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as a natural one, until tea-time, our time was spent chiefly in fervent prayer or singing. After singing the covenant hymn, Mr. Fletcher went to Mrs. Fletcher, and said to her, - Well, my dearest friend, will you join with me in joining ourselves in a perpetual covenant to the Lord? Will you with me serve him in his members? Will you help me to bring souls to the blessed Redeemer; and, in every possible way this day, lay yourself under the strongest ties you can, to help me to glorify my gracious Lord ?' She an. swered, like one that well knew where her strength lay, · May my God help me so to do!
“ In the evening Mr. Valton preached in the hall, from those most suitable words : • What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.' His words did not fall to the ground : many were greatly refreshed. After preaching there was a sweet contest among us; every one thought, .I in particular owe the greatest debt of praise ;' till we jointly agreed to sing,
I'll praise my Maker, while I've breath;
Praise shall employ my nobler powers:
Or immortality endures.' “On the Wednesday following the select society met; and it was a precious season. Among other things, Mr. Fletcher said, 'Some of you perhaps may be a little surprised at the step my dearest friend and I have taken. But I assure you, it was the result of much prayer and mature deliberation. Five-and-twenty years ago, when I first saw my dear wife, I thought, if I ever married, she should be the person. But she was too rich for me to think of; so I banished every thought of the kind. For many years after, I had a distaste to a married life, thinking it impossible to be as much devoted to God in a married as in a single life. But this objection was removed, by reading, Enoch begat sons and daughters. And Enoch walked with Gou, and was not; for God took him. I then saw, if Enoch at the head of a family might walk with God, and be fit for translation ; our souls under the Gospel dispensation might attain the highest degree of holiness in a similar state, if too greut an attachment, leading the soul from God rather than to him, did not take place; instead of that, which should be a means of increasing its union with Jesus. Yet still many obstacles stood in my way; but at length they were all removed. Every mountain became a plain; and we are both well assured, that the step we took had the full approbation of God.'
“On January 2, 1782, we had a very solemn parting. But in the midst of all the sorrow which we felt, was a sweet assurance that we should meet again, not only in this world, but
Where death shall all be done away,
And bodies pari no more. This brings to my mind a sentence which he wrote to us, a little before his death : • Time is short. It remains, that we die daily. Stand fast in Christ, the resurrection and the life. That we may have a happy meeting is the wish and prayer of • Your affectionate friends,
•John and Mary FLETCHER.' “ To repeat all the precious sayings of this servant of God would require many volumes; for his mouth was always opened with wisdom, tending to minister grace to the hearers. My earnest prayer is, that the spirit of faith, and love, and heavenly wisdom, may rest upon you also, and guide you in all your extensive labours, till they are swallowed up in eternal rest. I remain, Reverend Sir, “ Your unworthy child and servant,
4. I cannot help subjoining a reflection here, which at this time affected me much. Although I could in nowise condemn this marriage, yet on one account it gave me pain. When I was young,
I was exceedingly affected with a relation in Mr. Herbert's Life,-an account of Mr. Ferrar's family, at Little Gidding, in Huntingdonshire; a very particular description of which is given in the “Arminian Magazine." I longed to see such another family, in any part of the three kingdoms. At length I had my desire; I did see exactly such another family: I saw a family full as much devoted to God, full as regular in all their exercises of devotion, and at least as exemplary in every branch of Christian holiness. This I saw, by the peculiar providence of God, settled at Leytonstone. O that it had continued there! The removal of it into Yorkshire I did not advise nor approve of. However, I rejoiced to see it settled somewhere; namely, at Cross-Hall, near Leeds. Again I did all that was in my power to perpetuate this glorious institution. It was now totally dissolved; and yet by a means which I did not dare to oppose. “O God, how unsearchable are thy judgments; and thy ways past finding out!"
FROM HIS MARRIAGE TO THE BEGINNING OF HIS LAST ILLNESS.
1. From the time of his settling at Madeley with Mrs. Fletcher, he had no return of his consumptive disorder. On the contrary, by the blessing of God on her peculiar care and tenderness, not only his health was confirmed, but his strength restored as in the days of his youth. In the mean time he took care to employ all his returning strength in the work of faith and the labour of love: More particularly in that which he had always found to be one of the most difficult parts of his duty. We have in this parish, through the lenity of the magistrates, no less than eight public houses. These are well known to have been continual aurseries for sin, particularly on Sunday evenings. It had been for many years his unwearied endeavour to put an end to these abuses. Yet as he very seldom had a churchwarden who was heartily willing to second hirn therein, his endeavours were almost ineffectual, producing very little fruit. But for two years God was now pleased to favour him with a churchwarden who was resolved to act according to his oath : He then cheerfully renewed his endeavours, visiting several of these houses every Sunday; all of them in their turn. In every one he bore a faithful testimony; and in some it has been attended with much good. O that no one of those who have been at any time within the reach of his voice, may finally inherit that curse, “ Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish!"
2. For many years he had felt with the deepest sensibility the disconsolate condition of poor uninstructed children; and some years ago he began a school, wherein he taught them himself every day. After pursuing this method for some time, he erected a school in MadeleyWood ; but afterward his thoughts were much employed concerning the Sunday schools ; especially since they were recommended to him in a letter from Mrs. Derby, a person whom he always found ready to promote every good work. He then earnestly set about promoting them in his own parish. Three hundred children were soon gathered together, whom he took every opportunity of instructing, by regular meetings, for some time before the schools were opened. These meetings he attended, with the utmost diligence, to the very Thursday before his illness. In order to encourage the children, his method was to give them little hymn books, pointing them to some friend or neighbour, who would teach them the hymns, and instruct them to sing. The little creatures were greatly taken with this new employment; insomuch that many of them would scarce allow themselves time to eat or sleep, for the desire they had of learning their lessons. At every meeting, after inquiring who had made the greatest proficiency, he distinguished them by some little reward.
3. In the instructing of children, one great difficulty is, to draw and fix their attention. He had a singular gift for doing this, by making advantage of any incident that offered. One day, while he had a considerable number of children before him in the preaching house, as he was persuading them to mind what they were about, and to remember the text which he was going to mention, just then a robin flew into the house, and their eyes were presently turned after him. “ Now,” said he, “ I see you can attend to that robin. Well, I will take that robin for my text.” He then gave them a useful lecture on the harmlessness of that little creature, and the tender care of its Creator.
4. When he observed that the number of children, instead of falling off, as was expected, increased continually, he wrote some proposals to the parish, which were received with the greatest unanimity. Many of the rich, as well as the trading people, lent a helping hand, not only to defray the expense of teachers, but also to raise a convenient house in Coalbrook Dale for the instruction of the numerous children that were on that side of the parish.
5. The proposal was as follows :—“Our national depravity turns greatly on these two hinges, the profanation of the Lord's day, and the neglect of the education of children. Till some way is found of stopping up these two great inlets of wickedness, we must expect to see our workhouses filled with aged parents forsaken by their prodigal children, with wives forsaken by their faithless husbands, and with the wretched offspring of lewd women and drunken men. Nay, we may expect to see the gaols, and even the gallows, largely stocked, to the perpetual reproach of our nation, with unhappy wretches ready to fall a sacrifice to the laws of their country. “It is a common observation,' says Dr. Gibson, late bishop of London, that public crimi. nals, when they come to their unhappy end, and make their dying declarations to the world, generally charge the sinful courses in which they have lived, to the neglect and abuse of the Lord's day, as the first occasion of leading them into all other wickedness. And, considering how frequently these declarations are repeated, and how many other instances of the same kind, though less public, are notorious enough to those who will observe them, they may well be a warning to us, to consider a religious observation of the Lord's day as the best preservative of virtue and religion, and the neglect and profanation of it as the greatest inlet to vice and wickedness.”
6. A pious clergyman farther observes : “ The want of education in children is one of the principal causes of the misery of families, cities, and nations ; ignorance, vice, and misery being constant companions. The hardest heart must melt at the melancholy sight of such a number of chil. dren, both male and female, who live in gross ignorance, and habitual profanation of the Lord's day. What crowds fill the streets and fields, tempting each other to idleness, lewdness, and every other species of wickedness! Is it any wonder we should have so many undutiful children, unfaithful apprentices, disobedient servants, untrusty workmen, disloyal subjects, and bad members of society? Whence so much rapine, fornication, and blasphemy? Do not all these evils centre in ignorance and contempt of the Lord's day? And shall we do nothing to check these growing evils ? .
7. “ Persons concerned for the welfare of the next generation, and wellwishers to Church and State, have already set us a fair example in Stroud, Gloucester, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, and many country parishes. They have attempted to remedy these evils by setting up Sunday schools, which, by keeping children from corrupting one another, by promoting their attendance on divine worship, and by planting the first principles of useful knowledge in their minds, and of piety in their hearts, bid fair for a public reformation of manners, and for nipping in the bud the ignorance and impiety which is every where so common among the lower and more numerous classes of people."
8. The proposals concerning Sunday schools in the parish of Madeley, were as follows:
“I. It is proposed that Sunday schools be set up in this parish, for such children as are employed all the week, and for those, whose education has been hitherto totally neglected.
“II. That the children admitted into these be taught reading, writing, and the principles of religion.
“III. That there be a school for boys and another for girls, in Madeley, Madeley Wood, and Coalbrook Dale, six in all.
"IV. That a subscription be opened, to pay each teacher one shilling per Sunday, and to buy tables, forms, books, pens, and ink.
“ V. That two treasurers be appointed to ask and receive the contributions of the subscribers. "VI. That whoever subscribes one guinea a year shall be a governor.
" VII. That three or four inspectors be appointed, who are to visit the schools once a week, to see that the children attend regularly, and the masters do their duty.
“VIII. That a book be provided, for setting down all receipts and expenses; and another for the names of the teachers and the scholars.
“ IX. That the schools be solemnly visited once or twice a year; and a premium given to the children that have made the greatest improvement."
9. As to the success of his unwearied labours, although he was much discouraged when he first returned from abroad, finding so many of those who had once run well, grown weary and faint in their mind; yet it was not long before he found fresh cause to rejoice, and to know that God was with him of a truth. It was not long before he observed that a general reformation had taken place in the parish. And it was not only an outward reformation, even of many that had been notorious for all man. ner of wickedness; but an inward also; many both young and old having learned to worship God “in spirit and in truth.” A considerable number of these still mourn, as sheep bereaved of their shepherd. And yet one cannot doubt, but a still larger company of his own children have hailed him on the celestial shore. But the season is coming when all secrets shall be laid open; and all the jewels of his crown shall be made manifest in that day.
10. One instance of the success of his ministry he mentioned some years since at Bristol : “One Sunday,” said he, “when I had done reading prayers at Madeley, I went up into the pulpit
, intending to preach a sermon, which I had prepared for that purpose. But my mind was so confused, that I could not recollect either my text or any part of my sermon. I was afraid I should be obliged to come down without saying any thing. But having recollected VOL. VI.
myself a little, I thought I would say something on the First Lesson, which was the third chapter of Daniel, containing the account of the three children cast into the fiery furnace: I found in doing it such an extraordinary assist. ance from God, and such a peculiar enlargement of heart, that I supposed there must be some peculiar cause for it. I therefore desired, if any of the congregation found any thing particular, they would acquaint me with it in the ensuing week.
“ In consequence of this, the Wednesday after, a woman came, and gave me the following account: I have been for some time much concerned about my soul. I have attended the church at all opportunities, and have spent much time in private prayer. At this my husband (who is a butcher) has been exceedingly enraged, and threatened me severely what he would do, if I did not leave off going to John Fletcher's church; yea, if I dared to go any more to any religious meetings whatsoever. When I told him I could not in conscience refrain from going at least to our parish church, he grew quite outrageous, and swore dreadfully, if I went any more, he would cut my throat as soon as I came home. This made me cry mightily to God, that he would support me in the trying hour. And though I did not feel any great degree of comfort, yet having a sure contidence in God, I determined to go on in my duty, and leave the event to him. Last Sunday, after many struggles with the devil and my own heart, I came down stairs ready for church. My husband asked me, whether I was resolved to go thither. I told him, I was. Well then, said he, I shall not (as I intended) cut your throat; but I will heat the oven, and throw you into it the moment you come home. Notwithstanding this threatening, which he enforced with many bitter oaths, I went to church, praying all the way that God would strengthen me to suffer whatever might befall me. While you was speaking of the three children whom Nebuchadnezzar cast into the burning fiery furnace, I found it all belonged to me, and God applied every word to my heart. And when the sermon was ended, I thought, if I had a thousand lives, I could lay them all down for God. I felt my whole soul so filled with his love, that I hastened home, fully determined to give myself to whatsoever God pleased; nothing doubting, but that either he would take me to heaven, if he suffered me to be burned to death, or that he would some way deliver me, even as he did his three servants that trusted in him. When I got almost to our own door, I saw the flames issuing out of the mouth of the oven. And I expected nothing else, but that I should be thrown into it immediately. I felt my heart rejoice, that if it were so, the will of the Lord would be done. I opened the door, and, to my utter astonishment, saw my husband upon his knees, wrestling with God in prayer for the forgiveness of his sins. He caught me in his arms, earnestly begged my pardon, and has continued diligently seeking God ever since. I now know why my sermon was taken from me; namely, that God might thus magnify his mercy."
11. Many were the dangers he went through in the course of his ministry; but the Lord delivered him out of all. One of these Mrs. Fletcher relates in the following words :
“ My husband having appointed to preach one Sunday at a church, about fourteen miles off, I felt some concern for his riding so far, and doing the whole Sunday's duty twice; especially as it was necessary for him to return home the same night. The evening being exceeding dark and wet, I was strongly led to commend him to God in prayer. While I was doing this, it was suggested to me, that his horse was fallen, and had thrown him
over his head ; and the whole scene appeared to be clearly represented before my eyes. My God,' said I, he is thine. His life, his limbs, his health, are all thine. I commit him to thee by faith.' Immediately that word was impressed on my heart, • The righteous is in the hand of the Lord; and there shall no evil touch him.' And it empowered my soul with such a sweetness, that I couid