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[Illustration: John Fletcher]
FLETCHER OF MADELEY
BY BRIGADIER MARGARET ALLEN
THE SALVATION ARMY PRINTING WORKS, ST. ALBANS.
I. AT THE CASTLE II. IN THE MANOR HOUSE III. EARLY ADVENTURES IV. A SWEET GIRLHOOD V. A NEW LIFE VI. GIVEN UP TO THE FIGHT VII. TURNED FROM HOME VIII. THE TERN HALL TUTOR IX. THE VICAR OF MADELEY X. AN ALARMED PARISH XI. THE VICAR'S SERMONS XII. SCANTY ENCOURAGEMENTS XIII. THE ORPHAN HOME XIV. A SEEKER AFTER GOD XV. SANCTIFIED LETTER-WRITING XVI. AN UNFORTUNATE PURCHASE XVII. THE COLLEGE OF TREVECCA XVIII. A PEN OF POWER XIX. FAILING HEALTH XX. BY THE SHORES OF LAKE LEMAN XXI. A WONDERFUL WEDDING XXII. LIFE AT MADELEY XXIII. "GOD IS LOVE!" XXIV. EXTRACTS FROM FLETCHER'S LETTERS XXV. EXTRACTS FROM FLETCHER'S WRITINGS
BY COMMISSIONER RAILTON.
There is a great difference between a red-hot man and a Red-hot Library book. We have no desire at all to pander to the common idea of our day that "it does not matter what you belong to," by any of these books. Very little reflection will show anyone the immeasurable distance between the sort of clergyman this book describes and the mere leader of formalities holding a similar position in these days of ease and self-satisfaction.
John Fletcher was a marvel, if viewed only on his bodily side. At a time when clergymen had far more opportunity than they have even to-day to retire into their own houses and do nothing for the world, he pressed forward, in spite of an almost dying body, to work for God daily, in the most devoted manner. That he was able to continue his labours so long was simply by God's wonder-working mercy. We cannot judge him because he remained in the strange position (for anyone who cares about God or souls) in which he was found. No other sphere was perhaps possible for him at that time. It must not, however, for that reason be imagined that the Salvationist can conceive of a red-hot life mixed with the reading of prayers out of a book, or the teaching of any poor soul to turn to such heathenish folly.
We can gladly take whatever is red-hot out of such a life without allowing ourselves to be poisoned in any respect whilst so doing. But it seems necessary, at the very outset, to call attention to this, lest at any time it should be argued that, after all, the Salvationist life is no better, in our opinion, than the stiffest and most formal specimen of Christianity.
About this fervent soul, whose wife was one of the few preaching women of her century, there could have been little voluntary formality, and if he was able to exist amidst the framing that others had set up for him, it may be an encouragement to anyone who is shut out for a time from the free, happy worship that God desires, and left with no alternative but to be content with "Divine services" where God's wishes are too often made of no effect by the arrangement of man.
But what will be the Salvationist's condemnation if, with all the opportunities he has to cultivate the utmost freedom in prayer and service, he never attains to that intimacy with God, that delight in communion with Him, that power to force others into God's presence, which John Fletcher's life discloses to us?
The mere thought of Fletcher, if you read these pages carefully, will ever bring back to you an impression of nearness to God and companionship with Him which is scarcely conceived of in our day amongst the majority of those who ought to lead men to the Father. Do not let us excuse ourselves for any lack of that communion which must be His continual delight. If we prjde ourselves upon our repudiation of forms of worship that men have invented, and glory in the manifestations of Christ at the street corner and in the public-house, to which we have become accustomed, let us take care that we do not grieve Him by contentment with the general action of The Army or of the Corps, or of the Brigade, in the absence of any close contact between our own souls and God or the lost.
This book will be useless unless it brings us continually right up to the personal questions which it is so eminently calculated to raise: Am I on such terms with God as this man was? Can He equally reckon upon my continual obedience and faithfulness? Is He sure to hear and answer me also? Do I share with Him that agony for souls, that inexhaustible pity and love which will never let one perish, for whom, by any extremity of sacrifice, I can do anything? Do I breathe out the breath of God upon those with whom I come in contact, making the world feel that I have no harmony with any of its aims or inclinations, but that I really belong to Heaven?
By inference, rather than directly, this life is a tremendous confirmation of the old faith. John Fletcher gained all he had because he believed the Bible just as it stands. He knew from his own experience and from daily intercourse with Him that the promises it contains come direct from the mouth of God, and not from the "sublime imagination" of some Jew poet, as the contemptible deceivers of our day would have us believe. If there were any delusion about that old Book, then John Fletcher was one of the most pitiful specimens of a degraded superstition this world ever contained. But where, amongst all the applauded doubt-preachers of our day, is there to be found a man of love and prayer and power approaching to this one?
Do not let us be discouraged as to the possibility of a life as holy as this amidst the circumstances of our rushing warfare. John Fletcher was, after all, only a thorough disciple of Him who had not where to lay His head. None of us are called to live amidst denser crowds, more hurry, worry, or contention of any sort than was the daily lot of our Heavenly Master. This book would draw us farther from Him, not nearer, if it only made us thirst for retirement and stillness, for hours of meditation or privacy. It is, not the imitation of Fletcher, but the imitation of Christ to which these pages are meant to call us. Most of us may never possess many of the charming traits of this most refined gentleman. We may perhaps suit God's purposes amidst the rough crowd all the better for that. But, depend upon it, close intercourse with the Nazarene is as possible amidst the throngs of London, or Glasgow, or New York, or Madras, as it was in the alleys of Jerusalem or Capernaum, and intimacy with Jesus is, after all, the one thing needful for every disciple.
But whoever is red-hot will ceaselessly be thinking and planning for the worst; that is to say, not only for those commonly called the worst, whose wild career of sin strikes all decent people with horror, but for the far more seriously in danger, who turn their very religion into a form or an amusement, and care nothing for any real intercourse with God. These are the people perhaps most difficult of all to get at, the people whom we shall never be likely to make any impression upon unless we combine with the greatest possible activity an intensity of spiritual heat and power of which we suppose Fletcher was one of the grandest specimens the world ever had. Do not let us resent or run away from any reproach as to our own comparative coldness and inefficiency which this story may bring to us. How much better to writhe and be aroused under any such reproofs now than only to awake to them when life is slipping away! Alas! for the readers who shall close this book without resolving to be as holy and useful as God commands us all to be!
LONDON, _April_, 1905.
THE LIFE OF JOHN FLETCHER.
AT THE CASTLE
In the nursery of a fine old Swiss castle, on the shores of Lake Leman, stood a small boy of seven, confronted by his white-capped nurse.
"You are a naughty boy!" she exclaimed. "Do you not know that the devil is to take away all naughty children?"
The little fellow opened wide his clear, truthful eyes, into which there crept a deepening look of trouble--trouble rather than fear; big tears rolled down his pinafore, and when tucked away for the night,
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