FLETCHER, JOHN WILLIAM (FLETCHER OF MADELEY):
Associate of John Wesley and one of the most pious and useful ministers of his generation b. at Nyon (on the Lake of Geneva, 21 m. s. w. of Lausanne), Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, Sept. 12, 1729; d. at Madeley (13 m. e. s. e. of Shrewsbury), Shropshire, Aug. 14, 1785. His name was originally De la Fléchère. He was a fine scholar in his youth, and took all the prizes at the school in Geneva which he attended. He was designed by his parents for the ministry, but preferred the army. Against their wishes he went to Lisbon and enlisted, but was prevented from going to Brazil by an accident which confined him for some time to his bed. The vessel was lost at sea. Fletcher returned to Switzerland, but, not disheartened, went to Flanders at the invitation of his uncle, who promised to secure a commission in the army for him. The sudden death of his relative, and the termination of the war, again interfered with his plans. He then went to England, and became tutor in the family of Thomas Hill, of Shropshire, in 1752.
A new period soon began in Fletcher's history. He heard the Methodists. Their language about faith was a new revelation to him, and in 1755 he united with one of their societies. In 1757 he was ordained priest by the bishop of Bangor. During the next few years he preached occasionally for John Wesley and others, and became known as a public supporter of the great religious revival. In 1760 he accepted the living of Madeley, against the advice of Wesley, with whom, however, he preserved a lifelong friendship.
Vicar of Madeley.
For twenty-five years, with the exception of the interval between 1776 and 1781, when ill health forced him to take a respite from work, Fletcher labored at Madeley with singular devotion and zeal. He preached with great fervor the plain truths of the Gospel, and labored incessantly during the week to awaken sinners. It was his custom to rise at five o'clock Sabbath morning, and go through the neighborhood ringing a bell, that no one might be able to give as an excuse for non-attendance at church that he was not aroused in time. He visited worldly entertainments, and with the fearlessness of John Knox preached to the astounded revelers upon the folly of forbidden pleasures. Great and blessed results followed such fidelity. In 1768 he was called to preside over Lady Huntingdon's College at Trevecca, Wales, and accepted, the call requiring only occasional visitation, not continuous residence. The discussion over Calvinism and Arminianism among the Methodists led him to resign in 1771.
As a preacher, Fletcher directed his appeals to the conscience. He was well trained, and had a fine voice. As a man, he was characterized by saintly piety, rare devotion, and blamelessness of life. In the judgment of Southey, "no age ever produced a man of more fervent piety, or more perfect charity, and no church ever possessed a more apostolic minister," and Wesley characterized him as the holiest man he had ever met, or ever expected to meet "this side of eternity."
His Theology and Writings.
In theology, Fletcher was an Arminian of Arminians. Most of his writings are directed against Calvinism, were written to defend Wesley, and grew out of controversies with Toplady and Rowland Hill. Some of these works are still extensively circulated, and are authoritative in the Methodist churches. However, controversial as his writings are, Fletcher was not a polemist, but always treated his opponents with fairness and courtesy, and in this presented a marked contrast to Toplady and to John Wesley. He was also a millenarian (cf. his letter to John Wesley, Nov. 29, 1755). He sympathized with Wesley's views concerning the revolt of the American colonies and wrote two tracts to show that "the right of taxing subjects, with or without their consent, is an inseparable appendage of supreme government," viz., A Vindication of Mr. Wesley's "Calm Address to Our American Colonies" (London, 1776) and American Patriotism Farther Confronted with Reason, Scripture, and the Constitution (Shrewsbury, 1776). These writings were read at court and opened the way to high preferment, which he refused to consider. His principal works were Checks to Antinomianism, called forth by the dispute in 1771, and The Portrait of St. Paul, or the True Model for Christians and Pastors, translated from a French manuscript after Fletcher's death, with a notice of the author (2 vols., Shrewsbury, 1790). The first complete edition of his works appeared in London, 8 vols., 1803; there is a four-volume edition issued by the Methodist Book Concern in New York.
D. S. SCHAFF.