On the Death of the Rev. Mr. John Fletcher
By John Wesley
(text from the 1872 edition - Thomas Jackson, editor)
(Page 1 of 2)
To the Reader
It was a consciousness of my own inability to describe in a manner worthy of the subject such a person as Mr. Fletcher, which was one great reason of my not writing this sooner. I judged only an Apelles was proper to paint an Alexander. But I at length submitted to importunity, and 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.
London, Nov. 9, 1785
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: For the end of that man is peace. Psalm 37:37
I. I will, First, inquire who is the person that is here spoken of, "the upright and perfect man."
II. In the Second place we will consider the words "the end of this man is peace;"
III. The Scripture was gloriously fulfilled in that late eminent servant of God in both his life, and in his triumphant death.
IV. The Epitaph of the Reverend Mr. John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley, Shropshire.
In the preceding verses, taken together with this, there is a beautiful contrast between the death of a wicked and that of a good man. "I myself," says the Psalmist, "have seen the ungodly in great power, and flourishing like a green bay tree. I went by and lo, he was gone: I sought him, but his place could nowhere be found." Dost thou desire to be found happy, both in life and in death? Then "keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right; for that shall bring a man peace at the last." The words are rendered in the new translation, with far more force and elegance: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: For the end of that man is peace." It is not improbable that David, while he uttered these words, had a particular instance before his eyes. Such an instance was that of the great and good man whom God has not long ago taken to himself.
In discoursing on these words I purpose, First, briefly to inquire, Who is the person that is here spoken of, "the perfect, the upright man." I will endeavour, Secondly, to explain the promise, "That shall bring a man peace at the last;" or, as it is expressed in the other version, "The end of that man is peace." I will then, with the divine assistance, show a little more at large, in how glorious a manner it was fulfilled in the end of that "perfect and upright man" who has been lately removed from us.
1. I am, First, briefly to inquire who is the person that is here spoken of, "the upright and perfect man." In speaking on this head, I shall not endeavour to describe the character of an upright Jew, such as David himself was, or any of those holy men that lived under the Mosaic dispensation: It more nearly imports us to consider such an upright man as are those that live under the Christian dispensation; such as have lived and died since "life and immortality" have been "brought to light by the gospel."
2. In this sense, he is a perfect and upright man who believes in the name of the Son of God; he is one in whom it has pleased the Father to reveal the Son of his love, and who, consequently, is able to declare, "The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God; who loved me, and gave himself for me." He is one that finds "the Spirit of God witnessing with his spirit, that he is a child of God," and unto whom Jesus Christ is made of God "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
3. This faith will undoubtedly work by love. Accordingly, every Christian believer has "the love of God shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him." And, loving God, he loves his brother also; his good-will extends to every child of man. By this, as well as by the fruits of love, -- lowliness, meekness, and resignation, -- he shows that there is the same "mind in him which was in Christ Jesus."
4. As to his outward behaviour, the upright Christian believer is blameless and unreprovable. He is holy, as Christ that has called him is holy, in all manner of conversation; ever labouring to "have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man." He not only avoids all outward sin, but "abstains from all appearance of evil." He steadily walks in all the public and private ordinances of the Lord blameless. He is zealous of good works; as he hath time, doing good, in every kind and degree, to all men. And in the whole course of his life he pursues one invariable rule, -- whether he eats or drinks, or whatever he does, to do all to the glory of God.
And surely "the end of this man is peace;" the meaning of which words we are now, in the Second place, to consider.
I do not conceive this immediately to refer to that glorious peace which is prepared for him in the presence of God to all eternity; but rather to that which he will enjoy in the present world, before his spirit returns to God that gave it. Neither does it seem directly to refer to outward peace, or deliverance from outward trouble; although it is true, many good men, who have been long buffeted by adversity, and troubled on every side, have experienced an entire deliverance from it, and enjoyed a remarkable calm before they went hence. But this seems chiefly to refer to inward peace; even that "peace of God which passeth all understanding." Therefore it is no wonder that it cannot be fully and adequately expressed in human language. We can only say, it is an unspeakable calmness and serenity of spirit, a tranquillity in the blood of Christ, which keeps the souls of believers, in their latest hour, even as a garrison keeps a city; which keeps not only their hearts, all their passions and affections, but also their minds, all the motions of their understanding and imagination, and all the workings of their reason, in Christ Jesus. This peace they experienced in a higher or lower degree, (suppose they continued in the faith) from the time they first found redemption in the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins. But when they have nearly finished their course, it generally flows as a river, even in such a degree as it had not before entered into their hearts to conceive. A remarkable instance of this, out of a thousand, occurred many years ago: -- Enoch Williams, one of the first of our Preachers that was stationed at Cork, (who had received this peace when he was eleven years old, and never lost it for an hour) after he had rejoiced in God with joy unspeakable during the whole course of his illness, was too much exhausted to speak many words, but just said, "Peace! peace!" and died.
So was the Scripture fulfilled. But it was far more gloriously fulfilled in that late eminent servant of God; as will clearly appear if we consider a few circumstances, First, of his life, and Secondly, of his triumphant death.
1. Indeed we have, as yet, but a very imperfect knowledge of his life. We know little more of his early years, than that he was from his infancy so remarkably regardless of food, that he would scarce take enough to sustain life; and that he had always much of the fear of God, and a real sense of religion. He was born September 12, in the year 1729, at Nyon, in Switzerland, of a very reputable family. He went through the usual course of academical studies in the University of Geneva. One of his uncles, who was at that time a General Officer in the Imperial service, then invited him into the same service, promising to procure him a commission. But just as he came into Germany, the war was at an end. Being so far on his way, he was then invited into Holland by another uncle, who had, a little before been desired by a correspondent in England to procure a tutor for a gentleman's sons. He asked Mr. Fletcher whether he was willing to go into England and undertake this office. He consented, and accordingly went over to England, and undertook the care of Mr. Hill's two sons, at Tern, in Shropshire; and he continued in that office till the young gentlemen went to the University.
2. When Mr. Hill went up to London, to attend the Parliament, he took his lady and Mr. Fletcher with him. While they were dining at St. Alban's, he walked out into the town, but did not return till the coach was set out for London. However, a saddle-horse being left, he came after, and overtook them on the same evening. Mrs. Hill asking him why he stayed behind, he said, "I was walking through the market-place, and I heard a poor old woman talk so sweetly of Jesus Christ, that I knew not how the time past away." "I will be hanged," 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, with the help of God, I will find them out, if they be above ground." He did, not long after, find them out, and had his desire, being admitted into the society. While he was in town, he met in Mr. Richard Edwards's class, and lost no opportunity of meeting. And he retained a peculiar regard for Mr. Edwards to the day of his death.
3. It was not long before he was pressed in spirit to call sinners to repentance. Seeing the world all around him lying in wickedness, he found an earnest desire
To pluck poor brands out of the fire,
To snatch them from the verge of hell.
And though he was yet far from being perfect in the English tongue, particularly with regard to the pronunciation of it, yet the earnestness with which he spake, seldom to be seen in England, and the unspeakably tender affection to poor, lost sinners which breathed in every word and gesture, made so deep an impression on all that heard that very few went empty away.
4. About the year 1753, (being now of a sufficient age) he was ordained Deacon and Priest, and soon after presented to the little living of Madeley, in Shropshire. This, he had frequently said, was the only living which he ever desired to have. He was ordained at Whitehall, and the same day, being informed that I had no one to assist me at West-street chapel, he came away as soon as ever the ordination was over, and assisted me in the administration of the Lord's Supper. And he was now doubly diligent in preaching, not only in the chapels of West-street and Spitalfields, but wherever the providence of God opened a door to proclaim the everlasting gospel. This he did frequently in French, (as well as in English) of which all judges allowed him to be a complete master.
5. Hence he removed into the Vicarage-house at Madeley. Here he was fully employed among his parishioners, both in the town and in Madeley-Wood, a mile or two from it, -- a place much resembling Kingswood, almost wholly inhabited by poor colliers [coal miners], and their numerous families. These forlorn ones (little wiser than the beasts that perish) he took great pains to reform and instruct. And they are now as judicious and as well-behaved a people as most of their station in the three kingdoms.
6. But after some time he was prevailed upon by the Countess of Huntingdon to leave his beloved retreat, and remove into Wales, in order to superintend her school at Trevecka. This he did with all his power, instructing the young men both in learning and philosophy; till he received a letter from the Countess, together with the circular letter signed by Mr. Shirley, summoning all that feared God in England to meet together at Bristol at the time of the Methodist Conference, "in order to bear testimony against the dreadful heresy contained in the Minutes of the preceding Conference." Her Ladyship declared, that all who did not absolutely renounce those eight propositions which were contained in the Minutes of that Conference must immediately leave her house. Mr. Fletcher was exceedingly surprised at this peremptory declaration. He spent the next day in fasting and prayer, and in the evening wrote to her Ladyship that he not only could not utterly renounce, but must entirely approve of, all those eight propositions; and therefore had obeyed her order, by leaving her house and returning to his own at Madeley.
7. That circular letter was the happy occasion of his writing those excellent "Checks to Antinomianism," in which one knows not which to admire most, the purity of the language, (such as a foreigner scarce ever wrote before) the strength and clearness of the argument, or the mildness and sweetness of the spirit which breathes throughout the whole; insomuch that I nothing wonder at a clergyman that was resolved never to part with his dear decrees, who, being pressed to read them, replied, "No, I will never read Mr. Fletcher's writings; for if I did, I should be of his mind." He now likewise wrote several other valuable tracts. Meantime, he was more abundant in his ministerial labours, both in public and private; visiting his whole parish, early and late, in all weathers; regarding neither heat nor cold, rain nor snow, whether he was on horseback or on foot. But this insensibly weakened his constitution, and sapped the foundation of his health; which was still more effectually done by his intense and uninterrupted studies, at which he frequently continued with scarce any intermission, fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen hours a day. Meantime, he did not allow himself necessary food. He seldom took any regular meals, unless he had company; but twice or thrice in four and twenty hours ate some bread and cheese, or fruit; instead of which he sometimes took a draught of milk, and then wrote on again. When one reproved him for this, for not allowing himself a sufficiency of necessary food, he replied, with surprise, "Not allow myself food? Why, our food seldom costs my housekeeper and me less than two shillings a week!"
8. Being informed that his health was greatly impaired, I judged nothing was so likely to restore it as a long journey: So I proposed his taking a journey with me into Scotland, to which he willingly consented. We set out in spring, and after travelling eleven or twelve hundred miles, returned to London in autumn. I verily believe, had he travelled with me a few months longer, he would have quite recovered his health; but being stopped by his friends, he quickly relapsed, and fell into a true pulmonary consumption.
9. But this sickness was not unto death; it was only sent that the glory of the Lord might appear. During the whole course of it, he remained at Newington, and was visited by persons of all ranks; and they all marvelled at the grace of God that was in him. In all his pain, no complaint came out of his mouth; but his every breath was spent, either in praising God, or exhorting and comforting his neighbour.
10. When nothing else availed, he was advised to take a journey by sea and by land into his own country. He did this in company with Mr. Ireland, a well-tried and faithful friend, who loved him as a brother, and thought no pains ill bestowed, if he could preserve so valuable a life. He resided in his own country about a year, and was a blessing to all that were round about him. Being much recovered, he spent some months in France, and then returned in perfect health to Madeley.
11. In the year 1781, with the full approbation of all his friends, he married Miss Bosanquet; of whom, as she is still alive, I say no more at present, than that she was the only person in England whom I judged to be worthy of Mr. Fletcher. By her tender and judicious care his health was confirmed more and more; and I am firmly convinced, that had he used this health in travelling all over the kingdom, five, or six, or seven months every year, (for which never was man more eminently qualified; no, not Mr. Whitefield himself) he would have done more good than any other man in England. I cannot doubt but this would have been the more excellent way. However, though he did not accept of this honour, he did abundance of good in that narrower sphere of action which he chose; and was a pattern well worthy the imitation of all the parochial Ministers in the kingdom.
1 | 2 | Next Page >