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- Fletcher of Madeley - 5/20 -
soul who wanted God. Without a question the tutor set out on his five- mile walk, not knowing whether beggar or duke demanded his help. He found the eldest son of a baronet, whom God's Spirit had rendered so strangely wretched on account of sin that he could neither eat nor sleep. Doctors had done their best to remove this remarkable malady, but the one remedy lay in the touch of the hand of the Great Physician, and, almost in despair, his soul cried, "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!"
The visit of that October night resulted in correspondence which was blessed to Sir Richard Hill's conversion, although the young man became in later years one of Fletcher's most active opponents in a doctrinal controversy.
This time of waiting for God to show his future sphere of work was much blessed to Fletcher in spiritually preparing him for it. Through an incident in which he was much misunderstood by many, he learned the all-important lesson to a preacher, that a sermon full of the most vigorous ideas is as nothing if not inspired by the living Spirit.
His own account of the matter is brief but instructive:--
"Just as I was going to resume my daily course of business I was called to preach in a church at Salop, and was obliged to compose a sermon in the moments I should have spent in prayer. Hurry and the want of a single eye drew a veil between the prize and my soul. In the meantime Sunday came, and God rejected my impure service and abhorred the labour of my polluted soul; and while others imputed my not preaching to the fear of the minister who had invited me to his pulpit, and to the threatenings of a mob, I saw the wisdom and holiness of God, and rejoiced in that providence which does all without the assistance of hurrying Uzzah."
During the holidays Fletcher would betake himself to London, giving all his time to service in connection with a chapel in Seven Dials. The sermon he did not preach bore fruit in his own heart, and to his beloved friend, Charles Wesley, he wrote: "May God water the poor seed I have sown, and give it fruitfulness, _though it be only in one soul!_ But I have seen so much weakness in my heart, both as a minister and a Christian, that I know not which is most to be pitied-- the man, the believer, or the preacher. Could I at last be _truly_ humbled and _continue so always_, I should esteem myself happy in making this discovery. I preach _merely_ to keep the chapel open until God shall send a workman _after His own heart_."
During the famous earthquake of nine years before a little Welsh girl named Mary Price was then attending a London school. The children were frightened nearly out of their wits by the upheaval, the crash of broken glass, the long subterranean rumbling, and, in common with many London residents, in that hour little Mary promised to serve God. For nine years she strove and prayed, but found no way by which she could come near to Him. Persuaded by a friend who knew her inward sorrow, she sought out the despised Methodist meeting-house in Seven Dials, and there heard Fletcher preaching for his "one soul." Light flashed through all her being as she listened, and that morning Mary Price saw the "Way" to unerring "Truth" and everlasting "Life," entering later on into lifelong communion with Him whom her spirit had so earnestly sought.
For fifty-nine years Mary was a shining light in the kingdom of grace.
THE VICAR OF MADELEY.
At thirty years of age Fletcher was pressed to become a missionary to Antigua, but was prevented by the advice of Charles Wesley, who foresaw for him a more useful service in England.
Introduced by John Wesley to the famous Countess of Huntingdon, Fletcher was further commended to her by the poet-brother in such a manner as led her to urge him to become chaplain to her household. On the understanding that the appointment should not interfere either with his preaching, or the work he had taken up amongst French prisoners and refugees, he accepted the post, and through it became acquainted with many great spirits who ranked amongst the noble of the earth.
A great work was at this time being done at Everton, the parish of the Rev. John Berridge, and Fletcher made special efforts to see and profit by it. He introduced himself to the noted clergyman as a convert seeking instruction and advice. Berridge, noting his foreign accent, asked him his nationality.
"A Swiss from the Canton of Berne," was the reply.
"From Berne! Ah, then you can give me some account of a young countryman of yours, one John Fletcher, who has lately preached a few times for the Mr. Wesleys, and of whose talents, learning, and piety they both speak in terms of high eulogy. Do you know him?"
"I know him intimately, and did those gentlemen know him as well they would not speak of him in such terms, for which he is more obliged to their partial friendship than to his own merits," was the unexpected reply.
"You surprise me," objected Berridge, "in speaking so coldly of a countryman in whose praises they are so warm."
"I have the best of reasons for speaking of him as I do--I am John Fletcher."
Berridge melted at this, and insisted upon his occupying his pulpit the following morning. For three days Fletcher remained at Everton, joined there by the Countess of Huntingdon and two well-known clergymen, Martin Madan and Henry Venn. The services were, perforce, held in the open-air, for on the third day ten thousand persons gathered to hear the word of God. Many fell to the ground overpowered by the influence of the Spirit, and numbers cried for mercy.
Fletcher's life as a tutor now ended. Mr. Hill was extremely anxious to benefit him, and to this end offered him the living of Dunham, in Cheshire, explaining that the duty was light, the income £400 a year (a good sum in those days), and the surrounding country delightful.
"Dunham will not suit me," said Fletcher quietly; "there is too much money and too little labour."
"What shall we do? Would you like Madeley? My nephew is the patron, and I am sure the present Vicar would be only too glad to exchange it for anything so good as Dunham."
"It would suit me exactly," quoth Fletcher, kindling at the thought. He had preached there, and knew the rough character of its colliers and forgemen.
Curiously enough, the old Vicar of Dunham died suddenly. The day after the event Mr. Hill met his nephew at the Shrewsbury races, and in that unlikeliest place of all, it was arranged that the Madeley living should be presented to Fletcher.
It was a matter of course that he should consult his friend Charles Wesley, but though he longed, if God so led, to undertake the work, he feared greatly that many who were violently opposed to some of his views would resist the appointment, and that the greatest barrier of all, the Bishop of Lichfield, would refuse to countersign his testimonials.
An extract from one of his letters to the Countess of Huntingdon shows how all these obstacles were removed:--
"The difficulty of getting proper testimonials, which I had looked upon as insurmountable, vanishes at once; the three clergymen that had opposed me with the most bitterness signed them; the Bishop of Lichfield countersigns them without the least objection; the lord of the manor, my great opposer, leaves the parish; and the Vicar, who told me that I should never preach in that church, now recommends me to it, and tells me he will induct me himself. Are not these the intimations of the will of God? It seems so to me."
So it came to pass that in the parish book was made the following entry:--
"_John Fletcher, clerk, was inducted to the vicarage of Madeley the 17th of October, 1760.--John Fletcher, Vicar._"
AN ALARMED PARISH.
In the same month as Mary Bosanquet was cast out of her father's home to commence life anew as a toiler for God, John Fletcher settled down to his work in the parish of his choice.
Madeley lies three or four miles from the foot of the Wrekin in a winding glen, through which flows the River Severn. So far it was a place of beauty, but in no other sense. The colliers and iron-workers of Coalbrookdale and Madeley were ignorant, brutal, and much given to drunkenness and profanity. The Sabbath was ignored, decency frequently flouted, bull-baiting a favourite pastime, and religion a matter of coarse ridicule and bitter scorn. After their day's work the inhabitants frequently held nights of revelry, lasting until dawn, when dancing, drunkenness, and obscenity reigned supreme.
Fletcher commenced his campaign with great earnestness and zeal. He had no idea of contenting himself with preaching to a handful of feeble folk twice upon a Sunday; he counted every day lost if he had not in it brought some of his people face to face with the requirements of God. In cottages, at street corners, or in the church, he held a service just as often as he could gather sufficient people together; he visited the public-houses, and even appeared at the midnight carousals, warning men of the wrath of God, and urging them to flee to Jesus for mercy.
The parishioners of Madeley grew decidedly uncomfortable. They desired nothing so much as to be left alone, and the influence of this new parson was a force with which they found it necessary to reckon. They grew to dread the sudden opening of their tavern and dance-room doors, and the appearance of the pale, pure-faced man, whose eyes glowed like
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