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prophet. Some part of his advice, in his correspondence with a young lady, may be styled injudicious, if not enthusiastic; and his apparently unmixed approbation of the proceedings of Mr. Wesley, and his itinerant preachers, strongly savours of the same spirit. His rapturous and triumphant frame of mind, at the approach of death, is however by no means to be ascribed to this influence. Who shall presume to say to what extent God may sometimes be pleased to visit and cheer his faithful servants under such circumstances? And, if visions of glory be sometimes then vouchsafed to the departing saint, upon whom might we expect them to descend sooner than upon this devout person?
In truth, Fletcher displayed much less of what may be properly termed enthusiasm than has been commonly supposed. There is no single word in the English vocabulary more frequently distorted from its true meaning than this. In ordinary discourse, we find it perpetually confounded with great zeal in the cause of religion; whereas the most fervent zeal has no necessary or unavoidable connection with enthusiasm, meaning by the term "a heated imagination," though, in consequence of the frailty of human nature, even in the best of men, it may in some instances be combined with the last mentioned quality. Enthusiasm or fanaticism (for this is now the favourite watchword of partyspirit, as being perhaps the stronger and more sonorous expression of the two) implies, when used in reference to religion, either something which tends to encourage the belief of false revelations and false miracles, or something at least which tends to disfigure true religion, by unintentionally representing it under the form of an absurd theory, or an impracticable attainment. Let Mr. Fletcher's conduct be tried by these definitions, and he will be found to staud tolerably
clear of the charge. And if some few parts of his conduct seem to look like real enthusiasm, let him not be judged too harshly by those who are rescued from all danger in this respect, not by their su perior piety, but by their cooler temperament. If they have less enthusiasm than Mr. Fletcher, let them ask themselves whether they have as much fervent and welldirected zeal.
It must be mentioned, to the honour of his Christian sobriety, that, in his parish of Madeley, we do not hear of those bodily agitations, those fanatical reveries, those occasional impostures, and those equivocal marks of conversion, to say the best of them, which have unhappily disgraced the journals of the Methodists. In the summer of 1773, there happened, at a place in his parish called the Birches, an awful convulsion of nature, by which the Severn was driven from its original bed, and formed for itself a new channel, and some very singular changes were produced in the face of the adjoining district. Fletcher improved the incident so far as to repair to the spot, where a large concourse of people were assembled, for the purpose of addressing them on the subject of religion. In availing himself of these local circumstances, in order to produce an impression on those of his parishioners who seldom visited the church, or who were too hardened to derive benefit from his ordinary ministrations; he appears only to have acted the part of a pastor properly zealous for the spiritual welfare of his flock. A vehement enthusiast would probably have gone farther, by interpreting the event as a decisive miracle, or a manifest judgment from Heaven.
In enthusiasm, as in all other qualities, there are many gradations.
The higher degrees of it are, unquestionably, as far as they influence the conduct, very per
nicious: they have done great in jury to the church, and afforded its enemies much occasion to blaspheme. But there are lower degrees of it, which are less injurious; "and though I would not defend it in any degree, yet, in speaking of its milder shades, let us ever recollect the wise precept of Horace; Ne scutica dignum horribili sectere flagello. Do not visit a venial error with a scourge, only proper for the punishment of an enormity. A spirit of enthusiasm, at all events is not the only, even if it were the worst, error of the modern church of Christ.
Mr. Cox seems to attribute the occasional irregularities of Fletcher almost entirely to the circumstance of his having been a foreigner, unused to the customs and discipline of the English Church. But this account of the matter is quite unsatisfactory; since he is represent ed by his biographer as excusing himself, upon one occasion, from a visit to Switzerland, on the ground of irregular preaching being there impracticable. He did not there. fore acquire his lax notions of church discipline in his own country. The truth is, he had not given the subject any close attention. Led away in this respect by the ardour of his zeal, and by his compassion for the souls of men, he allowed little scope to the exercise of his judgment; and, like Whitfield and Wesley, though by no means to the same extent, lost sight of clerical consistency and general consequences, in the prospect of immediate and extensive usefulness. His ill-advised connexion with Lady Huntingdon's college at Trevecca, arose from the influence of the same principle. -He is not to be accused of ambitious aims. He never aspired to be the leader of a sect. But, for a clergyman, he certainly too much identified himself with the wellintended, but in many respects unjustifiable, proceedings of the
Methodists. It ought, at the same time, to be mentioned to his credit that he withstood the entreaties of some of Mr. Wesley's co-adjutors urging him to become an itinerant preacher; and said, with his accustomed simplicity, that the snail was best in its shell, and that he would keep in his sentry-box till Providence should remove him.
If we are to judge of his general preaching by some outlines of unwritten sermons which have been preserved, he would appear to have been more highly gifted with the talent of invention than with that of selection and orderly arrangement. In the outline, for example, given by Mr. Cox, of a sermon on Luke xii. 20, there is no want of matter; but the discourse is broken down into too many parts, and some of his divisions are trifling or improper. Perhaps his taste in preaching would have been more correct, had he devoted more attention to the study of polite literature. This he totally neglected, during the latter years of his life. He had an imagination eminently formed to feel the full force both of the pathetic and the sublime. But he was too much absorbed in the plain obvious duties of his great work, to find time or patience for studying any thing that tended only subordinately to promote his paramount object. Still his preaching, however deficient in good taste, must have possessed the eloquence of nature and reality. One trait well deserves to be recorded. In the midst, says his biographer, of a most animated description of the terrible day of the Lord, he suddenly paused; every feature of his expressive countenance was marked with painful feeling; and striking his forehead with the palm of his hand, he exclaimed, "Wretched man that I am!-Beloved brethren, it often cuts me to the soul, as it does at this moment, to reflect, that while I have been endeavouring by the
force of truth, by the beauty of holiness, and even by the terrors of the Lord, to bring you to walk in the paths of righteousness, I am, with respect to many who reject the Gospel, only tying millstones round your necks, to sink you deeper in perdition!" The whole church, it is added, was electrified; and it was some time before he could resume his subject. Massillon's celebrated apostrophe on the day of judgment, which produced such emotion in his courtly audience, was adapted for the cultivated meridian of Paris: Fletcher's interruption was admirably suited to strike the rude villagers of Madeley. Massillon's was elaborate and sublime: Fletcher's was simple and pathetic. It was an arrow that went directly to the heart.
round his parish, at five o'clock on Sunday mornings, with a bell, to summon the idlers of his flock to prepare for church, though it may excite a smile, can never seriously degrade him in the estimation of any liberal and reflecting mind.
His powers of conversation appear to have been very remarkable. There are two instances related, in which he combated infidel, or at least sceptical, opponents, with such force of reasoning, such admirable restraint of temper, and such Christian meekness, as produced a very considerable effect upon their minds. He bad a clear and solid judgment, whenever he calmly exercised that faculty.
I can merely touch upon some minor excellencies of the character of this remarkable man. There was nothing in his conduct savouring of violence or vulgarity. His family being nobly allied, and his education liberal, he retained a polish and urbanity, which, while it never interfered with the faithful discharge of his ministerial duties, served to recommend him to persons of rank and influence. Yet such was his indifference to worldly distinctions, that owing to a mistake which he had never been at the pains to rectify, his wife for some time believed him to have been the son of a common soldier only, instead of a general officer. Even his eccentricities were respectable; and the circumstance of his going
Such was Mr. Fletcher, the Vicar of Madeley. He was, in many respects, a burning and a shining light; not indeed exempt from human frailty, but affording a memorable example of the power of genuine Christianity to purify, exalt, and enoble the character of man.-Let us, for a nioment, imagine what such a person as Mr. Fletcher might have proved, without the influences of Divine grace, and the tuition of the Gospel of Christ. Probably he would have been still amiable, candid, benevolent, upright, and enterprizing. He might have proved, in his humbler sphere of action, what an Antoninus Pius was, upon the seat of the Roman empire. But all his exertions would have been confined to the temporal benefit of his fellow-creatures; and probably a conviction of the little he could perform for the alleviation of human misery, might in some degree have paralized his labours, and dried up the source of his philanthropy. But view him as a minister of Christ, impressed with a firm belief of the Gospel, and with a deep sense of his own personal responsibility, in delivering the message of reconciliation to a careless and corrupt world, and how are all his natural qualifications for usefulness stimulated and improved! He now finds an object worthy of the utmost ardor of his spirit. Inflamed with the love of God, and deeply touched with compassion for the souls of men, he possesses motives for exertion infinitely superior to any with which he could be furnished by mere worldly considerations. When checked by occasional discouragements, he supports his courage, prompts his
perseverance, and keeps alive his activity, by a reference to the commands and promises of Scripture; and by dependence on the strength of an Almighty Arm. In the mean time, he is not insensible to the great recompense of reward, and to the dreadful consequences of losing it. This obliges him to "keep his heart, with all diligence;" and, in watching over his own personal advancement in religion, he finds that he is promoting most effectually the spiritual good of others, and that his example adds tenfold weight to his instructions.
It is perhaps, vain to hope for many such brilliant exhibitions of Christian piety and holiness, until that period, when "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea." Providence, however, has graciously ordained, that a few such "lights in the world" should arise in every age, for the purpose of shewing what true religion is able to do for men, putting to shame the languid and lukewarm professor of Christianity, and rousing the sincere believer to greater vigilance and exertion. Instances of this kind are
patterns of good works; which ought to be preserved, like the great master-pieces in cabinets of art, as proper objects for the study of all who desire to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is true, there is but one who did no sin, and in whom every species of perfection
is to be found. Let Him ever be the grand model for our imitation. But let us, at the same time, follow others, in proportion as they followed the Saviour, and learn to admire and copy his excellence, as it appears reflected in those who
have most adorned his doctrine, and extended farthest the boundaries of his kingdom.
FAMILY SERMONS.-No. CLX.
Luke xxiii. 46.-And when Jesus
had cried with a loud voice, he
FEW things affect the mind more
We are not
as are recorded of some of the ancient philosophers, or for a repetition of the conversations which he was accustomed to hold with his
beloved disciples, or the listening
multitudes. His words were but
which beamed in all he said and
did," Woman, behold thy son; son, behold thy mother;" the fourth was an expression of the deepest mental anguish," My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me !" the fifth, of extreme bodily suffering, "I thirst;" the sixth, a tri
umphant exclamation of victory and conscious pleasure, even in the midst of extreme weakness," It is finished;" the seventh, and last, was the calm self-committal to God of a soul about to quit a body worn down by afflictions and languishing on the cross, in sure and certain hope of that heavenly state which was instantly to burst upon it in unclouded glory," Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Having said thus, he meekly submitted to the stroke of death, and was translated to the presence of his Father and our Father, of his God and our God, there to dwell for ever in the glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world.
It may afford us profit, in meditating on the last words of our dying Saviour, first, to consider some of the circumstances under which he uttered them; and, secondly, to inquire what impression they ought to make upon our minds.
And, first, let us ask what were the circumstances under which these memorable words were pronounced. Often have they been uttered by the lips of the faithful in all ages: they were the language of David, in the thirty-first Psalm, when in his heaviness he betook himself to his God: they were the language of St. Stephen, the first of that noble army of martyrs who died for the testimony of a cruci fied and ascended Redeemer: since which period often have they vibrated from the dungeon and at the stake, as well as from the calmer death-beds of innumerable private Christians who from time to time have "slept in Jesus," awaiting the blissful moment when the sacred deposit thus committed to the hands of a "faithful Creator" shall be reunited to its once frail and earth ly, but then glorified and imperishable, tenement, and shall be for ever with the Lord. But, hallowed as are these memorable words, by the lips of saints, and confessors,
and martyrs, never were they uttered under circumstances so interesting to us all, as those in which they are recorded in the text. They were then the language of the incarnate and expiring Redeemer ; of Him who though equal with the Father, as touching his Godhead, and thinking it no robbery to claim the incommunicable honours of the Divine nature, yet made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, under the lingering tortures of which he was now bidding farewell to a world which he had dignified by his presence, and redeemed by his blood; but which knew him not, and treated him as a blasphemer, an outcast, and a malefactor.
In looking back at the circumstances connected with the dying exclamation of our Lord, we may, in fact, retrace all the leading events of human history. Even in paradise his final conflict with the powers of darkness was foretold. The Seed of the woman was to bruise the head of the serpent; but "thou," it is added of the serpent, "shalt bruise his heel." The whole train of the subsequent narrative of mankind, up to the present hour, has shewn the unhappy necessity for such a sacrifice for human transgression: the rites of primitive worship pointed towards it: it was foreshadowed in types, revealed in promises, and predicted in prophecies. At length, in the fulness of time, Messiah came : he was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners: he went about doing good: his greatest enemies could find no fault in him; yet we see him despised, rejected, buffeted, spit upon, scourged, and at length nailed in agony to the cross. When we retrace all the affecting circumstances of his extreme suffering in the garden of