« PreviousContinue »
prophet. Some part of his advice, clear of the charge. And if some in his correspondence with a young few parts of his conduct sẽem to lady, may be styled injudicious, if look like real enthusiasm, let him not enthusiastic; and his appa- not be judged too harshly by those rently upmixed approbation of the who are rescued from all danger proceedings of Mr. Wesley, and his in this respect, not by their suitinerant preachers, strongly sa- perior piety, but by their cooler vours of the same spirit. His rap- temperament. If they have less turous and triumphant frame of enthusiasm than Mr. Fletcher, let mind, at the approach of death, is them ask themselves whether they however by no means to be as- have as much fervent and wellcribed to this influence. Who shall directed zeal. presume to say to what extent God It must be mentioned, to the may sometimes be pleased to visit honour of his Christian sobriety, and cheer his faithful servants under that, in his parish of Madeley, we such circumstances ? And, if visions do not hear of those bodily agitaof glory be sometimes then vouch- tions, those fanatical reveries, those safed to the departing saint, upon occasional impostures, and those whom might we expect them to equivocal marks of conversion, to descend sooner than upon this de- say the best of them, which have vout person?
unhappily disgraced the journals In truth, Fletcher displayed much of the Methodists.- In the summer less of what may be properly term- of 1773, there happened, at a place ed enthusiasm than has been com- in his parish called the Birches, an monly supposed. There is no awful convulsion of nature, by single word in the English voca- which the Severn was driven from bulary more frequently distorted its original bed, and formed for from its true meaning than this. itself a new channel, and some In ordinary discourse, we find it very singular changes were properpetually confounded with great duced in the face of the adjoining zeal in the cause of religion ; district. Fletcher improved the whereas the most fervent zeal has incident so far as to repair to the no necessary or unaroidable con- spot, where a large concourse of nection with enthusiasın, meaning people were assembled, for the by the term a heated imagina- purpose of addressing them on the tion,” though, in consequence of subject of religion. In availing the Trailty of human nature, even bimself of these local circumin the best of men, it may in some stances, in order to produce an justavces be combined with the last- impression on those of his pamentioned' quality. Enthusiasm rishioners who seldom visited the or fanaticism (for this is now the church, or who were too barfavourite watchiword of party- dened to derive benefit from bis spirit, as being perhaps the stronger ordinary ministrations; he appears and more sonorous expression of only to have acted the part of the two) implies, when used in a pastor properly zealous for the reference to religion, either some- spiritual welfare of bis flock. A thing which tends to encourage the vehement enthusiast would probelief of false revelations and false bably have gone farther, by intermiracles, or something at least preting the event as a decisive miwhich tends to disfigure true reli- racle, or a manifest judgment from gion, by unintentionally represent- Heaven. ing it under the form of an absurd In enthusiasm, as in all other theory, or an impracticable attain- qualities, there are many gradament. Let Mr. Fletcher's conduct tions. The higher degrees of it be tried by these definitions, and are, unquestionably, as far as they he will be found to stand tolerably influence the conduct, very pernicious: they have done great in. Methodists. It ought, at the same jury to the church, and afforded its time, to be mentioned to his credit enemies much occasion to blas- that he withstood the entreaties of pheme. But there are lower de- some of Mr. Wesley's co-adjutors grees of it, which are less injurious; urging him to become an itinerant "and though I would not defend it preacher; and said, with his acin any degree, yet, in speaking of customed simplicity, that the snail its milder shades, let us ever re- was best in its shell, and that he collect the wise precept of Horace; would keep in his sentry-box till Ne scuticâ dignum horribili sectere Providence should remove him. flagello. Do not visit a venial If we are to judge of his general error with a scourge, only proper preaching by some outlines of unfor the punishment of an enormity. written sermons which have been
A spirit of enthusiasm, at all events preserved, he would appear to have is not the only, even if it were the been more highly gifted with the worst, error of the modern church talent of invention than with that of Christ.
of selection and orderly arrangeMr. Cox seems to attribute the ment. In the outline, for example, occasional irregularities of Fletcher given by Mr. Cox, of a sermon on almost entirely to the circumstance Luke xii. 20, there is no want of of his having been a foreigner, un- matter; but the discourse is broken used to the customs and discipline down into too many parts, and of the English Church. But this some of his divisions are trifling or accouut of the matter is quite un- improper. Perhaps his taste in satisfactory; since he is represent. preaching would have been more ed by his biographer as excusing correct, had he devoted more athimself, upon one occasion, from a tention to the study of polite literavisit to Switzerland, on the ground ture. This he totally neglected, of irregular preaching being there during the latter years of his life. impracticable. He did not there. He had an imagination eminently fore acquire bis lax notions of formed to feel the full force both ,church discipline in his own coun- of the pathetic and the sublime. try. The truth is, he had not But he was too much absorbed in given the subject any close atten- the plain obvious duties of his tion. Led away in this respect by great work, to find time or pathe ardour of his zeal, and by his tience for studying any thing that compassion for the souls of men, tended only subordinately to prohe allowed little scope to the ex- mote his paramount object. Still ercise of bis judgment; and, like his preaching, however deficient in Whitfield and Wesley, though by good taste, must have possessed no means to the same extent, lost the eloquence of nature and reality. sight of clerical consistency and One trait well deserves to be regeneral consequences, in the pro- corded. In the midst, says his spect of immediate and exteusive biographer, of a most animated usefulness. His ill-advised con- description of the terrible day of nexion with Lady Huntingdon's the Lord, he suddenly paused; college at Trevecca, arose from every feature of his expressive the influence of the same principle. countenance was marked with pain---He is not to be accused of ambi- ful feeling; and striking his fore.tiqus aims. He never aspired to head with the palm of his hand, be the leader of a sect. But, for he exclaimed, “ Wretched man that a clergyman, he certainly too much I am!-Beloved brethren, it often identified himself with the well- cuts mę to the soul, as it does at intended, but in many respects this moment, to reflect, that while unjustifiable, proceedings of the I bave been endeavouring by the force of truth, by the beauty of round his parish, at five o'clock on holiness, and even by the terrors Sunday mornings, with a bell, to of the Lord, to bring you to walk summon the idlers of his flock to in the paths of righteousness, I prepare for church, though it may am, with respect to many who re- excite a smile, can never seriously ject the Gospel, only tying mill- degrade him in the estimation of stones round your necks, to sink any liberal and reflecting mind. you deeper in perdition !" The Such was Mr. Fletcher, the Vicar whole church, it is added, was of Madeley. He was, in many reelectrified; and it was some time be- spects, a burning and a shining fore he could resume bis subject. light; not indeed exempt from Massillon's celebrated apostrophe human frailty, but affording a meon the day of judgment, which pro- morable example of the power of duced such emotion in bis courily genuine Christianity to purify, exaudience, was adapted for the culti- alt, and enoble the character of vated meridian of Paris : Fletcher's man.-Let us, for a bioment, imainterruption was admirably suited to gine what such a person as Mr. strike the rude villagers of Madeley. Fletcher might have proved, with. Massillon's was elaborate and sub- out the influences of Divine grace, lime: Fletcher's was simple and and the tuition of the Gospel of pathetic. It was an arrow that Christ. Probably he would have went directly to the heart.
been still amiable, candid, beneHis powers of conversation ap- volent, upright, and enterprizing. pear to have been very remarkable. He might have proved, in his humThere are two instances related, bler sphere of action, what an Anin which he combated infidel, or toninus Pius was, upon ihe seat of at least sceptical, opponents, with the Roman empire. But all his such force of reasoning, such ad. exertions would have been confined mirable restraint of temper, and to the temporal benefit of his felsuch Christian meekness, as pro- low-creatures ; and probably a conduced a very considerable effect viction of the little he could perupon their minds. He bad a clear form for the alleviation of human and solid judgment, whenever be misery, might in some degree have calmly exercised that faculty. paralized his labours, and dried up
I can merely touch upon some the source of his philanthropy. minor excellencies of the character But view him as a minister of of this remarkable man.' There Christ, impressed with a firm bewas nothing in his conduct savour- lief of the Gospel, and with a deep ing of violence or vulgarity. His sense of his own personal responsifamily being nobly allied, and his bility, in delivering the message education liberal, he retained a of reconciliation to a careless and polish and urbanity, which, while corrupt world, and how are all it never interfered with the faithful bis natural qualifications for useful. discharge of his ministerial duties, ness stimulated and improved ! served to recommend him to per- He now finds an object worthy sons of rank and influence. Yet of the utmost ardor of his spirit. such was his indifference to worldly Inflamed with the love of God, distinctions, that owing to a mis- and deeply touched with compastake which he had never been at sion for the souls of men, be posthe pains to rectify, bis wife for sesses motives for exertion infinite. some time believed bim to have been ly superior to any with which be ibe son of a common soldier only, could be furnished by mere worldly instead of a general officer. Even considerations. When checked by his eccentricities were respectable; occasional discouragements, he and the circumstance of his going supports bis courage, prompts Liis perseverance, and keeps alive his
FAMILY. SERMONS.-No. CLX.' activity, by a reference to the commands and promises of Scripture ; Luke xxiii. 46.- And when Jesus and by dependence on the strength
had cried with a loud voice, he of an Almighty Arm.' In the mean
said, Father, into thy hands I time, he is not insensible to the commend my spirit : and having
said thus, he gave up the ghost. great recompense of reward, and to the dreadful consequences of losing it
. This obliges him to “ keep his Few things affect the mind more heart, with all diligence;" and, in than the dying words of those whom watching over his own personal we have known and loved; and if advancement in religion, he finds the individual be in any way emithat he is promoting most effectu- nent, or bis last hours remarkable, ally the spiritual good of others, with what eagerness do men listen and that bis example adds tenfold to the parrative of his words and weight to his instructions.
actions at the closing period of his li is perhaps, vain to hope for existence! And who so eminent, many such brilliant exhibitions of who so worthy of affection as the Christian piety and holiness, until great Martyr of Calvary, the Son that period, when the knowledge of God, the Saviour of the world? of the Lord shall cover the earth, as
Of his expiring moments, we have, the waters cover the sea.” Provi- in the four Evangelists, a most af dence, however, has graciously or. fecting detail. He was not indeed dained, that a few such “lights in quietly breathing out his soul in the world” should arise in every
the retirement of a peaceful deathage, for the purpose of shewing
bed, but was in public, and in tor
tures upon the cross. We are not what true religion is able to do for men, putting to shame the languid therefore to look for lengthened and lukewarm professor of Christ- expositions of his doctrines, such
as are recorded of some of the anianity, and rousing the sincere be
cient philosophers, or for a repetiliever to greater vigilance and exer
tion of the conversations wbich he tion. Instances of this kind are
was accustomed to hold with his patterns of good works ; wbich ought to be preserved, like the beloved disciples, or the listening
multitudes. His words were but great master-pieces in cabinets of
few: they amounted to but seven art, as proper objects for the study of all who desire to grow
brief exclamations from the time in grace,
he was transfixed to the cross, to and in the knowledge of our Lord
the time he bowed his head and Jesus Christ. It is true, there is but one who did no sin, and in
gave up the ghost. Yet wbat vowhom every species of perfection lumes do those few short ejaculais to be found. Let Him ever be
tions speak! The first was a prayer
for his enemies, “ Father, forgive the grand model for our imitation. But let us, at the same time, fol- them;" the second was a promise low others, in proportion as they shalt thou be with me in paradise;"
to a bumble penitent, “ This day followed the Saviour, and learn to the third was an effusion of that 'admire and copy his excellence, as it appears reflected in those who love, tenderness, and sympathy
which beamed in all he said and have most adorned his doctrine, and extended farthest the bounda: did, -" Woman, behold thy soul; ries of his kingdom.
son, behold ihy mother;" the fourth F. was an expression of the deepest
mental anguish,—" My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me !"? the fifth, of extreme bodily suffering, “ | Thirst;" the sixth, a triIt may
umphant exclamation of victory and and martyrs, never were they utterconscious pleasure, even in the ed under circumstances so interest. midst of extreme weakness, “ It is ing to us all, as those in which they finished;" the seventh, and last, was are recorded in the text. They the calm self-committal to God of a
were then the language of the insoul about to quit a body worn down carnate and expiring Redeemer ; by afflictions and languishing on of Him who though equal with the the cross, in sure and certain hope Father, as touching his Godhead, of that heavenly state which was and thinking it no robbery to claim instantly to burst upon it in un: the incommunicable honours of the clouded glory,-“ Father, into thy Divine nature, yet made himself of hands I commend my spirit.” Hav- no reputation, and took upon him ing said thus, be meekly submitted the form of a servant, and was made to the stroke of death, and was in the likeness of men; and, being translated to the presence of bis found in fashion as a man, bumbled Father and our Father, of bis God himself, and became obedient uuto and our God, there to dwell for death, even the death of the cross, ever in the glory which he had with uuder the lingering tortures of the Father before the foundation of which he was now bidding farewell tbe world.
to a world which he had dignified afford us profit, in medic by his presence, and redeemed by tating on the last words of our his blood; but which knew him dying Saviour, first, to consider not, and treated bim as a blassome of the circumstances under phemer, an outcast, and a malewhich he uttered them; and, se- factor. condly, to inquire what impres- In looking back at the circumsion they ought to make upon our stances connected with the dying minds.
exclamation of our Lord, we may, · And, first, let us ask what were in fact, retrace all the leading events the circumstances under which of human history. Even in parathese memorable words were pro- dise his final conflict with the nounced. Often have they been powers of darkness was foretold. uttered by the lips of the faithful in The Seed of the woman was to all ages : they were the language bruise the head of the serpent; of David, in the thirty-first Psalm, but “ thou,” it is added of the serwhen in his heaviness he betook pent, “ shalt bruise his heel.” The himself to his God: they were the whole train of the subsequent narlanguage of St. Stephen, the first rative of mankind, up to the preof that noble army of martyrs who sent bour, has shewn the unhappy died for the testimony of a cruci- necessity for such a sacrifice for fied and ascended Redeemer: since human transgression : the rites of which period often have they vi- primitive worship pointed towards brated from the dungeon and at the it: it was foreshadowed in types, stake, as well as from the calmer revealed in promises, and predictdeath-beds of innumerable private ed in prophecies. At length, in Christians who from time to tiine the fulness of time, Messiah came : have "slept in Jesus," awaiting the he was holy, harmless, undefiled, blissful moment when the sacred and separate from sinners: he went deposit thus committed to the hands about doing good : bis greatest eneof a “ faithful Creator" shall be unies could find no fault in him; reunited to its once frail and earth- yet we see him despised, rejected, ly, but then glorified and imperish- buffeted, spit upon, scourged, and able, tenement, and shall be for at length nailed in agony to the ever with the Lord. But, hallow cross. When we retrace all the ed as are these inemorable words, affecting circumstances of his exby the lips of saints, and confessors, treme suffering in the garden of