Page images

dually towards the ministerial office. He thought much and deeply upon the subject, and gave himself to study and an abstemious regimen. In both these he appears to have carried matters to an extreme, and in some degree to have injured his constitution. In the year 1756, he lost his father; and in the month of March, of the following year, entered into full orders in the Church of England. He was now twentyeight years of age. Between this period and his entrance upon the vicarage of Madeley, he preached in different places, as occasion offered; and assisted Mr. Wesley, whose cast of piety was in many respects similar to his own. During this interval, also, he was urged by his mother, in the most pressing manner, to visit her in Switzerland; but, strange to say, he refused to comply with her request. She was now a widow, and her son was comparatively at leisure. He ought, therefore, doubtless to have obeyed the summons; and the reasons which he assigned for not doing so, savour strongly of that spirit of enthusiasm from which his character was by no means free, and which had probably derived strength and influence from his recent connexion with Mr. Wesley and the Methodists.

Through the influence of Mr. Hill, Mr. Fletcher was presented, in 1759, to the vicarage of Madeley, which he retained, without any other preferment, during the remainder of his life. The value of the living was very moderate, and the duty was laborious; but it was just such a sphere of exertion as he was qualified to occupy and adorn. Though a perfect gentleman in mind and manners, his extreme simplicity, and his rigid habits of life, perhaps rendered his labours more acceptable and successful in a populous country parish,than they would have been in the midst of a polished and luxurious metropolis. His devout zeal and activity will be noticed hereafter. He was particularly

happy in bringing religious truth to bear with force upon rude, uncultivated minds. He had for his enemies, publicans, colliers, and profligates; and he appears to have understood the art of dealing with them, quite as well as Whitefield or Wesley, but with more mildness of spirit, and greater simplicity of deportment.

After ten years of indefatigable exertion at Madeley, he at length consented to visit his relations on the Continent. On the eve of his departure, he had to contend with some Roman Catholics, who had opened a chapel in his parish, and succeeded in preventing them from making any great progress in that neighbourhood. Accompanied by his friend Mr. Ireland, he now visited the south of France, with part of Italy, and took Switzerland' on his return. In this journey he displayed much active and enlightened curiosity, in inquiring into the doctrine and worship of the Catholics. He also visited the remnant of the poor Huguenots, who had been the victims of Lewis's tyranny, on the revocation of the' Edict of Nantes. He went to them in the character of a pilgrim, charmed the cottagers of the Cevennes with his manners and conversation, edified them by his prayers and instructions, attended on their sick, and had much discourse with the Protestant pastors of the country. He afterwards proceeded to Marseilles and Genoa, and thence to Rome. Here his zeal against Popery burst forth in imprudent remarks, which, but for the caution of his fellow-traveller, might have been productive of uu-' pleasant consequences. The Appian Way reminded him of St. Paul; and he alighted from his carriage, that he might not ride over ground where the Apostle had formerly walked, chained to a soldier. After visiting the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, he returned home by way of Switzerland, and preached with success at Nyon, his native

place. At his departure, weeping multitudes crowded round his carriage. He arrived in England in the summer of the year 1770, after an absence of five months.

The next remarkable circumstance of his life was his connexion with Lady Huntingdon's seminary at Trevecca, in South Wales. He seems to have acted there in the capacity of an authorised visitor and general superintendant; but he soon found it necessary to withdraw from his office. The doctrinal sentiments of the Foundress materially differed from his own; ́and divisions sprang up in the college, which involved him in a painful controversy. As no man was naturally more averse to doctrinal disputes than Mr. Fletcher, so few men upon the whole, and considering all the circumstances of the case, have conducted them in a more Christian spirit. He certainly was, on some occasions, severe in his remarks, though in general he maintained a far better temper than most of his allies and opponents in the whole of that singularly acrimonious controversy. With regard to his powers as a polemic, he will hardly be thought a match, in metaphysics, for President Edwards, even by those who think that President Edwards is in the wrong.

Mr. Fletcher soon after engaged, upon religious grounds, in the political controversy respecting the right of resistance to taxation claimed by our American Colonies. His praise of the British Constitution will be cordially admitted by many, who might disapprove of his general reasoning on the question of colonial dependence. "To be a subject of Great Britain," said he, "is to be the happiest subject of any civil government in the world." His incessant studies and labours began now to affect his health. Change of air being recommended, he again quitted Madeley in the autumn of 1776, and, after spending some time in travelling and making visits to his friends, without

reaping the expected benefit, he determined upon another journey to his native mountains. Accompanied again by his friend, Mr. İreland, he travelled through France to Aix and Montpellier, and so far recovered strength as to be able to preach at both those places. In the Spring of the year 1778, he again visited Nyon, and continued in that neighbourhood nearly three years; during which time, the climate, together with the affectionate attentions of his friends, gradually restored him to health. He returned to England in April, 1781.


Mr. Fletcher, from his age, as well as from the state of his health and habits, appeared unlikely to marry: but now, at length, when turned of fifty, he united himself to Miss Bosanquet, an old acquaintance, and a lady of eminent piety and respectable connexions. The marriage took place in November, 1781. This union, during the short time it lasted, seems to have been remarkably happy. It was founded on Christian principle, and cemented by a similarity of taste and temper. In the object of his choice he found an help meet for him," with respect to his ministerial exertions. The remainder of his life, with few interruptions, was passed in the bosom of his beloved parish, and in unwearied labours for the souls of men. To those labours he at last fell a sacrifice; for, venturing into the pulpit, one Sunday, under the influence of a cold and fever, he so increased his disorder, that he only survived the effort about a week, and expired on Sunday, August 14, 1785, in the fiftysixth year of his age. His deathbed corresponded with the uniform tenor of his life. We are informed by his friend, Mr. Gilpin, that he experienced not merely the ordinary consolations, but the triumphs, of faith; and that, when deprived of the power of speech, his countenance discovered him to be secretly engaged in the contemplation of eternal things.-I shall not detail

particulars; as those of your readers who do not recollect the pathetic scene of his last hours, may refer to your Review of Benson's Memoir, already mentioned, or to the extracts from Southey's Life of Wesley, in your vol. for 1820, p. 756. There is an anecdote related of him, which conveys a high idea of the expressiveness of this good man's countenance. When he was at Dublin, during the latter part of his life, he preached at the French Church there, to the descendants of the persecuted Huguenots. Amongst his hearers were some, who were totally unacquainted with the French language. Being asked why they went to hear a sermon which they could not understand, they replied, "We went to look at him; for heaven seemed to beam from his countenance."-The portrait prefixed to Mr. Cox's Memoir, certainly justifies, in some degree, this sentiment of admiration. It is >the countenance of a man intent Supon heavenly things, and mingling all the charities of the Gospel of Christ with its ennobling principles and glorious prospects.

Having detailed as much of the outline of the life of this remarkable person as was necessary to my purpose, I propose cursorily to examine some of the principal features of his character.

The most striking peculiarity of Mr. Fletcher's character was doubtless his uniform and exalted piety; that devotional spirit which seems hardly ever to have abandoned him, and which threw a sort of unearthly and angelic lustre over the whole current of his life. It made its appearance in childhood; was perhaps a little impaired during the first years of youth, but soon burst forth with new vigour, and continued to burn with a bright and steady flame throughout the remainder of his days. One anecdote, mentioned by Mr. Cox, I shall relate. "One day, while quite a child, having displeased his father, he ran away from him to avoid correction,

and endeavoured to conceal himself. But his conduct presently struck him with remorse. What,' said he, do I run away from my father? Perhaps I shall live to have a son that will run away from me.'" This was a remark which, in a mere child, discovered a spirit of reflection and a sense of duty betokening no ordinary character in after life. The language of Dr. Price respecting him speaks a volume, when we consider the person from whose lips it came. He is said to have expressed "his satisfaction at being introduced to the company of one whose air and countenance bespoke him fitted rather for the society of angels, than for the conversation of men."

Mr. Cox rightly attributes the unabated influence of his devotional spirit to "the power which he so pre-eminently possessed, of living as in the presence of God, by habitual recollection." It is not perhaps sufficiently considered how difficult of attainment is such a degree of piety among Christians engaged in the ordinary concerns of life. The faithful minister of the sanctuary has in this respect a manifest advantage over most of the laity, by the general bearing and tendency of his studies and pursuits; though very few indeed, even amongst this highly favoured class of individuals, are found to approach the standard of Mr. Fletcher's spirituality of habit. In the case of Christians busied about their worldly occupations, such an attainment is still more difficult. The constitution of the human mind admits but of one train of ideas at the same time: consequently, wherever an elevated spirit of piety is maintained in the soul, it must be kept up, under the needful influences of Divine grace, by a frequent recurrence of the thoughts to God and religious considerations. This is indeed truly difficult amidst the common occupations of life; but it is not

tempers and habits, than at first sight appears.

impracticable. There are examples to be found, rare examples in deed, of men who can carry a highly devotional spirit along with them, even into the counting-house or the exchange, and who contrive to preserve a steady frame of cheerful piety in the transaction of their worldly affairs, without, at the same time, betraying any want of prudence, management, or dexterity. Their talent is truly enviable; and their happy art must have been taught them by a Divine Instructor; whose influences however, for our encouragement be it remembered, will not be withheld from any who humbly endeavour to copy their bright example, and to follow them as they followed Christ Jesus.

Again; the characteristic qualities of the mind and heart may perhaps be of such a nature as to afford some individuals an advantage over others, in the cultivation of this habitual piety. A feeling heart and a lively imagination give a certain impulse and development to religious principle; which impulse will be found less operative in a cold and calculating disposition. Were it true that any of the fallen posterity of Adam are formed by nature to feel the steady influence of piety, it might be said with apparent propriety, that Fletcher was one of these bright instances; yet even he, pre-eminent as were his Christian graces, possessed an evil nature at war with the spirit of his mind, and which required the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. Still we may perhaps allowably conjecture, that the soil, when once impregnated with the seed of Divine grace, was aided, in some small degree, by the liveliness and elevation of his fancy, and the warm sensibility of his heart; though at the same time it may be fairly replied that these qualities were equally open to the influence of the world and of sin; so that,after all, the balance is more equal among Christians of different

[ocr errors]

I should be much concerned, if these observations, naturally suggested by the subject under review, should be construed into any apology for indifference with regard to the cultivation of a high tone of piety and devotion. Truly would I say, God forbid that this should be their effect. On the one hand, let the highly devotional Christian, imitate the conduct of Fletcher, and of one far greater than Fletcher, in being careful not to break the bruised reed, or to quench the smoking flax; and let him manifest the influence of his charity, in not judging' harshly of those sincere believers who fall short of his own attainments. And, on the other, let those weaker Christians, who perceive in themselves a great want of the spirit of habitual and constant piety, cease to think it an impossible acquisition, and be encouraged, by the example of such men as Fletcher, to seek after continual advances in the Divine life.

Great humility in his intercourse with others was another striking peculiarity of this extraordinary person. Some amusing instances of this are produced by his biographers. He refused to visit the poor Protestants of the Cevennes on borseback, saying to his fellowtraveller, who had objected to his pedestrian propensities; "Shall I make a visit on horseback, and at ease, to those poor cottagers, whose fathers were hunted along yonder rocks, like partridges upon the mountains?" At another time, his friend,' the Rev. Mr. Gilpin, perceiving a funeral waiting at the church gate, took thesurplice, and commenced the service: but he had hardly entered the desk, when Mr. Fletcher, who had been visiting a sick person, came into the church; and gently drawing away a lad, who was officiating in the absence of the clerk, took his place, and acted as clerk to Mr. Gilpin.-Nothing seemed

hard, nothing wearisome, which tended to promote the good of his neighbours. Mrs. Fletcher was frequently grieved to call him out of his study two or three times in an hour; especially when she knew he was engaged in some importantwork. But on such occasions he would answer, with his usual piety, "Oh, never mind. It matters not what is the employment,if we are but ready to meet the will of God. It is conformity to his will alone that makes any employment excellent." If he overtook a poor person on the road, with a burden too heavy for him, he would offer to bear a part of it, and would not easily take a denial. To a person unacquainted with the whole of his character, these instances might seem to border upon a voluntary and ostentatious humility. But I do not suspect him of having been, at any time, actuated by those motives of ambition, which may sometimes have influenced the Franciscan Friar in his professions of poverty, whether of purse or spirit. If there was one feature which predominated above another in Mr. Fletcher, it was simplicity. But, though the instances just mentioned do not impeach his sincerity of heart, they detract a little from the credit of his judgment, and are parts of his character savouring too much of needless singularily to be proposed as a model for imitation. There were, however, many circumstances in which his humility shone to more advan


It does not always happen that persons of a studiousand devotional temper are distinguished for bodily exertion and active usefulness. Some, who have been too much addicted to what is called Mysticism in religion, may be said to have wasted their days amidst the clouds of abstract contemplation, when they might have been more properly employed in discharging their duties upon the level of active life. We are informed by Burnet, that even the learned, argumentative, and excel

lent Bishop Pearson was more distinguished for exertion in his study, than in his diocese. I am not about to compare Fletcher with Bishop Pearson in point of learning and judgment. The latter was far superior in these respects. But perhaps, in return, this good prelate might have been able to derive a useful lesson from Fletcher's unwearied assiduity in his pastoral office, had he lived to witness it. Here he was "instant in season, and out of season." He may be said to have strictly followed the advice of St. Paul to Timothy, in

[ocr errors]

giving himself wholly" to his ministerial labors. "In his daily walks through his parish," says Mr. Cox, "there was hardly an individual who escaped his notice; and he had for each a word in season, adapted to his character, circumstances, and capacity. Always in his work, he was never out of his way. Whole nights he waited on the humblest and most infectious sick. If he heard the knocker in the coldest winter night, his window was instantly opened; and when he understood either that some one was hurt in the pits, or that a neighbour was likely to die; no consideration was ever paid to the darkness of the night, or the severity of the weather; but this answer was uniformly given, 'I will attend you immediately." He at last fell a sacrifice to zeal in his public ministrations, when a little seasonable prudence would proba bly have lengthened his life. But it is not given to any human being and those great and daring spirits, to possess wisdom at all times; who have performed more in twenty years of exertion, than ordinary men do in fifty, have not unusually become thevictims of an ardour utterly disproportionate to the short spau of human existence. Their very conviction of its shortness has sometimes cut them off before the ordinary term of life, by stimulating them to a career of exertion beyond their strength. But, with

« PreviousContinue »