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- Fletcher of Madeley - 6/20 -


coals, and whose words burned and stung as he rebuked sin.

They were not used to being continually confronted with the claims of God; they did not relish the urgency with which Fletcher insisted upon _conversion_ rather than church-going. They turned upon him in public; they maligned him in private; they disturbed his informal meetings; they cursed his name. One thing they were bound to do, however, they respected his courage and goodness, and that alone was sufficient eventually to turn the tide.

It was a lonely time for Fletcher. He was a young man, with no companion; he was of cultured mind, and greatly missed some kindred intelligence and friendly spirit with which he might commune of the things which pressed upon his soul. Little wonder that his heart should turn towards the sweet-spirited woman whose face dwelt in his memory with gentle persistence. He looked upon the idea of marriage, however, as a snare to draw his thoughts from his work, and he fought it down as something unworthy of his high calling.

"I am driven to the Lord," he wrote to the Countess of Huntingdon, "and He comforts, encourages, and teaches me. The devil, my friends, and my heart have pushed at me to make me fall into worldly cares and creature snares . . . but I have been enabled to cry, 'Nothing but Jesus and the service of His people,' and I trust the Lord will keep me in the same mind."

Fletcher lived with the utmost frugality, for some time doing without even a servant, and taking his meals at a neighbour's house. An idea of his simplicity of life may be gained from a story told by one who was at a boarding-school at Madeley which Mr. Fletcher frequently visited:--

"One morning he came in just as the girls had sat down to breakfast. He said but little while the meal lasted, but when it was finished he spoke to each girl separately, and concluded by saying to the whole, 'I have waited some time on you this morning, that I might see you eat your breakfast; and I hope you will visit me to-morrow morning to see how I eat mine.' He told them his breakfast-hour was seven o'clock, and obtained a promise that they would visit him. Next morning they went at the time appointed, and seated themselves in the kitchen. Mr. Fletcher came in quite rejoiced to see them. On the table stood a small basin of milk and sops of bread. Mr. Fletcher carried the basin across the kitchen and sat down on an old bench. He then took out his watch, laid it before him, and said, 'My dear girls, yesterday morning I waited on you a full hour while you were at breakfast; I shall take as much time this morning in eating my breakfast as I usually do, if not rather more. Look at my watch!' He immediately began to eat, and continued in conversation with them. When he had finished he asked how long he had been at breakfast. They said, 'Just a minute and a-half, sir.' 'Now, my dear girls,' said he, we have fifty-eight minutes of the hour left,' and he then began to sing--

"Our life is a dream! Our time as a stream Glides swiftly away, And the fugitive moment refuses to stay.

"After this he gave them a lecture on the worth of time and the worth of the soul. They then all knelt down in prayer."

CHAPTER XI.

The Vicar's Sermons.

The Vicar of Madeley led no idle life. He started Friday evening lectures; on Sunday afternoon he catechised the school-children, spent many hours of every day in visiting the sick and poor, and hesitated not at all to sit up whole nights with any who lacked attention. To the careless landowners and farmers whom he failed to get into his church he addressed the first of his published sermons, with a preface which urged them to _read_ his message if they would not listen to it.

With Fletcher there was no preaching against the absent wrong-doer, no haranguing evil in the abstract, but there was never lacking a definite and personal denouncement of present and personal sin. One tremendous word loomed large before his hearers, nor could any misunderstand when he talked about SIN, and the arousing thought was pressed ever closer to them by his pointed use of the word YOU. Here is an example:--

"Did you ever make a prey of the poor and helpless? Are you like the horse-leech, ever crying, 'Give, give!' still wanting more profit, and never thinking you have enough? Do you take more care to heap up treasure on earth than in Heaven? Have you got the unhappy secret of distilling silver out of the poor man's brow, and gold out of the tears of helpless widows and friendless orphans? Or, which is rather worse, do you, directly or indirectly, live by poisoning others, by encouraging the immoderate use of those refreshments which, if taken to excess, disorder the reason, ruin the soul, and prove no better than slow poison to the body? If your business calls you to buy or sell, do you use falsehoods? do you equivocate? do you exaggerate or conceal the truth in order to impose upon your neighbour, and make a profit of his necessity or credulity? If any of these marks be upon you, God's word singles you out and drags you to the bar of Divine justice to hear your doom in the text, '_The wicked shall surely die_.' Oh, see your danger; repent and make restitution! Why should you meet the unjust steward in Hell, when you may yet follow Zacchaeus into Heaven?...

"Perhaps your conscience bears you witness that you are not a swearing Christian, or rather a swearing infidel. Well, but are you clear in the point of adultery, fornication, or uncleanness? Does not the guilt of some vile sin, which you have wickedly indulged in time past, and perhaps are still indulging, mark you for the member of a harlot, and not the member of Christ? Do you not kindle the wrath of Heaven against yourself and your country, as the men and women of Gomorrah did against themselves and the other cities of the plain? If you cherish the sparks of wantonness, as they did, how can you but be made with them to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire? Do not flatter yourselves with the vain hope that your sin is not so heinous as theirs. If it be less in degree, is it not infinitely greater in its aggravating circumstances? Were these poor Canaanites _Christians_? Had they Bibles and ministers? Had they sermons and sacraments? Did they ever vow, as you have done, to renounce the devil and all sinful lusts of the flesh? Did they ever hear of the Son of God sweating great drops of blood, in an agony of prayer, to quench the fire of human corruption? Oh, acknowledge your guilt and danger, and by deep repentance prevent infallible destruction!"

Faithful and fearless utterances such as these made him famous, but not popular: inconsistent professors resented them deeply; open sinners raged at the unsparing denunciations which they could not fail to appropriate, yet out of the latter class came some of Fletcher's best and most encouraging converts.

Much of his success in getting men to listen to unpalatable truths lay in his gentleness of manner and rare humility of mind, but "gentlest of human beings" as he has been described, he had the courage of a lion in fight, and for his Master's sake he knew no palliation of unrighteousness, even though his truth-telling made the bitterest of enemies.

_By nature_ Fletcher was not a meek man; he had "a fiery passionate spirit," says one of his biographers, "insomuch that he has frequently thrown himself on the floor, and lain there most of the night bathed in tears, imploring victory over his own temper. And he did obtain the victory, in a very eminent degree. For twenty years and upwards before his death no one ever saw him out of temper, or heard him utter a rash expression on any provocation whatever.... I never saw him in any temper in which I myself would not have wished to be found at death."

A friend who lived for some time in his house writes thus:--

"His enemies wrested his words, misrepresented his actions, and cast out his name as evil; but whether he was insulted in his person or injured in his property; whether he was attacked with open abuse or pursued with secret calumny, he walked amid the most violent assaults of his enemies, as a man invulnerable, and while his firmness discovered that he was unhurt, his forbearance testified that he was unoffended."

To a man with talents trained as were his, with a power of expression which could melt into uncommon eloquence when he chose, with learning to illuminate, judgment to balance his effects, and extreme quickness of perception to adapt illustration and appeal to any audience, Fletcher might have made for himself a mighty name. Instead of this, "his design was to _convert_ and not to _captivate_ his hearers; to secure their eternal interests, and not to obtain their momentary applause.... He spake as in the presence of God, and taught as one having Divine authority. There was an energy in his preaching that was irresistible. His subjects, his language, his gestures, the tone of his voice, and the turn of his countenance, all conspired to fix the attention and affect the heart. Without aiming at sublimity, he was truly sublime, and uncommonly eloquent without affecting the orator."

CHAPTER XII.

Scanty Encouragements.

Fletcher's encouragements at Madeley were at first sufficiently scanty to have disheartened many an earnest man.

Two Marys were amongst his earliest converts. Mary Matthews, of Madeley Wood, went to hear him with the mind of the Pharisee, but she left his presence with the heart of the publican. Having obtained the pardon of her sins, she opened her little house for preaching, and stood firm, although threatened by some of the villagers with a drum- led mob, and eventually haled before the magistrates and fined £20 for the offence of turning her cottage into a conventicle.

Mary Barnard, a lame old women of ninety, counted no pain or distance too great to prevent her from making her toilsome journey to the church where she "first saw the light," and, uneducated as she was, her definite testimony to the power of the cleansing Blood often cheered the preacher who had blessed her.

Fletcher's methods were unique for the times in which he lived. There


Fletcher of Madeley - 6/20

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