Essay / Theology

“If a Noisome Dunghill May Covenant with a Being Most Holy:” Fletcher of Madeley

John Fletcher madeley John Wesley, who everybody’s heard of, had this to say about John Fletcher of Madeley, who is now mostly forgotten: “An obedience discovered itself in Fletcher of Madeley, which I wish I could describe or imitate.”

John William Fletcher (1729-1785), or, to use the French name he was given at birth, Jean Guillaume de la Flechere, was famous among the early Methodists for his holiness and humility. This obedience which “discovered itself” in his life can be traced to a document which he wrote in Latin on August 24, 1754. Seven months after his conversion, Fletcher wrote out a covenant with God. It’s available in Patrick Streiff’s biography of Fletcher, and it is a remarkable document. At only a couple of pages in length, it is a classic statement of Christian devotion. Since I can’t find it anywhere on the web, I print it here in full:

In the name of God, Creator of Heaven and earth. Amen.
O most high Jehova, only God, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, I, the worst of the wicked, the vilest of the sons of Adam, a renegade spirit, a man perishing altogether.

Having spent the greater art of my life in the service of Satan, by the gracious impulse of Thy mercy torn from the world, the devil and myself, I resolve to consecrate myself wholly and for ever to Thee, my Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. I determine to enter upon a treaty with Thee (forgive so great a boldness in so great a sinner). This Jacob did, and it was well with him; striving therefore by his example, and moreover relying on the name of Christ, fasting and praying unto Thee, I creep forth, and most humbly through Jesus crucified, I ask, demand, importune that Thou wilt not refuse to ratify this treaty with Thy vilest slave, and that Thou wilt daily grant to me the help of Thy grace through pity, in Thy Son, that I may be able to play my parts aright to the glory of Thy name and the safety of my soul.

I am Thine, O Jehova; Thou didst create me that I might serve Thee: when fallen with my fathers Thou didst redeem me with Thy Son’s blood: when rushing into hell Thou madest me stand; thou didst free me from divers dangers; when assailed by manifold want thou didst raise me up; crushed by innumerable sins Thou dost free me. To Thee therefore, urged by my duty, by justice, by gratitude, I give, restore, consecrate, dispose:

1. All my property that now is or that is to be, whether for the relief of the poor or the honour and propagation of Thy gospel, or that with Thy permission it may be carried off by misfortunes or be destroyed; to me grant of them only what is necessary for the sustenation of a humble life;

2. I give, I restore, I consecrate, I dispose to Thee the feelings of my body, the affections of my mind, my talents, my knowledge, my health, my reputation, my good name, all my plans, labours and pleasures; thee take away from me, ruin or increase, for Thy pleasure and the increase of Thy glory; I will hold my peace, for Thou wilt do this, O Thou Rock of safety;

3. I give, restore, consecrate and dispose to Thee my every limb and my whole body, that it may be afflicted by diseases as Thou in pity shalt will, or that, with Thy permission, it may be cast into prison by the wicked, that it may be assailed with infamy, or hurt with heathen stripes or swords, and at length when Thou shalt command, for Thy glory and the name of Christ, whether it be hung in a halter or burnt with flames, or whatsoever other manner Thou mayest please, and at whatever time, it may be taken from my spirit.

4. I give, restore, consecrate and dispose the universal faculties of my mind, and my soul itself, that freed from natural and acquired corruption, and inflamed by love of Thee, it may serve Thee all the days of life here, and moreover in another world may adore Thee, and rejoice in Thee.

5. To Thee I give, restore, consecrate and dispose my present office or future, so that if Thou shalt will Thou mayst take it from me, and as long as I perform it I may perform it to Thee alone and last by the grace of Christ; the progress of my pupils of whatsoever kind; all the points of my life, that to Thee through Jesus my Advocate I may proclaim thy praises, and next may do good, and perform my office, teach or study religion, satisfy my body sparingly, prepare myself for the last judgment, and lastly may commend to Thee the life of parents, relations and friends whether they be retained or taken away, for pride, my appetite for vain-glory, my impatience, also the phantasms of vain plans, the fear of contempt, of poverty and of pain, doubtful expectations of the future, severity against my neighbour’s mistakes, an immoderate use of good, drink and sleep, all justification by works, all trust in wealth and patronage, and all mistrust in Christ, whether acquired or inborn; and, protected by the shield of faith, and armed with the sword of grace,daily to resist these monsters, with Thee, O Christ, for commander and leader, I promise Thee, yet not I, but Jesus in me by the Holy Ghost.

If a thing created may stipulate with the Creator, if ashes and dust, if a noisome dunghill may covenant with a Being most holy, the omnipotent Governor of all nature, I seek, ask, demand, importune from Thee, pitying Father, with most humble and agitated heart, and with all zeal and ardour of spirit —

1. That all sins that I have up to this time committed may be so expiated by the sacrifice of Thy Son that neither their punishments nor their reckoning after death be demanded.

2. That those (sins) which unhappily I shall be able to commit may be, by grace of the same, either averted, or on speedy repentance blotted out.

3. That I may never be in want of Thy grace in order that I may embrace the gospel with lively Faith, that I may show myself a living member of Thy Church, that I may be able at every time to pay ever part of my vow.

4. That through Thy Spirit Christ may dwell in me and, Adam driven out, may reign alone.

5. That in all temptations, in all calamities, in time of death and in the day of judgemente, Thy help through Christ and Thy divine consolations may sustain and renew me,

6. That I may never neglect to read my Bible frequently, to meditate, to give alms, to pray diligently day and night, and to receive the Eucharist at each opportunity; in all these duties be Thou present with me, and breathe upon me abundantly Thy Holy Spirit, so that, nourished in all the requisites of piety, confirmed in faith, I may triumph, exult in hope, be inflamed with pure zeal, burn with true love, strive in self-control worthy of Christ, until grace be changed into glory.

These things, Heavenly Parent, I ask Thee most humbly, not on account of th e confidence recently reposed in Thee, nor the vows just poured forth (and I am persuaded and am certain that Thou wilt not grant to my supplication things that will be vain and useless), but by Thy pity towards the fallen sons of Adam, by Thy Word, Jesus Christ, leaving Thy bosom, incarnated and born amongst beasts, passing life amongst corrupt men, suffering so many insults, submitting to so many toils, performing so many miracles, applying Thyself to so many prayers on behalf of sinners, drinking so patiently, Himself instead of me, from the bitter cup of righteous wrath, having shed all His blood after ineffable anguish giving up the ghost, and now interceding for me at Thy right hand. So much therefore I ask through Thy Word, that Thou wilt deign to hear me and grant my prayers with unmerited and free grace, which, if in Thy pity through Jesus Christ Thou wilt in goodness do, Thou wilt present to me in Thyself truly a heavenly Father, truly a Divine Redeemer, truly a sanctifying Spirit. Truly, indeed, I, ashes and dust corrupt, shall then be able to perform (yet not I but Christ through me) those things which my mind (O that no deceit may hide in the secret places of my heart) promises, pledges, vows that it will try to perform every day of my life –I, the vilest sinner, an apostate most unworthy of Thy pity, the direct rebel but yet the work of Thy hand, redeemed by the blood of Christ and to be renewed into Thine image by the Holy Spirit.

I deliver this the 24th of August, A.D. 1754

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