Fletcher, John

Fletcher, John (FLECHIERE, JOHN W. DE LA), an early Methodist and saintly minister of the Church of England, was born Sept. 12, 1729, at Nyon, Vauld, of a distinguished family. He was educated at Geneva, where he studied profoundly both in philology and philosophy. At an early period he was, to a certain extent, master of the French, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages: His parents intended him for the ministry, but he preferred the sword, and at twenty he.- entered the service of Portugal as captain. Peace returning, he went to England, and became tutor in the family of T. Hill, Esq., Shropshire. About 1755 he joined the Methodist society, and in 1757 he took orders in the Church of England. Through the influence of Rowland Hill, he received, three years after, a presentation to the living of Dunham, worth £400 a year; but, finding that in this place there was "too much time and too little labor," he, with characteristic zeal and disinterestedness, accepted Madeley in preference, as, though the income was just the half of the other, it afforded a more extensive sphere of usefulness. This was a situation for which, by his energy of character and varied accomplishments, he was peculiarly adapted. The fact is, he was such a ,parish priest that it is surprising he was tolerated at all within the pale of the Church of England; he belonged more to the Methodists than to the Establishment, and he was too apostolical for those who are fondest- of talking about apostolical succession. The country gentlemen resisted him for reproving some of their barbarous sports and pastimes, and even many of the clergy looked on him with an evil eye, as disturbing the quiet of their lifeless routine. Opposition was shown to him in, many quarters by refusals of admissions into houses-by placards posted on the doors of his chapel- and in a variety of other forms. But, unmoved by slander and undaunted by menaces, he pursued the onward tenor of his way, and did his Master's work according to the dictates of his conscience, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear. With incessant preaching he combined the most diligent pastoral labors. He went from house to house, sympathizing with the afflicted, helping the poor, ministering to the sick, and admonishing the vicious. His liberality to the poor is said, by his successor in the parish, to have been scarcely credible. He led a life of severe abstinence that he might feed the hungry; he clothed himself in cheap attire that he might cloth the naked; he sometimes unfurnished his house that he might supply suffering families with necessary articles. Thus devoted to his holy office, he soon changed the tide of opposition which had raged against him, and won the reverence and admiration of his people, and many looked upon their homes as consecrated by his visits. In the summer of 1769 Mr. Fletcher visited France, Italy, and Switzerland. Towards the close of the' summer he returned to England, when, at the request of Lady Huntingdon, he became president of her seminary for educating young men for the ministry at Treveces, in Wales. In 1770 he want there to reside, but shortly afterwards resigned, on account of some difference with Lady Huntingdon. Benson describes Fletcher at Treveccac in glowing terms: "The reader," he says, "will pardon me if he thinks 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 elements in which he continually lived. 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. And they seldom hearkened long before they were all in tears, and every heart caught fire from the flame that burned in his soul." 'On leaving Trevecca he resumed his missionary and pastoral labors, making Madeley his centre. But his health failed, and again he was obliged to visit Switzes-land. He derived great benefit from the change of climate, and, soon after his return to England in 1781, he married. Mr. Fletcher had for many years seen, with regret and pain, the neglected condition of poor Wbidren, and he opened a school-room for them in Madeley Wood, which was the lasts public work in which he was employed. On the 14th of August, 1785, he expired, in sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection. In his life the primitive excellence of apostolical Christianity was emulated and illustrated; and if any man, since the apostolic time, has deserved the title of seis-nt, it is Fletcher. "For a time he fell into asceticism-, living on vegetables and bread, and devoting two whole nights each week to meditation And prayer, errors which he afterwards acknowledged. He received Wesley's doctrine of Perfection, and not only wrote in its defense, but- exemplified it through a life of purity, charity, and labor, which em-as as faultless, perhaps, as was ever lived by mortal man. Southey says: No age or country has ever produced a man of more fervent piety or more perfect charity; no Church has ever possessed a more apostolic minister' (Life of Wesley, ch. xxv). His preaching is described as greatly effective.

He spoke the English language not only with correctness, but with eloquence. There was, say's Gilpin, who heard him often, an energy in his discourse which was irresistible; to hear him without' admiration was impossible. Powerful-as are his writings, his preaching was mightier; ' his living word soared with an eagle's flight; be basked in the sun, carried his young ones on his wings, and seized the prey for his Master.' He was Wesley's most ardent coadjutor among the clergy; his counsellor, his fellow-traveler at times in his aemangelical itinerancy, an attendant at his Conferences, the champion of his theological views, and, above all, a saintly example of the life and power -of Christianity as taught by Methodism, read and known, admired and loved by Methodists throughout the world. Madeley, his vicarage, is familiar and dear to them next to Epworth itself" (Stevens, Methodism, i,' 367, 422). He was eminent, also, as a controversial writer, for point, directness, acuteness, and logical skill. He wrote largely upon the Calvinistic controversy, against Toplady and others and his writings, especially his Checks to Antinomiasmisssm, are essential to the thorough study of that controversy. "Written as -detached pamphlets, and abounding in contemporary and personal references, the Checks could not possibly have the consistence and compactness of a thorough treatise on the difficult questions of the great Quinquarticular Controversy.' But they comprehend, nevertheless, nearly every important thesis of the subject. Its highest philosophical questions-theories of the freedom of the will, prescience, fatalism-are elaborately discussed by them, as in the Remarks on Top lady's Scheme of Necessity, and the Answer to Toplady's Vindication of Decrees. The scriptural argument is thorough; and exegetical expositions are given in detail, as in the Discussion of the ninth Chapter to the Romans, and the View of St. Paul's Doctrine of the first Chapter to the Ephesians. No writer has better balanced the apparently contradictory passages of Scripture on the question. The popular argument has never, perhaps, been more effectively drawn out. No polemical works of a former age are so extensively circulated as these Checks. They are read more to-day than they were during the excitement of the controversy. They control the opinions of the largest and most effective body of evangelical clergymen on the earth. They are staples in every Methodist publishing-house. Every Methodist preacher is supposed to read them as an indispensable part of his theological studies, and they are found at all points of the globe whither Methodist preachers have borne the cross. They have been. more influential in the denomination than Wesley's own controversial writings on the subject; for he was content to pursue his itinerant -cork, replying but briefly to the Hills, and leaving the contest to Fletcher" (Stevens, History of Methodism, ii, 53-55). His Appeal to Matter of Fact and Common Sense is an admirable, and, in some respects, novel treatise on the doctrine of universal depravity. Mr. Fletcher's English style is a marvel of purity and precision, considering that he acquired the language after twenty. His writings have been collected in several editions in England, and also in America, under the title, The Works of the Rev. John Fletcher (New York, Methodist Book Concern, 4 vols. 8vo). For 'his life, see Gilpin's account, prefixed to Fletcher's Portrait of St. Paul; and Benson's Life of the Rev. J. W. de la Flechiere (New York, 1833, 12mno). See also Stevens, History of Methodism, vols. i and ii; Jones, Christians Biography; New York Review, i, 76.

 
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