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- Fletcher of Madeley - 2/20 -
Jean Guillaume De La Fléchère crept out of his cosy cot, sank upon his knees, and began the first real prayer of his life: "O God, forgive me!" Nor would he be interrupted until the inward sense of pardon comforted his sorrowing little heart. Many years later he described this time as the shedding abroad of the love of God within him.
Colonel De La Fléchère's family mansion commanded as fine a view of Swiss scenery as could be found in the neighbourhood. "Hill and dale, vineyards and pastures, stretched right away to the distant Jura mountains. At a few paces from the château was a terrace overlooking Lake Leman, with its clear blue waters and its gracefully curved and richly-wooded bays. On the right hand, at a distance of fifteen miles, was Geneva, the cradle of the Reformation in Switzerland; on the left, Lausanne and the celebrated Castle of Chillon. High up in the heavens were Alpine peaks, embosoming scenes the most beautiful; and not far away was Mont Blanc, 'robed in perpetual and unsullied snow.'" (Tyerman.)
In this earthly paradise the little Jean received his first unconscious training, breathing not only the clear mountain air into his lungs, but a no less important atmosphere of refinement, of culture, and of nobility into his mental and moral being.
He was devoted to his mother, who could never say he wilfully disobeyed her. One day, however, she deemed him lacking in reverence for her, because, when rebuking a member of the family over-sharply, John turned upon her a long look of evident reproof. She promptly boxed his ears, but was more than mollified when the boy lifted his clear eyes to hers, brimful of tenderness, and said simply, "Mother, when I am smitten on one cheek, and especially by a hand I love so well, I am taught to turn the other also."
It was not priggishness, but submissive affection, and she read it aright.
IN THE MANOR HOUSE.
In the château at Nyon Jean De La Fléchère was keeping his tenth birthday (September 12th, 1739). Away in old England the Lord of the Manor of Leytonstone, Essex, was giving his first caresses to a tiny baby girl, later to be known as little Mary Bosanquet, and forty years later still as the wife of the saintly John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley.
Mary was but a four-year-old baby when she received her first definite conviction that God hears and answers prayer. She was a timid little maiden, and the greatest comfort she had in the world was the fact that she possessed a real Father in Heaven, strong, mighty, and willing to protect and help her. Sunday evenings in Forest House--as the Bosanquet mansion was called--were devoted to the children. On those occasions Mary's father taught her sister and herself the Church catechism. At five years old his youngest daughter asked questions concerning true Christians according to the Word of God, which might well have encouraged evasion on the part of her parent. She reasoned out everything told her; but her eager and earnest questions being so constantly put carelessly by, gave her childish mind the impression that the Bible did not mean all it said, therefore a sensible person would make due allowance for its threatenings.
As this thought began to take well hold of Mary, a Methodist girl entered the household as nurse, whose conversations with the children were a great enlightenment to them both.
In a year or two the nurse left them, but not before she had implanted in little Mary's mind the truth that it was not being united to any church or people which would save her, but that she must be converted through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the fruits of believing in Him as a personal Saviour would be power to love and serve God with a holy heart. That was excellent, but it had not been so explained to the child that she could understand the process either of "faith" or of "conversion." The result was perplexity.
Not a few children in bygone days have had to suffer long Sunday afternoon agonies over the harrowing pictures of Foxe's "Book of Martyrs," this being then considered a profitable and bracing Sabbatic "exercise" for hundreds of sensitive little ones whose dreams were haunted, and whose waking hours in the dark were rendered terrific by vivid imaginings of racked, tortured, and burning saints. Mary was one of these. Yet so troubled was her little heart over the ungrasped subject of faith that one day, while gazing upon these fearful pictures, she exclaimed to herself, "Oh! oh! I do think it would be easier to _burn_ than to _believe!_"
Mary seems to have been busy with these thoughts for nearly two years. She had not passed her eighth birthday when we find her sitting by herself for "a good think," and wondering "_What_ can it mean to have faith in Jesus?"
Vexed with the mystery of the subject, her childish soul rose in rebellion against God for having chosen so hard a way into salvation, and she exclaimed aloud--
"Oh, if I had to die a martyr, I could do it; or give away all I have, I could do that; or when I grow up to have to be a servant, that would be easy; but I shall never, never, _never_ know how to believe!"
Two lines of an old hymn drifted instantly through her mind--
Who on Jesus relies, without money or price, The pearl of forgiveness and holiness buys.
It was the light she needed. The Spirit of Love had taken pity upon the little girl. From that moment the plan of salvation was clear to her, and she cried out--
"I do, I do rely on Jesus; yes, I _do_ rely on Jesus; and God counts me righteous for all He has done and suffered, and hath forgiven all my sins!"
She felt that a great weight had been lifted from her heart. Before this it seemed that everything in the world was easier than to believe, now it appeared the simplest plan God could have devised. Had there been but a kindly and understanding person near to whom Mary could talk freely, she might have been a happy, trusting little Soldier of Jesus from that hour, but there was no one to help her into the sunshine of a child's daily faith and love and service, and religion became to her rather a subject for morbid thought. Terribly afraid of sin, not understanding temptation, wholly uninstructed how to get victory over her temper and other failings, she grew discouraged, and feared she had sadly grieved God. With all this shut up in her soul, perhaps it was no wonder that her mother should sometimes exclaim: "That girl is the most perverse creature that ever lived; I cannot think what has come to her."
From the bathing-place of Nyon château a slim, tall lad shot out into the blue water, as much at home there, evidently, as he had been while racing on the terrace. His long hair was bound by a strong ribbon, which the active movements of the swimmer at length loosened. In some unexplainable manner the ribbon caught and wound itself about the boy's feet, tying his head to his heels, and rendering a full stroke impossible. With all his might he struggled and tore, but the bond only grew tighter. He was in deep water, no help within call, and the awful thought came that there, in the budding of his bright young life, he must be cut off and die a helpless prisoner. He stayed his struggles, almost paralysed at the thought, and that instant the ribbon gave way and he recovered himself.
Nor was that his only narrow escape from death in the same lake. Five miles from the shore a rocky island reared its head.
"It would be a fine feat to swim there from land," said young Fletcher to four of his companions. They agreed, and the five set forth. Fletcher and one other lad succeeded in reaching the island, but found its smooth cliffs sank so steeply into the water that there was no possibility of climbing them. Despairingly they swam around the islet again and again, finding at last a bare foothold to which they clung until a boat fetched them off. The other three could swim but half the distance to the island, and would have sunk exhausted had not a passing boat picked them up.
A third time young Fletcher narrowly escaped drowning; on this occasion it was in the Rhine, where the river is wide and very rapid. The current swept him far from home, nor could he land for the sharp rocks on either hand. At length he was flung violently against one of the piles of a powder mill, lost consciousness, and disappeared, rising again on the other side of the mill (according to an onlooker, who took out his watch) _twenty minutes after_ his head had vanished beneath the water. Surely a guardian angel accompanied Jean De La Fléchère in all his earthly wanderings!
Although a good rider and practised swimmer, the life of this young fellow was not by any means wasted in athletics and sport; he studied hard to prepare himself for the University of Geneva, succeeding most brilliantly. His extraordinary diligence, no less than his striking ability, distinguished him among the other students, and he bore off first prizes with ease, studying early and late that he might acquire the knowledge he loved. After leaving the University he gave himself to the acquirement of the German language, and studied Hebrew and higher mathematics.
All this he did with the idea of becoming a minister of the Gospel, but the more he thought about the burden which he would assume by so doing, the less he felt able for his suggested task.
"Go into the army, Fletcher," pleaded some of his friends, and it was not long before he turned the power of his clear brain to work upon military engineering. He became very keen on his chosen profession, and at the time when Portugal was despatching troops to Brazil, Fletcher hied himself to Lisbon, gathered together a company of young Englishmen, accepted a Captain's commission, and agreed to sail upon a certain day in the Portuguese Service.
His father, Colonel De La Fléchère, refused to sanction the step, or
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