The Life of John Fletcher: Chapter 6 - Decline of Health
OF HIS DECLINING STATE OF HEALTH, THE PROGRESS OF HIS DISORDER, AND HIS BEHAVIOR UNDER IT, WITH AN ACCOUNT OF HIS OTHER POLEMICAL WRITINGS, AND THE CONCLUSION OF THE CONTROVERSY
1. The frequent journeys which Mr. Fletcher took to and from Trevecka while he presided over the college, in all weathers, and at all seasons of the year, greatly impaired the firmness of his constitution. And in some of those journeys he had not only difficulties but dangers likewise to encounter. One day as he was riding over a wooden bridge, just as he got to the middle thereof, it broke in. The mare's fore legs sunk into the river, but her breast and hinder parts were kept up by the bridge. In that position she lay as still as if she had been dead, till he got over her neck and took off his bags, in which were several manuscripts, the spoiling of which would have occasioned him much trouble. He then endeavored to raise her up; but she would not stir till he went over the other part of the bridge. But no sooner did he set his foot upon the ground than she began to plunge. Immediately the remaining part of the bridge broke down, and sunk with her into the river. But presently she rose up again, swam out, and came to him.
2. About this time, Mr. Pilmoor being desirous to see the inside of a coalpit, Mr. Fletcher went with him to the bottom of a sloping pit, which was supposed to be near a mile under the ground. They returned out of it without any inconvenience. But the next day, while several colliers were there, a damp took fire, which went off with a vast explosion, and killed all the men that were in it.
3. In February, 1773, Mr. Wesley received from him the following letter "Rev. and Dear Sir, -- I hope the Lord, who has so wonderfully stood by you hitherto, will preserve you to see many of your sheep, and me among them, enter into rest. Should Providence call you first, I shall do my best, by the Lord's assistance, to help your brother to gather the wreck, and keep together those who are not absolutely bent to throw away the Methodist doctrines and discipline as soon as he that now letteth is removed out of the way. Every help will then be necessary, and I shall not be backward to throw in my mite. In the meantime you sometimes need an assistant to serve tables, and occasionally fill up a gap. Providence visibly appointed me to that office many years ago. And though it no less evidently called me hither, yet I have not been without doubts, especially for some years past, whether it would not be expedient that I should resume my office as your deacon; not with any view of presiding over the Methodists after you, but to ease you a little in your old age, and to be in the way of receiving, perhaps doing more good. I have sometimes thought how shameful it was that no clergyman should join you, to keep in the Church the work God has enabled you to carry on therein. And as the little estate I have in my own country is sufficient for my maintenance. I have thought I would, one day or other, offer you and the Methodists my free service. While my love of retirement made me linger, I was providentially led to do something on Lady Huntingdon's plan. But being shut out there, it appears to me I am again called to my first work. Nevertheless I would not leave this place without a fuller persuasion that the time is quite come. Not that God uses me much here; but I have not yet sufficiently cleared my conscience from the blood of all men. Meantime I beg the Lord to guide me by his counsel, and make me willing to go anywhere or nowhere, to be any thing or nothing. Help by your prayers, till you can bless by word of mouth, reverend and dear sir, your willing though unprofitable servant in the Gospel, J. F.
"Madeley, Feb. 6,1773."
4. On this letter Mr. Wesley remarks as follows -- 'Providence,' says Mr. Fletcher, 'visibly appointed me to that office many years ago.' Is it any wonder, then, that he should now be in doubt, whether he did right in confining himself to one spot? The more I reflect upon it, the more I am convinced he had great reason to doubt of this. I can never believe it was the will of God that such a burning and shining .light should be hid under a bushel. No, instead of being confined to a country village, it ought to have shone in every corner of our land. He was full as much called to sound an alarm through all the nation, as Mr. Whitefleld himself: nay, abundantly more so, seeing he was far better qualified for that important work. He had a more striking person, equal good breeding, an equally winning address; together with a richer flow of fancy, a stronger understanding, a far greater treasure of learning, both in languages, philosophy, philology, and divinity; and above all, (which I can speak with fuller assurance, because I had a thorough knowledge both of one and the other,) a more deep and constant communion with the Father, and with the Son, Jesus Christ.
"And yet let not any one imagine that I depreciate Mr. Whitefleld, or undervalue the grace of God, and the extraordinary gifts which his great Master vouchsafed unto him. I believe he was highly favored of God; yea, that he was one of the most eminent ministers that has appeared in England, or perhaps in the world, during the present century. Yet I must own, I have known many fully equal to Mr. Whitefleld, both in holy tempers and holiness of conversation: but one equal herein to Mr. Fletcher I have not known, no, not in a life of fourscore years.
5. "However, having chosen," proceeds Mr. Wesley, "at least for the present, this narrow field of action, he was more and more abundant in his ministerial labors, both in public and in private: not contenting himself with preaching, but visiting his flock in every corner of his parish. And this work he attended to, early or late, whether the weather was fair or foul; regarding neither heat nor cold, rain nor snow, whether he was on horseback or on foot. But this farther weakened his constitution; which was still more effectually impaired by his intense and uninterrupted studies; in which he frequently continued, almost without any intermission, fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen hours a day. But still he did not allow himself such food as was necessary to sustain nature. He seldom took any regular meals, except he had company: otherwise twice or thrice in four and twenty hours, he ate some bread and cheese, or fruit. Instead of this he sometimes took a draught of milk, and then wrote on again."
6. The works which Mr. Fletcher had in hand, chiefly, at this time, were three; 1. Zelotes and Honestus reconciled: or, an Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism continued," including the first and second part of the Scripture Scales; 2. "The Fictitious and Genuine Creed; and 3. His treatise on Christian Perfection, termed by him, "A Polemical Essay on the Twin Doctrines of Christian Imperfection and a Death Purgatory." All these were published in the year 1775, and the two former, it seems, written in the year preceding. He had promised also to his readers an answer to Mr. Toplady's pamphlet, entitled "More work for Mr. Wesley." But this he postponed for the present, because he judged the pieces just mentioned to be of greater importancea
nd therefore as deserving and requiring his earliest attention. "He saw life," as he observes in an advertisement prefixed to the first edition of his Scripture Scales, "to be so uncertain, that of two things, which he was obliged to do, he thought it his duty to set about that which appeared to him the more useful. He considered also that it was proper to have quite done with Mr. Hill before he faced Mr. Toplady. And he hoped that to lay before the judicious a complete system of truth, which, like the sun, recommends itself by its own luster, was perhaps the best method to prove that error which shines only as a meteor, is nothing but a mock sun. However, he fully designed, he says, to perform his engagement in a short time, if his life were spared."
7. This was his language, Nov. 12, 1774; and on July the 12th following, in a letter to me from Madeley, he says:-- " I have just finished my treatise on Perfection. It will be a large book: but I thought I must treat the subject fully, or not meddle with it." This he had no sooner completed than he began other equally important works. In the second part of his Scripture Scales, he had advertised a tract in the following words: "The Doctrines of Grace reconciled to the Doctrines of Justice, being an Essay on Election and Reprobation, in which the defects of Pelagianism, Calvinism, and Arminianism, are impartially pointed out, and primitive, scriptural harmony is more fully restored to the Gospel of the day. "It is probable that he had this chiefly in his view, together with the aforementioned answer to Mr. Toplady, when in the latter end of the same year he says to Mr. Charles Wesley, "I see the end of my controversial race, and I have such courage to run it out, that I think it my bounden duty to run and strike my blow, and fire my gun, before the water of discouragement has quite wetted the gunpowder of my activity." This allusion to the work of a soldier dropped from his pen in the beginning of the American war, (which seems to have suggested the idea,) when the dispute between Great Britain and her colonies became so hot, and threatened such dreadful calamities to both countries that the attention even of religious people was generally turned from every other controversy to that alone. Mr. Fletcher therefore deferred the publication, and, I believe, the finishing of the tracts just mentioned, for the present; and from a sense of duty to his king and country, as well as to the Church of God both here and in America, began to employ his pen, for a few weeks, on political subjects; writing first "A Vindication of Mr. Wesley's Calm Address to our American Colonies, in three letters to Mr. Caleb Evans," and then a second tract on the same subject, termed "American Patriotism farther confronted with Reason, Scripture, and the Constitution; being observations on the dangerous Polities taught by the Rev. Mr. Evans and the Rev. Dr. Price."
8. Mr. Fletcher's motives for engaging in this dispute were perfectly pure. He considered "the American Controversy," as he states in his preface to the former of these pieces, "to be closely connected with Christianity in general, and with Protestantism in particular; and that of consequence, it was of a religious, as well as of a civil nature." In other words, he considered Christianity as enjoining "the practice of strict morality, and that it is an important branch of such morality to honer and obey the king, and all that are put in authority under him; to order ourselves lowly and reverently to all our betters, to hurt no one by word or deed, to be true and just in all our dealings, giving every one his due, tribute to whom tribute, and custom to whom custom. He thought, therefore, if divinity could cast any light upon the question which divided Great Britain and her colonies, that it was not impertinent in divines to hold out the light of their science, and peaceably to use what the apostle calls the 'sword of the Spirit:' that the material sword, unjustly drawn by those who were in the wrong, might be sheathed; and that a speedy end might be put to the effusion of Christian blood." He also judged that "many of the colonists were as pious as they were brave, and hoped that while their undaunted fortitude made them scorn to bow under a hostile arm, which shot the deadly lightning of war, their humble piety might dispose them, or at least some of them, to regard a friendly hand which held out an olive branch, a Bible, and the articles of religion, drawn by their favorite reformer, Calvin." His publications on this subject, as well as Mr. Wesley's "Calm Address," certainly were of great use, not indeed to prevent the continuation and farther progress of the war, and stop the effusion of blood abroad; but to allay the spirit of disloyalty and insurrection which were beginning to show themselves at home: or, in his language, to remove the mistakes, which, after having armed the provincials against Great Britain, had begun to work in the breasts of many good men in this country, and which, if not removed, might have produced effects such as the survivors of them might long have had reason to deplore.
9. Both these tracts were published in the year 1776, in the beginning of which, or in the latter end of 1775, (for the letter is without date,) he writes in his usual strain of self-abasement. "If you have seen my last Check, (the polemical essay above mentioned,) I shall be glad to have a few of your theological criticisms upon it. I have unaccountably launched into Christian politics; a branch of divinity too much neglected by some, and too much attended to by others. If you have seen my vindication of Mr. Wesley's Calm Address, and can make sense of that badly printed piece, I shall be thankful for your very dispraise." To another friend he writes, about the same time, "My little political piece is published in London. You thank me for it beforehand, -- I believe they are the only thanks I shall have. It is well you sent them before you read the book; and yet, whatever contempt it brings upon me, I still think I have written the truth. If you did read my publications, I would beg you to cast a look upon that, and reprove what appears to you amiss; for if I have been wrong in writing, I hope I shall not be so excessively wrong as not to be thankful for any reproof candidly levelled at what I have written. I prepare myself to be like my Lord, in my little measure, -- I mean to be despised and rejected of men -- a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs -- most reviled for what I mean best. The Lord strengthen you in body and soul, to do and suffer his will. Adieu. J. F."
10. That Mr. Fletcher meant well, and that he was perfectly disinterested in writing these political pieces, no one will doubt that had any acquaintance with him. Certainly he had no view to any gain or emolument (the 'perks' arising from holding office or employment) whatever; nor would lie, according to Mr. Vaughan, accept any compensation when offered him -- After Mr. Fletcher had published two or three small political pieces, in reference to our contest with the Americans, I carried one of them (says he in a letter to Mr. Wesley) to the earl of D. His lordship carried it to the lord chancellor, and the lord chancellor handed it to the king. One was immediately commissioned to ask Mr. Fletcher whether any preferment (advancement or promotion in dignity, office, or station) in the Church would be acceptable? Or whether he (the chancellor) could do him any service? He answered, " I want nothing but more grace." As a farther proof of Mr. Fletcher's disinterestedness, and to show in how great a degree he was disengaged from
"Wealth, honer, pleasure, or what else This short-enduring world could give."
Mr. V. adds, "In 1776, he deposited with me a bill of one hundred and five pounds, being (as I understood) the yearly produce of his estate in Switzerland. This was his fund for charitable uses: but it lasted only a few months, before he drew upon me for the balance, which was twenty-four pounds, to complete the preaching house in Madeley Wood."
11. The reader must observe here that Mr. Fletcher's health had been declining much for some time, as appears by sundry passages in his letters to his friends. Two years before this, viz., in March 1774, he says to Mr. Ireland: "O how life goes! I walked, now I gallop into eternity. The bowl of life goes rapidly down the steep hill of time. Let us be wise; embrace we Jesus and the resurrection. Let us trim our lamps, and continue to give ourselves to him that bought us, till we can do it without reserve. In the middle of the following year, a little after Mr. Wesley had been dangerously ill in Ireland, he observes to me in a letter, "God has lately shaken Mr. Wesley over the grave; but notwithstanding, I believe (from the strength of his constitution and the weakness of mine, which is much broken since I saw you) he will survive me. So that I do not scheme about helping to make up the gap when that great tree shall fall. Sufficient for that day will that trouble be; nor will the Divine power be then insufficient to help the people in time of need." These words were spoken with a reference to a letter of mine to him, in which I had intimated that I thought his help would be wanted, in case of Mr. Wesley's death, in the government of the societies, and in conducting the work of God. And, as the reader will easily observe, if they were not uttered in the spirit of prophecy, at least the event was as he conjectured.
In the latter end of the same year, he says to Mr. Charles Wesley: -- "Old age comes faster upon me than upon you. I am already so grey-headed, that I wrote to my brother to know if I am not fifty-six instead of forty-six. The wheel of time moves so rapidly that I seem to be in a new element; and yet, praised be God, my strength is preserved far better than I could expect. I came home last night at seven o'clock, tolerably well, after reading prayers and preaching twice, and giving the sacrament, in my own church, and preaching again, and meeting a few people in society, at the next market town. The Lord is wonderfully gracious to me; and what is more to me than many favors, he helps me to see his mercies in a clearer light. In years past, I did not dare to be thankful for mercies which now make me shout for joy. I had been taught to call them common mercies; and I made as little of them as apostates do of the blood of Christ when they call it a common thing. But now the veil begins to rend, and I invite you and all the world to praise God for his patience, truth, and loving kindness, which have followed me all my days, and prevented me, not only in the night watches, but in the past ages of eternity. Oh how I hate the delusion which has robbed me of so many comforts! Farewell.
"I am, &C -- J. F."
12. He now became sensible he had gone to an extreme in such close and continued thinking and writing, and that for the preservation ion of any degree of health, it would be necessary he should use some relaxation, and take exercise in the open air. He therefore observes to Mr. Ireland, in February next -- "A young clergyman offers to assist me; if he do, I may make an excursion somewhere? this spring: where it will be I do not know. It may be into eternity; for I dare not depend on tomorrow: but should it be your way, I shall inform you of a variety of family trials which the Lord has sent me,-- all for good, to break my will in every possible respect." He speaks to the same purpose, but more at large, to me in a letter written about the same time; which sufficiently manifests the blessed state of his mind during these painful exercises:-
"My Very Dear Brother, -- I have long wished to hear from you. If I remember right, when you wrote me a few lines from Leeds, you intimated that you would let me hear from you more fully. Either my hopes have dreamed it, or your many avocations have (as yet) prevented your indulging me with a line. Be that as it will, I send this to inquire after your welfare in every sense, and to let you know that though I am pretty well in body, I break fast, -- and that I want to break faster in spirit than I do; though, blessed be God, I have been put into such pinching, grinding circumstances for near a year, by a series of providential and domestic trials as have given me some deadly blows; may the wounds be never healed! May all the life of self, which is the vital blood of the old Adam, flow out at the cuts! I am not without hopes of setting my eyes on you once more. Mr. Wesley kindly invited me some weeks ago to travel with him. and visit some of the societies. The controversy is partly over, and I feel an inclination to break one of my chains, (parochial retirement,) which may be a nest for self. A young minister, in deacon's orders, has offered to be my curate; and, if he can live in this wilderness, I shall have some liberty to leave it. I commit the matter entirely to the Lord. To lie at the beck of Providence, to do or not to do, to have or not to have, is, I think, in such cases, a becoming frame of mind."
In the same letter he observes -- "The few professors I see in these parts are so far from what I could wish them and myself to be, that I cannot but cry out, Lord, how long wilt thou give thine heritage to desolation or barrenness? How long shall the heathen say, Where is now their indwelling God? I hope it is better with you in the north. I have got acquainted, by letter, with a sensible man, who calls himself an expectant of the kingdom of God, with whom (so far as I know) I perfectly agree. He is a Nathanael and a Simeon indeed. You would love him if you knew him. I look upon your discoveries in the field and mines of truth as mine. I hope you will not deprive me of what I have a right to share in, according to the old rule, they had things common. What are your heart, your pen, your tongue doing? Are they receiving, sealing, spreading the truth everywhere within your sphere? Are you dead to praise or dispraise? Could you quietly pass for a mere fool, and have gross nonsense fathered upon you without any uneasy reflection of self? The Lord bless you; the Lord make you a child and a father. Beware of your grand enemy, earthly wisdom and unbelieving reasonings. You will never overcome, but by childlike, loving simplicity. Adieu. J. F."
13. Of the invitation which he had received to travel with Mr. Wesley, referred to in the above letter, Mr. Wesley speaks as follows, in his account of Mr. Fletcher's life:-" In the same year, his health being more than ever impaired by a violent cough, accompanied with spitting of blood, (of which I had had large experience myself;) having frequently seen the surprising effects of constant exercise, together with change of air, I told him nothing was so likely to restore his health as a long journey. I therefore proposed his taking a journey of some months with me, through various parts of England and Scotland; telling him, 'When you are tired, or like it best, you may come into my carriage; but remember, that riding on horseback is the best of all exercises for you, so far as your strength will permit.' He looked upon this as a call from Providence, and very willingly accepted of the proposal. We set out (as I am accustomed to do) early in spring, and travelled by moderate journeys, suited to his strength, which gradually increased, eleven or twelve hundred miles."
14. We are not to infer from this account, however, that he travelled all the spring, summer, and autumn, with Mr. Wesley. He wrote to me from Madeley in May and in September, and to other friends in March and August, and from Bristol to some friends in July. The case I believe was this: he joined Mr. Wesley at London, or more probably at Bristol, in the latter end of February or the beginning of March, and accompanied him on his journeys through Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire, and a part of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire. He did not, however, proceed farther north with him at that time, but stopped at Madeley in the latter end of March, for reasons which he mentions to me in the following letter written soon after:-"
My Dear Brother, -- I thank you for your letter. I would have answered you before had I not been overdone with writing. I have just concluded an answer to Mr. Evans and Dr. Price; a work which I have undertaken with a desire to serve the cause of religion, as well as that of loyalty. This work has prevented me from following Mr. Wesley, as well as the uncertainty in which the clergyman who is here with me (a student from Edmund Hall) left me with respect to his stay. And as he has just accepted of a place near Manchester, I shall be still without a curate. I see so little fruit in these parts that I am almost disheartened, both with respect to the power of the word and the experience of the professors I converse with. I am closely followed with the thought that the kingdom in the Holy Ghost is almost lost; and that faith in the dispensation of the Spirit is at a very low ebb. But it maybe I think so on account of my little experience and the weakness of the faith of. those I converse with. It may be better in all other places. I shall be glad to travel a little to see the goodness of the land. God deliver us from all extremes, and make and keep us humble, loving, disinterested, and zealous! I have almost run my race of scribbling. I preached before Mr. Greaves came as much as my strength could well admit, although to little purpose. But I must not complain. If one person receive a good desire in ten years, by my instrumentality, it is a greater honer than I deserve; an honer for which I should think I could not be too thankful, if my mind were as low as it ought to be. Let us bless the Lord for all things. We have reasons innumerable to do it. Bless him on my account as well as your own, and the God of peace be with you; nor forget to ask that he may be with your sincere friend, J. F."
15. Thus, notwithstanding the discouragements he met with, and his increasing state of weakness, he still went on with his work of writing and preaching as he was able: buying up for these purposes every moment of time which he possibly could, and attending, above all, to the progress of grace in his own soul. "I thought," says he to Mr. Vaughan, "I should soon have done with controversy; but now I give up the hope of having done with it before I die. There are three sorts of people I must continually attack, or defend myself against, Gallios, Pharisees, and Antinomians. I hope I shall die in this harness, fighting against some of them. I do not however forget that the Gaiho, the Simon, and the Nicolas within, are far more dangerous to me than those without. In my own heart, that immense field, I must first fight the Lord's battles and my own. Help me here, join me in this field. All Christians are here militiamen, if they are not professed soldiers. Oh my friend I need wisdom -- meekness of wisdom! A heart full of it is better than all your cider vault full of the most generous liquors; and it is in Christ for us. Oh go and ask for you and me, and I shall ask for myself and you. What a mercy is it that our Lord bears stock! May we not be ashamed nor afraid to come and beg every moment for wine and milk, grace and wisdom.
"Beware, my friend, of the world: let not its cares nor the deceitfulness of its riches keep or draw you from Jesus. Before you handle the birdlime, be sure you dip your heart and hand in the oil of grace. Time flies. Years of plenty and of scarcity, of peace and of war, disappear before the eternity to which we are all hastening. May we see now the winged despatch of time as we shall see it in a dying hour; and by coming to, and abiding in Christ, our fortress and city of refuge, may we be enabled to bid defiance to our last enemy. Christ has fully overcome him, and by the victory of the Head the Living members cannot but be fully victorious."
16. In the meantime, however, this return to such close study and incessant labor, not only impeded his restoration to health, but even increased the disorder, insomuch that, May 11, he mentions his "having had for some days the symptoms of an inward consumptive decay -- spitting blood, &c." On this occasion he writes thus to Mr. Charles Wesley:-- "What are you doing in London? Are you ripening as fast for the grave as I am? How should we lay out every moment for God! Thank God I look at our last enemy with great calmness. I hope, however, that the Lord will spare me to publish my end of the controversy, which is, A Double Dissertation upon the Doctrines of Grace and Justice. This piece will, I flatter myself, reconcile all the candid Calvinists and candid Arminians, and be a mean of pointing out the way in which peace and harmony might be restored to the Church.
"I still look for an outpouring of the Spirit, inwardly and outwardly. Should I die before that great day, I shall have the consolation to see it from afar, like Abraham and the Baptist, and to point it out to those who shall live when God does this.
"Thank God, I enjoy uninterrupted peace in the midst of my trials, which are sometimes not a few. Joy also I possess; but I look for a joy of a superior nature. The Lord bestow it when and how he pleases! I thank God, I feel myself in a good degree dead to praise and dispraise: I hope at least that it is so; because I do not feel that the one lifts me up, or that the other dejects me. I want to see a pentecostal Christian Church, and if it be not to be seen at this time upon earth, I am willing to go and see this glorious wonder in heaven. How is it with you?. Are you ready to seize the crown in the name of the Redeemer reigning in your heart?. We run a race toward the grave. John is likely to outrun you, unless you have a swift foot. The Lord grant we may sink deeper into the Redeemer's grave, and there live and die, and gently glide into our own.
"Let us pray that God would renew our youth as that of the eagle, that we may bear fruit in our old age. The Lord strengthen you to the last! I hope I shall see you again before my death; if not, let us rejoice at the thought of meeting in heaven. Give my kind love to Mrs. Wesley, to my god-daughter, and to her brothers. who all, I hope, remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Adieu. I am, &c., J. F."
17. Although the circumstance has not been noticed by any of those who have published memoirs of Mr. Fletcher, yet it appears, from the date of several of his letters, that he spent a part at least of the summer of this year at Bristol, for the sake of trying the Hotwell water. A letter to Mr. Charles Perronet in his own handwriting, now before me, dated Bristol, July 12, 1776, makes this evident:-- "Having an opportunity," says he, "of writing a line to you by a friend whom I meet daily at the Hotwells, and who is about setting out for Canterbury, I gladly embrace the opportunity of thanking you for your inquiries about my health. I am here drinking the waters: with what effect time will show. The Lord keeps me hanging by a thread: he weighs me in the balance of life and death. I trust him for the choice. He knows far better than I which is best, and I leave all to his unerring wisdom." After noticing the various other means he used, beside drinking the waters, for the recovery of his health, he adds: -- "With respect to my mind I am calm, and wait in submission what the Lord will say concerning me. I wait to be baptized into all his fullness, and trust the word, the faithful word of his grace. Afflictions and shakes may be a ploughing necessary to make way for the heavenly seed, and to prepare me to bring forth some fruit in life or death. Whether it be in the former or in the latter, I hope I shall live and die the object of your love, and the subject of your prayers, as you are of the cordial affection and good wishes of your devoted brother, and obliged companion in tribulation, J. F."
In a letter to a friend in his own parish, -also dated Bristol, and written the day preceding, he gives the following account of the state of his body and soul "With respect to my better part, I feel a degree of righteousness, peace, and joy, and wait for the establishment of his internal kingdom in the Holy Ghost: and the hopes of my being rooted and grounded in the love that casts out every degree of slavish fear, grow more lively every day. I thank God, I am not afraid of any evil tidings, and my heart stands calm, believing in --the Lord, and desiring him to do with me whatsoever he pleases. With respect to my body, I know not what to say; but the physician says 'he hopes I shall do well;' and so I hope and believe too, whether I recover or not. Health and sickness, life and death, are best when the Lord sends them; and all things work together for good to those that love God.
"I am forbid preaching; but, blessed be God, I am not forbid by my heavenly Physician to pray, believe, and love. This is a sweet work, which heals, delights, and strengthens. Let us do it till we recover our spiritual strength; and then, whether we shall be seen on earth or not, will matter nothing. I hope you bear me on your heart, as I do you on mine." Intending this letter to be read to other pious persons in the neighborhood, he adds, "My wish for you is, that you may be inward possessors of an inward kingdom of grace; that you may so hunger and thirst after righteousness as to be filled; and that you may so call on your heavenly Father in secret, that he may reward you openly with abundance of grace, which may evidence to all that he honors you because you honer him.
"O be hearty in the cause of religion. I would have you either hot or cold; for it is a fearful thing to be in danger of falling into the hands of the living God, and sharing the fate of the lukewarm. Be humbly zealous for your own salvation and for God's glory; nor forget to care for the salvation of each other. The case of wicked Cain is very common, and the practice of many says, with that wretch, Am I my brother's keeper? Oh pray God to keep you by his mighty power through faith to salvation. Keep yourselves in the love of God if you are there; and keep one another by example, reproof, exhortation, encouragement, social prayer, and a faithful use of all the means of grace. Use yourselves to bow at Christ's feet; as your prophet, go to him continually for the holy anointing of his Spirit, who will be a teacher always near, always with you and in you. If you have that inward Instructor, you will suffer no material loss when your outward teachers are removed. Make the most of dear Mr. Greaves while you have him. While you have the light of God's word believe in the light, that you may be the children of the light, fitted for the kingdom of eternal light, where I charge you to meet, with joy, your affectionate brother and minister, J. F."
18. There can be no doubt, therefore, but that he was at Bristol, and did try the Hotwell water that summer. It should seem, however, that he reaped little or no benefit from it, as we find him returned to Madeley about the middle of August, and signifying to his friend, Mr. Ireland, that "his breast was constantly very weak, but," adds he, "if it please God it will in time recover strength. Mr. Greaves will take all the duty upon himself, and I shall continue to take the rest, the exercise, and the food which were recommended to me. The Lord grant me grace to repose myself on Christ, to exercise myself in charity, and to feed upon the bread of life, which God has given us in Jesus Christ. We all need this spiritual regimen; may we be enabled to observe it as strictly as we do the bodily regimen of our earthly physicians!"
19. His disorder increasing rather than abating, the kind friend to whom the preceding lines were addressed, by the advice of a physician, wisely recommended his going, as soon as convenient, to the south of France and to Switzerland, as the most likely mean to restore him. Mr. Fletcher, however, would not then consent to go. "I have not at present the least idea," says he, August 24, "that I am called to quit my post here. I see no probability of being useful in Switzerland. My call is here, I am sure of it. If, then, I undertook the journey, it would be merely to accompany you. I dare not gratify friendship by taking such a step; and so much less, as I have no faith in the prescriptions of your physician and I think that if health be better for us than sickness, we may enjoy it as well here as in France or Italy. If sickness be best for us why should we shun it? Every thing is good when it comes from God. Nothing but a baptism of fire, and the most evident openings of providence, can engage me in such a journey. If you believe that Providence calls you to make it, go: the bare idea that the journey will do you good, may, by God's blessing, be of service to you. If I reject your obliging offer to procure me a substitute, accuse not my friendship to you, but attribute it to my fear of taking a false step, of quitting my post without command, and of engaging in a warfare to which the Lord does not call me. My refusal wounds my friendship for you; but I hope it will not prevent your being persuaded that I am, with lively gratitude, altogether yours in Jesus Christ. Adieu. J. F."
It appears that in the beginning of September he thought his health better than it had been in August. He had not preached, however; but had declined it, he says, rather from "a sense of duty to his friends, and the high thoughts he had of Mr. Greaves' labors; than to spare himself: for if I am not mistaken," adds he, "I am as able to do my work now, as I was a year ago." In this particular he certainly was mistaken, and probably was led into the mistake by a person (a physician, I suppose) near Litchfield, whom he terms "a pious gentleman, and esteemed eminent for his skill in disorders of the breast." This gentleman had assured him "that he was in no immediate danger of a consumption of the lung:, but that his disorder was upon the nerves, in consequence of too much close thinking."
20. The advice of this gentleman seems to have been the more acceptable to Mr. Fletcher, because it did not prohibit him altogether from his favorite employments of writing and preaching. He also prescribed medicines which Mr. Fletcher judged "had been of service in taking off his feverish heats, and stopping his spitting of blood." Having thus obtained the permission of his physician to labor a little, in the way he thought most important to the glory of God, and the good of mankind, he was ready enough to embrace it. "If God add one inch to my span," says he to Mr. Charles Wesley, Sept. 15, "I see my calling. I desire to know nothing but Christ, and him crucifiedr
evealed in the Spirit. I long to feel the utmost power of the Spirit's dispensation; and I will endeavor to bear my testimony to the glory of that dispensation both with my pen and tongue. Some of our injudicious or inattentive friends will probably charge me with novelty for it; but be that as it will, let us meekly stand for the truth as it is in Jesus, and trust the Lord for every thing. I thank God, I feel myself so dead to popular applause, that I trust I should not be afraid to maintain a truth against all the world; and yet, I dread to dissent from any child of God, and am ready to condescend to every one. Oh what depths of humble love, and what heights of Gospel truth, do I sometimes see! I want to sink into the former, and rise into the latter. Help me by your example, letters, and prayers; and let us, after our forty years' abode in the wilderness with Moses and Joshua, break forth after our Joshua into the Canaan of pure love. I am, &c., J. F."
"At our age," says he to another friend, "recovery can be but a short reprieve, let us then give up ourselves daily to the Lord, as people who have no confidence in the flesh, and do not trust to to-morrow. I find my weakness, unprofitableness, and wretchedness, daily more and more; and the more I find them, the more help I have to sink into self-abhorrence. Nor do I despair to sink one day so in it as to die to self, and revive in my God. Farewell. J. F."
21. He speaks in a similar manner to me in a letter dated a few days after, when he was still at Madeley:-"
My Very Dear Brother, -- Your kind letter has followed me from Bristol here, where I have been for some weeks. My health is better than it was in August, blessed be God! but it is far from being established. Close thinking and writing had brought upon me a slow fever, with a cough, and spitting of blood, which a physician took for symptoms of a consumption of the lungs; whereas they were only symptoms of a consumption of the nerves and solids. He put me accordingly upon the lowest diet, and had me blooded four times, which made much against me. I am, however, much recovered since I have begun to eat meat again. My cough and spitting of blood have left me; but want of sleep, and a slow fever, keep me still very low. If the Lord please, he can in a moment restore my strength: but he needs not a worm, a fly. I thank him for having kept me perfectly resigned to his will, and calm in the awful scene which I have passed through. I enjoy the kingdom in weakness, and still look for its coming with power.
"I design to conclude my last controversial piece as I shall be able, and hope it will give my friends some satisfaction; because it will show the cause of all our doctrinal errors, and place the doctrine of election and reprobation upon its proper basis. I finish also my Essay on the Dispensation of the Spirit, which is the thing I want most to see your thoughts upon. Pray for light and power, truth and love, and impart to me a share of your experiences to quicken my dulness of apprehension and feeling. If God spare me a little, it will be to hear my testimony to the doctrine of perfect, spiritual Christianity. May we be personal witnesses of this glorious dispensation, and be so inflamed with love as to kindle all around us; so filled with power that rivers may flow from us, and gladden the spots of the vineyard where our lot is cast. Give my kind love and thanks to all inquiring friends. If I live over the winter, I shall, should Providence open the way, visit you all,
 and assure you that I am, in Christ, your affectionate brother and servant, J. F."
22. The former of the tracts mentioned in the above letter, which he terms "his last controversial piece," was that entitled, "The Reconciliation, or an easy method to unite the professing people of God, by placing the doctrines of Grace and Justice in such a light as to make the candid Arminians Bible Calvinist:, and the candid Calvinists Bible Arminians." He had also termed it, in an advertisement previously published, "A Plan of Reconciliation between the Defenders of the Doctrines of partial Grace, commonly called Calvinist:, and the Defenders of the Doctrines of impartial Justice, commonly called Aruinians." This tract, although comprehending one hundred and forty pages, and although he was in a state of increasing weakness, and obliged, as we shall soon see, to travel to preserve his life, he was enabled to complete by the beginning of the next spring, when he dedicated it to his friend, Mr. Ireland, in the following words:-
"Dear Sir, -- To whom could a plan of reconciliation between the Calvinists and Arminians be more properly dedicated than to a son of peace, whose heart, hand, and house are open to Calvinists, Arminians, and Neuters? You kindly received the divines who contend for the doctrines of grace; and I want words to describe the Christian courtesy which you show to me, and other ministers, who make a stand for the doctrines of justice. To you I am indebted for the honer of a friendly interview with the author of the Circular Letter, (Mr. Shirley,) which I thought myself obliged to oppose. And as you succeeded in that labor of love, it is natural for me to hope that by your influence, and by the patronage of such candid, generous peacemakers, as the gentleman  to whom I have often compared you, these reconciling sheets will be perused by some with more attention than if they had no name prefixed to them but that of your most obliged, affectionate friend and servant, J. F.
23. In this dedication, and in the title of the work to which it is prefixed, Mr. Fletcher refers to a small tract, before mentioned, which had preceded it in the publication, entitled, "The Doctrines of Grace and Justice equally essential to the pure Gospel: with some marks on the mischievous Divisions caused among Christians by parting those Doctrines." This piece, being intended as an introduction to the Reconciliation, since the first edition, has been printed and sold in one pamphlet with it, and both taken together must certainly be considered, by every unprejudiced and enlightened person, as peculiarly calculated to answer the end proposed. I doubt not, indeed, but they did answer that end, with regard to many, on both sides of the question. Some, however, and indeed not a few, of Mr. Fletcher's opponents, were not thus to be won. This is evident from the following clauses of a letter to the same disinterested and truly catholic friend, written at this time:"I thank you for your kind letter, and am glad you will continue to oppose bigotry, though I would not have you bring a whole house about your ears, for the sake of so insignificant a creature as I am. Many, who espouse the sentiments of my opponents, condemn me without having heard me out; and, upon the dreadful charges which they hear brought against me, they are not much to blame; for what good man will think well of a 'blasphemer, and an enemy to the Gospel?' I hope, for my part, to do what shall be in my power to remove prejudices, and trust to gain some resignation and patience by what I shall not be able to remove. God is my witness that I honer and love them, though I will never part with my liberty of exposing error wherever I shall detect it. Why might I not endeavor to take off a spot from a friend's sleeve, without running the risk of losing his friendship, and incurring his ill will?"
24. In the meantime, while some of his bigoted opponents, and their prejudiced, narrow-minded friends, who neither knew him nor his principles, were viewing him as a "blasphemer, and an enemy to the Gospel;" the pious part of his parishioners, who had long observed his spirit and conduct, and knew him well, were ready almost to rank him with prophets and apostles; and certainly judged him one of the holiest and best of men. "A fortnight ago," says be to his friend, in the letter last quoted, "I paid a visit to West Bromvich: I ran away from the kindness of my parishioners, who oppressed me with tokens of their love. To me there is nothing so extremely trying as excessive kindness. I am of the king's mind, when the people showed their love to him on his journey to Portsmouth: 'I can bear,' he said, 'the hissings of a London mob, but these shouts are too much for me.' You, my dear friend, Mrs. Ireland, Mrs. Norman, and all your family, have put me to that severe trial to which all trials caused by the hard words that have been spoken of me are nothing. I return you all my warmest thanks, and pray that, excess excepted, you may all, in the day of your weakness, meet with as kind nurses and benefactors as you have proved to me."
25. The state of his health, however, although he had so lately judged himself much better, soon began to decline, and his disorder to increase to such an alarming degree, that the possibility of his recovery, without a miracle, was universally doubted. But far was he, while in these circumstances, from being daunted or cast down at the apparent approach of the king of terrors. Rather, "he looked forward, (Gilpin's Notes,) with increasing desire, to the happy moment when he should exchange the weapons of war for the crown of glory. Not that he was averse to the duties of his vocation, or wearied with the length of his services but being exceedingly athirst for God, as the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth his soul after the more immediate presence of God. Though he was favored with the enjoyment of many inestimable blessings by the way, yet he looked with unutterable longings to the end of his course; knowing that to be at home in the body is to be absent from the Lord. Though he experienced inexpressible delight in the society of such as worshipped in the outer course of the Lord's house; still he saw it infinitely more desirable to associate with the spirits of just men made perfect in the inner places of his invisible temple. And though he was at times permitted a momentary glimpse of heavenly mysteries, yet he earnestly desired that, mortality being swallowed up of life, he might behold with open face the glory of the Lord."
26. This desire, which accompanied him through every state, was expressed with a more than ordinary degree of fervor in seasons of weakness and disease. In these solemn intervals, when he appeared to be speedily advancing toward the confines of eternity, he rejoiced as a weary traveller within sight of his home. His immortal prospects became more enlarged and transporting, his conversation was correspondent to the grandeur of his views, and his whole appearance was that of a man already clothed in the wedding garment, and hastening to sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb. There was something in his deportment, upon these awful occasions, which reminded me of the transfiguration of his Master upon Mount Tabor -- While Moses and Elias were conversing with the blessed Jesus on his approaching decease, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and glistering: so while the harbingers of death were apparently completing their work on the emaciated frame of this holy man, his silent meditations have been frequently accompanied with so much visible delight, such an ecstatic glow has diffused itself over his whole countenance, and his eye has been directed upward with a look of such inexpressible sweetness, that one would almost have supposed him, at such seasons, conversing with angelical spirits on his approaching dissolution, and the glory that should follow.
27. But, notwithstanding the intimate views he enjoyed of a happy immortality, and the intense desire he expressed to be with Christ; when he considered the importance of his charge and the probability of his being rendered farther serviceable to the Church, charity toward his companions in tribulation gave birth to a new desire, and kept him in a state of sweet suspense between the labors of grace and the rewards of glory. It was in such a state that he took an affecting leave of his people at Madeley, viz., in the autumn of this year, being about to spend a few weeks in travelling with Mr Wesley. "He delivered," says Mr. Gilpin, "a discourse upon that occasion from those pertinent words of St. Paul: What I shall choose, I wot not. For I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better: nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. In the course of this sermon he adverted, in the most pathetic terms, to the painful situation in which he then presented himself to his hearers; so debilitated by disease that he was unable any longer to discharge among them the public duties of his ministerial station. From his present weakness he looked back to his past labors, making many affecting reflections upon his own unworthiness, the indubitable testimonies he had received of his people's unfeigned affection, and the unusual success of his ministry among them. Here he enlarged upon the two leading desires of his soul. On the one hand, he made a solemn declaration of the earnest longing with which he desired to be absent from the body, that he might be present with the Lord: and on the other, he expressed a more than parental attachment, which excited in him a wish that he might still be permitted to labor for their furtherance and establishment in the faith of the Gospel. But what to choose he knew not: nor was his present suspense attended with any degree of anxiety, since he foresaw unquestionable blessings awaiting him on either hand. He saw the balance poised by unerring wisdom, and was cheerfully content to wait the issue with one uninterrupted request -that, whether he lived, he might live unto the Lord, or whether he died, he might die unto the Lord; that, whether living or dying, he might be the Lord's.
"Such was the sweet suspense which this man of God experienced between a state of labor and a state of rest, which continued for more than two years, and which was at last happily determined in favor of his people, who were permitted the enjoyment of his ministry for a long season after this period, rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord, and abundantly profiting by the labors of his invigorated servant."
28. Where Mr. Fletcher joined Mr. Wesley, I am not certain. But, November 21, 1776, he wrote to me from Loestoff as follows:-"
My Dear Friend, - Mr. Wesley having invited me to travel with him, to see if change of air and motion will be a mean of restoring me to a share of my former health, I have accompanied him through Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Norfolk; and I hope I am rather better than worse. I find it good to be with this extraordinary servant of God. I think his diligence and wisdom are matchless. It is a good school for me, only I am too old a scholar to make a proficiency. However, let us live to God-to day, and trust him for to-morrow: so that whether we are laid up in a sick bed, or a damp grave, or whether we are yet able to act we may be able to say,
'God is the sea of love, Where all my pleasures roll The circle where my passions move, And center of my soul.'
I find the nearer I am to you, the more glad should I be to be strengthened by the mutual faith of you and me. The bearer hopes to be soon at Newcastle, and I send this scrawl by him to assure you of my repentance toward God, my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, my lively expectation of the kingdom in the Holy Ghost, and my brotherly love toward you. The Lord fill you with every grace and gift which can complete the Christian and the evangelist, and what I ask for you, I trust you will not forget to ask for your affectionate friend and brother, J. F."
29. Soon after this, according- to Mr. Wesley's account, they returned to London, when Mr Fletcher appeared to -be considerably better. "And I verily believe," says Mr. Wesley, "if he had travelled with me,- partly in the chaise, and partly on horseback, only a few months longer, he would have quite recovered his health. But this those about him would not permit: so being detained in (or near) London by his kind, but injudicious friends, while I pursued -my journeys, his spitting of blood with all the other symptoms returned, and rapidly increased, till the -physicians pronounced him to be far advanced in a true pulmonary consumption."
It being judged quite improper for him to remain in London, on Dec. 16, 1776, he retired to the house of his friends, Charles and Mary Greenwood, (both now with God,) to Stoke Newington. Here he had the advice of the most eminent physicians that London could afford. He was also in a good air, and had every convenience and every help which air could bestow. One of the family, of whom Mr. Wesley inquired concerning this part of his life, gave him the following information
30. Agreeably to your desire, I endeavor to recollect some particulars of Mr. Fletcher during his abode at Newington. "When he first came, he was, by Dr. Fothergill's advice, under the strictest observance of two things, rest and silence. These, together with a milk diet, were supposed to be the only probable means of his recovery. In consequence of these directions he spoke exceeding little. If he ever spoke more than usual it did not fail to increase his spitting of blood; of which, indeed, he was seldom quite clear, although it was not violent. Therefore a great part of his- time was spent in being read to. But it was not possible to restrain him altogether from speaking. The fire which continually burned in his heart many waters could not quench. It often burst out unawares. And then how did we wonder (like those who formerly heard his Lord) at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth! He could not have sustained life without sometimes giving vent to his heart. No penance could have appeared so severe a cross to him as to be debarred from speaking of, or to God. His natural vivacity, with his intense love of Jesus, continually impelled him to speak. But on being reminded of his rule, with a cheerful smile, he was all submission; consenting by signs only to stir up those about him to pray and praise!
31. "Whoever has read Mr. Fletcher's Last Check to Antinomianism, and has had the privilege of observing his spirit and conduct, will not scruple to say that he was a living comment on his own account of Christian perfection. It is an alarming word which our Lord speaks to the angel of the Church at Sardis, I have not found thy works perfect before God. But as far as man is able to judge, from the whole tenor of his behavior, he did possess perfect humility, perfect resignation, and perfect love. Suitable to this was the testimony concerning him which was given in Lady Huntingdon's chapel at Bristol, even by Mr. V., a gentleman strongly attached to those opinions which Mr. Fletcher thought it his duty to oppose. 'I have enjoyed the privilege of being several weeks under the same roof with dear Mr. Fletcher. And during that time I have been greatly edified by his perfect resignation to the will of God, and by being a witness to his exemplary conduct and uncommon grace.'
32. "When he was able to converse, his favorite subject was, the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Ghost, including that rich peculiar blessing of union with the Father and the Son, mentioned in that prayer of our Lord which- is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of St. John. Many were the sparks of living fire which occasionally darted forth on this beloved theme. 'We must not be content,' said he, 'to be only cleansed from sin; we must be filled with the Spirit.' One asking him what was to be experienced in the full accomplishment of the promise, 'O,' said he, 'what shall I say! All the sweetness of the drawings of the Father; all the love of the Son; all the rich effusions of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; more than ever can be expressed are comprehended here! To attain it the Spirit maketh intercession in the soul, like a God wrestling with a God!'
33. "It was in these favored moments of converse that we found, in a particular manner, the reward which is annexed to the receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet. And in some of those he occasionally mentioned several circumstances, which (as none knew them but himself) would otherwise have been buried in oblivion.
"One of those remarkable passages was, 'In the beginning,' said he, 'of my spiritual course, I heard the voice of God, in an inexpressibly awful sound, go through my soul in those words, If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself. He mentioned another -peculiar manifestation of a later date, in which, said he, 'I was favored, like Moses, with a supernatural discovery of the glory of God in an ineffable converse with him; so that whether I-was then in the body or out of the body I cannot tell.'
34. "On another occasion, he said, 'About the time of my entering into the ministry, I one evening wandered into a wood, musing on the importance of the office I was going to undertake. I then began to pour out my soul in prayer; when such a feeling sense of the justice of God fell upon me, and such a discovery of his displeasure at sin, as absorbed all my powers, and filled my soul with an agony of prayer for poor lost sinners. I continued therein till the dawn of day; and I considered this as designed of God to impress upon me more deeply the, meaning of those solemn words, Therefore knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men.'
35. The blessed state of his soul continually manifested itself by its overflowing good will to all that came in his way. And yet his spirit was so deeply impressed with those words, Not as though I had already attained, that the vehemence of his desire for a fuller manifestation of God seemed sometimes to border upon unhappiness. But his ardent soul only felt the full impression of those words of the apostle, Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth to those that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of my high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
36. "One end of his Retiring to Newington was that he might hide himself from company. But this design was in no wise answered; for company came from every side. He was continually visited by high and low, and by persons of various denominations: one of whom being asked, when he went away, what he thought of Mr. Fletcher, said, 'I went to see a man that had one foot in the grave; but I found a man that had one foot in heaven.' Among them that now visited him were several of his beloved and honored opponents; to whom he confirmed his love (however roughly they had treated him) by the most respectful and affectionate behavior. But he did not give up any part of the truth for which he had publicly contended: although some (from whom one would have expected better things) did not scruple to affirm the contrary. Those of his particular friends who visited him here will not easily forget how he exhausted his whole soul in effusions of thankfulness; Messrs. Cartwright and Cavendish in particular, with his faithful and affectionate friend, Mr. Ireland, will remember their interviews with him. And those of the family were almost oppressed by the outpourings of his love and gratitude whenever they showed-their love in the most inconsiderable instance. Yea, so thankful, in proportion, would he be to even the meanest servant.
37. "It was not without some difficulty that Mr. Ireland at length prevailed upon him to sit for his picture. While the limner was drawing the outlines of it, he was exhorting both him and all that were in the room, not only to get the outlines drawn, but the colorings also, of the image of Jesus on their hearts. He had a very remarkable facility in making allusions of this kind; in raising spiritual observations from every accidental circumstance; in turning men's employments, pleasures, and pains, into means of edification; this he did, in order to engage. the attention of the thoughtless, the more deeply to fix the attention of the thoughtful, and to prevent the trifling away of time in unprofitable conversation. And such little incidents as used to pass away unnoticed, by almost any other person, acquired from Mr. Fletcher's fine imagination a kind of grace and dignity. To give an instance. Being ordered to be let blood, while his blood was running into the cup, he took occasion to expatiate on the precious blood-shedding of the Lamb of God. And even when he did not speak at all, the seraphic spirit which beamed from his languid face, during those months of pain and weakness, was,
"A lecture silent, yet of sovereign use."
[But -- it is necessary to be observe. here, says Mr. Wesley, that this facility of raising useful observations from the most trifling incidents, was one of those peculiarities in him which cannot be proposed to our imitation. In him it partly resulted from nature, and was partly a supernatural gift. But what was becoming and graceful in Mr. Fletcher, would be disgustful almost in any other.]
38. But Mr. Fletcher was not only eminently useful by his conversation to the members of the kind family at Newington, where he resided these few weeks, and to several individuals, whether ministers or others, who occasionally visited it, but the Christian letters which his love to his flock at Madeley, and to his friends in different places, constrained him to write, were then, and have been since, a peculiar blessing to many. "Which his love constrained him to write," I say, because, notwithstanding the charge given him by his physician, and the advice and entreaties of those about him, he could not be restrained from this exercise of zeal and brotherly kindness. "They forbid my writing," says he to Mr Ireland, February 24, "but I will write to the last. Blessed be God who giveth us the victory over death and its pain, by Jesus Christ." An extract from one of these letters, written about a fortnight after his going to Newington, and addressed to his parishioners at Madeley, Mr. Wesley has given us in his short account of Mr. Fletcher's life. I shall here insert the same letter rather more at large
"My Dear Parishioners, I hoped to have spent the Christmas holidays with you, and to have ministered to you in holy things; but the weakness of my body confining me here, I humbly submit to the Divine dispensation and ease the trouble of my absence by being present with you in spirit, and by reflecting on the pleasure I have felt in years past while singing with you, Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, &c. This truth is as important now as it was then, and as worthy to be thankfully received at Newington as at Madeley Let us then receive it with all readiness, and it will unite us: we -shall meet- in Christ, the center of lasting union, the source of true life, the spring of pure righteousness and joy; and our hearts shall be full of the song of angels, Glory be to God on high! Peace on earth! Good will toward each other, and all mankind!
"In order to this, may the eye of your understanding be more and more opened to see your need of a Redeemer; and to behold the suitableness, freeness, and fullness of the redemption which was wrought out by the Son of God, and which is applied by the .Spirit, through faith. The wish which glows in my soul is so ardent and powerful that it brings me down on my knees while I write, and, in that supplicating -posture, I entreat you all to consider and improve the day of your visitation, and to prepare, in good earnest, to meet, with joy, your God, and your unworthy pastor, in another world. Weak as I was when I left Madeley, I hear that several, who were then young, healthy, and strong, have got the start of me; and that. some have been hurried into eternity without being indulged in a moment's warning. May the awful accident strike a deeper consideration into all our souls. May the sound of their bodies, dashed to pieces at the bottom of a pit, rouse us to a speedy conversion; that we may never fall into the bottomless pit' and that iniquity and delays may not be our eternal ruin. Tottering as I stand on the brink of the grave, some of you who seem far from it may drop into it before me; for what has happened may happen still.
"Let us then all awake out of sleep; and let us all prepare for our approaching change, and give ourselves no rest till we have got Gospel ground to hope that our great change will be a happy one. In order to this, I beseech you, by all the ministerial and providential calls you have had for these seventeen years, harden not your hearts. Let the longsuffering of God toward us, who survived the hundreds I have buried, lead us all to repentance. Dismiss your sins, and embrace Jesus Christ who wept for you in the manger, bled for you in Gethsemane, hung for you on the cross, and now pleads for you on his mediatorial throne. By all that is near and dear to you, as men and as Christians, meet me not, on the great day, in your sins and in your blood, enemies to Christ by unbelief, and to God by wicked works. Meet me in the garment of repentance, in the robe of Christ's merits, and in the white linen, (the purity of heart and life,) which is the holiness of the godly:-- that holiness without which no man shall see God. Let the time past suffice, in which some of you have lived in sin. By repentance put off the old man and his works; by faith put on the Lord Jesus and his righteousness. Let all wickedness be gone, -- for ever gone, with the old year; and with the new one begin a new life, a life of renewed devotion to God, and of increasing love to our neighbor.
"The sum of all I have preached to you is contained in four propositions: First, Heartily repent of your sins, original and actual. Secondly, Believe the Gospel of Christ in sincerity and truth. Thirdly, in the power which true faith gives, (for all things commanded are possible to him that believeth,) run with humble confidence the way of God's commandments before God and men. Fourthly, By continuing to take up your cross and to receive the pure milk of God's word, grow -in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. So shall you grow in peace and joy all the days of your life, and when rolling years shall be lost in eternity, you will forever grow in bliss and heavenly glory. Oh what bliss! what glory! The Lord shall be our sun and our crown; and we shall be jewels in each other's crown; I in yours, and you in mine. Forever we shall be with the Lord, and with. one another. We shall all live in God's heavenly Church, the heaven of heavens. All our days will be a Sabbath, and our Sabbath eternity. No bar of business or sickness, no distance of time nor place, no gulf of death or the grave shall part us more. We shall meet in the bosom of Abraham, who met Christ in the bosom of Divine love. Oh what a meeting! And shall some of us meet there this very year which we are just entering upon? What a year! On that blessed year, if we are of the number of those who die in the Lord, our souls shall burst the womb of this corruptible flesh; we shall be born into the other world; we shall behold the Sun of righteousness without a cloud, and forever bask in the beams of his glory. Is not this prospect glorious enough to make us bid defiance to sin and the grave; and to join the cry of the Spirit and the Bride, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, though it should be in the black chariot of death?
"Should God bid me to stay on earth a little longer, to serve you in the Gospel of his Son; should he renew my strength (for no word is impossible with him) to do among you the work of a pastor, I hope I shall, by God's grace, prove a more humble, zealous, and diligent minister than I have hitherto been. Some of you have supposed that I made more -ado about eternity and your precious soul than they were worth; but how - great was your mistake Alas! it is my grief and shame that I have not been, both in public and private, a thousand times more earnest and importunate with you about your spiritual concerns. Pardon me, my dear friends, pardon me, my ignorances and negligences in this respect. And as I most humbly ask your forgiveness, so I most heartily forgive any of you, who may, at any time, have made no account of my little labors. I only entreat such now to evidence a better mind, by paying a double attention to the loud warnings of Providence, and to the pathetic discourses of the faithful minister who now supplies my place. And may God, for Christ's sake, forgive us all, as we forgive one another!
"The more nearly I consider death and the grave, judgment and eternity, the more, blessed be God, I feel that I have preached to you the truth, and that the truth is solid as the Rock of ages. Glory be to his Divine grace, I can say, in some degree, 'Here is firm footing.' Follow me, and the sorrows of death, instead of encompassing you around, will keep at an awful distance, and, with David, we shall follow our great Shepherd, even through the dreary valley, without fearing or feeling any evil.
"Although I hope to see much more of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living than I do see; yet, blessed be the Divine mercy, I see enough to keep my mind at all times unruffled, and to make me willing calmly to resign my soul into the hands of my faithful Creator, my loving Redeemer, and my sanctifying Comforter, this moment, or the next, if he call for it. I desire your public thanks for all the favors he shows me continually, with respect to both my soul and body. Help me to be thankful; for it is a pleasant thing to be thankful. May our thankfulness crown the new year, as God's patience and goodness have crowned all our life. Permit me to bespeak an interest in your prayers also. Ask that my faith may be willing to receive all that God's grace is willing to bestow. Ask that I may meekly suffer, and zealously do all the will of God, in my present circumstances; and that, living or dying, I may say, with the witness of God's Spirit, For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
"If God call me soon from earth, I beg he may, in his good providence, appoint a more faithful shepherd over you. You need not fear that he will not: you see that for these many months you have not only had no famine of the word, but the richest plenty; and what God has done for months he can do for years; yea, for all the years of your life. Only pray: Ask, and you shall receive. Meet at the throne of grace, and you shall meet at the throne of glory your affectionate, obliged, and unworthy minister, J F."
39. In another letter, written a fortnight after to the same people, he manifests still farther his own deep humility, and his fervent love to them as the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made him overseer. I shall here insert a short extract from this also. Addressing them as his "dear companions in tribulation," he proceeds: -- "All the children of God I love: my delight is in them that excel in strength, and my tenderest compassions move toward those that exceed in weakness. But of all the children of God, none have so great a right to my peculiar love as you. Your stated or occasional attendance on my poor ministry, and the countless thousands of steps you have taken to hear the word of our common Lord from my despised pulpit, as well as the bonds of neighborhood, and the many happy hours I have spent before the throne of grace with you, endear you peculiarly to me.
"With tears of grateful joy I recollect the awful moments when we have, in the strength of our dear Redeemer, bound ourselves to stand to our baptismal vow: to renounce all sin, to believe all the articles of the Christian faith, and keep God's commandments to the end of our life; especially the new commandment, which enjoins us to love one another as Christ has loved us. Oh my dear brethren, let this repeated vow, so reasonable, so just, and so comfortable, appear to as worthy of our greatest regard. For my own part, asking pardon of God, and you all, for not having exulted more in the privilege of keeping that vow every day better, and of loving you every hour more tenderly, I am not at all discouraged; but determine, with new courage and delight, to love my neighbor as myself; and to love our covenant God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with all my mind, heart, and strength:--with all the powers of my understanding, will, and affections. This resolution is bold, but it is evangelical; being equally founded on the precept and promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose cleansing blood can atone for all our past unfaithfulness, and whose almighty Spirit can enable us to perform all Gospel obedience for the time to come.
"I find much comfort in my weak state of health, from my relation to my covenant God. Oh the comfort of cleaving to Christ by faith, and of finding that Christ is our all! In that center of life let us all meet, and death itself will not separate us; for Christ our life is the resurrection; and Christ, our common resurrection, will bring us back from the grave, to worship him altogether, where absence and sickness shall interrupt and separate us no more.
"I sometimes feel a desire of being buried where you are buried, and having my bones lie in a common earthen bed with yours; but I soon resign that wish, and leaving that particular to Providence, I exult in thinking that whatever distance there may be between our graves, we can now bury our sins, cares, doubts, and fears in the one grave of our Divine Saviour; and that we may rejoice, each of us in our measure, that neither life nor death, neither things present nor things to come, shall ever be able (while we hang on the Crucified, as He hung on the cross) to separate us from Christ our head, nor from the love of each other his members.
"Love, then, one another, my dear brethren, I entreat you, and if I, your poor unworthy shepherd, am smitten, be not scattered; but rather be more closely gathered into Christ, and keep near each other in faith and love, till you all receive our second Comforter and Advocate in the glory of his fullness. This indwelling of the Comforter perfects the mystery of sanctification in the believer's soul. This is the highest blessing of the Christian covenant on earth. Rejoicing in God our Creator, in God our Redeemer, let us look for the full comfort of God our Sanctifier.
"My paper fails, but not my love. It embraces you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ; to Whose love I earnestly recommend you; earnestly desiring you would recommend to his faithful mercy your affectionate friend and brother, your unworthy pastor and fellow helper in the faith, J. F."
40. He wrote letters also to many private friends in different parts. Indeed; hardly a day passed in which he did not write to one or other. But as extracts from most of these have been published, I shall spare myself and the reader the trouble of referring to many of them here. Add to this, that whenever he found any ability for it, his thoughts and pen were occupied in contributing more or less to what he continued to have much at heart, the completing of his aforementioned "Plan of Reconciliation." Of this, January 19, he speaks as follows to the Rev. Vincent Perronet "I have of late thought much upon a method of reconciling the Calvinist's and Arminians. I have seen some Calvinian ministers who seem inclined to a plan of pacification. I wish I had strength enough to draw the sketch of it for your improvement. I think the thing is by no means impracticable, if we would but look one another in the face, and fall together at the feet of Him who makes men to be of one mind in a house, and made once all believers to be of one soul in the Church. Let us pray, hope, wait, and be ready to cast one mite of endeavor toward the blessing of a reconciliation, in which none could be more glad to second you than, honored and dear sir, your affectionate, obliged son in the Gospel, J. F."
41. By these exertions of body and mind, reading, thinking, writing, and conversing, he undoubtedly greatly impeded his recovery: so that, although he was in a good air, had good accommodations, and a variety of helps joined to the kindness of his friends, all which he mentions in the letter last quoted with gratitude, he made little or no progress toward the recovery of his health while at Newington. A few days before --, he says to a friend, "Venturing to ride out in the frost, the air was too sharp for my weak lungs, and opened my wound, which has thrown me back again." On the- 29th he observes, "Providence sent me, last Sunday, Dr. Turner, who, under God, saved my life twenty-three years ago in a dangerous illness; and I am inclined to try what his method will do. He orders me asses' milk, chicken, &C forbids me riding, and recommends the greatest quietness. He prohibits the use of Bristol water; advises some waters of a purgative nature, and tries to promote expectoration by a method that so far answers, though I spit by it more blood than before. It will be in order to cure one way or other.
With respect to my soul, I find it good to be in the balance, awfully weighed every day for life or death. I thank God the latter has lost its sting, and endears to me the Prince of life. But O, I want Christ, my resurrection, to be a thousand time more dear to me; and doubt not he will be so when I am filled with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. Let us wait for that glory, praising God for all we have received, and do daily receive; and trusting him for all we have not yet received. Let our faith do justice to his veracity, our hope to his goodness, and our love to all his perfections. It is good to trust in the Lord, and his saints like well to hope in him. I am provided here with every necessary and convenient blessing for my state. The great have even done me the honour of calling. Mr. Shirley, Mr. R -- d Hill, Mr. Peckwell, &C. I exhort them to promote peace in the Church, which they take kindly. I hope God will incline us all to peace, living and dying. Lady Huntingdon has written me a kind letter also. Oh for universal, lasting kindness! This world to me is now become a world of love. May it be so to my dear friend also. My kindest love and thanks wait on yourself, Mrs. Ireland, and all your dear family, J. F."
The above is addressed to Mr. Ireland, and three weeks after he says to one of his parishioners:-- " My dear friend, Mr. Ireland, brought me, last week, Sir John Elliot, who is esteemed the greatest physician in London in consumptive cases. He gave hopes of my recovery upon using proper diet and means. I was bled yesterday for the third time: and my old doctor thinks, by gentle evacuations and spring herbs, to mend my juices. Be that as it may, I calmly leave all to God; and use the means without trusting in them. I am perfectly taken care of by my kind friends, whom I recommend to your prayers as well as myself.
"With respect to my soul, I calmly wait, in unshaken resolution, for the full salvation of my God; ready to trust him, and to venture on his faithful love, and on the sure mercies of David, either at midnight, noonday, or cockcrowing: for my times are in his hand, and his time is best, and is my time. Death has lost his sting; and, I thank God, I know not what hurry of spirit is, or unbelieving fears, under my most terrifying symptoms. Glory be to God in Christ for this unspeakable mercy! Help me to praise him for it."
42. One of those who visited him at Newington was Mr. William Perronet: a pious, sensible, benevolent, amiable man, who was snatched hence in the strength of his years. He often said the first sight of Mr. Fletcher fixed an impression upon his mind which never wore off, till it issued in a real conversion to God; accompanied with a most affectionate and lasting regard for the instrument of that happy change.
Of this friendly man Mr. Fletcher writes thus to Miss Perronet:-- "I cannot tell you how much I am obliged to your dear brother for all his kind, brotherly attendance as a physician. He has given me his time, his long walks, his remedies: he has brought me Dr. Turner several times, and will not so much as allow me to reimburse his expenses. Help me to thank him for all his profusion of love, for I cannot sufficiently do it myself. Give my duty to your father: I throw myself in spirit at his feet, and ask his blessing, and an interest in his prayers. Tell him that the Lord is gracious to me; does not suffer the enemy to disturb my peace; and gives me, in prospect, the victory over death. Thanks be to God, who giveth us this great victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Absolute resignation to the Divine will baffles a thousand temptations, and confidence in our Saviour carries us sweetly through a thousand trials. God fill us abundantly with both!"
43. But although he had every help of advice and -medicine, as well as diet, air, and attendance, which he could have, all at this time proved ineffectual to restore him. His physicians, therefore, advised that he should again have recourse to the Bristol waters. Accordingly Mr. Ireland, who had visited him while at Newington, and had brought Sir John Elliott to see him, as before mentioned, came, with Mrs. Ireland, and took him to their house at Brislington, near Bristol, for that purpose. A little after his arrival there, he wrote the following letter of thanks to the kind friends who had entertained him so long, and with so much affection, at Newington
"To my very dear friends and benefactors, Charles and Mary Greenwood, My prayers shall always be that the merciful may find mercy, and that the great kindness I have found under your quiet roof may be showed you everywhere under the canopy of heaven. I think with grateful joy on the days of calm retreat I have been blessed with at Newington, and lament my not having improved better the opportunity of sitting, like Mary, at the feet of my great Physician. May he requite your kind care to a dying worm by abundantly caring for you and yours, and making all your bed in your sickness! May you enjoy full health! May you hunger and thirst after righteousness, both that of Christ and that of the Holy Ghost, and be abundantly filled therewith! May his rod and staff comfort you under all the troubles of life, the decays of the body, the assaults of the enemy, and the pangs of death! May the reviving cordials of the word of truth he ever within the reach of your faith, and may your eager faith make a ready and constant use of them; especially when faintings come upon you, and your hands begin to hang down! May you stand in the clefts of the Rock of ages, and there be safely sheltered when all the storms of justice shall fall around! May you have always such temporal and spiritual helps, friends, and comforts, as I have found in your pleasing retreat!
"You have received a poor Lazarus, though his sores were not visible. You have had compassion like the good Samaritan: you have admitted into the enjoyment of your best things; and he that did not deserve to have the dogs to lick his sores has always found the members of Jesus ready to prevent, to remove, or to bear his burdens. - And now what shall I say What but, Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! and thanks to my dear friends for all their favours! They will, I trust, be found faithfully recorded in my breast when the great Rewarder of those who diligently seek him will render to every man according to his works, Then shall a raised Lazarus appear in the gate to testify of the love of Charles and Mary Greenwood and of their godly sister.
"I thought myself a little better last Sunday; but I have since spit more blood than I had done for weeks before. Glory be to God for every providence! His 'will be done in me, by health or sickness, by life or death! All from him is, and, I trust, will always be welcome to your obliged pensioner, J. F,"