The Life of John Fletcher: Chapter 5 - Excursions & Visits
OF THE EXCURSIONS HE MADE TO DIFFERENT PLACES; HIS FIRST VISIT TO HIS NATIVE COUNTRY; HIS OFFICE AND USEFULNESS AT TREVECKA AND OF THE STEPS WHEREBY HE WAS LED TO WRITE ON CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS
1. Although Mr. Fletcher was attached in no common degree to those among whom he was appointed to labor; and although his endeavors were chiefly exercised for their spiritual benefit; yet was his heart enlarged also toward all the children of God, by whatever name they were distinguished, or wherever the bounds of their habitation were fixed. And he was ready, at all times, as far as his duty to his parishioners would permit, to minister to them the word of life. "Considering himself as a debtor (Gilpin's Notes) both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, he was ready, had it been possible, to have visited the uttermost parts of the earth with the truths of the Gospel: and wherever a Christian Church was established, he appeared deeply interested in its welfare, expressing a vehement desire that it might be regulated in all things as the house of God, and become, to happy thousands, the gate of heaven. When the members of any distant Church were represented as exemplary for their faith, their zeal, or their love, he received the report of their advancement in grace with demonstrations of the sincerest joy, and publicly expressed his gratitude to that great Master of assemblies who hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servants. When the professors of Christianity in any part of the world were observed to grow weary of well doing, either declining from the faith of the Gospel, or neglecting to walk worthy of their high vocation; his heart was penetrated on their account with the most lively concern; he lamented their instability in secret, and watered his couch with his tears. When the spiritual vine, in some remote part of the vineyard, appeared to be in danger from the fury of the oppressor; when her hedges were broken down and her fruit torn away by the hand of persecution, he entered deeply into the distresses of the suffering Church; he fasted, he wept, he prayed, making continual intercession before the great Lord of the vineyard, that he would look down from heaven and visit the plant which he had formerly strengthened for himself; that, spreading forth its boughs again unto the sea, and its branches unto the river, the hills might be covered with the shadow of it, and the land be filled with its fruits."
2. With a view to promote the cause of Christ, which, of all other causes, lay nearest to his heart, he made excursions from time to time, not only into sundry towns and villages of the neighborhood, but to more distant parts of the kingdom. A person who was an eye witness of the following transaction informed Mr. Joseph Taylor, that in or about the year 1765 he and Mr. Seton, of Breedon, in Leicestershire, supplied each other's Churches for a few Sabbaths. While Mr. Fletcher remained at Breedon, people of various descriptions flocked to hear him from all the parishes adjacent. The clerk being much offended at seeing such crowds attend, because it occasioned a little more labor in cleaning the church, determined that persons from other parishes should not be admitted without paying each one penny. For this purpose he placed himself at the church door, and began to collect the money from them. A man who was grieved at the conduct of the clerk, went to meet Mr. Fletcher, and informed him of it, Mr. Fletcher hastened up the hill, saying, "I will stop his proceeding." The clerk, seeing Mr. Fletcher approach, quitted the post he had taken, and went to his desk. When the service was ended, Mr. Fletcher said to the congregation, "I have not felt my spirit so moved these sixteen years last past as I have done today. I have heard that the clerk of this parish has demanded and has actually received money from divers strangers before he would suffer them to enter the church. I desire that all who have paid money this way for hearing the Gospel, will come to me, and I will return what they have paid. And as to this iniquitous clerk, his money perish with him." In 1767, he was in Wales and Yorkshire, as he also occasionally visited Bristol and Bath, during which time, as well as during his absence in the preceding year, the Rev. Mr. Brown was intrusted with the care of his flock. Of him Mr. Fletcher entertained a high opinion, and placed an entire confidence in his prudence, piety, and zeal. "I thank you," says he to Mr. Ireland, "for your care to procure not only a supply for my Church, but such an agreeable, acceptable, and profitable one as Mr. Brown. I know none that should be more welcome than he. Tell him, with a thousand thanks for his condescension, that I deliver my charge over to him fully, and give him a carte blanche, to do or not to do, as the Lord shall direct him." How long Mr. Brown continued at Madeley I cannot say, nor whether he supplied Mr. Fletcher's Church during the time the latter spent in his native country, in company with his faithful and tried friend, Mr. Ireland, in the spring of the year 1770. He had formed the design of paying his friends this visit in the preceding spring, as appears by the following paragraph of a letter to the same friend, dated March 26, 1769 -- "I shall be obliged to go to Switzerland, this year or the next, if I live, and the Lord permit. I have there a brother, a worthy man, who threatens to leave his wife and children to come and pay me a visit, if I do not go and see him myself. It is some time since our gracious God has convinced him of sin, and I have by me some of his letters which give me great pleasure; this circumstance has more weight with me than the settlement of my affairs." Nevertheless he did not go during that year, for at the close of it he writes from Madeley as follows
"Last night I received your obliging letter, and am ready to accompany you to Montpelier, provided you will go with me to Nyon. I shall raise about twenty guineas, and with that sum, a gracious Providence, and your purse, I hope we shall want for nothing. If the Lord send me, I should want nothing, though I had nothing, and though my fellow traveller were no richer than myself.
"I hope to be at Bristol soon to offer you my services to pack up. You desired to have a Swiss servant, and I offer myself to you in that capacity; for I shall be no more ashamed of serving you, as far as I am capable of doing it, than I am of wearing your livery.
"Two reasons (to say nothing of the pleasure of your company) engage me to go with you to Montpelier -- a desire to visit some poor Huguenots in the south of France, and the need I have to recover a little French before I go and converse with my compatriots."
3. The accomplishment, however, of his desire in their intended journey was farther delayed for a few weeks, by a circumstance which he speaks of in the same letter in the following words:-"
The (popish) priest at Madeley is going to open his mass house, and have declared war on that account last Sunday, and propose to strip the whore of Babylon and expose her nakedness tomorrow. All the papists are in a great ferment, and they have held meetings to consult on the occasion. One of their bloody bullies came to 'pick, up,' as he said, a quarrel with me, and what would have been the consequence, had not I providentially had company with me, I cannot say. How far their rage may be kindled tomorrow I don't know: but I question whether it will be right for me to leave the field in these circumstances. I forgot to mention that two of our poor ignorant Churchmen are going to join the mass house, which is also a cause of my having taken up arms. Farewell. Yours, J. F."
4. He preached the sermon intended the next Lord's day. The text on which he grounded his doctrine, as I have reason to believe, from a manuscript of his now before me, was I Tim. iv, 1-3: "The Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe and know the truth." In discoursing from these words, if I may judge by the skeleton of the sermon upon them, he showed, I. What the apostolic doctrine was, and in what respect the papists had departed from it, and given heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. 1. That, according to the apostles and prophets, the Holy Scriptures are a sufficient, rule of faith and practice, Isa. viii, 20; Gal. i. 8; 2 Tim. iii, 15-17; Jude 3. But that the Church of Rome teaches they are not a sufficient rule, "proposing some doctrines as matters of faith, and requiring some things as necessary duty, which learned men among themselves confess not to be contained in Scripture, and maintaining that tradition as well as " Scripture is a necessary rule of faith, requiring it to be received and reverenced with the like pious regard and veneration as the Holy Scriptures, and declaring those to be accursed who knowingly contemn it." 2. That, according to the apostolic faith, the one living and true God is the sole object of religious worship, Matt. iv, 10. Whereas the papists enjoin the worship of the host, or consecrated wafer, and of angels, saints, images, and relics. 3. That, according to the apostles and other inspired writers, Christ is the only mediator between God and man; the only advocate, intercessor, and Saviour, 1 Tim. ii, 5; I John ii, l. But that the papists believe there are many mediators, intercessors, and advocates with God, to whom they are wont to have recourse, as the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, and departed saints in general. 4, That the apostles and evangelists teach us that there is no merit, strictly speaking, in us or in our works or sufferings; that, at the best, we are "unprofitable servants," and our righteousness, considered in itself, as "filthy rags;" that all merit is in Him, his life and death, his atonement and intercession; that there is no "propitiatory sacrifice," but that of His cross, Heb. i, 3; ix, 11, 12, 26; and no "purgatory," but His blood and Spirit, I John i, 7; Rev. i, 5; Zech. xiii, 1. But that the Church of Rome, by her doctrine of indulgences, of penances, and of works of supererogation, as well as by that of the sacrifice of the mass, and of purgatory, has evidently departed from that faith; affirming that "the works of justified persons do truly deserve eternal life," and pronouncing "him accursed who shall affirm that such works do not truly deserve an increase of grace here and eternal life hereafter." 5. That, according to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, the grace of the Holy Spirit is the one source of all the holiness, inward and outward, and of all the good which is in or is done by man: and that this "Spirit beareth witness with the spirits of the faithful, that they are the children of God." But the papists hold that the Virgin Mary is also a source of grace to the faithful, being accustomed to address her in these words, "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord be with thee, thy grace with me." And they maintain, also, that there is no certain knowledge of salvation to be attained in this life. 6. As to the commands of God, they mangle the first; they curtail, obliterate, or openly break the second; and most evidently contradict and violate the tenth; the council of Trent having pronounced them "accursed who say that concupiscence is sin." 7. Prayer is perverted by them, being ridiculously addressed to saints and angels, and that by means of beads and strings; is offered often for the dead, and, when in public, generally in a tongue not understood by the common people. 8. The two sacraments are corrupted and abused: that of the Lord's Supper by the doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and wine are changed, by the act of consecration, into the very body and blood of Christ; that it is "a sacrifice for the dead and the living," and ought to be adored: and also in denying the cup to the laity. Baptism is partly abused in the baptism of bells, and partly rendered ridiculous by joining it with sundry foolish and unscriptural ceremonies. 9. Marriage is constituted a sacrament, without any authority from Scripture, and yet is forbidden to the clergy.
Another part of Mr. Fletcher's discourse went to show that the Spirit had expressly foretold that such a departure as this from the faith should take place in the latter days, or days intervening between Christ's first and second coming. With this view, he appealed to the prophecy of Daniel, chap. vii, 25, and xi, 36, and to St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, chap. ii, 4, proving, by convincing arguments, that these passages of the inspired writings were meant to be understood of the general apostasy of the Church of Christ in Gospel days. He showed, also, that this departure from the truth of doctrine and practice had taken place through giving way to seducing spirits in popes and priests, Jesuits and friars.
5. Concerning the effects of this sermon, and the circumstances consequent upon it, Mr. Fletcher writes to his friend as follows:-"
The day after I wrote to you, I preached the sermon against popery which I had promised to my people: and Mr. S -- t -- r called out several times in the church yard, as the people went out of church, that 'there was not one word of truth in the whole of my discourse, and that he would prove it;' and told me that 'he would produce a gentleman who should answer my sermon, and the pamphlet I had distributed.' I was therefore obliged to declare in the church that I should not quit England, and was only going into Wales, from whence I would return soon to reply to the answer of Mr. S -- t -- r and the priest, if they should offer any. I am thus obliged to return to Madeley, by my word so publicly pledged, as well as to raise a little money for my journey."
By this bold and prudent stand, thus made by this man of God, the designs of the papists were in a great measure frustrated, and they were prevented from making any progress worth mentioning in that neighborhood. It is true, there is even now a mass house and a priest at Madeley; but I find upon inquiry there are not a dozen popish families in the parish.
6. This little storm seems to have been chiefly blown over before the middle of January, at which time, however, he was still undetermined respecting his intended visit to France and Switzerland, as appears by a letter of the 13th of that month to Mr. Ireland, written from Wales:-" I know not what to think of our journey. My heart frequently recoils; I have lost all hopes of being able to preach in French, and I think if I could they will not permit me. I become more stupid every day: my memory fails me in a surprising manner. I am good for nothing but to go and bury myself in my parish. Judge, then, whether I am fit to go into the world. On the other hand, I fear that your journey is undertaken partly from complaisance to me, and in consequence of the engagement we made to go together. I acquit you of your promise, and if your business do not really demand your presence in France, I beg you will not think of going there on my account. The bare idea of giving you trouble would make the journey ten times more disagreeable to me than the season of the year.
"If your affairs do not really call you to France, I will wait until Providence and grace shall open a way for me to the mountains of Switzerland, if I am ever to see them again. Adieu. Give yourself wholly to God. A divided heart, like a divided kingdom, falls naturally by its own gravity, either into darkness or into sin. My heart's desire is, that the love of Jesus may fill your soul, and that of your unworthy and greatly obliged servant, J. F."
7. His friend, it appears, had solved his doubts, and answered his objections so much to his satisfaction in his reply, that they soon afterward undertook their journey, and travelled through a great part of France and Italy, as well as visited Switzerland. It is extremely to be regretted that neither of them kept a journal during this tour, as the incidents which occurred, I know, were such as would have afforded much important, as well as pleasing information, if recorded in a narrative of this kind. In order in some degree to supply this want, I insert here the following short account of some of these occurrences, which Mr. Ireland has kindly favored me with in answer to my inquiries.
8. His words are, "It would give me great pleasure to add any thing to what I have already communicated respecting my much esteemed but deceased friend. But alas! I may as well attempt to gather up water spilled on the ground. I was with him day and night, in our first journey, nearly five months, travelling all over Italy and France. At that time a popish priest resided in his parish, who attempted to mislead the poor people. Mr. Fletcher, therefore, throughout this journey, attended the sermons of the Roman Catholic clergy, visited their convents and monasteries, and conversed with all the most serious among them whom he met with, in order that he might thoroughly know their sentiments concerning spiritual religion. And he was so very particular in making his observations respecting the gross and absurd practices of the priests and other clergy, especially while we were in Italy, that we were frequently in no small danger of our lives. He wished to attend the pope's chapel at Rome, but I would not consent to accompany him, till I had obtained a promise from him that he would forbear to speak by way of censure or reproof of what he saw or heard. He came into company with a great many men of science and learning, with whom he conversed freely on Gospel truths; which most of them opposed with violence. A few heard and were edified. I have often said that I would give a considerable sum of money, could I recollect or procure a copy of his arguments, and their replies, respecting the capital truths of the Gospel. But, alas! my memory fails me; and although was exceedingly struck with them at the time I heard them, yet as they occurred frequently, I had not leisure on the journey to take minutes of them. His whole life, as you well know, was a sermon: all his conversations were sermons. Even his disputations with infidels were full of instruction. We met with a gentleman of fortune once on a journey, an excellent classical scholar, with whom we continued near a fortnight in a hotel. He said he had travelled all over Europe, and had passed through all the societies in England, to find a person whose life corresponded with the gospels and with Paul's epistles. And he asked me (for it was with me he first began to converse) if I knew of any clergyman or dissenting minister in England, possessing a stipend of one hundred pounds a year for the cure of souls who would not leave them all if I offered him double that sum. I replied in the affirmative, and soon pointed out my friend, Mr. Fletcher, when absent. Disputatious now commenced, which continued, at intervals, for many days. And they had this effect upon the gentleman that he ever after revered and respected our friend; and when we met again, many years after, at Marseilles, showed him every civility."
9. The instance referred to by Mr. Ireland in the preceding account is related more at large by Mr. Gilpin, in the following words:-- " Some years ago he met with a traveller on the continent, who had adopted the sentiments of Voltaire, with respect to the religion of Jesus; a man of much information and refinement, and a strenuous opposer of the Christian faith. This gentleman no sooner understood that he was sitting in company with a zealous defender of scriptural truth, but, confiding in his own superiority, he carelessly threw out the gauntlet, by ridiculing the sentiments which Mr. Fletcher maintained. Our pious traveller immediately accepted the challenge with a modest assurance, and the conversation between these two able disputants soon became serious. Every argument, on either side, was proposed with the greatest caution, and every proposition examined with the nicest accuracy. After the contest had continued for several hours together, the gentleman grew impatient at his want of success; while his calmer opponent confuted and exposed the tenets he had vainly endeavored to maintain.
"This debate was continued by adjournment, for the space of a week; and, during this season, whatever had been said upon the subject by the most celebrated writers, was regularly brought forward, and thoroughly canvassed. Mr. Fletcher repeatedly overcame his antagonist, whose arguments became more languid and ineffectual toward the close of the debate, and who regularly lost his temper and his cause together. In the course of this controversy, Mr. Fletcher took a view of the Christian's enviable life, his consolation in trouble, and his tranquillity in danger; together with his absolutely superiority to all the evils of life and the horrors of death; interspersing his remarks with many affectionate admonitions, and powerful persuasions to a rational dependence upon the truths of the Gospel.
"Such was the conclusion of this memorable debate, in the course of which the unsuccessful disputant conceived so exalted an idea of his opponent's character, that he never afterward mentioned his name but with peculiar veneration and regard. And, as a proof that this regard was unfeigned, meeting with Mr. Fletcher about eight years afterward in Provence, where he lived in affluence and ease, he showed him every possible civility, entertaining him at his own house in the most hospitable manner, and listening to his conversation on spiritual subjects with all imaginable attention and respect.
"Such was the manner in which Mr. Fletcher acquitted himself in the defence of oppressed truth; and whether his efforts were successful or not, he left behind him in every place sufficient proofs of the acuteness, resolution, and constancy, with which he exerted himself in her cause."
10. Another anecdote, similar to the preceding, is related by the same pious author in the following words:-- "Meeting some years ago with a young Genoese, who was returning from Antibes to Genoa, Mr. Fletcher, who was taking the same route, very courteously accepted the offer of his company. After a short conversation had taken place between them, our pious traveller was deeply affected to discover that his companion had imbibed the skeptical notions of the day. Upon this discovery, he beheld the youth with a mixture of compassion and hope, secretly determining to improve the providence which had cast this young stranger in his way, by attempting to lead him from the grossness of materialism to the spirituality of the Gospel. As they were detained at Monacho by contrary winds, he thankfully embraced this favorable opportunity of conversing with his fellow traveller in the freest and most affectionate manner. At first the young man maintained his own sentiments with a great degree of warmth, and with a strong persuasion that every attempt to refute them would be ineffectual; but in the course of a few hours he was unexpectedly staggered by the forcible arguments of his wiser opponent. At the end of two days' debate, he frankly acknowledged himself vanquished, and expressed a desire that the controversy might be turned into a liberal inquiry respecting the nature of revealed religion. Here Mr. Fletcher entered upon a part of his province to which he was always especially disposed, explaining the Scriptures in a manner peculiar to himself, equally intelligible and sublime, leading on his astonished companion from mystery to mystery, and opening before him an unbounded prospect of grace and glory. The young man was struck with the masterly skill, and affected with the more than parental concern of his instructor. He looked up to him with reverence, and listened to him with admiration: and still, the longer he attended to his discourse, the more he was athirst for information, renewing the sacred subject with little intermission from morning till night. "At length the young gentleman was constrained to acknowledge the natural depravity and darkness of his mind, bewailing his former inattention to the most momentous concerns, and lamenting, with many tears, that he had wandered so long without the help of an experienced guide to extricate him from the mazes of delusion and error. From this time he desired to be present at morning and evening prayer, on which occasions Mr. Fletcher was careful to expound some portion of Scripture peculiarly adapted to his circumstances; and, during the continuance of these devotional exercises, such was the solemn attention and deportment of this altered youth, that a stranger would have supposed him a student of deep experience in the school of Christ. These religious impressions were not only continued, but deepened from day to day, till their arrival at Genoa; when Mr. Fletcher had the satisfaction of observing, in the character of his able companion, every apparent token of a real and permanent change.
"During Mr. Fletcher's continuance at this place he had frequent opportunities of conversing with his new acquaintance, from whom he received many testimonies of affectionate regard, and whom he endeavored to establish in the faith of the Gospel. He gave him such directions and warnings as were suited to his state. He exhorted him to search the Scriptures, and to continue instant in prayer. He set before him the trials and difficulties which would probably attend his spiritual progress, together with the advantages and consolations which must necessarily accompany a religious life. He guarded him against the devices of an ensnaring world., and pointed out the vanity of its richest gifts; how transient its smiles, how trifling its honors, how uncertain its riches, how inconstant its friendship, how feeble its supports; entreating him to mark it down in his memory, that the friend of the world is the enemy of God. and now, being called away from Genoa, after taking a most affectionate leave of his young disciple, and commending him to God in solemn prayer, he went on his way rejoicing."
11. We learn farther from Mr. Ireland, that while they were at Marseilles, he procured for Mr. Fletcher the use of a Protestant church in that neighborhood. After this grant had been obtained, Mr. Fletcher made the circumstance of his preaching there the subject of most fervent prayer during the whole of the preceding week. And inasmuch as he found no freedom in his mind, nor confidence in praying concerning it, nor expectation of doing good by preaching, he entreated Mr. Ireland every day, even until the Sunday morning when he was to preach, to go and inform the minister he must decline preaching. Mr. Ireland, however, refused; and Mr. Fletcher was compelled, by a regard for consistency and propriety of conduct, to go up into the pulpit; although under great fear and depression of mind. God was pleased, however, when he began to pray, to give him great freedom of speech and enlargement of heart, and he afterward preached in a manner that astonished all that heard him. The whole congregation, among whom were many ministers, were in tears, and exceedingly affected most part of the time that he was engaged in the service.
12. The reader would observe that in one of the letters quoted above Mr. Fletcher mentions his having a desire to visit some Huguenots (Protestants) in the south of France; and it was during this tour that his desire was gratified, and the following circumstance took place, related by Mr. Gilpin in his Notes. Indeed, while on his last journey to the continent, he was not in a state of health to undertake any labor of the kind.
"Passing some years ago," says Mr. Gilpin, "through the south of France, he expressed a longing desire to visit the Protestants in the Sevennes mountains, whose fathers had suffered so greatly in the cause of godliness. To converse with the children of those who had laid down their lives in defence of the truth was a privilege not to be despised by a man who never lost an opportunity of conversing with a righteous person, without lamenting it as a real misfortune. Though the journey was long and difficult, yet no argument could prevail with him to give up his resolution of attempting it on foot. 'Shall I,' said he to his friend, 'make a visit on horseback, and at ease, to those poor cottagers, whose fathers were hunted along yonder rocks like partridges upon the mountains! No; in order to secure a more friendly reception among them, I will visit them under the plainest appearance, and with my staff in my hand.'
"Accordingly he set out alone on this Christian expedition; and after travelling till it was nearly dark, he came to a small house, where he requested the favor of sitting up in a chair till the morning. It was not without some hesitation that the master of the cottage consented to receive him; after which he immediately entered into discourse with his host and his wife, who were so much charmed with the conversation and manners of their guest, that they considered the richest provisions their house could afford as too mean to be set before him. After a hasty repast the conversation was continued on the part of Mr. Fletcher, and attended to by the children, as well as by their parents, with a degree of eagerness which discovered their desire of religious instruction. Before they retired to rest, prayer was proposed: and while this holy man was engaged in pouring out his fervent supplication before God, the family around him were uncommonly affected, melted into tears, and filled with holy admiration. Early on the morrow, while he repeated his exhortations and renewed his prayers, he was listened to with the same veneration and earnestness; when, taking an affectionate leave of the family, he left the whole household in a state of astonishment and concern. This little relation was taken from the poor man himself, who immediately gave it out among his neighbors that he had nearly refused to admit a stranger into his house, who proved to be rather an angel than a man. This family was of the Romish Church.
Continuing his journey, Mr. Fletcher reached a little town where he was entertained by a pious minister to whom he had been recommended. Here he was received by the serious Protestants with open arms, among whom he exercised his ministry with much freedom and success. He conversed with their elders, he admonished their youth, he visited their sick, diligently exhorting and instructing them from house to house, while many among them were comforted, and many built up in their most holy faith.
"In the course of his progress through these mountains, he put up at a little house, where his landlord was one of those persons who seldom utter a word unaccompanied by an oath. Our benevolent traveller addressed this unthinking creature in his usual pointed and pathetic manner; and not without effect. His heart was deeply penetrated with the deserved rebuke, he confessed his error, and expressed a serious concern for the irregularity of his past conduct. Mr. Fletcher had many opportunities in this family for the pious exercises of admonition and prayer; and, from the time of his sojourning among them, an uncommon reformation was apparent in the conversation and manners of his host. It has since appeared that the solemn exhortations he received during this season were attended with so extraordinary an effect upon this poor man, that if, on any future occasion, he discovered an unholy warmth in his temper, nothing more was necessary to produce an immediate calm in his mind than the bare recollection of that venerable stranger who had once lodged beneath his roof.
"This tedious journey, (of which a much more circumstantial account might be given,) while it evinced the love of this indefatigable pastor to those whom he knew only by report, was productive of the happiest consequences to those who attended his ministry upon this occasion, and especially to those who entertained him in their families."
13. It was during this journey, also, that while they were travelling through a part of Italy, "as they approached the Appian Way, he directed the driver to stop before he entered upon it. He then ordered the chaise door to be opened, assuring his fellow traveller that his heart would not suffer him to ride over that ground upon which the Apostle Paul had formerly walked chained to a soldier, on account of preaching the everlasting Gospel. As soon as he had set his foot upon this old Roman road, he took off his hat; and walking on with his eyes lifted up to heaven, returned thanks to God in a most fervent manner for that light, those truths, and that influence of the Holy Spirit, which were continued to the present day. He rejoiced that England was favored with the Gospel in its purity; and devoutly implored that Rome might again have the truths of that Gospel declared in those Churches which were disgraced with a worship little superior to that of ancient Athens. He then took a view of the exemplary life, the extensive travels, and astonishing labors of the great apostle. He recounted his sufferings when a prisoner, and his trials when at liberty; his rigid self-denial, and his voluntary poverty for the furtherance of the Gospel. He spoke of his painful ministry, and his violent persecutions, enlarging with peculiar energy upon his last journey from Jerusalem to Rome. He then ran over his experience his faith, his love, his abundant revelations, and his constant communion with the Lord Jesus Christ; demonstrating that without such communion, he could never have supported the sharp conflicts and repeated sufferings to which he was daily exposed. Here he adverted to his own situation with a degree of gratitude that surpasses all description. What a miracle of mercy, said he, that a Christian, hated and despised as he is by all men, is yet suffered to live: and that we, who desire to be such, can travel at this day unmolested among those who abhor the truth as it is in Jesus. Their ancestors were stained with the blood of the innocent; and were the Gospel to be proposed in its purity to the present generation, they would rush upon the preacher of it, as so many beasts of prey, if He, who restrained the lions from devouring Daniel, were not present to control their destructive zeal. These remarks were continued for a long time together, sweetly intermixed with occasional prayer and praise. He breathed nothing but devotion; and had he not been prevented by the presence of the driver, such were his feelings on treading this celebrated road, that he would certainly have acted like St. Paul when he retired to the riverside, where prayer was wont to be made."
14. Soon after his arrival in Switzerland, "he was waited upon by the clergy at Nyon, who severally pressed him to honer their pulpits during his stay at that place. On the morrow of his arrival, being the Sabbath day, he addressed his countrymen in an admirable discourse, the result of much prayer and meditation. The subject matter of this sermon, and the manner in which it was delivered, were equally striking. The clearness and pathos with which he expressed himself on this occasion attracted the attention of all, and filled many with a serious concern for the faith once delivered to the saints. Deists themselves listened with admiration; while the multitude appeared as though they saw and heard one more than man. To adopt the French idea, he carried off the whole audience. During his continuance at Nyon he preached in different churches; and wherever he was announced, multitudes flocked from all quarters to attend him. The reputation of his great ability drew together persons of every description; and it was truly refreshing, says an intimate friend of Mr. Fletcher, who was present upon these occasions, to behold the powerful effects of the Gospel among those who, before that time, had seldom or never heard it proclaimed in its purity. Many despisers of revelation were overawed and confounded; many formal professors were touched with the power of true religion; and many careless lovers of pleasure were impressed with a solemn sense of eternal things.
"One young man in particular was so deeply affected by the discourses of this powerful preacher, that he immediately resolved to consecrate himself to the service of God in the work of the holy ministry. Accordingly he betook himself from that time to studies of a sacred nature, and is at this day minister of the Protestant Church at Lyons. Among others, a good old minister, who was more than seventy years of age heard him gladly; and earnestly entreated him to lengthen out his visit at Nyon, though it should be but for a single week beyond the time proposed for his departure. He urged his request with much importunity; and when he found that his desire could not conveniently be complied with, the old man wept, and turning to Mr. Fletcher's fellow traveller, affectingly exclaimed, 'O, sir, how unfortunate for this country; during my day it has produced but one angel of a man, and it is our lot to be deprived of him!' The benefit of his public labors in this place was significantly attested by the numerous applications he received in private for religious instruction. And the grateful sense his countrymen entertained of those labors was fully expressed in their affectionate concern at his departure from among them. Weeping multitudes crowded around his carriage, anxious to receive a last word or look: and not a few followed his chariot above two miles from the town, before they had resolution to tear themselves entirely away from the company of this venerable man.
"For Nyon to be deprived of the ministry of this illustrious divine was truly unfortunate; but it was equally happy for that favored village which was appointed to be the scene of his exemplary labors. There his strength and his arms were chiefly exercised, and there his most important victories over sin were obtained. There his name will long continue to be had in honer; and from thence many a goodly jewel will be collected, to form for him a crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord."
15. About the middle of summer, as far as I recollect, in that year, he and his friend returned to England. Soon after their return, I had the happiness of being frequently in company with Mr. Ireland, first at Trevecka, in Wales, and afterward at his own house at Bristol, and of hearing many pleasing and edifying anecdotes concerning Mr. Fletcher, and the circumstances of their journey. I lament that length of time, and the multitude of affairs Providence has called me to be engaged in, have erased these so far from my memory that I am not able to give a clear or consistent account of them. One thing, however, I well remember, and shall never forget, and that is the very high esteem and veneration in which Mr. Fletcher was held by his friend and fellow traveller, who, during the five months spent together on their tour, had seen such proofs from day to day of his exalted piety, fortitude, and wisdom, that he was perfectly enraptured with him. If Mr. Fletcher had been an angel in human flesh, his friend could not well have held him in higher estimation, nor have been more lavish and incessant in his praise. He was careful, however, to ascribe the glory of all the excellences that were in him to the grace of God.
16. My personal acquaintance with Mr. Fletcher was then but slight. I had, I think, only had two or three interviews with him, which, as far as I can recollect, were in the year 1768, when I was classical master at Kingswood school. As he occasionally made an excursion from Madeley to Bristol and Bath, in one of those excursions we invited him to preach at Kingswood. He was peculiarly assisted while he was applying those encouraging words, Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out. The people were exceedingly affected; indeed quite melted down. The tears streamed so fast from the eyes of the poor colliers, that their black faces were washed by them, and almost universally streaked with white. And as to himself, his zealous soul had been carried out so far beyond his strength, that when he concluded, he put off a shirt which was as wet as if it had been dipped in water. But this was nothing strange: wherever he preached it was generally the case. From this time I conceived a particular esteem for him, chiefly on account of his piety; and wished much for a farther acquaintance with him; a blessing which I soon after obtained.
17. About this time the countess of Huntingdon erected a seminary at Trevecka, in Wales, in order to educate pious young men, of whatever denomination, for the ministry. She proposed to admit only such as were truly converted to God and resolved to dedicate themselves to his service. They were at liberty to stay there three years, during which time they were to have their education gratis, with every necessary of life, and a suit of clothes once a year; afterward those who desired it might enter into the ministry, either in the established Church of England, or among Protestants of any other denomination. From the high opinion which the countess had of Mr. Fletcher's pietyl
earning, and abilities, for such an office, she invited him to undertake the superintendence of that seminary: not that he could promise to be generally resident there: much less constantly. His duty to his own flock at Madeley would by no means admit of this. But he was to attend as often as he conveniently could; to give advice with regard to the appointment of masters, and the admission or exclusion of students; to oversee their studies and conduct; to assist their piety, and judge of their qualifications for the work of the ministry.
18. As Mr. Fletcher greatly approved of the design, especially considering, first, That none were to be admitted but such as feared and loved God; and secondly, That when they were prepared for it, they were to be at liberty to enter into the ministry wherever Providence should open a door; he readily complied with the invitation, and undertook the charge. This he did without fee or reward, from the sole motive of being useful in the most important work of training up persons for the glorious office of preaching the Gospel. And some months after, with the same view, through his means, and in consequence of Mr. Wesley's recommendation to her ladyship, I was made head master of the academy, or as it was commonly called, the college, though I could very ill be spared from Kingswood, where I had acted in that capacity about four years.
19. Being yet greatly wanted at Kingswood, and having likewise a term to keep at Oxford, I could only pay them a short visit for the present, which was in January, 1770. But in the spring following I went to reside there; and for some time was well satisfied with my situation. The young men were serious, and made a considerable progress in learning; and many of them seemed to have talents for the ministry. Mr. Fletcher visited them frequently, and was received as an angel of God. It is not possible for me to describe the veneration in which we all held him. Like Elijah in the schools of the prophets, he was revered; he was loved; he was almost adored: and that not only by every student, but by every member of the family. And indeed he was worthy. The reader will pardon me if he think I exceed. My heart kindles while I write. Here it was that I saw, shall I say, an angel in human flesh? I should not far exceed the truth if I said so. But here I saw a descendant of fallen Adam, so fully raised above the ruins of the fall, that though by the body he was tied down to earth, yet was his whole conversation in heaven: yet was his life, from day to day, hid with Christ in God. Prayer, praise, love, and zeal, all ardent, elevated above what one would think attainable in this state of frailty, were the element in which he continually lived. And as to others, his one employment was to call, entreat, and urge them to ascend with him to the glorious Source of being and blessedness. He had leisure comparatively for nothing else. Languages, arts, sciences, grammar, rhetoric, logic, even divinity itself, as it is called, were all laid aside when he appeared in the school room among the students. His full heart would not suffer him to be silent. He must speak, and they were readier to hearken to this servant and minister of Jesus Christ than to attend to Sallust, Virgil, Cicero, or any Latin or Greek historian, poet, or philosopher they had been engaged in reading. And they seldom hearkened long, before they were all in tears, and every heart caught fire from the flame that burned in his soul.
20. These seasons generally terminated in this Being convinced that to be filled with the Holy Ghost was a better qualification for the ministry of the Gospel than any classical learning, (although that too be useful in its place,) after speaking awhile in the school room, he used frequently to say, "As many of you as are athirst for this fullness of the Spirit, follow me into my room." On this, many of us have instantly followed him, and there continued for two or three hours, wrestling like Jacob for the blessing, praying one after another till we could bear to kneel no longer. This was not done once or twice, but many times. And I have sometimes seen him on these occasions, once in particular, so filled with the love of God, that he could contain no more, but cried out, "O my God, withhold thy hand or the vessel will burst." But he afterward told me he was afraid he had grieved the Spirit of God; and that he ought rather to have prayed that the Lord would have enlarged the vessel, or have suffered it to break, that the soul might have had no farther bar or interruption to its enjoyment of the Supreme Good. In this he was certainly right. For, as Mr. Wesley has observed, the proper prayer on such an occasion would have been, -- "Give me the enlarged desire,
And open, Lord, my soul, Thy own fullness to require, And comprehend the whole!
Stretch my faith's capacity Wider and yet wider still: Then with all that is in thee My ravish'd spirit fill."
21. Such was the ordinary employment of this man of God while he remained at Trevecka. He preached the word of life to the students and family, and as many of the neighbors as desired to be present. He was instant in season and out of season; he reproved, rebuked, exhorted with all long-suffering. He was always employed, either in illustrating some important truth, or exhorting to some neglected duty, or administering some needful comfort, or relating some useful anecdote, or making some profitable remark or observation upon some occurrence. And his devout soul, always burning with love and zeal, led him to intermingle prayer with all he uttered. Meanwhile his manner was so solemn, and at the same time so mild and insinuating, that it was hardly possible for any one who had the happiness of being in his company, not to be struck with awe and charmed with love as if in the presence of an angel or departed spirit. Indeed I frequently thought, while attending to his heavenly discourse and Divine spirit, that he was so different from, and superior to the generality of mankind, as to look more like Moses, or Elijah, or some prophet or apostle come again from the dead, than a mortal man dwelling in a house of clay, It is true, his weak and long afflicted body proclaimed him to be human. But the graces which so eminently filled and adorned his soul, manifested him to be Divine. And long before his happy spirit returned to God who gave it, that which was human seemed in a great measure to be swallowed up of life.
22. And as Mr. Fletcher was thus zealous and unwearied in his exhortations to, and prayers for, the students and other members of the family, while present with them, so he was far from being inattentive to their spiritual welfare when absent. His concern for their prosperity in the Divine life constrained him, during his absence from them, frequently to address to them pastoral letters full of instruction and exhortation. One of these, the only one I have in my possession, I shall here insert. It was written from Madeley, July 23, 1770, immediately after his return from abroad. "To the masters and students of Lady Huntingdon's College.
"Grace, mercy, and peace attend you, my dear brethren, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Brother, Jesus Christ. Brother, do I say? but should not I rather have written ALL? Is not he all and in all? All to believers, for he is their God as the logos, (the Word,) and their Friend,
Brother, Father, Spouse, &c., &c., &c., as he is logos geuomenos sarx (the Word made flesh.) From him, through him, and in him, I salute you in the Spirit. I believe he is here with me and in me; I believe he is yonder with you and in you; for 'in him we live, move, and have,' not only our animal, but rational, and spiritual 'being ' I believe it, I say, therefore I write. May the powerful grain of faith remove the mountain of remaining unbelief, that you and I may see things as God sees them! that we may no more judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment; that he may no more walk by carnal sight, but by faith, the sight of God's children below! When this is the case, we shall discover that the Creator is ALL indeed, and that creatures (which we are wont to put in his place since the fall) are mere nothings, passing clouds that our Sun of righteousness hath thought fit to clothe himself with, and paint some of his glory upon. In an instant he could scatter them into their original nothing, or resorb them for ever, and stand without competitor, the BEING. But suppose that all creatures should stand for ever little signatures of God, what are they even in their most glorious estate, but as tapers kindled by his light, as well as formed by his power? Now conceive a Sun, a spiritual Sun, whose center is everywhere, whose circumference can be found nowhere: a Sun whose luster as much surpasses the brightness of the luminary that rules the day, as the Creator surpasses the creature and say, what are the twinkling tapers of good men on earth, what is the smoking flax of wicked creatures -- what the glittering stars of saints in heaven? Why, they are all lost in his transcendent glory; and if any of these would set himself up as an object of esteem, regard, or admiration, he must indeed be mad with self and pride; he must be (as dear Mr. Harris hath often told us) a foolish apostate, a devil. Understand this, believe this, and you will sink to unknown depths of self-horror, for having aspired at being somebody, self-humiliation for seeing yourself nobody, or what is worse, an evil body. But I would not have you dwell even upon this evil, so as to lose sight of your Sun, unless it be to see him covered, on this account, with your flesh and blood, and wrapped in the cloud of our nature. Then you will cry out with St. Paul, Oh the depth! Then, finding the manhood is again resorbed into the Godhead, you will gladly renounce all selfish, separate existence in Adam and from Adam: you will take Christ to be your life; you will become his members by eating his flesh and drinking his blood; you will consider his flesh as your flesh, his bone as your bone, his Spirit as your spirit, his righteousness as your righteousness, his cross as your cross, and his crown (whether of thorns or glory) as your crown: you will reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through this dear Redeemer; you will renounce propriety, you will heartily and gladly say, 'Not I, not I, but Christ liveth,' and only because he lives I do, and shall live also. When it is so with us, then are we creatures in our Creator, and redeemed creatures in our Redeemer. Then we understand and feel what he says: Separate from me, Hoti xaris emou ou dunasthe poiein ouden (Without me, the Creator, ye are nothing; without me, the Saviour, ye can do nothing.) 'The moment I consider Christ and myself as two, I am gone,' says Luther, and I say so too; I am gone into self, and into antichrist, for that which will be something, will not let Christ be all, and that which will not let Christ be all must certainly be antichrist. What a poor, jejune, [lacking significance] dry thing is doctrinal Christianity, compared with the clear and heart-felt assent that the believer gives to these fundamental truths! What life, what strength, what comfort flow out from them! Oh my friends, let us believe, and we shall see, taste, and handle the word of life. When I stand in unbelief, I am like a drop of muddy water drying up in the sun of temptation; I can neither comfort, nor help, nor preserve myself; when I do believe and close in with Christ, I am like that same drop losing itself in a boundless, bottomless sea of purity, light, life, power, and love; there my good and my evil are equally nothing, equally swallowed up, and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life. There I wish you all to be; there I beg you and I may meet, with all God's children. I long to see you that I
may impart unto you (should God make use of such a worm) some spiritual gift, and that I may be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me, and by your growth in grace, and in Divine as well as human wisdom, during my long absence.
"I hope matters will be contrived so that I may be with you, to behold your order, before the anniversary; meanwhile I remain your affectionate fellow laborer and servant in the Gospel of Christ, J. F."
23. But how came Mr. Fletcher to leave Trevecka? Why did be give up an office for which he was so perfectly well qualified, which he executed so entirely to the satisfaction of all the parties with whom he was concerned, and in which it had pleased God to give so manifest a blessing to his labors? Perhaps it would be better, in tenderness to some persons eminent for piety and usefulness, to let that matter remain still under the veil which forgiving love has cast over it. But if it be thought that justice to his character, and to the cause which, from that time he so warmly espoused and so ably defended, requires some light to be cast upon it, it may be the most inoffensive way to do it in his own words.
It will be proper to observe here, for the better understanding of the following letter, that some time before Mr. Fletcher quitted Trevecka, I had been discharged from my office there; "not (as Mr. Wesley has justly observed in the former edition of this Life) for any defect of learning or piety, or any fault found with my behavior; for nothing of that kind was so much as pretended; but wholly and solely because I did not believe the doctrine of absolute predestination."
24. The following is an exact copy of all that is material in a letter Mr. Fletcher wrote to me, in consequence of my dismission from the office I had sustained there:-" January 7, 1771.
"Dear Sir, -- The same post brought me yours and two from my lady, and one from Mr. Williams, (a clergyman, who, professing to be under serious impressions, had been permitted by her ladyship to stay a few weeks at the college; but was neither master nor student, and termed by Mr. Fletcher 'a bird of passage.') Their letters contained no charges, but general ones, which with me go for nothing. If the procedure you mention be fact, and your letter be a fair account of the transactions and words relative to your discharge, a false step has been taken. I write by this post to her ladyship on the affair with all possible plainness. If the plan of the college be overthrown, I have nothing more to say to it.
I will keep to my tent for one; the confined tool of any one party I never was, and never will be. if the blow that should have been struck at the dead spirit is struck (contrary to the granted liberty of sentiment) at dead Arminius, or absent Mr. Wesley; if a master is turned away without any fault, it is time for me to stand up with firmness, or to withdraw."
At the same time the following paragraphs were transcribed and sent to me by Mr. Fletcher, from his letter to my lady on this occasion:-
"Mr. Benson made a very just defence when he said he did hold with me the possibility of salvation for all men; that mercy is offered to all, and yet may be received or rejected. If this be what your ladyship calls Mr. Wesley's opinion, free will, and Arminianism, and if 'every Arminian must quit the college, I am actually discharged also. For in my present view of things I must hold that sentiment, if I believe that the Bible is true, and that God is love.
"For my part, I am no party man. In the Lord I am your servant, and that of your every student. But I cannot give up the honer of being connected with my old friends, who, notwithstanding their failings, are entitled to my respect, gratitude, and assistance, could I occasionally give them any. Mr. Wesley shall always be welcome to my pulpit, and I shall gladly bear my testimony in his, as well as in Mr. Whitefleld's. But if your ladyship forbid your students to preach for the one, and offer them to preach for the other, at every turn; and if a master is discarded for believing that Christ died for all; then prejudice reigns; charity is cruelly wounded; and party spirit shouts, prevails, and triumphs."
In the same letter in which he transcribed the above paragraphs, he, in a most Christian spirit, gave me the following caution:-- " Take care, my dear sir, not to make matters worse than they are: and cast the mantle of forgiving love over the circumstances that might injure the cause of God, so far as it is put into the hands of that eminent lady, who hath so well deserved of the Church of Christ. Rather suffer in silence, than make a noise to cause the Philistines to triumph. Do not let go your expectation of a baptism from above," (meaning a larger measure of the influences of the Spirit of God, for which I was then much athirst.) "May you be supported and directed in this and every other trial, and may peace be extended to you as a river. Farewell " J. F."
25. The above letter he directed to the New-Room, Horse Fair, Bristol, supposing it would find me there; but understanding by another letter from me that I was still in Wales, two days after he wrote again, repeating the chief part of the above letter, and adding, "I am determined to stand or fall with the liberty of the college. As I entered it a free place, I must quit it the moment it is a harbor for party spirit. "As I am resolved to clear up this matter, or quit my province, I beg you will help me to as many facts and words, truly done, and really spoken, as you can; whereby I may show," (to the parties concerned at Trevecka,) "that false reports, groundless suspicions, party spirit against Mr. Wesley, arbitrary proceedings, and unscriptural impulses, hold the reins and manage affairs in the college; as also that the balance of opinions is not maintained, and Mr. Wesley's opinions are dreaded, and struck at, more than deadness of heart, and a wrong conduct." Here again as a Christian he cautions: "Do not make matters worse than they are; I fear they are bad enough. So far as we can, let us keep this matter to ourselves. When you speak of it to others, rather endeavor to palliate than aggravate what hath been wrong in your opposers: remember that great lady has been an instrument of great good, and that there are great inconsistencies attending the greatest and best of men. Possess your soul in patience; see the salvation of God; and believe, though against hope, that light will spring out of darkness. I am with concern for you and that poor college, yours, in Jesus, J. F."
26. Soon after this he visited the college himself, when he had an opportunity of examining every thing on the spot, and of seeing, with his own eyes, how matters were conducted. The following is the account which he gave me, as the result of his observations, in a letter dated March 22, 1771:-
"My Dear Friend, -- On my arrival at the college, I found all very quiet, I fear through the enemy's keeping his goods in peace. While I preached the next day, I found myself as much shackled as ever I was in my life. And after private prayer, I concluded I was not in my place. The same day I resigned my office to my lady, and on Wednesday to the students and the lord. Nevertheless I went on as usual, only had no heart to give little charges to the students as before. I should possibly have got over it as a temptation, if several circumstances had not confirmed me in my design. Two I shall mention, because they are worth a thousand. When Mr. Sh__y was at the college, what you had written upon the 'baptism of the Holy Ghost,' was taken to pieces. Mr. Sh__y maintained that the prophecy of Joel, Acts ii, had its complete fulfillment on the day of pentecost, and thus he turned the streams of living waters into imperceptible dews, nernine contradicente, (no one gainsaying,) except two, who made one or two feeble objections: so that the point was, in my judgment, turned out of the college after you, and abused under the name of 'Perfection.' This showed I was not likely to receive or do any good there.
"Some days after my arrival, however, I preached the good old doctrine before my lady and Mr. H____. The latter talked also of imperceptible influences, and the former thanked me, but, in my apprehension, spoiled all by going to the college the next day, to give a charge partly against perfection in my absence.
"In the meantime Mr. Shirley has sent my lady a copy of the doctrinal part of the Minutes of the last conference, (viz., of the year 1770.) They were called horrible, abominable, and subversive articuli stantis vel cadentis ecclesin: (of the pillar on which the Church stands, or with which it falls.) My lady told me 'she must burn against them: and that whoever did not fully disavow them, should quit the college.' Accordingly an order came for the master, a very insufficient person, and the students, to write their sentiments upon them without reserve. I also did so; explained them according to Mr. Wesley's sentiments; and approved the doctrine blaming only the unguarded and not sufficiently explicit manner in which it was worded. I concluded by observing that as, after such a step on my part, and such a declaration on her ladyship's, I could no longer, as an honest man, stay in the college. I took my leave of it; wishing my lady might find a minister to preside over it less insufficient, and more willing to go certain lengths into what appeared to me party spirit than I am.
"To be short, I pleaded my cause with my lady, who seemed at last sensible of the force of my reasons. I advised her, as her college was Calvinistic, to get a Calvinistic president for it, and recommended Mr. R. H____. My lady was so far prevailed upon by my stand for Mr. Wesley as to design to write him a civil letter, to demand an explication of the obnoxious propositions of the Minutes, and seemed rather for peace than war, and friendship eminus, (at a distance,) than battle cominus, (hand to hand.) Last Friday I left them all in peace, the servant, but no more the president of the college. My lady behaved with great candor and condescension toward me in the affair. As for you, you are still out of her books, and are likely so to continue. Your last letters have only thrown oil upon the fire: all was seen in the same light in which Mr. Wesley's letter appeared. You were accused of having alienated my heart from the college; but I have cleared you.
"I rejoice that your desires after a larger measure of the Holy Spirit increase. Part rather with your heart's blood than with them. Let me meet you at the throne of grace, and send me word how you dispose of yourself. If you are at a loss for a prophet's room, remember I have one here, J. F."
27. Such were the reasons why Mr. Fletcher resigned his charge at Trevecka. Soon after this, the controversy respecting the propositions of the before mentioned Minutes began. For although Lady H. had signified to Mr. Fletcher that it was her design to write to Mr. Wesley, and demand an explication of these obnoxious propositions, it does not appear that this was ever done, either by her ladyship or any one of her friends. On the contrary, the well known Circular Letter now went abroad, under the name of Mr. Shirley, inviting the clergy of all denominations to assemble in a body at Bristol, to oppose Mr. Wesley and the preachers, when they should meet in conference, which they were expected to do in the beginning of the ensuing August, and we oblige them to revoke the dreadful heresies contained in those Minutes. As Mr. Fletcher thought the Churches throughout Christendom were verging very fast toward Antinomianism, he judged the propositions contained in those Minutes ought rather to be confirmed than revoked. And as he was now retired to his parish, he had more leisure for such a work than before. Therefore, after much prayer and consideration, he determined to write in defence of them. In how able a manner he did this, I need not tell any that have read those incomparable writings. I know not how to give the character of them better than in the words of Dr. Dixon, then principal of Edmund-Hall, Oxford, whose kindness to me I shall ever remember, and to whom I sent Mr. Fletcher's Checks, with a recommendatory letter. He answered me as follows
"Dear Sir, -- When I first read yours, I must own I suspected your friendship for Mr. Fletcher had made you too lavish in your commendation of his writings; and that when I came to read them, I should find some abatements necessary to be made. But now I have read them, I am far from thinking you have spoken extravagantly; or, indeed, that too much can be said in commendation of them. I had not read his first letter before I was so charmed with the spirit as well as the abilities of the writer, that the gushing tear could not be hindered from giving full testimony of my heart-felt satisfaction. Perhaps some part of this pleasure might arise from finding my own sentiments so fully embraced by the author. But sure I am, the greatest share of it arose from finding those benevolent doctrines so firmly established; and that with such judgment, clearness, and precision, as are seldom, very seldom, to be met with. What crowns the whole is, the amiable and Christian temper, which those who will not be convinced, must, however, approve, and wish that their own doctrines may be constantly attended with the same spirit."
28. "How much good," says Mr. Wesley, "has been occasioned by the publication of that Circular Letter! This was the happy occasion of Mr. Fletcher's writing those 'Checks to Antinominnism,' in which one knows not which to admire most, the purity of the language; (such as scarce any foreigner wrote before;) the strength and clearness of the argument; or the mildness and sweetness of the spirit that breathes through out the whole. Insomuch that I nothing wonder at a serious clergyman who, being resolved to live and die in his own opinion, when he was pressed to read them, replied, 'No, I will never read Mr. Fletcher's Checks: for if I did, I should be of his mind.' "
29. A short extract from two or three of his letters, will show what was his state of mind at this crisis. "How much water," says he to me, August 24, of the same year, "may at last rush out of a little opening! What are our dear L___'s jealousies come to! Ah, poor college! Their conduct, and charges of heresy, &c., among other reasons, have stirred me up to write in defence of the Minutes. I have received this morning a most kind letter from Mr. Shirley, whom I pity much now. He is gone to Wales, probably to consult (with her l___p) what to do in the present case. Methinks I dream, when I reflect I have wrote on controversy! The last subject I thought I should have meddled with. I expect to be roughly handled on the account. Lord, prepare me for this, and every thing that may make me cease from man, and above all from your unworthy friend, J. F." Three months after, he writes as follows in answer to a letter of mine, in which I had taken the liberty of advising him to use much precision in stating the scriptural doctrine respecting works being the necessary fruits of faith. His words demonstrate the deep humility of his mind, and the mean opinion he had of himself, even as a writer, in which province he certainly greatly excelled: "I thank you for your caution about works. I sent last week a letter of fifty pages upon Antinomianism to the book steward. I beg, as upon my bended knees, you would revise and correct it, and take off quod durius sonat (what sounds harsh) in point of works, (subject,) reproof, and style. I have followed my light, which is but that of a smoking flax: put yours to mine. I am charged hereabouts with scattering firebrands, arrows, and death. Quench some of my brands, blunt some of my arrows, and take off all my deaths, except that which I design for Antinomianism.
"As I have taken up my pen, I will clear myself in another respect, that is, with regard to the Antinomian opposition made to Christian perfection. I have begun my tract, and hope to tell the truth in perfect consistency with Mr. Wesley's system. I once begged you would give me a copy of what you wrote upon it. Now is the time to repeat that request. Send it me (with additions, if you can) as soon as possible. When I send my manuscript to London, remember it will be chiefly for your alterations and corrections."
30. The reader will observe that at this time his Appeal to Matter of Fact and Common Sense, that admirable treatise on the subject of original sin, and human depravity, was not published. It had indeed been composed near a year before. I saw it in manuscript at Madeley the January preceding, and read most of it over with him, while his humility induced him constantly to urge, as in the above letter, that I would propose any alterations or corrections which I thought proper to be made. In his next letter, dated December 10th, he mentions the apprehension he was under that the manuscript was lost. He had left it at Bristol, and having sent for it from thence, with a view to make some farther improvements in the style or matter before it was sent to the press, it had not arrived as expected, nor been heard of for many weeks. However, he was quite easy under the apprehended loss, which certainly would not have been a small one, as any person will judge, who considers how much thought and time such a work must have cost him. It was found, however, by and by, had the finishing hand put to it, and was published to the conviction and edification of thousands. I hardly know a treatise that has been so universally read, or made so eminently useful.
31. Mr. Fletcher's pen, however, was chiefly employed at this time and thenceforward, as long as his health permitted him to write at all, on controversial subjects; subjects in which he at first engaged with great reluctance, which he never loved, which he was frequently disposed to have relinquished, had a sense of duty permitted him so to do; but which he never repented having undertaken to discuss and elucidate. It is true, he met with no little opposition, and even reproach, while he was engaged in writing on these subjects. As he says in a letter to Mr. Charles Wesley, written about this time, he "met with the loss of friends, and with the charges of novel chimeras on both sides." Some that had loved him as their own souls before, being vexed and chagrined at finding their favorite opinions, which they had laid as the foundation of their hopes, undermined and overthrown, poured forth their abuse in a very liberal manner. One warm young man in particular, whom I well knew, and who, while a student at Trevecka, had revered and loved Mr. Fletcher as a father, after using many reproachful expressions, added, as a finishing stroke, "If you die in the faith your book maintains, you will he shut out of heaven." "You see by this," says Mr. Fletcher to me in the letter in which he mentions that circumstance, "I cut rather deeper than our friends can bear." This was in February, 1772, when his Third Check, in answer to the author of Pietas Oxoniensis, was in the press; at which time, he says, "I long to be out of controversy: I make a bridge in my postscript for a retreat:" which words were dictated, not by any distrust of the truth or importance of the principles he had espoused, or of his ability, through Divine aid, to defend them; but by his love of peace and unanimity among the followers of Jesus, and his great and constant aversion to dispute and contention.
32. That Mr. Fletcher had no doubt but controversy, on some occasions, is both expedient and necessary, yea, and productive of much good to the Church of God, is certain from what he observes on this subject in the beginning of the last mentioned tract. Mr. Hill had said, in the title page of his Five Letters, to which that tract was an answer, that a concern for "mourning backsliders, and such as have been distressed by reading Mr. Wesley's Minutes, or the Vindication of them," had induced him to write: "Permit me to inform you in my turn," says Mr. Fletcher,  "that I fear lest Dr. Crisp's  balm should be applied instead of the balm of Gilead, to Laodicean loiterers, who may haply have been brought to penitential distress, obliges me to answer you in the same public manner in which you address me. Some of our friends will undoubtedly blame us for not yet dropping the contested point; but others will candidly consider that controversy, though not desirable in itself, yet properly managed, has a hundred times rescued truth groaning under the lash of triumphant error. We are indebted to our Lord's controversies with the Pharisees and scribes for a considerable part of the four gospels. And, to the end of the world, the Church will bless God for the spirited manner in which St. Paul, in his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, defended the controverted point of a believer's present justification by faith, as well as for the steadiness with which St. James, St. John, St. Peter, and St. Jude carried on their important controversy with the Nicolaitans, who abused St. Paul's doctrine to Antinomian purposes. Had it not been for controversy, Romish priests would to this day feed us with Latin masses and a wafer god. Some bold propositions advanced by Luther against the doctrine of indulgences unexpectedly brought on the Reformation. They were so irrationally attacked by the infatuated Papists, and so scripturally defended by the resolute Protestants, that these kingdoms opened their eyes and saw thousands of images and errors fall before the ark of evangelical truth.
"From what I have advanced," proceeds Mr. Fletcher, "in my Second Check, it appears, if I am not mistaken, that we stand now as much in need of a reformation from Antinomianism as our ancestors did of a reformation from popery; and I am not without hope, that the extraordinary attack which has lately been made on Mr. Wesley's Anti-Crispian propositions, and the manner in which they are defended, will open the eyes of many, and check the rapid progress of so enchanting and pernicious an evil. This hope inspires me with fresh courage: and turning from the honorable and Rev. Mr. Shirley, I presume to face, I trust in the spirit of love and meekness, my new respectable opponent."
Such were Mr. Fletcher's views when he began his Third Check, and they were not changed when he had finished it, nor indeed when he had finished the Fourth, which he wrote in the spring of this same year. A friend has favored me with a letter of his, in his own handwriting, to Mr. Charles Perronet, son of the Rev. Vincent Perronet, vicar of Shoreham, dated September 7th, 1772, in which he observes:-- " Mr. Hill, sen., hath complimented me with eleven letters," (including the former five, in answer to which he wrote the Third Check, and the latter six, which were answered in the Fourth,) "and his brother, Mr. R. Hill, with another, one half of which is employed in passing sentence upon my spirit. I have answered them both in a Fourth Check, which I hope will decide the controversy about the important Anti-Crispian doctrine of justification by (the evidence of) works in the last day. If that doctrine stand, there is an end of imputed righteousness," that is, in the Antinomian sense of the phrase, "absolute election and predestination. And I do not see that they have any thing to object to, but mere cavils which disgrace their cause."
33. The intelligent and pious person to whom this letter was written, was at that time under affliction which had considerably reduced his strength and depressed his spirits. The reader will be pleased, and I hope also profited, by Mr. Fletcher's address to him on this occasion, which I copy from the same letter.
"My Very Dear Friend, -- No cross, no crown: the heavier the cross, the brighter the crown. I wish you joy, while I mourn, about the afflictions which work out for you an exceedingly greater weight of glory; (greater, he means, than he could otherwise have enjoyed.)
'O for a firm and lasting faith, To credit all th' Almighty saith I'
Faith, I mean the evidence of things not seen, is a powerful cordial to support and exhilarate us under the heaviest pressures of pain and temptation. By faith we see things visible as temporal, fading; as a showy cloud that passes away. By faith we live upon the invisible, eternal God: we believe that in him we live, move, and have our being: we begin to feel after, find, and enjoy our ROOT; and insensibly we slide from self into God, from the visible into the invisible, from the carnal into the spiritual, from time into eternity. Here all husks of flesh and blood break. Here our spirits are ever young, they live in and upon the very fountain of strength, sprightliness, and joy. I grant that the unhappy medium of corruptible flesh and blood stands much in our way: but if it hinder us from enjoying God, it makes way for our giving more glory to him, by believing his naked truth. Oh my friend, let us rest more upon the truth as it is in Jesus, and it will make us more abundantly free, till we are free indeed; free to suffer as well as to triumph with him. Of late I have been brought to feed more upon Jesus as the truth. I see more in him in that character than I ever did. I am persuaded that, if you study him, you will see new beauties in him in that point of view. Perpetual comforts are hardly consistent with a state of trial. (I except the comforts that are inseparable from a calm acquiescing in the truth and the enjoyment of a good conscience.) Our bodies cannot long bear raptures: but the silent beams of truth can always insinuate themselves into the believing soul, to stay it upon the couch of pain, and in the arms of death. I see Christ the truth of my life, friends, relations, sense, food, raiment, light, fire, resting place, &c. All out of him are but shadows. All in him are blessed sacraments, I mean visible signs of the fountain, or little vehicles to convey the streams of inward grace. As for pain, &c., it is only the struggle of fallen nature, in order to a full birth into the world of unmixed bliss. Let us bear it cheerfully, as Sarah did, when she was delivered of Isaac. I am glad the Lord supports you under your troubles. Arise, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee. Enjoy one blessing as much as nature would repine under ten crosses. The Lord direct us by his light, and fill us with his love. The God of peace be with you, and raise you up to stand by his truth and people, and become more ripe for glory! Adieu! I am yours in Him who is all in all. J. F."
34. God, however, did not see fit to grant this request of his servant. Mr. C. Perronet's health declined more and more, and in less than four years after the affliction terminated in his death. The following short extract of a letter, addressed by Mr. Fletcher to his reverend and pious father on this occasion, will at once edify and please the reader:-"
Honored And Rev. Sir, -- To inform you of what you cannot but be acquainted with is superfluous, but to congratulate you upon what I know you exult in, is the duty both of religion and friendship. Methinks, then, I see you, right honored sir, mounted as another Moses on the top of Pisgah, and through the telescope of faith descrying the promised land; or rather, in the present instance, I observe you standing, like another Joshua, on the banks of Jordan, viewing all Israel, with your son among them, passing over the river to their great possessions. Permit me, therefore, in consideration of your years and office, to exclaim, in the language of young Elisha to his ancient seer, 'My father! My father! The chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.'
There, there they are, and there is he, your son! Whom faith pursues, and eager hope discerns, In you bright chariot as a cherub borne On wings of love, to uncreated realms Of deathless joy, and everlasting peace."'
35. The preceding letters, and others written about the same time, with the testimony of divers of his friends who were in the habit of seeing and conversing with him frequently, make it evident that Mr. Fletcher's spirit suffered no declension as to genuine piety, meekness, or benevolence, during this controversy.
September 21, 1773, he says to Mr. Ireland:-- " I see life so short, and that time passes away with such rapidity, that I should be very glad to spend it in solemn prayer; but it is necessary that a man should have some exterior occupation. The chief thing is to employ ourselves profitably. My throat is not formed for the labors of preaching: when I have preached three or four times together, it inflames and fills up; and the efforts which I am then obliged to make in speaking heat my blood. Thus I am, by nature as well as by the circumstances I am in, obliged to employ my time in writing a little. Oh that I may be enabled to do it to the glory of God! Let us love this good God, who hath so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. How sweet is it, on our knees, to receive this Jesus, this heavenly gift, and to offer our praises and thanks to our heavenly Father! The Lord teach me four lessons: the first is, to be thankful that I am not in hell; the second, to become nothing before him; the third, to receive the gift of God -- the person of Jesus; and the fourth, to feel my want of the spirit of Jesus, and to wait for it. These four lessons are very deep. Oh when shall I have learned them! Let us go together to the school of Jesus, and learn to be meek and lowly in heart. Adieu, J. F."
About six months afterward his words to the same person are:-- " I have just spirit enough to enjoy my solitude, and to bless God that I am out of the hurry of the world, even the spiritual world. I tarry gladly in my Jerusalem till the kingdom of God come with power. Till then it matters not where I am: only as my chief call is here, here I gladly stay, till God fit me for the pulpit or the grave. I still spend my mornings in scribbling. Though I grudge so much time in writing, yet a man must do something; and I may as well investigate truth as do any thing else, except solemn praying and visiting my flock. I shall be glad to have done with my present avocation that I may give myself up more to those two things."
36. He was now engaged in writing his "Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism," which he intended to be, and which certainly is, "as much in behalf of free grace as of holiness." "It will be of a reconciling nature," says he, "and on a plan on which all the candid and moderate will be able to shake hands." This Check was written in the latter end of the year 1773, and the beginning of 1774, and published soon after; at which time the common and equal friend of Mr. Fletcher and Lady H -- had proposed an interview between them. On this occasion Mr. Fletcher writes as follows
"In the present circumstances it was a great piece of condescension in dear Lady Huntingdon to be willing to see me privately; but for her to permit me to wait upon her openly, denotes such generosity, such courage, and a mind so much superior to the narrowness that clogs the charity of most professors, that it would have amazed me if every thing that is noble and magnanimous were not to be expected from her ladyship. It is well for her that spirits are imprisoned in flesh and blood, or I might by this time (and it is but an hour since I received your letter) have troubled her ten times with my apparition, to wish her joy of being above the dangerous snare of professors -- the smiles and frowns of the religious world; and to thank her a thousand times for not being ashamed of her old servant, and for cordially forgiving him all that is past, upon the score of the Lord's love, and of my honest meaning."
A few weeks after he observes farther:-- "How kind is my lady to offer to interpose, and to wipe off the aspersions of my London accusers. I had before sent my reply, which was only a plain narrative of two facts, upon which it appeared to me the capital charges were founded, together with some gentle expostulations, which I hope have had the desired effect. Give my duty to my lady, and thank her a thousand times for this new addition to all her former favors, till I have an opportunity of doing it in person.
"I get very slowly out of the mire of my controversy, and yet I hope to get over it, if God spare my life, in two or three pieces more. Since I wrote last, I have added to my Equal Check a piece which I call 'An Essay on Truth, or a Rational Vindication of the Doctrine of Salvation by Faith,' which I have taken the liberty to dedicate to Lady Huntingdon, to have an opportunity of clearing her ladyship from the charge of Antinomianism. I have taken this step in the simplicity of my heart, and as due from me, in my circumstances, to the character of her ladyship. Mr.
H___t___n called sometime after the letter was printed, and said, 'It will not be well taken.' I hope better; but be it as it may, I shall have the satisfaction of having meant well."
37. As Mr. Fletcher's own views of this controversy, when it appeared to be drawing to a close, and the state of his mind at that period, are certainly very important particulars of his life, and distinguishing traits of his character; and as they will be best learned from the private and confidential letters which were written at the time to his intimate friends, the reader will not be sorry to see them still farther delineated in extracts from two or three more of his epistles. Those addressed to me I the rather insert, as no part of them has been published before, and I think they all contain observations well worthy of being known and preserved, and which would probably otherwise perish in oblivion. March 20, 1774, he wrote to me as follows:-"
My Dear Brother, -- I am two kind letters in your debt; for both which accept the best thanks that grateful brotherly love can muster up in my breast. Your first letter I did not answer through a variety of avocations: the second I answer by our Elijah, (Mr. Wesley.) I do not repent having engaged in the present controversy, for though I think my little publications cannot reclaim those who are given up to believe the lie of the day, yet they may here and there stop one from swallowing it at all, or from swallowing it so deeply as otherwise he might have done. In preaching I do not meddle with the points discussed, unless my text lead me to it, and then I think them important enough not to be ashamed of them before my people.
"I am just finishing an Essay on Truth, which I dedicate to Lady H_____, wherein you will see my latest views of that important subject. My apprehensions of things have not changed since I saw you last; save that in one thing I have seen my error. An over eager attention to the doctrine of the Spirit has made me, in some degree, overlook the medium by which the Spirit works, I mean the word of truth, which is the wood by which the heavenly fire warms us. I rather expected lightning than a steady fire by means of fuel. I mention my error to you lest you too should be involved therein. May the Lord help us to steer clear of every rock. My controversy weighs upon my hands: but I must go through with it, which I hope will be done in two or three pieces more: one of which, 'Scripture Scales to weigh the Gold of Gospel Truth,' may be more useful than the Checks, as being more literally scriptural. I have exchanged a couple of friendly letters with Lady H____, who gives me leave to see her publicly: but I think it best to postpone that honer till I have cleared my mind. Should you see my Essay on Truth, I pray God it may help you to discern the depth of Rom. x, 10. By overlooking the rounds of the mysterious ladder of truth that are within our reach, and fixing our eyes on those that are above us, we are often at a stand, and give ourselves and others needless trouble. I shall be glad to see the productions of your pen. I hope they will add to my little stock of truth and love. Let us believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us love one another, serve our generation, and hopefully wait for the glorious revelation of the Son of God. That your soul may live the most abundant life, is the prayer of your loving brother, J. F."
38. The Essay on Truth, referred to by Mr. Fletcher in so many of the letters which he wrote about this time, was viewed by him as peculiarly important, and as containing doctrines particularly suited to the state of the Church of Christ at that time. "I am glad," says he to Mr. Charles Wesley, in the beginning of the next year, "you did not altogether disapprove my Essay on Truth. The letter, I grant, profits little, until the Spirit animate it. I had, some weeks ago, one of those touches which realize, or rather spiritualize the letter; and it convinced me more than ever that what I say in that tract of the spirit, and of faith, is truth. I am also persuaded that the faith and spirit which belong to perfect Christianity are at a very low ebb, even among believers, When the Son of man cometh to set up his kingdom, shall he find Christian faith upon the earth? Yes, but I fear as little as he found of Jewish faith when he came in the flesh. I believe you cannot rest with the easy Antinomian, or the busy Pharisee. You and I have nothing to do but to die to all that is of a sinful nature, and to pray for the power of an endless life. God make us faithful to our convictions, and keep us from the snares of outward things!
"I feel the force of what you say in your last, about the danger of so encouraging the inferior dispensations as to make people rest short of the faith which belongs to perfect Christianity. I have tried to obviate it in some parts of the Equal Check, and hope to do it more effectually in my reply to Mr. Hill's Creed for Perfectionists. I expect a letter from you on the subject: write with openness, and do not fear to discourage me by speaking your disapprobation of what you dislike. My aim is to be found at the feet of all, bearing and forbearing, until truth and love bring better days."
39. About this time, having used in some small degree the liberty which his humility induced him to give me, and having sent him two or three trivial remarks on some expressions which occurred in the above mentioned essay, I received from him the following letter, which I think important enough to be inserted here, and with which I shall close this chapter:-" My Dear Brother, -- I have had two printers upon my heels beside my common business, and this is enough to make me trespass upon the patience of my friends. I have published the first part of my Scales, which has gone through a second edition in London before I could get the second part printed in Salop, where it will be published in about six weeks. I have also published a Creed for the Arminians, where you will see that if I have not answered your critical remarks upon my Essay on Truth, I have improved by them, yea, publicly recanted the two expressions you mentioned as improper. For any such remarks I shall always be peculiarly thankful to you, and hope you will always find me open to conviction. With respect to the sermons you have thoughts of publishing, I say, follow your own conscience and the advice of the judicious friends about you: and put me among your subscribers, as I believe they will be worth a careful perusal, as well as to matter, as method and style. I am so tied up here, both by my parish duty and controversial writings that I cannot hope to see you unless you come into these parts. In the meantime let us meet at the throne of grace. In Jesus time and distance are lost. He is a universal, eternal life of righteousness, peace, and joy. I am glad you have some encouragement in Scotland. The Lord grant you more and more. Use yourself, however, to go against wind and tide, as I do, and take care that our wise dogmatical friends in the north do not rob you of your childlike simplicity. Remember that the mysteries of the kingdom are revealed to babes. You may be afraid of being a fool without being afraid of being a babe. You may be childlike without being childish. Simplicity of intention and purity of affection will go through the world, through hell itself, In the meantime let us see that we do not so look at our little publications, or to other people, as to forget that Christ is our object, our sun, our shield. To his inspiration, comfort, and protection, I earnestly recommend your soul; and the labors of your heart, tongue, and pen, to his blessing; entreating you to beg, at the throne of grace, all the wisdom and grace needful for your steady, affectionate friend and brother, J. F."