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feel no fear.
The night was uncommonly bad, which occasioned many friends to continue with me. And while they expressed their great uneasiness at his staying two hours longer than we could well account for, I was obliged to hide the calmness I felt by silence, lest some should have supposed it insensibility.* At last he came well, and praising God; but asked for water to wash himself, because his horse had fallen, and thrown him with great force over his head. Yet, glory be to God, he was no way hurt, except having a little skin grazed from one of his fingers. As he set the Lord always before him, so he found his help in every time of need.”
12. The laying the foundation of the Sunday schools at Madeley was the last public work in which he was employed. But as the liberal man is ever devising liberal things, he had several plans in his mind for preserving a great number of desolate children, brought up only to beg and steal. Such this populous parish (and indeed most others) affords in great abundance. He had likewise proposed writing various little tracts,t for the use of the schools. But he who cannot err saw good to call his servant hence to enjoy, rather than leave him here to do and suffer.
1. I am sensible, it is the method of almost all writers, to place the character of a man at the conclusion of his life. But there seems to be a particular reason for varying from the usual practice in this place. The death of Mr. Fletcher (hardly to be paralleled in the present century) was so uncommon a display of the power and goodness of God in behalf of his highly favoured servant, that it is not proper for any thing to come after it. It must needs therefore close the whole account.
2. From even the imperfect account which has been given of this great and good man, any discerning person may with very little difficulty extract his character. In general, it is easy to perceive, that a more excellent man has not appeared in the Church for some ages. It is true, in several ages, and in several countries, many men have excelled in particular virtues and graces But who can point out, in any age or nation, one that so highly excelled in all ? one that was enabled in so large a measure to "put on the whole armour of God ?” yea, so to “put on Christ," as to “perfect holiness in the fear of God ?”
3. Yet there is a peculiar difficulty in giving a full account of either his life or character, because we have scarce any light from himself. He was upon all occasions very uncommonly reserved in speaking of himself, whether in writing or conversation. He hardly ever said any thing concerning himself, unless it slipped from him unawares. And among the great number of papers which he has left, there is scarce a page (except that single account of his conversion to God) relative cither to his own inward experience, or the transactions of his life. So that the most of the information we have is gathered up, either from short hints
Nay, I would have proclaimed it aloud, giving the glory to God, for the comfort of all that were present.
t I do not regret his not living to write those tracts; because I despair of seeing any in the English tongue superior to those extracts from Abbé Fleury and Mr. Poiret, published under the title of “ Instructions for Children.” I have never yet seen any thing comparable to them, either for depth of sense, or plairness of language.
scattered up and down in his letters, from what he had occasionlly dropped among his friends, or from what one and another remembered concerning him. In writing the lives and characters of eminent men, the Roman Catholics have a great advantage over us. The pious members of the Church of Rome make a conscience of concealing any thing from their directors, but disclose to them all the circumstances of their lives, and all the secrets of their hearts: whereas very few of the Protestants disclose to others, even their most intimate friends, what passes between God and their own souls; at least not of set purpose. Herein they forget, or at least disregard, that wise remark of the ancient writers: (exactly agreeable to various passages that occur in the canonical Scriptures :) “It is good to conceal the secrets of a king, but to declare the loving-kindness of the Lord.”
4. This defect was indeed in some measure supplied by the entire intimacy which subsisted between him and Mrs. Fletcher. He did not willingly, much less designedly, conceal any thing from her. They had no seciets with regard to each other, but had indeed one house, one purse, and one heart. Before her it was his invariable rule, to think aloud; always to open the window in his breast. And to this we are indebted for the knowledge of many particulars which must otherwise have been buried in oblivion.
5. But whatever the materials were, however complete our informations, yet I am thoroughly sensible of my own inability to draw such a portrait as Mr. Fletcher deserves. I have no turn at all for panegyric : I have never accustomed myself to it. It gives me therefore no small satisfaction to find, that this is in a great measure done to my hands. The picture is already drawn; and that by no mean pencil. All then which I shall attempt is, to retouch Mrs. Fletcher's observations, and now and then to add a few articles, either from my own knowledge, or from the information of others.
6. The following are mostly her own words,-for where they are clear and expressive, as they generally are, I do not think it right to alter them for altering' sake :
“ Whatever he might be with regard to charity," said she, “he was no less eminent for his spirit of faith. Indeed he was not so much led by sights or impressions (which many mistake for faith) as abundance of people have been; but by a steady, firm reliance upon the love and truth and faithfulness of God. His ardent desire was, so to believe, as to be a partaker of all the great and precious promises ; to be a witness of all that mind which was in Christ Jesus. And being conscious that he must be crucified with his Master, or never reign with him, he gave himself up to him, whom he continually set before him, to lie in his hand as the passive clay. He would often say, . It is my business in all events, to hang upon the Lord, with a sure trust and confidence, that he will order all things in the best time and manner. Indeed it would be nothing to be a believer, nay, in truth, there would be no room for faith, if every thing were seen here. But against hope to believe in hope, to have a full confidence in that unseen power, which so mightily supports us in all our dangers and difficulties,-this is the believing which is acceptable to God.' Sometimes when I have expressed some apprehension of an approaching trial, he would answer, “I do not doubt but the Lord orders all; therefore I leave every thing to him.' In cutward dangers, if they were ever so great, he seemed to know no shadow of fear. When I was speaking once, concerning a danger to wnich we were then paricularly cxposed, he answered, I know God always gives his angels charge concerning us : therefore we are equally safe every where.'
“ Not less eminent than his faith was his humility. Amidst all his laying himself out for God, and for the good of souls, he ever preserved that special grace, the making no account of his own labours. He held himself and his own abilities in very low esteem; and seemed to have that word continually before his eyes, I am an unprofitable servant.' And this humility was so rooted in him, as to be moved by no affront. I have seen many, even of the most provoking kind, offered him; but he received them as his proper portion; being so far from desiring the honour which cometh of men, that he took pleasure in being little and unknown. Perhaps it might appear from some passages of his life, that in this he even leaned to an extreme ; for genuine humility does not require, that any man should desire to be despised. Nay, we are to avoid it, so far as we possibly can, consistently with a good conscience; for that direction, · Let no man despise thee,' concerns every man as well as Timothy.
“ It is rare to meet with an eminent person that can bear an equal. But it was his choice and his delight to prefer every one to himself. And this he did in so free and easy a manner, that in him it appeared perfectly natural. He never willingly suffered any unkindness shown to him to be mentioned again; and if it was, he generally answered, “O let it drop; we will offer it in silence to the Lord.' And indeed the best way of bearing crosses is, to consecrate all in silence to God.
“ From this root of humility sprung such a patience as I wish I could either describe or imitate. It produced in him a most ready mind, which embraced every cross with alacrity and pleasure. For the good of his neighbour, nothing seemed hard, nothing wearisome. Sometimes I have been grieved to call him out of his study two or three times in an hour; especially when he was engaged in composing some of his deepest works; but he would answer, with his usual sweetness, O, my dear, never think of that. It matters not, if we are but always ready to meet the will of God.' It is conformity to the will of God that alone makes an employment excellent. He never thought any thing too mean, but sin; he looked on nothing else as beneath his character. If he overtook a poor man or woman on the road, with a burden too heavy for them, he did not fail to offer his assistance to bear part of it; and he would not easily take a denial. This therefore he has frequently done.
* In bearing pain he was most exemplary, and continued more and more so to the last. Nor was it least remarkable in the most humbling part of the ministry, the coming down to the capacities of the ignorant. Nevertheless, he had a most resolute courage in the reproving of sin. To daring sinners he was a son of thunder; and no worldly considerations were regarded, whenever he believed God had given him a message to deliver to any of them.
“One considerable part of humility is, to know our own place, and stand therein. Every member has its peculiar appointment in the human body, where the wise Master-builder has placed it; and it is well while each con. tinues in its place. But, as every dislocated bone gives pain, and must continue so to do till it is replaced in its proper socket, so every dislocated affection must give pain to the soul till it is restored to its own place, till it is totally fixed in God, till we resign our whole selves to the disposal of infinite wisdom. This is the proper place of every rational creature; and in this place he invariably stood. Whatever he believed to be the will of God, he resolutely performed, though it were to pluck out a right eye, to lay his Isaac on the altar. When it appeared that God called him to any journey, he immediately prepared for it, without the least hesitation ; although, for the last years of his life, he hardly ever travelled to any considerable distance, without feeling some tendency to a relapse into his former distemper; and it was usually some weeks after his return, before he recovered bis usual atrength."
Humility continually proauces meekness, and the latter bears an ex. act proportion to the former. I received a letter on this head but a few days since, which it may not be improper to subjoin :
" • Rev. Sir,-I was yesterday in company with several clergymen, who, among other things, mentionea Mr. Fletcher, and seemed particularly anxious that in the account of his life a proper degree of caution should be observed, in the panegyric that may be applied to his character. They say he was extremely passionate; and that there was in many instances an austere • severity and rigour in his conduct to the young people under his care, par
ticularly at Trevecka. As this information comes from a gentleman eminent for his knowledge of mankind, and universally esteemed as one of the greatest geniuses of the age, and one whose veracity has never been questioned, it will have no small weight in the learned world.”
7. I am glad this information came to my hands in time, as it may now receive so sufficient an answer as will probably satisfy every candid and impartial reader.
Two things are here asserted concerning Mr. Fletcher : the first, that he was extremely passionate : the second, that there was an austere severity and rigour in his conduct toward the young persons under his care, particularly at Trevecka. The former assertion is unquestionably true; such he was by nature. The latter I question much, with regard to his conduct at Tern, as well as at Trevecka. None can be a more competent witness of his conduct at Tern, than Mr. Vaughan, who lived so long in the same house; and whose testimony concerning him has been so largely given in the preceding pages. But, waiving this, can it possibly be supposed, that either Mr. Hill, or his sons, then verging toward manhood, would have borne the austere rigour and severity of à young man that received his bread from them? yea, and that year after year? Surely the supposition shocks all credibility.
8. Equally incredible is the assertion of his "austere severity and rigour” toward the young men at Trevecka. This is inconsistent with the whole account given by Mr. Benson, an eye and ear witness of all his conduct. Had it been true in any degree, would it have been possible that he should have been so esteemed and beloved by those very young men ?
I cannot forin the least conjecture whence such an assertion could arise, unless it was invented by some young man after Mr. Fletcher was dismissed, in order to ingratiate himself with his patroness.
9. The farther account which Mr. Benson gives of him from personal knowledge is this : “ Mr. Fletcher," says he, "wes naturally a man of strong passions, and prone to anger in particular; insomuch that he has frequently thrown himself on the floor, and laid there most of the night bathed in tears, imploring victory over his own spirit. And he did not strive in vain; he did obtain the victory, in a very eminent degree. For twenty years and upwards before his death, no one ever saw him out of temper, or heard him utter a rash expression, on any provocation whatever. I have often thought the testimony that Bishop Burnet, in the History of his own times, bears of Archbishop Leigizon, might be borne of him with equal propriety : •After an intimate acquaintence with the archbishop for many years, and after being with him by nigi.t and by day, at home and abroad, in public and in private, on sundry occasions and in various affairs, I must say, I never heard an idle word drop from his lips, nor any conversation which was not to the use of edifying. I never saw him in any temper in which I myself would not have wished to be found at death.' Any that has been intimately acquainted with
Mr. Fletcher will say the same of him. But they that knew him best, will say it with the most assurance.
10. His "disengagements from the world, and love of the poor," Mrs. Fletcher joins together, “Never,” says she, “ did I behold any one more dead to the things of the world. His treasure was above; and so was his heart also. He always remembered that admonition of the Apostle, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the things of this life.' It was his constant endeavour to preserve a mind free and disencumbered; and he was exceeding wary of undertaking any business that might distract and hurry it. Yet, in his worldly concerns, knowing himself to be a steward for. God, he would not through carelessness waste one penny. He likewise judged it to be his bounden duty to demand what he knew to be his right. And yet he could well reconcile this with that word, • He that will have thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. Indeed, whether he had less or more, it was the same thing upon his own account, as he had no other use for it, but to spread the Gospel, and to assist the poor. And he frequently said he never was happier than when he had given away the last penny he had in his house. If at any time I had gold in my drawers, it seemed to afford him no comfort. But if he could find a handful of small silver, when he was going out to see the sick, he would express as much pleasure over it as a miser would in discovering a bag of hid treasure. He was never better pleased with my employment, than when he had set me to prepare food or physic for the poor. He was hardly able to relish his dinner, if some sick neighbour had not a part of it; and sometimes, if any one of them was in want, I could not keep the linen in his drawers. On Sundays he provided for numbers of people who came from a distance to hear the word; and his house, as well as his heart, was devoted to their convenience; to relieve them that were afflicted in body or mind was the delight of his heart. Once a poor man, who feared God, being brought into great difficulties, he took down all the pewter from the kitchen shelves, saying, “This will help you; and I can do without it. A wooden trencher will serve me just as well.' In epi. demic and contagious distempers, when the neighbours were afraid to nurse the sick, he has gone from house to house, seeking some that were willing to undertake it. And when none could be found, he has offered his service, to sit up with them himself. But this was at his first setting out here. At present, there appears in many (and has done so for many years) a most ready mind to visit and relieve the distressed. 11. He thoroughly complied with that advice,
"Give to all something; to a good poor man,
Till thou change hands, and be where he began.' I have heard him say, that when he lived alone in his house, the tears have come into his eyes, when one had brought him five or six insignificant letters, at three or four pence a piece; and perhaps he had only a single shilling in the house, to distribute among the poor to whom he was going. He frequently said to me, “O Polly, can we not do without beer? Let us drink water, and eat less meat. Let our necessities give way to the extremities of the poor.'
12. “ But with all his generosity and charity he was strictly careful to follow the advice of the Apostle, Owe no man any thing.' He contracted no debt. While he gave all he had, he made it a rule to pay ready money for every thing; believing this was the best way to keep the mind unencum. bered and free from care. Meanwhile his substance, his time, his strength, his life, were devoted to the service of the poor. And, last of all, he gave me to them. For when we were married, he asked me solemnly, whether I was willing to marry his parish. And the first time he led me among his people in this place, he said, I have not married this wife only for myself, but for you. I asked her of the Lord, for your comfort, as well as my own.'
13. All his life, as well as during his illness, particularly at Newington