I went to see a man that had one foot in the grave; but I found a man that had one foot in heaven!” So wrote one of John Fletcher’s visitors after visiting the godly preacher who had become gravely ill by his strenuous efforts for the kingdom of Christ.
Born in Switzerland on this day, September 12, 1729, Fletcher was educated at Nyon. As a young man he intended to enter the army. A series of circumstances foiled his plans. In visiting England in 1752, he fell under the influence of Methodism and determined immediately to become a pastor. Five years later he was ordained. After assisting John Wesley and preaching to French-speaking Swiss expatriates, he threw himself into assisting the vicar of Madeley.
Madeley was a hard town. Fletcher literally chased down sinners to share the gospel with them. No matter what the excuse they gave for not attending church, he tried to rob them of it, even walking through the streets ringing a bell loudly at five in the morning to deny them the pretense that they could not waken themselves on Sunday morning. He was a warm supporter of Sunday schools and set up one at Madeley.
No weather could keep him indoors. Wherever and whenever he was needed, there he was found. To help the poor he gave of himself so greatly that his health broke, a condition aggravated by his constant exposure to the elements.
John Fletcher was strong in his insistence on regeneration. Only with a new birth, a new creation, did one belong to Christ. This is a constant theme of his sermons and writings. In a sketch telling of his conversion, he says he was a religious enthusiast at 18 but did not apprehend Christ from his heart. A nightmare in which he found himself rejected with the damned woke him to a real need for Christ. He saw that all the good works he’d done had been from pride or from fear of Hell, not for love of God. Nonetheless he felt that the fear he went through was an essential part of becoming a Christian.
“The state of the true Christian is a state of peace, joy, love and holiness; but before a man attains it, he must go through a course of fear, anxiety and repentance, whether long or short; for no one was ever cured in soul by the great physician, Jesus Christ, till he felt himself sin sick, and was loaded in his conscience with the burden of his iniquities; especially that of a hard impenitent heart, which he could not himself break and soften.
He wrote prolifically. And although born and reared in Switzerland, John Fletcher adopted the English language so thoroughly that he left fine works in it. He is considered one of the great early Methodist theologians.
- Allen, Brigadier Margaret. John Fletcher of Madeley. Titusville, Pennsylvania: The Allegheny Weslyan Methodist Connection, 1974.
- “Fletcher, John.” Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 – 1996.
- Fletcher, John. The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher: late vicar of Madeley. Salem, Ohio : Schmul Pub., 1974.
- Hyde, A. B. Story of Methodism. Greenfield, Mass: Willey and co. , 1887. Source of the image.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1830 – The Episcopal bishop, John Henry Hobart, of the New York diocese; dies. He established branches in almost every major city of New York state, sent missionaries to the Oneida Indians, founded General Theological Seminary, and revived another college that will later be renamed Hobart College in his honor.
1859 – Christians in Bicester, England, begin a daily prayer meeting that results in revival.
1909 – When traditional Methodist missionaries did not allow Nellie Laidlaw (a.k.a. Sister Elena) to speak “in the Spirit”, Chileans side with her and form their own church, which soon becomes the first large Pentecostal movement in South America. Within seventy years, it has one million converts.