Stockport Evangelical Church

Stockport Evangelical Church
"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:9 KJV)

Friday, 17 January 2014

John Fletcher: His Life and His Legacy.


John William Fletcher (September 12, 1729 – August 14, 1785), was born at Nyon in Switzerland, his original name being de la Fléchère.

Fletcher was a contemporary of John Wesley (the founder of Methodism), a key interpreter of Wesleyan theology in the 18th century, and one of Methodism's first great theologians. He sometimes preached with John Wesley and assisted him with clerical duties in Wesley's London chapels.  Of French Huguenot stock, his given name was actually Jean Guillaume de la Fléchère. Fletcher was renowned in the Britain of his day for his piety and generosity; when asked if he had any needs, he responded, "...I want nothing but more grace."

In 1757 Fletcher was ordained as deacon (6 March 1757) and priest (13 March 1757) in the Church of England, after preaching his first sermon at Atcham being appointed curate to the Rev. Rowland Chambre in the parish of Madeley, Shropshire, whom he succeeded as Vicar of Madeley.

“His prescription for this success appears to have been a mixture of prevailing prayer, personal devotion to the Person of Christ, intensive study of the Scriptures, social concern for the flock, and a willing readiness to visit anyone who was in any form of trouble. He had a special corner in his study which he favoured as a place to pray; there he knelt for hours every day-the wall opposite bearing the mark of his agonised petitions. For two evenings a week he sat up reading, in order to obtain a better understanding of the Christian faith, until-just before dawn and overcome with sleep-he retired for a few hours. He organised, and played a large part in, care for the aged, the poor, the dying, widows and orphans. He showed a typical evangelical compassion for the social needs of those around him, and gave sacrificially in order that his vision might become reality. His giving was so extensive that little was left of his stipend for the maintenance of his house and for meals.” (An Appreciation of John Fletcher – David R. Smith)

In theology he upheld the Arminian doctrines of free will and unlimited atonement, against the Calvinist  doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement. His Arminian theology is most clearly outlined in his famous Checks to Antinomianism. He attempted to confront his (and John Wesley's) theological adversaries with courtesy and fairness, although some of his contemporaries judged him harshly for his writings. His resignation on doctrinal grounds of the superintendency (1768–1771) of the countess of Huntingdon's college at Trevecca left no unpleasantness. Fletcher was characterized by saintly piety, rare devotion, and blamelessness of life, and the testimony of his contemporaries to his godliness is unanimous.

Fletcher became the chief systematizer of Methodist theology. Addressing Wesley's position on the sovereignty of God as it relates to human freedom, Fletcher developed a particular historical perspective espousing a series of three dispensations (time periods) in which God worked uniquely in creation. (This is not to be confused with Dispensational theology, which was fashioned long after Fletcher's death.) Through these dispensations, God's sovereignty was revealed not in terms of ultimate power but in terms of an unfathomable love. Fletcher sought to emphasize human freedom while connecting it firmly with God's grace.

He typically wrote of God in terms of divine moral qualities rather than in terms of power or wrath. His themes were:

"1. Man is utterly dependent upon God's gift of salvation, which cannot be earned but only received; and

2. The Christian religion is of a personal and moral character involving ethical demands on man and implying both human ability and human responsibility."

 John Fletcher himself summarized his theological position thus:

"The error of rigid Calvinists centers in the denial of that evangelical liberty, whereby all men, under various dispensations of grace, may without necessity choose life...And the error of rigid Arminians consists in not paying a cheerful homage to redeeming grace, for all the liberty and power which we have to choose life, and to work righteousness since the fall...To avoid these two extremes, we need only follow the Scripture-doctrine of free-will restored and assisted by free-grace."