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often tempted him to hang himself therewith. I said, “The desire of women is a temptation far more dangerous than this.' He answered with surprise, (or rather, as it seemed to me, with a degree of contempt,) 'In all my life I never felt that temptation; no, not in any degree.' But it is dangerous for a Christian, how great or good soever he may be, to despise another for being tempted. When we met
again, he acknowledged he had been plagued, like other men, with that formerly unknown temptation.”
14. In the same year, the living of Madeley fell vacant, and Mr. Fletcher was presented to it; which he accepted in preference to another, that was of double the value. He embraced it as his peculiar charge, the object of his most tender affection. And he was now at leisure to attend it, being fully discharged from his former employment; for his pupils were removed to Cambridge. The elder of them died about the time of his coming of age; the younger first represented the town of Salop, as his father had done, and afterward the county ; till he took his seat in the house of peers, as Baron Berwick, of Atcham House : this is now the name that is given to what was formerly called Tern Hall.
FROM HIS SETTLING AT MADELEY, TO HIS LEAVING TREVECKA.
1. He settled at Madeley, according to his desire, in the year 1760. And from the beginning he was a laborious workman in his Lord's vineyard. At his first settling there, the hearts of several were unaccountably set against him; insomuch that he was constrained to warn some of these, that if they did not repent, God would speedily cut them off. And the truth of those predictions was shown over and over, by the signal accomplishment of them. But no opposition could hinder him from going on in his Master's work, and suppressing vice in every possible manner. Those sinners who endeavoured to hide themselves from him, he pursued to every corner of his parish; by all sorts of means, public and private, early and late, in season and out of season, entreating and warning them to flee from the wrath to come. Some made it an excuse, for not attending the Church service on a Sunday morning, that they could not awake early enough, to get their families ready. He provided for this also : taking a bell in his hand, he set out every Sunday at five in the morning, and went round the most distant parts of the parish, inviting all the inhabitants to the house of God.
2. Yet notwithstanding all the pains he took, he saw for some time little fruit of his labour; insomuch that he was more than once in doubt, whether he had not mistaken his place; whether God had indeed called him to confine himself to one town, or to labour more at large in his vineyard. He was not free from this doubt, when a multitude of people Rocked together at a funeral. He seldom let these awful opportunities slip without giving a solemn exhortation. At the close of the exhortation which was then given, one man was so grievously offended, that he could not refrain from breaking out into scurrilous, yea, menacing language. But, notwithstanding all his struggling against it, the word fastened upon his heart. At first, indeed, he roared like a lion ; but he soon wept like a child. Not long after, he came to Mr. Fletcher in the most humble manner, asking pardon for his outrageous behaviour, and begging an interest in his prayers. This was such a refreshment as he stood in need of; and it was but a short time before this poor broken-hearted sinner was filled with joy unspeakable. He then spared no pains in exhorting his fellow sinners “to flee from the wrath to come.”
3. It was not long after, when, one Sunday evening, Mr. Fletcher, after performing the usual duty at Madeley, was about to set out for Madeley-wood, to preach and catechise as usual. But just then notice was brought (which should have been given before) that a child was to be buried. His waiting till the child was brought, prevented his going to the wood. And herein the providence of God appeared. For at this very
time many of the colliers, who neither feared God nor regarded men, were baiting a bull, just by the preaching-house; and having had plenty of drink, they had all agreed, as soon as he came, to bait the parson. Part of them were appointed to pull him off his horse, and the rest to set the dogs upon him. One of these very men afterward confessed that he was with them when this agreement was made; and that afterward, while they were in the most horrid manner cursing and swearing at their disappointment, a large china punch-bowl, which held above a gallon, without any apparent cause (for it was not touched by any person or thing) fell all to shivers. This so alarmed him, that he forsook all his companions, and determined to save his own soul.
4. From the beginning he did not confine his labours to his own parish. For many years he regularly preached at places, eight, ten, or sixteen miles off; returning the same night, though he seldom got home before one or two in the morning. At a little society which he had gathered about six miles from Madeley, he preached two or three times a week, beginning at five in the morning. As for visiting the sick, this was a work for which he was always ready: if he heard the knocker in the coldest winter night, his window was thrown open in a moment. And when he understood either that some one was hurt in the pit, or that a neighbour was likely to die, no consideration was ever had of the darkness of the night, or the severity of the weather; but this answer was always given: “I will attend you immediately.”
5. But in one respect Mr. Fletcher has frequently been blamed; namely, for deserting a place where God had eminently owned him; I mean Trevecka, in Wales. I believe it is therefore bounden duty to clear up the whole affair. And I cannot do this better than by transcribing the substance of an account which I have received from Mr. Benson, in answer to my inquiries :
6. “My acquaintance with him,” says he, “commenced when I was at Kingswood,—I think in the year 1768. As he now and then made a short excursion from Madeley to Bath or Bristol, in one of those excursions we invited him to give us a sermon at Kingswood. He was peculiarly assisted while he was applying those encouraging words: • Him that cometh unto me, I will in nowise cast out.' The people were exceedingly affected ; indeed, quite melted down. The tears streamed so fast from the eyes of the poor colliers, that their grisly, black faces were washed by them, and almost universally streaked with white. And as to himself, his zealous soul had been carried out so far beyond his strength, that, when he concluded, he put off a shirt which was as wet as if it had been dipped in water. But this was nothing strange; whenever he preached, it was generally the case. From
this time I conceived a particular esteem for him, chiefly on account of his piety; and wished much for a greater intimacy with him ; a blessing which I soon after obtained.
7. “ For, about this time, the Countess of Huntingdon erected a seminary at Trevecka, in Wales, in order to educate pious young men, of whatever denomination, for the ministry. She proposed to admit only such as were converted to God, and resolved to dedicate themselves to His service. They were at liberty to stay there three years; during which they were to have their education gratis, with every necessary of life, and a suit of clothes once a year: afterward those who desired it might enter into the ministry, either in the established Church of England, or among Protestants of any other denomination. From the high opinion which the Countess had of Mr. Fletcher's piety, learning, and abilities for such an office, she invited him to undertake the direction of that seminary. Not that he could promise to be chiefly resident there; much less constantly. His duty to his own flock at Madeley would by no means admit of this. But he was to attend as often as he conveniently could ; to give advice, with regard to the appointment of masters, the admission or exclusion of studenls; to oversee their studies and conduct; to assist their piety, and judge of their qualifications for the work of the ministry.
8. “As Mr. Fletcher greatly approved of the design, especially considering, first, that none were to be admitted but such as feared God; and, secondly, that when they were prepared for it, they might enter into the ministry wherever Providence opened a door; he readily complied with the invitation, and undertook the charge. This he did without fee or reward, from the sole motive of being useful in the most important work of training up persons for the glorious office of preaching the Gospel. And some months after, with the same view, through his means, and in consequence of your recommendation to her ladyship, I was made head master of the school, or, as it was commonly called, the college; though I could very ill be spared from Kingswood, where I had acted in that capacity about four years.
9. “ As yet I was greatly wanted at Kingswood. I had likewise a term to keep at Oxford ; so that I could only pay them a short visit in January, 1770. But in spring I went to reside there ; and for some time things went on excellently well. The young men were serious, and made a considerable progress in learning. And many of them seemed to have a talent for preaching: 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.
“Forgive me, my dear sir, if you 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 himself 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 school room 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 were reading. And they seldom hearkened long, before they were all in tears, and erery heart catched fire from the flame that burned in his soul.
10. “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, (though that too may be useful in its place,) after speaking awhile in the school room, 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 till noon, wrestling like Jacob for the blessing, praying one after another, till we could bear to kneel no longer. This was not done once or twice, but many times. And I have sometimes seen him on these occasions, once in particular, so filled with the love of God, that he could contain no more; but cried out, .O my God, withhold thy hand, or the vessel will burst.' But he afterward told me, he was afraid he had grieved the Spirit of God; and that he ought rather to have prayed that the Lord would have enlarged the vessel, or have suffered it to break; that the soul might have no farther bar or interruption to its enjoyment of the supreme good.”
This is certainly a just remark. The proper prayer on such an occasion would have been, Give me the enlarged desire,
Stretch my faith's capacity
Wider, and yet wider still ;
Then with all ihat is in thee
My ravish'd spirit fill! 11. “ Such was the ordinary employment of this man of God while he remained at Trevecka. 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, out of season ;' he “reproved, rebuked, exhorted, with all long suffering.' He was always employed, either in discovering 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 any thing that occurred. And his devout soul, always burning with love and zeal, led him to intermingle prayer with all he said. Meanwhile his manner was so solemn, and at the same time so mild and insinuating, that it was hardly possible for any 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 that gave it, that which was human seemed in a great measure to be 'swallowed up of life. O what a loss did Trevecka sustain, what an irreparable loss, when he left it!
12. “But why then did he leave it? Why did he give up an office, for which he was so perfectly well qualified ? which he executed so entirely to the satisfaction of all the parties wherewith he was concerned, and in which it had pleased God to give so manifest a blessing to his labours? Perhaps it would be better, in tenderness to some persons, eminent for piety and usefulness, to let that matter remain still under the veil which forgiving love has cast over it. But if it be thought that justice to his character, and to the cause which from that time he so warmly espoused and so ably defended, requires some light to be cast upon it, it may be the most inoffensive way to do it in his own words."
It will be proper to observe here, for the better understanding of the following letter, that some time before Mr. Fletcher quitted Trevecka, Mr. Benson had been discharged from his office there ; not for any defect of learning or piety, or any fault found with his behaviour; but wholly and solely because he did not believe the doctrine of absolute predestination.
13. “The following is an exact copy of all that is material in a letter he wrote to me, in consequence of my dismission from the office I had been in :
« June 7, 1771. ** DEAR SIR,-The same post brought me yours, and two from my Lady, and one from Mr. Williams, the new master. Those contained no charges but general ones, which with me go for nothing. If the procedure you men, tion is fact, and your letter is a fair account of the transaction and words relative to your discharge, a false step has been taken. I write this post to her ladyship on the affair, with all possible plainness. If the plan of the college is overthrown, I have nothing more to say to it. I will keep to my text, for one. I trust I shall ever be a servant of all: the confined tool of any one party I never was, and never will be. If the blow that should have been struck at the dead spirit, is struck (contrary to the granted liberty of sentiment) at dead Arminus, or absent Nr. Wesley; if a master is turned away without any fault; it is time for me to stand up with firmness, or to withdraw.'
14. “The following paragraphs are transcribed from Mr. Fletcher's letter to my Lady :
Mr. Benson made a very just defence when he said, he did hold with me the possibility of salvation for all men. If this is what you call Mr. Wesley's opinion and Arminianism, and if every Arminian must quit the college, I am actually discharged. For in my present view of things, I must hold that sentiment, 'if I believe that the Bible is true, and that God is love.
“ • For my part, I am no party man. In the Lord I am your servant, and that of your every student. But I cannot give up the honour of being connected with my old friends, who, notwithstanding their failings, are entitled to my respect, gratitude, and affection. Mr. Wesley shall always be welcome to my pulpit, and I shall gladly bear my testimony in his as well as Mr. Whitefield's. If you forbid your students to preach for the one, and offer them to preach for the other; and if a master is discarded for believing that Christ died for all; then prejudice reigns, charity is cruelly wounded, and party spirit shouts, prevails, triumphs.'
15. “ Two days after," continues Mr. Benson," he writes, • I am determined to stand or fall with the liberty of the college. As I entered it a free place, I must quit it the moment it is a harbour for party spirit.'
“ This he was soon constrained to do, as appears from the following letter, wrote about two months after :
“ • My Dear FRIEND,—On my arrival at the college, I found all very quiet, I fear through the enemy's keeping his goods in peace. While I preached the next day I found myself as much shackled as ever I was in my life. And after private prayer, I concluded I was not in my place. The same day, I resigned my office to my Lady, and on Wednesday, to the students and the Lord.
“ • Mr. Shirley has sent my Lady a copy of part of the Minutes of the last Conference, viz. of the year 1770. They were called horrible and abominable. My Lady told me, she must burn against them; and that whoever did not fully disavow them must quit the college. She accordingly ordered the master and all the students to write their sentiments upon them without reserve. I did so; explained them according to Mr. Wesley's sentiments ; and approved the doctrine, though not cautiously worded. I concluded by observing, that as, after such a step on my part, and such a declaration on my Lady's, I could no longer, as an honest man, stay in the college, I took my leave of it; wishing my Lady might find a minister to preside over it less insufficient than
" JOHN FLETCHER.' 16. “ These were his reasons for resigning his charge at Trevecka. As