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Powerful Experiences of Christians: John Fletcher Part I

August 12, 2010

Although we know a great deal about the lives of John and Charles Wesley and their influence in the great revival that impacted Great Britain in the 18th century, lesser known, but equally important is John Fletcher of Madeley.  This man is actually considered Methodism’s first theologian, for he in many ways synthesized Wesley’s thought into an organized whole.

More importantly though, he was a living testimony of what John Wesley proclaimed about the nature of salvation and sanctification.  In other words, the idea of full sanctification and being completely devoted to God in heart and life was evident in this man.  In part II I will relate his testimony as to the nature of his experience with the Holy Spirit, but for now, it will be good to simply give a few testimonies about how others saw this man.  When one reads about him, one gets the impression that he was something more than human–almost angelic.  This is simply a testimony to the depths of sanctification that can occur for one so given to God.

Let’s begin with Wesley.   Wesley once said this about Fletcher:

“I was intimately acquainted with him for above thirty years.  I conversed with him morning, noon, and night, without the least reserve, during a journey of many hundred miles; and in that time, I never heard him speak one improper word, nor saw him do an improper action.  To conclude, many exemplary men have i known, holy in heart and life, within fourscore years.  But one equal to him I have not known–one so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God.  So unblamable a character in every respect I have not found either in Europe or America.  Nor do I expect to find such another on this side of eternity”

Here is a short account given by his wife, Mary Fletcher:

“I never saw Mr. Fletcher’s equal.  On him great grace was bestowed.  What deadness to the world!  What spiritual mindedness!  What zeal for souls!  What communion with God!  What intercourse with heaven!  What humility at the feet of Jesus!  What moderation towards all men!  What love for the poor!  In short, he possessed the mind which was in Christ Jesus.”

Here is another account given by his closest friend Joseph Benson that describes more of what Fletcher believed and preached.  This is important, because Fletcher and Benson believed that it was this miraculous experience with the Holy Spirit that made such piety and sanctification possible:

“Now the questions are, What did he expect himself?  What did he teach others to expect?  And what did he himself experience?  ‘He expected,’ say the conductors of that Miscellany, ‘another Pentecost.’  In some sense he did; but no in the sense they imagine.  He expected Pentecost, not literally, but figuratively speaking.  Did he expect cloven or distinct tongues of fire to rest upon him, or the gift of tongues, or that of prophecy, so called, or of healing?  Did he expect to be enabled to raise the dead with a word or a touch?  by no means:  he looked for nothing of this kind.  He expected only those ordinary operations and graces of the Spirit in a full and mature state which the holy Scriptures declare to be essential to the character of a true and perfect Christian…He expected that his ‘faith should grow exceedingly,’ that his ‘love should abound more and more in knowledge, and in all sense and feeling,’ even the love of God, of his people, and all mankind, ‘shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.” He expected to be ‘filled with joy and peace through believing and to abound in hope, by the power of the same Holy Ghost.”…It appears that he did experience it, at least in very high degree”

Fletcher believed and experienced a genuine growth and transformation in his heart and life that most of us acknowledge should be, but see little of the fruit.

A neighboring clergyman said this about Fletcher concerning his care for the poor:

“The profusion of his charity toward the poor and needy is scarcely credible: it constantly exhausted his purse, it frequently unfurnished his house, and sometimes left him destitute of the most common necessaries”

One more.  Once, Fletcher went to preach at a French church in England (He was Swiss), and a number of Englishmen went to listen to him.  When asked why the went to listen to him when they could not understand French they responded:

“We went to look at him, for heaven seemed to beam from his countenance.”

Finally, it is said that Voltaire was once asked to produce a character with as perfect as that of Jesus Christ, and Voltaire immediately named “Fletcher of Madeley.”

All this is to say, that John Fletcher was man who experienced and lived out fully the grace of God overflowed into his heart.  His life and ministry were anything but ordinary, and he would attest that it was all because of a ‘pentecostal’ experience where the Holy Spirit fully filled him and destroyed the power of sin in his heart.  In part II, I will give his own account of this experience.

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