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.