1. "Some weeks before he was taken ill, (says Mrs. Fletcher,) he mentioned to me a peculiar manifestation of love which he received in his own house, with the application of those words, Thou shalt walk with me in white. He added, It is a little thing so to hang upon God by faith as to feel no departure from him, and no rising in the heart against him. This does not satisfy me. And I sometimes find such gleams of light and love, such wafts, as it were, of the heavenly air, so powerful, as if they would just then take my soul with them to glory! But I am not filled. I want to be filled with all the fulness of God. In conformity to these sentiments, when he was in his last illness he expressed himself thus:-- 'I am filled, most sweetly filled.' This conveyed much to my mind, as I understood by it the accomplishment of his large desires.
2. "Some time before the beginning of his last sickness he was peculiarly penetrated with a sense of the nearness of eternity. There was scarce an hour in which he was not calling upon us to drop every thought and every care, that we might attend to nothing but the drinking deeper into God. We spent much time in wrestling with God, and were led in a peculiar manner to abandon our whole selves, our souls and bodies, into the hands of God; ready to do, and willing to suffer whatever was well pleasing to him.
"And now the time drew near when his faith was to be called to its last grand exercise. A little before this, being on his knees in prayer for light, whether he should go to London or not, the answer to him seemed to be, 'Not to London, but to thy grave.' When he acquainted me with this, he said, with a heavenly smile, 'Satan would represent it to me as something dreadful, enforcing those words, The cold grave! The cold grave!' On the Sunday following, (I think it was the next day,) that anthem was sung in church, The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in green pastures, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. He shall convert my soul, and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and staff shall comfort me. Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall he full.
"In his return home he observed in how uncommon a degree these words had been blessed to his soul. And from that very time I do not remember to have seen in him any, the least marks of temptation. He showed an unusual cheerfulness and liveliness in every part of his work, and seemed to increase in strength of body, as well as in strength of soul. Truly it was to him according to his faith. He feared no evil, and his cup was filled with righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
"On Thursday, August 4th, he was employed in the work of God from three in the afternoon till nine at night. When he came home he said, 'I have taken cold;' but seemed not to regard it. He was far from well on Friday and Saturday; but was uncommonly drawn out in prayer. On Saturday night he was abundantly worse, and his fever appeared very strong. I begged that he would by no means think of going to church in the morning. But he told me it was the will of the Lord; in which case I never dared to persuade."
3. "The Rev. Mr. Gilpin" as he has informed us, "called upon him in the morning, with an earnest request that he would permit him, if not to take the whole of his duty on that day, at least to share it with him. But this he would by no means be prevailed upon to suffer, assuring, him with an air of holy confidence, that God would sufficiently strengthen him to go through the duties of the day. This was his last appearance in public; and several who were present upon this memorable occasion were affected, beyond all description, with the melancholy circumstances of the day. He opened the reading service with apparent strength;. but. before he had proceeded far in it, his countenance changed, his speech began to falter, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he could keep himself from fainting. Every eye was riveted upon him, deep solicitude was painted on every face, and confused murmurs of distress ran through the whole congregation. In the midst of this affecting scene, Mrs. Fletcher was seen pressing through the crowd, and earnestly entreating her dying husband no longer to attempt what appeared to be utterly impracticable. But he, as though conscious that he was engaged in his last public work, mildly refused to be entreated; and struggling against an almost insupportable languor, constrained himself to continue the service. The windows being opened, he appeared to be a little refreshed, and began to preach with a strength and recollection that surprised all present. In the course of his sermon the idea of his weakness was almost lost in the freedom and energy with which he delivered himself. Mercy was the subject of his discourse; and while he expatiated on this glorious attribute of the Deity, its unsearchable extent, its eternal duration, and its astonishing effects, he appeared to be carried above all the fears and feelings of mortality. There was something in his appearance and manner that gave his word an irresistible influence upon this solemn occasion. An awful concern was awakened through the whole assembly, and every one's heart was uncommonly moved. Upon the hearts of his friends, in particular, a most affecting impression was made at this season; and what deepened that impression was the sad presentiment, which they read in each other's countenance, of their pastor's approaching dissolution.
After sermon he walked up to the communion table, uttering these words:-- 'I am going to throw myself under the wings of the cherubim, before the mercy seat.' Here the same distressing scene was renewed with additional solemnity. The people were deeply affected while they beheld him offering up the last languid remains of a life that had been lavishly spent in their service. Groans and tears were on every side. In going through this last part of his duty, he was exhausted again and again; but his spiritual vigour triumphed over his bodily weakness. After several times sinking on the sacramental table, he still resumed his sacred work, and cheerfully distributed, with his dying hand, the love memorials of his dying Lord. In the course of this concluding office, which he performed by means of the most astonishing exertions, he gave out several verses of hymns, and delivered many affectionate exhortations to his people, calling upon them, at intervals, to celebrate the mercy of God in short songs of adoration and praise. And now, having struggled through a service of near four hours' continuance, he was supported with blessings in his mouth, from the altar to his chamber, where he lay for some time in a swoon, and from whence he never walked into the work again.
"After this," proceeds Mrs. Fletcher, "he dropped into a sleep for some time, and, on waking, cried out with a pleasant smile, 'Now, my dear, thou seest I am no worse for doing the Lord's work. He never fails me when I trust in him.' Having eaten a little dinner, he dozed most of the evening, now and then waking up with the praises of God in his mouth. At night his fever returned, but it was not violent; and yet his strength decreased amazingly. On Monday and Tuesday we had a little paradise together. He lay on a couch in the study; and, though often changing posture, was sweetly pleasant, and frequently slept a good while together. When he was awake, he delighted in hearing me read hymns and treatises on faith and love. His words were all animating, and his patience beyond expression. When he had a very nauseous medicine to take, he seemed to enjoy the cross, according to a word which he was used often to repeat, 'We are to seek a perfect conformity to the will of God; and leave him to give us pleasure or pain, as it seemeth him good'
I asked him whether he had any directions to give me if he should be taken from me? since I desired to form my whole life thereby. He replied, 'No, not by mine: the Holy Ghost shall direct thee. I have nothing particular to say.' I said, Have you any conviction that God is about to take you? He said, 'No; only I always see death so inexpressibly near, that we both seem to stand on the verge of eternity.' While he slept a little, I besought the Lord, if it were his good pleasure, to spare him to me a little longer. But my prayer seemed to have no wings: and I could not help mingling continually therewith, Lord, give me perfect resignation! This uncertainty made me tremble, lest God was going to put into my hands the bitter cup with which he threatened my husband. Some weeks before, I myself was ill of a fever, and not without danger. My husband then felt the whole parting scene, and struggled for a perfect resignation; He said, 'Oh Polly, shall I ever see the day when thou must be carried out to bury! How will the little things which thy tender care has prepared for me, in every part of the house, wound and distress me! How is it? I think I feel jealousy! I am jealous of the worms! I seem to shrink at the thought of giving my dear Polly to the worms.'
4. "Now all these reflections returned upon my heart with the weight of a millstone. I cried to the Lord, and these words were deeply impressed on my spirit, Where I am, there shall my servants be, that they may behold my glory. This promise was full of comfort to my soul. I saw that in Christ's immediate presence was our home, and that we should have our reunion in being deeply centered in him. I received it as a fresh marriage for eternity; as such I trust for ever to hold it. All that day, whenever I thought of the expression, to behold my glory, it seemed to wipe away every tear, and was as the ring whereby we were joined anew.
"Awaking some time after, he said, 'Polly, I have been thinking it was Israel's fault that they asked for signs. We will not do so: but abandoning our whole selves to the will of God, will lie patiently before him; assured that he will do all things well.'
"My dear love, said I, if I have ever done or said any thing to grieve thee, how will the remembrance wound my heart, if thou shouldst be taken from me! He entreated me with inexpressible tenderness, not to allow the thought, declaring his thankfulness for our union, in a variety of words written on my heart with the adamantine pen of friendship deeply dipped in blood.
"On Wednesday, he told me he had received such a manifestation of the full meaning of those words, God is love, as he could never be able to express. 'It fills my heart,' said he, 'every moment: Oh Polly, my dear Polly, God is love! Shout! shout aloud! I want a gust of praise to go to the ends of the earth! But it seems as if I could not speak much longer. Let us fix a sign between ourselves.' 'Now,' said he, tapping me twice with his finger, 'I mean, God is love. And we will draw each other into God. Observe! By this we will draw each other into God.'
"Sally coming in, he cried out, 'Oh Sally, God is love! Shout, both of you! I want to hear you shout his praise!' All this time the medical friend, who attended him diligently, hoped he was in no danger: as he had no headache, but much sleep, without the least delirium, and an almost regular pulse. So was the disease, though commissioned to take his life, restrained by the power of God.
"On Thursday his speech began to fail. While he was able, he spoke to all that came in his way. Hearing that a stranger was in the house, he ordered her to be called up. But the uttering only two sentences made him ready to faint away. And, while he had any power of speech, he would not be silent to his friendly doctor. 'Oh, sir, said he, you take much thought for my body: permit me to take thought for your soul!' When I could scarce understand any thing he said, I spoke these words, God is love. Instantly, as if all his powers were awakened, he broke out in a rapture, 'God is love! love! love! Oh for that gust of praise! I want to sound!' -- Here his voice again failed. All this time he was much in pain, and suffered many ways: but still with such unutterable patience as none but those who were present can conceive. If I did but name his sufferings, he would smile and make the sign.
"On Friday, observing his body covered with spots, I felt a sword pierce through my soul. As I was kneeling by his side, with my hand in his, entreating the Lord to be with us in this tremendous hour, he strove to say many things, but could not articulate the words. All he could do was to press my hand, and frequently repeat the sign. At last he breathed out, 'Head of the Church, be head to my wife!'
"When I was forced to leave him for a few moments, Sally said to him, 'My dear master, do you know me?' He replied, 'God will put his right hand under you.' She added, 'Oh my dear master, should you be taken away, what a disconsolate creature will my poor, dear mistress be!' He replied, 'God will be her all in all.'
"He always took a peculiar pleasure in repeating or hearing those words,
'Jesus' blood through earth and skies, Mercy, free, boundless mercy cries.
Whenever I repeated them to him he would answer, 'Boundless! boundless! boundless!' He now added, though not without much difficulty,
'Mercy's full power I soon shall prove, Loved with an everlasting love.'
"On Saturday, in the afternoon, his fever seemed quite off and a few friends standing near his bed, he reached his hand to each: and, looking on a minister, said, 'Are you ready to assist tomorrow?' His recollection surprised us, as the day of the week had not been named in the room. Many were of opinion he would recover; and one of them said to him, 'Do you think the Lord will raise you up?' He strove to answer, and could just pronounce, 'Raise me up in the resur --'meaning in the resurrection. To another, who asked the same question, he said, 'I leave it all to God.'
"ln the evening the fever came again, and with greater violence than ever. The mucus then falling on his throat, almost strangled him. It was supposed the same painful symptom would grow more and more violent to the last. As I felt this exquisitely, I cried to the Lord to remove it. And, glory be to his name, he did! From that time it returned no more.
"As night drew on, I perceived him dying very fast His fingers could hardly make the sign, which he scarce ever forgot: and his speech seemed quite gone. I said, My dear creature, I ask not for myself: I know thy soul: but, for the sake of others, if Jesus be very present with thee, lift up thy right hand. Immediately he did. If the prospect of glory sweetly open before thee, repeat the sign. He instantly raised it again, and in half a minute, a second time. He then threw it up, as if he would reach the top of the bed. After this, his hands moved no more. But on my saying, Art thou in pain? He answered, 'No.' From this time he lay in a kind of sleep, though with his eyes open and fixed. For the most part he sat upright against pillows,with his head a little inclining to one side. And so remarkably composed, yea, triumphant was his countenance, that the least trace of death was scarcely discernible in it. Eighteen hours he was in this situation, breathing like a person in common sleep. About thirty-five minutes past ten, on Sunday night, August 14, his precious soul entered into the joy of his Lord, without one struggle or groan, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.
"And here I break off my mournful story; but on my bleeding heart the fair picture of his heavenly excellences will be for ever drawn."
5. The reader will not think me tedious, if I subjoin here the account which the Rev. Mr. Gilpin has given of this last scene of the life of this incomparable man:-- 'After having manifested so much resolution and constancy in fighting the good fight of faith, it is no wonder that Mr. Fletcher was permitted to finish his course with joy, and that the concluding scenes of his warfare were peculiarly triumphant and glorious. Equally prepared for every event, he met his last great trial with all that composure and steadiness which had invariably distinguished him upon every former occasion of suffering. He entered the valley of the shadow of death, as one who feared no evil. He considered it as the high road to that incorruptible inheritance which is reserved for the saints: and, looking forward with a hope full of immortality, he saw, beyond its limited gloom, those everlasting hills of light and glory to which his soul aspired.
"A few days before his dissolution he appeared to have reached that desirable point where the last rapturous discoveries are made to the souls of dying saints. Roused, as it were, with the shouts of angels, and kindled into rapture with visions of glory, he broke into a song of holy triumph, which began and ended with the praises of God's unfathomable love. He labored to declare the secret manifestations he enjoyed; but his sensations were too powerful for utterance, and, after looking inexpressible things, he contented himself with calling upon all around him to celebrate and shout out that adorable love, which can never be fully comprehended or adequately expressed. This triumphant frame of mind was not a transient feeling, but a state that he continued to enjoy, with little or no discernible interruption, to the moment of his death. While he possessed the power of speech, he spake as one whose lips had been touched with a live coal from the altar; and when deprived of that power, his countenance discovered that he was sweetly engaged in the contemplation of eternal things.
"On the day of his departure, as I was preparing to attend my own church, which was at the distance of nine miles from Madeley, I received a hasty message from Mrs. Fletcher, requesting my immediate attendance at the vicarage. I instantly followed the messenger, and found Mr. Fletcher with every symptom of approaching dissolution upon him. I had ever looked upon this man of God with an extraordinary degree of affection and reverence; and on this afflicting occasion my heart was uncommonly affected and depressed. It was now in vain to recollect that public duty required my presence in another place: unfitted for every duty except that of silently watching the bed of death, I found it impossible to withdraw from the solemn scene to which I had been summoned. I had received from this evangelical teacher, in days that were past, many excellent precepts with respect to holy living; and now I desired to receive from him the important lesson with respect to holy dying. And truly this concluding lesson was of inestimable worth, since so much patience and resignation, so much peace and composure, were scarcely ever discovered in the same circumstances before. Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
"While their pastor was breathing out his soul into the hands of a faithful Creator, his people were offering up their joint supplications on his behalf in the house of God. Little, however, was seen among them on that trying occasion, but affliction and tears. Indeed, it was a day much to be remembered for the many affecting testimonies of distress which appeared on every side. The whole village wore an air of consternation and sadness, and not one joyful song was heard among all its inhabitants. Hasty messengers were passing to and fro with anxious inquiries and confused reports: and the members of every family sat together in silence that day, awaiting, with trembling expectation, the issue of every hour. After the conclusion of the evening service, several of the poor, who came from distant parts, and who were usually entertained under Mr. Fletcher's roof, still lingered about the house, and seemed unable to tear themselves away from the place, without a sight of their expiring pastor. Secretly informed of their desire, I obtained them the permission they wished. And the door of the chamber being set open, immediately before which Mr. Fletcher was sitting upright in his bed, with the curtains undrawn, unaltered in his usual venerable appearance, they slowly moved one by one along the gallery, severally pausing as they passed by the door, and casting in a look of mingled supplication and anguish. It was, indeed, an affecting sight, to behold these unfeigned mourners successively presenting themselves before the bed of their dying benefactor, with an inexpressible eagerness in their looks, and then dragging themselves away from his presence with a distressing consciousness that they should see his face no more.
"And now the hour speedily approached that was to put a solemn termination to our hopes and fears. His weakness very perceptibly increased, but his countenance continued unaltered to the last. If there was any visible change in his feelings, he appeared more at ease and more sweetly composed, as the moment of his dismission drew near. Our eyes were riveted upon him in awful expectation. But, whatever he had felt before, no murmuring thought was suffered, at this interesting period, to darken the glories of so illustrious a scene. All was silence, when the last angelic minister suddenly arrived, and performed his important commission with so much stillness and secrecy that it was impossible to determine the exact moment of its completion. Mrs. Fletcher was kneeling by the side of her departing husband; one who had attended him with uncommon assiduity during the last stages of his distemper sat at his head; while I sorrowfully waited near his feet. Uncertain whether or not he was totally separated from us, we pressed nearer, and hung over his bed in the attitude of listening attention. His lips had ceased to move, and his head was gently sinking upon his bosom: we stretched out our hands; but his warfare was accomplished, and the happy spirit had taken its everlasting flight.
"Such was the undisturbed and triumphant death of this eminently holy and laborious pastor, who entered into rest on the evening of Sunday, August 14, 1785. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord! They rest from their painful labors, and are followed by those exemplary works which they considered as unworthy a place in their remembrance: they escape from the windy storm and tempest, and are brought to their desired haven: they have a right to the tree of life, they enter in through the gates into the city, and stand with everlasting acceptance in the presence of God.
"This afflicting providence is severely felt by the survivor, who has lost, at this separating stroke, whatever she had counted most valuable on this side eternity. But, while she feels all the anguish of an immediate separation from her dearest friend, she looks forward with a joyful hope of being one day united to his happy spirit, where the pangs of parting can be known no more. Mrs. Fletcher was surrounded, upon this sad occasion, by a multitude of sincere mourners, who, while they deplored the loss of their inestimable pastor, recollected, with peculiar satisfaction, that the last years of his life had been years of abundant consolation and peace:and who now rejoice that, in his removal from among them, he left behind him a lively representative of himself, one who enters into his labors and watches over his flock, a support to the needy, a guide to the ignorant, and a mother in Israel."
6. So far Mr. Gilpin. Mrs. Fletcher adds:-- "When I call to mind his ardent zeal, his laborious endeavor to seek and save the lost, -- his diligence in the employment of his time, his Christlike condescension toward me, and his uninterrupted converse with Heaven; I may well be allowed to add, My loss is beyond the power of words to paint. I have often gone through deep waters; but all my afflictions were nothing to this. Well: I want no pleasant prospect but upward; nor any thing whereon to fix my hope, but immortality.
"From the time I have had the happiness and honor of being with him, every day more and more convinced me he was the Christian. I saw, I loved, in him, the image of my Saviour, and thought myself the happiest of women in the possession of the most sympathizing and heavenly friend. My sorrow hears a due proportion. But it is alleviated by that thought, United in God we cannot be divided. No: we are of one household still: we are joined in Him, as our centre, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. It is said of New Testament believers, they are come to the spirits of just men made perfect: to the glorious privilege of communion with the Church triumphant. But this is far more apparent to the eyes of celestial spirits than to ours, which are yet veiled with flesh and blood. Yet as there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, and as the prayers of saints still on earth are represented by incense in the hands of the elders, I can only consider departed spirits, and ministering angels, as one innumerable company, continually surrounding us. And are they not as nearly united to their fellow soldiers now as when they were in the body? What should hinder? Gratitude and affection are natives of heaven, and live for ever there. Forgetfulness is a property of mortality, and drops off with the body. Therefore they that loved us in the Lord will surely love us for ever: can any thing material interrupt the sight or presence of a spirit? Nay,
'Walls within walls no more the passage bar, Than unopposing space of liquid air
7. "On the 17th his remains were deposited in Madeley church yard, amid the tears and lamentations of thousands. The service was performed by the Rev. Mr. Hatton, rector of Waters-Upton, whom God enabled to pay a public tribute of respect to the memory of this great man, in a funeral sermon from Hebrews xiii, 7, and to speak in a pathetic manner to the weeping flock. In the conclusion, at my request, he read the following paper:"As it was the desire of my beloved husband to be buried in this plain manner, so, out of tenderness, he begged that I might not be present. And in every thing I would obey him.
'Permit me, then, by the mouth of a friend, to bear an open testimony to the glory of God, that I, who have known him in the most perfect manner, am constrained to declare that I never knew any one walk so closely in the ways of God as he did. The Lord gave him a conscience tender as the apple of an eye. And he literally preferred the interest of every one to his own.
"He was rigidly just, and perfectly loose from attachment to the world. He shared his all with the poor, who lay so close to his heart that, at the approach of death, when he could not speak without difficulty, he cried out, 'Oh my poor! What shall become of my poor!' He was blessed with so great a degree of humility as is scarce to be found. I am witness how often he has rejoiced in being treated with contempt. Indeed, it seemed the very food of his soul to be little and unknown.
"His zeal for souls I need not tell you. Let the labours of twenty-five years, and a martyr's death in the conclusion, imprint it on your hearts. His diligent visiting of the sick occasioned the fever which, by God's commission, tore him from you and me. And his vehement desire to take his last leave of you with dying lips and hands, gave (it is supposed) the finishing stroke, by preparing his blood for putrefaction. Thus has he lived and died your servant. And will any of you refuse to meet him at God's right hand in that day?
"He walked with death always in his sight. About two months ago he came to me and said, 'My dear love, I know not how it is, but I have a strange impression death is near us, as if it were to be some sudden stroke upon one of us. And it draws out all my soul in prayer that we may be ready.' He then broke out, 'Lord, prepare the soul thou wilt call! And Oh stand by the poor disconsolate one that shall be left behind!'
"A few days before his departure he was filled with love in an uncommon manner. The same he testified as long as he had a voice, and continued to the end, by a most lamblike patience, in which he smiled over death, and set his last seal to the glorious truths he had so long preached among you.
"Three years, nine months, and two days, I have possessed my heavenly minded husband. But now the sun of my earthly joys is set for ever, and my soul filled with an anguish which only finds its consolation in a total resignation to the will of God. When I was asking the Lord, if he pleased, to spare him to me a little longer, the following promise was impressed on my mind, Where I am, there shall my servants be, that they may behold my glory. Lord, hasten the time."
8. "There is little need," says Mr. Wesley, "of adding any farther character of this man of God to the foregoing account, given by one who wrote out of the fulness of her heart. I would only observe that, for many years, I despaired of finding an inhabitant of Great Britain that could stand in any degree of comparison with Gregory Lopez or Mon. de Renty. But let any impartial person judge, if Mr. Fletcher were at all inferior to them? Did he not experience as deep communion with God, and as high a measure of inward holiness, as was experienced by either one or the other of those burning and shining lights? And it is certain his outward light shone before men with full as bright a lustre as theirs. I was intimately acquainted with him for thirty years. I conversed with him morning, noon, and night, without the least reserve, during a journey of many hundred miles. And in all that time I never heard him speak an improper word, or saw him do an improper action. To conclude -- within fourscore years I have known many excellent men, holy in heart and life. But one equal to him I have not known; one so uniformly and deeply devoted to God. So unblamable a man in every respect I have not found either in Europe or America. Nor do I expect to find another such on this side eternity.
"Yet it is possible we may be such as he was. Let us then endeavor to follow him as he followed Christ"
But some may inquire, Has not Mr. Wesley exceeded the truth in this testimony? Has he not given a too favorable representation of the character of his friend, influenced, perhaps, by the similarity of their views respecting the great subject of general redemption, and other subjects connected therewith, and by the very prompt and able manner in which Mr. Fletcher stood forth in defence of these views when attacked by Mr. Wesley's opponents? I shall answer these inquiries by presenting the reader with an exactly similar testimony, borne by an eminent minister of Christ, whose sentiments, on these points of doctrine, were the reverse of those of Messrs. Wesley and Fletcher. This I shall do by inserting the following letter, which I received from a very pious and intelligent clergyman in May last, in consequence of his having lately read the first edition of this work: -
"My Dear Sir, -- Had not my time been very fully employed since I had the pleasure of seeing you in London, I should before now have fulfilled my promise in sending you the character which the late Rev. Mr. Venn, vicar of Yelling, gave me of the truly apostolic Mr. Fletcher. The testimony of Mr. Venn is the more valuable, as there were several points of doctrine in which he differed from Mr. Fletcher and I believe he felt himself a good deal interested in the support of several of those tenets which Mr. Fletcher publicly opposed. But difference of opinion on points respecting which good men probably never will be all agreed on earth, could not close the eyes of the great and good Mr. Venn against the extraordinary excellences of Mr. Fletcher, and therefore he spake of him with all the rapture and affection which pre-eminent graces will always excite in the breast of a true Christian. In the following narration I believe you will have nearly the words of Mr. Venn, as I was much impressed with his account of Mr. Fletcher, and wrote down what I remembered of it at the close of the day on which I heard it. With an expression in his countenance I shall not soon forget, making mention of Mr. Fletcher, he exclaimed, ' Sir, he was a luminary; a luminary did I say? He was a sun. I have known all the great men for these fifty years but I have known none like him. I was intimately acquainted with him, and was under the same roof with him once for six weeks; during which time I never heard him say a single word which was not proper to be spoken, and which had not a tendency to "minister grace to the hearers." One time, meeting him when he was very ill of a hectic fever, which he had brought upon himself by his intense labor in the ministry, I said, "I am sorry to find you so ill." Mr. Fletcher answered with the greatest sweetness, "Sorry, sir! Why are you sorry ? It is the chastisement of my heavenly Father, and I rejoice in it. I love the rod of my God, and rejoice therein, as an expression of his love and affection toward me."
"Mr. Venn being here asked whether Mr. Fletcher might not have been imprudent in carrying his labors to such an excess, answered, 'His heart was in them, and he was carried on with an impetus which could not be resisted. He did not look on the work of the ministry as a mere duty, but it was his pleasure and delight. Tell a votary of pleasure that his course of life will impair his property and health, and finally ruin him: he will reply that he knows all this; but he must go on; for life would not be tolerable without his pleasures. Such was the ardour of Mr. Fletcher in the ministry of the Gospel. He could not be happy but when employed in his great work.' Something having escaped one in the company which seemed to bear hard upon a particular body of Christians, Mr. Venn gave a solemn caution against evil speaking in these words:-- 'Never did I hear Mr. Fletcher speak ill of any man. He would pray for those that walked disorderly, but he would not publish their faults.'
"This I believe is the substance of what fell from Mr. Venn respecting the Rev. Mr. Fletcher, and the manner in which he spoke showed that his admiration of that great and good man was raised to the highest pitch. Indeed, Mr. Venn was a person peculiarly qualified to appreciate the value of Mr. Fletcher, as the ardour of his own zeal and devotion most nearly resembled that of Mr. Fletcher. He lived in very uncommon nearness to God, and, as I have been informed, made a most triumphant entrance into the kingdom of glory. I am, my dear sir, yours affectionately, -
The following character of Mr. Fletcher appeared in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of August, 1785: "On the 14th instant departed this life, the Rev. John Fletcher, vicar of Madeley, in this county, to the inexpressible grief and concern of his parishioners, and of all who had the happiness of knowing him. If we speak of him as a man and a gentleman, he was possessed of every virtue and every accomplishment which adorns and dignifies human nature. If we attempt to speak of him as a minister of the Gospel, it will be extremely difficult to give the world a just idea of this great character. His deep learning, his exalted piety, his never ceasing labors to discharge the important duty of his function, together with the abilities and good effect with which he discharged those duties, are best known, and will neverabe forgotten in that vineyard in which he labored. His charity, his universal benevolence, his meekness, and exemplary goodness are scarcely equalled among the sons of men. Anxious to the last moment of his life to discharge the sacred duties of his office, he performed the service of the Church, and administered the holy sacrament to upward of two hundred communicants, the Sunday preceding his death, confiding in that almighty Power which had given him life, and resigning that life into the hands of Him who gave it, with that composure of mind, and those joyful hopes of a happy resurrection, which ever accompany the last moments of the just."
EPITAPH OF REV. J. FLETCHER
Here lies the body of The Rev. JOHN WILLIAM de la FLECHERE Vicar of Madeley, Who was born at Nyon, in Switzerland, September the 12th, 1729, And finished his course, August the 14th, 1785, In this village Where his unexampled labors Will long be remembered.
He exercised his ministry for the space of Twenty-five years In this parish, With uncommon zeal and ability.
Many believed his report, and became His joy and crown of rejoicing; While others constrained him to take up The lamentation of the prophet, "All the day long have I stretched out my hands Unto a disobedient and gain saying people: Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, And my work with my God." "He, being dead, yet speaketh."
1 Alluding to a verse of that fine hymn, -- "I want a principle within, Of jealous godly fear," &c., which verse appeared in the former editions of it, but was, I think, improperly omitted in our large hymn book. See p. 297.
2 This is a just remark. The life of a hermit is not the life of a Christian. How much better do we answer the designs of our benevolent Master, when "Freely to all ourselves we give, Constrain'd by Jesus' love to live The servants of mankind."
3 The Rock Church were a company of well disposed people, who assembled for hearing the word, and prayer, at a small house built upon a rock, in Madeley Wood.
4 A place about five miles from his parish, on which he had bestowed much labor, and where he had gathered a small society.
5 Third Check, p. 3.
6 Dr. Crisp was an Antinomian in doctrine.
7 I was then at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
8 John Thornton, Esq., "a great friend," says he, "to a catholic Gospel. If clergymen are backward to promote peace, the God of peace may provoke them to jealousy, by raising from among the laity such instruments of reconciliation as will be a terror to bigotry, and an example of universal love."
9 Messrs. Vincent and Ghaes Perronet, and some others of the Rev. Mr. Perronet's children, who had died in great peace and triumph.
10 Mr. Fletcher himself; in a letter to Mr. William Perronet, dated September 20, speaks of this as follows:-- "The misfortune I hint at in my French letter, is the mislaying of a considerable part of my manuscript. After a thousand searches, giving it up as lost, I fell to work again; went through the double toil, and when I had done, last night, I accidentally found what I had mislaid. This has thrown me back a great deal. The Lord's will be done in all things. I thank God, I have been kept from fretting on the occasion; though I would not, for a great deal, have such another trial."
11 Such was, sad I believe still is, the liberty of the press in Switzerland, although judged one of the freest countries in the world! A blessed instance, like that above mentioned respecting the arbitrary and persecuting measures of the Seigneur Bailiff, of republican liberty! Who would not wish for the same in England!
12 This is said with a reference to my having married about a year and a half before.
13 Mr. Rowland Hill, in his Village Dialogues, after having exposed an ignorant doctor, who had spoken of a milder Law, lowered down to be made more suitable to us in our corrupted State;" and had taught "that God would now accept sincere in stead of a perfect obedience:" and that, therefore, "he would put up with the innocent infirmities incident to flesh and blood;" has the following note; This filthy Antinomian expression I well remember to have controverted many years ago, as I found it in one of the late Rev Mr. Fletcher's Checks to Antinomianism; the great advocate (to say the best) of the double refined semi-Pelagianism of the day so inconsistent are those writers with themselves! This old heresy (whose proper nest is popery) has been revived in modern days under the name of Arminianism; and the reader is requested to weigh the subject, whether their Antinomianism be not a thousand times worse than what they wantonly charge on others! ask, whatever good may be found among individuals, yet what have these modern prevailing notions in general produced throughout all Christendom? A system of infidelity has polluted the understanding, and therefore it is no wonder, when they talk of the fruits of righteousness, that their fruits are found to be the apples of Sodom. (Vol. iii, p. 15 4th edition.)
Let the attentive and candid reader compare this note of Mr. Rowland Hill with Mr. Fletcher's "Appeal to Matter of Fact and Common Sense, on the subject of original sin, and he will easily see with what justice that gentleman charges Mr. Fletcher with semi-Pelagianism. Has any writer, since the days of the apostles, represented the fallen state of man in a stronger light, or painted it in more expressive colors, than he has done in that tract? Or has any one shown more clearly, or proved more convincingly, our need of regenerating and renewing grace? And are not his Checks the greatest bulwark against Antinomianism, next to the Holy Scriptures, of any publications in the English language? As to his practice, perhaps a more holy man never appeared in this country. For a confutation of this most unmerited, and, I may say, groundless insinuation, the reader is referred to the Methodist Magazine for January, 1805; and to the whole of Mr. Fletcher's publications on Divine subjects.
14 The income of his living was not, on an average, more than a hundred pounds per annum. For many of the people called Quakers, living in his parish, believed it unlawful to pay tithes; and Mr. Fletcher did not choose to take from them by force what they did not think it lawful to give him.
15 Mr. Fletcher's generous friend had kindly requested him not to send his coat to be patched; hence this ingenious and affectionate reply.