"The Lord did not cease being holy when the New Testament began; His nature did not change. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began with'...hallowed be thy name.' If we would truly know Him as He is, we need an Old Testament fear of the Lord combined with the New Testament experience of His grace...the more we see God as He is, the more compelled we are to give Him our all." Francis Frangipane
"...He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit..." Yeshua Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah)
"Oh, that Christ would come near, and stand still, and give me leave to look upon him!" Samuel Rutherford
"It is, or should be, the desire of every Christian to see and enjoy more and more of the glory of God. A view of the divine glory crucifies our lusts and puts the corruptions of the heart to death." John Angell James
"To dwell with God is better than life at its best; life at ease, in a palace, in health, in honor, in wealth, in pleasure; yea, a thousand lives are not equal to the eternal life which abides in Jehovah's smile." Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Who was John William Fletcher? The Wikipedia states:
"...Fletcher was a contemporary of John Wesley (the founder of Methodism), a key interpreter of Wesleyan theology in the 18th century, and one of Methodism's first great theologians...Fletcher was renowned in the Britain of his day for his piety and generosity..."
This is such a dry, generic, encyclopedia kind of report on a person's life but it is a report that John Fletcher would probably describe as being too prideful for one even though that person is dead. Fletcher's ministry came during and was overshadowed by John Wesley's. Yet it was Fletcher's life and ministry that had such an influence on Wesley's revivals. Forgotten by modern Church historians, Fletcher not only changed the course of the Church but also affected national events by his prayers and passion. Extremely humble and reserved to the point of being elusive at times he was a constant source of inspiration and godliness to all men, including Wesley. Fletcher lived for Christ, walked with Christ, talked to Christ, and molded his lifestyle after Christ. Hubert Brooke says about Fletcher, "...He was one of Wesley's fellow workers and a man of saintly character."
So, I ask the question again, Who was John William Fletcher? Lets' read the testimonies of Fletchers contemporaries on his Christ-like spirit:
Preached Fletcher's funeral sermon from the words "Mark the perfect man."
"He was a man of rare talents and rarer virtue. No age or country has ever produced a man of more fervent piety and more perfect charity; no church has ever produced a more apostolic minister. He was a man of whom Methodism may well be proud, as the most able of its defenders, and one of whom the Church of England may hold in remembrance as one of the most pious and excellent of her sons."
"Fletcher was a saint, as unearthly a being as could tread the earth at all!"
"Fletcher is a seraph who burns with the ardour of divine love. Spurning the fetters of mortality, he almost habitually seems to have anticipated the rapture of the beatific vision."
"I believe John Fletcher to be the most holy man who has been upon the earth since the apostolic age."
Who was John Fletcher? He was a man who walked in the Spirit of God. John Fletcher of Madeley, Shropshire, England, was a saint to whom the rolling drunks in the village, when Fletcher walked by, doffed their hats and muttered, "There goes the man that loves our souls."
Leonard Ravenhill once wrote:
"Praying produced Fletcher's holy living; conversely, Fletcher's holy living produced prayer."
Besides Christ, Fletcher had two passions in life; prayer and sanctification. He often wrote about sanctification as well as the development of Pentecostal theology. That was the attraction Fletcher saw in the current move of Methodism in England. John Wesley influenced, and was influenced by, the writings of Fletcher concerning perfection through the cleansing of the heart to be made perfect in love.
Born at Nyon, Switzerland on September 12, 1729, Fletcher's original name was Jean Guillaume de la Fletchere. He was educated in Geneva and as a young man he intended to make a life in the army. A series of circumstances changed all his plans and after an accident that kept him from sailing overseas with his regiment, he visited an uncle in England. In 1752, while in England, he was introduced to the revival that was sweeping the English continent called "Methodism". Five years later he was ordained and immediately began preaching. Belonging to the Anglican Church of England he traveled and preached with John Wesley. He became a fervent supporter of the revival hoping to spread the holiness flavor into the Church of England. He was one of the few denominational ministers who understood Wesley and his work. All the time espousing Wesley's call for sanctification and holiness he never said anything inconsistent with his Anglican position. Fletcher had a strong calling to be a pastor so he gave himself to assisting the vicar of Madeley. His time was divided with helping the parish and traveling on the preaching circuit with John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. During this time he was increasing in his knowledge and communion with his Lord. David Smith wrote:
"...he had met too much dead orthodoxy to permit him to move freely amongst those who were loud in their claim to eternal life but showed little of it in their homes; there is no doubt that he took every opportunity to denounce unethical behavior in Christians." Smith continues, "Straight after his ordination in March 1757, this likeable young man, not yet thirty years of age, offered himself to John Wesley as an itinerant colleague. This came in direct answer to prayer and caused the Wesley's ever to have a large place in their hearts for him; his energy, charm, forthrightness, and clarity of thought, were a source of encouragement for three busy years."
After that time the call for him to minister as a pastor grew stronger. He was offered , by the Bishop of London, a large and well paying diocese of Dunham but he decided to stay and assume the pastorate of the little church in Madeley, remarking:
"It was the one that looked as if it would make the most demands of a vicar, and yet offer the least financial reward."
There he would labor for the next twenty-five years. David Smith vividly reveals to us what awaited Fletcher:
"Fletcher labored here; hated, loved, cursed, adored, persecuted, and misunderstood, he shared the plight of the common people with remarkable patience. Although there were large, well-attended churches in those days, which offered fine stipends, he sought a community which needed him. The love of material things, which looms so large in the twentieth century, was not unknown to this well-brought up cleric, but the call to deny one's self daily was more real to him. Such single-mindedness in derelict congregations (for this is an apt description of the situation at Madeley when he arrived on the scene) can only bring about either utter failure or complete victory; it pleased God to revive His work in that pathetic corner of His vineyard."
Immediately on arriving, Fletcher began to question if he was in God's will. During the first year very few people attended the services. Loneliness and depression set in. Finally, after months of serious prayer he came to see that this was the place that God would have him be, despite the lack of response.
Madeley was a hard town. It was full of profane and ignorant people who thought heathenism was a way of life. Fletcher knew just what to do. Taking walks around the town he made notes and these would become the basis for his preaching the next Sunday when he took the pulpit. As they sat in the pews hypocrites would be confronted of drunkenness, orgies, bull-baiting and stealing along with general immorality. Even though, because of this type of preaching, he suffered many attacks of all kinds, within two years the town of Madeley had changed perceptively. One resident left us this insight:
"What had been a small country town in which no inhabitant desired decency, and where all forms of religion were derided, became a holy place; the church was packed for worship every Sunday both morning and evening...much prayer attended the ministry of the Word."
During this time a fellow pastor, in another town, understanding the battle that Fletcher had gone through, asked him if he had any needs, Fletcher responded, "...I want nothing but more grace."
Fletcher's days were never ending. He had a certain place in his study which he favored for prevailing prayer. He would kneel and agonize for souls hours every day. Two evenings a week he would sit up studying the Scriptures until just before dawn and then sleep for a few hours. Then he would be up and out among the people caring for the aged, the poor, the dying, widows and orphans. He gave willingly that there was usually very little left of his stipend for the upkeep of his house and for meals. He literally chased down sinners to share the gospel with them. He robbed the people of every excuse not to attend church. On many occasions he would walk through the streets ringing a bell loudly at five in the morning to deny them the excuse that they could not awaken themselves for Sunday service. No weather could keep him from his appointed rounds. Wherever and whenever he was needed he was there. He gave himself so greatly that it began to affect his health, eventually he would suffer from tuberculosis by his constant exposure to the elements.
John Wesley was disappointed when Fletcher chose to become vicar of Madeley, hoping instead that Fletcher would become his co-leader of Methodism. Wesley actually pleaded with Fletcher to be an "equal partner" with him, thinking that there is no one else who was the equal of Fletcher to carry on the work of the Methodists. Laurence W. Wood writes:
"In a letter to Charles Wesley, Fletcher explained this offer: ‘Your brother(John) has finally done me the favor of writing to me. An extract from his letter is this: ‘It is not right for you to be alone. You would do more good and gain more benefit from being among us. Come, then, and if you do not wish to be an equal partner with me, I will be ready to serve under you'."
After seeing the fruit of Fletcher's ministry in Madeley, Wesley understood the steadfast obligation Fletcher had to the people. In his later years, Wesley would again try to woo him as his successor, having no idea that he would far out live his great friend and even preach at his funeral.
By this time the church in Madeley could scarcely contain those who wished to attend the services. Fletcher, in order to make room and train converts, started a system that today we call Sunday School. He fervently preached regeneration, saying, that only with a new birth, a new creation, did one belong to Christ. In his sermons he would often tell how at 18 years of age he became a Christian but did not hold Christ in his heart. All the good works he had done had been from pride or from the fear of hell, not for the love of God:
"The state of a true Christian is a state of peace, joy, love and holiness; but before a man attains it, he must go through a course of fear, anxiety and repentance...for no one was ever cured in soul by...Jesus Christ, until he felt himself sin sick, and was loaded in his conscience with the burden of his iniquities; especially that of a hard impenitent heart, which he could not himself break and soften."
Eight years after his arrival at Madeley, the Countess of Huntingdon asked Fletcher to become the president of her newly founded college for student ministers, called Trevecca College. He refused to accept this office, unless it could be a part-time appointment; he wished to remain the vicar of Madeley and continue in the pastoral office. The countess, not wanting to lose him, agreed to his terms. The students were in for the ride of their lives. David R. Smith gives us insight into a classroom on the days that Fletcher visited the college:
"The ministry students confessed that they did not know, at times, if they were in this world or the next. For days at a time, they spent long hours doing nothing other than seeking the face of the Saviour. On occasions, they would not refer to their study books at all for a whole week. The visits of Fletcher were times of Pentecostal visitation; voluntary confession, heart-searching, and delightful prayer meetings, were the natural order of the day. This behavior might seem strange to those who know that John Fletcher was such an opponent of extremism and so voluble a contender for the need of each minister to be both a student and a man acquainted with contemporary events. Considering that the college was well furnished with competent teachers, Fletcher took the line that he was a sort of visiting pastor who ought to stir up the students in their faith. Knowing the practical problems which they would meet in parish life, he considered that they had need of the most intimate knowledge of the Son of God. He urged them to seek God in order that they might become partakers of the divine promises, and living emblems of the power of the Almighty."
Hubert Brooke has a word about Fletcher during this time:
"Fletcher, a great teacher of two centuries ago, was one of Wesley's fellow-workers and a man of most saintly character, who used to teach the young theological students. Whenever he spoke on one of the great topics on the Word of God (such as the fullness of God's Holy Spirit or the power of blessing God meant His people to have), he would close the lecture and say, ‘ That is the theory; now will those who want the practice come along to my room.' Again and again they closed their books and went away to Fletcher's room where the one hour's theory would be followed by one or two hours of practice in prayer."
Thomas Benson, one of the ministry students under Fletcher remembers:
"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 a while in the classroom he (Fletcher) used frequently to say, ‘As many of you as are athirst for the fullness of the Spirit follow me to my room.' On this, many of us instantly followed him and continued there till noon for three or four hours, praying for one another until we could bear to kneel no longer."
Fletcher's ministry, although it had a powerful effect on all it touched, caused severe jealousy to rise in his relationships with other neighboring Church of England clergy. They criticized Fletcher and wrote an official complaint about him causing a schism. Their argument was that his constant preaching of good living has upset some of the communicants at Madeley that they cannot bear to attend communion services. Since it is his preaching that has caused them to stop making communion he is responsible for dividing the Body of Christ. Fletcher found it pointless to argue especially with clergy who were not born again. He bore the persecution and wrote letters that were the warmest communications, to those who were offended. It wasn't long that his enemies learned to respect his godly attitude towards all things.
Fletcher walked in remarkable spiritual power and he preached in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. In his services tears were commonplace. His regular congregation grew by leaps and bounds. It didn't matter where he went throughout England, whole audiences were reduced to a state of conviction. Many congregations could not disperse for hours after his preaching because of the mutual hunger and desperation for the presence of God that brings one to repentance. There are many cases of remarkable healings on record. When many of the churches he ministered in offered a large offering to him, he politely refused or gave the money to a needy congregant:
"His unchanging attitude towards money and every form of worldly wealth, must have appeared incomprehensible to his contemporaries; he was quite unmoved by offers of comfort and luxuries. In fact, purely on the grounds of the fact that a ‘certain young lady' had wealth, he spurned the love of the one woman he felt he could marry. Only after Miss Mary Bosanquet had been disowned by her family for her evangelical views, which was twenty-five years after they first met, did Fletcher break the silence and make the long-awaited proposal. Even then, he made it quite clear that, although he loved her, it was her extreme poverty and want which made it possible for him to approach her in that way!"
John and Mary were married in 1781. He was fifty-two years old, just three years and nine months away from his death.
It wasn't long after the wedding that it was discovered that Fletcher was suffering from tuberculosis. Contrary to doctor's orders to rest and be bed-ridden Fletcher was off on a preaching tour of Switzerland to share with his fellow countrymen about the love, wonders and power of the living God. He bore suffering the same way he bore misunderstandings " calm in every crisis."
In 1784 he was the guest speaker at a Wesleyan Conference. Even though, by this time, he was very ill and in great pain, he was forever the pastor at heart, expressing the hope that after his death Madeley would remain part of the Methodist preaching circuit.
On August 14, 1785 at the age of 56, John William Fletcher, the humble Christ-like man who spent a lifetime seeking to look upon the face of Jesus finally did.
John Wesley always thought that at his death he could turn the reigns of the Methodist Church over to the capable hands of that "thriving youngster." But Wesley himself laid Fletcher to rest and preached at his funeral:
"Many exemplary men have I known, holy in heart and life, within many years. But one equal to him (Fletcher) I have not known, one so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God. So unimpeachable in 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 the other world air about this saintly man, the piety that drunks could see, the apostolic ministry that he conducted, these were all results of his fervent prayer. Above all, Fletcher prayed."
His Christ likeness was known, not only in England but throughout Europe. The famous Voltaire, when challenged in a debate to produce a character as nearly perfect as that of Christ, at once mentioned "Fletcher of Madeley!"
John 14:23 "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."
J.J.(Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church