On the Death of the Rev. Mr. John Fletcher
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12. His manner of life during the time that he and his wife lived together, it may be most satisfactory to give in her own words: --
"It is no little grief to me that my dearly beloved husband has left no account of himself in writing; and I am not able to give many particulars of a life the most angelical I have ever known.
"He was born at Nyon, in the Canton of Berne, in Switzerland. In his infancy he discovered a lively genius, and great tenderness of heart. One day, having offended his father, who threatened to correct him, he kept himself at a distance in the garden, till, seeing his father approach, and fearing his anger would be renewed by the sight of him he ran away; but he was presently struck with a deep remorse, thinking, 'What! Do I run away from my father? What a wicked wretch! It may be, I may live to grow up and have a son that will run away from me!' And it was some years before the impression of sorrow, then made upon him, wore off.
"When he was about seven years old, he was reproved by his nurse-maid saying, 'You are a naughty boy, and the devil takes all such.' After he was in bed, he began to reflect on her words: His heart smote him, and he said, 'I am a naughty boy; and perhaps God will let the devil fetch me away.' He got up on the bed and for a considerable time wrestled with God in prayer; till he felt such a sense of the love of God as made him quite easy."
Part of the next paragraph I omit, being nearly the same with what I inserted before.
"When he entered Mr. Hill's family, he did not know Christ in his heart. One Sunday evening, as he was writing some music, the servant came in to make up the fire, and, looking at him said, 'Sir, I am very sorry to see you so employed on the Lord's day.' He immediately put away his music, and from that hour, became a strict observer of that holy day.
"Not long after, he met with a person who asked him to go with her and hear the Methodists. He readily consented. The more he heard, the more uneasy he grew; and, doubling his diligence, he hoped by doing much to render himself acceptable to God; till one day hearing Mr. Green, he was convinced he did not know what true faith was. This occasioned many reflections in his mind. 'Is it possible,' said he, 'that I, who have made divinity my study, and have received the premium of piety (so called) from the University for my writings on divine subjects, -- that I should still be so ignorant as not to know what faith is?' But the more he examined, the more he was convinced: Then sin revived, and hope died away. He now sought by the most rigorous austerities, to conquer an evil nature, and bring heaven-born peace into his soul. But the more he struggled, the more he was convinced that all his fallen soul was sin; and that nothing but a revelation of the love of Jesus could make him a Christian. For this he groaned with unwearied assiduity; till one day, after much wrestling with God, lying prostrate on his face before the throne, he felt the application of the blood of Jesus. Now his bonds were broken, and his free soul began to breathe a pure air. Sin was beneath his feet, and he could triumph in the Lord, the God of his salvation.
"From this time he walked valiantly in the ways of God; and, thinking he had not leisure enough in the day, he made it a constant rule to sit up two nights in a week for reading, prayer, and meditation; in order to sink deeper into that communion with God which was become his soul's delight. Meantime he took only vegetable food; and for above six months, lived wholly on bread, with milk-and-water.
"Not withstanding the nights he sat up, he made it a rule never to sleep as long as he could possibly keep awake. For this purpose he always took a candle and book to bed with him; but one night, being overcome of sleep before he had put out the candle, he dreamed his curtains, pillow, and cap were on fire, without doing him any harm. And so it was: In the morning part of his curtains, pillow, and cap were burnt. But not an hair of his head was singed. So did God give his angels charge over him!
"Some time after, he was favoured with a particular manifestation of the love of God; so powerful, that it appeared to him as if body and soul would be separated. Now all his desires centred in one, that of devoting himself to the service of his precious Master. This he thought he could do best by entering into Orders. God made his way plain, and he soon after settled in Madeley. He received this parish as from the immediate hand of God, and unweariedly laboured therein, and in the adjacent places, till he had spent himself in his Master's service, and was ripening fast for glory. Much opposition he met with for many years, and often his life was in danger. Sometimes he was inwardly constrained to warn obstinate sinners that if they did not repent, the hand of God would cut them off. And the event proved the truth of the prediction. But, notwithstanding all their opposition, many were the seals of his ministry.
"He had an earnest desire that the pure gospel should remain among his people after he was taken away. For this purpose he surmounted great difficulties in building the house in Madeley-Wood. He not only saved for it the last farthing he had, but when he was abroad, proposed to let the Vicarage-house; designing at his return, to live in a little cottage near it, and appropriating the rent of it for clearing that house.
"Since the time I had the honour and happiness of living vith him, every day made me more sensible of the mighty work of the Spirit upon him. The fruits of this were manifest in all his life and conversation; but in nothing more than in his meekness and humility. It was a meekness which no affront could move; an humility which loved to be unknown, forgotten, and despised. [I think this was going to an extreme.] How hard is it to find an eminent person who loves an equal! But his delight was in preferring others to himself. It appeared so natural in him, that it seemed as his meat to set everyone before himself. He spake not of the fault of an absent person but when necessary; and then with the utmost caution. He made no account of his own labours; and perhaps carried to an extreme his dislike of hearing them mentioned.
"Patience is the daughter of humility. In him it discovered itself in a manner which I wish I could either describe or imitate. It produced in him a ready mind to embrace every cross with alacrity and pleasure. And for the good of his neighbour, (the poor in particular) nothing seemed hard, nothing wearisome. When I have been grieved to call him out of his study, from his closet-work, two or three times in an hour, he would answer, "O, my dear, never think of that; it matters not what we do, so we are always ready to meet the will of God; it is only conformity to this which makes any employment excellent."
"He had a singular love for the lambs of the flock, -- the children; and applied himself with the greatest diligence to their instruction, for which he had a peculiar gift: and this populous parish found him full exercise for it. The poorest met with the same attention from him as the rich. For their sakes he almost grudged himself necessaries, and often expressed a pain in using them, while any of his parish wanted them.
"But while I mention his meekness and love, let me not forget the peculiar favour of his Master in giving him the most firm and resolute courage. In reproving sin and daring sinners, he was a "son of thunder;" and regarded neither fear nor favour, when he had a message from God to deliver.
"With respect to his communion with God, it is much to be lamented that we have no account of it from his own pen. But thus far I can say, it was his constant care to keep an uninterrupted sense of the divine presence. In order to this he was slow of speech, and had the exactest government of his words. To this he was so inwardly attentive, as sometimes to appear stupid to those who knew him not; though few conversed in a more lively manner when he judged it would be for the glory of God. It was his continual endeavour to draw up his own and every other spirit to an immediate intercourse with God; and all his intercourse with me was so mingled with prayer and praise, that every employment and every meal, was, as it were, perfumed therewith. He often said, 'It is a very little thing so to hang upon God by faith as to feel no departure from him. But I want to be filled with the fullness of his Spirit.' 'I feel," said he, 'sometimes such gleams of light, as it were wafts of heavenly air, as seem ready to take my soul with them to glory.' A little before his last illness, when the fever began to rage among us, he preached a sermon on the duty of visiting the sick, wherein he said: 'What do you fear? Are you afraid of catching the distemper and dying! O, fear it no more! What an honour to die in your Master's work! If permitted to me, I should account it a singular favour.' In his former illness he wrote thus: 'I calmly wait, in unshaken resignation, for the full salvation of God; ready to venture on his faithful love, and on the sure mercies of David. His time is best, and is my time. Death has lost its sting; and, I bless God, I know not what hurry of spirits is, or unbelieving fears.'
"For his last months, he scarce ever lay down or rose up without these words in his mouth: --
I nothing have, I nothing am;
My treasure's in the bleeding Lamb,
Both now and evermore.
"In one of the letters which he wrote some time since to his dear people of Madeley, some of his words are, "I leave this blessed island for awhile, but I trust I shall never leave the kingdom of God, -- the shadow of Christ's cross, -- the clefts of the Rock, smitten and pierced for us. There I meet you in spirit; thence, I trust, I shall joyfully leap into the ocean of eternity, to go and join those ministering spirits who wait on the heirs of salvation. And if I am no more allowed to minister to you on earth, I rejoice at the thought that I shall perhaps be allowed to accompany the angels who, if you abide in the faith, will be commissioned to carry you into Abraham's bosom.'
"The thought enlivens my faith! Lord give me to walk in his steps! Then shall I see him again, and my heart shall rejoice, and we shall eternally behold the Lamb together. Faith brings near the welcome moment! And now he beckons me away, and Jesus bids me come!"
I know not that anything can or need be added to this, but Mrs. Fletcher's account of his death, which follows also in her own words: --
"For some time before his late illness he was particularly penetrated with the nearness of eternity. There was scarce an hour in which he was not calling upon us to drop every thought and every care, that we might attend to nothing but drinking deeper into God. We spent much time in wrestling with God, and were led in a peculiar manner to abandon our whole selves into the hands of God, to do or suffer whatever was pleasing to him.
"On Thursday, August 4, he was employed in the work of God from three in the afternoon till nine at night. When he came home he said, 'I have taken cold.' On Friday and Saturday he was not well, but seemed uncommonly drawn out in prayer. On Saturday night his fever appeared very strong. I begged him not to go to church in the morning; but he told me, 'It was the will of the Lord;' in which case I never dared to persuade. In reading Prayers, he almost fainted away. I got through the crowd and entreated him to come out of the desk. But he let me and others know, in his sweet manner, that we were not to interrupt the order of God. I then retired to my pew, where all around me were in tears. When he was a little refreshed by the windows being opened, he went on; and then preached with a strength and recollection that surprised us all.
"After sermon he went up to the communion-table with these words, 'I am going to throw myself under the wings of the cherubim, before the mercy-seat.' The service held till near two. Sometimes he could scarce stand, and was often obliged to stop. The people were deeply affected; weeping was on every side. Gracious Lord! How was it my soul was kept so calm in the midst of the most tender feelings? Notwithstanding his extreme weakness, he gave out several verses of hymns, and lively sentences of exhortation. When service was over, we hurried him to bed, where he immediately fainted away. He afterward dropped into a sleep for some time, and, on waking, cried out, with a pleasant smile, 'Now, my dear, thou seest I am no worse for doing the Lord's work: He never fails me when I trust in him." Having got a little dinner, he dozed most of the evening, now and then waking full of the praises of God. At night his fever returned, though not violent; but his strength decreased amazingly. On Monday and Tuesday we had a little paradise together: He lay on a couch in the study, and, though often changing posture, was sweetly pleasant, and frequently slept a good while. When awake he delighted in hearing me read hymns and tracts on faith and love. His words were all animating, and his patience beyond expression. When he had any nauseous medicines to take, he seemed to enjoy the cross, according to a word he used often to repeat, that we are to seek a perfect conformity to the will of God, and leave him to give us what comfort he saw good. I asked him, whether he had any advice to leave me, if he should be taken from me: He replied, 'I have nothing particular to say: The Lord will open all before thee.' I said, 'Have you any conviction that God is about to take you?' He said,'No; not in particular; only I always see death so inexpressibly near that we both seem to stand on the very verge of eternity.' While he slept a little I besought the Lord, if it was his good pleasure, to spare him to me a little longer; but my prayer seemed to have no wings, and I could not help mingling continually therewith, 'Lord, give me perfect resignation.' This uncertainty made me tremble, lest God was going to put into my hand the bitter cup which he lately threatened my husband. Some weeks before, I myself was ill of the fever. My husband then felt the whole parting scene, and struggled for perfect resignation. He said: 'O Polly, shall I ever see the day when thou must be carried out to bury? How will the little things which thy tender care has prepared for me in every part of the house, -- how will they wound and distress me! How is it? I think I feel jealousy! I am jealous of the worms. I seem to shrink at giving my dear Polly to the worms!'
"Now all these reflections returned upon my heart with the weight of a millstone. I cried to the Lord, and those words were deeply impressed on my spirit, 'Where I am, there shall my servants be, that they may behold my glory.' This promise was full of comfort to my soul. I saw that in Christ's immediate presence was our home, and that we should find our re-union in being deeply centred in him. I received it as a fresh marriage for eternity. As such I trust for ever to hold it. All that day, whenever I thought of that expression, 'to behold my glory,' it seemed to wipe away every tear, and was as the ring whereby we were joined anew.
"Awaking some time after he said: 'Polly, I have been thinking it was Israel's fault that they asked for signs. We will not do so; but abandoning our whole selves into the hands of God, we will lie patiently before him, assured that he will do all things well.'
"'My dear love,' said I, 'if ever I have done or said anything to grieve thee, how will the remembrance wound my heart, shouldst thou be taken from me!'
"He entreated and charged me, with inexpressible tenderness, not to allow the thought; declaring his thankfulness for our union, in a variety of words written on my heart as with the adamantine pen of friendship, deeply dipped in blood.
"On Wednesday, after groaning all day under the weight of the power of God, he told me he had received such a manifestation of the full meaning of those words, 'God is love,' as he could never be able to tell. 'It fills me,' said he, 'every moment. O Polly, my dear Polly, God is love! Shout, shout aloud! I want a gust of praise to go to the ends of the earth! But it seems as if I could not speak much longer. Let us fix on a sign between ourselves;' (tapping me twice with his fingers) '-- now I mean, God is love; and we will draw each other into God. Observe! By this we will draw each other into God!"
"Sally coming in, he cried out: 'O Sally, God is love! Shout, both of you. I want to hear you shout his praise.' All this time, the medical friend, who diligently attended him hoped he was in no danger; as he had no bad head-ache, much sleep, without the least delirium, and an almost regular pulse. So was the disease, though commissioned to take his life, restrained by the power of God!
"On Thursday his speech began to fail. While he was able, he spoke to all that came in his way. Hearing a stranger was in the house, he ordered her to be called up, though uttering two sentences almost made him faint. To his friendly doctor he would not be silent while he had any power of speech; saying, 'O Sir, you take much thought for my body; give me leave to take thought for your soul.' When I could scarce understand anything he said, I spoke these words, 'God is love.' Instantly, as if all his powers were awakened, he broke out in a rapture, 'God is love! love! love! O for that gust of praise I want to sound!' -- Here his voice again failed. He suffered many ways, but with such patience as none but those then present can conceive. If I named his sufferings, he would smile, and make the sign.
"On Friday, finding his body covered with spots, I felt a sword pierce through my soul. As I was kneeling by his side, with my hand in his, entreating the Lord to be with us in this tremendous hour, he strove to say many things, but could not; pressing my hand, and often repeating the sign. At last he breathed out, 'Head of the Church, be Head to my wife!' When, for a few moments, I was forced to leave him, Sally said to him, 'My dear master, do you know me?' He replied, 'Sally, God will put his right hand under you.' She added, 'O my dear master, should you be taken away, what a disconsolate creature will my poor dear mistress be!' He replied, 'God will be her all in all.' He had always delighted much in these words, --
Jesu's blood, through earth and skies,
Mercy, free, boundless mercy! cries.
"Whenever I repeated them to him he would answer, 'Boundless! boundless! boundless!' He now added, though with great difficulty,
Mercy's full power I soon shall prove,
Loved with an everlasting love.
"On Saturday afternoon his fever seemed quite off; and a few friends standing near the bed, he reached his hand to each, and, looking on a Minister, said, 'Are you ready to assist to-morrow?' His recollection surprised us, as the day of the week had not been named in his room. Many believed he would recover; and one said, 'Do you think the Lord will raise you up?' He strove to answer, saying, 'Raise me in the resur' -- meaning in the resurrection. To another, asking the same question, he said, 'I leave it all to God.'
"In the evening the fever returned with violence, and the mucus falling on his throat almost strangled him. It was supposed the same painful emotion would grow more and more violent to the last. As I felt this exquisitely, I cried to the Lord to remove it; and, glory be to his name, he did. From that time, it returned no more. As night drew on, I perceived him dying very fast. His fingers could hardly make the sign (which he scarce ever forgot) and his speech seemed quite gone. I said, 'My dear creature, I ask not for myself, I know thy soul; but for the sake of others, if Jesus is very present with thee, lift thy right hand.' He did. 'If the prospect of glory sweetly opens before thee, repeat the sign.' He immediately raised it again; and, in half a minute, a second time: He then threw it up, as if he would reach the top of the bed. After this, his dear hands moved no more; but on my saving, 'Art thou in much pain?' he answered, 'No.' From this time, he lay in a kind of sleep, though with his eyes open and fixed. For the most part he sat upright against pillows, with his head a little inclining to one side; and so remarkably composed and triumphant was his countenance, that the least trace of death was scarce discernible in it.
"Twenty-four hours he was in this situation, breathing like a person in common sleep. About thirty-five minutes past ten, on Sunday night, August 14th, his precious soul entered into the joy of his Lord, without one struggle or groan, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.
"And here I break off my mournful story: But on my bleeding heart the fair picture of his heavenly excellence will be for ever drawn. When I call to mind his ardent zeal, his laborious endeavours to seek and save the lost, his diligence in the employment of his time, his Christ-like condescension toward me, and his uninterrupted converse with heaven, -- I may well be allowed to add, my loss is beyond the power of words to paint. I have gone through deep waters; but all my afflictions were nothing compared to this. Well: I want no pleasant prospect, but upwards; nor anything whereon to fix my hope, but immortality.
"On the 17th, [18th] his dear remains were deposited in Madeley churchyard, amid the tears and lamentations of thousands. The service was performed by the Rev. Mr. Hatton, Rector of Waters-Upton, whom God enabled to speak in a pathetic manner to his weeping flock. In the conclusion, at my request, he read the following paper:
"As it was the desire of my beloved husband to be buried in this plain manner, so, out of tenderness he begged that I might not be present: And in all things I would obey him.
"Permit me then, by the mouth of a friend, to bear my open testimony, to the glory of God, that I who have known him in the most perfect manner, am constrained to declare, that I never knew anyone walk so closely in the ways of God as he did. The Lord gave him a conscience tender as the apple of an eye. He literally preferred the interest of everyone to his own.
"He was rigidly just, but perfectly loose from all attachment to the world. He shared his all with the poor, who lay so close to his heart that at the approach of death, when he could not speak without difficulty, he cried out: 'O my poor! what will become of my poor?' He was blessed with so great a degree of humility, as is scarce to be found. I am witness, how often he has rejoiced in being treated with contempt. Indeed, it seemed the very food of his soul to be little and unknown. When he desired me to write a line to his brother, if he died; I replying, 'I will write him all the Lord's dealings with thee;' 'No, no," said he, 'write nothing about me. I only desire to be forgotten. God is all.'
"His zeal for souls I need not tell you. Let the labours of twenty-five years and a martyr's death in the conclusion, imprint it on your hearts. His diligent visitation of the sick occasioned the fever which, by God's commission, tore him from you and me. And his vehement desire to take his last leave of you, with dying lips and hands, gave, it is supposed, the finishing stroke, by preparing his blood for putrefaction. Thus has he lived and died your servant; and will any of you refuse to meet him at God's right hand in that day?
"He walked with death always in sight. About two months ago he came to me and said, 'My dear love, I know not how it is, but I have a strange impression death is very near us, as if it would be some sudden stroke upon one of us. And it draws out all my soul in prayer, that we may be ready.' He then broke out: 'Lord, prepare the soul thou wilt call! And Oh, stand by the poor disconsolate one that shall be left behind!'
"A few days before his departure, he was filled with love in an uncommon manner; saying to me, 'I have had such a discovery of the depth of that word, God is love, I cannot tell thee half. O shout his praise!' The same he testified, as long as he had a voice, and continued to testify to the end, by a most lamb-like patience, in which he smiled over death, and set his last seal to the glorious truths he had so long preached among you.
"Three years, nine months, and two days, I have possessed my heavenly-minded husband; but now the sun of my earthly joy is set for ever, and my soul filled with an anguish which only finds its consolation in a total resignation to the will of God. When I was asking the Lord, if he pleased, to spare him to me a little longer, the following promise was impressed on my mind with great power: (In the accomplishment of which I look for our re-union) -- 'Where I am, there shall my servants be, that they may behold my glory.' Lord, hasten the hour.
There is little need of adding any farther character of this man of God to the foregoing account, given by one who wrote out of the fullness of her heart. I would only observe, that for many years I despaired of finding any inhabitant of Great Britain, that could stand in any degree of comparison with Gregory Lopez or Monsieur de Renty. But let any impartial person judge, if Mr. Fletcher was at all inferior to them. Did he not experience as deep communion with God, and as high a measure of inward holiness, as was experienced either by one or the other of those burning and shining lights? And it is certain his outward holiness shone before men with full as bright a lustre as theirs. But if any should attempt to draw a parallel between them, there are two circumstances that deserve consideration. One is, we are not assured that the writers of their lives did not extenuate, if not suppress, what was amiss in them; and some things amiss we are assured there were, viz., many touches of superstition, and some of idolatry, in worshipping saints, the Virgin Mary in particular: But I have not suppressed or extenuated anything in Mr. Fletcher's character; for, indeed, I knew nothing that was amiss, -- nothing that needed to be extenuated, much less suppressed. A second circumstance is, that the writers of their lives could not have so full a knowledge of them, as both Mrs. Fletcher and I had of Mr. Fletcher; being eye and ear witnesses of his whole conduct. Consequently, we know that his life was not sullied with any mixture of either idolatry or superstition. 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 one improper word nor 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 of eternity.
But it is possible we all may be such as he was: Let us then endeavour to follow him as he followed Christ!
Norwich, October 24, 1785
Here lies the Body
THE REV. JOHN WILLIAM DE LA FLECHERE,
Vicar of Madeley;
Who was born at Nyon in Switzerland,
September 12, 1729,
And finished his course, August the 14th, 1785,
In this village,
Where his unexampled labours
Will never be forgotten.
He exercised his ministry for the space of twenty-five years
In this parish,
With uncommon zeal and ability.
But though many believed his report,
Yet he might with justice have adopted
The lamentation of the Prophet:
"All the Day long have I stretched out my hands
Unto a disobedient and gainsaying people:
Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord,
And my work with my God."
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[Edited by George Lyons at Northwest Nazarene College (Nampa, ID), for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.] The text for John Wesley's sermons originally came from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.