John Fletcher (Jean Guilliaume de la Flechere, for such was his full name in his native tongue) was born in Switzerland in 1729 and baptized on 19 September 1729.
He was the eighth Child of his parents and also the last child. He received his education at Geneva, but, preferring a military career to a clerical one, went to Lisbon and enlisted in the army. An accident prevented him from sailing, that was how God kept him from the army. He had visited his uncle, who offered to secure a commission for him but afterwards, he went to England in 1750. He had a secret desire to travel to England, and had studied the English language before his arrival in London.
In 1751, he became teacher to the sons of Thomas and Susanna Hill, a wealthy family, who spent part of the year in London. On one of the family’s stays in London, Fletcher first heard of and was influenced by the Methodists and became personally acquainted with John and Charles Wesley, as well as his future wife, Mary Bosanquet. Wesley stated that in his childhood, Fletcher had much of the fear of God, and great tenderness of conscience. From his earliest youth he felt a call to preach, but afterwards he abandoned all hope of ever entering the ministry. He said: ” I think it was when I was seven years of age, that I first began to feel the love of God shed abroad in my heart, and that I resolved to give myself up to Him, and to the service of His Church, if ever I should be fit for it; but the corruption which is in the world, and that which was in my own heart, soon weakened, if not erased, those first characters which grace had written upon it.” Later, he said, “I went through my studies with a design of entering into orders; but, afterwards upon serious reflections, feeling I was unequal to so great a burden, I yielded to the desire of my friends, who would have me go into the army.”
THE CALLING OF GOD ON HIS LIFE PREVAILED
God, however had a calling on the life of John Fletcher, that his friends, his uncle and the Military could not change. Straight after his ordination in March 1757, John gave himself as an itinerant colleague to John Wesley who loved him for his energy, charm, forthrightness, serving as a source of encouragement to him and his ministry. When it was time to settle for a base to minister from, he selected Madeley as his home because it was the place that looked as if it would make the most demands of a pastor and yet offer the least financial reward.
The call to deny self was more real to him than the love for material things which was prevalent in his days. What a man!
For twenty-five years, Fletcher laboured here and though he was hated, loved, cursed, persecuted, and misunderstood, in remarkable patience, he stood with the people. Such single-mindedness could only bring about either utter failure or absolute victory and yes, it was the case of complete and absolute victory as God revived His work in Madeley.
THE STATE OF MADELEY
Madeley was full of profane, worldly and ignorant people; Fletcher knew this when he visited the place before accepting the parish. Anyone who would have come with lesser zeal and principles than Fletcher would have probably censored his words but John Fletcher did not cease to preach against the very things that were norms for the congregation: insobriety, sexual debauchery, bull-baiting, and gross immorality! It was therefore not strange to see that many despised him but his approach was not wrong because within two years, Madeley had changed in perceptive. A place where all detested decency and all forms of religion became a holy place; the church was jammed every Sunday, morning and evening.
THE INGREDIENTS OF HIS SUCCESS IN MINISTRY.
A mix of prevailing prayer, personal devotion to Jesus Christ, intensive and extensive study of the Word, genuine concern for the flock, and a readiness to pay visits to anyone who was in any form of trouble were the ingredients of his success in ministry.
In his study, he had a special corner which he preferred as a place of prayer, there he knelt for hours every day praying, to the point that the wall in his room was stained by the breath of his deep and long prayers. Sometimes he would pray all night; frequently and with great earnestness. His whole life was a life of prayer. “I would not rise from my seat,” he said, “without lifting my heart to God.” To a friend, he would always greet: “Do I meet you praying?” He said: “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” His motto was : “He that has prayed well has studied well.”
He would sit up reading, to obtain a better understanding of the faith until just before dawn and then he would retire to sleep for a few hours but only because he was overcome by sleep from having stayed up more hours than he slept.
He cared for the aged, the poor, the dying, widows and orphans. He displayed a deep compassion for the needs of those around him, and gave sacrificially so his vision might become reality. His giving was so sacrificial that little was left for his meals and his maintenance. He led an exemplary life and lived for the gospel. He was a truly a general in God’s army. “Deeds, not words shall speak me.” – John Fletcher