The Life of John Fletcher: Chapter 7 - Leaving Newington
FROM HIS LEAVING NEWINGTON, TILL HIS RETURN FROM SWITZERLAND TO MADELEY
1. It was in the latter end of April, 1777, that Mr. Fletcher was removed from Newington to Bristol, having continued with Mr. Greenwood upward of fifteen weeks. "I was desired by Mr. and Mrs. Ireland," says Mis Thornton, "to bear them company to Bristol, which Iawillingly did. Indeed, I looked upon it as a call from God: nor could I desire a greater honour than to share in the employment of angels, in ministering to a distinguished heir of salvation. At Brislington, near Bristol, he continued in the same holy, earnest course as at Newlngton. Every day he drank the Hotwell water, and it agreed with him well: so that he appeared to gather a little strength; though not so swiftly as was expected. And all the strength which he received he laid out in labours of love, for the benefit of all those, rich or poor, whom Providence cast in his way.
"Whenever he was in company it was his general method, so far as his strength would admit, to pray particularly for every person present. And from his habitual prayer resulted that life and energy in his words which every one that was blessed with his society felt more or less. Now and then likewise he ventured to pray in the family. But he was not wary enough in this. He more than once so much exerted himself that he was brought very low. As soon as he was well enough to write, he was intent upon finishing two treatises for the press. The Plan of Reconciliation, in particular, lay very near his heart. He longed to conclude it before he died, which he wished to do, breathing peace to Jerusalem, and pointing out to the children of God the most probable mean of effecting it: of uniting together, in the bonds of peace and love, all the true ministers and followers of Jesus."
2. From Bristol he paid his friends in Bath a visit, from whence, July 8, 1777, he wrote as follows to one of his parishioners:-"
My Dear Brother! -- heartily thank you for your kind letter; and by you I desire to give my best thanks to the dear companions in tribulation whom you meet, and who so kindly remember so worthless and unprofitable a minister as me. May the God of all grace and love, our common Father, and our all, bless you all, and all our brethren, with all blessings spiritual; and with such temporal favours as will best serve the end of your growth in grace.
"My desire is, if I should be spared to minister to you again, to do it with more humility, zeal, diligence, and love; and to make more of you all than I have done. But as matters are, you must take the will for the deed. Let us all praise God for what is past, and trust him for what is to come. The Lord enable you to cleave to Christ, and in him to abide in one mind, striving together for the hope of the Gospel, the fulness of the Spirit, and that kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, of which we have so often discoursed together, but into which we have not pressed with sufficient ardour and violence. God give us the humble, violent faith which inherits the promise of the Father, that we may triumph in Christ, and adorn his Gospel in life and death.
"I hope to see you before the summer is ended, if it please God to spare me and give me strength for the journey. I am in some respects better than when I came here, and was enabled to bury a corpse last Sunday to oblige the minister of the parish; but whether it was that little exertion of voice or something else, bad symptoms have returned since. Be that as it may, all is well; for He that does all things well, rules and overrules all. I have stood the heats we have had these two days better than I expected. I desire you will help me to bless the Author of all good for this and every other blessing of this life: but above all for the lively hopes of the next, and for Christ our common hope, peace, joy, wisdom, righteousness, salvation, and all. In him I meet, love, and embrace you. God bless you all, and crown you with loving kindness and tender mercy all the day long! I live if you stand. Don't let me want the reviving cordial of hearing that you stand together firm in the faith, broken in humility, and rejoicing in the loving hope of the glory of God. Look much at Jesus. Bless God much for the gift of his only begotten Son. Be much in private prayer. Forsake not the assembling yourselves together in little companies, as well as in public. Walk humbly as in the sight of death and eternity; and ever pray for your affectionate, but unworthy minister, J. F."
3. He made no long stay at Bath, but spent the chief part of his time for several months at Brislington or Bristol. In one place or the other, as well as at Newington; he was visited by many respectable persons. Many of these were Calvinists; several of whom bore witness to his deep piety and exalted spirit. But a dissenting minister, after pressing him hard with regard to some of his opinions, told him, with great warmth, "Mr. Fletcher, you. had better have been gasping for life with an asthma, or have had all your limbs unstrung by a palsy, than to have written those Checks." Mr. Fletcher replied, "Sir, I then wanted more love, and I do so still:" and in his highest fervours of Divine love he always acknowledged his want of more.
4. Here also he missed no opportunity of instructing servants and children, suiting his discourse, in a manner peculiar to himself, to their capacity or their business. And what would have appeared low in another, did not appear so when spoken by him. Thus he advised the cook "to stir up the fire of Divine love in his heart, that it might burn up all the rubbish therein, and raise a flame of holy affection: to which, with the greatest cordiality, he subjoined a short prayer. Thus to the housemaid he said, "I entreat you to sweep every corner of your heart, that it may be fit to receive Your heavenly Guest." To a poor man who came there in a deep consumption, but little concerned for his soul, he said in a very solemn manner, (laying one hand on his own breast, and the other on the poor man's,) "God has fixed a loud knocker at your breast and mine. Because we did not regard as we ought to have done the gentle knocks and calls of his Holy Spirit, his word, and his providences, he has taken fast hold here, and we cannot get out of his hand. O let the knocker awaken you, who are just dropping into eternity!"
When one or another occasionally mentioned any unkind thing which had been said or him or his writings, if the person who had said it was named, he would stop the speaker immediately, and offer up the most fervent prayer for the person of whom he spoke. He did not willingly suffer any one to say any thing against his opponents. And he made all the allowances for them which, on a change of circumstances, he would have wished them to make for him.
5. This year our annual conference was held at Bristol. Here and at Brislington I had several opportunities of seeing and conversing with Mr. Fletcher, and always found him in the devout and zealous spirit above described. He happened to be passing by the door of the stable belonging to our chapel in Broad Mead, when I was lighting from my horse, and I shall never forget with what a heavenly air and sweet countenance he instantly came up to me in the stable, and in a most solemn manner, putting his hands upon my head as if he had been ordaining me for the sacred office of the ministry, prayed most fervently for, and blessed me in the name of the Lord. To act in this way indeed toward his friends was no uncommon thing with him: he was wont to do it frequently, and that in a manner so serious and devout that it was almost impossible not to be deeply affected with it.
"In August, 1777," says Mr. James Rogers, "I was appointed to (leave Edinburgh, and) labour in the east of Cornwall. I had long desired to converse with that great and goodman, Mr. Fletcher; and now an opportunity offered itself. Stopping at Bristol for a few days to rest myself and horse, I heard of his being at Mr. Ireland's, about three miles off, in a poor state of health, and, with two of my brethren, went to see him. When we came there he was returning from a ride which he was advised by his physician to take every day. Dismounting from his horse, he came toward us with arms spread open, and eyes lifted up to heaven. His apostolic appearance, with the whole of his deportment, amazingly affected us.
"The first words he spoke, while yet standing in the stable by his horse, were a part of the sixteenth chapter of St. John, most of which he repeated. And while he pointed out the descent of the Holy Ghost, as the great promise of the Father, and the privilege of all New Testament believers, in a manner I never had heard before, my soul was dissolved into tenderness, and became even as melting wax before the fire.
"As an invidious report had been spread that he had recanted what he had lately written against Calvinism, in those excellent writings of his, entitled his 'Checks, &C.' I took the liberty to mention the report, and asked him what he thought had given rise to it? He replied he could not tell; except that he had refrained from speaking on controverted points since he came to Mr. Ireland's: partly by reason of the poor state of his health and because he did not wish to grieve his kind friend by making his house a field of controversy. But he assured us he had never yet seen cause to repent of what he had written in defence of the Rev. Mr. Wesley's Minutes. And although he believed his close application was the mean of reducing his body to the state in which we then saw it, yet if he fell a victim, it was in a good cause.
"After a little farther conversation upon the universal love of God in Christ Jesus, we were about to take our leave, when Mr. Ireland sent his footman into the yard with a bottle of red wine, and some slices of bread upon a waiter: we all uncovered our heads while Mr. Fletcher craved a blessing upon the same; which he had no sooner done, but he handed first the bread to each, and lifting up his eyes to heaven pronounced those words, 'The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.' Afterward handing the wine, he repeated in like manner, 'The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,' &C But such a sacrament I never had before. A sense of the Divine presence rested upon us all; and we were melted into floods of tears. His worthy friend, Mr. Ireland, grieved to see him exhaust his little strength by so much speaking, took him by the arm and almost forced him into the house; while he kept looking wishfully, and speaking to us, as long as we could see him. We then mounted our horses and rode away. That very hour more than repaid me for my whole journey from Edinburgh to Cornwall."
6. September 6th, of that year, he wrote as follows, to the amiable and venerable Vincent Perronet, vicar of Shoreham:-"
My Very Dear Father, -- I humbly thank you for the honour and consolation of your two kind letters. Your vouchsafing to remember a poor, unprofitable worm, is to me a sure token that my heavenly Father earnestly remembers me still. He is God, and therefore I am not consumed:-He is a merciful, all-gracious God, and therefore I am blessed with sympathizing friends and gracious helpers on all sides. O, sir, if in this disordered, imperfect state of the Church, I meet with so much kindness, what shall I not meet with when the millennium you pray for shall begin! Oh that the thought, the glorious hope, may animate me to perfect holiness in the fear of God; that I may be accounted worthy to escape the terrible judgments which will make way for that happy state of things, and that I may have a part in the first resurrection, if I am numbered among the dead before that happy period begin!
'O for a firm and lasting faith, To credit all the Almighty saith!
To embrace the promise of his Son, And call that glorious rest our own!'
"We are saved by hope at this time. But hope that is seen is not hope. Let us abound, then, in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost: so shall we antedate the millennium, take the kingdom, and enjoy, beforehand, the rest which remains for the people of God. Your great age, dear sir, and my great weakness, have brought us to the verge of eternity. O, may we exult in the prospect, and look on that boundless sea through the glass of faith, and through the clefts of the Rock of ages, struck for us, through the veil of Christ's flesh, who, by dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification, is become our resurrection and our life.
"One of my parishioners brought a horse last week to carry me home; and desired to walk by my side all the way. By the advice of your dear son, (Mr. William Perronet,) who still continues to bestow upon me all the help I could expect from the most loving brother, I sent the man back. I thank God I am a little stronger than when I came hither. I kiss the rod, lean on the staff, and wait the end. I yesterday saw a physician who told me my case is not yet an absolutely lost case. But the prospect of languishing two or three years longer, a burden to every body, a help to none, would be very painful, if the will of God and the covenant of life in Christ Jesus did not sanctify all circumstances, and dispel every gloom. I remember with grateful joy the happy days I spent at Shoreham: Tecum vivere amem; tecum obeam lubens. ('I could love to live with you; with you I would willingly die.') But what is better still, I shall live with the Lord and with you for ever and ever. Your obliged servant and affectionate son, J. F."
7. Mr. Fletcher continued at Brislington till the end of summer, by which time it evidently appeared that the Hotwell water, and the other means which had been recommended by his physicians, and tried for so many months, had produced little or no good effect. It was then concluded that nothing, humanly speaking, could save his life, but a sea voyage and his own country air. This, as was observed above, had been recommended by his friend, Mr. Ireland, with the advice of a physician, the preceding year. Then, however, he could not be prevailed upon to try these remedies. But now, finding all other means ineffectual, he consented, and that the more readily, as one of his sisters was in a poor state of health, and, indeed, apparently dying, in Switzerland, and he ardently wished to see and converse with her before her departure. As soon as a voyage to the continent was concluded on, he wrote as follows to Mrs. Thornton "I am going to do by my poor sister what you have done by me, to try to smooth the road of sickness to the chamber of death. Gratitude and blood call me to it:-- you have done it without such calls; your Christian kindness is freer than mine; but not so free as the love of Jesus, who took upon him our nature, that he might bear our infirmities, die our death, and make over to us his resurrection and his life after all we had done to render life hateful and death horrible to him. Oh for this matchless love let rocks and hills, let hearts and tongues break an ungrateful silence; and let your Christian muse find new anthems, and your poetic heart new flights of eloquence and thankfulness!
"I shall be glad to hear from you in Switzerland, and shall doubly rejoice if you can send me word that she, who is joined to the Lord according to the glory of the new covenant, is one spirit with him, and enjoys all the glorious liberty of the children of God."
8. It appears, however, that shortly after this he became so much worse as to have great reason to doubt whether he should be able to make such a voyage."You should have heard from me," says he to the same person a few weeks afterward, "if sometimes want of Spirits to hold a pen, and for some days want of paper, had not stood in the way of my inclination. Now I have paper, and a degree of strength, how can I employ both better, than in trying to fulfil with my pen the great commandment, which contains my duty to God and my neighbour? But what can a pen do here? It can just testify what my heart feels, that no words can describe what I owe to my heavenly Benefactor, to my earthly friends, and to you, in particular, who have had so much patience as to stand by me, and bear a share in my burdens, for so many months, at home and abroad. "May the merciful, faithful God, who has promised that a cup of cold water given to the least of his followers, shall not lose its reward; -- may that omnipotent God who sees you in all the states of weakness which await you between the present moment and the hour of death, give you all that can make your life comfortable, your trials tolerable, your death triumphant, and your eternity glorious!
"What I ask for you, I also peculiarly beg for your dear brother and sister, who have vouchsafed to ind so dry, so insignificant (I had almost said, so rotten) a stick as myself in the bundle of that love with which they embrace the poor, the lame, the helpless, the loathsome, and those who have their sores without, as Lazarus, or within, as I. May we all be found bound up together in the bundle of life, light, and love, with our Lord! And when he shall make up his jewels, may you all shine among his diamonds of the finest water and the first magnitude!
"You want, possibly, to know how I go on. Though I am not worth a line, I shall observe, to the glory of my patient, merciful Preserver and Redeemer, that I am kept in sweet peace, and a looking for the triumphant joy of my Lord, and for the fulness expressed in these words, which sweetly filled the sleepless hours of last night,
'Drawn, -- and redeem'd, -- and seal'd, I bless the ONE and THREE, With Father, Son, and Spirit fill'd To all eternity.'
"With respect to my body, I sleep less, and spit more blood than I did when you were here, nor can I bear the least trot of an easy horse. If this continue many days, instead of thinking to go and see my friends on the continent, I shall turn my steps to my earthly home, to be ready to lay my hones in my churchyard; and in such a case I shall put you in mind of your kind promise, that you would do to the last the office of a guardian angel,-hold up my hands in my last conflict, and close my eyes when it is over. Two of my parishioners came to convey me safe home, and had persuaded me to go with them in a post chaise; but I had so bad a night before the day I was to set out, that I gave it up. My prospects and ways are shut up, so that I have nothing to look at but Jesus and the grave. May I so look at them as to live in Him who is my resurrection and life; and die in all the meekness and holiness of my Lord and my all! I humbly request a continued interest in your fervent prayers, that I may be found completely ready when my Lord's messenger shall come for my soul."
9. In the latter end of October he found himself a little restored, as appears by a letter written from Madeley on the 21st of that month, and addressed to Lady Mary Fitzgerald; in which he says, "I have taken the bark for some days, and it seems to have been blessed to the removal of my spitting of blood. Time will decide whether it be a real removal, or only a suspension of that symptom. Either will prove a blessing, as His will is our health." With respect to his intended journey, he observes to the same right honorable person:"My brothers and sisters invite me to breathe once more my natal air; and the physicians recommend to me a journey to the continent. I wait for the last intimations of Providence to determine me to go. If I do, I shall probably pass through London, and in that case I could have the honour of waiting upon you. I say probably, because I shall only follow my friend, and a serious family which goes to spend the winter in the south of France, or in Spain; and I do not yet know whether they design to embark at Dover, or at some port in the west of England.
"You have been afflicted," he farther adds, "as well as myself. May our maladies yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness -- complete deadness to the world, and increased faith in the mercy, love, and power of Him who supports under the greatest trials, and can make our extremity of weakness an opportunity of displaying the freeness of his grace and the greatness of His power. Tell Mrs. G- and Mrs. L- that I salute them under the cross with the sympathy of a companion in tribulation; and rejoice at the thought of doing it when the cross shall be exchanged for the crown. In the meantime, let us glory in the cross of our common Head, and firmly believe that he is exalted to give us whatever is best for us in life, in death, and for ever."
The following observations, in the same letter, are also well worth attention:-- "In order to live singly to God, the best method is to desire it with meekness; to spread the desire in quietness before Him who inspired it; to offer him now all we have and are, as we can; and to enlarge our expectation, that he may satisfy it with good things, with all his fulness, or that he may try our patience, and teach us to know our total helplessness. With respect to the weeping frame of repentance, and the joyous one of faith, they are both good alternately; but the latter is the better of the two, because it enables us to do and suffer the will of God, and praise him, which honours Christ more; both are happily mixed. May they be so in you, madam, and in your unworthy and obliged servant, J. F."
10. It was by the advice of Mr. William Perronet, who had been so kind as to go from London to Bristol to visit him, that he took the bark. To him he writes, November 19:-- "May the Lord visit you when you shall be sick! and may he raise you such kind friends, helpers, and comforters, as he has raised to me! I have continued to take the bark since you went, and it seems to have been blessed to me. My spitting of blood is almost stopped; my breast stronger. I am, I hope, better, upon the whole; and if I do not relapse, I may yet be able to preach, according to your dear father's prophecy. I hope to have the pleasure of seeing and thanking you, sir, and Dr. Turner, in my way to Dover some time the week after next.
"Oh, my dear friend, Jesus is at the end of the race. Your dear brothers  have run it out; we follow them.
Oh for more speed! more winged despatch! more of that power that takes the kingdom of heaven by violence! That the Lord would give us more power, and make us more faithful in the use of that which we have, is the earnest prayer of your obliged friend, J. F."
11. The time of setting out on his journey to the continent being now fixed, he judged it proper to explain himself more fully than he had done, to some of his friends at Madeley, and withal to signify his mind to them respecting some temporal affairs depending there. He therefore wrote as follows to Messrs. Thomas York and Daniel Edmonds, who, it seems, for some time, assisted him in managing the secular concerns of the vicarage.
"The debt of gratitude I owe to a dying sister, who once took a very long journey to see me, when I was ill in Germany, and whom I just stopped from coming, last winter, to Newington to nurse me; the unanimous advice of the physicians whom I have consulted, and the opportunity of travelling with serious friends, have at last determined me to remove to a warmer climate. As it is doubtful, very doubtful, whether I shall he able to stand the journey; and if I do, whether I shall be able to come back to England; and if I come back, whether I shall be able to serve my Church, it is right to make what provision I can to have it properly served while I live, and-to secure some spiritual assistance to my serious parishioners when I shall be no more. I have attempted 'to build a house in Madeley Wood, about the centre of the parish, where I should be glad the children might be taught to read and write in the day, and the grown up people might hear the word of God in the evening, when they can get an evangelist to preach it to them; and where the serious people might assemble for social worship when they have no teacher.
"This has involved me in some difficulties about discharging the expense of that building, and paying for the ground it stands upon; especially as my ill health has put me on the additional expense of an assistant. If I had strength, I would serve my Church alone, board as cheap as I could, and save what I could from the produce of the living to clear the debt, and leave that little token of my love free from encumbrances to my parishioners. But as Providence orders things otherwise, I have another object, which is to secure a faithful minister to serve the Church while I live. Providence has sent me dear Mr. Greaves, who loves the people, and is loved by them. I should be glad to make him comfortable; and as all the care of the flock, by my illness, devolves upon him, I would not hesitate for a moment to let him have all the profit of the living, if it were not for the debt contracted about the room. My difficulty lies, then, between what I owe to my fellow labourer, and what I owe to my parishioners, whom I should be sorry to have burdened with a debt contracted for the room.
"I beg you will let me know how the balance of my account stands, that, some way or other, I may order it to be paid immediately; for if the balance is against me, I could not leave England comfortably without having settled the payment. A letter will settle this business, as well as if twenty friends were at the trouble of taking a journey; and talking is far worse for me than reading or writing. I do not say this to put a slight upon my dear friends. I should rejoice to see them if it would answer any end.
"Ten thousand pardons of my dear friends for troubling them with this scrawl about worldly matters. May God help us all so to settle our eternal concerns that when we shall be called to go to our long home and heavenly country, we may be ready, and have our acquittance along with us. I am quite tired with writing nevertheless, I cannot lay by my pen without desiring my best Christian love to all my dear companions in tribulation, and neighbors in Shropshire."
To another friend whom he had been also obliged to trouble in that way, his words are:--" Pardon the trouble I have given you in my temporal concerns; it is more for the poor and the Lord than for me. O, my dear friend, let us pass through the things temporal so as not to lose the things eternal. Let us honour God's truth by believing his word; Christ's blood by hoping firmly in Divine mercy; and all the Divine perfections by loving God with all our hearts, and one another as Christ loved us. My kind love to all the brethren on both sides the water.
"Go from me to Mrs. --: tell her I charge her, in the name of God, to give up the world, to set out with all speed for heaven, and to join the few that fear God about her. If she refuse, call weekly, if not daily, and warn her from me. Tell the brethren at Broseley that I did my body an injury the last time I preached to them on the green; but I do not repine at it if they took the warning, and have ceased to be neither hot nor cold, and begin to be warm in zeal, love, prayer, and every grace. Give my love to -- , tell him to make haste to Christ, and not to doze away his last days.
"The physician has not yet given me up; but I bless God, I do not wait for his farewell to give myself up to my God and Saviour. I write by stealth, as my friends here would have me forbear writing, and even talking; but I will never part with my privilege of writing and shouting thanks be to God what giveth us the victory over sin, death, and the grave, through Jesus Christ, To him be glory for ever and ever."
12. The above letters manifest, in a striking light, his gratitude to his benefactors, and his great love to his parishioners, and concern for their salvation. But the latter is discovered still more in the following pastoral address to them, written a few days before he left Bristol. "To the brethren who hear the word of God in the parish church of Madeley.
"My Dear Brethren, -- I thank you for the declaration of your affectionate remembrance which you have sent me by _____, the messenger of your brotherly love. As a variety of reasons, with which I shall not trouble you, prevent my coming to take my leave of you in person, permit me to do it by letter. The hopes of recovering little strength to come and serve you again in the Gospel, make me take the advice of the physicians, who say that removing to a drier air and warmer climate might be of great service to my health. I kiss the rod which smites me. I adore the Providence which lays me aside; and beg that by this long correction of my heavenly Father, I may be so pruned as to bring forth more fruit, if I am spared.
"I am more and more persuaded that I have not declared unto you cunningly devised fables, and that the Gospel I have had the honour of preaching, though feebly, among you is the power of God to salvation to every one who believes it with the heart. God grant we may all be of that happy number! Want of time does not permit me to give you more directions; but if you follow those which fill the rest of this page, they may supply the want of a thousand. Have every day lower thoughts of yourselves, higher thoughts of Christ, kinder thoughts of your brethren, and more hopeful thoughts of all around you. Love to assemble in the great congregation, and with your companions in tribulation; but above all, love to pray to your Father in secret: to consider your Saviour, who says, Look unto me and be saved; and to listen for your Sanctifier and Comforter, who whispers that he stands at the door, and knocks to enter into your inmost souls, and to set up his kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy, with Divine power, in your willing breasts. Wait all the day long for his glorious appearing within you; and, when you are together, by suitable prayers, proper hymns, and enlivening exhortations, keep up your earnest expectation of his pardoning and sanctifying love. Let not a drop satisfy you; desire an ocean, at least a fountain springing up to your comfort in your own souls, and flowing toward all around you, in streams of love and delightful instructions, to the consolation of those with whom you converse; especially your brethren and those of your own households. Do not eat your morsel by yourselves, like selfish, niggardly people; but whether you eat the meat that perisheth, or that which endureth unto everlasting life, be ready to share it with all. Cast your bread upon the waters, in a temporal or spiritual Sense, and it will not be lost. God will bless your seed sown, and it will abundantly increase. Let every one with whom you converse be the better for your conversation. Be burning and shining lights wherever you are. Set the fire of Divine love to the hellish stubble of sin. Be valiant for the truth. Be champions for love. Be sons of thunder against sin; and sons of consolation toward humbled sinners. Be faithful to your God, your king, and your masters. Let not the good ways of God be blasphemed through any of you. Let your heavenly mindedness and your brotherly kindness be known to all men! so that all who see you may wonder and say, See How these people love one another!
"You have need of patience as well as of faith and power. You must learn to suffer, as well as to do the will of God. Do not, then, think it strange to pass through fiery trials; they are excellent for the proving, purifying, and strengthening of your faith: only let your faith be firm in a tempest. Let your hope in Christ be as a sure anchor cast within the veil; and your patient love will soon outride the storm, and make you find there is a peace in Christ and in the Holy Ghost which no man can give or take away. May that peace be abundantly given to you from our common Father, our common Redeemer, and our common Sanctifier, our covenant God, whom we have so often vouched to be our God and our all, when we have been assembled together in his name.
"I leave this blessed island for a while; but I trust I shall never leave the kingdom of God, the Mount Sion, the New Jerusalem, the shadow of Christ's cross, the clefts of the rock smitten and pierced for us. There I entreat you to meet me. There I meet you in spirit. From thence, I trust, I shall joyfully leap into the ocean of eternity, to go and join those ministering spirits who wait on the heirs of salvation: and if I am no more permitted to minister to you in the land of the living, I rejoice at the thought, that I shall, perhaps, be allowed to accompany the angels who, if you continue in the faith, will be commissioned to carry your souls into Abraham's bosom. If our bodies do not moulder away in the same grave, our spirit shall be sweetly lost in the same sea of Divine and brotherly love. I hope to-see you again in the flesh; but my sweetest and firmest hope is to meet you where there are no parting seas, no interposing mountains, no sickness, no death, no fear of loving too much, no shame for loving too little, no apprehension of bursting new vessels in our lungs, by indulging the joy of seeing, or the sorrow of leaving our brethren.
"The meantime I earnestly recommend you to the pastoral care of the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, and to the brotherly care of one another, as well as to the ministerial care of my substitute. The authority of love which you allowed me to exert among you for edification, I return to you and divide among you; humbly requesting that you would mutually use it in warning the unruly, supporting the weak, and comforting all. Should I be spared to come back, let me have the joy of finding you all of one heart and one soul; continuing steadfast in the apostle's doctrine, in fellowship one with another, and in communion with our sin pardoning and sin abhorring God. This you may do, through grace, by strongly believing in the atoning blood and sanctifying Spirit of Christ, our common head and our common life; in whom my soul embraces you, and in whose gracious hands I leave both you and myself. Bear me on your hearts before him in praying love; and be persuaded that you are thus borne by, my dear brethren, yours, &C., J. F."
13. Mr. Fletcher did not leave Brislington till about the beginning of December, when he set out for the south of France, in company with Mr. Ireland, two of his daughters, and another family. While at Reading, on his way, he wrote as follows, to his friend and father in Christ, the Rev. vicar of Shoreham:-"
Reading, Dec. 2, 1777.
"Honoured and Dear Sir, -- I acknowledge, though late, the favour of your letter. I have given up the thought of going to my parish, and am now on the road to a warmer climate. The Lord, -- if it seem him good, may bless as much the change of air, as he has blessed the last remedy your son prescribed for me; I mean the bark. If I should mend a little, I would begin to have faith in your prophecy. In the meantime let us have faith in Christ, more faith day by day; till all the sayings of Christ are verified to us and in us. Should I go to Geneva, I shall inquire after the Swiss friends of my dear benefactors at Shoreham, to whose prayers I humbly recommend myself and my dear fellow travellers, one of whom, my little goddaughter, is but eight weeks old. May God abundantly bless you and yours, and reward you-for all the kindness shown to, honoured and dear sir, your obliged and obedient son in the Gospel, J. F."
On the same sheet he wrote as - follows to Miss Peyronet:-
"My Dear Friend, -- I snatch a moment upon the road, to acknowledge the favour of your letter, and to wish you joy in seeing the Lord is faithful in rewarding as well as punishing. I once met a gentleman, an infidel, abroad, who said, 'Men have no faith: if they believed that by forsaking houses, lands, friends, &c they should receive a hundredfold, they would instantly renounce all. For who would not carry all his money to the bank of heaven to receive a hundredfold interest?' The papists have made so bad a use of the rewardableness of works, that we dare neither preach it nor hold it in a scriptural manner. For my part, I think that if-it were properly received, it would make a great alteration in the professing world. You dare receive it; try the mighty use of it; and when you have fully experienced it, do not keep your light to yourself, but impart it to all within the reach of your tongue and pen. I am glad you see that, after all, every reward bestowed upon a reprieved sinner has free grace for its foundation, and the blood of Christ for its mark. May the richest rewards of Divine grace be yours in consequence of the most exalted faithfulness; and let me beseech you to pray that I may follow you, as you follow Christ, till our reward be full. That God may fill you with all his fulness, is the wish of, my dear friend, your obliged brother, J. F."
14. When they arrived at Dover, the wind, though fair, was too high to admit of their venturing out to sea immediately. And I know not whether I ought to impute it to his great care to make the most of time, and snatch every moment of it for doing good, or to his great love to his people that he would not let this short opportunity pass without dropping a few more lines to the pious of his flock. To them he writes:-- "By the help of Divine Providence, and of your prayers, I have got safe to Dover; and I find that the journey has, so far, been of service to me. I thought to have been in France by this time; but the wind being high, though favorable, the mariners were afraid to leave the safe harbour, lest they should be driven on the French cliffs too fiercely. This delay gives me an opportunity of writing a line to tell you that I shall bear you on my heart by sea and land; that the earth is the Lord's with all the fulness thereof; that Jesus lives to pray for us; and that I still recommend myself to your prayers, hoping to hear of your order, steadfastness, and growth of faith toward Christ, and of love toward each other which will greatly revive your affectionate friend and brother " J. F."
He also wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Greenwood, before they set sail, as follows:"Ten thousand blessings light upon the heads and hearts of my dear benefactors, Charles and Mary Greenwood! May their quiet retreat at Newington become a bethel to them! May their offspring he born again there, And may the choicest consolations of the Spirit visit their minds, whenever they retire thither from the busy city! Their poor pensioner travels on, though slowly, toward the grave. His journey to the sea seems to him to have hastened, rather than retarded, his progress, to his old mother, earth. May every providential blast blow him nearer to the heavenly haven of his Saviour's breast; where he hopes, one day, to meet all his benefactors, and among them, those whom he now addresses. Oh my dear friends, what shall render? What to Jesus? What to you? May He who invites the heavy laden, take upon him all the burdens of kindness you have heaped upon your Lazarus! And may angels, when you die, find me in Abraham's bosom, and bring you into mine, that by all the kindness which may be shown in heaven, I may try to requite that you have shown to your obliged brother, J. F."
15. On what day they sailed does not appear. But it seems they were not many hours in reaching Calais; and according to a short account of the former part of their journey, given by Mr. Ireland, in a letter to a friend, they left that place Dec.12. "The north wind," says he, "was very high, and penetrated us even in the chaise. We put up at Breteuil, and the next day got to Abbeville; whence we were forced, by the miserable accommodations we met with, to set out, though it was Sunday. Mr. Fletcher and I used to lead the way: but now the other chaises got before us. Nine miles from Abbeville, our axletree gave way through the hard frost, and we were both left to the piercing cold, on the side of a hill, without any shelter. After waiting an hour and a half we sent the axletree and wheels back to be repaired; and leaving the body of the chaise under aaguard, procured another to carry us to the next town. On the 15th, our chaise arrived in good repair. Travelling steadily forward (though the country was all covered with snow) on the 27th we reached Dijon. During the whole journey, Mr. Fletcher showed visible marks of a recovery. He bore both the fatigue and piercing cold as well as the best of us. On the 31st we put up at Lyons, and solemnly closed the year, bowing our knees before the throne, which indeed we did not fail to do all together, every day. January 4, 1778, we left Lyon and came on the 9th to Aix. Here we rest: the weather being exceeding fine and warm. Mr. Fletcher walks out daily. He is now able to read and to pray with us every morning and evening. He has no remains of his cough, nor of the weakness in his breast. His natural colour is restored, and the sallowness quite gone. His appetite is good, and he takes a little wine."
16. In another letter Mr. Ireland writes thus:-- "Soon after our arrival here, I rode out most days with my dear and valuable friend. He now and then complained of the uneasiness of the horse, and there were some remains of soreness in his breast. But this soon went off. The beginning of February was warm, and the warmth, when he walked in the fields, relaxed him too much. But when the wind got north or east he was braced again. His appetite is good: his complexion as healthy as it was eleven years ago. As his strength increases he increases the length of his rides. Last Tuesday he set out on a journey of a hundred. and twelve miles. The first day he travelled forty miles without feeling any fatigue. The third day he travelled fifty-five: he bore his journey as well as I did; and was as well and as active at the end of it as at the beginning. During the day he cried out, 'Help me to praise the Lord for his goodness: I never expected to see this day.' He now accepted a pressing invitation to preach to the Protestants here. He did so on Sunday morning on these words: Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith. For some days before, he was afraid he had done wrong in accepting the invitation. But, O, how shall I be able to express the power and liberty which the Lord gave him! Both the French and English were greatly affected: the word went to the hearts both of saints and sinners. If the Lord continue his strength and voice (which is now as good as ever it was) he has an earnest invitation to preach where we are going, near Montpelier. You would be astonished at the entreaties of pastors as well as people. He has received a letter from a minister in the Levine mountains, who intends to come to Montpelier, sixty miles, to press him to go and preach to his flock. He purposes to spend the next summer in his own country, and the following winter in these parts, or in some part of the south of France"
17. According to Mr. Wesley:-- 'When he had a little recovered his strength" (but whether at this time or afterward, during his stay on the continent, is very doubtful) "he made a tour though Italy, and paid a visit to Rome. While he was here, as Mr. Ireland and he were one day going through one of the streets in a coach, they were informed 'the pope was coming forward, and it would be required of them to come out of the coach and kneel while he went by, as all the people did; if they did not, in all probability the zealous mob would fall upon them, and knock them on the head.' But this, whatever might be the consequence, they flatly refused to do; judging the paying such honour to a man was neither better nor worse than idolatry. The coachman was exceedingly terrified, not knowing what to do. However, at length he made a shift to turn aside into a narrow way. The pope was in an open landau. He waved his hands as if he had been swimming; and frequently repeated these words, 'God bless you all!' Mr. Fletcher's spirit was greatly stirred, and he longed to bear a public testimony against antichrist. And he would undoubtedly have done it had he been able to speak Italian. He could hardly refrain from doing it in Latin, till he considered that only the priests could have understood him. One to whom he related this, saying, 'If you had done this the multitude would have torn you in pieces: he answered, I believe the pope himself would have prevented it; for he was a man of sense and humanity."
18. While he was in the south of France, probably at Marseilles or Aix, and some time in the beginning of the spring, he wrote as follows to his curate, Mr. Greaves. As the letter is without date, the circumstances of time and place are rather uncertain:-
My Very Dear Brother, -- I am in daily expectation of a line from you, to let me know how you do, and how it goes with our dear flock; but I doubt whether I shall stay long enough here to receive your letter. I received one yesterday from my second brother, who acquaints me that he was to set out the 23d of last month, to come hither and take me to my native country, where my sick sister wants greatly to see me. If no accident has befallen him by the way, I think he will be here the latter end of this week, or the beginning of next; so that, please God, I shall set out next week from this place, where the winter has been uncommonly rainy and windy. We had even half an inch of snow last week but it was gone long before noon. The climate has, nevertheless agreed with me better than England, and as a proof of it I need only tell you that I rode last Friday from Hieres, the orange gardens of France, hither, which is near fifty miles, and was well enough to preach last Sunday in French, at the Protestant chapel. Two English clergymen came to hear me there, and one of them takes these lines to England, where I hope they will find you-in health of body and soul, growing in strength of faith, in firmness of hope, and fervency of love to God and man, and especially to those whom you are tempted to think hardly of, if any such there be. O, my dear brother, no religion will, in the end, do us and our people any good, but that which 'works by love,' -- humble, childlike, obedient love May that religion fill our souls, and influence all our tempers, words, and actions, and may the leaven leaven the whole lump: may St. James' peaceable religion spread through all our parish. Please, at the first convenient opportunity to read the following note in the church: "John Fletcher sends his best Christian love to the congregation that worships God in the parish church at Madeley: he begs the continuance of their prayers for strength of body and mind, that he may be able (if it be the will of God) to serve them again in the Gospel. He desires them to return almighty God thanks for having enabled him to speak again in public last Sunday, without having bad a return of his spitting of blood, which he considers as a token that his life may be spared a little, to go and exhort them to grow in grace in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in brotherly love, the best marks that we know God, and are in the faith of Christ.
"I hope, my dear brother, you are settled to your satisfaction, and I shall be glad to do what is in my power to make your stay at Madeley agreeable. I hope you read sometimes, in the study, the copy of the exhortation given us by the ordinary, in which are these awful words: 'Cease not from your labour, care, and diligence, till all those who are committed to your charge come to such a ripeness of age in Christ that there be no room left among them for error in doctrine or viciousness in life.' I wish you may have as much success as we desire; but whatever success we have, we must cast our bread upon the waters, though we should see as little fruit as he that said of old, 'I have laboured in vain:' for our reward will be with the Lord, if not with men."
Soon after his brother conducted him from Montpelier to Nyon, the place of his nativity. Here he lived in that which was his father's house, in the -midst of his affectionate relations, who took care that he should neither want the best advice, perhaps equal to any in Europe, nor any thing that could possibly contribute to the full recovery of his health.
19. In a letter from thence to Mr. William Perronet. May 15, he observes:-- "The climate, and prospect, and line roads, and pure air I enjoy here, had contributed to strengthen me a little, when an accident I think has pulled me back. About a month ago, something I was chewing got into my windpipe, and caused a fit of coughing, with the greatest efforts of the lungs for half an hour. I then began to spit blood again, and ever since I have had a bad cough, which has sometimes exercised me violently for an hour after my first sleep. My cough, however, has been better again these two days, and I hope it will go off. I have bought a quiet horse, whose easy pace I can bear, and I ride much. Upon the whole, if my cough leave me I may yet recover my strength: but if it fix, it will probably be my last. The will of the Lord be done I have not ventured upon preaching since I came hither. It would be impossible for me now to go through it. If the weather should grow hot, I may at any time go to the hills, the foot of which is but five or six miles distant. I drink goats' milk, and have left off meat since the cough came on, but design eating a little again at dinner."
20. It appears that Mr. Ireland either accompanied him to Nyon, in Switzerland, along with his brother, or afterward met him at Macon, in Burgundy, where Mr. Fletcher was on the 17th of this same month, and from whence he wrote to the Rev:John and Charles Wesley, and gave a farther account of the state of his health, and of the declension of religion, and the prevalence of infidelity in France. His letter is peculiarly worthy of a place in the memoirs of his life, as containing, may I not say, an evident prediction of events which have since taken place?. It is as follows:-" Rev. and Dear Sirs, -- I hope that while I lie by, like a broken vessel, the Lord continues to renew your vigour, and sends you to water his vineyard, and to stand in the gap against error and vice. I have recovered some strength, blessed be God, since I came to the continent; but have lately had another attack of my old complaints. However, I find myself better again, though I think it yet advisable not to speak in public.
"I preached twice at Marseilles, but was not permitted to follow the blow. There are few noble, inquisitive Bereans in these parts. The ministers in the town of my nativity have been very civil. They have offered me the pulpit; but I fear, if I could accept the offer, it would be soon recalled. I am loath to quit this part of the field without casting a stone at that giant, sin, who stalks about with uncommon boldness. I shall, therefore, stay some months longer, to see if the Lord will please to give me a little more strength to venture an attack.
"Gaming and dress, sinful pleasure and love of money, unbelief and false philosophy, lightness of spirit, fear of man, and love of the world, are the principal sins by which Satan binds his captives in these parts. Materialism is not rare; Deism and Socinianism are very common; and a set of freethinkers, great admirers of Voltaire and Rousseau, Bayle and Mirabeau, seem bent upon destroying Christianity and government 'With one hand (said a lawyer, who has written something against them) they shake the throne, and with the other they throw down the altars.' If we believe them, the world is the dupe of kings and priests. Religion is fanaticism and superstition. Subordination is slavery and tyranny. Christian morality is absurd, unnatural, and impracticable; and Christianity the most bloody religion that ever was. And here, it is certain, that by the example of Christians, so called, and by our continual disputes, they have a great advantage, and do the truth immense mischief. Popery will certainly fall in France, in this or the next century; and I make no doubt, God will use these vain men to bring about a reformation here, as he used Henry VIII. to do that work in England: so the madness of his enemies shall, at last, turn to his praise, and to the furtherance of his kingdom.
In the meantime it becomes all lovers of the truth to make their heavenly tempers, and humble, peaceful love, to shine before all men, that those mighty adversaries, seeing the good works of professors, may glorify their Father who is in heaven, and no more blaspheme that worthy name by which we are called Christians!
"If you ask what system these men adopt I answer, that some build on Deism a morality founded on self-preservation, self-interest, and self-honour. Others laugh at all morality, except that the neglect of which violently disturbs society; and external order is the decent covering of Fatalism, while Materialism is their system.
"O, dear sirs, let me entreat you, in these dangerous days, to use your wide influence, with unabated zeal, against the scheme of these modern Celsuses, Porphyries, and Julians; by calling all professors to think and speak the same things, to love and embrace one another, and to stand firmly embodied to resist those daring men; many of whom are already in England, headed by the admirers of Mr. Hume and Mr Hobbes. But it is needless to say this to those who have made, and continue to make such a stand for vital Christianity: so that I have nothing to do but pray that the Lord would abundantly support and strengthen you to the last, and make you a continued comfort to his enlightened people, loving reprovers of those who might mix light and darkness, and a terror to the perverse; and this is the cordial prayer of, Rev. and dear sirs, your affectionate son, and obliged servant in the Gospel, J. F."
"P S, I need not tell you, sirs, that the hour in which Providence shall make my way plain to return to England, to unite with the happy number of those who feel or seek the power of Christian godliness, will be welcome to me. Oh favoured Britons! Happy would it be for them if they knew their Gospel privileges! My relations in Adam are all very kind to me; but the spiritual relations, whom God has raised me in England, exceed them yet. Thanks be to Christ, and to his blasphemed religion!"
21. In a letter to Dr. Conyers, written from the same place, the day following, in which he mentions having sent him his tract, called The Reconciliation, and urges him to labour to promote peace and unanimity among the disciples of Christ, he adds, concerning the French infidels, "If you saw with what boldness the false philosophers of the continent, who are the apostles of the age, attack Christianity, and represent it as one of the worst religions in the world, and fit only to make the professors of it murder one another, or at least to contend among themselves; and how they urge our disputes to make the Gospel of Christ the jest of nations, and the abhorrence of all flesh; you would break through your natural timidity, and invite all our brethren in the ministry to do what the herds do on the Swiss mountains, when wolves attack them; instead of goring one another, they unite, and form a close battalion, and face the common enemy on all sides. What a shame would it be, if cows and bulls showed more prudence, and more regard for union, than Christians and Gospel ministers!"
22. Here he took leave of Mr. Ireland, and, in order to shorten his journey back to Nyon and enjoy new prospects, ventured to cross the mountains which separate France from Switzerland. This was of bad consequence. For "on the third day of the journey," says he, "I found an unexpected trial: a large hill, whose winding roads were so steep, that though we fed the horses with bread and wine, they could scarcely draw the chaise, obliged me to walk in all the steepest places. The climbing lasted several hours, the sun was hot, I perspired violently, and the next day I spit blood again. I have chiefly kept to goats' milk ever since, and hope I shall get over this death also,because I find myself; blessed be God, better again, and my cough is neither frequent nor violent."
23. In the former part of this year, (1778,) a letter was written to the Rev. Mr. Perronet, informing him that there was a valuable estate at his native place, which properly belonged to him, and which might easily be recovered, if he sent one of his sons to claim it. All his friends, whom he consulted on the occasion, judged this information was not to be slighted. And his youngest son, Mr. William Perronet, the surgeon and apothecary, frequently mentioned above, was willing to undertake the journey. But before he set out he wrote to Mr. Fletcher, desiring his advice. Part of his answer was as follows: -" Nyon, June 2, 1778
"While I write to you to make your title clear to a precarious estate on earth, permit me to remind you of the heavenly inheritance entailed upon believers. The will (the New Testament) by which we can recover it, is proved; the court is equitable; the Judge loving and gracious. To enter on the possession of part of the estate here, and of the whole hereafter, we need only to believe, and prove, evangelically, that we are believers. Let us set about it now with earnestness, with perseverance, and with full assurance, that through faith we shall infallibly carry our cause. Alas! what are estates or crowns, to grace and glory? The Lord grant that we, and all our friends, may choose the better part, which your brother, my dear friend, so happily chose. And may we firmly stand to the choice, as he did, to the last. My best respects wait upon your dear father, your sisters, and nieces. God reward your kindness to me upon them all!
"This is a delightful country. If you come to see it, and claim the estate, bring all the papers and memorials your father can collect, and come to share a pleasant apartment, and one of the finest prospects in the world, in the house where I as born. I design to try this fine air some months longer. We have a fine shady wood near the lake, where I can ride in the cool all the day, and enjoy the singing of a multitude of birds. But this, though sweet, does not come up to the singing of my dear friends in England. There I meet them in spirit several hours in the day. God bless my dear friends."
A little after this he says to another friend:-- "The birds of my fine wood have almost done singing; but I have met with a parcel of children, whose hearts seem turned toward singing the praises of God, and we sing every day from four to five. Help us by your prayers. One of them received, I hope, the love of Christ this week."
About the same time he wrote to Dr. Turner, as follows:-
"Should I gather strength, I should, under God, acknowledge you, dear sir, as the instrument of that blessing, as you were above twenty years ago. Ten thousand thanks I render to you, sir, and to Mr. Perronet, for your kind and generous care and attendance. May God reward you both by bestowing upon you all the blessings which can make life happy, death comfortable, and eternity delightful and glorious! May the richest cordials of Divine love, and the balm of Gilead, a Saviour's precious blood, revive your souls and comfort your hearts! And in your every want and extremity, may you both find such tender helpers and comforters as have been found in you by, dear sir, your most obliged, though unworthy patient and servant, J. F."
24. It appears by a letter of his to Mr. Ireland, dated July 15, that he continued to recover; and that he failed not to use his strength as fast as he gained it. "I have ventured," says he, "to preach once, and to expound once in the church. Our ministers are very kind, and preach to the purpose: a young one of this town gave us lately a very excellent Gospel sermon. Grown up people stand fast in their stupidity, or in their self-righteousness. The day I preached I met with some children in my wood, walking or gathering strawberries. I spoke to them about our Father, our common Father. We felt a touch of brotherly affection. They said they would sing to their Father as well as the birds; and followed me; attempting to make such melody as you know is commonly made in these parts. I outrode. them, but some of them had the patience to follow me home, and said they would speak with me; but, the people of the house stopped them, saying, I would not be troubled with children. They cried, and said, They were sure I would not say so, for I was their good brother. The next day when I heard it, I inquired after them, and invited them to come to me; which they have done every day since. I make them little hymns, which.they sing. Some of them are under sweet drawings. Yesterday I wept for joy on hearing one of them speak of conviction of sin, and joy unspeakable in Christ which had followed, as an experienced believer would do in Bristol. Last Sunday I met them in the wood; there were one hundred of them, and as many adults. Our first pastor has since desired me to desist from preaching in the wood (for I had exhorted) for fear of giving umbrage; and I have complied from a concurrence of circumstances which are not worth mentioning: I therefore meet them in my father's yard.
"In one of my letters I promised you some anecdotes concerning the death of our two great philosophers, Voltaire and Rousseau. Mr. Tronchin, the physician of the duke of Orleans, being sent for to attend Voltaire in his illness at Paris, Voltaire said to him, 'Sir, I desire you would save my life; I will give you the half of my fortune if you will lengthen out my days only for six months. If not, I shall go to the devil, and shall carry you away along with me.'
"Rousseau died more decently, as full of himself as Voltaire was of the wicked one. He paid that attention to nature and the natural sun which the Christian pays to grace and the Sun of righteousness. These were some of his last words to his wife, which I copy from a printed letter circulating in these parts: 'Open the window that I may see the green fields once more. How beautiful is nature! How wonderful is the sun! See what glorious light it sends forth! It is God who calls me. How pleasing is death to a man who is not conscious of any sin! Oh God! my soul is now as pure as when it first came out of thy hands: crown it with thy heavenly bliss!' God deliver us from self and Satan, the internal and the external fiend. The Lord forbid we should fall into the snare of the Sadducees, with the former of these two famous men, or into that of the Pharisees with the latter. Farewell in Jesus. J. F."
25. We may infer I think, from these, and divers other extracts of letters which appear in this work, under Mr. Fletcher's own hand, that the following account by, Mr. Gilpin is perfectly correct:-- "As during Mr. Fletcher's abode in England, his attachment to his absent countrymen was daily expressed in fervent prayer, and frequently in affectionate epistles addressed to those among them whose situation and abilities might have rendered them eminently useful to the Church; so when present with them, his affectionate concern for their happiness was evinced by the most indefatigable exertions for their advancement in religion and virtue. When he was, to all appearance, in dying circumstances, even in those seasons, the entreaties of friends, the advice of physicians, together with his bodily infirmities, were found insufficient to restrain him from the exercise of his ministry. His manner of employing himself among them is modestly expressed in an apology which he once thought it necessary to make for his conduct upon those occasions; from which the following passage is extracted -- 'Afflicted with a dangerous disease, and obliged to intrust the care of my Church to a substitute, with the permission of my superiors, I came to this place on a visit to my kinsmen; and especially for the purpose of breathing my native air, which the physicians, after having already exhausted their art in my favour, considered as the last remedy that remained to be tried with any hope of success. Upon my arrival the pastors of Nyon, to the first of whom I have had the honour of being known for these six and thirty years, obligingly offered me the use of their pulpits, if my health should permit me to preach. But after appointing different days, on which I hoped to have taken the advantage of their friendly offers, by repeated returns of my weakness, I was prevented from fulfilling my engagements. I have, however, preached three or four times: but observing in myself, during those exercises, a want of strength to occupy the pulpit with that power and dignity which are expected in a preacher who appears before a polished audience, I considered it rather as my duty, with the permission, and under the inspection of our pastors, without ascending the pulpit, to give some familiar. instructions to such children and others as were disposed to receive them; offering in a room from time to time occasional reflections, either upon some book of piety or some passage of Holy Scripture. Such were his customary employments during his residence at Nyon. And to these pious exercises he devoted his remaining strength with that assiduity and perseverance which abundantly manifested how little he regarded either ease or health when they came in competition with the advantage and.welfare of his countrymen."
26. But while he engaged himself with so much zeal in the service of his countrymen at large, among his kinsmen and friends, his benevolent labours were still more abundant. He expressed the most vehement desires, and employed the most strenuous efforts that the whole circle of his friends might become a people "fearing God, and working righteousness." He admonished them with the authority of a minister; and entreated them with gentleness of a brother, mixing both his admonitions and entreaties with many affectionate tears. When he perceived in any of them an inclination to linger, either in the darkness of Deism, or in the mazes of dissipation, like the deliverers of Lot, he would stretch out his hand, and endeavour, with a pious violence, to rescue them from the dangers to which they were exposed. And, on the other hand, when he discovered in any of his friends the least discernible tokens either of godly sorrow or of holy desire, he would give a loose to the fervours of that holy joy which is manifested on similar occasions in the presence of the angels of God.
27. "But, perhaps, it is impossible to give any just idea of the extraordinary concern he expressed for the establishment of his near relations in the faith of the Gospel, except in his own words. The following passages, translated from an epistle which he formerly addressed to his brother, the assessor, will set this amiable part of his disposition a just point of view. After lamenting that he had passed so great a part of his own life in the vain pursuits of the world, he continues, -- 'And are you not constrained, my dear brother, to make the same lamentations with me? Yes, I cannot but indulge a hope that God will hear my prayers, that he will have some regard to the tears with which I wet this paper, and that, while you are reading these lines, his grace will operate upon your heart. If you did but know how much joy there would be in heaven for your conversion; if you could but conceive what transports of gratitude would overflow your heart and mine, if you were but sensible how my bowels are moved for you; surely then, without a moment's delay, you would submit to the grace of that Saviour who is even now speaking in your heart. And can you still hold out, my dear brother? And are you so entire an enemy to your own happiness, so insensible, so hard, as to decline making a full surrender of yourself to God I I will hope better things of you, through the grace of our common Saviour. Oh may that grace overwhelm thy heart, and melt down all thy hardness! As we are of one blood, let us also be of one heart and one soul. Do not reject, I conjure you, my brotherly counsels and supplications. Do not refuse to come where so much felicity awaits you, because pressed to it by a person who is unworthy to bring you the invitation. We have passed our infancy and our youth beneath the same roof, and under the same masters. We have borne the same fatigues, and tasted the same pleasures. Why then should we be separated now? Why should they be divided who, by nature, habit, and friendship, have been so long united? I have undertaken a journey to the New Jerusalem: Oh suffer me not to go thither alone. Let neither the fatigues nor the length of the way affright you. We shall be provided, even in the desert, with heavenly manna and streams of living water. God himself shall go before us as in a pillar of fire, and, under the protection of his wings, we may walk without fear, through the valley of the shadow of death. Come, then, my dear brother! I am most unwilling to leave you behind. Come; support me; go before me; encourage me; show me the way; I feel the want of a faithful companion and a Christian friend. Suffer me to throw myself at your feet, to embrace your knees, and to wash them with the tears which are now streaming from my eyes. I ask no part of your temporal possessions; but I entreat you to seek after an eternal inheritance. I desire neither your gold nor your silver: but I am anxious that you should share my joy. I am solicitous that you should accompany me to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God; -- that you should mix in that innumerable company of angels who worship there, and be counted in the general assembly and Church of the first-born. In short, I am anxious, my dear brother, that you should come with me, to have your name written in the book of life, and be made free of that holy city which shall one day descend from God out of heaven. I have a presentiment that you will, at last, submit to the easy yoke of Christ, and that, after you are converted, you will strengthen your brethren. Do not tell me again that piety is usually the portion of younger brothers, since I read, in the Old Testament, that every first-born male should be consecrated, in a peculiar manner to God. Let me rather entreat you to take the advantage of your situation. Be at least as far beyond me in piety as you are in years; and, instead of feeling any jealousy upon this account, my pleasure will be augmented in the great day of our Lord Jesus Christ, to see myself placed at your feet.' "
These quotations may serve as a specimen of the manner in which Mr. Fletcher was accustomed to express his ardent desire, in different degrees, for the spiritual prosperity of his countrymen, his, friends, and his brethren.
28. In the meantime, while Mr. Fletcher was thus labouring, even beyond his strength, according to the opportunity afforded him, to be useful to his own countrymen, he was not unmindful of his dear flock at Madeley. In a letter written about this time, among other important observations and advices, he says:-- "I am yet in the land of the living, to prepare, with you, for the land where there is life without death, praising without weariness of the flesh, and loving without separation. There I once more challenge you to meet me, with all the mind that was in Christ; and may not one hoof be left behind! May there not be found one Demas among you, turning aside from the little flock and the narrow way, to love and follow this present, perishing world. May there not be one Esau, who, for a frivolous gratification, sold his birthright; nor another wife of Lot, who looked back for the good things of the city of Destruction, and was punished by a judgment most as fearful as that of Aanias, Sapphira, and Judas. My dear companions, let us be consistent; let us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things, upon your diligent, frugal, secondary endeavors, shall be added unto you. Let us live daily, more and more, upon the free love of our gracious Creator and Preserver, the grace and righteousness of our atoning Redeemer and Mediator, nor let us stop short of the powerful joyous influence of our Comforter and Sanctifier.
"Bear me on your hearts, as I do you upon mine: and meet we all in the heart of Christ, who is the centre of our union, and our common head; humbly leaving it to him when and where we shall meet again. Farewell in Christ till we meet in the flesh around his table, or in the spirit around his throne. I am your afflicted, comforted brother, J. F."
July 18, he writes also to the Rev. Mr. Greaves, intrusted with the oversight of them, and observes:-- "I trust you lay yourself out in length and breadth for the good of the flock committed to, your care. I should be glad to hear that all the flock grow in grace, and that the little flock (those united in Christian fellowship) grow in humble love.
"Be pleased to read the owing note in the church: 'John Fletcher begs a farther interest in the prayers of the congregation of Madeley; and desires those who assemble to serve God in the church, to help him to return public thanks to almighty God for many mercies received; especially for being able to do every day a little ministerial duty, which he considers as an earnest of the strength he should be glad to have, to come back soon, and serve them in the Gospel; which he designs to do, please God, in some months. In the meantime he beseeches them to serve God as Christians, and to love one another as brethren; neglecting no means of grace, and rejoicing in all the hopes of glory.
"I hope, my dear brother, that you remember my request to you, in my' letter from Dover; and that you are glad of every possible help to do the people good. The harvest is great, the labourers are but comparatively few. Pray the Lord to send more labourers into his harvest; and rejoice when he sends us any who will help us to break up the fallow ground. My love to all our kind neighbors, and to the preachers, whom I beg you will thank in my name.
"Be pleased, when you have an opportunity, to read the following note to the societies at Madeley, Dawley, and the Banks:-
"My Dear Brethren, -- I hope you have no need of a line to assure you of the continuance of my brotherly love for you. We are called to grow in grace, and, consequently, in love, which is the greatest of all Christian graces. Your prayers for my soul and my body have not been without answer. Blessed be God! glory be to his rich mercy in Christ, I live yet the life of faith; and as to my body, I recover some strength; which rejoices me the more, as I hope a good Providence will make way for my laying it out, in inviting you to leave the things which are behind, and to press, with earnestness, unity, and patience, toward the mark of our heavenly calling in Christ. God bless you all, with all the blessings brought to the Church by Christ Jesus, and by the other Comforter!
Fare ye all well in Jesus; and remember, at the throne of grace, your affectionate brother and servant in Christ, J. F.' "
29. Mr. Fletcher's recovery, however, was but very slow. On the 15th of September following, we find him acknowledging that he had "still very trying, feverish nights, and nothing but forced evacuations." He adds, however, "I am kept in peace of mind, resigned to God's will, who afflicts me for my good, and justly sets me aside for my unprofitableness. Well, though I am a bruised vessel, yet I rest on him. He does not break me; yea, he comforts me on every side. His grace within, and his people without, turn my trying circumstances into matter of praise." The reader will easily believe that, although he speaks thus, he was very far from being laid aside for his unprofitableness as a broken vessel. The very same day in which he uses that language he writes as follows to Mr. Ireland:"My Very Dear Friend, -- I am just returned from an excursion I made with my brother through the fine vale in the midst of the high hills which divide France from this country. In that vale we found three lakes, one on French ground, and two on Swiss; the largest is six miles long and two wide. It is the part of the country where industry is most apparent, and where population thrives best. The inhabitants are chiefly woodmen, coopers, watch-makers, and jewellers. They told me they had the best singing and the best preacher in the country. I asked if any sinners were converted under his ministry? They stared, and asked what I meant by conversion? When I had explained myself, they said, 'We do not live in the time of miracles.'
"I was better satisfied in passing through a part of the vale which belongs to the king of France. I saw a prodigious concourse of people, and supposed they kept a fair, but was agreeably surprised to find three missionaries, who went about as itinerant preachers to help the regular clergy. They had been there already some days, and were three brothers, who preached morning and evening. The evening service opened by what they called a conference. One of the missionaries took the pulpit, and the parish priest proposed questions to him, which he answered at full length, and in a very edifying manner. The subject was the unlawfulness and the mischief of those methods by which persons of different sexes lay snares for each other, and corrupt each other's morals. The subject was treated with delicacy, propriety, and truth. The method was admirably well calculated to draw and fix the attention of a mixed multitude. This conference being ended, another missionary took the pulpit. His text was our Lord's description of the day of judgment. Before the sermon all those who for the press could kneel, did, and sung a French hymn, to beg a blessing upon the word; and indeed it was blessed. An awful attention was visible upon most, and for a good part of the discourse, the voice of the preacher was almost lost in the cries and bitter wailings of the audience. When the outcry began, the preacher was describing the departure of the wicked into eternal fire. They urged that God was merciful, and that Jesus Christ had shed his blood for them. 'But that mercy you have slighted, (replies the Judge,) and now is the time of justice; that blood you have trodden under foot, and now it cries for vengeance. Know your day, -- slight the Father's mercy and the Son's blood no longer.' I have been seen but once or twice congregations as much affected in England.
"One of our ministers being ill, I ventured a second time into the pulpit last Sunday; and the Sunday before I preached six miles off to two thousand people in a jail yard, where they were come to see a poor murderer two days before his execution. I was a little abused by the bailiff on the occasion, and refused the liberty of attending the poor man to the scaffold, where he was to be broken on the wheel. I hope he died penitent. The day before he suffered, he said he had broken his irons, and that, as he deserved to die, he desired new ones to be put on, lest he should be tempted to make his escape a second time.
"You ask what I design to do? I propose, if it be the Lord's will, to spend the winter here, to bear my testimony against the trade of my countrymen.
"In the spring I shall, if nothing prevent, return to England, with you, or with Mr. Perronet, if his affairs are settled, or alone, if other ways fail. In the meantime I rejoice with you in Jesus, and in the glorious hope of that complete salvation his faithfulness has promised, and his power can never be at a loss to bestow. We must be saved by faith and hope, till we are saved by perfect love, and made partakers of heavenly glory.
"I am truly a stranger here. Well, then,as strangers, let us go where we shall meet the assembly of the righteous, gathered in Jesus. Farewell in him, you and yours, J. F."
30. In the latter end of the year Mr. William Perronet set out for Switzerland. After a fatiguing journey, as he writes to his father, he arrived at Nyon, December 11th, and had the pleasure of finding Mr. Fletcher "in pretty good health, save some little weakness, and an inflammation in his eyes." In a letter he wrote from thence to Mr. Greenwood, he gives the following further account of Mr. Fletcher.
There is something in the beginning of his letter which is a little humorous; but this the candid reader will easily excuse. It runs thus "Dear Sir, As you desire of me to send you some account of my journey, now I am a little settled, I will do it in the best manner I am able.
I set out from London on Tuesday, November the 17th. We arrived at Dover about three on Wednesday morning; embarked on Thursday; and arrived at Calais in about three hours.
"Though it was in war time, yet we did not meet with the least incivility, either here or in any part of France. But the badness of the inns makes the travelling through this country disagreeable. The rooms in general are so dirty as to be fitter for swine than men. Each room, both above and below stairs, is provided with two, three, or four beds, and they are so high as to require steps to get up to them. For there is on each bed, first, a monstrous canvass bag stuffed with a huge quantity of straw; over this a feather bed, and on this as many mattresses as the host can furnish. But the worst is, the sheets are not damp, but rather downright wet. Yet the good woman would constantly scold us if we attempted to dry them, even at our own fire; insisting upon it that it was impossible they should be damp at all.
At table every one is furnished with a spoon and a fork, but with no knives. And in general they are not needful: for both flesh and vegetables are so stewed down as to be properly termed spoon meat. However, at the meanest inn every one is provided with a clean napkin: and both after dinner and after supper there is a fine dessert of fruit.
"We travelled early and, late: yet having but one set of horses, we were a whole week in getting to Paris. In Paris all is gaiety and finery: but without the least idea of neatness. The scarcity of water is one excuse for the general want of cleanliness, both in their persons and houses.
"On Tuesday, December 8th, we dined at Portallier; the prettiest town in all France. The reason of which is, being burned down some years ago, it was rebuilt by the late king. The next morning we entered Switzerland, stepping over a brook, which divides Switzerland from France. On the French side of the brook is a cross; on the other a pillar with the arms of Switzerland. In the evening we arrived at Lausanne, a famous old town. Here I remained the next day, and on Friday, the 11th, went on to Nyon, where I had the pleasure of finding our dear friend in pretty good health and spirits. Mr. Fletcher's house is a fine large building, agreeably situated. It is in the form of a castle, and is supposed to have been built five hundred years ago.
"In passing through France, how bitterly did I regret the want of the Sunday service And it was not much better with me when I came into Switzerland. For I understood so little of their language that I could not profit much by the public service. Indeed this loss is in some measure made up by the company and conversation of Mr. Fletcher; who, however engaged he is the greater part of the day, is generally so kind as to spend a little time with me in the evening -in prayer and conversation.
"His chief delight seems to be in meeting his little society of children. And as he is exceeding fond of them, they appear to be altogether as fond of him. He seldom either walks abroad or rides out, but some of them follow him; singing the hymns they have learned, and conversing with him by the way. But you must not suppose that he is permitted to enjoy this happiness unmolested. Not only the drunkards make songs on him and his little companions, but many of the clergy loudly complain of such irregular proceedings. However, he is upon good terms with the three ministers of the place; all of whom are not only serious men, but desirous of promoting true religion."
31. In another letter, dated December 31st, 1778, he says, "Mr. Fletcher is better, I think, than when he left England, but he frequently puts his strength to too severe a trial, by meeting his little society, composed of children, and some grown persons: his frequent conferences with one or two serious ministers in this parish, and other exercises of a like nature; and as soon as ever he ventures to preach, his spitting of blood returns. He has had a return of it once or twice since I have been here. Whenever this happens, his strength and spirits decay surprisingly; which he cannot in any wise recover but by lying by for some days."
In the same letter he observes, "Mr. Fletcher has taken the pains to translate all my papers into French and his brother, who is a sensible worthy man, has assisted in that, and in consulting with the lawyers, and last of all, in drawing up a clear statement of the case, which he proposed laying before those gentlemen at Geneva who have taken possession of the estates. Yesterday we all set out on this business to Chateau d'Oex, (the birthplace of the Rev. Mr. Perronet's father,) which is fifty-seven miles from hence, (Nyon,) and situated in the midst of the mountains: but before we got sixteen miles, the horses were quite tired out, and the coachman, (for we are obliged to make all our journeys in a carriage, on account of the severity of the weather,) absolutely refused to proceed any farther; so we rested at Morges, and returned home next day."
32. A few days after, however, they attempted to reach that place again, and succeeded. The following description of their journey, given by the same intelligent and pious person, in a letter to his father, I doubt not, will be highly acceptable to the reader. "Chateau d'Oex, Jan. 11, 1779.
"Honoured and Dear Sir, -- In my last letter I mentioned our intended journey to this place, where we arrived yesterday, through the good providence of God, without having met with any material accident. Neither Mr. Fletcher, nor Mr. Monod, (the lawyer,) whom we took with us, had ever before visited this northern region of their own country, so that the journey was as new to them as to myself. It was no easy matter, at this season, to procure a guide; however, at last we agreed with one, and out we all set, (on the 7th of this month,) on a journey of near eighty miles,across the Alps, (being obliged to go some leagues about, on account of the badness of the ways,) passing in a coach over mountains of snow and rocks of ice; till we came within nine miles of the place, when we were obliged to get into an open sledge, on account of the difficulty and danger attending the road. And now we travelled through narrow passes, cut through the snow, (which was many feet above our heads,) on the sides of the mountains, whose summit the eye could scarce reach; and frequently on the very brink of precipices, at the bottom of which we could hear the waters roar like thunder, and could see it in some places rushing down the sides in torrents, and forming in its passage vast pillars of ice among the rocks. Here we were shown the place where a coach had lately fallen down; and a little farther, the spot where a native of Chateau d'Oex, but a few days before was murdered, and then thrown down the precipice. We arrived at length at the town, where all the houses are built of wood within and without, roofs, ceilings, chimneys, and all: i. e., the enormous kitchen chimneys, for they have no other in any of their houses here. These being the whole size of the room, run up to a vast height, in the form of a steeple, with a number of cross bars, hung full of hams, tongues, &c. On the fronts of all the houses are carved, in large letters, the names of the persons who built them, the date, and some moral or religious sentence, with a prayer that the inhabitants may be preserved from pestilence, &c.
"The town is situated on a small spot, amid huge rocks and mountains piled one on the other, the heads of many of which are often hid among the clouds. The slopes are beautifully adorned with lofty pines, while the enormous sides of others are naked, craggy, and almost perpendicular. In the clefts and chasms of these, ten thousand such buildings as St. Paul's church might be placed, and would appear but as so many trifling ornaments. For here all the works of nature, or rather of the God of nature, are terribly magnificently; in viewing them, one cannot but admire and tremble at the same instant.
"Nyon, Jan.18. We stayed at Chateau d'Oex two days, when, having finished the business we went upon, we set out and arrived here last Friday, not much the worse for this uncomfortable and even dangerous journey; however, both Mr. Fletcher and myself got a fall on the ice, in going to Chateau d'Oex, when we had left the sledge; for in some places it is reckoned safer to walk than to ride, even in the sledge. Mr. Fletcher received a violent blow on the back part of his head, while I only sprained my wrist: to this I may add, that in crossing the Alps, we lay two nights in.beds that were not only damp, but quite musty, and without curtains. However, we had our own sheets, and so received no lasting injury. But being at this time in a popish canton, and Friday and Saturday being meagre days, we were almost starved with hunger as well as cold.
"The weather here is extremely severe; it is scarce in the power of clothes, or even fire, to keep one warm; and the wolves begin to leave the forests, and to prowl about the towns and villages. Two of them, Mr. Fletcher tells me, were seen near this town the other day, one of which was killed by the country people.
"Whether I succeed in my temporal business or not I shall ever remember, with pleasure and thankfulness, the opportunities I have been blessed with of spending so much time in company with our inestimable friend; who, wherever he goes, preaches the Gospel, both by his words and example; nay, by his very looks, not only to his friends, but to all he meets with. So that on the top of the frozen Alps, and in the dreary vale of Chateau d'Oex, some good seed has been sown.
"And here also he was visited by some of the principal inhabitants of the town; who stood around him in deep attention for almost an hour, while he both exhorted and prayed I am, dear sir, your very sincere friend and servant, William Perronet."
Mr. Fletcher adds upon the paper on which the former letter is written, ",Thanks to our kind Preserver, I am yet.in the land of faith and hope, and want to find and make it a land of happiness and love. The Lord Jesus is alone sufficient for this. And till the great outpouring of his love be come, we ought faithfully to stir up the gift of God which is in ourselves and others, and to supply, by the depth of our humility, and the ardour of our expectation, what is yet wanting to our experience. Well, God is good, Jesus is faithful, the Spirit is truth and love. Come, Lord! and we shall experience the power of that God who turns death to life, darkness to light, weakness to strength; and calleth the things that are not as though they were."
33. Feb. 2. He gives the following account of the state of his health, and of his proceedings, to Mr. Ireland:-- "I am better, thank God, and ride out every day when the slippery roads will permit me to venture without the risk of breaking my horse's legs and my own neck. You will ask me how I have spent my time? I answer, I pray, have patience rejoice, and write when I can; I saw wood in the house when I cannot go out, and eat grapes, of which I have always a basket, by me. Our little lord lieutenant has forbidden the ministers to let me exhort in the parsonage, because it is the sovereign's house. My second brother has addressed a memorial to him, in which he informs him that he will give up neither his religious nor civil liberty, and will open his house for the word of God; and accordingly we have since met at his house. On Sunday we met at the young clergyman's, who, on his part, write's against the conduct of the clergy; but I fear we fence against a wall of brass. However, I am quite persuaded that Providence calls me to leave a testimony to my French brethren, and it may be of some use when I shall be no more. I have been comforted by seeing the apology of a minister at Yverdon, who was persecuted in the beginning of this century under the name of Pietist. I have got acquainted with a faithful minister of Geneva, but he dares no more offer me his pulpit than my brother-in-law at Lausanne.
"The Lord was not in the forwardness of the young man I mentioned. It was but a fire of straw; and he has now avoided me for some weeks. Several young women seemed to have received the word in the love of it and four or five more advanced in age; but not each man, except the young hopeful clergyman I mention, who helps me at my little meetings, and begins to preach extempore. I hope he will stand his ground better than he who was such an approver when you were here, and is now dying, after having drawn back to the world.
"The truths I chiefly insist upon, when I talk to the people who will hear me, are those which I feed upon myself as my daily bread. God, our Maker and Preserver, though invisible, is here and everywhere. He Is our chief good, because all beauty and all goodness centre in and flow from him. He is especially love, and love in us, being his image, is the sum and substance of all moral and spiritual excellence, of all true and lasting bliss. In Adam, we are all estranged from love and from God; but the second Adam, Jesus Emanuel, God with us, is come to make us know and enjoy again our God, as the God of love and the chief good. All who receive Jesus, receive power to become the sons of God, &c., &c.'
"I hope I shall be able to set out for England with Mr. Perronet in April or May. Oh that I may find that dear island in peace within and without! Well, I hope you make peace in the Church, if you cannot make peace with the patriots. God is a good God. Do you know, the coats and shoes you gave me have lasted all this while, and are yet good? so that I need not draw upon your banker. Thank God and you for a thousand favours! God bless and comfort you, my dear friend! We are poor Creatures but we have a good God to cast all our burdens upon, and who often burdens us that we may have our constant and free recourse to his bounty, power, and faithfulness. Stand fast in the faith. Believe lovingly, and all will be well. Farewell. "J. F."
A few days after he writes to the Rev. Mr. Perronet, in a.postscript to his son's letter; -- "I have had the pleasure of accompanying your son to your father's birth-place. It is a charming country for those who have a taste for highland prospects; but what is it to our heavenly Father's hill of Sion? Thither may we all travel, summer and winter, and there may we all have a happy meeting, and find an eternal inheritance. Whether you will obtain your earthly estate in these parts in possession; as it is yours by right, is yet to me matter of doubt. A little time, I hope, will decide the question: and as Providence will throw in the turning weight, it will be for the best, which way soever the affair ends. My friend is tolerably well, and I hope Providence will bring him back to you safe, more out of conceit with the vanity of earth; and may we all be more in love with the blessings of heaven."
34. It appears that in the latter end of March, Mr. Fletcher's health was still but little improved. On the 29th of that month his words to Mr. Perronet are:-- "I am still weak in body, but able to ride out, and exhort some children, through Divine mercy. Well! the time shall come when, in a better state, we shall be able to glorify our heavenly Father. In the meantime let us do it either in.the stocks of weakness, or in the fires of tribulation. And on our deathbed may we sing. with a heart overflowing with humble love, 'The Resurrection and the Life, the Friend and Saviour of sinners, loved me and gave himself for me, and I am going to see and thank him face to face for his matchless love. I hope the prospect, with respect to the inheritance of your fathers, in this country, clears up a little, and I trust the matter will be decided without a lawsuit. As soon as the affair is brought to some conclusion, we design to set out for England. The will of the Lord be done in all things."
35. But although Mr. Fletcher had hoped to be able to leave Switzerland, on his return to England, in April or May, and it seems had taken measures accordingly, he was constrained, by the entreaties of his friends, and such of the inhabitant's as had received benefit by his labours, to prolong his stay among them. "I have complied," says he, May 18, to one of his parishioners, "with the request of my friends to stay a little longer, as it was backed by a small society of pious people gathered here. Three weeks ago they got about me, and, on their knees with many tears, besought me to stay till they were a little stronger, and able to stand alone; nor would they rise till they had got me to comply. Happy would it be for us all, if we prayed as earnestly to Him who can give us substantial blessings."
It was not, however, without reluctance that he consented, in this instance, to the desire of his friends; The welfare of his flock at Madeley lay near his heart, and it gave him much uneasiness to be so long absent from them. On the same day that he wrote the above, he says to his curate:-- "My departure being delayed some weeks gives me much concern, although, from the confidence I have in your pastoral diligence, I am easy about the flock you feed.
"There was last week a visitation held here, and the clergy of the town took my part against the visitor and others, who said, 'I was of a sect everywhere spoken against.' The conversation about it held so long, and was so trying to my grain of humility, that I went out. The matter, however, ended peaceably, by a vote that they should invite me to dinner. God ever save us from jealous and persecuting zeal!
"I hope, my dear friend, you go on comfortably, doing more and more the work of a growing evangelist. Remember my love to all I mentioned in my last, to as many of my parishioners as you meet with, and especially to all our good neighbours, and to the society. God bless you all; and enable you to persevere in prayer for yourself, for the flock, (which I once more recommend to you, with the lambs, the children,) and for your affectionate brother, J. F."
36. On good Friday, there being no service at Nyon, Mr. Fletcher and his friend crossed the lake into Savoy, in order to hear a celebrated Capuchin, who was to preach that day. "He made," Mr. Perronet observes, "a very good discourse; and afterward he and his brethren very civilly invited us to dine with them. This we declined, but after dinner paid our respects to them, when Mr. Fletcher spent two or three agreeable hours with them in serious and friendly conversation." It appears by the letter from which the above is copied, dated May 22d, that Mr. Fletcher was then much better in health than he had been in March. On the 9th of that month, he had preached in the church, on 2 Cor. v, 20, "We are ambassadors," &c., and had spoken with a strong and clear voice for above three quarters of an hour, and yet did not find himself hurt by it. "Upon the whole," Mr. Perronet observes, "he has preached four times in the church since I have been here, and might have preached much oftener, if his health would have allowed him; for by his friendly and prudent conduct toward the three ministers of the place, he is upon good terms with them now, although at his first coming hither they were afraid to own him, on account of his irregular conduct; for such they deemed his exhorting the children and holding meetings in private houses." In the afternoon of the day last mentioned he met with a merciful deliverance. He was riding out for the benefit of the air, when his horse fell down as if he had been shot, and cut both his knees, and even his head, in a terrible manner. Mr. Fletcher, however, providentially escaped without the least hurt.
Mr. Fletcher adds the following words in Mr. William Perronet's letter to his father of May 22d:-
"My Very Dear Brother, and Honoured Father, -- I rejoice that you are yet preserved to be a witness of Jesus' grace and saving health. Let us rejoice that when our strength shall decay, his will remain entire for ever; and in his strength, we, who take him for our life, shall be strong. Our Redeemer liveth, and when sickness and death shall. have brought down our flesh to the earth, we shall, by his resurrection's power, rise and live for ever with him in heavenly places. For the new earth will be a heaven, or a glorious province of the kingdom of heaven. With it we shall be restored to paradisiacal beauty, and filled with righteousness. Well: the meek shall inherit it, and that inheritance shall be fairer than yours at Chateau d'Oex, and surer too. I hope to accompany your son soon to England. Let us all move toward our one heavenly country, by Christ,. who is the only way, a way strait, sure, luminous, and where the wayfaring man, though a fool, will have more wisdom than all the teachers of the mere letter. "J. F.'
37. Two days after he writes to Mr. Greenwood thus:-- "I am yet alive, able to ride out, and now and then to instruct a few children. I hope Mr. Perronet will soon have settled his affairs, and then, please God, shall inform you by word of mouth, how much I am indebted to you, Mrs. Greenwood, and Mrs. Thornton. I know it so much the more now, as I have made trial of the kindness of my relations in Adam; those in Christ exceed them as far, in my account, as grace does nature. Thank and salute them earnestly from me, and to those of your own household please to add Messrs. John and Charles Wesley, Dr. Coke, &c. That the Lord would fill you with his choicest blessings, as you have done me, is my dear friend, the earnest prayer of your poor pensioner, J. F."
"P. S. Mr. Perronet wants me to fill up his letter. I would gladly do it, but at this time, a sleepless night, and a constant toothache unfit me for almost any thing, but lying down under the cross, kissing the rod, and rejoicing in hope of a better state, in this world or in the next. But perhaps weakness and pain are the best for me in this world. Well, the Lord will choose for me, and I fully set my heart and seal to his choice. Let us not faint in the day of adversity. The Lord tries us, that our faith may be found purged from all the dross of self-will, and may work by that love which beareth all things, and thinketh evil of nothing. Our calling is to follow the crucified, and we must be crucified with him, until body and soul know the power of his resurrection, and sin and death are done away."
38. In the same spirit, and about the same time, he says to another friend, "Let us bear with patience the decays of nature let us see, without fear, the approach of death. We must put off this sickly corruptible body, in order to put on the immortal and glorious garment.
"I have some hopes that my poor sister will yet be my sister in Christ. Her self-righteousness, I trust, breaks as fast as her body. I am come hither to see death make havoc among my friends. I wear mourning for my father's brother, and for my brother's son. The same mourning will serve me for my dying sister, if I do not go before her. She lies on the same bed where my father and mother died, and where she and I were born. How near is life to death! but, blessed be God, Christ, the resurrection, is nearer to the weak, dying believer! Death works through the body, and the resurrection through the soul: and our soul is our real self."
39. July 18, he writes:-- "Providence is still gracious to me, and raises me friends on all sides. May God reward them all, and may you have a double reward for all your kindness. I hope I am getting a little strength. The Lord has blessed to me a species of black cherry, which I have eaten in large quantities. For a fortnight past I have catechized the children of the town every day; and I do not find much inconvenience from that exercise. Some of them seem to be under sweet drawings of the Father, and a few of their mothers begin to come, and desire me, with tears in their eyes, to stay in this country. They urge much my being born here; and I reply that as I was born again in England, that is, of course, the country which to me is the dearer of the two. My friends have prevailed on me to publish a poem on the praises of God, which I wrote many years ago. The revising it for the press is at once a business and a pleasure which I go through on horse-back. Help by your prayers to ask a blessing on this little attempt: and may the God of all grace, who deserves so much our praises for the unspeakable gift of his dear Son, give us such a spirit of thankful praise, that we may bless and praise him as David did formerly."
40. In the beginning of September Mr. William Perronet wrote a little farther account of him:-- "Mr. Fletcher has been wont to preach now and then, in the church here, (Nyon,) at the request of one or other of the ministers. But some time ago he was summoned before the Seigneur Bailiff, who sharply reprehended him for preaching against Sabbath-breaking and stage plays. The former, he said, implied a censure on the magistrates in general, as if they neglected their duty. And the latter he considered as a personal reflection on himself, he having just then sent for a set of French comedians to Nyon. Accordingly he forbade Mr. Fletcher to exercise any more any of the functions of a minister in this country. However, one of the ministers here has given him a room in his own house to preach in. Here Mr. Fletcher meets a few serious persons, particularly a number of children, two or three times a week. And hereto his lordship has not thought proper to interfere with respect to this mode of exhortation. And both the number and the seriousness of the congregation increase daily."
Some time after Mr. Fletcher speaks of this as follows:-- "Our lord lieutenant, being stirred up by some of the clergy, and believing firmly that I am banished from England, took the alarm, and forbade the ministers to let me exhort in their houses; threatening them with the power of the senate if they did. They all yielded, but are now ashamed of it. A young clergyman, a true Timothy, has opened me his house, where I exhort twice a week; and the other clergymen, encouraged by his boldness, come to our meetings."
41. According to Mr. Perronet, the minister by whom the opposition was begun, died suddenly soon afterward, as he was dressing to go to church. "But this awful providence," adds he, "has had so little effect, that the clergyman who succeeds him has likewise publicly opposed Mr. Fletcher; who now thinks himself obliged, before he leaves his native country, to bear a public testimony to the truth." He seems to mean chiefly by writing: for he observes in the same letter:-" Mr. Fletcher is engaged in writing something for the edification of his friends in this country; but when it will be finished I cannot say, for it multiplies daily under his fertile pen; so that I fear we shall be obliged to spend another winter in this severe climate."
42. It appears, by sundry letters which passed between Mr. Fletcher and Mr. William Perronet, (who was then at Lausanne,) which letters are now before me, that during a part of this month Mr. Fletcher was much afflicted by a rheumatic pain, which had settled on his left shouldera
nd had been so severe as to deprive him of sleep, and almost to cripple him. However, says he, "I find it a good goad to make me go to the Spring of help, health, and comfort." A fortnight after, (November 18th,) he says:-- "Thank God, I have partly recovered the use of my shoulder, though it is still very weak. I drink a decoction of pine apple, from the tree, which is as warm as guaiacum. My writing does not go on: but the will of the Lord is done, and that is enough. I would press you to come back soon, if I were not persuaded you are better where you are. I have been afraid our bad meat here would make you lose your flesh, and, for the honour of Switzerland, I should be glad you had some to carry back to England, if we live to go and see our friends there."
December 2d, be says: "I have recovered the use of my arm, blessed be God. But I see the Lord will not use me in this country for good. [The Lord certainly used him more than he was aware.] And when we shall have done our little matters, I shall be glad to go to my spiritual friends, and to my flock. The Lord direct us in all things. O, for quietness and English friends!"
43. "I believe," says Mr Wesley, "it was about this time that a remarkable passage occurred, which was related to me some years ago. I may possibly have forgot some circumstances; but the substance of it was this:-- Mr. Fletcher, having heard of a minister in the country as an eminently pious man, had a great desire to see him, and for that purpose one morning set out very early. When he had walked several miles, he saw a great crowd gathered together at the door of a house. He asked what was the matter. And was answered, A poor woman and a child lie dying. He went in and found a woman who had not long been delivered, in appearance very near death. Little better was the case of the infant, which was convulsed from head to foot. The room was filled with people. He took occasion to show them, from that melancholy spectacle, the dreadful effects of sin: and afterward spoke largely of the miserable state we are all in through the sin of our first parents. He then expatiated on the second Adam, and the blessings we may receive through him: adding, 'He is able to raise the dead! He is able to save you all from sin, as well as to save these two poor objects from death. Come, let us ask him to save both us and them.' He found remarkable liberty in prayer. Presently the child's convulsions ceased, and the mother was easy, lively, and strong. The people were utterly amazed, and stood speechless and almost senseless! While they were in this state he silently withdrew. When they came to themselves he was gone. Many of them asked 'who it could be ,' and some said, 'Certainly it was an angel.'
44. The following letter, written to a nobleman in this kingdom, and dated Nyon, December 15th, 1779, is well worth inserting here, both because it shows Mr. Fletcher's opinion on a great political question, which was warmly debated in England at that time, and because it contains other important information
"My Lord, -- If the American colonies and the West India islands are rent from the crown, there will not grow one ear of corn the less in Great Britain. We shall still have the necessaries of life, and what is more, the Gospel, and liberty to hear it. If the great springs of trade and wealth are cut off, good men will bear that loss without much sorrow; for springs of wealth are always springs of luxury, which, sooner or later, destroy the empires corrupted by wealth. Moral good may come out of our losses: I wish you may see it in England. People on the continent imagine they see it already in the English on their travels, who are said to behave with more wisdom, and less haughtiness, than they were used to do.
"Last year saw the death of three great men of these parts Rousseau, Voltaire, and Baron HaIler, a senator of Berne. The last, who is not much known, I think, in England, was a great philosopher, a profound politician, and an agreeable poet: but he was particularly famous for his skill in botany, anatomy, and physic. He has enriched the republic of letters by such a number of publications in Latin and German, that the catalogue of them is alone a pamphlet.
"This truly great man has given another proof of the truth of Lord's Bacon's assertion, that 'although smatterers in philosophy are often impious, true philosophers are always religious.' I have met with an old, pious, apostolic clergyman, who was intimate with the baron, and used to accompany him over the Alps, in his rambles after the wonders of nature. 'With what pleasure,' said the minister, 'did we admire and adore the wisdom of the God of nature, and sanctify our researches by the sweet praises of the God of grace!'
"When the emperor passed this way he stabbed Voltaire to the heart by not paying him a visit; but he waited on Haller, was two hours with him, and heard from him such pious talk as he never heard from half the philosophers of the age. The baron was then ill of the disorder which afterward carried him off.
"Upon his deathbed he went through sore conflicts about his interest in Christ; and sent to the old minister, requesting his most fervent prayers, and wishing him to find the way through the dark valley smoother than he found it himself. However, in his last moments he expressed a renewed confidence in God's mercy, through Christ, and died in peace. The old clergyman added that he thought the baron went through this conflict to humble him thoroughly, and perhaps to chastise him for having sometimes given way to a degree of self-complacence at the thought of his amazing parts, and of the respect they procured him from the learned world. He was obliged to become last in his own eyes, that he might become first and truly great in the sight of the Lord. I am, my lord, &c., J. F."
45. Mr. Fletcher's concern for the spiritual good of his flock would not suffer him to rest many weeks without inquiring after their welfare. On Christmas day he writes to Mr. Greaves:-" Though absent in body, I am with you and the flock in the spirit. You are now at the Lord's table -O, may all the dear souls you have just now preached to receive Jesus Christ in the pledge of his dying love; and go home with this lively conviction, 'God has given me eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life: I have the Son, I have life, even eternal life. "Glory be to God in heaven! Peace on earth! Love and good will everywhere; but especially in the spot where Providence has called us to cry, Behold! what manner of love he Father has testified to us, in Jesus, that we, children of wrath should be made children of God, by that only begotten Son of the Most High who was born for our regeneration, crucified for our atonement, raised for our justification, and now triumphs in heaven for our full redemption, and for our eternal glorification. To him be glory for ever and ever; and may all, who fear and love him about you, say for ever, Amen! Hallelujah!
"Out of the fulness of my heart I invite them to do so; but how shallow is my fulness to his! What a drop to an ocean without bottom or shore! Let us, then, receive continually from him, who is the overflowing and ever present source of pardoning, sanctifying, and exhilarating grace; and from the foot of the Wrekin, where you are, to the foot of the Alps, where I am, let us echo back to each other the joyful, thankful cry of the primitive Christians, (which was the text here this morning,) Out of his fulness we have received grace for grace.
"I long to hear from you and the flock. Answer this and my last together; and let me know that you cast joyfully your burdens on the Lord.
"Give my kind pastoral love to all my people in general, and to all who fear God and love Jesus, and the brethren in particular. May all see, and see more abundantly, the salvation of God. May national distress be sanctified unto them; and may they all be loyal subjects of the King of kings, and of his anointed, our king. May the approaching new year be to them a year of peace and Gospel grace. That you and the flock may fare well in Jesus, is the hearty prayer of yours, J. F."
March 7, 1780, he says again:-- "I long to hear from you. I hope you are well, and grow in the love of Christ, and of the souls bought with his blood, and committed to your care. May you have the comfort of bringing them all into the pastures of the Gospel, and seeing them thrive under your pastoral care. I recommend to your care the most helpless of the flock, -- I mean the children and the sick. They most want your help, and they are the most likely to benefit by it; for affliction softens the heart; and children are not yet quite hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
"I beg you will not fail, when you have opportunity, to recommend to our flock to honour the king, to study to be quiet, and to hold up, as much as lies in us, the hands of the government by which we are protected. Remember me kindly to Mr. Gilpin, and to all our parishioners. God give you peace by all means, as, in his mercy, he does to your affectionate friend and fellow labourer, J. F."
"Thus we see Mr. Fletcher was a good subject, as well as a good Christian and was as attentive to his duty to his king and country as to his God. Indeed, these virtues cannot he separated. They that attempt to separate them only show that they are properly possessed of neither.
46. In what has already been related, we have had ample and continual evidence of the spirituality of Mr. Fletcher's mind, and of the fervour and elevation of his piety. We may also observe, in several of his letters, and in all his intercourse with his friends and others, the most manifest proofs of the greatest integrity and most strict justice. The following paragraph among others that might be produced, appearing in a letter now before me, written to one of his parishioners at this time, is a striking instance of this.
Referring to a building which he had erected in Madeley Wood for a school, and for the accommodation of those of his parishioners who wished to assemble to receive the word of exhortation on the evening of the Lord's day, and of some other days of the week, he says:-- "I am sorry the building has come to so much more than I intended: but, as the mischief is done, it is a matter to exercise patience, resignation, and self-denial; and it will be a caution in future. I am going to sell part of my little estate here to discharge the debt. I had laid by fifty pounds to print a small work, which I wanted to distribute here; but as I must be just, before I presume to offer that mite to the God of truth, I lay by the design, and shall send that sum to Mr. York. Money is so scarce here at this time that I shall sell at a very great loss; but necessity and justice are two great laws which must be obeyed. As I design, on my return to England, to pinch until I have got rid of this debt, I may go and live in one of the cottages belonging to the vicar, if we could let the vicarage for a few pounds; and in that case, I dare say, Mr. Greaves would be so good as to take the other little house."
It appears, however, by some of his subsequent letters, that his friend, Mr. Ireland, (always a friend in need!) having heard of it, stepped forward, unknown to him, and discharged the greatest part of this debt for him. This letter, however, he cannot conclude without giving his friend some spiritual advice: "My dear friend," adds he, "let us die unto sin, hold fast Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, walk by faith in him, and not by the sight and passions of the old Adam. I hope the sun of affliction, which burns poor England and us, will ripen us all for glory. Give my best love to all our friends in Christ, and tell them that the hope of seeing them does me god, and that I trust they will not turn it into bitterness; the which would be the case, if I should find them out of the narrow way, and out of the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Lord."
47. The reader will observe that till about the close of the preceding year, (the year 1779,) Mr. Fletcher and Mr. William Perronet had generally lodged in one house in Nyon. But, about the beginning of this year, (1780,) they were obliged to be separated. Of this Mr. Perronet speaks to his father thus, in July following:
"I think it was about half a year ago that we broke up housekeeping at Nyon. Poor dear Mr. Fletcher with difficulty procured a miserable lodging in the neighborhood, and I was obliged to go to Lausanne, which is seven leagues from Nyon. I submitted the more willingly to this, as at that time he talked of spending some time at Lausanne. But though I have been disappointed in this respect, I have had the pleasure of seeing him once or twice at Nyon. I found him today sitting in his small apartment, surrounded with books and papers, writing, or as he expressed it, 'finishing' the first part of one of his pieces: so, when the whole is likely to be concluded one cannot pretend to say."
48. Mr. Fletcher had intended leaving Nyon in September next ensuing, in order to return to England; but he then unexpectedly met with two hindrances. One was, that when he came to collect the different parts of the manuscript, just referred to, which he had designed to print and distribute before he left the country, he found the greatest part of it wanting, and after very many searches he was obliged to write it over again.  This event obliged him to delay his journey some weeks. Secondly, change of weather brought back some symptoms of his disorder; insomuch that he spoke, or even whispered, with difficulty. He began, however, to eat grapes plentifully, as he had done the two preceding autumns, (his own little vineyard having produced an astonishing quantity in the latter of those years,) and it appears they became, through the Divine blessing, the chief mean of his restoration. Add to this, his friend, Mr. Ireland, urged that, if he returned to England at that season of the year, in all probability the winter would undo all that he and his friends had been doing for the restoration of his health, for many years. "However," says he to Mr. Greaves, Sept.15, after mentioning the above circumstances, "I have not quite laid aside the design of spending the winter at Madeley; and I am, at least, firmly purposed that if I do not set out this autumn, I will do so, God willing, next spring as early as I can. Till I had this relapse I was able, thank God, to exhort in a private room three times a week: but the lord lieutenant will not allow me to get into a pulpit, though they permit the schoolmasters, who are laymen, to put on a band, and read the Church prayers; so high runs the prejudice. The clergy, however, tell me that if I will renounce my ordination, and get Presbyterian orders among them, they will allow me to preach; and on these terms one of the ministers of this town offers me his curacy. A young clergyman of Geneva, tutor to my nephew, appears to me a truly converted man; and he is so pleased when I tell him there are converted souls in England, that he will go over with me to learn English, and converse with the British Christians. He wrote last summer with such force to some of the clergy, who were stirring up the fire of persecution that he made them ashamed, and we have since had peace from that quarter.
"There is little genuine piety in these parts: nevertheless, there is yet some of the form of it; so far that they go to the Lord's table regularly four times a year. There meet the adulterers, the drunkards, the swearers, the infidels, and even the materialists. They have no idea of the double damnation that awaits hypocrites. They look upon partaking that sacrament as a ceremony enjoined by the magistrate. At Zurich, the first town of this country, they have lately beheaded a clergyman, who wanted to betray his country to the emperor, to whom it chiefly belonged. It is the town of the great reformer, Zwinglians: yet there they poisoned the sacramental wine a few years ago. Tell it not in Gath! I mention this to show you that there is occasion and great need to bear a testimony against the faults of the clergy here; and if I cannot do it from the pulpit, I must try to do it from the press. Their canons, which were composed by two hundred and thirty pastors, at the time of the Reformation, are so spiritual and apostolic, that I design to translate them into English, if I am spared.
"Farewell, my dear brother. Take care, good, constant care, of the flock committed to your charge, especially the sick and the young. Salute all our dear parishioners. Let me still have a part in your prayers, public and private; and rejoice in the Lord, as, through grace, I am enabled to do in all my little tribulations. " J. F."
49. To another friend in his parish he writes the same day:-- "You see, by my letter to Mr. Greaves that I am in good hopes of seeing you, at the latest, next spring. I have been so well, that my friends here thought of giving me a wife; but what should I do with a Swiss wife at Madeley? I want, rather, an English nurse, but more still, a mighty Saviour; and thanks be to God that I have one. Help me to rejoice in that never dying, never moving Friend."
To the pious of his parish, and the neighbourhood formed into religious societies, he says at the same time: "I am still in a strait between the work which Providence cuts out for me here, and the love which draws me to you. When I shall have the pleasure of seeing you, let it not be embittered by the sorrow of finding any of you half-hearted and lukewarm. Let me find you all strong in the Lord, and increased in humble love. Salute from me all that followed with us fifteen years ago. Care still for your old brethren. Let there be no Cain among you, no Esau, no Lot's wife. Let the love of David and Jonathan, heightened by that of Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and our Lord, shine in all your thoughts, your tempers, your words, your looks, and your actions. If you love one another, your little meetings will be a renewed feast; and the God of love, who is peculiarly present where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, and in the spirit of love, will abundantly bless you. Bear me still upon your breasts in prayer, as I do you upon mine; and rejoice with me, that the Lord who made, redeemed, and comforts us, bears us all upon his. I am yours, in him, " J. F."
50. In consequence of information received about this time from Mr. Ireland, that he and his family purposed spending the ensuing winter in the south of France, which, notwithstanding the war, they had obtained leave to do, and even to go anywhere, save to a seaport, Mr. Fletcher writes to his friend, Mr. William Perronet, thus:-- "If you will go and join Mr. Ireland, I should be glad to do it, for the stream under my house prevents it from being very wholesome. I am, however, better of my cold, thank God. My brother thinks You may conclude [referring to the matters in dispute between him and the coheirs] upon the terms you mention. 'Better a dinner of herbs with peace, than a stalled ox and noise therewith.' I hope to go to Lausanne immediately after vintage, to offer a manuscript to the censors, to see if they will allow of its being published:  so I don't invite you to come and share my damp bed. My sister was so kind as to look for another house, but could find none to let for a less term than that of a year. We are here travellers, so we must expect some difficulties, and a great many inconveniences."
51. Soon afterward this amiable and excellent man, like several of his other brothers, who died young, fell into a very poor state of health. December 5th, following, Mr. Fletcher writes to the Rev. Mr. Vin. Perronet thus:-- "Our wise and good God sees fit to try my dear friend, your son, with a want of appetite and uneasiness in his bowels, which makes him often return the little food he takes. He came some time ago hither from Lausanne, and we went to Geneva together, where we settled your affair with three of the Geneva coheirs, upon the same footing he had settled with those of Chateau d'Oex. When my friend shall be a little better, he will give you a more particular account. He bears his weakness with so much patience and resignation, that my sister-in-law (who is an English woman) is quite edified."
On the same paper Mr. Perronet writes:-- "I have been here near two months, and most part of the time (so it has pleased God) in much pain and weakness. The irregularity and severity of the climate, added to the fatigue and distress I have undergone, have greatly impaired my health. But I desire to submit to the will of the Lord, knowing that it is better to fall into his hands, than into the hands of man. I am with Mr. Fletcher's relations, who are extremely kind to me."
On January 22d, 1781, he writes:-- "I continue under such weakness, and am frequently in such great pain, as to my stomach and bowels, attended at times with such violent fits of vomiting, that I am at present but little able to undertake the journey Mr. Ireland so earnestly presses on Mr. Fletcher and myself, to join him in the south of France. I know what it is to travel in this country, and in France, in the depth of winter. We have bad roads, cold, wet, uncomfortable inns, frequently a want of the most common necessaries: and, I might add, sometimes even damp beds; which would ill suit either me or Mr. Fletcher. I have the greatest reason to be thankful for the kindness I have met with from dear Mr. Fletcher and his brother's family, as well as from my friends at this place. I have nothing to regret here but the loss of Mr. Fletcher's company, who used to be much with me, and who would have sat up with me at night had I consented to it. After praying with rue on an evening, he used constantly to repeat, or rather sing this verse at parting,
'Then let our humble faith address His mercy and his power:
We shall obtain deliv'ring grace In the distressing hour.
In another letter to his father, February 6th, he says: "Mr. Fletcher is scarce recovered from a severe fit of the rheumatism, and I continue so extremely weak, that we shall hardly be able to accomplish our wish" respecting joining Mr. Ireland, and returning to England. But on the 10th of February, Mr. Perronet's affair being ended, Mr. Fletcher observes to him:-- "Your call to England seems quite clear now; nor is mine less clear. My friend Ireland urges me to join him. I will venture upon a visit to the south of France with you, if you can bear the journey. We should go south by Lyons, and come back to Paris, through the heart of the kingdom. He says they are as quiet as if it were peace.
"I find, by letters from thence, I am wanted in my parish for particular reasons. So necessity draws me, and my promises drive me. I finish today my book that detained me, as your affairs detained you; and the weather is mild. The Lord strengthen, direct, and bless you, Cast all your burdens upon him."
52. Before Mr. Fletcher left Switzerland, he was compelled to witness an earnest of those judgments of God upon that once happy people, which have since overwhelmed them with a full tide, on account, as is probable, of their departure from the faith and love of the Gospel. And what is remarkable, those judgments " began" it seems, "at the house of God," at Geneva, the place which of all others had enjoyed the greatest privileges, and made the greatest profession of religion. Mr. Fletcher mentions this event, February 14th, in a letter to a friend, thus:-- "I am here in the midst of the rumors of war. The burghers of Geneva, on the side of the opposition, have disarmed the garrison, and taken possession of one of the gates. I had, however, the happiness to get in, and bring away my nephew, who is a student there. Some troops are preparing to go and block them up. The Lord may, at this time, punish the repeated backslidings of these Laodicean Christians, most of whom have turned infidels. This event may a little retard my journey, as I must pass through Geneva. It also puts off the printing my manuscript; for there is nothing going on in that unhappy town but disputes, and fights, and mounting of guards."
Mr. William Perronet also speaks of these troubles, in a letter to his father, a little after, as follows:-- " he dispute at Geneva is between the burgesses and the magistrates, concerning their privileges and prerogatives. The former have appealed to the magistrates of Berne, and the latter to the court of France; and, it is feared, the affair will not be ended without great mischief on both sides; the citizens having declared that if their grievances are not redressed, they will lock up the gates, and set fire to the town, and so perish all together."
53. The breaking out of these troubles was an additional reason why Mr. Fletcher desired to leave that country. "You need not urge me," says he to the friend above mentioned, "to return: brotherly love draws me to Madeley, and circumstances drive me hence. With pleasure I see the days lengthen, and hasten the happy hour when I shall see the little flock rejoicing in God, as, through mercy, I do. I trust to set out next month, and to be in England in May. It will not be my faultaif it be not in April." At the same time, he desires another friend in his parish "to read the following note to all that feared God, and loved Jesus and each other, assembling in Madeley church:-
"My Dear Brethren, -- My heart leaps for joy at the thought of coming to see you, and bless the Lord with you. Let us not stay to praise him till we see each other. Let us see him in his Son, in his word, in his works, and in all the members of Christ. How slow will post horses go in comparison of love!
'Quick as seraphic flames we move, To reign with Christ in endless day.
"Meet me as I do you -- in spirit; and we shall not stay till April or May to bless God together. Now will be the time of union and love."
54. Mr. Fletcher, however, was disappointed of the company of his friend. To his extreme regret he was obliged to leave him behind. Mr. Perronet became so much weaker by the 20th of February, and the weather so much more severe than it had been, the snow setting in, that Mr. Fletcher did not dare to urge him to take such a journey at such a season: and having himself solemnly promised Mr. Ireland to go to him at Montpelier, if he came over, and having already long delayed to fulfil his promise, he could not with propriety delay it any longer. He went however to Lausanne, to see Mr. Perronet, two days before his departure. He found him weak and low; but the frequent vomitings, which he had had some months before, had left him, and his appetite had returned. Mr. Fletcher, therefore, was not without hopes, which were encouraged by the physician that attended him, that the return of fine weather would be instrumental in restoring him. In the mean time he was well taken care of. "Miss Perronet and her mother," says Mr. Fletcher to his father, "are as kind to him as my dear friends at Newington were to me, when I lay sick there: and his mind is quite easy. He is sweetly resigned to the will of God."
Still, however, it was a painful circumstance to Mr. Fletcher to be obliged to return to England without him; and it was certainly equally painful to his friend to be left behind in that foreign land. "It would have been a much greater pleasure," says he to his father, "to have accompanied my dear friend, Mr. Fletcher, than to have sent a letter by him. Indeed, I had flattered myself with the pleasing prospect of returning with him in the spring. But he is engaged by promise to join Mr. Ireland, and set out with him before the winter is over. For the snow is now on the ground, and it is extremely cold; while I am so weak, as frequently to be scarcely able to creep from one warm room to another, without danger of fainting away. Indeed, once or twice, I have fainted on the slightest occasions. But I hope I shall be able to get out a little when the weather becomes milder; and, by the blessing of God, gather strength sufficient to undertake the journey to England by the beginning of summer; which time I very much long for."
55. Mr. Fletcher set out for Montpelier some time, I believe, in the beginning of March, "full," as Mr. Perronet expresses it, "of health and spirits." But he greatly impaired both by preaching, which he frequently did in that city and neighbourhood. And when he got to Lyons, on his return from Montpelier, he found himself so very ill that he observed, in a letter to his brother, he was just on the point of returning to Switzerland, not thinking it worth while to proceed on his journey to England, in order to languish out a few useless days there. But recovering a little strength, April 6th, 1781, he wrote to Mr. William Perronet as follows, from Lyons "My Dear Friend, -- We are both weak, both afflicted; but Jesus careth for us. He is everywhere, and here he has all power to deliver us, and he may do it by ways we little think of; 'as thou wilt, when thou wilt, and where thou wilt,' said Baxter: let us say the same. It was of the Lord you did not come with me: you would have been sick as I am. I am overdone with riding and preaching. I preached twice in the fields. I carry home with me much weakness, and a pain in my back which I fear will end in the gravel. The Lord's will be done. l know I am called to suffer and die. The journey tires me; but through mercy I bear it. Let us believe and rejoice in the Lord Jesus."
56. Mr. Perronet had expected, as observed above, to gather strength as the spring advanced, and the weather became milder. In this, however, the Lord saw meet, in a great measure, to disappoint his expectations. Spring and even summer, bringing warmer weather, came: but still he continued in a similar and even increasing state of weakness. On the15th of May, he writes:-- "As to my health, it is not yet restored to me. It has pleased God to bring down my strength in my journeys and to continue me in that weak condition to this time, notwithstanding all the efforts of my friends and physicians, and my own endeavours in using a little very gentle exercise from time to time as I was able. Whenever I go out every one stops to stare at me, and many express their astonishment at the sight of such a spectre; so greatly am I reduced and altered." On the 12th of June following, he seemed to himself to be rather gaining a little ground; but, says he, "the continual, sudden, and severe changes in the weather here, tear me almost to pieces, and seem to throw me back as fast as I recover." Soon after this he removed to a pleasant village, called Gimel, between Lausanne and Geneva, where Miss Perronet's sister was settled. There he rode out, drank asses' milk, and breathed the purest air: "Mrs. Perronet is there," says Mr. Fletcher to his father, "with her two daughters. So that if his illness should prove more grievous, he will not want for good attendance, and the most tender nursing. Support him, dear sir, with your fatherly exhortations. They are balm to his blood, and marrow to his bones."
57. As the reader will undoubtedly wish to know the sequel of the story of this benevolent man, I shall here insert an extract from another of his letters. Being returned to Lausanne, October 23, he wrote from thence to his father as follows:"HONOURED AND Dear Sir, -- I wrote some time ago by a private hand; but that is not always either the safest or the most expeditious method of conveying intelligence. My letter, however, contained little more than an account of my return from the mountains, where I seemed to have gained very little in point of health and strength. I mentioned, likewise, my earnest wishes to return to England, in case it should please God to assist me in the means. This, I humbly trust, is in good measure effected: for I have quite unexpectedly met with a very worthy gentleman (a Swiss whom I formerly knew in England) who sets out for London within about a week or fortnight. We shall travel in a chaise; and he is so kind as to promise to suit his mode of travelling to my weakness, which, indeed, is very great. We may possibly be on the road when this letter reaches you, and I doubt not but my friends will assist me with their prayers. The season for travelling is late, it is true, especially for one in my weak state: but I choose this rather than venture to stay another winter in this terrible climate. Besides, I consider it as a providential call to return; and I have taken your advice to put what remains to be done in my affairs into trusty and good hands."
He soon after left Switzerland, and with great pain and difficulty reached Douay, in French Flanders, where he was taken worse, and died in peace, December 2, 1781. A little time after Mr. Fletcher wrote as follows to his father:-
"Rev. and Dear Sir, -- While I condole with you about the death of my dear friend, and your dear son, I congratulate you about the resignation and Christian fortitude with which you, Abrahamlike, lay him upon the altar of our heavenly Father's providential, good, and acceptable will. We shall one day see why he made your sons go before you, and my kind physician before me. About the time he died, so far as I can find by your kind letter, a strong concern about him fell upon me by day and by night, insomuch that I could not help waking my wife (he was then married) to join me in praying for him, and at once that concern ceased; nor have I since had any such spiritual feeling: whence I concluded that the conflict I supposed my friend to be in was ended. But how surprised was I to find it was by death! Well! whether Paul or Apollos, or life or death, all things are ours through Jesus, who knows how to bring good out of evil, and how to blow us into the harbour by a cross wind, and even by a dreadful storm.
"If, my dear friend, your son has not quite completed his affairs in Switzerland, and an agent is necessary there for that purpose, I offer you the care and help of my brother, who was our counsellor, and who, I am sure, will do what lies in him to oblige the father of him whom he had the pleasure of having some time under his roof, as a sick monument of Christian meekness and resignation. I am but poorly, though I serve yet my Church without a curate, Mr. Bailey being wanted at Kingswood. But what are we? Poor mortals, dying in the midst of a world of dying or dead men. But in the midst of death we are in Christ the resurrection and the life, to whom be glory for ever. So prays, Rev. and dear sir, your affectionate son and servant in the Gospel, J. F."
58. To return to the subject of our narrative:-- Mr. Fletcher arrived in England in the middle of the spring, in tolerable health, being quite recovered from his consumption. Calling at London, he preached at the New Chapel, slept at Newington, April 27, and the next day set out for Bristol. He stayed there only a short time, and then retired to Mr. Ireland's, at Brislington. The interview which Mr. Rankin had with him here, immediately upon his arrival, manifests very clearly that he brought back from the continent the same fervent spirit which had accompanied him thither. Of this Mr. Rankin gives me the following account
"In the year 1781, being stationed in Bristol with my much esteemed friend, Mr. Pawson, I was informed of Mr. Fletcher's arrival at Brislington, from his journey to Switzerland. I rode over to Mr. Ireland's the day after, and had such an interview with him as I shall never forget in time or eternity. As I had not seen him for upward of ten years, his looks, his salutation, and his address, struck me with a mixture of wonder, solemnity, and joy. We retired into Mr. Ireland's garden, where we could converse with more freedom. He then began to inquire concerning the work of God in America, and my labours for the five years I had spent on that continent. I gave him, as far as I was capable, a full account of every thing that he wished to know. While I was giving him this relation, he stopped me six times, and, when under the shade of the trees, poured out his soul to God for the prosperity of the work, and our brethren there. He appeared to be as deeply interested in behalf of our suffering friends as if they had been his own flock at Madeley, He several times called upon me, also, to commend them to God in prayer. This was an hour never to be forgotten by me while memory remains. Before we parted, I engaged him to come to Bristol on the Monday following, in order to meet the select band in the forenoon, and to preach in my place in the evening. He did so accordingly. During the hour that he spent with the select band, the room appeared as 'the house of God and the gate of heaven.' He preached in the evening from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter ii, verse 13. The whole congregation was dissolved in tears. He spoke like one who had but just left the converse of God and angels, and not like a human being. The different conversations I had with him, his prayers and preaching during the few days which he stayed at Bristol and Brislington, left such an impression on my mind, and were attended with such salutary effects, that for some months afterward not a cloud intervened between God and my soul, no, not for one hour. His memory will ever be precious to me while life shall remain, and the union of spirit which I felt with that holy and blessed man will have its consummation in those regions of light, love, and glory, where parting shall be no more."
I beg leave here to subjoin an extract from a letter written to me a few weeks after he arrived at Madeley:-
"Madeley, June 25, 1781.
"My Dear Brother, -- I thank you for your kind remembrance of, and letter to me. I found myself of one heart with you, both as a preacher and believer, before I left Bristol, and am glad you find freedom to speak to me as your friend in Christ. By what you mention of your experience, I am confirmed in the thought that it is often harder to keep in the way of faith and light than to get into it. 2. That speculation and reasoning hinder us to get into that way, and lead us out of it when we are in it. 3. The only business of those who come to God, as a Redeemer or Sanctifier, must be to feel their want of redemption and sanctifying power from on high, and to come for it by simple, cordial, working faith. Easily the heart gets into a false rest before our last enemy is overcome. Hence arises a relapsing, in an imperceptible degree, into indolence and carnal security: hence a dreaming that we are rich and increased in goods. This is one of the causes of the declension you perceive among some of the Methodists. Another is the outward rest they have, which is consistent with the selfish views of hypocrites, and with the unbending of the bow of faith in those who are sincere. Another may be, judging of the greatness of the work by the numbers in society. Be the consequence what it will, those who see the evil should honestly bear their testimony against it, first in their own souls, next by their life, and thirdly by their plain and constant reproofs and exhortations. The work of justification seems stopped in some degree, because the glory and necessity of the pardon of sins to be received and enjoyed now by faith, is not pressed enough upon sinners; and the need of retaining it, upon believers. The work of sanctification is hindered, if I am not mistaken, by the same reason, and by holding out the being delivered from sin, as the mark to be aimed at, instead of the being rooted in Christ, and filled with the fulness of God, and with power from on high. The dispensation of the Spirit is confounded with that of the Son,and the former not being held forth clearly enough, formal and lukewarm believers in Jesus Christ suppose they have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Hence the increase of carnal professors, see Acts viii, 16. And hence so few spiritual men. Let us pray, hope, love, believe for ourselves, and call, as you say, for the display of the Lord's arm. My love to your dear fellow labourer, Mr Pawson. Pray for your affectionate brother, J. F."
59. Mr. Ireland being confined by affliction, and wishing, nevertheless, to accompany his friend to Madeley, as soon as he should be able, Mr. Fletcher stayed a few days at Brislington, waiting for his recovery, before he set out for his parish. Upon their arrival there it was his first care to inquire into the spiritual state of his dear flock: but he did not find such cause of rejoicing as he had fondly expected. This may be easily gathered from the letter he then wrote to his friend at Newington. It runs thus::-
"Madeley, June 12, 1781.
"My Very Dear Friend, -- I stayed longer at Brislington than I designed. Mr. Ireland was ill, and would nevertheless come hither with me: so that I was obliged to stay till he was better. And indeed it was well I did not come without him: for he has helped me to regulate my outward affairs, which were in great confusion. Mr. Greaves leaves me: and I will either leave Madeley, or have an assistant able to stir among the people: for I had much rather be gone, than stay here to see the dead bury their dead. Well, we shall soon remove out of all, and rest from our little cares and labours. You do not forget, I hope, that you have need of patience, as well as I, to inherit the promises, the best and the greatest of which are not sealed, but to such as keep the word of Christ's patience, and such as persevere with him in his temptations. Hold on, then, patient faith and joyful hope! If I were by you, I would preach to your heart, and my own, a lecture on this text, We are saved by hope, and by a faith which is never stronger than when it is contrary to all the feelings of flesh and blood.
"Pray what news of the glory? Does the glory of the Lord fill the temple, your house, your heart? A cloud is over my poor parish; but alas! it is not the luminous cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night. Even the few remaining professors stared at me the other day, when I preached to them on these words, Ye shall receive the Holy Ghost: for the promise is unto you. Well, the promise is unto us; if others despise it, still let us believe and hope. Nothing enlarges the heart and awakens the soul more than that believing, loving expectation. Let us wait together until we are all endued with power from on high"
60. The above letter manifests still farther that he had sustained no loss of his piety and devotedness to God while abroad. And although, as it appears, he now entertained thoughts of changing his condition in life, it is evident his mind was not hereby diverted from the pursuit of his holy vocation and ministry, nor his zeal in the least damped. This is rendered still more evident from a letter I received from him about the same time, with an extract from which I shall conclude this chapter:-"
My Dear Brother, -- I rejoice at, and am much obliged to you for your kind remembrance of me: and I shall be glad to tie faster the blessed knot at the approaching conference, (to be held at Leeds, in the beginning of August next,) if my health permit me to be there according to my design. Happy are you if you live by faith in the atoning blood, for justification and sanctification. It is the Spirit alone which can show us the worth, and make us feel the powerful influence of the Saviour's blood and righteousness: and so far as my little experience goes, he gives that blessed privilege only to those who in the depth of poverty wait for that Divine revelation. I learn not to despise the least beam of truth, and I quietly and joyfully wait for the bright sunshine.
"The best way to avoid errors is to lie very low before God; to know his voice, and consult him in all things; learning to mortify our wise pride, as well as our aspiring will and our disordered passions. But more of this if we live to see each other again.
"I am at present without an assistant here, but hope soon to have Mr. Bailey, one of the masters at Kingswood school. If he come, I shall be at liberty to go to Leeds, and I hope God will strengthen me for the journey. A godly wife is a peculiar blessing from the Lord.  I wish you joy for such a loan. Posess it with godly fear and holy joy; and the God that gave her you help you both to see your doubled piety take root in the heart of the child that crowns your union. So prays, my dear brother, your affectionate friend, J. F."