every kind of spiritual labor, with the most intense application, suffering no talent to remain unoccupied, nor any moment to pass by unimproved: and so perfectly was he inured to habits of Christian industry, that he never discovered an inclination to sweeten the most laborious exercises with those refreshments and relaxations which he esteemed not only allowable, but, in some eases, necessary to his weaker brethren. Considering himself as a member of Christ's militant Church, he complained of no hardships, nor thought any difficulty too great to be encountered in the course of his warfare. He was careful to act, in every instance, consistently with his high profession; training himself up to spiritual hardness and activity, by a resolute attention to the strictest rules of Christian discipline; preferring the path of duty before the lap of repose; neither listening to the suggestions of fear, nor regarding the dictates of worldly prudence: stifling even the necessary calls of nature that he might follow, with less interruption, the leadings of grace; and finally counting neither ease, nor interest, nor reputation, nor even life itself, dear to him, that he might finish his course with joy."