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Title: Fletcher of Madeley
Author: Macdonald, Frederic W.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_Price Half-a-Crown each._

1. Henry Martyn.
      By the Rev. Canon C. D. BELL, D.D.

2. William Wilberforce.
      By the Rev. JOHN STOUGHTON, D.D.

3. Philip Doddridge.
      By the Rev. CHARLES STANFORD, D.D.

4. Stephen Grellet.
      By the Rev. WILLIAM GUEST, F.G.S.

5. Robert Hall.
      By the Rev. E. PAXTON HOOD.

6. Thomas Chalmers, D.D., LL.D.
      By the Rev. DONALD FRASER, D.D.

7. William Carey.
      By the Rev. JAMES CULROSS, D.D.

8. Andrew Fuller.
      By his Son, A. G. FULLER.

9. Alexander Duff, D.D., LL.D.

10. Richard Baxter.
      By the Very Rev. G. D. BOYLE, M.A., Dean of Salisbury.

11. Samuel Rutherford.
      By the Rev. ANDREW THOMSON, D.D.

12. John Knox.
      By WM. M. TAYLOR, LL.D.

13. Fletcher of Madeley.
      By the Rev. F. W. MACDONALD.




_Theological Tutor, Handsworth College,



Butler & Tanner,
The Selwood Printing Works,
Frome, and London.


I have to express my obligations to the Rev. L. Tyerman for the help I
have received in writing this little book from his life of Fletcher,
published two years ago under the title of "Wesley's Designated
Successor." Mr. Tyerman's labours in the sphere of Methodist history
and biography are too well known to require any word of commendation
from me. It may be enough to say that he has made it impossible for any
one to study the history of the great movement with which the names of
Wesley, Whitefield, and Fletcher are associated, without having
recourse to his volumes. There may be differences of opinion respecting
Mr. Tyerman's judgments upon men and things; there can be none whatever
as to his patient, laborious research, and perfect honesty in the use
of his ample materials.

I am also much indebted to my friends the Rev. George Mather, now of
Falmouth, and Mr. George Stampe, of Great Grimsby, for the opportunity
of examining a considerable number of Fletcher's manuscripts, hitherto
unpublished. It was not to be expected that fresh light could be thrown
on Fletcher's character, but these papers have enabled me to supply
some links, and add a few details to the story of his life.



INTRODUCTORY                                        1


EARLY LIFE                                         10


  WITH WESLEY AND THE METHODISTS                   19


SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE                               34


ENTERS THE MINISTRY                                44


  AND DISCOURAGEMENTS                              56








RESIDENCE IN SWITZERLAND                          131


RETURN TO ENGLAND.--MARRIAGE                      154


LAST YEARS                                        168

APPENDIX                                          193



There is reason to think that the interest felt in the Evangelical
Revival of the last century, after declining for awhile, is again
steadily increasing. It may be said that this quickened interest is but
part of a larger intellectual movement, of a reaction, in which we have
passed from undue disparagement of the eighteenth century to an
exaggerated estimate of its importance and value. Nor is it likely,
when eighteenth century forms of literature, philosophy, and social
life are being studied with so much sympathy, that the most prominent
event in its religious history would escape attention.

There is some truth in this, but it is not the whole account of the
matter. The fact is, and we are continually being reminded of it, the
consequences of the Revival are by no means exhausted. We are not yet
at the end of its manifestations; and though some of its later forms
have new and striking features of their own, their relation to the
original movement is attested both by historic descent and by inward
resemblances and affinities. So long as this is the case, and the
Revival, or Reformation, of a century and a half ago is still amongst
the living forces that influence society, the interest with which its
rise and progress are regarded will continue. Active Christian spirits
will seek to understand and respond to its newer developments; and
others, whether in sympathy with those developments or not, will be
obliged to take account of them, and assign them, as far as possible,
to their true succession and order.

In addition to its direct, historical consequences, moreover, time is
continually discovering or suggesting remoter and more complicated
results of the Evangelical Revival, thus rendering the study of the
whole question at once more difficult and more attractive. What were
its real relations, if any, to the teaching of Coleridge, the points of
agreement and divergence, of attraction and repulsion between it and
that original and influential mind, to which so many, who in their turn
have influenced the course of religious thought in England, have
confessed themselves supremely indebted? What is the connexion,
revealed both by resemblances and by contrasts, between the Evangelical
Revival of the eighteenth century and the Tractarian or Anglo-Catholic
movement of the nineteenth, between the Oxford of John and Charles
Wesley and the Oxford of Keble and Pusey and Newman? What has the
Revival contributed to the gradual but unmistakable change that has
come over the theology of the Calvinistic Churches; and, again, to the
progress of democracy in Church and State? As regards some at least of
these questions, it is too soon to look for precise and final answers;
but their relevance will be admitted, and the evidence by which they
must be determined accumulates from year to year.

While the interest in the Evangelical movement is thus reinforced from
various quarters, time, in the exercise of its kindliest office, has
removed a principal hindrance to a fair appreciation of it. Justice is
now generally done to the character of its leaders, and the existing
differences of opinion as to the value of their work are, for the most
part, differences of which there is no need to be ashamed. It is no
longer necessary to vindicate their memory from ignoble charges of
fanaticism, hypocrisy, or ambition. To slander Wesley, or to ridicule
Whitefield, has ceased to bring profit or to give pleasure to any one.
Hardly a month passes but a monument is erected, a eulogy pronounced, a
tribute paid to one or other of the men who, a hundred and fifty years
ago, brought new life to the English Church and nation. Their
reputation is not now a charge upon the loyalty of particular bodies of
Christians, at once doing battle for themselves and for the character
of their fathers and founders; they belong to the Churches, which are
many, to the Church, which is One, and their names are in the keeping
of the general company of Christians far and near.

And this change from the strife and bitterness of former days has come
about, as such changes are wont to come, not so much by valiant
advocacy or successful disputation, as by the sure working of God upon
the hearts of men, enabling them to "discern between the righteous and
the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him
not." Sooner or later this discernment comes, stealing through a
thousand channels of conviction into the heart and conscience of a
people, no one knows precisely when or how; and far more weighty than
any formal acts of canonization are the verdicts by which the
conscience of after ages names its benefactors and heroes, often to the
reversal of the passionate judgments of earlier times. The monument of
the Wesleys is in Westminster Abbey; Whitefield's grave is in America;
Fletcher's ashes lie in Madeley churchyard. Each has his record in a
fitting inscription; but their common epitaph, as men once persecuted
for righteousness' sake, but now to be had in everlasting remembrance,
was written long before: "This was he whom we had sometimes in
derision, and a proverb of reproach; we fools accounted his life
madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he to be numbered
among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!... The
righteous live for evermore; their reward also is with the Lord, and
the care of them is with the Most High."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the minutes of the Methodist Conference which met at Bristol, in
July, 1786, the following entry occurs:

"_Q._ Who has died this year?

"_A._ John Fletcher, a pattern of all holiness, scarce to be paralleled
in a century."

Such is the brief record that marks the passing away of a man whose
place in the love and veneration of Wesley and of the Methodists was
unique. Second only to the great leader himself in his influence, and
in the special character of that influence leaving even Wesley behind,
Fletcher's loss was the greatest sustained by the Revival from the
death of Whitefield, in 1770, to that of Wesley, in 1791. One word in
the short obituary notice reveals the secret of his power; it was

The term saint, in the New Testament extended to all the members of
Christ, is often used colloquially to describe any one who, in
comparison with worldly men or mere formal Christians, is conspicuous
for reality and earnestness of spiritual life; but it may be applied to
Fletcher in that last and highest sense, which makes it so rare a
designation even of the best men. He possessed in an exceptional degree
the qualities that constitute saintliness: deep humility and
transparent purity, absolute unworldliness, with love unfailing, and
patience that had its perfect work. The impression that he made upon
those with whom he came in contact has been renewed upon biographers
and historians.

"Fletcher was a saint," is the testimony of earlier and later
witnesses. To none of his associates in the great Revival, the
goodliest company of Christian men the age possessed, is this testimony
borne in the same sense and with the same entire agreement. He was
excelled by them in one respect and another; he could not, for example,
sustain comparison for a moment with Wesley in the commanding powers,
intellectual and moral, that have placed him among the greatest
leaders of the Church Catholic; but for seraphic piety, for sanctity
that had no perceptible spot or flaw, Fletcher of Madeley stood alone.
This is the deliberate judgment of those who knew him best. Of these
Wesley was the chief. In the funeral sermon which he preached soon
after Fletcher's death he said: "I was intimately acquainted with him
for above 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: Many exemplary men have I known,
holy in heart and life, within fourscore years; but one equal to him I
have not known, one so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God. So
unblamable a character in every respect I have not found either in
Europe or America, and I scarce expect to find another such on this
side eternity."

Benson, for many years the intimate friend of Fletcher, wrote to Wesley
as follows: "I have often thought the testimony that Bishop Burnet
bears of Archbishop Leighton might be borne of him with equal
propriety: 'After an intimate acquaintance of many years, and after
being with him by night and by day, at home and abroad, in public and
in private, ... I must say, I never heard an idle word drop from his
lips, or any conversation which was not to the use of edifying. I never
saw him in any temper in which I myself would not have wished to be
found at death.' Any one who has been intimately acquainted with Mr.
Fletcher will say the same of him, and they who knew him best will say
it with the most assurance."

All other contemporary notices of Fletcher are in the same strain. So
with the historians and biographers of subsequent times. "Fletcher in
any communion would have been a saint," says Southey. "He was a saint,"
wrote Isaac Taylor, "as unearthly a being as could tread the earth at
all." "Fletcher," says Robert Hall, "is a seraph who burns with the
ardour of Divine love. Spurning the fetters of mortality, he almost
habitually seems to have anticipated the rapture of the beatific

These testimonies may be closed, though they are not exhausted, by a
passage from one of the most recent and valuable works on the religious
life of the last century:[1] "If John Wesley was the great leader and
organiser, Charles Wesley the great poet, and George Whitefield the
great preacher of Methodism, the highest type of saintliness which it
produced was unquestionably John Fletcher. Never perhaps since the rise
of Christianity has the mind which was in Christ Jesus been more
faithfully copied than it was in the Vicar of Madeley. To say that he
was a good Christian is saying too little. He was more than Christian,
he was Christlike."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fletcher's first biographer was John Wesley. In the preface to the
funeral sermon preached in London on November 6th, 1785, he says: "I
hastily put together some memorials of this great man, intending, if
God permit, when I have more leisure and more materials, to write a
fuller account of his life." Twelve months later, being then in the
eighty-fourth year of his age, the following entry appears in his
"Journal": "_Oct. 25th_, 1786. I now applied myself in earnest to the
writing of Mr. Fletcher's life, having procured the best materials I
could. To this I dedicated all the time I could spare till November,
from five in the morning till eight at night. These are my studying
hours; I cannot write longer in a day without hurting my eyes." The
labour of love was soon completed, and Wesley published "A Short
Account of the Life and Death of the Rev. John Fletcher," with the
motto, "Sequor, non passibus æquis." That was no conventional
eulogy--Wesley did not deal in them,--but, as we have seen, his heart's
tribute to the holiest man he had ever known. And if the venerable
Wesley counted himself but as one who followed, and that at a distance,
the saintly Vicar of Madeley, he would be a hardy writer who could set
himself to portray such a life and character unvisited by misgivings
and unchastened by the responsibility that comes from the study of high
examples of Christian holiness. But for the reader also, if his heart
is as the writer's, there will be a share alike in the humiliation and
in the hopes which the study of a holy life may well afford. This brief
memoir of Fletcher of Madeley is attempted because no lapse of time or
change of circumstances can make it unseasonable to contemplate a
character like his. Such men do not die:

         "----a sweet and virtuous soul,
       Like seasoned timber, never gives;
     But though the whole world turn to coal,
           Then chiefly lives."




John Fletcher was a Swiss by birth and education. His name was properly
Jean Guillaume de la Fléchère. The origin of the anglicized form that
he afterwards adopted is thus explained by himself: "Soon after I came
to England my English friends, complaining of the length of my Swiss
name, began to contract it by dropping the French syllables of it. So
they called me Fletcher, and by that name I have been known among the
English ever since." He came of an old and respectable family, not
without distinguished connexions. His father had, in early life, held a
commission in the French army, but, retiring from the service in order
to marry, had returned to his native country, where he became a colonel
in the militia, and _Assesseur Baillival_, or assistant judge, of Nyon.
Here he resided in a fine old house in the outskirts of the town, not
rich, but possessing a modest fortune and considerable local influence;
and here John Fletcher, the youngest of eight children, was born on
September 12th, 1729.

Nyon is an old town dating from Roman times. It is about fifteen miles
from Geneva, on the northern shore of the lake, picturesquely placed
at the water's edge, with the Jura Mountains rising in the distance
behind, and the mountains of Savoy magnificently visible across the
lake in front. The passion for Swiss scenery had not then become common
and conventional. Some fifty years later Gibbon mentions it as of
recent origin, counting it "a misfortune rather than a merit that the
situation and beauty of the Pays de Vaud ... and the fashion of viewing
the mountains and glaciers have opened us on all sides to the
incursions of foreigners." Fletcher was not before his time with regard
to this most modern of sentiments or susceptibilities. There is little
trace of impressions made on him either by the grandeur or the
loveliness of his native scenery. In a letter written when, at fifty
years of age, he was revisiting Nyon, he invites a friend to come to
"this delightful country, and share a pleasant apartment, and one of
the finest prospects in the world in the house where I was born.... 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." And then he
adds, "But this, though sweet, does not come up to the singing of my
dear friends in England."

Fletcher received his early education at a school in Nyon, and was then
sent, with his two brothers, to the Academy, now the University, of
Geneva, where he spent seven years in diligent and successful study. On
leaving Geneva he spent some time at Lenzburg, chiefly for the sake of
learning German. In the scanty records of his youth there is a
remarkable succession of perils and hairbreadth escapes. Fletcher was
a bold and skilful swimmer, and on at least two occasions his
adventurousness nearly cost him his life. Once he swam with a companion
to a small, rocky island, about five miles from the shore of the lake.
They found it so steep and smooth that they could not land, and it was
not until they were completely exhausted by swimming round it that they
came upon a place where they could crawl ashore, and whence they were
rescued by a passing boat. The other adventure was still more perilous.
He was swimming in the Rhine, and was drawn unawares into the
mid-stream, where, he says, "the water was extremely rough, and poured
along like a galloping horse." After a long and desperate struggle with
the current, he was carried into a mill-race, and hurled among the
piles on which the mill stood. A blow on the breast made him senseless,
and he knew nothing more till he rose on the other side of the mill,
after being among the piles for twenty minutes, to find himself five
miles from the place where he had started. Another time, when he and
his brother were fencing with swords blunted with a kind of button
fixed upon the point, the button on his brother's weapon broke, and
Fletcher received a desperate thrust in the side that had well-nigh
killed him. These incidents have often been referred to as
illustrations of the Providence that directed his life; but they reveal
in addition elements of character that should not be overlooked. There
was nothing effeminate in him. On this point a mistake may be made. It
is possible to misinterpret the delicate features, with their rapt
expression, the almost excessive modesty, the language fuller charged
with emotion than is quite our English wont. But there was strength,
not weakness, beneath these often misread indications of character. The
natural man in John Fletcher was a soldier and an athlete, and these
qualities of manhood remained with him to the end, though turned to
higher issues and manifest in other forms than in these early years.

From childhood Fletcher had a tender conscience and a devout spirit,
and was exceptionally free from fault. He says, "I think it was when I
was seven years of age that I first began to feel the love of God shed
abroad in my heart, and that I resolved to give myself up to Him, and
to the service of His Church, if ever I should be fit for it." Years
afterwards there came for him a time of spiritual conflict, of
heart-searching, and deep repentance, from which he passed into the
clear light of reconciliation with God through faith in Christ; but his
conversion had this in common with Wesley's, that it crowned and
completed the piety of his youth. In both cases conversion was a
momentous, unmistakable epoch; but not by reason of any change from
reckless and ungodly living. It was one of those supreme events in the
history of the soul that has its foundations and beginnings long
before. Its relation to the past is not, outwardly at least, one of
contrast, and inwardly it is not wholly so. The continuity of the
spiritual life is not broken, but rather a stage is reached where the
discipline and endeavours of previous years, having served their end,
pass into a larger liberty and a more abundant life. "It pleased God to
reveal His Son in me," is the true account, not only of sudden
conversions, properly so called, but of that last act of grace which
brings devout and serious youth to the full knowledge of Him whom they
have long sought, and served while yet seeking.

Fletcher's student life seems to have been wholly free from the vices
which, both then and now, are too generally counted venial, or even
natural and reasonable, in youth. His subsequent self-upbraidings were
deep enough, but they must not be misunderstood. When he says, in a
letter written to his brother in his 26th year, "My infancy was
vicious, and my youth still more so," the reference is not to open,
actual sins, but to that ignorance of the true Christian life which,
apprehended in its full significance, appears to the regenerate
conscience as the one root-evil. His confessions have little in common
with those of Augustine, or Bunyan, or John Newton. The most particular
allusion they contain is the following: "I formed an acquaintance with
some deists, at first with the design of converting them, and
afterwards with the pretence of thoroughly examining their sentiments.
But my heart, like that of Balaam, was not right with God. He abandoned
me, and I enrolled myself in their party. A considerable change took
place in my deportment. Before, I had a form of religion, and now I
lost it; but as to the state of my heart, it was precisely the same. I
did not remain many weeks in this state; the Good Shepherd sought after
me, a wandering sheep. Again I became professedly a Christian; that
is, I resumed a regular attendance at church and the communion, and
offered up frequent prayers in the name of Jesus Christ. There were
also in my heart some sparks of true love to God, and some germs of
genuine faith; but a connexion with worldly characters, and an undue
anxiety to promote my secular interests, prevented the growth of these
Christian graces."

It had been Fletcher's desire as a child to become a Christian
minister. This object was still kept in view during his studies at
Geneva, and appears to have been approved by his family; but as he
entered his twentieth year his views underwent a considerable change,
the notion of entering the ministry was abandoned, and he sought a
military career instead. One or two reasons may be assigned for this
change. He feared he was unfit for the ministry. Though outwardly of
blameless life, he felt, as the time for ordination drew near, his need
of true faith in Christ and love to God, and shrank from an office for
which these were the first requisites. Further, a doctrinal difficulty
disclosed itself. "I was disgusted by the necessity I should be under
to subscribe the doctrine of predestination"; and while thus
religiously and doctrinally disturbed, the influence of certain friends
combined with his own inclination to suggest that frequent resource of
the more adventurous youth of Switzerland, military service in some
foreign army. Fletcher's father had served the king of France, why
should not he take service under the king of Portugal, who was about to
send troops to Brazil? Accordingly, disregarding his father's
remonstrances, but following his example, he made his way to Lisbon,
raised a company of his countrymen, doubtless by the method embodied in
the proverb, "Pas d'argent, pas de Suisse," and received a captain's
commission in the Portuguese service. This kind of professional
soldiership, for which no patriotism or devotion to a noble cause could
be pleaded, did not shock the general conscience in Fletcher's day. It
presented no difficulty to his own. That such a vocation is in our own
day generally condemned, being barely tolerated under the most
extenuating circumstances, is an illustration of progress in morals and
religion,--one of many that may be set over against some discouraging
aspects of the times.

Meanwhile Fletcher is waiting in Lisbon for a remittance from home
which does not arrive. His parents disapprove of this
Portuguese-Brazilian venture, and refuse to send him money. But his
mind is made up, and with or without money he will go. An unlooked for
hindrance, however, prevents. A servant waiting upon him at breakfast
let fall a kettle of hot water, and so scalded his leg as to lay him
helpless in bed. In the meantime the ship sailed for Brazil without
him, and was never heard of again.

On his recovery he returned to Switzerland, there being no further
prospect of employment in the Portuguese service. But his desire for
military life was unabated. His uncle and eldest brother were in the
Dutch service, and in a little while he received word that his uncle
had procured a commission for him. He at once set out for Flanders, but
before he could join the army the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, in
October, 1748, entirely altered the situation. Troops were disbanded or
sent home, and the uncle on whom his hopes depended left the service,
and died soon afterwards. With his death Fletcher's hopes were entirely
destroyed, and he abandoned all thoughts of becoming a soldier.

The first well-marked stage of his history was now completed. He had
reached manhood. He had received the best education that his age and
his country afforded. In temperament he was active and ardent, in
spirit serious and devout; and though he had declined from his early
piety, he was entirely free from the follies and vices so easily
learnt, and so readily condoned, at college and in camp. It was
impossible to say how a life with such preparations would open out.
That its promise was fair, and even noble, might well be judged; but
that it should find at once the supply of its own deepest want, and the
sphere for the employment of its powers, in a foreign country, and in
connexion with a religious movement wholly unknown in Switzerland, and
unsanctioned either by Church or society in England, was among the
things that could not possibly be foreseen. Lives like Fletcher's, when
they lie complete before us, are luminous in the linked succession of
divinely directed steps; the overruling Providence is so manifest that
nothing which takes place surprises us; but, followed in their natural
order, the determining events are unforeseen, they come in unlikely
forms and from quarters whence they could not be expected. From Swiss
Moderatism Fletcher was to pass into the bosom of English Methodism.
The student reared in the school of Calvin and Beza was to be the
apologist of Evangelical Arminianism. He was to become, not

     "Captain, or colonel, or knight-in-arms"

in Portugal, Brazil, or Flanders, but "Vicar of Madeley." But of all
this he knew nothing;--how could he?

     "I know that the way of man is not in himself:
     It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."

       *       *       *       *       *

     "Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
     The distant scene; one step enough for me."




Being now without occupation, or any definite prospect of it, Fletcher
determined to visit England. It does not appear that he had any motive
for doing so beyond a desire to travel and to acquire the English
language. Accordingly, some time in 1749 or 1750--it is impossible to
fix the date more precisely--he came to London, well supplied
apparently with money, but with the slenderest stock of English. At the
custom house he and his companions seem to have been somewhat roughly
treated, and their letters of introduction were taken from them on the
ground that all letters must be sent by the post. His first adventure
in London bade fair to be of the sort that London has often provided
for newly arrived and trustful youth. He handed over his purse,
containing some £90, to a stranger, a Jew, who offered to get his money
changed for him. To the honour of this unknown Jew, let it be recorded
that Fletcher's simplicity was not abused. He returned in due time, and
brought the full amount in English coin.

The first eighteen months of his residence in England Fletcher spent in
the house of a Mr. Burchell, who kept a school near Hatfield. Here he
acquired a good knowledge of English, beside continuing his general
studies. On leaving Mr. Burchell, in the year 1752, he received the
appointment of tutor to the two sons of Mr. Thomas Hill, of Tern Hall,
in Shropshire. This position he retained for nearly seven years,
dividing his time between Shropshire and London, according as Mr.
Hill's family accompanied him to town for the sitting of Parliament, or
remained in the country.

Through all this time there is no sign of any wish on Fletcher's part
to return to Switzerland; and it is at first sight a little perplexing
that his visit to England should have developed into something very
like a permanent residence, when as yet he had no definite calling, and
the powerful influences of a great spiritual change had not come into
existence. But there is a reasonable explanation to be found in the
state of things in his native country, where a gentleman's younger son,
disinclined for the ministry and disappointed of a commission in the
army, had no great choice of a career. On this matter we have the
testimony of an exceptionally keen and competent observer. The early
years of Fletcher's residence in England correspond very closely with
those of Gibbon's first period of residence in Switzerland. From 1753
to 1758, years spent by Fletcher in the family of Mr. Hill, the
youthful Gibbon was living under the roof of M. Pavilliard, a Calvinist
minister at Lausanne. It was about the close of this period that he
wrote, for the benefit of a Swiss friend, a short paper upon political
and social life in Switzerland, an essay that is doubly worth reading,
for its own sake, and as exhibiting the powers and the promise in early
manhood of the future historian. An extract or two will show some
aspects of the society that Fletcher had so lately left, and to which
he never really returned, and will suggest the explanation of that
readiness to "forget his own people and his father's house," which has
perplexed some of his critics and biographers:

     "Even to the present day, a secret inquisition still reigns
     at Lausanne, where the names of Arminian and Socinian are
     often mentioned in the letters written by very honest people
     to their patrons of Berne; and offices are often given or
     withheld according to the reports made of the religious
     tenets of the candidates.... In aristocratical republics the
     citizens of one town are not contented with being sovereigns
     collectively, unless they individually appropriate all
     offices of honour or emolument. In the canton of Berne
     talents and information are not of the smallest use to any
     one who is not born in the capital; and in another sense they
     are useless to those born there, because they _must_ make
     their way without them. Their subjects in the Pays de Vaud
     are condemned, by the circumstances of their birth, to a
     condition of shameful obscurity. They naturally become
     therefore a prey to despair, and neglecting to cultivate
     talents which they can never enjoy an opportunity to display,
     those who had capacities for becoming great men are
     contented with making themselves agreeable companions.
     Should I propose that the subjects obtained a right to hold
     the lucrative employments of _baillis_, or governors of
     districts, the aristocratical families of Berne would think
     me guilty of a crime little less than sacrilege. 'The
     emoluments of these offices form the patrimony of the State;
     and we are the State.' It is true that you in the Pays de
     Vaud may be deputies to the _baillis_; but the advantages
     belonging to that subordinate magistracy are obtained on
     certain conditions, which, unless the holder of the office
     lives a certain number of years, renders his bargain a very
     bad one for his family.

     "What encouragement is then left for the gentlemen of the
     Pays de Vaud? That of foreign service. But to them even this
     road to preferment is extremely difficult, and to attain the
     higher ranks is impossible.... In his own district every
     _bailli_ is at the head of religion, of the law, the army,
     and the finances. As judge, he decides without appeal all
     causes to the amount of a hundred francs--a sum of little
     importance to a gentleman, but which often makes the whole
     fortune of a peasant; and he decides alone, for the voices of
     his assessors have not any weight in the scale. He confers,
     or rather he sells, all the employments in his district."

It is unnecessary further to multiply extracts from this letter. The
relevancy to Fletcher's personal history of those just cited will be
obvious. He belonged, not to the aristocracy of Berne, but to the
subordinate gentry of the Pays de Vaud. The office held by his father
was not that of _bailli_, with its great emoluments and privileges, but
the very inferior office of _assesseur_. Fletcher was one of those to
whom little remained but foreign service, and we have seen how eagerly
he sought it, and by what circumstances his hopes were frustrated. And
so it was, we take it, that, having come to England, he scarcely knew
why, the quiet life of a scholar and tutor satisfied him till such time
as, in the possession of a new religious life and an absorbing
vocation, he found "foreign service" in the highest and holiest
warfare. It was while living in Mr. Hill's family that Fletcher came
under the influences which determined his whole future course. He now
first became acquainted with the Methodists.

Some fifteen years had elapsed since Wesley formed the first Methodist
society, and Whitefield, shut out from the churches, had begun to
preach the gospel to the wondering crowds on Kingswood Hill and
Kennington Common. Wesley's own ungarnished account fixes the exact
date of one of the most significant events in modern Church history. It
is as follows: "In the latter end of the year 1739 eight or ten persons
came to me in London, who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and
earnestly groaning for redemption. They desired I would spend some time
with them in prayer, and advise them how to flee from the wrath to
come. That we might have more time for this great work, I appointed a
day when they might all come together, which from thenceforward they
did every Thursday in the evening. To these, and as many more as
desired to join with them (for the number increased daily), I gave
those advices from time to time which I judged most needful for them;
and we always concluded our meeting with prayer suited to their several
necessities. This was the rise of the United Society, first in London,
and then in other places."

It was not however to the members of this society that the name of
Methodist was first applied, still less was it a designation adopted by
the society itself. It originated, some years earlier, in Oxford, as a
nickname for the Wesleys and a few other university men, who used to
meet together to read the Scriptures, and endeavoured generally to
order their lives with a religious precision rare enough in the Oxford
of those days. To quote Wesley's words again: "The exact regularity of
their lives, as well as studies, occasioned a young gentleman of Christ
Church to say, 'Here is a new set of Methodists sprung up,' alluding to
some ancient physicians who were so called. The name was new and
quaint, so it took immediately, and the Methodists were known all over
the university."

But this first, or Oxford, Methodism was now a thing of the past. The
Methodism that Fletcher found in England was really another and very
different thing, though called by the same name. It was separated from
the former, not only by a score or so of years, but by spiritual
changes and developments of the most important character. The first
Methodists were, above all things, students and Churchmen. They revived
the observance of long neglected canons and rubrics; they moulded
their lives on ascetic models, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and
eating no flesh during Lent except on Saturdays and Sundays. They
thought and spoke much of Christian antiquity, and, like the Oxford
leaders of a century later, sought in that venerable past a rule and an
authority co-ordinate with Scripture. They read Thomas à Kempis and
Bishop Taylor and the great High Church mystic of their own day,
William Law. This Oxford Methodism, with its almost monastic rigours,
its living by rule, its canonical hours of prayer, is a fair and noble
phase of the many-sided life of the Church of England, and, with all
its defects and limitations, claims our deep respect. But it was not
the instrument by which the Church and nation were to be revived; it
had no message for the world, no secret of power with which to move and
quicken the masses. To do this it must become other than it was. It
must die, in order to bring forth much fruit. And this death and rising
again were accomplished in the spiritual change wrought in John Wesley,
the leader of the earlier and of the later Methodism. What was that

In the year 1738, on his return from Georgia, Wesley writes: "It is now
two years and almost four months since I left my native country, in
order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of Christianity. But
what have I learned myself meantime? Why, what I the least of all
suspected: that I, who went to America to convert others, was never
myself converted to God."

Now it may be urged, with some show of reason, as indeed his own
language in later life implies, that Wesley was not, in the full sense
of the term, an unconverted man during the whole of his Oxford life and
of his residence in Georgia. But nothing is more certain than the
reality and importance of the change through which he now passed. His
apprehension of salvation by faith in Christ had been hitherto obscure
and imperfect. He found no rest for his soul. He longed to be at peace
with God. "The faith which I want is a sure trust and confidence in God
that, through the merits of Christ, my sins are forgiven, and I
reconciled to the favour of God, ... that faith which enables every one
that hath it to cry out, 'I live not, but Christ liveth in me; and the
life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me,
and gave Himself for me.'" It is not necessary to repeat here the
oft-told story of Wesley's acquaintance with the Moravians, and more
particularly with Peter Böhler, by whose teaching and testimony he was
convinced that the one thing wanting to him was a living faith in
Christ, together with that assurance of forgiveness and power over sin
that are its fruits. How much had to be surrendered before a man of
Wesley's training and attainments could submit himself to the
conception of saving faith that was now presented to him, may be learnt
from his own statements. It is enough to say that he found that way of
faith in Christ which is the open secret of the gospel, at once "hidden
from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes." He received the
reconciliation and rejoiced in God. "I felt I did trust in Christ,
Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had
taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and
death." This was Wesley's "conversion." Whether rightly so called or
not, there is no doubt as to the change itself, and its results.
Henceforth he was a new man, ready for a new work. Instead of directing
the religious life of a handful of devout university men, he traversed
the land in every direction, preaching to the multitudes and organizing
societies for Christian fellowship. Religion was no longer a painful
quest, a high endeavour, a discipline, but a life bright with the
Divine favour and filled with unspeakable blessings, offered to all men
through faith in Christ. Peace with God, the witness and fruit of the
Spirit, the blessings of sonship and sanctification,--these were not
the rewards of fidelity and endurance, the privilege of the few; they
were included in the common salvation. Every sinner might seek them,
every believer would find them. There is no mistaking the difference
between this gospel, soon to be preached in every town and village of
England, and the teaching that nourished the austere piety of the
Oxford Methodists. As an able writer has put it, "The birthday of a
Christian was shifted from his baptism to his conversion, and in that
change the partition line of two great systems is crossed." Some will
reckon this change a grave error, and all that came of it to be but a
falling away from a high beginning. They will find in the ascetic,
churchly pietists of the earlier time their true Wesley and their ideal
Methodism; but time and history have borne a testimony from which there
is, practically, no appeal. The Methodism that revived the Church and
awakened the nation was not that of the "Holy Club" at Oxford. It
differed from it as Wesley after "conversion" differed from his former
self. Its spirit, its methods, its watchwords were altered. Something
may have been lost when Methodism moved from its academic birthplace
into the work-day world, but more was gained. It had found what it had
long sought. It knew now what salvation meant. "I waited patiently for
the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He ... set my feet
upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in
my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and
shall trust in the Lord."

By the time that Fletcher became acquainted with Methodism it had
passed through some important stages of its history. It had reached its
highest point in the favour of a small section of the aristocracy, and
had encountered its strongest opposition among the people. Never in
subsequent years were so many persons of rank associated with Methodism
as in its first two or three decades; and never in later times have its
followers endured afflictions like those which the first Methodists
suffered in Staffordshire, in Yorkshire, and in Cornwall. It had now
secured something like peace for its persecuted people; its travelling
preachers crossed and recrossed the entire country; its societies
contained many thousands of members, won for the most part from
ignorance and irreligion; and with restless yet disciplined activity it
was appreciably influencing the national life. Religion, which had
seemed to "stand on tiptoe in our land," turned again to its ancient
seats, and to the home it had well-nigh forsaken. There was hope for
Christianity among us yet.

It was during one of Fletcher's journeys to London with Mr. Hill's
family that he first met with the people called Methodists. The story
is told by Wesley: "While they stopped at St. Albans, he walked out
into the town, and did not return till they were set out for London. A
horse being left for him, he rode after, and overtook them in the
evening. Mr. Hill asked him why he stayed behind. He said, 'As I was
walking I met with a poor old woman, who talked so sweetly of Jesus
Christ, that I knew not how the time passed away.' 'I shall wonder,'
said Mrs. Hill, 'if our tutor does not turn Methodist by-and-by.'
'Methodist, madam,' said he; 'pray, what is that?' She replied, 'Why,
the Methodists are a people that do nothing but pray; they are praying
all day and all night.' 'Are they?' said he; 'then, by the help of God,
I will find them out, if they be above ground.' He did find them out
not long after, and was admitted into the society."

Amongst the Methodists Fletcher learnt what Wesley had learnt from the
Moravians, that there was something in religion to which he was yet a
stranger. Like so many others of fine moral nature and virtuous habits,
he was much perplexed as to the nature of saving faith. "Is it
possible," he writes, "that I, who have always been accounted so
religious, who have made divinity my study, and received the Premiums
of Piety (so called) from the university for my writings on Divine
subjects,--is it possible that I should yet be so ignorant as not to
know what faith is?" He came to the conclusion that this was so. His
past life, so free from outward sin, appeared to him to be sinful
beyond expression. It had no foundation in Christ. He had lived to
himself. His righteousness was self-righteousness, it was as filthy
rags. He now heard sermons, but was only the more convinced that he was
an unbeliever; he wrote out a confession of his sins, misery, and
helplessness, but had no heart to finish it. He feared he did not even
yet mourn enough for his sins; "but I found relief in Mr. Wesley's
'Journal,' where I learned that we should not build on what we feel,
but that we should go to Christ with all our sins and hardness of
heart." Deliverance however was at hand. The salvation that he longed
for drew near. He trusted in Christ, and found rest to his soul. His
bonds were broken. He was filled with joy and peace through believing.
Henceforth, "the life that he lived in the flesh, he lived by the faith
of the Son of God."

It is surely worthy of remark that the chief leaders of the Evangelical
Revival were converted in mature life, not after a wild and reckless,
but after a more than commonly religious youth. Among the associates
soon to be gathered around them a very different type of spiritual
history may be discerned. Many of these had been notoriously sinful,
and their conversion had all the dramatic completeness which belongs to
a sudden transformation of conduct and character. But of the Wesleys
and Whitefield at Oxford, and subsequently of Fletcher, it might be
said that they were "touching the righteousness which is in the law,
blameless." They fasted and prayed, and frequented the sacrament; they
read religious books; they visited the sick and taught the ignorant;
they eschewed all self-indulgence, were scrupulous in respect of duty,
and consistently devout in spirit and manner. And yet the change
wrought in them when they obtained a saving faith in Christ could not
have been really greater if there had been a previous life of sin and
folly to escape from. When a man passes from a righteousness of his own
"which is of the law," to "that which is through faith in Christ," it
is as truly a birth from above as when he is turned from sin to
righteousness. The inner power and significance of conversion are the
same in both cases. But this is widely misunderstood. That the wicked
should be, if possible, converted, is generally held to be desirable.
Society, even when most cynical and worldly, does, in a manner, hold
that it behoves evil doers, especially among the lower orders, to
repent of their sins and mend their ways; but that good people should
call themselves sinners, that scholars and gentlemen of excellent
character--whose only fault indeed was that of being righteous
overmuch--should be anxious about their souls, and make other
respectable people as uneasy as themselves, caused much irritation and

It was, however, not the least of God's mercies to the Church and
nation that the Revival began as it did with the conversion of good
men, that its first witnesses and workers were not reclaimed
profligates, but representatives of all that was best in the existing
social order. If the gospel was to awaken the conviction of sin in such
men as these, if it was to disclose to them deep spiritual needs, and
set them asking what they must do to be saved, then society had
misunderstood the whole matter,--which indeed was pretty nearly the
case. Society's discernment of evil when it takes the form of crime is
sufficiently acute; concerning vice also it has convictions more or
less emphatic: but of _sin, as sin_, its notions are feeble and
confused. And that confusion and inadequacy of view are shared by the
Church when men's need of Christ and His salvation is measured by the
more or less of their outward good behaviour; as though conversion were
necessary for wicked and worthless members of the community, while
those of a better sort can see the kingdom of God without being born
from above. The history and experience of its leaders, humanly
speaking, preserved the Revival from this error, and from the first
guarded the doctrine of the new birth from one of its most common and
practical perversions. The notion that while there are some people too
bad to be converted there are others too good to require it, was doubly
disproved. The early Methodist preachers moved joyously and confidently
through the land, proclaiming a salvation which the worst might obtain,
and which the best must not refuse or neglect.

From the time of his conversion to the close of his life Fletcher was a
Methodist. The exact date when he joined the society cannot be
determined, but in the year 1756 he was a member of a class in London,
of which a Mr. Richard Edwards was the leader. His "class ticket,"
bearing the name "John Fletcher," and the date "Feb., 1757," lies
before us as we write.



It was in the beginning of the year 1755, when Fletcher was in the
twenty-sixth year of his age, that he passed through the great change
described in the last chapter. For nearly five years he continued to
live in Mr. Hill's family, dividing his time, as before, between
Shropshire and London. Towards the close of that period, however, new
duties and engagements were opening out before him, and in 1760, when
his pupils entered the University of Cambridge, Fletcher's tutorship
was at an end.

His residence at Tern Hall was in many respects a happy one for
Fletcher. His duties were comparatively light, and his situation was
favourable to that life of meditation, prayer, study, and
self-discipline to which he was so powerfully drawn. On Sundays he
attended the parish church of Atcham, a village near Shrewsbury. When
the service was over he usually walked home alone by the Severn side.
After a while these walks were shared by a pious man named Vaughan,
then in Mr. Hill's service, who, in after years, gave the following
account of them to Mr. Wesley:

     "It was our ordinary custom, when the church service was
     over, to retire into the most lonely fields or meadows, where
     we frequently either kneeled down or prostrated ourselves on
     the ground. At those happy seasons I was a witness of such
     pleadings and wrestlings with God, such exercises of faith
     and love, as I have not known in any one ever since. The
     consolations which we then received from God induced us to
     appoint two or three nights in a week, when we duly met,
     after his pupils were asleep. We met also constantly on
     Sunday between four and five in the morning. Sometimes I
     stepped into his study on other days. I rarely saw any book
     before him, besides the Bible and the 'Christian Pattern.'"

Another, who knew him at that time, says that when there was company to
dinner at Mr. Hill's, Fletcher would often get himself excused from
being present, and retire into the garden, to dine on a piece of bread
and a little fruit. There are many testimonies to his lifelong
abstemiousness, but at this period it reached a point of asceticism,
concerning which Wesley has recorded his judgment: "None can doubt if
these austerities were well intended; but it seems they were not well
judged. It is probable they gave the first wound to an excellent
constitution, and laid the foundation of many infirmities, which
nothing but death could cure." Again, referring to his manner of life
at Madeley, several years after, Wesley says: "He did not allow himself
such food as was necessary to sustain nature. He seldom took any
regular meals except he had company; otherwise, twice or thrice in
four-and-twenty hours he ate some bread and cheese, or fruit. Instead
of this he sometimes took a draught of milk, and then wrote on again."

That all this was unwise, and brought its own punishment, will be
readily admitted; but it is well to note that Fletcher's ascetic
practice was not the result of an ascetic theology. Beyond most holy
men Fletcher apprehended and rejoiced in the freedom of the children of
God. The last touch of the spirit of bondage disappeared at his
conversion, and henceforth he was no more a servant but a son, walking
in the clearest light, and possessing the strongest witness to his
adoption. His rigid self-denial, his almost unearthly indifference to
the common comforts and recreations of human life, his carefully
ordered devotions, were not the travail of a soul going about to
establish its own righteousness, nor the half-expiatory sacrifices of
one who seeks to pacify his conscience or appease his restless
longings. Beneath his ascetic practice was evangelical doctrine, and a
living faith. He did not fast, and give whole days to study and whole
nights to prayer, because he was in doubt or distress concerning his
soul, but from his very joy in God, and delight in all that lifted him
from things beneath to things above. His was the asceticism of love,
and not of bondage or of fear.

By the help of manuscripts carefully preserved, though not hitherto
made public, it is possible to draw very near to the devotional life of
Fletcher at this period of his history. A document which affords
pathetic insight into the depth and thoroughness of his consecration
of himself to God now lies before us. It is a solemn covenant, drawn up
in Latin, and covers the two sides of a parchment some nine inches by
five in size. It is exquisitely written in a round, legible hand. The
opening sentence, which is in Greek, reads thus: "In the name of God,
the Creator of heaven and earth, Amen. O most high Jehovah, only God,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I, the vilest of the vile, worst of the
sons of Adam, an apostate spirit, a man utterly undone, ... resolve to
consecrate myself to Thee, my Creator Redeemer, Sanctifier." In the
humblest strain of penitential confession, he proceeds to offer and
present himself to God through the merits of Jesus Christ. The
recurring phrase of consecration is, "Do, reddo, dico, dedico" (I give,
restore, devote, dedicate); and all that he has, or is, or may be, is
brought within this form of dedication. The formula of supplication is,
"Peto, rogo, posco, flagito" (I ask, entreat, implore, importune); and
in these terms he prays for pardon, grace, guidance, and final
deliverance. There is reason to think that the signature, now almost
illegible, was written with his own blood. After the manner of the
earlier nonconformists, among whom the practice of drawing up solemn
forms of covenant with God prevailed, Fletcher kept by him through life
this sign and memorial of deliberate consecration to God, and renewed
from time to time both its general vow and its detailed promises. It is
dated August 24th, 1754.

Some two years later he prepared for his own use a little manual of
devotions, which is perhaps the most _vital_ of all the Fletcher relics
still preserved, as revealing more directly than any other his interior
life, and the spirit and method of his daily devotions. It is a small,
square book, strongly bound in leather, containing about two hundred
closely written pages.

More than half of its contents are passages from the Greek Testament,
carefully arranged under various headings, _Faith_, _Promises_, _The
Heavenly Life_. To these are added selections from Charles Wesley's
hymns, then recently published, now, and for a long time past, known
and prized by the devout of every communion.

But the most personal and characteristic portions of the book are
Fletcher's own meditations, resolutions, and precepts. They are
written, for the most part, in Latin and in French. Some specimens of
these will be found in the appendix to this volume. Here it must
suffice to translate a few of the rules by which he disciplined his
daily life.

Under the date January 15th, 1757, is written, in French,--

     "Pray on my knees as often as possible.

     Sing frequently penitential hymns.

     Eat slowly, and upon my knees, three times a day only, and
     never more.

     Always speak gently.

     Neglect no outward duty.

     Beware of a fire that thou kindlest thyself.

     The fire that God kindles is bright, mild, constant, and
     burns night and day.

     Think always of death, and the Cross, the hardness of thy
     heart and the blood of Christ.

     Beware of relaxing, and of impatience; God is faithful, but
     He owes thee nothing.

     Speak only when necessary.

     Do not surrender thyself to any joy.

     Rise in the morning without yielding to sloth.

     Follow always thy first motion.

     Be a true son of affliction.

     Write down every evening whether thou hast kept these

Among the Latin meditations is one headed "Deus mihi amandus est quid":
"God is to be loved because--" And then follow various grounds for
gratitude and love:

     "Because He created me,
     Of sound body and mind,
     In a middle station of life, and in the bosom of His Church;
     Preserves me alive and well;
     Has not given me over to the power of the devil;
     Gives all things necessary for life;
     In various ways, and wonderfully, has delivered me from death;
     Raised up for me good parents, teachers, friends;
     Gives me food, shelter, books, good health,
     clothing, friends, and a not dishonourable name;
     Has mercifully withheld hurtful things when I asked them;
     Before the foundations of the world determined to give His Son
       for me,
     And gave Him in time to flesh, infirmities, scorn, sorrows,
       poverty, and death;
     Imparts Him to me in the word, and in the holy supper."

Among the "rules for a holy life," written in English, the following
may be quoted:

     "Mortify thy five senses till crucified with Christ;

     Sit at Christ's feet; cast away thy own will; consult His at
     every word, morsel, motion; ask His leave even in lawful

     Renounce thyself in all that can hinder thy union with God.
     Desire nought but His love.

     Mortify all affection toward inward, sensible, spiritual
     delights in grace; they rather please and comfort than

     The life of God consists not in high knowledge, but profound
     meekness, holy simplicity, and ardent love to God.

     Receive afflictions as the best guides to perfection.

     Remember always the presence of God.

     Rejoice always in the will of God.

     Direct all to the glory of God."

The little book from which these extracts are taken was Fletcher's
companion in his hours of private prayer and communion with God. It was
written, not for others, but for himself. For a century past it has
been in safe and reverent keeping, and is now as he left it. Its pages
are worn by his touch. With these hymns and meditations he nourished
his soul in secret. With these rules he loved to bind his free
Christian spirit. Like other saintly men, he found that the impulses,
even of the regenerate life, may not be left to themselves with entire
confidence in their sufficient working. He sought to strengthen them by
meditation, to sustain them by spiritual exercises and discipline; he
furnished them with tests and standards, and made self-examination
definite and precise. He sought perfection at once in supreme love to
God, and in the minutest details of character and conduct. Let this be
borne in mind in connexion with the fact that Fletcher was a leader of
the Evangelical Revival, and a founder and father of Methodism.
Evangelical religion has been charged with indifference to painstaking
spiritual culture. Its doctrine of salvation by faith has been thought
to carry with it self-confidence, familiar ways with God, and easy
dealing with one's own soul. It is supposed to compensate for its
insistence upon conversion, by sanctioning subsequent laxity in the
matter of prayer and fasting. It is charged with spiritual shallowness,
and asked why, with all its innumerable activities, it fails to produce
the deeper and more disciplined devoutness of which Thomas à Kempis in
the Roman, and Andrewes and Keble in the Anglican, communities are
great examples.

A proper discussion of this question would require, amongst other
things, an examination of the terms in which it is stated. They would
be found to contain, with some truth, assumptions utterly false and
misleading. Amongst these is the assumption that sanctity is not such,
unless it have a certain form, diverging not too widely from an
accepted type. The Roman controversialist objects to the Church of
England that it does not exhibit notes of sanctity, "that it has no
saints." As Dr. Mozley has said, "He refuses, in a certain case, to see
and recognise the Christian type, because it does not come before him
in the Latin shape, and with the accompaniments of intellectual grace
and refinement, which it has incorporated on its European area."[2] By
a very slight alteration in the wording of this sentence, it would
describe with equal accuracy the attitude of those who cannot recognise
sanctity which does not come before them in the Anglican shape; and by
a second and a third alteration, it would describe the inability, here
and there existing, to discern any sanctity but that of an accepted
type or favoured school. Much of the disparagement of "Evangelical"
piety is plainly of this kind; and the truth needs to be spoken with
regard to all these narrow and sectarian gauges of Christian character.
Amid the "diversities of ministrations and diversities of workings,"
there is no essential distinction as to the so called "note of
sanctity"; Eastern or Western, Anglican or Puritan, holiness is always
and essentially the same, rebuking every attempt to fasten it to a
particular type, or ignore it apart from a particular succession.

Fletcher was an Evangelical of Evangelicals, teaching conversion, the
witness of the Spirit, and the entire sanctification of believers. He
profoundly influenced the theology and general religious spirit and
character of Methodism. What then is the bearing of his spiritual life
and the influence of his example upon these latter? It is this: that
while holiness is, in its truest, deepest aspect, the gift of God,--it
is God who sanctifies as surely as it is God who justifies,--yet, alike
in the pursuit and possession of holiness, the Christian is called to
work together with God, in watchfulness and prayer, in self-examination
and self-denial, in reading and meditation, "exercising himself unto
godliness" in the many ways which Scripture enjoins and which insight
and experience will suggest.

If at any time the Methodists, or Evangelical Christians generally,
should let slip either of these truths; if holiness be thought of, on
the one hand, as a human attainment and not a Divine gift, or, on the
other, as a gift of God having no relation to personal discipline and
culture,--they will at least be breaking with their best traditions,
and have against them both the teaching and the example of their

This little manual of devotion, written by his own hand, and worn by
long and frequent use, reveals much of the way in which Fletcher's
inmost life was cultivated. Knowing that life as it was manifested in
his character and conduct, we regard with deep interest the means by
which it was nurtured in secret. The lovely growth of goodness had at
the root of it the patient discipline here portrayed. We might have
guessed as much, but here we see that it was so.



From this brief glance at Fletcher's habits of devotion we return to
the history of his life. He was not destined to be a religious recluse,
cultivating in quiet places "a fugitive and cloistered virtue." His
thirst for communion with God was equalled by his passion for winning
souls. If the one drove him to retirement, the other thrust him into
society. He longed for others to possess the salvation that he had
found. On such a matter he could not be silent, and he became a
preacher almost before he knew it. Both in personal intercourse and in
addressing assemblies, his foreign accent and a certain winning
simplicity of manner proved very attractive; but the hours spent alone
with God and his own soul were the secret of a power to appeal and
persuade that was well-nigh irresistible.

Naturally it was taken for granted that his proper vocation was the
ministry. He was pressed by one and another, and particularly by Mr.
Hill, to enter holy orders; but his mind was not yet made up. His
former shrinking from an office for which he felt himself unfit was not
wholly removed. He thought it might be better to serve God in a
private and less responsible way of life; and yet, from time to time,
the work of the ministry attracted and exercised his thoughts in a
manner that might be taken to indicate God's will.

In his perplexity he sought counsel from Wesley. It is not known when,
or under what circumstances, he had become personally known to him, but
the letter in which he asks his advice is probably the first he ever
wrote to Wesley, and the tone of it suggests that personal
acquaintance, if it had begun, was as yet very slight.

                                             _Nov. 24th, 1756._

     REV. SIR,--

     "As I look upon you as my spiritual guide, and cannot doubt
     of your patience to hear, and your experience to answer, a
     serious question proposed by any of your people, I freely
     lay my case before you."

     [After giving an account of his early history, and more
     recent experience, he tells Wesley that he had been offered
     a title to orders, and asks,--]

     "Now, sir, the question which I beg you to decide is,
     whether I must and can make use of that title to get into
     orders. For, with respect to the living, were it vacant, I
     have no mind to it, because I think I could preach with more
     fruit in my own country and in my own tongue.

     "I am in suspense. On one side my heart tells me I must try,
     and it tells me so whenever I feel any degree of the love of
     God and man; but on the other, when I examine whether I am
     fit for it, I so plainly see my want of gifts, and
     especially of that _soul_ of all the labours of a minister
     of the gospel, _love_, _continual_, _universal_, _flaming
     love_, that my confidence disappears, I accuse myself of
     pride to dare to entertain the desire of supporting the ark
     of the Lord. As I am in both these frames successively, I
     must own, sir, I do not see plainly which of the two ways
     before me I can take with safety, and I shall be glad to be
     ruled by you.... I know how precious is your time; I desire
     no long answer; _persist_ or _forbear_ will satisfy and
     influence, sir,

                                    Your unworthy servant,

                                             J. FLETCHER."

No reply to this letter has been preserved, but there can be no doubt
as to the nature of Wesley's advice. He recommended Fletcher's being
ordained; he probably dissuaded him from returning to Switzerland, and
he discouraged the notion of his settling in a parish. He greatly
desired to see Fletcher in the itinerant work in which he himself was
engaged, the more so as his brother Charles was now withdrawing from

On Sunday, March 6th, 1757, Fletcher received deacon's orders from the
Bishop of Hereford, and on the following Sunday he was ordained priest
by the Bishop of Bangor, at the request of the Bishop of Hereford. The
day after receiving priest's orders he was licensed "to perform the
office of curate in the parish church of Madeley, in the county of
Salop," and "a yearly salary of twenty-five pounds, to be paid
quarterly, for serving the same," was assigned to him.

This license to the curacy must not be confounded with his appointment,
more than three years afterwards, to the vicarage of Madeley. Fletcher
has no history as curate of Madeley. The appointment was in fact a
nominal one, for it is tolerably certain that he exercised no spiritual
function whatever in Madeley for at least two years after his
ordination. The title to orders was probably given to him by the Rev.
Rowland Chambre, then Vicar of Madeley, at Mr. Hill's request, with the
understanding that the curacy should be only nominal. The position of
chaplain and tutor in Mr. Hill's family, though not furnishing a legal
title to orders, would be considered equivalent to a cure of souls. The
fact that he was ordained deacon and priest on two consecutive Sundays,
the customary interval of a year being dispensed with, may be ascribed
either to the influence of Mr. Hill, or of Wesley himself; or it may be
taken as proof that his character was admittedly high, and that in his
examination or interviews with the bishop, he had shown himself
exceptionally well qualified, both intellectually and morally.

His connexion with Mr. Hill's family drew to its close. It did not
afford him the sphere for Christian work that he desired, ind involved
him in occasional embarrassments and difficulties. Mr. Hill was
uniformly kind, but he feared that the scandal of Methodism attaching
to his tutor would injure him at the next election. The neighbouring
clergy for the most part fought shy of Fletcher, so that he had few
opportunities of preaching in their churches. But the one compensation
for these restrictions was found in the devout retirement he loved so
well. He writes to Wesley: "The will of God be done: I am in His hands;
and if He does not call me to so much public duty, I have the more time
for study, prayer, and praise." He seems to have been conscious that it
was a time of discipline and preparation with him, and until the
indications of God's will were plain, he would not seek release from a
position where the providence of God had placed him.

Meanwhile, as his tutorship became less and less satisfactory as a
vocation, his connexion with the Methodists opened up to him new
labours and new friendships. Immediately upon his ordination Fletcher
was drawn into the full stream of the Revival, and brought into active
association with its leaders. His very first ministerial act, on the
day that he was ordained priest, was to assist Wesley in the
administration of the Lord's supper at Snowsfields chapel; and from
that time he frequently read prayers and preached in the Methodist
chapels in London. He made the acquaintance of Charles Wesley and
Whitefield, of the Countess of Huntingdon, of Berridge, Vicar of
Everton, of Thomas Walsh, and of some of the devout women who were not
least among the glories of early Methodism, including Mary Bosanquet,
who, many years afterwards, became his wife. By these and others
Fletcher was received with no common welcome. Wesley himself wrote in
his "Journal," "When my bodily strength failed, and none in England
were able and willing to assist me, He sent me help from the mountains
of Switzerland, and a helpmeet for me in every respect; where could I
find such another?" A little later the Countess of Huntingdon wrote to
a friend: "I have seen Mr. Fletcher, and was both pleased and refreshed
by the interview. He was accompanied by Mr. Wesley, who had frequently
mentioned him in terms of high commendation, as had Mr. Whitefield, Mr.
Charles Wesley, and others, so that I was anxious to become acquainted
with one so devoted, and who appears to glory in nothing, save in the
Cross of our Divine Lord and Master."

Another testimony referring to this time, though written many years
later, is that of a Mrs. Crosby, well-known amongst the first
Methodists: "I heard this heavenly-minded servant of the Lord preach
his first sermon in West Street chapel. I think his text was, 'Repent:
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' His spirit appeared in his whole
attitude and action. He could not well find words in the English
language to express himself, but he supplied that defect by offering up
prayers, tears, and sighs."

Of all those with whom Fletcher was now brought into close and happy
relations, Charles Wesley seems to have most completely won his heart.
Towards the elder Wesley he showed affectionate reverence, and a
loyalty that had its trials, and gave its proofs in many ways. He
undoubtedly looked upon him as the chief of living men. Of Thomas
Walsh, whose life, Southey says, "might almost convince a Catholic that
saints are to be found in other communions, as well as in the Church
of Rome,"--of Walsh, Fletcher, impressed with his deep, stern, mystic
sanctity, wrote, "I wish I could attend him everywhere, as Elisha
attended Elijah." But it was in Charles Wesley that he found his
dearest and most intimate friend, to whom for years he turned for
solace, for counsel, and for confidential intercourse.

We have seen the terms in which Lady Huntingdon speaks of Fletcher
after her first interview with him. On his part, Fletcher was
profoundly impressed with the countess's manifold excellences, and
wrote to Charles Wesley that he had "passed three hours with a modern
prodigy--_a humble and pious countess_." Lady Huntingdon has perhaps
suffered in the modern estimate of her character and work from the
overstrained and even fulsome language concerning her which it was the
custom of many of her friends and followers to employ. Appreciation of
her ladyship's rank so mingled with esteem for her piety as to produce
an unhappy effect upon the phraseology of her admirers. The countess's
biographer continues, in a later age, a style which, barely endurable
when a century old, is intolerable when repeated and renewed. He speaks
of "the elegant and pious persons to whom Mr. Fletcher was invited to
preach and administer the sacrament"! But we must not allow the
effusive language of her contemporaries, or the fine writing of her
biographer, to conceal from us the true worth of a very able and most
devoted Christian woman. If that language seem to us occasionally
wanting in manliness, in proper self-respect, and in Christian
simplicity, it bears witness to the ascendency exercised by a
remarkable character over all but the very strongest of those who came
under its influence; and if it was dangerous to be the subject of so
much eulogy, it should be remembered that Lady Huntingdon never shrank
from running counter to the prejudices of the class to which she
belonged, and endured, for the sake of Christ and His cause, ridicule
from those of her own order, which most people would find harder to
bear than actual persecution.

Fletcher was added to the number of Lady Huntingdon's chaplains. It is
almost unnecessary to say that this was not an "appointment" in the
strict sense of the word, but that he preached from time to time to the
fashionable congregations that assembled at Lady Huntingdon's house at
Chelsea. These assemblies have often been described. They included the
most distinguished men and women of the day. Chesterfield, Bolingbroke,
Horace Walpole and others, bear witness to the fashion which prevailed.
To listen to Whitefield in Lady Huntingdon's drawing-room became a
recognised diversion for society, and the most cynical and worldly were
found side by side with the serious and devout. Undoubtedly some "who
came to scoff remained to pray." Amongst the women of rank who heard
the gospel in this way several were converted, and became earnest and
faithful witnesses for Christ; but the hindrances to deep and lasting
results were very great, and we are inclined to think that this
particular phase of the Evangelical Revival was by no means among its
most fruitful or important developments. The ignorance and brutality of
the crowds to whom Wesley and Whitefield preached, presented no such
resistance to the gospel as the vanity and finished worldliness of the
drawing-room congregations. An instance will suffice. A lady who had
been invited by Lady Huntingdon replied in the following terms: "I
thank your ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist
preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive, and strongly tinctured
with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in
perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and do away with all
distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as
the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive
and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish
any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good

There is no record of the impression made by Fletcher upon these
fashionable congregations. Meanwhile he was engaged in a work probably
more congenial to him, viz. preaching to the French prisoners, a number
of whom were settled at Tunbridge. After a few months this came to an
end; he was forbidden by the Bishop of London to continue his
ministrations. There was something "irregular" in them, it would
appear. Wesley wrote afterwards, "If I had known this at the time, King
George should have known it; and I believe he would have given the
bishop little thanks."

The following extracts from his letters belong to this period:


                                             "_Mar. 22nd, 1759._

     "Since your departure I have lived more than ever like a
     hermit. It seems to me that I am an unprofitable weight upon
     the earth. I want to hide myself from all. I tremble when
     the Lord favours me with a sight of myself. I tremble to
     think of preaching only to dishonour God. To-morrow I preach
     at West Street, with all the feelings of Jonah. Oh! would to
     God I might be attended with success! If the Lord shall in
     any degree sustain my weakness, I shall consider myself as
     indebted to your prayers.

     "A proposal has lately been made to me to accompany Mr.
     Nathanael Gilbert to the West Indies. I have weighed the
     matter; but, on the one hand, I feel that I have neither
     zeal nor grace nor talents to expose myself to the
     temptations and labours of a mission to the West Indies;
     and, on the other, I believe that if God call me thither the
     time is not yet come.... Pray let me know what you think of
     this business; if you condemn me to put the sea between us,
     the command would be a hard one, but I might possibly
     prevail on myself to give you that proof of the deference I
     pay to your judicious advice. Give me some account of Mrs.
     Wesley, and of the godfather she designs for your little
     Charles; and, that she may not labour under a deception,
     tell her how greatly I want wisdom, and add that I have no
     more grace than wisdom. If, after all, she will not reject
     so unworthy a sponsor, remember that I have taken you for a
     father and adviser, and that the charge will in the end
     devolve upon you. Adieu!"

            TO THE SAME.

                                             "_April, 1759._

     "I have lately seen so much weakness in my heart, both as a
     minister and a Christian, that I know not which is most to
     be pitied, the man, the believer, or the preacher. Could I
     at last be truly humbled, and continue so always, I should
     esteem myself happy in making this discovery. I preach
     merely to keep the chapel open until God shall send a
     workman after His own heart. _Nos numeri sumus_--this is
     almost all I can say of myself."

            TO THE SAME.

                                             _"Nov. 15th, 1759._

     "The countess proposed to me something of what you hinted to
     me in your garden, namely, to celebrate the Communion
     sometimes at her house in a morning, and to preach when
     occasion offered; in such a manner however as not to
     restrain my liberty, nor to prevent my assisting you, or
     preaching to the French refugees; and that only till
     Providence should clearly point out the path in which I
     should go. Charity, politeness, and reason accompanied her
     offer, and I confess, in spite of the resolution which I had
     almost absolutely formed, to fly the houses of the great,
     without even the exception of the countess's, I found myself
     so greatly changed that I should have accepted on the spot a
     proposal which I should have declined from any other mouth;
     but my engagement with you withheld me, and, thanking the
     countess, I told her, when I had reflected on her obliging
     offer, I would do myself the honour of waiting upon her

     "Nevertheless, two difficulties stand in my way. Will it be
     consistent with that poverty of spirit which I seek? Can I
     accept an office for which I have such small talents? And
     shall I not dishonour the cause of God by stammering out the
     mysteries of the gospel in a place where the most approved
     ministers of the Lord have preached with so much power and
     so much success? I suspect that my own vanity gives more
     weight to this second objection than it deserves to have:
     what think you? You are an indulgent father to me, and the
     name of son suits me better than that of brother."[4]




Fletcher had now completed his thirty-first year, and had been three
years and a half in orders. Ten years had elapsed since his coming to
England, and he had no thought of returning to Switzerland. The
anglicised form of his name was significant of the change that had
taken place in his sentiments and sympathies. In these he had become an
Englishman, although--and it is necessary to mark the distinction--his
_temperament_ was never naturalised, but remained that of a foreigner
to the last. The yearning for his native land, which is supposed to
characterise the Swiss, was wholly wanting in him. Spiritual affections
and aspirations seemed to leave little room for love of country, and,
for a time at least, to dissolve the ties of family and home. On this
subject Charles Wesley, as we gather from a letter of Fletcher's,
administered a mild reproof, to which he replies, with the utmost
simplicity, that he had often thought "that the particular fault of the
Swiss is to be without natural affection." It should be added that
later years showed that he had no need to seek shelter under any such
doubtful generalization, or charge himself with so grievous a moral

Meanwhile, his position needed defining to himself, and to others. He
was not adequately or satisfactorily employed. His labours in connexion
with the Wesleys and Lady Huntingdon, broken off and resumed from time
to time, according as he lived in London or in Shropshire, were but
preparatory to some more definite and continuous vocation. What that
should be he knew not. It was however soon to be determined.

His friend Mr. Hill, desirous of doing something for the tutor of his
sons, offered him the living of Dunham, in Cheshire. "The parish," said
he, "is small, the duty light, the income good (£400 per annum), and it
is situated in a fine, healthy, sporting country." "Alas!" replied
Fletcher, "Dunham will not suit me; there is too much money and too
little labour." All that Mr. Hill could say to this unexpected
difficulty was, "Few clergymen make such objections," and to tell him
that it was a pity to decline such a living, as he did not know where
he could find him another. What was to be done? Mr. Hill suggested
Madeley; "Would you like that?" "That, sir," said Fletcher, "would be
the very place for me." "My object," answered Mr. Hill, "is to make you
comfortable in your own way. If you prefer Madeley, I shall find no
difficulty in persuading Mr. Chambre to exchange it for Dunham, which
is worth more than twice as much as Madeley." A nephew of Mr. Hill was
patron of Madeley, and the uncle and nephew meeting soon after at
Shrewsbury races, the exchange of livings was negotiated then and
there, and the result communicated to Fletcher. On his part there were
still a few doubts and heart-searchings, and one powerful influence was
opposed to his accepting this or any other living: Wesley wanted him
for itinerant work, and told him, "Others may do well in a living; you
cannot, it is not your calling." "I tell him," says Fletcher, "I
readily own that I am not fit to plant or water any part of the Lord's
vineyard; but that _if_ I am called at all, I am called to preach at
Madeley, where I was first sent into the ministry, and where a chain of
providences I could not break has again fastened me."

With these convictions the matter was soon settled. His induction to
"the vicarage of the parish church of Madeley" was signed by the Bishop
of Hereford, on October 4th, 1760. Henceforth Fletcher is Vicar of
Madeley. He has found the sphere of labour where he was to spend the
remainder of his days, and received the designation by which he will
ever be remembered.[5]

Among the country parishes of England are many whose remoteness from
toil and din, and tranquil beauty of church and parsonage, of hall and
cottage, have made them meet homes for gentle-spirited men. George
Herbert at Bemerton, Augustus Hare at Alton, John Keble at Hursley,
represent an element in the historic Church of England, which is to its
more imposing aspects what the pastoral scenery amid which they lived,
is to the mountains of Westmorland or Wales. Had the providence which
shaped Fletcher's course guided him to some such retirement, and made
him shepherd of a simple, docile flock, no man would have trodden with
greater meekness and fidelity the quiet ways of the country parson; but
he was called to another and more arduous service. Few scenes of labour
could be less attractive, considered in itself, than that upon which he
was now entering. The parish of Madeley, including Coalbrookdale and
Madeley Wood, was large and populous. The inhabitants were principally
colliers and ironworkers, ignorant, rough, and brutal. Their condition
is not to be wondered at. Little or nothing had been done to raise and
improve them. The well-organized, well-worked parish of modern times,
was not yet in existence. The non-residence of the clergy, which lasted
throughout the century, as may be seen by the language of Bishop Burnet
at its beginning and of Bishop Horsley at its close, was a fruitful
source of many evils, and a chief hindrance in the way of a higher
standard of parochial duty. Another twenty years was to elapse before
any serious attempt was made to establish Sunday schools. Public
catechizing had fallen into disuse. Day schools were few and
inefficient. Voluntary associations for Christian work were all but
unknown. The district visitor, the tract distributer, the Bible-woman,
the home missionary, the many organizations of Christian piety and zeal
with which the land is now covered, had not yet arisen. The Revival was
to produce them in due course, but meanwhile the mass of the people was
untouched by any effectual Christian influences, save where the
Methodist clergy, or Wesley's itinerants, brought the gospel home to
them. What could be expected of a rough collier population but hard
drinking, profane swearing, and cruel sports? These were common
practices everywhere, and were not likely to be found in their mildest
forms among the people of Madeley and the neighbouring villages.

In his letters to Charles Wesley and the Countess of Huntingdon,
Fletcher gives some particulars respecting his parish and the work he
had undertaken.

                                             "_Oct. 28th, 1760._

     "I preached last Sunday for the first time in my church,
     and shall continue to do so, though I propose staying with
     Mr. Hill till he leaves the country, which will be, I
     suppose, in a fortnight, partly to comply with him to the
     last, partly to avoid falling out with my predecessor, who
     is still at Madeley, but who will remove about the same

                                             "_Nov. 19th, 1760._

     "I have hitherto wrote my sermons, but am carried so far
     beyond my notes when in the pulpit that I purpose preaching
     with only my sermon-case in my hand next Friday, when I
     shall venture on an evening lecture for the first time. I
     question whether I shall have above half a dozen hearers, as
     the god of a busy world is doubly the god of this part of
     the world, but I am resolved to try. The weather and the
     roads are so bad that the way to the church is almost
     impracticable; nevertheless all the seats were full last
     Sunday. I cannot yet discern any deep work, or indeed
     anything but what will always attend the crying down man's
     righteousness, and insisting upon Christ's,--I mean a
     general liking among the poor, and offence, ridicule, and
     opposition among the 'reputable' and 'wise' people. Should
     the Lord vouchsafe to plant the gospel in this country, my
     parish seems to be the best spot for the centre of a work,
     as it lies just among the most populous, profane, and

                                             _"Jan. 6th, 1761._

     "As to my parish, all that I see hitherto in it is nothing
     but what one may expect from speaking plainly and with some
     degree of earnestness: a crying out, 'He's a Methodist, a
     downright Methodist'; while some of the poorer sort say,
     'nay, but he speaketh the truth.' Some of the best farmers
     and most respectable tradesmen talk often among themselves
     (as I am told) about turning me out of my living as a
     Methodist or a Baptist.... My Friday lecture took better
     than I expected, and I propose to continue it till the
     congregation desert me.... The number of communicants is
     increased from thirty to above a hundred; and a few seem to
     seek grace in the means."

                                             "_April 27th, 1761._

     "Last Sunday I had the pleasure of seeing some in the
     churchyard who could not get into the church. I began a few
     Sundays ago to preach in the afternoon, after catechising
     the children, but I do not preach my own sermons. Twice I
     read a sermon of Archbishop Ussher, and last Sunday one of
     the homilies, taking the liberty to make some observations
     on such passages as confirmed what I advanced in the
     morning; and by this means I stopped the mouths of many
     adversaries.... You will do well to engage your colliers at
     Kingswood to pray for their poor brethren at Madeley. May
     those at Madeley one day equal them _in faith_, as they _now
     do_ in that wickedness for which they (the Kingswood
     colliers) were famous before you went among them."

                                             "_Aug. 12th, 1761._

     "I know not what to say to you of the state of my soul. I
     daily struggle in the Slough of Despond, and I endeavour
     every day to climb the hill Difficulty. I need wisdom,
     mildness, and courage: and no man has less of them than I. O
     Jesus, my Saviour, draw me strongly to Him who giveth wisdom
     to all who ask it, and upbraideth them not! As to the state
     of my parish, the prospect is yet discouraging. New scandals
     succeed those that wear away. But offences must come. Happy
     shall I be if the offence cometh not by me! My churchwardens
     speak of hindering strangers from coming to the church, and
     of repelling them from the Lord's table; but on these points
     I am determined to make head against them. A club of eighty
     workmen in a neighbouring parish, being offended at their
     minister, determined to come in procession to my church, and
     requested me to preach a sermon for them; but I thought
     proper to decline it, and have thereby a little regained the
     good graces of the minister, at least for a time."

                                             "_Oct. 12th, 1761._

     "Discouragements follow one after another with very little
     intermission. Those which are of an inward nature are
     sufficiently known to you; but some others are peculiar to
     myself, especially those I have had for eight days past,
     during Madeley wake. Seeing that I could not suppress these
     bacchanals, I did all in my power to moderate their madness;
     but my endeavours have had little or no effect. You cannot
     well imagine how much the animosity of my parishioners is
     heightened, and with what boldness it discovers itself
     against me, because I preached against drunkenness, shows,
     and bull-baiting. The publicans and maltmen will not forgive
     me; they think that to preach against drunkenness and to
     cut their purse is the same thing."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fletcher's difficulties during these earlier years at Madeley were,
indeed, very numerous. In his letters he passes lightly over the
violence of the more ignorant and brutal of his flock. Though from time
to time dangerous enough, it did not daunt or distress him so much as
some other kinds of opposition. While fearlessly reproving their vices,
he was full of tenderness and pity for the poor sinful wretches who
cursed and insulted him to his face. He sought them separately,
literally pursuing those who tried to hide themselves from him, and
entreated them to turn from their sins. He would break in upon their
assemblies, where drunkenness and obscenity had scarcely any limits,
and reprove them with an earnestness that touched the consciences of
some, while it roused others to resentment and revenge. On one occasion
at least he had a narrow escape for his life. One Sunday evening when
he was expected at Madeley Wood, a number of colliers, who were baiting
a bull, maddened with drink and excitement, agreed _to bait the
parson_. Some of them undertook to pull him off his horse as soon as he
appeared, while the rest were to set the dogs upon him. But the
providence of God prevented this crime, and protected the faithful
minister. Just as he was about to set out for Madeley Wood he was
unexpectedly sent for to bury a child, and so was detained until it was
too late to go to the Wood; and the drunken colliers, who were cursing
their ill luck, had nothing for it but to return to the public-house
and solace themselves after their manner.

From among the very worst of these despisers of his ministry some,
however, were converted to God, and became his joy and consolation.

On a certain Sunday, after reading prayers at Madeley, he says that his
mind became so confused that he could not recollect his text or any
part of his sermon. Under these circumstances he began to explain and
apply the first lesson, which was the third chapter of the Book of
Daniel, containing the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being
cast into the fiery furnace. The remainder of the story may be told in
Fletcher's own words. "I found in doing this such extraordinary
assistance from God, and such a peculiar enlargement of heart, that I
supposed there must be some peculiar cause for it. I therefore desired,
if any of the congregation found anything particular, they would
acquaint me with it in the ensuing week. In consequence of this, the
Wednesday after a woman came and gave the following account:

     "'I have been for some time much concerned about my soul. I
     have attended church at all opportunities, and have spent
     much time in private prayer. At this my husband, who is a
     butcher, has been exceedingly enraged, and has threatened me
     severely as to what he would do to me if I did not leave off
     going to John Fletcher's church; yea, if I dared to go again
     to any religious meetings whatever. When I told him I could
     not in conscience refrain from going, at least to the
     parish church, he became outrageous, and swore dreadfully,
     and said if I went again he would cut my throat as soon as I
     came back. This made me cry to God that He would support me;
     and though I did not feel any great degree of comfort, yet,
     having a sure confidence in God, I determined to do my duty,
     and leave the event to Him. Last Sunday, after many
     struggles with the devil and my own heart, I came downstairs
     ready for church. My husband said he should not cut my
     throat, as he had intended, but he would heat the oven, and
     throw me into it the moment I came home. Notwithstanding
     this threat, which he enforced with many bitter oaths, I
     went to church, praying all the way that God would
     strengthen me to suffer whatever might befall me. While you
     were speaking of the three children whom Nebuchadnezzar cast
     into the burning, fiery furnace, I found all you said
     belonged to me. God applied every word to my heart; and when
     the sermon was ended I thought if I had a thousand lives I
     could lay them all down for Him. I felt so filled with His
     love that I hastened home, fully determined to give myself
     to whatsoever God pleased, nothing doubting that He either
     would take me to heaven, if He suffered me to be burnt to
     death, or that He would in some way deliver me, as He did
     His three servants that trusted in Him. When I got to my own
     door I saw flames issuing from the oven, and I expected to
     be thrown into it immediately. I felt my heart rejoice that
     if it were so the will of the Lord would be done. I opened
     the door, and to my astonishment saw my husband upon his
     knees, praying for the forgiveness of his sins. He caught me
     in his arms, earnestly begged my pardon, and has continued
     diligently seeking God ever since.'"

But there was opposition, as has been said, that weighed more heavily
upon Fletcher's spirit than that of the poor and ignorant, who knew not
what they did. Now it was a "new convert, whom the devil had by fifty
visions set on the pinnacle of the temple. I have had more trouble with
her visions than with her unbelief." Then he writes: "A daughter of one
of my most substantial parishioners, giving place to Satan by pride and
impatience, is driven in her conviction into a kind of madness. Judge
how our adversaries rejoiced!"

Another incident caused him almost to despair of any good. A constable
was sent to his house upon information that a cry of murder had been
heard there on Christmas Day. The report arose from the cries from a
young woman, who used to fall into convulsions, sometimes in the church
and sometimes in the private meetings. He writes: "Her constitution is
considerably weakened as well as her understanding. What to do in this
case I know not; for those who are tempted in this manner pay as little
regard to reason as the miserable people in Bedlam." He adds, "And for
my part I was tempted to forsake my ministry and take to my heels."

A further affliction was the ill-will of the neighbouring clergy and
gentry. At the archdeacon's visitation a sermon was preached against
what were called the "doctrines of Methodism," and after the sermon
Fletcher was triumphantly asked what answer he could make. A young
clergyman, living in Madeley Wood, fastened a paper to the door of the
parish church charging him with "rebellion, schism, and being a
disturber of the public peace." He had opened a room for religious
services in a small house built upon the rock in Madeley Wood. Hence it
was known as the Rock Church. It was determined to put the Conventicle
Act in force against him. A poor widow who lived in the house, Mary
Matthews by name, and a young man who used to take part in the services
held there, were arrested and taken before the justice. Mary Matthews
was fined £20, and the justice proposed to grant a warrant for the
apprehension of Fletcher. The other justices thinking it a matter
beyond their jurisdiction, the warrant was not issued. His
churchwardens talked loudly of putting him in the spiritual court for
holding meetings in houses, and, Fletcher adds, "what is worse than
all, three false witnesses offer to prove upon oath that I am a liar;
and some of '_my followers_' (as they are called) have dishonoured
their profession, to the great joy of our adversaries."

No wonder he was from time to time greatly cast down. His health was
delicate, he lived alone, and, between deliberate fasting and
unconscious neglect of himself, his body suffered and his spirits were
depressed. He writes to Charles Wesley: "I preach, I exhort, I pray,
etc., but as yet I seem to have cast the net on the wrong side of the
ship. Lord Jesus, come Thyself and furnish me with a Divine commission!
For some months past I have laboured under an insufferable drowsiness.
I could sleep day and night, and the hours which I ought to employ with
Christ on the mountain I spend like Peter in the garden."

The drowsiness of which he complains was probably connected with what
Wesley says was his invariable rule; viz. to sit up two whole nights in
a week, and devote the time to reading, meditation, and prayer. We have
seen that Wesley disapproved these austerities as "well intended but
not well judged." It would be easy, but ungracious, to expand into
censure what Wesley so gently touched upon. It will be pleasanter to
look for a moment upon the solitary vicar at his frugal meal, as
portrayed by one who never forgot her girlish visit to the vicarage.

     "Mr. Fletcher sometimes visited a boarding school at
     Madeley. One morning he came in just as the girls had sat
     down to breakfast. He said but little while the meal lasted,
     but when it was finished he spoke to each girl separately,
     and concluded by saying to the whole, 'I have waited some
     time on you this morning, that I might see you eat your
     breakfast; and I hope you will visit me to-morrow morning
     and see how I eat mine.' He told them his breakfast hour was
     seven o'clock, and obtained a promise that they would visit
     him. Next morning they went at the time appointed, and
     seated themselves in the kitchen. Mr. Fletcher came in,
     quite rejoiced to see them. On the table stood a small basin
     of milk and sops of bread. Mr. Fletcher took the basin
     across the kitchen, and sat down on an old bench. He then
     took out his watch, laid it before him, and said: 'My dear
     girls, yesterday morning I waited on you a full hour while
     you were at breakfast. I shall take as much time this
     morning in eating my breakfast as I usually do, if not
     rather more. Look at my watch! and he immediately began to
     eat and continued in conversation with them. When he had
     finished he asked them how long he had been at breakfast.
     They said, 'Just a minute and a half, sir.' 'Now, my dear
     girls,' said he, 'we have fifty-eight minutes of the hour
     left'; and he began to  sing--

             'Our life is a dream;
             Our time as a stream
             Glides swiftly away,
     And the fugitive moment refuses to stay.'"

After this he gave them a lecture on the value of time, and the worth
of the soul. They then all knelt down in prayer, after which he
dismissed them with impressions on the mind the narrator never ceased
to remember.[6]

In following Fletcher through the earlier years of his ministry at
Madeley the thought will present itself to most persons that a good
wife would have been an incalculable blessing to him. In a letter to
Mr. Perronet, written in November, 1765, he says, "I live alone in my
house, having neither wife, child, nor servant." Surely this is a
somewhat forlorn view of the Vicar of Madeley, which not all his gentle
cheerfulness can effectually brighten. A wife's ministering would have
been as good for his health and comfort as her sympathy and counsel
would have been helpful in the peculiar difficulties of his pastorate.
George Herbert, in his "Country Parson," though he shows a sufficient
leaning towards the celibacy of the clergy, yet qualifies his verdict:
"The country parson, considering that virginity is a higher state than
matrimony, and that the ministry requires the best and highest thing,
is rather unmarried than married. But yet, ... as the temper of his
parish may be, where he may have occasion to converse with women, and
that amongst suspicious men, and other like circumstances considered,
he is rather married than unmarried." Fletcher was never suspected of
levity or indiscretion. It was hardly within the power, either of the
foolish or the malicious, to fasten scandal upon one so transparently
pure in spirit and demeanour. But, as it has been seen, the religious
fears and fancies, and morbid or fanatical conditions of certain women
caused him much trouble, and almost made him despair of his work. In
these matters the aid of such a wife as Fletcher would have married--as
many years afterwards he did marry--would have been invaluable. It is
the more to be regretted that he did not marry, as it appears that his
heart was already drawn towards Miss Bosanquet, his future wife. But
her fortune he regarded as an almost insuperable obstacle. Juvenal's
sarcasm, _Veniunt a dote sagittæ_, recurred to him, and he shrank from
the notion of becoming the suitor of a wealthy woman. Charles Wesley
thought it would be better for him to marry; but he repelled the
suggestion, and wrote him several "reasons against matrimony," which,
to say the truth, are a very laboured piece of writing, and are never
likely to convince any human being whose mind is not already made up.



Almost from the beginning of his ministry Fletcher's pen was active in
the service of religion. From various causes much, if not the greater
part, of his writings was controversial, and to this fact may be
assigned, in part at least, their immediate popularity and subsequent
neglect. But the spirit of controversy never got the better of the
spirit of devotion. Whatever view may be taken of the Calvinist
controversy, in which he took a leading part, few will dissent from
Southey's judgment: "If ever true Christian charity was manifested in
polemical writing, it was by Fletcher of Madeley. Even theological
controversy never in the slightest degree irritated his heavenly
temper." Some extracts from his earlier writings will show the spirit
in which he entered upon this part of his labours.

In reply to the visitation sermon attacking the "doctrines of
Methodism," he wrote, in July, 1761, a short "Defence of Experimental
Religion," which may be classed amongst the best apologies of the
period. He had now acquired an easy, pleasant English style, tending
somewhat to the florid and diffuse, but generally stopping short of
excess, and often forcible and persuasive in a high degree. He had no
difficulty in showing that to represent virtue and morality as the way
to salvation is neither agreeable to the Scripture nor to the doctrine
of the Church of England. The true nature of justification, and of the
faith that justifies, he illustrates from the Articles and Homilies.
The necessity of God's grace to turn the will, as against the
superficial notion that a man is as free to do good as to do evil, is
shown from Article X., from the baptismal office, and the collect for
Ash Wednesday.

It was inevitable in the state of religion in England, and considering
the chief intellectual influences then in the ascendant, that to preach
salvation as a present blessing to be possessed and enjoyed, was to
incur the charge of enthusiasm. The high and moderate clergy never felt
surer of themselves than when exposing the folly and presumption of
"feelings" and "experiences" in religion. Fletcher distinguishes
between what is true and what is false on this subject:

     "To set up impulses as the standard of our faith or rule of
     our conduct; to take the thrilling of weak nerves, sinking
     of the animal spirits, or flights of a heated imagination,
     for the workings of God's Spirit; to pretend to miraculous
     gifts, and those fruits of the Spirit which are not offered
     and promised to believers in all ages, or to boast of the
     graces which that Spirit produces in the heart of every
     child of God, when the fruits of the flesh appear in our
     life--this is downright enthusiasm: I detest it as well as
     you, sir, and I heartily wish you good luck whenever you
     shall attack such monstrous delusions.

     "But is it consistent with the doctrines of our Church to
     condemn and set aside all _feelings_ in religion, and rank
     them with unaccountable _impulses_? Give me leave, sir, to
     tell you that either you or the compilers of our Liturgy,
     Articles, and Homilies must be mistaken, if I did not
     mistake you.... They bid us pray (office for the sick) that
     every sick person may know and feel that there is no saving
     name or power but that of Jesus Christ. In the seventeenth
     of our Articles they speak of godly persons, and such as
     _feel_ in themselves the workings of God's Spirit. And in
     the third part of the homily for rogation week, they declare
     that when after contrition we _feel_ our consciences at
     peace with God through the remission of our sin, it is God
     that worketh this miracle in us. (Compare this with Rom. v.
     1.) They are so far therefore from attributing such
     _feelings_ to the weakness of good people's nerves, or to a
     spirit of pride and delusion, that they affirm it is God
     that worketh them in their hearts....

     "You seemed, sir, to discountenance _feelings_ as not
     agreeable to sober, rational worship; but, if I am not
     mistaken, reason by no means clashes with feelings of
     various sorts in religion. I am willing to let any man of
     reason judge whether feeling sorrow for sin, hunger and
     thirst after righteousness, peace of conscience, serenity of
     mind, consolation in prayer, thankfulness at the Lord's
     table, hatred of sin, zeal for God, love to Jesus and all
     men, compassion for the distressed, etc., or feeling
     nothing at all of this, is matter of mere indifference: yea,
     sir, take for a judge a heathen poet, if you please, and you
     will hear him say of a young man who, by his blushes,
     betrayed the shame he felt for having told an
     untruth,--_Erubuit, salva res est_....

     "If a man may feel sorrow when he sees himself stript of
     all, and left naked upon a desert coast, why should not a
     penitent sinner, whom God has delivered from blindness of
     heart, be allowed to feel sorrow upon seeing himself robbed
     of his title to heaven, and left in the wilderness of this
     world destitute of original righteousness? Again, if it is
     not absurd to say that a rebel, condemned to death, feels
     joy upon his being reprieved and received into his prince's
     favour, why should it be thought absurd to affirm that a
     Christian, who, being justified by faith, has peace with
     God, and rejoices in hope of the glory to come, feels joy
     and happiness in his inmost soul on that account? On the
     contrary, sir, to affirm that such a one feels nothing (if I
     am not mistaken) is no less repugnant to reason than to

     "But if, because your text was taken out of St. Paul's
     epistle, you choose, sir, to let him decide whether feelings
     ought to have place in sound religion, or not, I am willing
     to stand at the bar before so great a judge, and promise to
     find no fault with his sentence.... Where does he exclaim
     against feeling the power of God, or the powerful operations
     of His Spirit on the heart? Is it where he says that the
     kingdom of God is 'not in word, but in power'; that this
     kingdom within us (if we are believers), this true, inward
     religion consists in peace, righteousness, and joy in the
     Holy Ghost; that Christians rejoice in tribulation, because
     the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy
     Ghost given unto them? Is it where he says, he is 'not
     ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because it is the power of
     God to the salvation of every one that believeth'; that he
     desired to 'know nothing but Jesus and the power of His
     resurrection'? (2 Cor. ii. 24.) Or is it when he calls the
     exerting of this power in him his life; saying, 'I live not,
     but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the
     flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me
     and gave Himself for me'?

     "Can we suppose that he discountenances feelings in
     religion, when he prays that 'the God of hope' would fill
     the Romans (xv. 13) 'with all joy and peace in believing,
     that they might abound in hope through the power of the Holy
     Ghost'; when he says that 'they had not received again the
     spirit of bondage to fear, but the spirit of adoption,
     crying, Abba, Father, and witnessing to their spirits that
     they were the children of God,' agreeable to that of St.
     John, 'He that believeth hath the witness in himself'?

     "One more argument on this subject, and I shall conclude the
     whole. If good nature, affability, and morality, with a
     round of outward duties, will fit a man for heaven, without
     any feeling of the workings of the Spirit of God in the
     heart, or without peace, righteousness, and joy in the Holy
     Ghost; if such a professor of godliness is really in that
     narrow way to the kingdom which few people find, why did our
     Lord puzzle honest Nicodemus with the strange doctrine of a
     new birth?... why did He trouble the religious centurion
     with sending for Peter, that the Holy Ghost might fall upon
     him and all that heard the word, while the apostle preached
     to them remission of sins, through faith in Jesus?

     "But, above all, if inward feelings are nothing in sound
     religion, if they rather border upon enthusiasm, why did not
     our Lord caution the woman who came behind him in Simon's
     house, who wept at his feet, and kissed and wiped them with
     her hair? Why did He not take this opportunity to preach her
     and us a lecture on enthusiasm? Why did He not advise her to
     take something to help the weakness of her nerves, and
     prevent the ferment of her spirits? Why did He not tell her
     she went too far, she would run mad in the end? Why did He
     not bid her (as people do in our days) go into company a
     little, and divert her melancholy? Nay, more; why did He
     prefer her with all her behaviour to good-natured, virtuous,
     religious, undisturbed Simon?

     "... However, do not mistake me, sir; I am far from
     supposing that the sincerity of people's devotion must be
     judged of by the emotion they feel in their bodies.... But
     as I read that God will have the heart or nothing, so I know
     that when He has the heart, He has the affections, of
     course. Fear and hope, sorrow and joy, desire and love act
     upon their proper objects, God's attributes. They often
     launch out, and, as it were, lose themselves in His
     immensity, and, at times, several of these passions acting
     together in the soul, the noble disorder they cause cannot
     but affect the animal spirits, and communicate itself more
     or less to the body. Hence came the floods of tears shed by
     David, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter, Paul, etc.; hence came the
     sighs, tears, strong cries, and groans unutterable of our
     Saviour Himself."

The "Defence," from which these extracts are made, fairly exhibits the
mind of early Methodism, and of the Evangelical Revival generally, upon
the questions discussed. The discrimination between religious feeling
arising from the quickened apprehension of Divine truth, and that which
is little more than natural emotion unnaturally stimulated, is not
peculiar to Fletcher. He did but share it with the other leaders of the
new reformation. The teaching of Wesley, the master mind of the whole
movement, is, as regards this matter, as much marked by strong sense as
by Evangelical fervour.

The comment, perhaps, of most readers of this "Defence of Experimental
Religion" will be that the points contended for are obvious and
indisputable, that they would be so readily admitted as to render much
of the argument superfluous. That this should appear so is one of the
many illustrations of the extent to which the results of the great
Revival have passed into the religious life of the nation, and become a
common heritage.

The private letters written at this period of Fletcher's life contain
very little biographic material, and indeed record few incidents of
any kind. Written, for the most part, to persons like-minded with
himself, they consist mainly of the outpourings of praise and holy
aspiration, mingled with exhortations and counsels. To the
spiritually-minded who may read them they will continue to interpret
and justify themselves, but it must be admitted that they do not belong
to the rare and precious class of writings that rank among the
permanent treasures of the Christian Church. The distinction between
that which is "for an age," and that which is "for all time," is
nowhere more marked than in religious literature. Fletcher's letters
nourished the spiritual life of his friends and correspondents, and
were much read by Methodists for a generation or two; but they have
failed to win a place among the books that do not grow old, those
companions of the spiritual life whose ministry is from generation to
generation. So few indeed are the books of this class that there is no
need to apologise for Fletcher because he has not added to their

A few extracts from his correspondence may be given.


                                             "_Sept. 20th, 1762._

     "The 'crede quod habes et habes' is not very different from
     those words of Christ, 'What things soever ye desire, when
     ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have
     them.' The humble reason of the believer and the irrational
     presumption of the enthusiast draw this doctrine to the
     right hand or to the left. But to split the hair, here lies
     the difficulty.... Truly you are a pleasant casuist. What!
     'It hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant with Thy
     Holy Spirit, to receive him for Thine own child by adoption,
     and to incorporate him into Thy holy Church'--does all this
     signify nothing more than 'being taken into the visible

     "How came you to think of my going to leave Madeley? I have
     indeed had my scruples about the above passage, and some in
     the burial service; but you may dismiss your fears, and be
     assured I will neither marry nor leave my Church without
     advising you."


                                             "_Nov. 1st, 1762._

     "That there is a seal of pardon and an earnest of our
     inheritance above, to which you are as yet a stranger, seems
     clear from the tenor of your letter; but had I been in the
     place of the gentleman you name, I would have endeavoured to
     lay it before you as 'the fruit of faith,' and a most
     glorious privilege, rather than as 'the root of faith,' and
     a thing absolutely necessary to the being of it.... Hold
     fast your confidence, but do not trust nor rest in it; trust
     in Christ, and remember He says, 'I am the way'; not for you
     to stop, but to run on in Him. Rejoice to hear that there is
     a full assurance of faith to be obtained by the seal of
     God's Spirit, and go on from faith to faith until you are
     possessed of it. But remember this, and let this double
     advice prevent your straying to the right or left: first,
     that you will have reason to suspect the sincerity of your
     zeal if you lie down easy without the seal of your pardon,
     and the full assurance of your faith; secondly, while you
     wait for that seal in all the means of grace, beware of
     being unthankful for the least degree of faith and
     confidence in Jesus, beware of burying one talent, because
     you have not five, beware of despising the grain of mustard
     seed because it is not yet a tree.

     "With respect to myself: in many conflicts and troubles of
     soul I have consulted many masters of the spiritual life;
     but Divine mercy did not, does not, suffer me to rest upon
     the word of a fellow creature. The best advices have often
     increased my perplexities; and the end was to make me cease
     from human dependence, and wait upon God from the dust of
     self-despair. To Him therefore I desire to point you and
     myself, in the person of Jesus Christ. This incarnate God
     receives weary, perplexed sinners still, and gives them
     solid rest. He teaches as no man ever taught; His words have
     spirit and life; nor can He possibly mistake our case."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fletcher's correspondence with Miss Hatton continued, at intervals, for
some years. She was much afflicted in body, and, as it would seem,
harassed and burdened in spirit, and his letters afforded her
consolation and guidance until the close of her life, to which he thus
refers: "Poor Miss Hatton died last Sunday fortnight full of serenity,
faith, and love. The four last hours of her life were better than all
her sickness. When the pangs of death were upon her, the comforts of
the Almighty bore her triumphantly through, and some of her last words
were: "Grieve not at my happiness.... I wish I could tell you half of
what I feel and see. I am going to keep an everlasting sabbath....
Thanks be to God, who giveth me the victory!"

His care for his people found expression in many ways that watchful
love suggested, or their necessities seemed to call for. During his
occasional absences from home he addressed pastoral letters to his
flock filled with Christian exhortations and counsels. The following
are extracts:

                                             "_Oct., 1765._

     "I beg you will not neglect the assembling of yourselves
     together, and when you meet in society, be neither backward
     nor forward to speak. Let every one esteem himself the
     meanest in the company, and be glad to sit at the feet of
     the lowest.... I had not time to finish this letter
     yesterday, being called upon to preach in a market town in
     the neighbourhood.... A gentleman churchwarden would hinder
     my getting into the pulpit, and, in order to do this, cursed
     and swore, and took another gentleman by the collar in the
     middle of the church. Notwithstanding his rage, I preached.
     May the Lord raise in power what was sown in weakness!"

                                             "_Sept., 1766._

     "When I was in London I endeavoured to make the most of my
     time, that is to say, to hear, receive, and practise the
     word. Accordingly I went to Mr. Whitefield's tabernacle, and
     heard him give his society a most excellent exhortation
     upon love. He began by observing, that 'when St. John was
     old, and past walking and preaching, he would not forsake
     the assembling himself with the brethren, as the manner of
     too many is, upon little or no pretence at all. On the
     contrary, he got himself carried to their meeting, and, with
     his last thread of voice, preached to them his final sermon,
     consisting of this one sentence, "My little children, love
     one another."' I wish, I pray, I earnestly beseech you to
     follow that evangelical, apostolical advice.... Bear with
     one another's infirmities, and do not easily cast off any
     one; no, not for sin, except it be obstinately persisted

From unpublished manuscripts of Fletcher we find that in the latter
part of the year 1764 he was engaged in a somewhat remarkable
controversy within his own parish. His opponent was a Mrs. Anne Darby,
a member of the Society of Friends, and the subjects discussed included
the Athanasian Creed, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Sacraments, and
the Christian Ministry. His account of its origin is as follows:

     "On Thursday, November 22nd, 1764, Mrs. Darby, a female
     teacher among the people called Quakers, came into a house
     where the Vicar of Madeley was instructing his parishioners.
     He had given previous notice of his design to answer the
     objections made by dissenters and infidels against the
     Church of England; and he happened at her coming to defend
     the doctrine of the blessed Trinity, as contained in
     Athanasius's Creed.

     "It was not long before the lady began the attack, and
     having given us a scriptural account of the Trinity, she
     blamed us for two things:

     "1st. For dwelling upon that point rather than enforcing
     practical duties.

     "2nd. For admitting St. Athanasius's Creed, as in her
     opinion it is full of gross misrepresentations of the

A verbal discussion followed, which is carefully recorded. Mrs. Darby
afterwards brought the six following questions, and put them to the
vicar, who, in turn, furnishes a written reply.

     "1_st Query_. Dost thou believe that thy Church, or as it is
     called, the Church of England, is the Church of Christ?

     "2_nd Query_. Dost thou believe that thou art a minister of

     "3_rd Query_. But Christ's ministers had all their trade.
     Was not Paul a tentmaker? And is thy maintenance such as
     suits a minister of the gospel?

     "4_th Query_. The ministers of Christ preach the gospel
     freely. '_Freely ye have received, freely give_,' says
     Christ. Dost thou do so?

     "5_th Query_. Is the baptism thou baptizest with, the
     baptism of Him who baptized with the Holy Ghost?

     "_6th Query_. Dost thou believe that the supper thou
     celebratest is the supper of which Christ said, '_I stand at
     the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open, I
     will come in, and sup with him, and he with Me_'?"

In discussing these queries Fletcher took great pains. He deals with
no less than fifteen "objections" under one of them. Instead of
asserting his authority, or that of the Church, he set himself to
answer every reasonable question, including some that would hardly be
considered such, to give satisfaction, if possible, to his opponents,
and protect his people from what appeared to him serious perversions of
truth. The labour involved would have sufficed to produce a book, but
he had no literary aim in the matter. His manuscript was submitted to
Mrs. Darby, and then, bound in a stout leathern cover, circulated among
his parishioners. As we have quoted its opening passage, we will give
an extract from its close, in which the Vicar of Madeley and Mrs. Darby
take leave of one another.

     "I hope the reader by this time laments with me the _bad_
     use that Mrs. Darby makes of a _good_ understanding. How
     much better were it for her, and us all, if, instead of
     quibbling and wresting the Scriptures, as these sheets show
     she hath done, she would second the endeavours of the vicar
     in promoting a reformation of _essentials_ in the parish
     with respect to principles and manners!

     "But if she is still _moved by the spirit of contention_ to
     make fresh assaults upon us, and to obtrude George Fox's
     peculiar tenets, to the disparagement of St. Paul's
     doctrines, we cannot but wish she may have a _better memory_
     to _remember_ our answers, and _more candour_ to do our
     arguments _justice_.

     "In the meantime if the Vicar hath avoided the force of any
     of her objections, or omitted answering any, and if he has
     mistaken her in anything, he is ready to acknowledge it, as
     soon as she hath made it appear; and he hopes that if she
     acts by him as he hath assured her by words of mouth he
     would do by her, she will recall the copies of her partial
     manuscript, and correct them, according to the mistakes I
     have pointed out therein, before she makes them circulate
     any further."

To this is appended in Mrs. Darby's writing:

     "Being called upon for this manuscript before I had
     considered it all over properly, I therefore have got it
     copied; and after examination (if worth notice) shall
     communicate my sentiments hereupon to John Fletcher and
     sober people. A. Darby."

What further came of this controversy, whether anything further came of
it, we cannot tell. With Mrs. Darby's postscript before us it would not
be safe to conclude that the last word had been spoken.

Among the labours belonging to this period was the organization of a
"Society of Ministers of the Gospel," for which Fletcher drew up rules
and regulations. Although, as we have seen, at the beginning of his
work in Madeley he had met with a good deal of opposition from
neighbouring clergy, he found it possible a few years later to form a
clerical association for the promotion of spiritual life and
ministerial efficiency. The society was to meet at Worcester, in the
private house of some reputable person, twice in the year, on the
Tuesday and Wednesday next before the full of the moon, in the months
of May and September. The meeting was to begin at ten o'clock, dinner
at two; the expense to be defrayed by an equal contribution of the
whole society, "_absentees not excepted_." The topics for conversation
and inquiry are set forth in considerable detail. They include "public
preaching, the case of religious societies, the catechizing of children
and instruction of youth, the case of personal inspection and personal
visiting of the flock, the case of ruling their own houses well, the
case of visiting the sick, the case of their own particular experiences
and personal conduct."

Every member of the society was "recommended to take down brief minutes
of the business transacted by the society, for his future recollection
of it and meditation upon it."

The following are Fletcher's notes of the meeting held on May 12th,

     "1. How far is it proper to preach against particular sins,
     and to enforce particular duties, and how to do this in a
     gospel-like manner.

     "_Answer._ Very proper to stated congregations. Many
     convinced of sin by it; many kept decent by it. Believers
     themselves made watchful. Preach so as not to encourage

     "2. Whether we are to preach the law, and morality, and why?

     "_Answer._ Yes: three reasons. (1) To inform believers; (2)
     To convince false moralists; (3) To stop the mouth of the
     adversaries, and confound antinomians.

     "3. How far is it proper to mention and improve particular
     cases, and the experience of particular people, in funeral
     sermons and other discourses, to try to awaken the

     "_Answer._ Extraordinary cases known to all may be
     improved--with tenderness, wisdom, avoiding the appearance
     of sentencing any one, and saying what we say of them in
     Scripture words, and with suppositions.

     "4. (Digression.) Whether charity and duty oblige us to say
     over all the dead, 'we hope they rest in Christ.' (Settled.)
     (A hardship) and may be omitted because not insisted on as
     absolutely indispensable.

     "6. What's the proper length of a sermon for hearers and

     "_Answer._ A stranger may be heard for an hour; a stated
     minister from 30 to 50 minutes.

     "7. What to do to keep within these bounds?

     "_Answer._ Pray, digest the point, have few heads, be not
     long upon them. If you have been too full upon the first, be
     less so upon the last.

     "8. When a minister hath studied a subject with design to
     preach on it, and is shut up in his heart and clouded in his
     mind at preaching time, and another text presents itself,
     and liberty is offered to speak from it, is it enthusiasm to
     do it?

     "_Answer._ Trial may be made, and if the preacher finds
     freedom and the people edification, the matter was from

     "9. Whether we may allegorize Scripture, and how far?

     "_Answer._ So far as the Holy Ghost hath allegorized we may
     safely do the same; but we must be very sparing of anything
     that exceeds Scripture warrant. Avoid taking historical
     allegorical texts to raise doctrines upon. Such texts may
     be brought by way of comparison or illustration of some
     other weighty passages which contain the doctrine plainly.

     "10. Societies.

     "_Disadvantages._ They raise a jealousy in those who do not
     belong to them, increase their prejudice, make them think
     the minister partial, and watch over the society for evil.

     "_Advantages._ They are scriptural, comfortable, profitable,
     the only means of keeping up some discipline."

Such were the questions discussed, and the opinions expressed in the
"Society of Ministers of the Gospel," organized, and probably founded,
by Fletcher. The society was one of those innumerable results of the
Revival, by which its spirit and principles were widely diffused
through the Church. A generation later such associations were common
amongst the Evangelical clergy. Of these the Eclectic Society, founded
by John Newton and Richard Cecil in 1783, is well-known to us through
the "Notes," extending from 1798 to 1814, published by Archdeacon

At the close of his first seven years at Madeley, Fletcher's chief
difficulties had either disappeared, or were greatly diminished. Though
he still lamented the comparative unfruitfulness of his labours, he
had, in truth, much to rejoice over. Many of the ungodly had been
converted through his ministry, some of whom were now walking worthy of
Christ, while others had died in the Lord. He was now generally
esteemed, and by the better part of his flock greatly beloved. He had
gained experience in the administration of his parish and the direction
of souls. In preaching, catechizing, visiting, and holding religious
meetings he was indefatigable, and spared no pains to guard his people
from doctrinal error or spiritual decline. The organization that
gradually rose under his hand was not of the modern parochial type, but
well suited to the circumstances of the people and of the time. He
established regular preaching-places, not only in his own parish, but
eight, ten, or more miles away, and formed societies for Christian
instruction and fellowship. From time to time his hands were
strengthened and his heart encouraged by visits from his friends and
fellow labourers. Wesley's first visit was in July, 1764, and is thus
referred to in his "Journal":

     "I rode to Bilbrook, near Wolverhampton, and preached at
     between two and three. Thence we went on to Madeley, an
     exceedingly pleasant village, encompassed with trees and
     hills. It was a great comfort to me to converse once more
     with a Methodist of the old type, denying himself, taking up
     his cross, and resolved to be altogether a Christian.

     "_Sunday, July 22nd._ At ten Mr. Fletcher read prayers, and
     I preached on those words in the gospel, 'I am the Good
     Shepherd: the Good Shepherd layeth down His life for the
     sheep.' The church would nothing near contain the
     congregation; but a window near the pulpit being taken down,
     those who could not come in stood in the churchyard, and I
     believe all could hear. The congregation, they said, used to
     be much smaller in the afternoon than in the morning; but I
     could not discern the least difference, either in number or
     seriousness. I found employment enough for the intermediate
     hours in praying with the various companies who hung about
     the house, insatiably hungering and thirsting after the good
     word. Mr. Grimshaw, at his first coming to Haworth, had not
     such a prospect as this. There are many adversaries indeed,
     but yet they cannot shut the open and effectual door."

Wesley's itinerant preachers were welcomed by Fletcher when their
rounds brought them to his parish. To Alexander Mather, a brave and
devoted Methodist preacher, he wrote to say that an occasional
exhortation from him or his colleague to the societies he had formed
would be esteemed a favour, and expressed at the same time a
willingness, if it were not deemed an encroachment, to go, as
Providence might direct, to any of Mr. Mather's preaching-places.

And as Fletcher rejoiced in the evangelistic labours of others in his
own neighbourhood, so he willingly engaged in similar labours himself
in various parts of the country. In the year 1765 we find him
exchanging pulpits for a while with Mr. Sellon, curate of Breedon, in
Leicestershire, and preaching to the crowds who filled the church, and
clambered to the windows to see and hear.

Two years later, having secured the services of an acceptable curate to
serve the parish in his absence, he spent some weeks in Yorkshire with
the Countess of Huntingdon and Mr. Venn, the Vicar of Huddersfield.
They were joined by a number of earnest clergy from different parts of
the country, Mr. Madan from London, Dr. Conyers, Rector of Helmsley,
Mr. Burnet, Vicar of Elland, and several others, by whom the gospel was
preached to multitudes in town and country. In such companionship and
in such labours Fletcher rejoiced greatly, and returned to his parish
with renewed strength. The sense of loneliness was relieved. The
difficulties of his work at Madeley seemed no longer exceptional.
Cheered by the success vouchsafed to his labours and those of his
friends, he came back to his people "in the fulness of the blessing of
Christ." Modern experience has shown how a parish or a congregation may
be benefited by the coming of a mission preacher, and how a minister
may be enlarged in heart and utterance by special labours away from his
own flock. Missions based upon the recognition of these truths are now
familiar to us all; but in this matter, as in so much of the quickened
life of the Church, the men of the Revival led the way.



In the summer of 1768 Fletcher undertook an office which greatly
increased his labours and responsibilities. The religious movement
directed by the Countess of Huntingdon continuing to develop, a
considerable number of chapels had, by this time, been built or hired
in various parts of the country. The pulpits were generally supplied by
clergymen of the Established Church, procured by the countess's
personal influence. But such arrangements became increasingly difficult
to make. Their 'irregularity' was disapproved in high quarters. Lady
Huntingdon's chaplains were, in fact, as 'irregular' in their labours
as Wesley's itinerant preachers. The system that found no place for the
one could not long sanction the other; whilst her ladyship's
ecclesiastical authority was a still greater anomaly than that of

It became necessary therefore to meet the demand for earnest,
evangelical preachers in some other way than by the services of the
regular clergy. Meanwhile, the expulsion of six students from the
University of Oxford for "being attached to the sect called Methodists,
and holding their doctrines," showed that the university was hardly
likely to be the nursing mother of such men as were required.

In these circumstances the countess resolved to found a school or
college for the training of godly young men for the work of the
ministry. She proposed to admit such as were truly converted to God and
gave evidence of being called to preach the gospel, and to give them
the advantage of three years' residence and instruction, at the close
of which they might enter the ministry, either in the Church of
England, or among Protestants of any other denomination. After taking
counsel with Whitefield, Romaine, Venn, Fletcher, and others, Lady
Huntingdon established the institution on which her heart was set.

Fletcher appears to have been in thorough sympathy with the countess's
aims from the first. Being consulted as to the selection of books for
the college, he writes: "Having studied abroad, and used rather foreign
than English books with my pupils, I am not acquainted with the books
Great Britain affords well enough to select the best and most concise.
Besides, a plan of studies must be fixed upon first, before proper
books can be chosen. Grammar, logic, rhetoric, with ecclesiastical
history, and a little natural philosophy, and geography, with a great
deal of practical divinity, will be enough for those who do not care to
dive into languages. Mr. Townsend and Charles Wesley might, by spending
an hour together, make a proper choice; and I would recommend them not
to forget Watts's 'Logic,' and his 'History of the Bible by Questions
and Answers,' which seem to me excellent books of the kind for
clearness and order. Mr. Wesley's 'Natural Philosophy' contains as much
as is wanted, or more. Mason's 'Essay on Pronunciation' will be worth
their attention. Henry and Gill on the Bible, with four volumes of
Baxter's 'Practical Works,' Keach's 'Metaphors,' Taylor on the Types,
Gurnal's 'Christian Armour,' Edwards on Preaching, Johnson's English
dictionary, and Mr. Wesley's Christian Library, may make part of the
little library. The book of Baxter I mention I shall take care to send
to Trevecca, as a mite towards the collection, together with Usher's
'Body of Divinity,' Scapula's Greek lexicon, and Lyttleton's Latin

But while Lady Huntingdon received counsel and assistance from many
quarters, and from Fletcher amongst the rest, there was one service for
which she looked to him alone. Would Fletcher allow himself to be
placed at the head of her college? Would he accept the presidency,
visiting Trevecca as often as he conveniently could, to direct the
studies and discipline of the place, and test the character and
qualifications of the students? From his profound esteem for the
countess, and in the hope of assisting in the good work of raising up
an earnest ministry, Fletcher accepted the office, and, without fee or
reward of any kind, threw himself heartily into its duties.

An old mansion, known as Trevecca House, in the parish of Talgarth,
South Wales, was altered and adapted to the requirements of a college;
tutors were procured, and the house was soon filled with students, the
first of whom was a young man from Madeley, converted under Fletcher's
ministry. Lady Huntingdon herself took up her residence there, and by
her presence stimulated the zeal of the household. Much of the time of
the students was employed in evangelistic work. On foot or on horseback
they visited the towns and villages for twenty or thirty miles round,
preaching in chapels and houses, in field and market-places, as
opportunity allowed. The pious founder soon saw a revival and extension
of the work of God which filled her heart with joy, and assured her
that the undertaking, concerning which some of her best friends had
their misgivings, was approved by God. At the dedication of the college
and chapel, on August 24th, 1768, Lady Huntingdon's birthday,
Whitefield was the preacher, and large numbers of people came together
from all parts of the country. The following year, the anniversary was
the occasion of a still more remarkable gathering, and of a series of
religious services marked by great manifestations of spiritual power.
The most eminent ministers that Lady Huntingdon's summons could
assemble were present. The congregations, too large for the chapel,
assembled in the court. Day by day, and almost all day long, for a week
together, vast crowds were moved to tears, to rapture, and to awe under
the preaching of the gospel. Howel Harris, Howel Davies, and Daniel
Rowlands, men whose names are household words in Wales to-day, preached
in Welsh; and Wesley, Fletcher, and Shirley in English. Thousands of
voices rose in hymns of praise, and joined in fervent responses and
cries of prayer. On the Saturday and Sunday, and again on the following
Thursday, the Lord's supper was administered, and Fletcher addressed
the communicants with an earnestness and pathos that it seemed
impossible to withstand. Many were awakened and converted. "Truly God
was in the midst of us," said Lady Huntingdon, "and many felt Him
eminently nigh. The gracious influences of His Spirit seemed to rest on
every soul.... Words fail to describe the holy triumph with which the
great congregation sang--

     'Captain of Thine enlisted host,
     Display Thy glorious banner high.'"

After a week of never to be forgotten blessings, the great crowds
slowly dispersed, and the tireless evangelists took horse and rode
away, each to his work, with strength renewed, and spirit refreshed as
from the presence of the Lord.

Although Fletcher did not reside at the college, his connexion with it
was by no means a nominal one. His journeys to Trevecca were frequent,
involving fatigue and privations, which his feeble frame could ill
endure, though he counted them less than nothing. As to the character
of his visits, and the influence that accompanied him, the testimony of
Mr. Benson, the headmaster, himself a man of exceptional intelligence
and sanctity, is well known, but is too important to be omitted here:

     "Mr. Fletcher visited them frequently, and was received as
     an angel of God. It is not possible for me to describe the
     veneration in which we all held him. Like Elijah in the
     schools of the prophets, he was revered, he was loved, he
     was almost adored; and that, not only by every student, but
     by every member of the family. And indeed he was worthy. The
     reader will pardon me if he think I exceed. My heart kindles
     while I write. Here it was that I saw, shall I say an angel
     in human flesh? I should not far exceed the truth if I said
     so. But here I saw a descendant of fallen Adam so fully
     raised above the ruins of the fall, that though by the body
     he was tied down to earth, yet was his whole conversation in
     heaven, yet was his life, from day to day, hid with Christ
     in God. Prayer, praise, love, and zeal, all ardent, elevated
     above what one would think attainable in this state of
     frailty, were the element in which he continually lived. And
     as to others, his one employment was to call, entreat, and
     urge them to ascend with him to the glorious Source of being
     and blessedness. He had leisure comparatively for nothing
     else. Languages, arts, sciences, grammar, rhetoric, logic,
     even divinity itself, as it is called, were all laid aside
     when he appeared in the schoolroom among the students. His
     full heart would not suffer him to be silent. He must speak,
     and they were readier to hearken to this servant and
     minister of Jesus Christ than to attend to Sallust, Virgil,
     Cicero, or any Latin or Greek historian, poet, or
     philosopher, they had been engaged in reading. And they
     seldom hearkened long before they were all in tears, and
     every heart catched fire from the flame which burned in his

     "These seasons generally terminated in this. Being convinced
     that to be filled with the Holy Ghost was a better
     qualification for the ministry of the gospel than any
     classical learning (although that too be useful in its
     place), after speaking awhile in the schoolroom, he used
     frequently to say, 'As many of you as are athirst for this
     fulness of the Spirit, follow me into my room.' On this many
     of us have instantly followed him, and there continued for
     two or three hours, wrestling like Jacob for the blessing,
     praying one after another, till we could bear to kneel no

       *       *       *       *       *

     "Such was the ordinary employment of this man of God while
     he remained at Trevecca. He preached the word of life to the
     students and family, and as many of the neighbours as
     desired to be present. He was 'instant in season, and out of
     season'; he 'reproved, rebuked, exhorted, with all
     longsuffering.' He was always employed, either in
     illustrating some important truth, or exhorting to some
     neglected duty, or administering some needful comfort, or
     relating some useful anecdote, or making some profitable
     remark or observation upon some occurrence. And his devout
     soul, always burning with love and zeal, led him to
     intermingle prayer with all he uttered. Meanwhile his manner
     was so solemn, and at the same time so mild and insinuating,
     that it was hardly possible for any one who had the
     happiness of being in his company not to be struck with awe
     and charmed with love, as if in the presence of an angel or
     departed spirit. Indeed, I frequently thought, while
     attending to his heavenly discourse and Divine spirit, that
     he was so different from, and superior to, the generality of
     mankind, as to look more like Moses or Elijah, or some
     prophet or apostle, come again from the dead, than a mortal
     man, dwelling in a house of clay. It is true, his weak and
     long-afflicted body proclaimed him to be human; but the
     graces which so eminently filled and adorned his soul
     manifested him to be Divine: and long before his happy
     spirit returned to God who gave it, that which was human
     seemed in a great measure to be 'swallowed up of life.'"

Benson was not alone in the impressions he received of Fletcher's
character, and of the influence he exercised at Trevecca. The
references of others are in the same strain; and although his connexion
with the college came to an abrupt end, and was followed by a period of
painful controversy, we hear no disparagement of his piety, or
suggestion of anything unworthy of his reputation for Christian
meekness and purity.

But why did Fletcher so soon withdraw from the presidency of the
college? To use the words of Mr. Benson: "Why did he give up an office
for which he was perfectly well qualified, which he executed so
entirely to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned, and in which
it pleased God to give so manifest a blessing to his labours?" The
answer is, that it was one of the first results of a controversy which,
for intensity, for duration, and for the strifes and divisions to which
it gave rise, is unhappily memorable in the history of the Revival.
Its very name--the Calvinistic controversy--will suggest to the
experienced reader the range of questions involved, and the
improbability of agreement being arrived at, however prolonged might be
the discussion.

It should be borne in mind that, from its very beginning, the Revival
had advanced along two different lines, in connexion with certain
well-marked doctrinal distinctions. Whilst the work and the workers in
the two spheres were, in the best and deepest sense, one, they were
divided upon those questions concerning predestination and free will,
which, since the time of Augustine, have given rise to two distinct
types of doctrine, each susceptible of modifications and developments
of its own. This difference was represented, first in the little band
of Oxford Methodists, and then in the more evangelical and expansive
Methodism that succeeded it. Wesley was an Arminian, and Whitefield a
Calvinist. Harmonious co-operation between them was at times difficult;
but mutual love and largeness of heart prevailed upon the whole.

Under Wesley's leadership, Arminian Methodism developed in organic
form, and is still found in all parts of the world in visible,
organized Churches. Calvinistic Methodism spread with similar, if not
equal, rapidity, but without unity of administration, and failed to
develop any principles of Church life. It revived the Calvinistic
nonconformity of England, and may almost be said to have taken
possession of Wales; but the main current of its strength flowed into
the Church of England, and is to be traced in the rise and progress of
the Evangelical or Low Church party. There may be difference of opinion
as to which development has been on the whole of greater service to the
Christian Church, but few persons will deny to either a high place in
the order of Providence.

At the period we have now reached in Fletcher's history, a certain
uneasiness may be discovered in the relations of Arminian and
Calvinistic Methodism, not incompatible however with such union and
brotherliness as were seen at the great gathering at Trevecca. But
Wesley was observing with concern the spread of a practical
antinomianism, which on every possible ground he hated and feared. The
openly wicked were hopeful and comparatively harmless compared with
persons who talked fluently of being justified and sanctified, while
they were guilty of drunkenness, uncleanness, and dishonesty. This
state of things he could not and would not endure, if it was to be
prevented by plainness of doctrine or rigour of discipline. He knew
that while such abuses were not the necessary accompaniment of the
Scriptural doctrine of faith, they arose from a perversion to which
that doctrine will always be exposed, and against which it will be
needful to guard, as long as human nature is what it is. Any language
therefore that tended to weaken the sense of moral responsibility, or
lower the standard of Christian duty, was doubly dangerous in presence
of a tendency to dwell upon the Divine sovereignty in redemption, to
the neglect of the Divine requirements, as they are revealed to man in
the gospel. In Wesley's judgment, his preachers were in danger of
encouraging, or at least giving opportunity to, antinomian error by
using expressions that had received a kind of general sanction, and
refraining from certain others which were thought too legal and
unevangelic. But what had this to do with Calvinism? Some writers, more
jealous for the character of Wesley's societies than he was, will have
it that the abuses referred to were mainly or entirely to be found
amongst the Calvinists. But that is not the case. As Mr. Watson has
well said: "To show however that antinomianism can graft itself upon
other stocks besides that of the Calvinistic decrees, it was found also
among the Moravians, and the Methodists did not escape.... In fact,
there is no such exclusive connexion between the more sober Calvinistic
theories of predestination and this great error, as some have
supposed." With this statement Wesley would, we think, have agreed; but
he undoubtedly held that antinomianism was a much more natural and
likely result of Calvinistic than of Arminian principles.

In the one case the principles must be violated, in the other they had
only to be developed and applied to produce the evils referred to.
Moreover Calvinism, as popularly understood, had lost what safeguards
it possessed, and had little in common with that of Owen, and Leighton,
and Matthew Henry. Spiritual pride and carnal indulgence flourished
along with a crude and coarse belief in unconditional election and
imputed righteousness. With Calvinism in its purely theological and
philosophical aspects Wesley felt no call to deal. It was wholly a
practical question with him. He saw, or thought he saw, that its
principles were doing actual mischief, and that, amongst other things,
the every-day language of religion was being corrupted by phrases and
catchwords that encouraged serious error. A quarter of a century ago,
at the first Methodist Conference, the question was asked, "Have we not
unawares leaned too much to Calvinism? _Answer:_ We are afraid we
have." Might it not be time to ask this question again, and answer it
in a less uncertain manner? Wesley judged it was. Accordingly, the
"Minutes of Conference" for 1770 contain the following statement:

     "We said, in 1744, 'We have leaned too much toward
     Calvinism.' Wherein?

     "1. With regard to _man's faithfulness_. Our Lord Himself
     taught us to use the expression. And we ought never to be
     ashamed of it. We ought steadily to assert, on His
     authority, that if a man is not 'faithful in the unrighteous
     mammon,' God will not give him '_the true riches_.'

     "2. With regard to _working for life_. This also our Lord
     has expressly commanded us. 'Labour ([Greek: ergazesthe],
     literally, 'work') for the meat that endureth to everlasting
     life.' And, in fact, every believer, till he comes to glory,
     works _for_ as well as _from_ life.

     "3. We have received it as a maxim that 'a man is to do
     nothing in order to justification.' Nothing can be more
     false. Whoever desires to find favour with God, should
     'cease from evil, and learn to do well.' Whoever repents
     should do 'works meet for repentance.' And if this is not
     _in order_ to find favour, what does he do them for?

     "Review the whole affair.

     "1. Who of us is _now_ accepted of God?

     "He that now believes in Christ, with a loving and obedient

     "2. But who among those that never heard of Christ?

     "He that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, according
     to the light he has.

     "3. Is this the same with 'he that is sincere'?

     "Nearly, if not quite.

     "4. Is not this 'salvation by works'?

     "Not by the _merit_ of works, but by works as a _condition_.

     "5. What have we then been disputing about for these thirty

     "I am afraid, _about words_.

     "6. As to _merit_ itself, of which we have been so
     dreadfully afraid: we are rewarded 'according to our works,'
     yea, 'because of our works.' How does this differ from _for
     the sake of our works_? And how differs this from _secundum
     merita operum_? As our works _deserve_.

     "Can you split this hair?

     "I doubt I cannot."[9]

The reader, who has, it may be, glanced rapidly over the preceding
paragraphs, without perceiving in them anything very portentous, will
be surprised to learn that their publication gave rise to the longest
and sharpest controversy in the history of Methodism. An ancient
controversy has this in common with an extinct volcano, that after
generations may walk all unconscious over the cold ashes of what was
once a glowing lava torrent. To Wesley's contemporaries these "Minutes"
were full of meaning; every allusion was recognised, every phrase
touched some active belief or disbelief. Amongst the Calvinists
generally, and more particularly in Lady Huntingdon's circle, they
caused the utmost indignation and alarm. Wesley was denounced as a
heretic, an apostate, a papist unmasked. Lady Huntingdon wept over
them, called them "horrible and abominable," and declared that
"whosoever did not fully, and without any evasion, disavow them should
not stay in her college." Lady Glenorchy "must bear her feeble
testimony against the sentiments contained in them.... She has always
countenanced Mr. Wesley's preachers, but now she finds this cannot be
done by her any longer." Mr. Shirley pronounced them "dreadful heresy,"
"injurious to the very fundamental principles of Christianity," and
said publicly that he deemed "peace in such a case a shameful
indolence, and silence no less than treachery." Active measures were
taken for the vindication of outraged orthodoxy. Every Arminian must
quit the college. Mr. Benson, the headmaster, declined to disavow the
sentiments of the "Minutes," and was consequently dismissed. Fletcher
felt compelled to write: "Mr. Benson made a very just defence when he
said he held with me the possibility of salvation for all men; that
mercy is offered to all, and yet may be received or rejected. If this
be what your ladyship calls Mr. Wesley's opinion, free-will, and
Arminianism, and if 'every Arminian must quit the college,' I am
actually discharged also." In the hope of mediating between Wesley and
the countess, Fletcher went to Trevecca. He tried to soften matters,
but in vain. He then absolutely resigned his office, advised Lady
Huntingdon to choose a moderate Calvinist in his place, and recommended
Rowland Hill. His letter to Wesley (first published by Mr.
Tyerman[10]), giving an account of his interview with Lady Huntingdon,
and beseeching his venerated friend to believe "that the college and
its foundress mean well, and give them all the satisfaction you can,"
is in his finest vein of good sense, elevated and illumined by
Christian feeling.

But, unhappily, no private and friendly understanding was arrived at.
As the time for Wesley's next Conference drew near, a circular letter,
signed "Walter Shirley," was sent round among the friends of the
Evangelical movement, proposing that those who disapproved the
obnoxious minutes "should go in a body to the said Conference, and
insist upon a formal recantation of the said minutes, and in case of a
refusal sign and publish their protest against them." This proposed
demonstration however, from various causes, dwindled down to a small
deputation, which presented itself, meekly enough, at the Conference at
Bristol, and was received by Wesley and the preachers in a friendly
manner. The spirit of conciliation was in the ascendant. Wesley and all
his preachers present, except one, signed a declaration admitting that
the minutes were not sufficiently guarded in the way they were
expressed, and repudiating the meaning which had been put upon them,
viz. that of justification by works. Mr. Shirley, in return, wrote a
memorandum to the effect that "the declaration agreed to in Conference,
August 8th, 1771, had convinced him that he had mistaken the meaning of
the doctrinal points in the 'Minutes of the Conference, held in London,
August 7th, 1770'; and he hereby wished to testify the full
satisfaction he had in the said declaration, and his hearty concurrence
and agreement with the same."

Why did not the matter end here? Might not such explanations and
concessions have secured peace? Was a seven years war absolutely
necessary? To this question we have met with no really satisfactory
reply. But it must now be mentioned that, prior to the assembling of
the Conference at Bristol, Fletcher had written a "Vindication" of the
much discussed minutes in the form of "Five Letters" to Mr. Shirley.
The manuscript of this "Vindication" was in Wesley's hands, and was, in
fact, being set up in type at the very time that Shirley and his
friends were having their interview with Wesley and the Conference. The
question is, whether the publication should have been proceeded with in
the turn that things had taken. Shirley, hearing that Fletcher's
"Letters" were in the press, not unnaturally requested that the issue
might be stopped. Fletcher himself wrote to his friend Mr. Ireland: "I
feel for poor dear Mr. Shirley, whom I have (considering the present
circumstances) treated too severely in my 'Vindication of the Minutes.'
My dear sir, what must be done? I am ready to defray, by selling to my
last shirt, the expense of the printing of my 'Vindication,' and
suppress it. Direct me, dear sir. Consult with Mr. Shirley and Mr.
Wesley about the matter. Be persuaded I am ready to do everything that
will be brotherly in this unhappy affair." But in Wesley's judgment
nothing that had taken place required the suppression of so admirable a
"tract for the times," and accordingly it was published. Opinions will
be divided as to the wisdom and propriety of the step. It may be said:
"The merely personal aspect of the question was now disposed of. But
the evils which had led to the recording of the 'minutes' were real
evils, and were not to be got rid of by an interchange of courtesies
between Wesley and the Conference on the one hand, and Lady Huntingdon
and Mr. Shirley on the other. Circumstances, or rather Providence, had
discovered--nay, raised up--in Fletcher the very man for the present
need. What could be better, in the interest of true religion, than to
send forth broadcast, not merely a 'Vindication of the Minutes,' and of
Wesley's action, but a powerful defence of the gospel itself against
the chief and most dangerous error of the day?" There could be no
mistake as to the value of what Fletcher had written. His argument was
clear in outline, and convincing in detail. The gospel way of salvation
was defended on the right hand and on the left. Popular errors were
exposed, paradoxes explained, and misunderstanding removed, with a
knowledge of the Scriptures and a skill in reasoning that astonished
every one. The meek Vicar of Madeley was a master of controversy. He
had learning and logic for scholars, with imagination, wit, and pathos
to charm the common people. The style was genial and easy, abounding in
lively comparisons and illustrations, while a gentle vein of humour,
stopping short of bitterness on the one hand, and burlesque on the
other, mingled, not unbecomingly, with passages of the most exalted
devotion. "Those letters," wrote Wesley, "could not be suppressed,
without betraying the honour of our Lord." This decided his action.

Of course Fletcher's letters had their reply from Mr. Shirley, and
that, in turn, required to be answered. Then Richard Hill entered the
field, and him also Fletcher encountered, and as the controversy grew
it spread out over the wide area of questions speculative and practical
which the term Calvinism covers or suggests, and called fresh
combatants into the field. We have no heart to pursue the details of
this history. It is complicated and unremunerative in the last degree.
It deepened into bitterness and scurrility, till its baser literature
becomes unreadable for very shame; it separated brethren; it turned
allies into adversaries; it offered to a sceptical and ungodly age the
spectacle of good men "smiting one another _un_friendly," and consumed
time and strength that were wanted, and more than wanted, for the
Christianising of the country.

Through all this strife and confusion we can at least follow Fletcher
without shame, if not without regret. We have already quoted Southey's
eulogy on him. It is not excessive. He kept his temper through seven
years of trying controversy. He lived and wrote "as ever in his great
Taskmaster's eye." Love to God is manifest in every page, and only
second to it is love for those with whom he must needs contend, a
veritable "longing after them in the bowels of Jesus Christ."

Fletcher's "Checks" were the best thing born of the controversy. They
did not,--need it be said?--finally dispose of the problems respecting
God's foreknowledge and sovereignty, and the free agency and
responsibility of man. These problems are perhaps much where they were
when first confronted. If they are less discussed in our own day than
formerly, it is not that the difficulties they present have been
solved, but that a juster estimate of the limits of our powers,
together with a deeper sense of the antinomies of Divine law, has in a
great measure withdrawn the Christian mind from these questions to more
remunerative ones. That the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic
logically lead either to presumption or despair, may perhaps fairly be
urged; that they do so as matter of fact, and on any wide scale, would
be difficult to prove. But whether the vulgar antinomianism of
Fletcher's day had or had not its roots in Calvinistic doctrine, his
handling of it as a practical matter is vigorous and effective in the
highest degree. He pursues it in all its forms. He exposes and refutes
those one-sided reasonings which "make for _un_righteousness"; he sets
forth law in gospel, and gospel in law, with admirable balance and
proportion; he exhibits Christian holiness as the sum of duty and the
crown of privilege, and breathes throughout a heavenly spirit, which
the warmth of controversy seldom, if ever, disturbs.

May we say then, as some one has said, "it was worth while to have the
Calvinistic controversy, if it were only for the sake of Fletcher's
contribution to it"? Our answer is, most emphatically, No. We have too
deep a sense of the evils of a long and embittered strife between good
men to pass any such judgment. Nor can we suppose that such a
controversy furnished the only, or even the most favourable, conditions
for the exercise of Fletcher's gifts. We should have preferred for
him--can we doubt that he would have preferred for himself?--the
opportunity of writing books "touching the King" without the necessity
for splitting hairs with Shirley, and for winnowing the coarse abuse of
Toplady, and the extravagances of Rowland and Richard Hill.

But while we regard the controversy as both an error and an evil, we
are far from denying that it had its compensations, for which we are
indebted almost exclusively to Fletcher. His writings undoubtedly
served to fasten deep discredit upon that imperfect gospel--"another
gospel, which is not another,"--which permits its followers "to
continue in sin that grace may abound." Without lowering or lessening
the doctrine of justification by faith, Fletcher gave new emphasis and
clearer setting to the doctrine of Christian holiness, and rescued
Christian ethics from disparagement and neglect. Without taking away
from the virtue of the atonement in its relation to the whole standing
of the believer, he enforced that great practical end of redemption,
"the righteousness of the law, fulfilled in men walking not after the
flesh, but after the Spirit." Towards the close of the year 1774 Wesley
wrote, "If we could once bring all our preachers, itinerant and local,
uniformly and steadily to insist on those two points, 'Christ dying for
us,' and 'Christ reigning in us,' we should shake the trembling gates
of hell. I think most of them are now exceeding clear herein, and the
rest come nearer, especially since they have read Mr. Fletcher's
'Checks,' which have removed many difficulties out of the way."

Fletcher's "Checks to Antinomianism" at once took a foremost place in
the literature of Methodism. Wesley recommended them to his followers
with all the weight of his authority. The interest awakened by the
controversy, the popular style in which they were written, and the
elevation and fervour of piety manifest throughout, carried them into
every Methodist household. They were studied by the preachers, and read
for spiritual edification by all the more earnest members of the
Society. They did much to nourish the spiritual life of such men and
women as Bramwell, and Carvosso, and Hester Ann Rogers, names that
adorn and interpret the Methodist doctrine of "Entire Sanctification."
It is not too much to say that for many years they were not least among
the instruments employed in connexion with the ever-extending Revival,
"for the perfecting of the saints, ... for the edifying of the body of

In more recent times the influence of this, Fletcher's principal work,
is indirect rather than direct. It fills the atmosphere of the
Methodist Churches with a kind of after-glow. Its light and heat linger
in the air, and are reflected from the regions where its first full
strength was felt. Should these writings come, in course of time, to be
entirely neglected, that influence would still be felt, for it has
passed beyond recall into the theology and devotional literature of
Methodism all the world over. Two of the most competent historians of
Methodism, Dr. Stevens and Mr. Tyerman, give it as their opinion that
Fletcher's "Checks" are as much read to-day as they were a hundred
years ago. From this opinion we are constrained to dissent, and should
be content to refer the matter to the Methodist publishing houses for
decision. We believe, on the contrary, that they are very little read;
but none the less are we persuaded that the results of Fletcher's
controversial labours are, in many respects, permanent; and, in
addition to those that have been referred to, we would instance the
fact that Calvinistic doctrine has come to be better guarded against
the perversions of antinomianism, and that disputes arising out of it
have become less frequent and more moderate, to the great advantage of
the Christian Church.

In passing from this subject we cannot refrain from quoting a few
paragraphs from his "First Check," in which Fletcher reveals his love
and reverence for Wesley:

     "A gray-headed minister of Christ, an old general in the
     armies of Emmanuel, a father who has children capable of
     instructing even masters in Israel; and one whom God made
     the first and principal instrument of the late Revival of
     internal religion in our Church.... One word more about Mr.
     Wesley, and I have done. Of the two greatest and most useful
     ministers I ever knew, one is no more. The other, after
     amazing labours, flies still with unwearied diligence
     through the three kingdoms, calling sinners to repentance,
     and to the healing fountain of Jesus' blood. Though
     oppressed with the weight of near seventy years and the care
     of near 30,000 souls, he shames still, by his unabated zeal
     and immense labours, all the young ministers in England,
     perhaps in Christendom. He has generally blown the gospel
     trump, and rode twenty miles, before most of the professors
     who despise his labours have left their downy pillow. As he
     begins the day, the week, the year, so he concludes them,
     still intent upon extensive services for the glory of the
     Redeemer and the good of souls. And shall we lightly lift up
     our pens, our tongues, our hands against him? No; let them
     rather forget their cunning! If we _will_ quarrel, can we
     find nobody to fall out with, but the minister upon whom God
     puts the greatest honour?

     "Our Elijah has lately been translated to heaven.[11]
     Gray-headed Elisha is yet awhile continued upon earth. And
     shall we make a hurry and noise, to bring in railing
     accusations against him with more success?... Shall the sons
     of the prophets, shall even children in grace and knowledge,
     openly traduce the venerable seer, and his abundant

This description of Wesley may serve to introduce an incident showing
Wesley's opinion of Fletcher.



Wesley's estimate of Fletcher's character and abilities had been, from
the first, uniformly high, but the circumstances connected with the
Calvinist controversy raised it still higher. Every one knew of
Fletcher's gentleness and simplicity, but no one was prepared for the
strength, the firmness, the mental vigour and versatility that he now
exhibited. If this was something of a surprise to Wesley, it was matter
of unfeigned rejoicing. He saw, or thought he saw, in Fletcher a man
fitted for a greater work than that of being Vicar of Madeley. It was
natural perhaps that Wesley should never quite appreciate the position
of a parochial minister. His belief in itinerancy had its roots in his
temperament, as well as in his judgment. He said of himself, that if he
were confined to one spot, he should preach himself and his whole
congregation to sleep in a twelvemonth. He always grudged Fletcher to
his obscure parish, and the feeling grew with every fresh manifestation
of Fletcher's powers. The conviction began to take shape in his mind
that Fletcher was the proper man to succeed him in the direction of the
Methodist preachers and societies. He was now nearly seventy years of
age, and his health was apparently failing. In the course of things he
must shortly lay down his work. Who was there to take it up? It could
not be that God would suffer it to fall to pieces for want of one to
control and guide it; and who was there that could compare in fitness
with Fletcher? Wesley determined therefore not to leave this matter to
the last, but to communicate with him while there was yet time.
Accordingly, in January, 1773, he wrote to him as follows:

     "DEAR SIR,--

     "What an amazing work has God wrought in these kingdoms in
     less than forty years! And it not only continues, but
     increases, throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland; nay,
     it has lately spread into New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia,
     Maryland, and Carolina. But the wise men of the world say,
     'When Mr. Wesley drops, then all this is at an end!' And so
     it surely will, unless, before God calls him hence, one is
     found to stand in his place. I see more and more, unless
     there be one [Greek: proestôs], the work can never be
     carried on. The body of the preachers are not united, nor
     will any part of them submit to the rest; so that either
     there must be one to preside over all, or the work will
     indeed come to an end.

     "But who is sufficient for these things? qualified to
     preside both over the preachers and people? He must be a man
     of faith and love, and one that has a single eye to the
     advancement of the kingdom of God. He must have a clear
     understanding; a knowledge of men and things, particularly
     of the Methodist doctrine and discipline; a ready utterance;
     diligence and activity, with a tolerable share of health.
     There must be added to these favour with the people, with
     the Methodists in general; for, unless God turn their eyes
     and their hearts towards him, he will be quite incapable of
     the work. He must likewise have some degree of learning,
     because there are many adversaries, learned as well as
     unlearned, whose mouths must be stopped. But this cannot be
     done unless he be able to meet them on their own ground.

     "But has God provided one so qualified? Who is he? Thou art
     the man! God has given you a measure of loving faith, and a
     single eye to His glory. He has given you some knowledge of
     men and things, particularly of the old plan of Methodism.
     You are blessed with some health, activity, and diligence,
     together with a degree of learning. And to these He has
     lately added, by a way none could have foreseen, favour both
     with the preachers and the whole people. Come out in the
     name of God! Come to the help of the Lord against the
     mighty! Come while I am alive and capable of labour;

         '_Dum superest Lachesi quod torqueat, et pedibus me
         Porto meis, nullo dextram subeunte bacillo._'

     Come while I am able, God assisting, to build you up in
     faith, to ripen your gifts, and to introduce you to the
     people. _Nil tanti._ What possible employment can you have,
     which is of so great importance?"

When Wesley wrote this letter it was far from his thoughts that he had
yet eighteen years of work before him, and would survive Fletcher by
six years.

In his reply Fletcher says: "Should Providence call you first, I shall
do my best, by the Lord's assistance, to help your brother to gather
the wreck, and keep together those who are not absolutely bent to throw
away the Methodist doctrine and discipline....

"In the meantime you sometimes need an assistant to serve tables, and
occasionally to fill up a gap. Providence visibly appointed _me_ to
that office many years ago. And though it no less evidently called me
hither, yet have I not been without doubt, especially for some years
past, whether it would not be expedient that I should resume my office
as your deacon; not with any view of presiding over the Methodists
after you, but to ease you in your old age, and to be in the way of
recovery, and perhaps doing more good....

"Nevertheless, I would not leave this place, without a fuller
persuasion that the time is quite come."

Nothing further appears to have been said on the subject, and before
long the increasing feebleness of Fletcher's health put the matter
beyond discussion.

Two and a half years later Wesley was taken seriously ill while
travelling in Ireland. His friends in London were hourly expecting to
hear of his death. Charles Wesley, full of distress, wrote to
Fletcher, apparently requesting him to come to London. This Fletcher
gently but decidedly declined to do:

     "Should your brother fail on earth, you are called, not only
     to bear up under the loss of so near a relative, but, for
     the sake of your common children in the Lord, you should
     endeavour to fill up the gap according to your strength. The
     Methodists will not expect from you your brother's labours;
     but they have, I think, a right to expect that you will
     preside over them while God spares you in the land of the
     living.... And if at any time you should want my mite of
     assistance, I hope I shall throw it into the treasury with
     the simplicity and readiness of the poor widow."

But Wesley recovered, and the call for Fletcher's services never came.
Wesley's opinion however remained unaltered, that it would have been
better in every way for Fletcher to have joined him in itinerating.
Years afterwards, when Fletcher was dead, he wrote:

     "I can never believe it was the will of God that such a
     burning and shining light should be hid under a bushel. No;
     instead of being confined to a country village, it ought to
     have shone in every corner of our land. He was full as much
     called to sound an alarm through all the nation as Mr.
     Whitefield himself; nay, abundantly more so, seeing he was
     far better qualified for that important work. He had a more
     striking person, equally good breeding, an equally winning
     address, together with a richer flow of fancy, a stronger
     understanding, a far greater treasure of learning, both in
     languages, philosophy, philology, and divinity; and, above
     all (which I can speak with fuller assurance, because I had
     a thorough knowledge both of one and the other), a more deep
     and constant communion with the Father and with the Son
     Jesus Christ.

     "And yet let not any one imagine that I depreciate Mr.
     Whitefield, or undervalue the grace of God and the
     extraordinary gifts which his great Master vouchsafed unto
     him. I believe he was highly favoured of God; yea, that he
     was one of the most eminent ministers that has appeared in
     England, or perhaps in the world, during the present
     century. Yet I must own I have known many fully equal to Mr.
     Whitefield, both in holy tempers and holiness of
     conversation; but one equal herein to Mr. Fletcher I have
     not known, no, not in a life of fourscore years."

It was, further, Wesley's belief that an itinerant life would improve
Fletcher's health, which was now seriously affected. His letters had
for some time contained allusions to frequent infirmities. To one
correspondent he says: "My throat is not formed for the labours of
preaching. When I have preached three or four times together, it
inflames and fills up; and the efforts which I am then obliged to make
heat my blood."

To the same, a few months later: "Oh, how life goes! I walked, now I
gallop into eternity. The bowl of life goes rapidly down the steep hill
of time." To Charles Wesley he writes: "Old age comes faster upon me
than upon you. I am already so gray-headed, that I wrote to my brother
to know if I am not fifty-six instead of forty-six.... I have had for
some days the symptoms of an inward consumptive decay, spitting blood,
etc. Thank God! I look at our last enemy with great calmness." Wesley
confidently recommended a remedy of which he had more experience than
any man then living in England, viz. a long journey on horseback. He
proposed that Fletcher should accompany him on a journey of some
months, telling him, "When you are tired, or like it best, you may come
into my carriage; but remember that riding on horseback is the best of
all exercises for you, so far as your strength will permit." Fletcher
willingly accepted the proposal, and travelled with Wesley nearly 1200
miles. But after a while certain friends ("kind, but injudicious,"
Wesley calls them) persuaded him to remain at Stoke Newington, that he
might be properly nursed, and have the best medical aid that could be
procured. Wesley characteristically remarks, "I verily believe, if he
had travelled with me, partly in the chaise and partly on horseback,
only a few months longer, he would have quite recovered his health." We
are constrained to think that Fletcher was not in a condition to profit
by his friend's heroic remedies. He was indeed very ill. Earnest
prayers for his recovery were offered at Madeley and elsewhere. A hymn
which was composed for the occasion, and sung with deep feeling in
Madeley church, contains the following lines:

     "Restore him, sinking to the grave;
     Stretch out Thy arm, make haste to save;
     Back to our hopes and wishes give,
     And bid our friend and father live."

For several months he was under the care of his faithful friends Mr.
and Mrs. Greenwood, of Stoke Newington. Rest and silence were enjoined,
but it was found impossible to restrain him altogether from speaking.
One who was much with him says: "The fire which continually burned in
his heart many waters could not quench. It often burst out unawares.
And then how did we wonder (like those who formerly heard his Lord) 'at
the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.' ...

"It was in these favoured moments of converse that we found, in a
particular manner, the reward which is annexed to receiving a prophet
in the name of a prophet. And in some of these lie mentioned
circumstances which, as none knew them but himself, would otherwise
have been buried in oblivion.

"One of these remarkable passages was, 'In the beginning,' said he, 'of
my spiritual course, I heard the voice of God, in an articulate, but
inexpressibly awful, sound, go through my soul in those words: "_If any
man will be My disciple, let him deny himself._"' He mentioned another
peculiar manifestation of a later date, 'in which,' said he, 'I was
favoured, like Moses, with a supernatural discovery of the glory of
God, in an ineffable converse with Him, face to face; so that, whether
I was in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell.'

"At another time he said, 'About the time of my entering into the
ministry, I one evening wandered into a wood, musing on the importance
of the office I was going to undertake. I then began to pour out my
soul in prayer; when such a sense of the justice of God fell upon me,
and such a sense of His displeasure at sin, as absorbed all my powers,
and filled my soul with the agony of prayer for poor, lost sinners. I
continued therein till the dawn of day; and I considered this as
designed of God to impress upon me more deeply the meaning of those
solemn words, Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade

Throughout the whole of his long illness Fletcher's spirit was, not
only calm and tranquil, but attuned to an ardour and heavenliness that
deeply impressed all who saw him. His frail body seemed to be the abode
of a spirit purified and perfected till every trace of earthly
corruption was lost.

During the months of enforced absence from his parish his heart was
still with his people. In a pastoral letter, which is dated Newington,
December 28th, 1776, he writes:

     "I hoped to have spent the Christmas holidays with you, and
     to have ministered to you in holy things; but the weakness
     of my body confining me here, I humbly submit to the Divine
     dispensation.... The sum of all I have preached to you is
     contained in four propositions. _First_, heartily repent of
     your sins, original and actual. _Secondly_, believe the
     gospel of Christ in sincerity and truth. _Thirdly_, in the
     power which true faith gives, run the way of God's
     commandments before God and men. _Fourthly_, by continuing
     to take up your cross, and to receive the pure milk of
     God's word, grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus

     "The more nearly I consider death and the grave, judgment
     and eternity, the more I feel that I have preached to you
     the truth, and that the truth is solid as the Rock of ages.
     Although I hope to see much more of the goodness of the Lord
     in the land of the living than I do see, yet, blessed be the
     Divine mercy! I see enough to keep my mind at all times
     unruffled, and to make me willing calmly to resign my soul
     into the hands of my faithful Creator, my loving Redeemer,
     and my sanctifying Comforter, _this moment_, or _the next_,
     if He calls for it."

Fletcher's almsgiving was proportionate with his prayers. He was in
receipt of an income from his little property in Switzerland of about
£100 a year. He generally gave it all away. His money, his clothes, his
furniture were alike at the service of the poor and suffering. At one
time he sends back £80 to Switzerland for distribution among the poor,
saying, "As money is rather higher there than here the mite will go
further abroad than it would in my parish." At another time he
deposited £105 with a friend, but the whole was drawn for charitable
purposes in a few months, the balance, which was £24, going to complete
the preaching-house he had built at Madeley Wood. During his illness he
writes to one of the poor Methodists at Coalbrookdale: "Let none of
your little companies want. If any do, you are welcome to my house.
Take any part of the furniture there, and make use of it for their
relief. And this shall be your full title for so doing. Witness my

Leaving Stoke Newington in the beginning of May, 1777, Fletcher went to
Bristol, to the hospitable home of his old friend Mr. Ireland, for
change of air, and for what benefit might be found in drinking the
waters. Here he spent several months in feeble health, but in unbroken
tranquillity and elevation of spirit. "Far gone in a consumptive
disorder, and ripening fast for glory," was the judgment of those who
saw him at this time. He had many visitors, devout persons of all
classes, to whom his conversation, his prayers, his very presence, were
means of grace. Mr. Venn, who had been on the opposite side to Fletcher
in the recent controversy, spent some weeks with him under Mr.
Ireland's roof. "Oh that I might be like him!" was his testimony in
after years. "I have known all the great men for these fifty years, but
I have known none like him.... 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; ... not a single unbecoming word of
himself, or of his antagonists, or of his friends. All his conversation
tended to excite to greater love and thankfulness for the benefits of
redemption; whilst his whole deportment breathed humility and love."

In the month of July Wesley and his preachers met in Bristol to hold
their annual conference. One morning during its session a visit from
Fletcher was announced. As he entered what was then called the New
Room--now the old chapel in Broadmead--leaning on Mr. Ireland's arm,
the whole assembly, by a common impulse, stood up. Wesley rose and
advanced to receive him. He seemed like a visitor from another world.
His worn features shone as with the light of heaven. All present were
profoundly moved at the sight. He had scarcely begun to speak before
every one was in tears. "His appearance, his exhortations, and his
prayers," says Benson, "broke most of our hearts." It was such a scene
as the oldest person present had never witnessed before, as the
youngest could not expect to witness again. It was brought to a close
by Wesley, who suddenly fell upon his knees at Fletcher's side, the
whole company of preachers kneeling with him, and offered an earnest
prayer for Fletcher's restoration to health and to his labours in the
cause of Christ. He finished his prayer by pronouncing "in his peculiar
manner, and with a confidence and emphasis which seemed to thrill
through every heart, 'He shall not die, but live, and declare the works
of the Lord.'"

During the eight remaining years of Fletcher's life, it was believed
amongst the Methodists that God had spared him in answer to their



After spending some months at Bristol, with little, if any, improvement
in his health, Fletcher was strongly urged to spend the winter abroad.
The south of France, and Spain were both suggested, and his brothers
and sisters in Switzerland sent him a pressing invitation to revisit
his home, and breathe once more his native air. He yielded at last to
the advice of physicians and friends, and made the necessary
arrangements for a long absence from Madeley. His curate, Mr. Greaves,
who had supplied his place for some months, was to remain in charge of
the parish. The vicar's income was assigned, part to Mr. Greaves, and
the rest to the maintenance of various good works in and around

Before setting out on his journey he addressed a pastoral letter "To
the Brethren who hear the Word of God in the Parish Church of Madeley."
It was full of affectionate counsels and exhortations. In bidding them
farewell, he writes: "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."

On December 4th, 1777, after being delayed at Dover for a day or two by
bad weather, Fletcher crossed the Channel with Mr. Ireland and his two
daughters, who were desirous of spending the winter in the south, and
of ministering to the comfort of their loved and honoured friend.

He remained abroad for nearly three years and a half. This period of
seclusion and comparative inactivity is full of interest to the student
of Fletcher's history. It is true we lose sight of him for months
together, and find it difficult to weave into a consistent story the
references to persons and places which are to be found in his letters,
and in sundry narratives that have come down to us; but the change of
scene and circumstance gives additional charm to the portraiture of his
gentle life. It must not be forgotten that Fletcher, though almost more
English than the English themselves in his attachment to the
institutions of this country, was a Swiss, and we cannot desire that
the Swiss in him should be suppressed; we would not have him "forget
his own people and his father's house." Away from Madeley, from the
Church of England, from Methodism, he moves amid moral and social
surroundings which were, after all, native to him, and amongst which
his character could not but reveal some aspects not similarly brought
out by his life in England. These years spent in France and Switzerland
add to the moral picturesqueness of his course as a whole.

The route taken by Fletcher and his friends was by Calais, Abbeville,
etc., to Dijon and Lyons, and thence to Aix in Provence, where they
remained for some time. They afterwards visited Montpellier,
Marseilles, and Hyères, though in what order it is difficult to
determine, and in the spring of 1778 Fletcher reached Nyon, where he
was to spend the next three years. This outline of his journeyings may
now be supplemented by extracts from his letters and those of his

     "When we departed from Calais," writes Mr. Ireland, "the
     north wind was very high, and penetrated us even in the
     chaise. We put up in Breteuil, and the next day got to
     Abbeville, whence we were forced, by the miserable
     accommodation we met with, to set out, though it was Sunday.
     Hitherto Mr. Fletcher and I had led 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 left
     to the piercing cold on the side of a hill without 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 a guard, procured another to carry us to the
     next town. On the 15th our chaise arrived in good repair.
     The country was covered with snow, but travelling steadily
     forward, we reached Dijon on the 27th. During the whole
     journey Mr. Fletcher showed marks of recovery. He bore both
     the fatigue and 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 all together
     every day. January 4th, 1778, we left Lyons, and came on the
     9th to Aix. Here we rest, the weather being exceedingly fine
     and warm. Mr. Fletcher walks out daily. He is now able to
     read and 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 is quite
     gone. His appetite is good, and he takes a little wine."

In another letter, written from Aix, he says: "Soon after our arrival
here, I rode out most days with my dear and valued friend. Now and then
he 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; 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, and the third day fifty-five. He bore the 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 accepted a pressing
invitation to preach to the Protestants here; and he fulfilled his
engagement on Sunday morning, taking as his text, 'Examine yourselves,
whether ye be in the faith.' Both the French and English were greatly
affected; the word went to the hearts of both saints and sinners. His
voice is now as good as ever it was, and he has an earnest invitation
to preach near Montpellier, where we are going. 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 Montpellier, 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."

From Montpellier Fletcher wrote to his curate, Mr. Greaves: "Please
God, I shall set out next week from this place, where the winter has
been uncommonly rainy and windy. We had over 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 Hyères, 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.... At the
first convenient opportunity, please 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 had a return of his
spitting of blood, which he considers as a token that his life may be
spared a little, to 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."

Early in May he reached Nyon, having travelled under the care of his
brother from Montpellier. He was received by the members of his family
with the utmost affection and respect.

One of the most important letters which he wrote during his absence
from England was addressed to "The Rev. Messrs. John and Charles
Wesley." It is dated from Macon in Burgundy, May 17th, 1778. The
following extracts will show Fletcher's judgment concerning the state
of morals and religion in France ten years before the Revolution:

     "Gambling 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. If we believe them, the world is the dupe of
     kings and priests; religion is fanaticism and superstition;
     subordination is slavery; 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 have no doubt
     God will use those vain men to bring about a reformation
     here, as he used Henry the Eighth 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....

     "If you ask, what system these men adopt, I answer, Some
     build on deism a morality founded on _self-preservation_,
     _self-interest_, and _self-honour_; others laugh at all
     morality, except that which being neglected _violently_
     disturbs society. And external order is the decent covering
     of fatalism, while materialism is their system.

     "Oh! 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 firmly 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 may abundantly support and
     strengthen you, and make you a continued comfort to His
     enlightened people, loving reprovers of those who mix light
     with darkness, and a terror to the perverse."

While residing at Nyon Fletcher was visited by his friend and former
medical adviser, William Perronet, son of the venerable Vicar of
Shoreham. The Perronet family was of Swiss origin, and about this time
it came to the knowledge of Mr. Perronet that he had some claim to a
property situated at Chateau d'Oex, a small town in a mountain
valley, about twenty miles from the north-eastern shore of the Lake of
Geneva, and nearly sixty from Nyon. Fletcher assisted his friends by
making inquiries and obtaining legal advice, and it was thought
necessary that William Perronet should go over to press the claim in
person. This he accordingly did, and, it may be said here, with
complete success, though he did not live to enjoy the possession, as he
was taken ill on his way home, and died before reaching England.

Fletcher wrote, inviting him to be his guest: "This is a delightful
country. If you come to see it, and to claim the estate, bring all the
papers and letters you can collect; and share a pleasant apartment, and
one of the finest prospects in the world, in the house where I was

Soon after Mr. Perronet's arrival, it was thought necessary that he
should visit Chateau d'Oex, and although it was now December,
Fletcher accompanied him. The journey was not without danger, more
especially for one in such a feeble state of health. It is described,
together with many interesting details of Fletcher's life at Nyon, in
Mr. Perronet's letters.

     "On Friday, the 11th, I reached 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....

     "His chief delight seems to be in the meeting of his little
     society of children; and as he is exceedingly 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 upon him and his little companions, but
     many of the clergy loudly complain of such irregular

Mr. Perronet was much impressed with the incidents of their journey to
Chateau d'Oex. The rugged heights, the precipices, the torrents, the
deep snow, rising many feet above their heads as they toiled through
narrow passes that had been cut through it,--all are new to him, and
are described with much vivacity. Part of the distance they rode upon a
sledge, and in some places they were obliged to go on foot. Whilst
doing so they got a fall on the ice, when Fletcher received a severe
blow on the back of his head, and his companion sprained his wrist.
Though they only spent two days at Chateau d'Oex, Fletcher was
constrained to preach the gospel to the people. He was visited by some
of the principal inhabitants, who stood round him in deep attention for
nearly an hour while he exhorted and prayed.

As his strength permitted, Fletcher laboured, not only in Nyon, but,
true to the Methodist principles he had learnt in England, made
journeys in various directions, that he might scatter the good seed.
Amongst the Jura Mountains he found industrious and thriving
populations. In one village they told him they had the best singing,
and the best preacher in the country. But when he asked if any sinners
were converted under his ministry, they stared, and asked what he
meant. When he had explained himself, they could only say, "We do not
live in the time of miracles." Having crossed into French territory, he
was much interested on coming upon a great gathering of people who were
assembled to hear some itinerant mission preachers, Roman Catholic
clergymen. They were, it appears, three brothers, and they had already
spent some days in the place, preaching morning and evening. Fletcher
heard one of them preach upon the judgment. "Before the sermon, all
those who, for the press, could kneel, did, and sang a French hymn to
beg a blessing on the word; and indeed it was blessed. An awful
attention was visible upon most, and, during a good part of the
discourse, the voice of the preacher was almost lost in the cries and
bitter wailings of the audience." The preacher urged them to know their
day, and slight the mercy of God and the blood of Christ no longer; and
Fletcher adds, "I have seen but once or twice congregations so much
affected in England."

Devout and earnest Roman Catholics were much more to his mind than
formal, lifeless Protestants. On Good Friday, which was not observed
amongst the Calvinists of Nyon, Fletcher and Mr. Perronet crossed the
lake into Savoy to hear a celebrated Capuchin preacher. Fletcher was
much pleased with his discourse, and spent two or three hours with him
and his brethren in serious and friendly conversation.

To many of the Swiss ministers his "irregularities" were as distasteful
as such things were to the "high" or "moderate" clergy in England. His
earnestness and popularity perplexed them. The people crowded the
churches where he preached, multitudes who could not gain admittance
remaining outside, while others placed ladders against the windows, and
climbed to places whence they might hear, even if they could not see
him. Pulpits to which he had been at first invited were closed against
him. It was represented to the authorities that he preached doctrines
subversive of morality and social order, and that on this account he
had been banished from England. At a visitation held in Nyon strong
complaints were made against him, the ministers of the town, however,
taking his part, while those of Geneva and Lausanne were opposed to
him. He was forbidden to hold meetings in private houses, and
householders were warned that they would be liable to penalties if they
permitted such meetings to be held. This roused the spirit of his
brother, who wrote to the _Bailli_ saying that he would give up neither
his civil nor religious liberty, and would open his house for the word
of God. But the climax was reached when Fletcher was summoned before
the _Bailli_, who sharply reprimanded 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 invited a company of French comedians to Nyon. Accordingly,
he forbade him any longer to exercise any of the functions of a
minister in the country. Fletcher, however, still found means to
catechize the children and to hold meetings in private. At the same
time he was informed that if he would renounce his ordination, and
obtain Presbyterian orders, he would be allowed to preach, and on those
terms a minister in Nyon offered him what might be called a curacy.

The following extracts from his letters, written while at Nyon, will
throw light both upon the state of things there, and upon his
occupations and sentiments at this time.

     _July 15th, 1778._--"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. 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 could 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.... Last Sunday I met them in the wood: there were a
     hundred of them, and as many adults. Our first pastor has
     since desired me to desist from preaching in the wood, ...
     and I have complied, from a concurrence of circumstances
     which are not worth mentioning. I therefore meet them in my
     father's yard."

     _Sept. 17th, 1778._--"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 on the scaffold, where he
     was to be broken on the wheel. I hope he died penitent."

     _Feb. 2nd, 1779._--"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 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....

     "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 centres in and flows 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, Emmanuel,
     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, etc., etc."

     _March 7th, 1780._--"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 £50 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 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."

     _Sept. 15th, 1780._--"There is little genuine piety in these
     parts: nevertheless, there is yet some of the form of it; so
     far as to 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."

     _Feb. 14th, 1781._--"My friend Ireland invites me to join
     him in the south of France, and I long to see whether I
     could not have more liberty to preach the word among Papists
     than among Protestants. But it is so little that I can do,
     that I doubt much whether it is worth while going so far
     upon so little a chance. If I were stronger, and had more
     time, the fear of being hanged should not detain me."

It had occurred to Fletcher during his residence in Nyon that he might
serve the cause of religion in Switzerland with his pen, seeing that
the state of his health, and the opposition of persons in authority,
made it impossible for him to preach the gospel, as it was in his heart
to do. To awaken the clergy, to rouse them from their worldliness and
scepticism, and bring them to some acquaintance with true religion,
seemed of all things the most desirable. Humanly speaking, there was
little hope for the Church in Switzerland until there was, at least,
the leaven of an earnest ministry. To his friend and curate at Madeley,
Mr. Greaves, he wrote: "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."

It does not appear that this design was carried out, but meanwhile
Fletcher was preparing a practical treatise on the "Pastoral
Character," which he hoped to publish before leaving the country. It
grew upon his hands into a lengthy and elaborate work. His plan was to
exhibit at one view the character of the primitive Christian, and of
the apostolic minister, as exemplified in the Apostle Paul. It was
written in French, but was still unfinished when he returned to
England, and the manuscript was laid aside, with the intention of
translating and preparing it for the press when circumstances should
allow. The convenient season, however, did not come, and it was not
until after his death that the manuscript was found--portions of it
from time to time,--obviously needing revision at the author's hand.
The task of translating and editing was performed by the Rev. Joshua
Gilpin, and his version of "The Portrait of St. Paul" is the only one
that has ever appeared. No mode of publication could well be more
disadvantageous to a writer, and this should be borne in mind in
estimating its value. Mr. Gilpin remarks that "the manuscript was so
incorrect and confused as frequently to stagger the resolution of the
translator"; and as his object was rather to produce an edifying work
than to edit with precision Fletcher's literary remains, it is probable
that he filled up the gaps and elaborated the hints which he found in
Fletcher's papers. This would in part account for the diffuseness which
characterises "The Portrait of St. Paul." The tendency, so frequently
discernible in Fletcher's writings, is here most conspicuous. In the
first division of the work the moral character of St. Paul is
delineated under no less than forty "Traits," each one having a chapter
to itself, the chapters being numbered successively TRAIT 1, TRAIT 2,
and so on, to forty. Had Fletcher completed this treatise, and
published it himself, it is reasonable to believe that his own literary
experience or the advice of his friends would have led him to group
these numerous details under fewer heads, and in other ways give
greater unity to the whole. There is hardly a chapter that does not
show the writer's spiritual insight and experience, and may not be read
with profit, even by those who are acquainted with the best works of
pastoral theology; but the cataloguing of moral features is carried to
a fatiguing length, and the portrait which it was intended to exhibit
is in danger of disappearing in the process of linked and long-drawn

Even in its present form it is not difficult to see that the "Portrait
of St. Paul" was written by one who had Swiss readers in view. The
authors most frequently quoted are Ostervald, professor and pastor at
Neufchatel, whose "Exercice du Ministère Sacré" was published in 1739,
and Roques, formerly minister of the French congregation at Basle,
whose "Pasteur Evangélique," published in 1723, was still a popular
work. It was an advantage for Fletcher to be able to appeal to "such
excellent and learned divines as Mons. Ostervald and Mons. Roques" in
setting forth the character and calling of the Christian minister.

The third and concluding portion of the work is "An Essay on the
Connexion of Doctrines and Morality." It might almost be considered a
separate and independent work. Its object is to show the insufficiency
of natural religion and philosophy to produce true goodness. We are
reminded on every page that it was written in the country of
Rousseau's birth and of Voltaire's adoption, at a time when the wit of
the one, the sentiment of the other, and the principles of both these
philosophers and men of letters, were of paramount influence in
Switzerland. Voltaire and Rousseau died in the year 1778, while
Fletcher was residing at Nyon, and he had ample opportunity of
observing the extent to which both clergy and laity had come under
their spell. That influence was, in Fletcher's judgment, the cause of
grievous injury to religion and morals. A loose, easy-going, yet
confident deism seemed almost to have superseded Christianity. Even
amongst the clergy the truth of revelation was denied, or its
importance disparaged. The doctrines of revealed religion were
ridiculed as mysterious and incredible, or rejected as having no
practical bearing. The religion of nature had a showy and pretentious
side for those who aspired to the dignity of philosophers, and was
easily reconcilable with selfishness, vanity, and licentiousness alike
in its more, and in its less, illustrious professors.

Fletcher set himself to show the relation between principles and
conduct, and particularly between the doctrines of the gospel and a
pure morality, instituting comparisons between Christianity and the
current deism in respect of their ethical force and direction. His
references to Rousseau are frequent, as might be expected, and it was
not difficult for so expert a controversialist to give a good account
of the author of _Émile_. The "Confessions" of Rousseau were not
published until 1782, four years after his death; but Fletcher lived
in a country where Rousseau's history and character were well known.
The most direct allusion, however, to his personal qualities occurs in
the following passage, taken from the close of the treatise:

     "If it be asked, what secret vice it was that would not
     suffer so honest a man as J. J. Rousseau to embrace the
     gospel, without searching into the anecdotes of his life, we
     may rest satisfied with the discovery he has made of his own
     heart in this single sentence: 'What can be more
     transporting to a noble soul than the pride of virtue!' Such
     was the pride which made him vainly presume that he had
     power sufficient to conquer himself, without invoking the
     assistance of God; and by which he was encouraged to assert
     that the doctrines of the gospel were such as 'no sensible
     man could either conceive or admit.'

     "There is no species of pride more insolent than that which
     gives rise to the following language: 'It is asserted that
     "God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son,
     that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have
     everlasting life." These tidings, whether they be true or
     false, are highly acceptable to many; but for my own part, I
     openly declare that I reject with contempt the idea of such
     a favour. I read with attention those writings which tend to
     unfold the mysteries of nature, but resolve never to turn
     over those authors who vainly attempt to establish the truth
     of the gospel. This subject, though it has occupied the
     thoughts and engaged the pens of inquiring students for
     these seventeen hundred years, I shall ever regard as
     unworthy my attention. I leave it to the vulgar, who are
     easily persuaded of its importance. My virtues are
     sufficient to expiate my crimes, and on these I will
     resolutely depend, as my sole mediators before God.' ...

     "The deists of Socrates' time must have been far less
     culpable than those of the present day. The former,
     conscious of the uncertainty with which they were
     encompassed, made use of every help they could procure in
     the pursuit of truth with unwearied assiduity. The latter,
     presuming upon their own sufficiency, decide against
     doctrines of the utmost importance without impartially
     considering the evidence produced in their favour. The
     former, by carefully examining every system of morality
     proposed to their deliberation, discovered a candour and
     liberality becoming those who were anxiously 'feeling after
     God, if haply they might find Him.' The latter, by
     condemning revelation without calmly attending to the
     arguments of its advocates, manifest a degree of prejudice
     that would be unpardonable in a judge, but which becomes
     inexcusable in a criminal, who is pressed by the strongest
     reasons to search out the truth."

On his return to England, Fletcher brought this unfinished treatise
with him, and, as we have said, never found time to complete it. One
work he published while in Switzerland, a poem entitled "La Louange,"
afterwards enlarged and republished in England under the title, "La
Grace et La Nature." The Swiss edition required, and received, the
license of the official censor at Lausanne, who was good enough to
give his imprimatur in the following terms: "I have read this work,
which, in my judgment, everywhere breathes Piety, Faith, and Christian
Charity."--DE BONS, _Censeur_. The English edition was dedicated, by
permission, to Queen Charlotte.

One incident connected with Fletcher's residence at Nyon remains to be
told. A certain nephew of his, lately an officer in the Sardinian army,
had been compelled to leave the service under discreditable
circumstances. To rid themselves of his company, his brother officers
agreed to challenge him in succession. After fighting two or three
duels, he was obliged to resign his commission and leave the country.
He returned to Switzerland, to become a terror and a distress to his
relatives. Having squandered his money in various evil ways, and come
to the end of his resources, he resorted to a desperate expedient. He
asked for a private interview with his uncle, General de Gons, and when
they were alone, suddenly presented a loaded pistol, and said, "Uncle
de Gons, if you do not give me a draft on your banker for five hundred
crowns, I will shoot you." His uncle, finding himself in the power of a
desperado capable of any mischief, and, possibly, having no heart to
resist the violence of one who was all but a son, complied with his
demand. His nephew then extracted a promise from him that he would not,
on his honour as a gentleman and a soldier, take any steps to recover
the draft, or bring him to justice; after which he rode off triumphant
with his ill-gotten gains.

As he passed the door of his uncle Fletcher, the fancy took him to call
and pay him a visit, and he began at once to tell him of the kindness
of his uncle De Gons, who had just given him five hundred crowns,
adding, as he held out the draft, "If you don't believe me, see the
proof under his own hand." Fletcher felt that there was something
wrong. He took the draft, and looked first at it, and then at the young
man. "It is, indeed, my brother's writing," said he, "and I am
astonished to see it, for he is not rich, and I know that he so much
disapproves your conduct that you are the last of the family to whom he
would make such a present." Then folding the paper, and putting it into
his pocket, he added, "It strikes me, young man, that you have come by
this by some improper means, and I cannot, in honesty, return it to you
but with my brother's knowledge and approbation." Out came the young
ruffian's pistol once more, and putting it to Fletcher's breast, he
swore he would have his life if he did not immediately return him the
draft. "My life," replied Fletcher, "is secure in the hands of God."
The young man still sought to terrify him into compliance. "Do you
think," said Fletcher, "that I have been twenty-five years the minister
of the Lord of life, to be afraid of death now? It is for you to fear
death, who have every reason to fear it. You are a gambler and a cheat,
yet call yourself a gentleman! You are a seducer, and a duellist, and
call yourself a man of honour! Look there, sir; look there! The eye of
God is upon us. Tremble in the presence of your Maker, who can in a
moment kill your body, and for ever punish your soul in hell."

The young man was powerless. He stormed and trembled alternately. He
withdrew his pistol, and again presented it. He argued, entreated,
threatened, but Fletcher remained calm and fearless. By-and-by he
expostulated with him. "I cannot," said he, "return my brother's draft;
yet I am sorry for you, and will do what I can to help you. General de
Gons will, at my request, I am sure, give you a hundred crowns. I will
do the same. Perhaps my brother Henry will do as much; and perhaps the
other members of the family will make up the sum amongst them." He then
knelt down, and prayed for his unhappy nephew. The matter was arranged,
by Fletcher's influence, in the way he had suggested, and an
opportunity was afforded to a foolish and wicked young man for
repentance and reformation of life.



Fletcher returned to England in the spring of 1781, after an absence of
nearly three years and a half. His health was considerably improved by
the long rest and retirement; the worst symptoms had disappeared, but
he remained, at best, a frail and delicate man.

Almost his first act on reaching London was to preach in the new chapel
in City Road, which had been erected during his absence. Wesley was
away in the midland counties, preaching and visiting the societies;
from thence he passed into Wales, and next to the Isle of Man, so that
some months elapsed before he and Fletcher met. After a few days in
London Fletcher went to Bristol, where he received the warmest welcome
from Mr. Ireland and his other friends. Soon after his arrival, Mr.
Rankin, a Methodist preacher then stationed in Bristol, had an
interview with him, "which," he says, "I shall never forget in time or
eternity." Fletcher had many inquiries to make concerning the progress
of religion in England and in America, where Mr. Rankin had laboured
for five years. They walked to and fro in Mr. Ireland's garden, and as
he listened to Mr. Rankin's account of the triumphs of the gospel at
home and in the colonies, Fletcher broke forth again and again into
prayer and praise.

In almost every reference to him at this period of his life, and onward
to its close, there is mention of a something almost unearthly in his
spirit, and even in his appearance and manner. With the utmost
affectionateness and freedom of intercourse there was a certain
raptness of devotion, a mingled simplicity and elevation of thought and
feeling, peculiarly his own. The impression he produced, as shown in
the letters and journals of his contemporaries, is unmistakable. There
is nothing quite like it in the case of any other member of the group
to which Fletcher belongs. Alike in converse with individuals, and in
his public addresses, he gave the impression of one whose links with
earth were few and slender compared with those that united him with the
heavenly world. After describing the interview just referred to, Mr.
Rankin goes on to say: "He preached in the evening from 'God hath from
the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the
Spirit and belief of the truth.' The whole congregation was dissolved
in tears. He spoke like one who had 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 several months
afterwards not a cloud intervened between God and my soul,--not for
one hour. Of all the men I ever knew, I never saw such love to God and
man, such deadness to the world, such entire consecratedness to Jesus,
as in him. It often appeared to me that his every breath was prayer and
praise. He lived more like a disembodied spirit than a human being."

No one rejoiced at Fletcher's return to England more than his old
friend and former colleague at Trevecca, Mr. Benson. In a hitherto
unpublished letter, dated from the "Preaching House, Leeds," June 12th,
1781, he wrote to him as follows:

     "It gave me great pleasure to hear of your safe arrival in
     England after so long an absence, and that your health was
     considerably better than when you went abroad; and more
     especially, as I understand from Miss Bosanquet, that you
     have some thought of visiting Yorkshire, where, I am sure,
     thousands will be glad to see you, and none more so than
     myself, who once had the honour of being your intimate
     friend, and whose one motive for troubling you at this time
     is a desire to renew that friendship, formerly so beneficial
     to my soul.

     "Mr. Fletcher, no length of time, no distance of place, can
     ever erase your memory from my mind, nor shall I, while I
     breathe, cease to respect you above all men upon earth, and
     that for one _only_ reason, because the Lord Jesus Christ
     has in a great measure drawn His likeness upon you."

Although he returned to Madeley soon after reaching England, it was
some time before Fletcher really took up his residence and resumed his
work there. He determined to attend the approaching Methodist
Conference, to be held in Leeds in the beginning of August. Four years
had elapsed since his memorable visit to the Conference at Bristol,
when Wesley had said concerning him, "He shall not die, but live." He
now wished to meet once more the brethren to whom he was bound by so
many ties. Wesley moreover wanted his presence and counsel, and for
this, and for another reason that will be explained, he left Madeley
and went to Yorkshire.

Seventy preachers met at the Conference. On the Sunday before it began,
the Methodists had a high day at the parish church of Leeds. Wesley
preached to a vast congregation. Seventeen clergymen, including
Fletcher and Coke, assisted him in administering the Lord's supper to
eleven hundred communicants. During the Conference Wesley desired
Fletcher, Coke, and four others to meet him each evening to consult
with him on any difficulty that might occur. Fletcher preached at five
o'clock in the morning to at least two thousand persons, who listened
to him with the deepest attention. Wesley's comment was, "I do not
wonder he should be so popular; not only because he preaches with all
his might, but because the power of God attends both his preaching and
prayer." "I had the happiness to hear that venerable servant of God,
Mr. Fletcher," wrote one of the preachers to his wife. "Never did I see
any man more like what I suppose the ancient apostles to have been....
I think I never heard a sermon to be compared with it. I wish I could
tell you every word. I had also the happiness to receive from his hand
the bread in the sacrament of the Lord's supper."

The Conference was over in a week, but Fletcher still remained in the
neighbourhood of Leeds. Another, and to him a still more important,
matter was occupying his thoughts. It had reference to Miss Bosanquet,
the lady named in Mr. Benson's letter. A very brief account of one who
deserves, and has received, ample biographic honours, must here
suffice. Mary Bosanquet was a lady of good family and considerable
fortune, to whom belongs an eminence among the godly women of
Methodism, analogous to that of Fletcher among his associates. At a
very early age, and partly through the influence of a maidservant, she
became an earnest Christian. As she grew up she passed through much
conflict and sorrow from the opposition of her parents. They were
well-meaning but worldly people, and were disappointed and annoyed at
their daughter's distaste for balls and theatres, and at her generally
impracticable religious convictions. They endeavoured to secure her
promise that she would never, either then or thereafter, attempt to
make her brothers "what she called Christians." Upon her saying that
she dared not consent to that, her father replied, "Then you force me
to put you out of my house." A kind of agreement was soon afterwards
come to, that she should take lodgings in Hoxton, and visit her parents
from time to time; and at twenty-one years of age, accompanied by her
maid, she left her home, literally for Christ's sake. A year or two
later she removed to Leytonstone, to a house of her own, not far from
her father's residence. Here she gathered around her a family of poor
women and orphan children, who were supported at her expense, and
taught, trained, and employed according to their capacity. It was her
desire to form a household in which the glory of God should be the
supreme end and aim, and for many years her efforts were crowned with
success. Peace, piety, and simple order ruled the little community.
Wesley was particularly interested in her plan, and delighted with its
results. It reminded him of what he had seen many years before in the
orphan house at Halle, and among the brethren at Herrnhut. It was akin
to his own endeavour at Kingswood. In his "Journal" he refers to it in
the following terms: "It is exactly _Pietas Hallensis_ in miniature....
I rode over to Leytonstone, and found one truly Christian family: that
is, what that at Kingswood should be, and would, if it had such
governors.... I preached at Leytonstone. Oh what a house of God is
here! not only for decency and order, but for the life and power of
religion! I am afraid there are very few such to be found in all the
king's dominions."

In addition to the guidance of her household, Miss Bosanquet held
services in her kitchen, at which she read and expounded the Scriptures
to such of her poor neighbours as were willing to come. A Methodist
class-meeting was formed, and from time to time an itinerant preacher
would come and minister to the little flock. From early morning till
night there was nothing but hard and homely toil, frugal meals,
frequent religious meetings, and ever-recurring prayer and praise. Thus
devoting her time, her strength, her fortune to Christ and to the poor,

     "She filled her odorous lamp with deeds of light,
     And hope that reaps not shame."

There was no lack of hindrances and discouragements, however, from
within and from without. Many of the children suffered from painful
diseases, the result of poverty and neglect. Others distressed her with
the evil habits they had brought with them. Her relatives spoke of her
as of one who was out of her right mind. Some of her critics declared
that she was bringing up the children for nuns; others said her plans
savoured too much of carnal wisdom; while others again charged her with
idleness. Persons well-disposed and ill-disposed poured upon her their
conflicting counsels and reproofs; and, as if the brave, lonely woman
had not enough to bear, a crowd of rough men and boys would collect at
the gate, when nights were dark, to throw dirt at the people as they
went out from the meetings, and would afterwards come into the yard,
and, putting their faces to a window which had no shutters, would roar
and howl like wild beasts.

From Leytonstone Miss Bosanquet removed into Yorkshire, and settled at
Gildersome, a village near Leeds, where she bought land and built a
house. Here she continued for many years her self-denying labours and
let the steady light of a holy life shine, to the comfort and
edification of many. It is not necessary to tell the story in detail;
it may be enough to say that while thus living for others, her fortune
was melting away, partly through injudicious generosity, and partly
through the blunders of those who helped and advised her in the
management of her affairs. From these causes, to which might be added
the unconscionable demands of some whom she assisted, she was brought
to financial embarrassment and great anxiety. At the time of Fletcher's
return to England her difficulties seemed to be coming to a crisis. She
saw nothing for it but to sell her Yorkshire property for what it would
fetch, and with the proceeds pay off her debts as far as possible, and
meet the remainder from the small income still coming to her from
Leytonstone. It was at this juncture that she received an offer of
marriage from Fletcher.

He was now fifty-two years of age, and Miss Bosanquet ten years
younger. They had known one another for five-and-twenty years, though
for the greater part of that time there was no direct intercourse
between them. From their first acquaintance they had been attracted to
one another. Fletcher had confessed to Charles Wesley that "Miss
Bosanquet's image at one time pursued him," and that he should perhaps
have lost his peace of mind if he had not betaken himself to prayer,
and to a serious consideration of the reasons against matrimony. In
spite of the victory thus gained, there is little doubt that her image
pursued him through the following years. She, on her part, confides to
her diary that a feeling "that she might be called to marry Mr.
Fletcher" would now and again come to her mind. She found much help
and comfort in his writings. In her troubles she thought of him as "one
who might perhaps be sent to her aid." She dwelt upon "some little acts
of friendship in our first acquaintance," and then put the pleasant
thoughts away, lest they should be a snare to her. She resolved "never
to do the least thing towards a renewal of their correspondence." And
so for fifteen years they never met, each of them meanwhile passing
through much affliction, and needing the very help which the other
could have supplied.

To Fletcher's scrupulous sense of honour, Miss Bosanquet's fortune was
an effectual barrier between them. That the possession of wealth should
attract unworthy suitors is nothing unusual,--it is a constantly
recurring source of danger to well-dowered women; but the danger of its
repelling the worthy suitor, and so keeping those apart who are best
fitted for each other, although much rarer, is perhaps even more
difficult to deal with. In such cases some sort of mediation seems
desirable, though it is generally impracticable. What was wanted in
this instance was, in our judgment, that some one--say Wesley, or his
brother Charles--should have said to Fletcher and to Miss Bosanquet the
half dozen words explanatory of each other's sentiments that would have
removed all difficulty, and given them twenty years of happy married
life instead of four.

It is remarkable that when Fletcher made his offer of marriage to Miss
Bosanquet he had not seen her for fifteen years. There was no previous
renewal of the acquaintance, no gradual growth of intimacy and
affection, no preliminaries of any kind. His proposal came unheralded
and unexpected, and was at once accepted. It is clear that the needful
preparation had been made on both sides long ago. There was the sudden
removal of hindrances, real or imagined: that was all.

One of his letters to Miss Bosanquet, written during their engagement,
has lately been published by Mr. Tyerman.[12] It is a true love-letter,
and in no way unworthy of its writer. Others lie before us now. They
are written with the utmost freedom and simplicity, and show a warm and
tender affection, with a chivalrous admiration for the woman soon to
become his wife. The gentle-spirited, lonely man rejoices in his
new-found happiness. "Surely," he writes to her, "a human creature
_alone_ is but _half_ himself. And yet how many, for want of having
made the comparison, glory in their loss! I will do so no more." This
is a touch of nature that the reader will appreciate; more particularly
if he has been at the trouble of reading the "reasons against
matrimony" that have been alluded to. But we refrain from further
quotation. On the whole, we think it right to respect the privacy of
Fletcher's love-letters. They were written for one reader, and for one
only. By her they were sacredly preserved through the thirty years of
her widowhood, and then, chiefly, we imagine, because she could not
bring herself to destroy them, they passed into the keeping of a dear
and trusted friend. To remain in the keeping of friends, and not to be
published to the world is, in our judgment, their proper destiny.

We are, however, much indebted to Mr. Tyerman for bringing to light the
letter in which Fletcher asked the consent of Miss Bosanquet's uncle
and trustee, Mr. Claudius Bosanquet, to his marriage with his niece. It
is a most important piece of autobiography. We have so far availed
ourselves of it in the course of this narrative that the whole need not
be given here. But the following will be read with interest:

     "It was soon after my ordination that I saw Miss Mary
     Bosanquet, your pious niece. I had resolved not to marry;
     but the sweetness of her temper, and her devotedness to God,
     made me think that if ever I broke through my resolution, it
     would be to cast my lot with one like her.

     "Not long after, at Mr. Hill's request, his nephew, Mr.
     Kinaston, member for Montgomery, presented me with the
     living of Madeley, a little market town in the county of
     Salop, worth about £100 _per annum_; and here I have chiefly
     lived, sequestered from the world, as your amiable niece has
     done at Leyton and at Cross Hall.

     "After having corresponded some years with her on various
     subjects, last spring, on my return from a journey to the
     continent, I ventured to mention to her my first thoughts
     about a closer union with her, thoughts which I had kept to
     myself for nearly twenty-five years. After maturely
     discussing the point, your pious niece has given me room to
     hope she will give me her hand, if you, sir, whom she
     honours as a father, give your consent to our union. I
     earnestly ask it, sir; and beg you will share the pleasure
     of uniting two persons who, from a remarkable agreement of
     taste, sentiments, and pursuits, as well as from a
     particular sympathy, seem formed for each other by the God
     of nature and of grace.

     "I wish, sir, I had a fortune equal to Miss Bosanquet's
     deserts; but I hope I have one suitable to her piety, and to
     the moderate wishes of that godliness which, together with
     contentment, is a great gain. I have only about £1500 worth
     of property in my native country, and about £400 or £500
     more in my parish, besides the income of my living, and a
     house much better than those with which most country
     clergymen are obliged to put up.

     "Whatever be your pious niece's fortune, I assure you, sir,
     I seek her person, not her property; and to convince you of
     it, I request before she gives me her hand, her whole
     fortune may be secured to her by a proper settlement."

The same day he wrote to Miss Bosanquet's brother:

     "Among the reasons which hindered me from making my
     addresses to your amiable sister, when first I felt that
     sympathy which binds my soul to hers, the superiority of her
     fortune was not the least. Since that time, debts, which
     unforeseen circumstances led her to contract, have
     considerably lessened that difficulty, and the prudent fear
     of contracting new ones seems to make it expedient for her
     to get into a state where she may, without difficulty and
     with propriety, bring her expensive housekeeping within
     narrower bounds. That end will at once be attained if she
     favours me with her hand."

The consent of Miss Bosanquet's relatives was readily and cordially
given. There was indeed no such disparity in the position and
circumstances of the two as could well be a ground of objection. Their
Methodist friends regarded their union as a peculiarly suitable one.
Wesley wrote to a friend at the time, "I should not have been willing
that Miss Bosanquet should have been joined to any other person than
Mr. Fletcher"; and later he said, "Miss Bosanquet was the only person
in England whom I judged to have been worthy of Mr. Fletcher." They
were married in Batley church, on November 12th, 1781. For nearly two
months after their marriage they continued to reside at Cross Hall. It
was desirable that Mrs. Fletcher's affairs should be settled before her
removal to Madeley, so an arrangement was made with Mr. Crosse, the
Vicar of Bradford, that he and Fletcher should exchange duty for a
while. The former went to Madeley, and Fletcher took charge of Mr.
Crosse's parish. On January 1st, 1782, he wrote to a friend in London:
"Strangely restored to health and strength (considering my years), I
have ventured to preach of late as often as I did formerly; and after
having read prayers and preached twice on Christmas Day, I did last
Sunday what I had never done, I continued doing duty from ten o'clock
in the morning till after four in the afternoon. This was owing to
christenings, churchings, and the sacrament, which I administered to a
church full of people, so that I was obliged to go from the communion
table to begin the evening service, and then to visit some sick. This
has brought back upon me one of my old, dangerous symptoms; so I have
flattered myself in vain that I should be able to do the whole duty of
my own parish. My dear wife is nursing me with the tenderest care,
gives me up to God with the greatest resignation, and helps me to
rejoice that life and death, health and sickness, work for our good,
and are all _ours_, as blessed means to forward us in our journey to

The following day Fletcher and his wife set out for Madeley.



On the first Sunday after bringing his wife to her new home, Fletcher
took her into the kitchen, where, according to hospitable custom, a
number of poor people were taking dinner between the morning and
afternoon services, and introduced her to them, saying, "I have not
married a wife for myself only, but for your sakes also." This was
true, both in his intention and in the result.

In marrying Miss Bosanquet, and bringing her to Madeley, Fletcher
conferred upon his parish a benefit second only to that of his own
life-devotion to its welfare. During the remainder of his ministry he
was sustained and supplemented in his labours by one whose
qualifications were, in their sphere, little inferior to his own. She
had been accustomed for many years to the direction of a large
household, to the training of children and young people, to ministering
to the sick and suffering. She understood the wants and ways of the
poor. In these and similar respects she was exceptionally fitted to be
the wife of a clergyman. The vicarage was no longer a hermitage; it was
a home, a centre to which many came for help and guidance, spiritual
and temporal, and from which innumerable ministries of kindness flowed
out on every side. But it was in the very highest aspects of her
husband's work that Mrs. Fletcher's co-operation was at once the most
complete and the most valuable. Her ministry could not confine itself
to the bodily and temporal welfare of the people. She too had a deep
and passionate longing for the salvation of souls. To lead her poor and
suffering to Christ was the one philanthropy, to which all other
charities were as nothing. Toward all kinds of need her heart was full
of pity, and her hand quick in bounty; but it was for the soul in each,
the soul redeemed by the infinite love of God, and called to the
possession of an unspeakably glorious salvation in Christ, that she was
most profoundly moved. Sin was the one evil; salvation the one
blessing; Christ the one Saviour. This conviction, burning with a pure,
steady light and heat, ruled her work from first to last. Fletcher
found in her, not only a loving wife, but a kindred spirit. They viewed
personal religion under the same aspects; they were likeminded in their
belief concerning the "salvation to the uttermost" that is procured by
Christ, and administered by the Holy Spirit. The instinct that speaks
of "the saintly Fletcher" gives the same designation to his wife. With
her, as with him, Christian perfection--a term which many theological
systems will not admit, and the majority of Christians persistently
shun--was a chosen watchword. Their letters, journals, and devotional
writings, and the lives they were enabled to live, show that for them
"death unto sin and life unto God in Jesus Christ" was, not merely
"forensic," an "imputation," with nothing corresponding to it in the
sphere of experience, but included entire consecration to God, and the
unhindered indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In aspiration, profession,
life, the same high utterance was repeated in different but harmonious
notes--"perfect in Christ"; always laying more stress upon "in Christ"
than upon "perfect," yet not shrinking from that term, as having New
Testament authority and significance.

For thirty years after Fletcher's death his widow was to remain in
Madeley, a presence and a power for good; and it is this part of her
life and labours by which she is chiefly remembered. There are, indeed,
few pictures, in modern Christian history at least, more impressive
than that in which she is the central figure, a saintly woman of great
and varied gifts, in whom Quaker-like calmness and self-control were
joined with Methodist fervour, for a whole generation a preacher of the
gospel and a witness for Christ among the people of Madeley and the
neighbourhood. The following description of her labours was written by
an eye-witness[13] of them:

     "Surviving her husband many years, she lived a 'widow
     indeed,' doing good to all around her, and winning the
     veneration and love of rich and poor, not only in the
     village and parish of Madeley, and in the adjoining
     parishes, but in all places where she was known, and to
     which the fame of her piety and charity had extended. The
     rector, not only allowed her to remain in the vicarage house
     undisturbed during life, but allowed her to choose the
     curate by whom the duties of the living were to be
     performed, assigning as his reason that she knew better than
     himself what would suit and benefit the parishioners.
     Besides exercising publicly, at stated times, in the
     vicarage room, she occasionally visited Madeley Wood,
     Coalbrookdale, Coalport, and other places more distant, at
     which times the chapels were usually crowded with delighted
     and profited hearers. To her house the itinerant preachers
     continued to come to the end of her earthly sojourn. Here
     they always found a hearty welcome and a delightful home.
     Several lovely societies were formed, others were augmented,
     hundreds of souls were converted, Christian believers were
     edified and blessed, the fruit of Mr. Fletcher's ministry
     was preserved, and Madeley became the _rendezvous_ for
     religious persons and purposes--a privileged, honoured
     place--a sort of Christian Jerusalem. It was not uncommon to
     see two, three, or more clergymen, pious and able men, from
     neighbouring and even distant parishes, among the
     congregation at her week-night lectures. On the Sabbath, the
     pious people living at the distance of from one to four
     miles from Madeley usually arrived in time for her morning
     meeting, at nine o'clock; and, from thence, they went to the
     parish church, close at hand. At noon, respectable
     strangers, visiting Madeley for religious purposes, were
     usually invited to dine with her at the vicarage; the poor
     living too far off to allow them to return from their own
     houses for the after services of the day partook, if so
     disposed, of her hospitalities in the vicarage kitchen;
     others, having brought their provisions with them, were
     seen, in fine weather, in little companies in the fields,
     engaged in heavenly conversation and prayer; and others had,
     in an apartment to themselves, a cheap family dinner
     provided at the village inn. On the ringing of a bell, at
     one o'clock all assembled at Mrs. Fletcher's meeting, when
     she was accustomed to read the life of some eminently holy
     man, and make remarks upon it; then they adjourned to the
     church for the afternoon service there and sermon; after
     which they repaired to their respective homes, and attended
     their own meeting-houses, at one or other of which the
     curate of Madeley officiated every Sabbath evening, as well
     as occasionally on the week-days, always announcing at the
     close of the afternoon service in the church the chapel in
     which he would preach that evening. This plan was adopted by
     Mr. Fletcher, and was followed by his evangelical and pious
     successors for upwards of forty years."

Returning now to the story of Fletcher's life, we feel that there was
"something like prophetic strain" in the words with which he introduced
his wife to his people: "I have not married a wife for myself only, but
for your sakes also."

Soon after their settlement at Madeley they had a short visit from
Wesley. It was near the end of March, but the rough, deep roads were
blocked with snow, and it required four horses to drag his chaise from
Bridgenorth. Wesley preached twice to crowded congregations, and
assisted Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher to form a Christian society. Probably
this part of Fletcher's work had been injured by his long absence, as
we find frequent mention of such societies in the parish several years
before. He lamented the decay of these means of grace, and sought
Wesley's help in reviving them. This was a matter in which Wesley had
unique authority and influence. In the afternoon service he therefore
"enforced the necessity of Christian fellowship on all who desired
either to awake or keep awake. He then desired those who were willing
to join together for this purpose to call upon him and Mr. Fletcher
after service. Ninety-four or ninety-five persons did so; about as many
men as women. They explained to them the nature of a Christian society,
and they willingly joined therein."

Three months later, Mrs. Fletcher wrote to Wesley: "The people you
joined when here are, I trust, coming forward. I have not conversed
with the men, but the women are more in number than at that time, ...
and on the whole there is a good increase of freedom and liberty in our

"My dear Mr. Fletcher spares no pains; I know not which is greater, his
earnest desire for souls, or his patience in bearing with their
infirmities and dulness. His preaching is exceeding lively; and our
sacraments are more like those in the chapels of London than any I have
seen since I left it. Yet I find a great difference between the people
here and those in Yorkshire."

Mrs. Fletcher accompanied her husband in his preaching excursions and
visits to the religious societies within reach. She rode with him
through the rain, and stood by his side, "where there was neither house
nor church to cover them," while he preached to a large congregation
who listened with "Yorkshire attention." It was not all smooth and easy
work even now, among the ruder and more ignorant part of the people. On
one occasion he writes: "I got many a hearty curse from the colliers
for the plain words I spoke.... Had I searched the three kingdoms, I
could not have found one brother willing to share gratis my weal, woe,
and labours, and complaisant enough to unite his fortunes to mine; but
God has found me a partner, _a sister_, _a wife_, to use St. Paul's
language, who is not afraid to face with me the colliers and bargemen
of my parish until death part us."

The organization of Sunday schools was, at this time, being warmly
taken up by the Methodists, and by many of the clergy. Raikes
established the first of his Sunday schools in Gloucester in the year
1781; but a Miss Hannah Ball, of High Wycombe, a member of the
Methodist society, had established one in 1769, and probably there were
also others. Though Wesley had nothing to do with originating them, he
early perceived in them a great promise and possibility of good, and
encouraged their formation throughout his societies. His "Journal" has
this reference to them: "_July 18th, 1784._ I find these schools
springing up wherever I go. Perhaps God may have a deeper end therein
than men are aware of. Who knows but some of these schools may become
nurseries for Christians?" At Bolton, three or four years later, he met
"between nine hundred and a thousand of the children belonging to our
Sunday-schools. I never saw such a sight before. They were all exactly
clean, as well as plain, in their apparel. All were serious and
well-behaved. Many, both boys and girls, had as beautiful faces as, I
believe, England or Europe can afford. When they all sang together, and
none of them out of tune, the melody was beyond that of any theatre;
and what is the best of all, many of them truly fear God, and some
rejoice in His salvation."

In common with Wesley, Fletcher was much impressed with the
Sunday-school system as it was developing throughout the country. For
some years he had maintained a day school, but he now entered
vigorously upon the work of organizing Sunday schools. He issued an
address to his people setting forth the evils arising from the
profanation of the Lord's day, and from neglecting to educate children
in the principles and practice of religion. He referred to the vices by
which society was degraded and injured, and asked if nothing could be
done to check these growing evils. After noticing the example set in
Stroud, Gloucester, Birmingham, Manchester, and many country parishes,
he described a plan for establishing Sunday schools in the parish of
Madeley. He proposed that the children should be taught reading,
writing, and the principles of religion; that each teacher should be
paid one shilling per Sunday; that inspectors should be appointed to
visit the schools, to see that the children attended regularly, and the
masters did their duty; that the schools be solemnly visited once or
twice a year, and a premium given to the children that have made the
greatest improvement. On these proposals, subsequently modified and
developed, Sunday schools were established in Madeley, and another
powerful agency for benefiting his parishioners was brought into

The labours of many years had, indeed, begun to tell, not only on
individuals, but on the general tone and character of the community.
Vice was checked and restrained; the people were better disposed
towards religion; the standard of morals was raised; the conversion of
notorious evil doers made its impression upon the conscience of the
careless and profane; something like a general reformation had taken
place in the parish, and the progress of religion and morality was now
further aided by the regular religious instruction of the young. Love
for children was characteristic of Fletcher all through life. He was
never happier than when amongst them. Before his Sunday-school was
opened, he used to meet some two or three hundred of them on a Thursday
evening, and he continued to do so to the very week in which his last
illness began. As a result of this, a loving remembrance of him
remained in the neighbourhood where he had lived much longer than is
usually the case, even with the best of men. The image of his person
and character, stamped upon the hearts of children, was found sixty,
seventy years afterwards, in the hearts of aged men and women.

Among the young people over whom Fletcher exercised a powerful and
lasting influence was Melville Horne, who was introduced to him when
seventeen years of age. At their first interview a deep impression was
made upon the youth's mind, and he afterwards sought every opportunity
of being in Fletcher's company. At the vicarage he came to be treated
almost as a son. He subsequently received ordination, and, upon
Fletcher's death, became curate of Madeley. When far advanced in life
he would refer with deep feeling to his early intercourse with
Fletcher. He says: "I know not which most to venerate, his public or
private character. Grave and dignified in his deportment and manners,
he yet excelled in all the courtesies and attentions of the
accomplished gentleman. In every company he appeared as the least, the
last, and the servant of all. From head to foot he was clothed with
humility; while the heavenly-mindedness of an angel shone from his
countenance, and sparkled in his eyes. His religion was without labour
and without effort, for Christianity was, not only his great business,
but his very element and nature. As a mortal man, he doubtless had his
errors and failings; but what they were, they who knew him best would
find it difficult to say, for he appeared as an instrument of heavenly
minstrelsy, attuned to the Master's touch.... In every view, he was a
great man, and entitled to rank in the very first class of ministers;
but it was his _goodness_ that raised him above all the ministers of
his day."

In August, 1783, Fletcher and his wife visited Ireland. They had
received a pressing invitation from the Methodists of Dublin to come
over and spend a few weeks there, and help them in the good work. As
long as it seemed possible to decline the invitation they had done so;
but the requests were so urgent that it seemed to them at last that
this was a call from God. Fletcher's health at the time was not good,
and on various grounds they both shrank from so long and formidable a
journey; but the conviction that it was God's will settled the matter.
On the day they set out they rode to Shrewsbury, paying a tribute of
love and reverence to the memory of Richard Baxter as they passed
through the village of Eaton Constantine, his early home. The next day
they reached Llangollen, where, for want of a change of horses, they
were detained for the night. A few persons who could understand English
came together next morning, and Fletcher preached to them before
resuming his journey.

They remained about six weeks in Dublin, and their labours were made a
great blessing to many. Fletcher preached with his accustomed unction
and power. His host, a gentleman of position and influence in the city,
applied to the rector of the parish in which he lived to allow Mr.
Fletcher to preach in his church, and this was immediately granted. The
church was crowded to excess. The congregation was greatly moved; but
when it became known that he had preached on the evening of the same
day at the Methodist chapel, all the churches were at once closed
against him, with the exception of the Huguenot French church. Here he
preached, both in French and in English. Even when he preached in
French, people who could not understand a word would be present. "We go
to look at him," they said, "for heaven seems to beam from his
countenance." In addition to his public labours Fletcher met the
members of the society in private, and exhorted and counselled them to
their great comfort. Mrs. Fletcher met the classes of women. A great
revival of religion followed. The Methodist society increased in
numbers from about five hundred persons to upwards of a thousand, and
the spiritual life of many was deepened and enriched.

When Fletcher was about to leave them the grateful people pressed him
to accept a sum of money in payment of his expenses. This he entirely
refused to accept, until being pressed in such a manner that further
refusal seemed impossible, he consented to receive it on condition that
he might dispose of it as he pleased. To this they readily agreed, and
every penny of it was given to their own poor people before Fletcher
and his wife left Dublin. A letter warmly thanking them for "your
labour of love in crossing the sea to visit us, and your spending body
and soul for our profit while among us," was signed by one hundred and
fifty-one members of the Dublin Methodist society, and sent after them
to Madeley. The passage from Dublin to Holyhead was a stormy one, but
they reached their home at last in peace.

Fletcher attended one more Conference with Wesley and his preachers. It
was held in Leeds in July, 1784. The great Methodist leader was now in
his eighty-second year. He wrote to a friend: "When I was young I had
weak eyes, trembling hands, and abundance of infirmities. But, by the
blessing of God, I have outlived them all." He laboured as hard as
ever. In one respect only he spared himself; instead of riding on
horseback he now made use of a travelling carriage. He still considered
preaching at five o'clock in the morning the healthiest exercise in the
world. He was able to preach three times a day, and address large
crowds out of doors, and, when making his way to Inverness, could
trudge through heavy rain twelve miles on foot. In every part of
England, and very widely in Ireland and Scotland, he was better known
than any other public man, and, with few exceptions, universally
respected and loved. The nation had come to be proud of him. His
appearance was venerable and beautiful in the extreme. The people
flocked to see, as well as to hear him. He was saluted in the streets
as he passed along, and children would run and kneel before him to
receive his blessing.

Wesley had particular reasons for inviting Fletcher to attend the
Conference. It was an anxious time with him. He had recently executed
an important deed--known as the Deed of Declaration,--in which he had
named one hundred of his preachers to constitute the legal Conference
after his death. In this body of preachers, which had power to fill up
all vacancies in its number, was vested all legal authority requisite
for the admission and expulsion of preachers, the appointment of
preachers to their stations; and, in various other respects, the
Conference was invested with the powers hitherto possessed and
exercised by Wesley himself. This deed has proved a firm foundation for
the polity of the Methodists to this day. It underlies and sustains the
various developments that have since taken place. It has been called
Methodism's Magna Charta. Wesley himself deemed it "a foundation likely
to stand as long as the sun and moon endure."

But it was not established without difficulty. There were heartburnings
amongst the preachers. Of those who were not included in the "legal
hundred" some were grieved, others were indignant. They could not
understand on what principle Wesley had made his selection. They
resented the preference shown to some, and the passing over of others
among their brethren. Many of the trustees were alarmed, thinking that
their powers in respect of the chapel property were imperilled. The
unity of the Methodist connexion was seriously threatened, and the
approaching Conference was anticipated with much anxiety. When the
Conference assembled, Wesley proved himself once more equal to the
occasion. His tact, his wise reasonableness, his weight of character,
his transparent good faith prevailed, but it was well that he was
sustained in such a crisis by the presence of Fletcher. In prospect of
a heated controversy, all hope of a happy issue lay in calling forth
what was deepest and best in the good men who had come together.
Wesley knew that beneath the irritation and resentment of the hour was
a depth of Christian principle to which appeal might hopefully be made.

On the Sunday evening before the opening of the Conference the
congregation that assembled to hear Wesley was so much larger than the
chapel could contain, that they adjourned to a neighbouring field,
where Wesley preached a sermon on the judgment day. Early next morning
Fletcher was the preacher, and his text was, "Ye are the salt of the
earth." Morning and evening, during the session of the Conference,
there was a sermon by Wesley, Fletcher, or one of the more eminent
preachers. At the sacramental service Wesley was assisted by Fletcher,
Coke, and other clergymen. In a sermon on "the man of God who was
disobedient to the word of the Lord," Fletcher drew such a picture of
the degradation and misery of a backsliding minister, and of the injury
he inflicted upon the Church of Christ, as produced a deep and general
sensation. One of his hearers reports: "I was extremely impressed with
the whole service; the shadow of the Divine presence was seen among us,
and His going forth was in our sanctuary."

The debate on the Deed of Declaration was the sharpest the Conference
had ever known. Fletcher was greatly affected. Before the first streak
of dawn his wife heard him praying fervently for the peace and
prosperity of Zion, and when she gently urged him to go to rest, he
answered, "The cause of God lies near my heart." During the discussion
Fletcher "took much pains,"--to use Wesley's words. This matter-of-fact
expression conveys little notion of the tender, impassioned way in
which Fletcher laboured to heal the strife and prevent a schism.
"Never," says a preacher who was present, "shall I forget the ardour
and earnestness with which Mr. Fletcher expostulated, even on his
knees, both with Mr. Wesley and the preachers. To the former he said,
'My father! my father! they have offended; but they are your children!'
To the latter he exclaimed, 'My brethren! my brethren! he is your
father!' And then, pourtraying the work in which they were unitedly
engaged, he fell again on his knees, and with fervour and devotion
engaged in prayer. The Conference was bathed in tears, many sobbed

At the close of the Conference Fletcher returned to Madeley, and
resumed his quiet, pastoral life. Even yet Wesley was not quite
satisfied at Fletcher's "hiding his light under a bushel" in his
country parish. But the Vicar of Madeley knew his vocation, and abided
by it. He wrote to his friend Mr. Ireland: "I keep in my sentry-box
till Providence remove me; my situation is quite suited to my little
strength. I may do as much or as little as I please, according to my
weakness. And I have an advantage which I can have nowhere else in such
a degree: my little field of action is just at my door; so that if I
happen to overdo myself, I have but a step from my pulpit to my bed,
and from my bed to my grave.... The snail does best in its shell; were
it to aim at galloping, like the racehorse, it would be ridiculous
indeed. My wife is quite of my mind with respect to the call we have to
a sedentary life."

Among the latest acquaintances made by Fletcher was that with Charles
Simeon, of Cambridge, then a young and zealous clergyman just coming
into note, and afterwards, for so long a period, the leader of the
Evangelical party in the university. Simeon preached in Madeley church,
Fletcher himself previously going through the village, bell in hand, to
announce that a young clergyman from Cambridge was about to preach, and
urging the people to come to the church.

It does not appear that there was at this time any noticeable failure
of strength, or appearance of dangerous symptoms; but, in truth, his
hold of life was very feeble, his vital force was almost spent. It was
often in his thoughts that death was near. Life had never been so sweet
to him as it was now; but death too,

     "Dear, beauteous death, the jewel of the just,"

was none the less the crowning mercy for which he waited. To few men
has death been so disarmed beforehand as to Fletcher.

Among the Evangelical leaders there was now, indeed, a swift succession
of departures. These "companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and
patience of Jesus Christ," were [Greek: epekteinomenoi], "reaching
forth unto" that which was before them, and one after another
"attained," and was made perfect. Early in May, 1785, Vincent Perronet,
the venerable Vicar of Shoreham, died in the ninety-second year of his
age. Charles Wesley buried him, and preached his funeral sermon. He
himself was, in much feebleness, awaiting his summons, and asked for
Fletcher's prayers, saying, "Help me to depart in peace." He had yet
three years to wait for his release.

It has been supposed that the letter, dated May 24th, 1785, in which
these words occur, was the last that Fletcher received from his old and
faithful friend. We are able, however, to supply a hitherto unpublished
letter four weeks later in date, which is, pretty certainly, the last
of the series. As will be seen, it consists in reality of three
letters, one to Mrs. Fletcher, one to her and her husband conjointly,
and one to Fletcher alone. They are written, however, continuously, on
one sheet of paper. The fears and forebodings to which he gives
expression are familiar to all who are acquainted with the history of
Methodism. It will be remembered that the question of a successor to
Wesley had been mentioned several years before; Charles Wesley joining
with his brother in designating Fletcher to that office, and Fletcher
declining it, and urging in return that, in the event of John Wesley's
decease, the leadership must naturally devolve upon Charles. The latter
had now made up his mind that nothing could save the Methodist
societies from falling to pieces as soon as he and his brother should
be removed, events that could not be far distant.

                                    "LONDON, _June 21st, 1785_.


     "If you are weary of writing, I much more, who have almost
     lost the use of my hand and eyes. You owe _me_ no thanks for
     _my_ care of you. The care of all the Churches has lain upon
     my brother.

     "We agree in our 'willingness to be hid and forgotten.'
     Surely I have been _thrust out_ into the harvest. If I am
     saved, let my memorial perish.

     "When we get to the other side we shall know all; till then
     our life must continue a mystery.

     "Your partner was certainly given to the prayers of the
     people; therefore he is their debtor so long as he lives.

     "Don't you know poets are all envious? Yet you challenge me,
     who never ventured at an acrostic in all my life.

     "If you saw 'Sam in the cradle,' you saw him in his best
     estate. One out of them has some desire of salvation, but
     she seeks rather than strives.

     "My wife and I are quite willing 'to come and see you at
     Madeley,' but our way is hid. It is most probable that if we
     ever meet again, it should be in London or Bristol. Let us
     help each other by our prayers at least. You will not, I
     know, forget your old, useless, but still affectionate
     servant and friend,

                                             "C. W.

     "This side is for you _both_.

     "I trust you are resigned (after mine and my brother's
     departure) to gather up the wreck. Be sure the sheep will be
     scattered. All the beasts of the forest are waiting for
     them. Many will find shelter among the Moravians; many will
     turn to the Calvinists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and
     Quakers. Most, I hope, will return to the bosom of their
     mother, the Church of England. Not one, but several sects
     will arise, _and Methodism will be broken into a thousand

     "It is impossible for you to know _now_, or to divine, or to
     conjecture what you are intended for. Therefore the less you
     think about it the better, for we penetrate, we prophesy, in
     vain. You must stand still, and see the design and the
     salvation of God.

     "Had I a sufficient body, I would strive to visit you, that
     we might compare our thoughts. So far I _can_ see, that the
     Lord is preparing His people for some great event. But who
     shall live when the Lord doth this? I am far entered on my
     last stage, and expect every month to be my last. Providence
     (if you survive me) will call you to this place. My widow
     can tell you my mind, if worth your knowing, and show you my
     posthumous papers, if worth your seeing.

     "Pray on, and help to a peaceful end, my beloved friends,

                                    "Your faithful Brother,

                                             "C. W.

     "TO MR. J. F.

     "'Spared to keep the people,' says my dear friend? _Sed quis
     custodiet ipsos custodes?_ The longer our time, the greater
     our danger of failing. I have always feared for myself that
     I should live a little too long. Now I fear it for my
     brethren also.

     "Be not too sanguine for the American Methodists. _First_,
     know their _real_ condition. You justly fear that _our_
     Methodists should get into the prelatical spirit. I fear the
     fanatical spirit also. I cannot explain this in writing.

     "You think I know nothing about the peace; I think you know
     nothing about it. Yet I wish your poem a good sale.[14]

     "Happy would Sally be to die like her god-sister. I am not
     without hope that she will live to be a Christian. She
     presents her duty. We all join in love. I _need_ no
     invitation to Madeley. While I had strength I wanted
     opportunity. Now I have neither."

For two or three years longer this question, 'What was to become of the
Methodists after Wesley's death,' continued to exercise his brother
Charles. Perhaps some anxiety would have been spared him had he acted
more upon the advice he gave to Fletcher: "The less you think about it
the better, for we penetrate, we prophesy, in vain. You must stand
still, and see the design, the salvation of God." To this he seems
finally to have come, for in one of his last letters to his brother he
says: "Keep your authority while you live; and, after your death,
_detur digniori_, or rather, _dignioribus_. You cannot settle the
succession; you cannot divine how God will settle it." Meanwhile, so
far as Fletcher was concerned, he had little to learn, even from his
dearest friend and counsellor, as to waiting for the Lord. No man was
ever less inclined to "penetrate or prophesy." Whether he lived, he
lived unto the Lord; whether he died, he died unto the Lord; living or
dying, he was the Lord's. No room was left for anxiety about the

The summer of 1785 was an unhealthy one at Madeley. There was a good
deal of fever about, "a bad, putrid fever," and Fletcher and his wife
were much engaged among the sick. Two persons died within a few yards
of the vicarage. Mrs. Fletcher visited them in their illness, and took
the fever. "Now," she says, "I had a fresh instance of the tender care
and love of my blessed partner; sickness was made pleasant by his kind
attention." During this illness many thoughts passed through her mind
for which she could scarcely account. Something seemed to tell her that
she must yet drink deeper of the cup. She adds, "My dear husband and I
are led to offer ourselves to do and suffer all the will of God." The
time was fast approaching when this submission to the will of God was
to have its crowning test.

On Thursday, August 4th, Fletcher was busy amongst his flock from three
in the afternoon till nine at night. On returning home he said, "I have
taken cold." During the two following days he went about much as usual,
though with some difficulty. On Saturday night he was very feverish,
and his wife begged him not to go to church in the morning, but to let
one of the Methodist preachers who was staying with them preach in the
churchyard; but he replied that it was the will of the Lord that he
should go. The morning came, and he began the service at the usual
hour. While reading the prayers he almost fainted. His wife pressed
through the crowd, and entreated him to leave the reading-desk and come
home. In his gentle manner he bade her let him go on. The windows were
opened, and he seemed a little refreshed as he proceeded with the
service. When prayers were ended he ascended the pulpit, and gave out
his text, "How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the
children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings." After
the sermon he went up the aisle to the communion table, saying, "I am
going to throw myself under the wings of the cherubim, before the
mercy-seat." The congregation was large, and the service lasted till
nearly two o'clock. He was often obliged to stop for want of power to
speak. The people were deeply affected; nearly all were in tears.

As soon as the service was over he was hurried away to bed, and
immediately fainted. During the three following days he was restless in
body, but in mind alternately calm, and filled with holy joy. Again and
again he would say, "God is love, God is love." His symptoms were still
thought to be not unfavourable. On Thursday, the 11th, his speech began
to fail, but when he could say nothing else to be understood, he would
repeat "God is love." The next day his faithful wife felt a sword
pierce through her soul as she found his body covered with spots. She
knelt by his bed, with her hand in his, and entreated the Lord to be
with them both. On the afternoon of Saturday he stretched out his hand
to each of the friends who stood around him. His wife said to him: "My
dear, I ask not for myself, but for the sake of others; if Jesus is
very present with thee, lift thy right hand." He did so. She added, "If
the prospect of glory opens before thee, repeat the sign." He raised
his hand again; and, in half a minute, a second time.

The end was fast drawing near. It was Sunday evening, and the church
was filled with a weeping congregation offering up their prayers for
their dying pastor. At the conclusion of the service the people
lingered about the vicarage, and seemed unable to go to their homes.
Many of them were admitted to the house, and allowed to pass by the
open door of his room, where they could see him, propped up with
pillows in his bed. His countenance continued unaltered, but his
weakness perceptibly increased. He sank into a kind of sleep, and at
half-past ten o'clock on Sunday night, August 14th, 1785, Fletcher of
Madeley breathed his last, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days afterwards he was buried in Madeley churchyard amid the
tears and lamentations of his people.

The inscription on his tombstone was written by his widow. A longer and
more detailed epitaph, from the pen of Richard Watson, in City Road
Chapel, sets forth his character and labours. Fletcher of Madeley will
continue to be remembered for what he did, but still more for what he
was. "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance."

       *       *       *       *       *


[Footnote 1: "The English Church in the Eighteenth Century." By C. J.
Abbey and J. H. Overton. Vol. ii., p. 113.]

[Footnote 2: MOZLEY: "Theory of Development," p. 141.]

[Footnote 3: GLEDSTONE: "Life of Whitefield," p. 304.]

[Footnote 4: An expression in one of Fletcher's letters to Charles
Wesley, written in 1759, is noteworthy in connexion with the
ecclesiastical development of Methodism. He speaks of "the Methodist
Church." Is not this the earliest instance of the use of this term?]

[Footnote 5: I am indebted to the Rev. George Mather for the
opportunity of examining the documents relating to Fletcher's
ordination, license, induction, &c. They are as follows:

     1. Deacon's orders, March 6th, 1757, Bishop of Hereford.

     2. Priest's orders, March 13th, 1757, Bishop of Bangor.

     3. License to the curacy of Madeley, March 14th, 1757,
        Bishop of Hereford.

     4. Presentation to vicarage of Madeley, October 4th, 1760.

     5. Institution to vicarage of Madeley, October 7th, 1760.

     6. Mandate for induction, October 7th, 1760.

     7. Certificate of Fletcher's conforming to the Liturgy,
        October 7th, 1760.

     8. Certificate of subscribing to the Thirty-nine Articles,
        October 7th, 1760.

     9. Certificate, signed by two parishioners, stating that on
        Lord's day, October 26th, 1760, John Fletcher, Vicar of
        Madeley, had read prayers, and declared his unfeigned assent
        and consent, &c., dated December 1st, 1760.

These documents are all in good condition, and the signatures perfectly
fresh and clear.]

[Footnote 6: Published in a sermon preached on the occasion of the
death of Fletcher's widow in 1816, by the Rev. John Hodson, who had the
incident from "a pious woman who for many years was intimately
acquainted with Mr. Fletcher." Quoted from Tyerman's "Life of

[Footnote 7: The characteristic of Fletcher's letters which we consider
their greatest blemish is the frequent spiritualizing of common facts
and incidents. We will illustrate our meaning. His friend Mr. Ireland
had sent him a hamper of wine, and some cloth to be made into a suit of
clothes. In acknowledging the present, he says: "Your broadcloth can
lap me round two or three times; but the mantle of Divine love, the
precious fine robe of Jesus's righteousness, can cover your soul a
thousand times. The cloth, fine and good as it is, will not keep out a
hard shower; but that garment of salvation will keep out even a shower
of brimstone and fire. Your cloth will wear out; but that fine linen,
the righteousness of saints, will appear with a finer lustre the more
it is worn. The moth may fret your present, or the tailor may spoil it
in cutting it; but the present which Jesus has made you is out of reach
of the spoiler, and ready for present wear." These comparisons are
pursued considerably further, and then the other part of Mr. Ireland's
present has its turn. "As I shall take a little of your wine for my
stomach's sake, take you a good deal of the wine of the kingdom for
your soul's sake. Every promise of the gospel is a bottle, a cask that
has a spring within, and can never be exhausted. Draw the cork of
unbelief, and drink abundantly. Be not afraid of intoxication; and if
an inflammation follows, it will only be that of Divine love."

On another, but similar, occasion he writes to his good friend, "I want
the living water rather than cider, and righteousness more than

These are not the extremest instances that Fletcher's letters afford of
his habit of "spiritualising." It is plain that no suspicion of
anything incongruous in his comparisons ever crossed his mind. Happy
the man of whom it can be said that the only quality in which he is
deficient is a sense of humour!

Wesley's remark upon this characteristic of Fletcher's style is: "This
facility of raising useful observations from the most trifling
incidents was one of those peculiarities in him which cannot be
proposed to our imitation.... What was becoming and graceful in Mr.
Fletcher would be disgustful almost in any other."]

[Footnote 8: In Archdeacon Pratt's "Eclectic Notes," pp. 185-189, there
is an interesting discussion of one of the questions referred to above,
viz. the advantages and disadvantages of religious societies. Mr. Venn
is quoted as saying, "Dr. Woodward's societies were the first we read
of. They might have existed to this day, had not Mr. Wesley's arisen."]

[Footnote 9: More than half a century afterwards, when all the parties
to this controversy had passed away, and time had given opportunity for
a calm estimate of the whole matter, Mr. Watson, at once the most
competent and the most reverential of Wesley's biographers, expressed
himself as follows, concerning the "Minutes" of 1770: "That there were
passages calculated to awaken suspicion, and that they gave the
appearance of inconsistency to Mr. Wesley's opinions, and indicated a
tendency to run to one extreme in order to avoid another--an error
which Mr. Wesley more generally avoided than most men,--cannot be

"Mr. Wesley acknowledged that the 'minutes' were 'not sufficiently
guarded.' This must be felt by all; they were out of his usual manner
of expressing himself, and he had said the same truths often, in a
clearer, and safer, and even stronger manner. He certainly did not mean
to alter his previous opinions, or formally to adopt other terms in
which to express them, and therefore to employ new modes of speaking,
though for a temporary purpose, was not without danger, although they
were capable of an innocent explanation."]

[Footnote 10: "Wesley's Designated Successor," pp. 177-179.]

[Footnote 11: Referring to the death of Whitefield in 1770.]

[Footnote 12: "Wesley's Designated Successor," p. 487.]

[Footnote 13: Rev. W. Tranter, _Methodist Magazine_, 1837, p. 903.]

[Footnote 14: Fletcher had written a poem in French on the peace which,
in January, 1783, had been concluded with America, France, and Spain.
At the time of Charles Wesley's letter, an English version of it, by
the Rev. J. Gilpin, was in the press. It appeared shortly after
Fletcher's death.]

       *       *       *       *       *


EXTRACTS from Fletcher's manuscript "Book of Devotions," referred to on
p. 38.


     Contemplare Dei Natum, legesque benignas;
     Omnia te Christi vita docere potest.

     Appage te mea mens absisque philautia longè,
     Filius ipse Dei sua nunquam vota secutus.
     Ut mea vota Deo mactarem, se duce, lætus
     Sponte sua summo paruit patri inter olivas.

     Porcina qui quærit Divina solamina perdit.
     Ne dapium ventrisque tui mala gaudia quæras;
     Mens tibi pura nequit saturato ventre vigere.
     Cibus enim nimius Divinæ particulam auræ
     Certo affigit humi Coelique afflamine privat.

     Ne doleas si pauper habes seu scommata mundi,
     Seu risus hominum titulos et prædia sola;
     Pauper cum Christus vilique a plebe jocatus
     In turpi ligno vitam componat amaram.


     Dæmona ne dubita te certo vincere posse,
     Hunc tunc haud dubio Christo auxiliante fugabis.
     Ne ruas in vetitum, brevis est et fluxa Libido:
     Sperne Voluptatem, dirum ponè linquit acumen.
     Crede mihi, Satanæ minimam ne cedito partem;
     Fortiter ac subito plagam repelle priorem.
     Numinis auxilium precibus rogato benignis.
     In cruce pro culpis morientem cernito Jesum.
     Coelestes palmas, et Tartara dira memento.
     Offert judicium cita mors, hilaremque triumphum.
     Viribus indomitis, rigidisque resistito membris
     Dæmonis impetibus; Christus hunc _appage_ vicit.
     Vivida sit fides, te certa corona manebit.

There is no need either to point out, or to apologize for, the
shortcomings of Fletcher's Latin verses. They are little more than
private memoranda for use in prayer and meditation, written in Latin,
perhaps, as a kind of cipher. The following resolutions are

     "Hæc Deo juvante facere decerno.

     3 edere die. quod ubi primum violaverim, pauperibus b. asses
     dandi et venia per horam petenda erit, nullo fulcro utens.

     Pueros nunquam ob doctrinam castigare, sub eâdem poenâ.

     Precans nunquam jacere, sed stare vel genu flectere."

This may be translated:

     These things, God helping me, I determine:

     To take food three times a day; for a breach of this rule,
     twopence to be given to the poor, and pardon to be implored
     for an hour, using no bodily support.

     Never to punish the boys for their lessons, under the same

     Never to lie down while engaged in prayer, but stand or


     Heureux qui n'a point de désir,
     Heureux qui se fait violence,
     Qui se prive des vains plaisirs,
     Et se plaît dans la dépendance.
     Heureux l'homme de bonne foi,
     Simple, sage, plein d'innocence,
     Qui, toujours sévère pour soi,
     Pour son prochain est rempli de clémence.

     Heureux qui chérit le silence,
     Qui ne parle que utilement,
     Et se repose uniquement
     Sur la Divine Providence.

     Heureux qui connaissant son extrême indigence
     L'expose au ciel incessamment,
     Et qui de son Dieu seulement
     Attend toute son assistance.
     Heureux qui n'a rien d'affecté,
     Heureux l'homme sans volonté,
     Et qui, vide de lui même,
     Est tout plein du vrai Dieu qu'il aime.

     Heureux qui penétré des besoins du prochain
     Lui partage son coeur, son Esprit, et son pain.
     Heureux celui qui l'édifie.
     Heureux celui qu'on humilie,
     Et qui sait profiter de ses abaissements.
     Heureux qui n'a jamais de vertus chimériques,
     Et qui chérit ses domestiques
     Comme s'ils étaient ses enfants.
     Heureux qui ne va point par des routes obliques,
     Heureux, plus heureux qu'on ne croit,
     Qui marche constamment dans le chemin étroit.
     Heureux qui par ses soins, par son économie,
     Sait amasser pour l'autre vie,
     Et ménager si bien ses précieux moments
     Qu'il n'en pert pas un seul en vains amusements.
     Heureux qui se voit sans attache,
     Qui se fait petit, qui se cache,
     Et qui ne suit jamais ses propres mouvements.
     Heureux qui sur la grace uniquement se fonde,
     Qui sait, et ne croit rien savoir.
     Qui peut, et qui n'a du pouvoir,
     Que pour obliger tout le monde.
     Heureux celui qui du Sauveur
     S'Efforce d'être la copie.
     Heureux celui de qui le coeur
     Goute la parole de vie.
     Heureux qui sait aimer, craindre, croire, espérer,
     Comme le fait un vrai fidèle.
     Heureux qui sait persévérer,
     Et soumettre a l'esprit une chair si rebelle.
     Heureux l'homme nouveau, qui souvent dans son coeur
     Trouve une utile, douce, et sainte solitude,
     Et qui fait toute son étude
     De la croix de son Rédempteur.
     Heureux le grand sans tyrannie;
     Heureux le petit sans envie;
     Heureux l'homme toujours égal,
     Qui ne pense d'autrui ni ne dit aucun mal.
     Heureux qui gémit et qui prie
     Pour le prochain comme pour soi,
     Et qui sent pour le vice une horreur infinie.
     Heureux qui se fait une loi
     De son devoir qu'il aime, et qu'il veut toujours suivre.
     Heureux qui souffre tout et ne fait rien souffrir;
     Heureux celui qui sait bien vivre,
     C'est le moyen de bien mourir.

Butler & Tanner, The Selwood Printing Works, Frome, and London.

       *       *       *       *       *



_Price 2s. 6d. each, Handsomely Bound in Cloth._




     CONTENTS.--Early Life.--Settles in England.--His Connexion
     with Wesley and the Methodists.--Spiritual
     Discipline.--Enters the Ministry.--First Years at
     Madeley.--Difficulties and Discouragements.--Controversy and
     Correspondence.--Trevecca College.--The Calvinist
     Controversy.--Wesley's Proposal.--Failing Health.--Residence
     in Switzerland.--Return to England.--Marriage.--Last Years.





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       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

Made minor punctuation corrections.
Spaced the oe ligatures.
Transliterated the Greek text.
Reindexed and moved Footnotes to end of main text, before Appendix.

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