John William Fletcher Exemplifies Christ

This is the day that … Fletcher of Madeley died in 1785.

John William Fletcher, was born in Switzerland on 12 September, 1729, with the Swiss surname De La Fleceere. He was educated at Geneva and initially sought a military career. When an accident stopped him from sailing with his regiment to Brazil he eventually found his way to England. There he was converted at the age of 22 and became very close to the Methodists, often preaching with or for John Wesley. He was sometimes referred to as “the saint of Methodism”.

But on 6 March, 1757, we find him ordained in the Church of England. His personal conviction was Arminian and he turned down comfortable parish posts in preference to the working class parish of Madeley, where he laboured for 25 years. His personal piety caused him to always be discreet about his beliefs and to avoid conflict, even when he had to take a stand for his own convictions.

Bishop Ryle writes: “How Fletcher got over the difficulty of being a foreigner and not having taken a university degree, I am unable to explain” (Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, page 394). But, adds the good bishop, “things were strangely managed in the Church of England 100 years ago.”

Fletcher became a close friend of John Wesley, the latter’s well-known testimony being that he had never found anyone “in Europe or America who so exemplified holiness as John Fletcher.”

To quote Ryle again – a convinced Calvinist – “I will never shut my eyes to the fact that Fletcher was a Christian as well as an Arminian … he was a rare grace and a minister of rare usefulness” (pages 386-7).

Late in life, at the age of 52, he married Mary Bosanquet, another of Wesley’s ardent disciples.

His parishioners at Madeley – chiefly miners and ironworkers – flocked to hear this man of God … and we read of how he spent whole nights in prayer for them.

For 25 years this continued, until a short illness led to his home-call at the age of 56. It was a Sunday evening. As he lay on his deathbed, unable to speak, his wife whispered to her dying husband: “My dear creature, I ask not for myself. I know thy soul. But I ask for the sake of others, if Jesus be very present with thee lift up thy right hand.” “Immediately”, we read, “he did so, and then a second time” And then he died, “without one struggle or groan” (Ryle, page 417).

So highly regarded was Fletcher’s godly character that even Voltaire cited him. When challenged to produce a character as perfect as that of Christ, Voltaire at once mentioned Fletcher of Madeley.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Bishop Ryle’s Legacy

This is the day that …Bishop Ryle heard the Saviour’s “Well done, good and faithful servant!” It was 1900.

Born in 1816 at Macclesfield, England, John Charles Ryle was educated in his native town, then attended Eton and Oxford. It was in 1837, while finishing his Oxford studies that Ryle found faith. He was attending a parish church and, although there was nothing memorable about the sermon or the service in general, the New Testament Bible reading impacted him profoundly. The reader took pains to pause between each phrase of the same truth that so impacted Luther, ‘By grace are ye saved – through faith – and that not of yourselves – it is the gift of God.’ Four years later Ryle entered the Church of England ministry.

In 1880 Queen Victoria appointed him to the bishopric of the newly created Diocese of Liverpool. His evangelical and Protestant stance was soon evident. And the work flourished. Forty-two new churches and fifty new mission halls were opened during his ministry.

But it is as a writer his fame has continued to spread.

Three hundred tracts came from his pen – many of them defending the “glorious truths of the Reformation”. Larger works include his commentary on the Gospels (which is still in print!), Old Paths and Knots Untied … this latter volume often crossing swords with Romanist and Anglo-Catholic teachings.

His Christian Leaders of the 18th Century contains the biographies of some of England’s spiritual giants.

“It has been said,” writes B.C. Mowll, “that few in the 19th century did so much for God, for truth and righteousness, among Englishmen, as Bishop J.C. Ryle.”

Bishop Ryle served as Bishop until he was 83 years old, dying just four months after he retired.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.