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LIFE AND DEATH OF THE REV. JOHN FLETCHER.
Sequor, non passibus æqis! [1 follow, at a slower pace !)
TO THE READER. No man in England has had so long an acquaintance with Mr. Fletcher as myself. Our acquaintance began almost as soon as his arrival in London, about the year 1752, before he entered into holy orders, or, I believe, had any such intention; and it continued uninterrupted between thirty and forty years, even till it pleased God to take him to himself. Nor was ours a slight or ordinary acquaintance; but we were of one heart and of one soul. We had no secrets between us for many years we did not purposely hide any thing from each other. From time to time he consulted me, and I him, on the most important occasions; and he constantly professed, not only much esteem, but, what I valued far more, much affection. He told me in one of his letters,—I doubt not from his heart,
Tecum vivere amem; tecum obeam lubens.
“With thee I gladly would both live and die.” I therefore think myself obliged by the strongest ties to pay this small tribute to his memory. But you may easily observe, that, in doing this, I am little more than a compiler; for I owe a great, if not the greatest, part of the ensuing tract to a few friends, who have been at no small pains in furnishing me with materials; and, above all, to my dear friend, (such she has been almost from her childhood,) Mrs. Fletcher. I could easily have altered both her's and their language, while I retained their sentiments; but I was conscious I could not alter it for the better; and I would not alter for altering' sake; but judged it fairest to give you most of their accounts, very nearly in their own words.
AMSTERDAM, September 12, 1786.
OF HIS PARENTAGE AND YOUTH. 1. John WILLIAM de La FLECHERE (this was properly his name) was born at Nyon, in Switzerland, a town about fifteen miles north of Geneva, on September the twelfth, in the year 1729. His father was an officer in the French service, till he left the army in order to marry; but after a time he returned to the army, and was a colonel in the militia of his own country.
2. In his early childhood he had much of the fear of God, and great lenderness of conscience. One day, having offended his father, who threatened to correct him, he did not dare to come into his presence, but retired into the garden ; and when he saw him coming toward him. he ran away with all speed. But he was presently struck with deep remorse, and said to himself, “ What! do I run away from
father? Perhaps I shall live to have a son that will run away from me.” And it was several years before the impression which he then received was
3. Another instance of his tenderness of conscience occurred when he was about seven years of age: he was one day reproved by the nursery maid, saying, “ You are a naughty boy. Do you not know, that the devil is to take away all naughty children?" He was no sooner in bed, than he began to reflect very deeply upon her words : he thought, “ I am a naughty boy; and how do I know but God may let the devil take me away this night ?" He then got up and wrestled with God in prayer for a considerable time; and he would not go to bed again till he believed God had forgiven him.
4. The following accounts Mr. Fletcher himself gave to Mr. Samuel Webb, of London, then residing at Madeley :
“ When I was a lad, I had a design to get some fruit out of my father's garden : the door being locked, I could not get in, but by climbing over the wall
. This was very high; but with some difficulty I got to the top of it. As I was walking upon it, my foot slipped, and I fell down to the bottom. But just where I fell a large quantity of fresh-made mortar was laid. I fell exactly upon it. This broke my fall, or it might have cost me my life.
5. “ Once, as I was swimming by myself in a deep water, one end of a strong riband which bound my hair, getting loose I know not how, and twisting about my leg, tied me as it were neck and heels. I strove with all my strength to disengage myself; but it was to no purpose. No person being within call, I gave myself up for lost. But when I had given over struggling, the riband loosed of itself.
6. " Another instance of the tender care which God had over me was as follows:-One evening I and four young gentlemen, in high spirits, made a solemn agreement with each other to swim the next day to a rocky island, five miles distant from the shore. But this foolish adventure was within a very little of costing us all our lives. I and another indeed did with great difficulty and hazard swim to the island ; but when we came thither, the rock was so steep and smooth, that we could not possibly climb up. After swimming round several times, and making many ineffectual efforts, we thought we must perish there ; but at length one of us found a place, where he made a shift to crawl up. He then helped his companion after him. The others swam about half way. A boat then took them up, when they were just sinking. Another boat, which we had ordered to follow us, afterward came and took us home."
7. A still more remarkable deliverance it is of which he gave an account in the year 1760 : “ Some years since, I lived at a place very near the river Rhine. In that part, it is broader than the Thames at London Bridge, and extremely rapid. But, having been long practised in swimming, I made no scruple of going into it at any time; only I was always careful to keep near the shore, that the stream might not carry me away. Once, however, being, less careful than usual, I was unawares drawn into the mid channel. The water there was extremely rough, and poured along like a galloping horse. I endeavoured to swim against it, but in vain, till I was hurried far from home. When I was almost spent, I rested upon my back, and then looked about for a landing place, finding I must either land or sink. Witii much difficulty I got near the shore; but the rocks were so ragged and sharp, that I saw, if I attempted to land there, I should be torn in pieces ; so I was con strained to turn again to the mid stream. At last, despairing of life, I was cheered by the sight of a fine smooth creek, into which I was swiftly carried by a violent stream. A building stood directly across it, which I did not then know to be a powder mill. The last thing I can remember was, the striking of my breast against one of the piles whereon it stood. I then lost my senses, and knew nothing inore, till I rose on the other side of the mill. When I came to myself, I was in a calm, safe place, perfectly well, without any soreness or weariness at all. Nothing was amiss but the distance of my clothes, the stream having driven me five miles from the place where I left them. Many persons gladly welcomed me on shore; one gentleman in particular, who said, “I looked when you went under the mill, and again when you rose on the other side ; and the time of your being immerged among the piles, was exactly twenty minutes.'”
But some will say, “Why, this was a miracle !" Undoubtedly it was. It was not a natural event; but a work wrought above the power of nature, probably by the ministry of angels.
8. When he was yet very young, his father sent him to the university of Geneva. After he had gone through the usual course of study, it was the desire of his parents that he should be a clergyman. But it was his own desire and resolution to be an officer in the army. Not being able to gain their consent to this, he, without their consent, went away to Lisbon. Here he gathered a company of his own countrymen, accepted of a captain's commission, and engaged to serve the king of Portugal, on board a man-of-war, which was just then getting ready with all speed in order to sail to Brazil. He then wrote to his parents, begging them to send him a considerable sum of money, Of this he expected to make a vast advantage. But they refused him roughly : unmoved by this, he determined to go without it, as soon as the ship sailed. But in the morning, the maid, waiting on him at breakfast, let the tea-kettle fall, and so scalded his leg that he kept his bed for a considerable time after. During that time, the ship sailed for Brazil. But it was observed, that ship was heard of no more.
9. But how is this reconcilable with the account which has been given of his piety when he was a child ? Very easily: it only shows, that his piety declined while he was at the university. (And this is too often the case of other youths in our own universities.) But it pleased God at or before his journey to England to lift up his head again.
10. His desire of being an officer in the army continued after he returned from Lisbon. And when he was informed, that his uncle, then a colonel in the Dutch service, had procured a commission for him, he joyfully set out for Flanders. But just at that time the peace was concluded; and his uncle dying quickly after, his hopes were blasted, and he gave up all thoughts of going into the army; and, being disengaged from all business, he thought it would not be amiss to spend a little time in England.
11. Coming to the custom house in London, with some other young gentlemen, none of whom could speak any English, they were treated with the utmost surliness and ill manners by some brutish custom house officers. These not only took out and jumbled together all the things that were in their portmanteaus, but took away their letters of recommendation; telling them, “ All letters must be sent by the post.” They are such saucy and ill-mannered wretches as these that bring up an evil report on our nation. Britons might well be styled, hospitibus feri, [cruel to strangers,] if they were all like these vermin.
12. From hence they went to an inn; but here they were under another difficulty. As they spoke no English, they could not tell how to exchange their foreign into English money; till Mr. Fletcher going to the door, heard a well dressed Jew talking French. He told him the
difficulty they were under, with regard to the exchange of money. The Jew replied, "Give me your money, and I will get it changed in five minutes." Mr. Fletcher without delay gave him his purse, in which were ninety pounds. As soon as he came back to his company, he told them what he had done. They all cried out with one voice, “ Then your money
gone. You need never expect to see a crown or a doit of it any more. Men are constantly waiting about the doors of these ions, on purpose to take in young strangers.' Seeing no remedy, no way to help himself
, he could only commend his cause to God. And that was enough ;-before they had done breakfast, in came the Jew, and brought him the whole money.
13. Inquiring for a person who was proper to perfect him in the English tongue, (the rudiments of which he had begun to learn before he left Geneva,) he was recommended to Mr. Burchell
, who then kept a boarding school at South Nimms in Hertfordshire. And when Mr. Burchell removed to Hatfield, he chose to remove with him. All the time he was both at South Nimms and at Hatfield, he was of a serious and reserved behaviour; very different from that of the other young gentlemen who were his fellow-students. Here he diligently studied both the English language, and all the branches of polite literature. Meantime his easy and genteel behaviour, together with his eminent sweetness of temper, gained him the esteem as well as the affection of all that conversed with him. He frequently visited sone of the first families in Hatfield, who were all fond of his conversation ; so lively and ingenious at the same time, evidencing both the gentleman and the scholar. All this time he had the fear of God deeply rooted in his heart But he had none to take him by the hand, and lead him forward in the ways of God. He stayed with Mr. Burchell about eighteen months, who loved him as his own son.
14. Afterward, one Mr. Dechamps, a French minister, to whom he had been recommended, procured him the place of tutor to the two sons of Thomas Hill, Esq., at Tern Hall, in Shropshire. In the year 1752, he removed into Mr. Hill's family, and entered upon the important province of instructing the young gentlemen. He still feared God, but had not yet an experimental sense of his love. Nor was he convinced of his own fallen state, till one Sunday evening, a servant came in to make up his fire while he was writing some music, who, looking at him with serious concern, said, “ Sir, I am sorry to see you so employed on the Lord's day.” At first his pride was alarmed, and his resentment moved, at being reproved by a servant. But upon reflection, he felt the reproof was just. He immediately put away his music, and from that very hour became a strict observer of the Lord's day.
15. I have heard two very different accounts of the manner wherein he had the first notice of the people called Methodists. But I think it reasonable to prefer to any other, that which I received from his own moutn. This was as follows :
When Mr. Hill went up to London to attend the parliament, he took his family and Mr. Fletcher with him. While they stopped at St. Alban's, 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 asking 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. H., “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. And from this time, whenever he was in town, he met in Mr. Richard Edwards's class. This he found so profitable to his soul, that he lost no opportunity of meeting. And he retained a peculiar regard for Mr. Edwards till the day of his death.
OF HIS CONVERSION TO GOD.
1. It will be most satisfactory to the serious reader, to give an account of this in his own words. They run thus : “ The 12th of January, in the year 1755, I received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, though my heart was as hard as a stone. The following day, I felt the tyranny of sin more than ever, and an uncommon coldness in all religious duties. I felt the burden of my corruptions heavier than ever; there was no rest in my flesh. I called upon the Lord, but with such heaviness as made me fear it was lost labour. Many a time did I take up the Bible to seek comfort; but not being able to read, I shut it again. The thoughts which engrossed my mind were these : • I am undone. I have wandered from God more than ever. I have trampled under foot the frequent convictions which God has wrought in my heart. Instead of going straight to Christ, I have wasted my time in fighting against sin by the sole use of the means of grace; as if the means would do me good without the blessing of God. I never had faith; and without faith it is impossible to please God: therefore all my thoughts, words, and works, however specious before men, are utterly sinful before God. And if I am not changed before I go hence, I am lost to all eternity.'
2. “ When I saw that all my endeavours availed nothing against my conquering sin, I almost gave up all hope, and resolved to sin on and go to hell. Yet I had a strange thought, •If I do go to hell, I will praise God there. And since I cannot be a monument of his mercy in heaven, I will be a monument of his justice in hell. But I soon recovered my ground. I thought, • Christ died for all; therefore he died for me. He died to pluck such sinners as I am out of the devil's teeth. And as I sincerely desire to be his, he will surely take me to himself. He will surely let me know before I die, that he has died for me. If he leaves me for awhile in this dreadful state, it is only to show me the depth he draws me out of.' But then I thought, • Perhaps he will do it only at my dying hour. And must I sin on till then ? How can I endure this ?' But I thought again, 'My Saviour was above threeand-thirty years on earth. Let me wait for him as many years, and then I may have some excuse for my impatience. Does God owe me any thing? Is he bound to time or place? Do I deserve any thing at his hands but damnation ?' Yet anger was always one of the sins which I could not overcome. I went on sinning and repenting, and sinning again; but still calling on God's mercy through Christ.
3. “I was now beat out of all my strong holds. I felt my helplessness, and lay at the feet of Christ. I cried, Save me, Lord, as a brand plucked out of the fire! Give me justifying faith ; for the devil will surely reign over me, till thou takest me into thy hand. I shall only be an instrument in his