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Powerful Experiences of Christians: John Fletcher Part II

August 17, 2010

Here is Fletcher’s account of his experience with the Holy Spirit.  I love how his experience with sin and an inability to overcome it is so common to many of us.  It’s quite long, but well worth it:

January 12, 1755:  I received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, though my heart was as hard as a stone.  The following day, I felt the tyranny of sin more than ever, and an uncommon coldness in all religious duties [how often do we feel that!].  I felt the burden of my corruptions heavier than ever; there was no rest in my flesh.  I called upon the Lord, but with such heaviness as made me fear it was lost labour.  Many a time did I take up the Bible to seek comfort; but not being able to read I shut it gain [how often do we feel THAT] …
When I saw that all my endeavors availed to nothing against my conquering sin, I almost gave up all hope, and resolved to sin on and go to hell.  Yet I had a strange thought, ‘If I go to hell, I will praise God there.  And since I cannot be a monument of his mercy in heaven, I will be a monument of his justice in hell.’  But I soon recovered my ground.  I thought, ‘Christ died for all; therefore he died for me.  He died top pluck such sinners as I am out of the devil’s teeth.  And as I sincerely desire to be his [isn’t that all we can do?], he will surely take me to himself.  He will surely let me know before I die, that he has died for me…But then I thought, ‘Perhaps he will do it only at my dying hour.  And must I sin on till then?  How can I endure this?’  But I thought again, ‘My Saviour was above three-and-thirty years on earth.  Let me wait for him as many years, and then I may have some excuse for my impatience [I am seeing how much the idea of waiting is central to sanctification].  Does God owe me anything?  Is he bound to time or place? … I went on sinning and repenting, and sinning again; but still calling on God’s mercy through Christ.
I was now beat out of all my strong holds.  I felt my helplessness, and lay at the feet of Christ.  I cried, ‘Save me, Lord, as a brand plucked out of the fire!  Give me justifying faith…’  I seldom went to private prayer, but this thought came into my mind, ‘This may be the happy hour, when thou wilt prevail with God!’  But still I was disappointed [I KNOW we’ve all experienced this!]  I cried to God; but my heart did not go with my lips.  I prayed, but often could keep hardly awake.  When overcome with heaviness, I went to bed, beseeching God to spare me till the next day, that I might renew my wrestling with him, till I should prevail…
I begged of God, the following day [following the 19th], to show me the wickedness of my heart.  I besought him to increase my convictions; for I was afraid I did not mourn enough for my sins.  But I found some relief in Mr. Wesley’s Journal, where I learned, that we should not build on what we feel, but go to Christ with all our sins, and all our hardness of heart…On Thursday, Satan beset me hard:  I sinned and grievously too. And now I almost gave up all hope; I was on the brink of despair; and nevertheless continued to fall into sin, as often as I had temptation…I went to a sincere friend, and told him something of my state.  He endeavored to administer comfort; but it was not suited to my taste.  When we parted, he gave me some advice which was better suited to my condition.  ‘God,’ said he, ‘is merciful; God loves you; and if he denies you anything, it is for your good [What gracious words; and true].  You deserve nothing at his hands; but wait patiently for him, and never give up hope.’  I went home, resolved to follow his advice, thought I should stay till death.
I proposed to receive the Lord’s Supper on the following Sunday.  I therefore returned to my room, and looked out a sacramental hymn.  I learned it by heart, and prayed it over many times, intending to repeat it at the table.  Then I went to bed with rather more hope and peace than I had felt for some time.  But Satan waked, thought I slept.  I dreamed I had committed a grievous and abominable sin.  I awaked amazed and confounded, but fell upon my knees and prayed with more faith than usual; and afterwards went about my business with uncommon cheerfulness.  It was not long before I was tempted by besetting sin; but I found it had no power.  My soul was not even ruffled.  I took no notice of this at first.  But having withstood the temptation again and again, I perceived it was the Lord’s doing.  Afterwards it was suggested, ‘It is presumptuous for such a sinner to hope for so great a mystery.’ [Why do we doubt the power of God over sin?].  I prayed that I might not be in a delusion; and the more I prayed, the more clearly I saw it was real.  For though sin stirred all the day long, I always overcame it in the name of the Lord.”

Wesley actually considered this to be Fletcher’s conversion experience.  I tend to think Fletcher was already saved for the sheer fact that he was intent on seeking God.  Whatever the case, this intensity in seeking the fullness of God’s power over sin, is very different than our “Sinner’s Prayer” that we say one time and think everything is good.  Men like Wesley and Fletcher were not satisfied with a one time event.  They sought to experience God fully all their lives.

This second account is necessary right here, because it occurs many years later–in 1781.  Fletcher’s testimony is so bold, that one is tempted to discount him (you’ll see what I mean).  However, the accounts of others given to him universally will attest to the reality of his experience.  James Sigston, a contemporary, actually recorded Fletcher’s testimony word for word in a meeting one evening.  Here it is:

“He then said, ‘My dear brethren and sisters, God is here.  I feel him in this place, but I would hide my face in the dust, because I have been ashamed to declare what he hath done for me.  For years I have grieved his Spirit, but I am deeply humbled; and he has again restored my soul.  Last Wednesday evening he spoke to me by these words, ‘Reckon yourselves therefore to be dead indeed unto sin; but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’  I obeyed the voice of God: I now obey it, and I tell you all, to the praise of his love, ‘I am free from sin!‘  Yes, I rejoice to declare it, and to bear witness to the glory of his grace, that I am dead unto sin, and alive unto God, through Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and King!  I received this blessing four or five times before; but I lost it by not observing the order of God, who hath told us, ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’  But the enemy offered his bait under various colours to keep me from a public declaration of what my Lord had wrought…Now my brethren, you see my folly!  I have confessed it in your presence, and now I resolve, before you all, to confess my Master:  I will confess him to all the world; and I declare unto you, in the presence of God, the holy Trinity, I am now ‘dead indeed unto sin.’  I do not say, ‘I am crucified with Christ;’ because some of our well-meaning brethren say, By this can only be meant a gradual dying; but I profess unto you, ‘I am dead unto sin, and alive unto God!’ And remember all this is ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.'”

Fletcher, a man known for his immense piety and humility obviously struggled with what God had done in him by “freeing him from all sin.”  He knew others (we!) would struggle with this idea.  But, whatever the case, he experience something profound, and his whole ministry was a reflection of the deep work of God.  May we all seek and wait for the fullness of God–his forgiveness and his deliverance and his supernatual love.

Blessings.

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