« PreviousContinue »
neither your gold, nor your silver; but I am anxious that you should share my joy. Do not tell me again, that piety is usually the portion of younger brothers, since I read in the Old Testament, that every first-born male should be consecrated, in a peculiar manner, to God. Let me rather entreat you, to take the advantage of your situation. Be at least, as far beyond me in piety, as you are in years; and, instead of feeling any jealousy upon this account, my pleasure will be augmented in that great day of our Lord Jesus Christ, to see myself placed at your feet."
By the advice of his friends, Mr. Fletcher now spent some time in travelling in different parts of England, but without procuring the desired relief. He determined therefore again to return to Switzerland, to try the air of his native mountains. Before his departure, however, he sought an interview with all those with whom he had been engaged in controversy, that, "all doctrinal differences apart, he might testify his sincere regret for having given them the least displeasure; and receive from them some assurance of reconciliation and good will." With that solicitude for his people's welfare, which always marked his conduct, he also addressed to them a farewell pastoral letter, to strengthen them in the faith, declaring it to be his sweetest and firmest hope, that if they were never again to see each other in the flesh, they should meet, "where there are no parting seas, no interposing mountains, no sickness, no death, no fear of loving too much, no shame for loving too little."
It was not until more than three years had been passed in travelling, that he ventured to return to England. His strength was but partially restored, yet he again resumed his ministerial duties; and the remnant of his life was spent in the quiet and seclusion of his own parish. It was at this time, that Mr. Fletcher married; when his age, (for he was more than fifty,) and his infirm health, seemed to render such a step improbable. His wife, was one "of equal standing with him in the school of Christ; having drunk of the same spirit, being actuated by the same zeal, and prepared in every respect to accompany him in the Christian race." She, therefore, proved, during the four years their union lasted, a valuable aid in all his ministerial labors. "She sweetly helps me," he wrote to a friend,-"to drink the dregs of life, and to carry with ease the daily cross. Neither of us are long for this world: we see it, we feel it; and, by looking at death and his conqueror, we fight beforehand our last battle with that last enemy, whom our dear Lord hath overcome for us." Thus, the concluding days of his life glided. quietly away:
"As he approached the end of his course," says Mr. Gilpin, "the
graces he had kept in continual exercise for so long a season became more illustrious and powerful: his faith was more assured, his hope more lively, his charity more abundant, his humility more profound, and his resignation more complete. To those who were intimately conversant with him at the season, he appeared as a scholar of the highest attainments in the school of Christ; or, rather, as a regenerate spirit in his latest state of preparation for the kingdom of God: and this extraordinary eminence in grace was discoverable in him, not from any high external professions of sanctity, but from that meekness of wisdom, that purity of conversation, and lowliness of mind, by which his whole carriage was uniformly distinguished."
We now come to the closing scene. For some weeks he seems to have felt a presentiment that it was at hand, and that he was drawing near to the eternal world, "I know not how
it is," said he to Mrs. Fletcher," but I have a a strong impression, death is near us, as if it were to be some sudden stroke upon one of us. And it draws out all my soul in prayer, that we be ready. Lord, prepare the soul, thou wilt call. And, O stand by the disconsolate one that shall be left behind." He died as he had lived, with his armor on, doing his Master's work. Although he had been for some days laboring under a severe cold and fever, yet, when Sunday came, no persuasions could prevail upon him to stay from church. "It was the will of God," he said, "that he should go," and he assured his wife and friends, that God would strengthen him to go through the duties of the day:
"He began the service with apparent strength; but before he had proceeded far, his countenance changed, his speech faultered, and he could scarcely keep himself from fainting. The congregation was greatly affected and alarmed; and Mrs. Fletcher, pressing through the crowd, earnestly entreated him not to persevere in attempting what was so evidently beyond his strength. He recovered, however, when the windows were opened; and, exerting himself against the mortal illness which he felt, he went through the service, and preached with remarkable energy. Mercy was the subject of his discourse, and while he expatiated on this glorious attribute of the Deity, its unsearchable extent, its eternal duration, and its astonishing effects, he seemed to be raised above all the fears and feelings of humanity. His appearance and manner gave an irresistible influence to his words, for his hearers plainly saw that the hand of death was upon him.
As soon as he had finished his sermon, he walked to the communion table. Here the same affecting scene was renewed with additional solemnity. Tears started from every eye, and sighs escaped from every breast, while his people beheld their minister offering up the last languid remains of a life that had been lavishly spent in their service. In going through this last part of his duty, he was frequent
ly exhausted; but his spiritual vigor triumphed over his bodily weak. ness. At length, after having struggled through a service of some hours' continuance, he was supported, with blessings in his mouth, from the altar to the chamber, where he lay some time in a swoon, and from whence he never walked into the world again."
What a scene would this be for a painter, who could fully realize all the deep solemnities which attended it! The old parish church, gray with the flight of centuries, within whose walls "the rude forefathers of the hamlet" had for many generations worshipped, and around which they were gathered to their last resting place-the pastor, bowed down with toil more than with years, rallying his wasting strength, once more to pronounce a blessing on his flock, yet sinking in the attempt, and crowding around him, his weeping, awe-struck people," sorrowing that they should see his face no more," all combine, to constitute a touching scene which it does the heart good to look upon. We see the best and holiest feelings of our nature, pouring themselves forth without alloy from any thing selfish or degrading. We behold the Christian minister's proudest earthly reward, the bitter tears of those, to whom he has been a spiritual father, flowing unrestrained, because the time of his departure has come. But copious as have already been our extracts from the work, we feel that it would be injustice to our readers, not to carry them into "the chamber where the good man meets his fate," and permit them to listen to the last testimony of this departing Christian :
"The death bed of this excellent man presented to those who were permitted to witness it, a scene equally instructive with any part of his previous life. As the mercy of God, through Christ, had been his delightful theme while in health, so was it now his support and consolation in death. His reliance was not placed in any state of Christian experience to which he had arrived, nor in any habit of consistent holiness in which he had been enabled to live; it was founded simply and solely on the efficacy of the merits and atonement of the Redeemer.
Mrs. Fletcher mentions that he manifested peculiar pleasure during his illness, whenever he repeated or heard the following lines :"While Jesus' blood through earth and skies Mercy, free boundless mercy, cries;"
And that he would frequently add,-"Yes, boundless-boundlessboundless."
"Mercy's full power I soon shall prove,
Lov'd with an everlasting love."
The solicitude which he felt for others during this period of his own extreme suffering, manifests how largely he partook of the same mind, which was alsó in Christ Jesus. His parish, his family, his friends, all shared in his sympathies, and in his dying prayers. The indigent
and afflicted part of his parishioners, who had so long experienced his tender care, still occupied his peculiar attention. When he could not speak without great pain and difficulty, he pathetically cried out, "O my poor, what will become of my poor ?"—and he cauld only find rest in his tender and affectionate spirit, by calmly committing them to the Lord. While his pious and endeared wife was kneeling by his side, with his hand enclosed in hers, he repeatedly strove to comfort her by broken, half articulated expressions of tenderness and love. And when the powers of speech failed him, he intimated to her by expressive signs, the happiness which he felt in his God. At length, calling to his aid all his remaining powers, he piously breathed out- -"Head of the Church, be head of my wife." His female attendant, having said to him, "Oh, my dear master, should you be taken away, what a disconsolate creature will my poor dear mistress be," he checked her fears, and attempted to dissipate her doubts, by reminding her, with mingled affection and confidence, that God would be her All in all.
For his medical attendant also, whose kind assiduities he gratefully felt, but whose neglect of eternal things had excited within him deep concern, he discovered the most affecting anxiety. "O sir," he would say, even when he had scarcely any power to speak ;—“O sir, you take much thought for my body, permit me to take thought for your soul."
His sufferings during his illness, were at times very acute and diversified but he was raised completely above them. Mrs. Fletcher describes him as bearing all with such unutterable patience as no one, unless he were present, could possibly conceive. If at any time she spoke of his sufferings, he would only smile, and intimate his inward tranquility and joy.
His general attainments, in divine things had long been of a very exalted kind. His uncommon power over sin, his habitual recollection, his uninterrupted communion with God, together with his extensive enjoyment of the graces and consolations of the Holy Spirit, had, for many years, marked him out as a Christian of no ordinary standard. But towards the close of his life, he was in the habit of expecting a yet greater fullness of spiritual enjoyments. The following lines, expressive of his desires, were frequently uttered by him as the language of his ardent mind :
"Stretch my faith's capacity
My soul forever fill."-Eph. iii. 19.
And in answer to these, his pious breathings, he seemed for a short time previous to his death, to have lived within the very precincts of the celestial world.
Mr. Mc'Alpin, with his usual felicity of expression, thus adverts to this, his happy and triumphant state of mind: "A few days before his dissolution he seemed to have reached that desirable point where the last rapturous discoveries are made to the souls of dying saints.
Roused, as it were, with the shouts of angels, and kindled into rapture with visions of glory, he broke forth into a song of holy triumph, which began and ended with the praises of God's unfathomable love. He labored to declare the secret manifestations he enjoyed: but his sensations were too powerful for utterance; and after looking inexpressible things, he contented himself with calling upon all around him to celebrate that adorable love which can never be fully comprehended, nor adequately expressed. This triumphant frame of mind was not a transient feeling, but a state that he continued to enjoy, with little or no discernible interruption, to the moment of his death. While he possessed the power of speech, he spake as one whose lips had been touched with a live coal from the altar; and, when deprived of that power, his countenance discovered that he was secretly engaged in the contemplation of eternal things."
"Thus passed away the first six days of Mr. Fletcher's illness. On the following Sunday, earnest supplications were offered up, in the house of God, for his recovery, whilst an air of solemn sadness pervaded the whole village. Hasty messengers were seen passing to and fro with anxious inquiries and confused reports; and the members of every family awaited, with trembling expectation, the issue of every hour. After the evening service, several of the poor who came from a distance, and were usually entertained under his roof, lingered about the house, and at length expressed an earnest desire to be permitted once more to behold their expiring pastor. Their request was granted. The door of his chamber was set open: directly opposite to which, he was sitting upright in bed, unaltered in his appearance; and as they slowly passed along the gallery, one by one, they paused at the door, with a look of mingled supplication and anguish.
"A few hours after this affecting scene, he breathed his last, without a struggle or a groan. At the moment of his departure, Mrs. Fletcher was kneeling by his side; a domestic who had attended him with an uncommon assiduity, was seated at his head; and his respected friend, Mr. Gilpin, was sorrowfully standing near his feet. Uncertain whether he had actually expired, they pressed near, and hung over his bed in the attitude of listening attention. His lips had ceased to move, and his head was gently sinking upon his bosom. They stretched out their hands: but his warfare was accomplished, and his happy spirit had taken its everlasting flight. Such was the end of this eminently holy and laborious servant of God, who entered into his rest on the evening of Sunday, August 14, 1785, in the fifty. sixth year of his age."
Such was Mr. Fletcher of Madeley; "a man of heavenly temper; a saint, in the ancient and high sense of the term; whose enthusiasm was entirely unmixed with bitterness, and whose life and death were alike edifying."* Having deeply im
* London Quarterly Review, Oct. 1820. p. 43.
VOL. I.-NO. I.