1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fletcher, John William

FLETCHER, JOHN WILLIAM (1729–1785), English divine, was born at Nyon in Switzerland on the 12th of September 1729, his original name being de la Fléchière. He was educated at Geneva, but, preferring an army career to a clerical one, went to Lisbon and enlisted. An accident prevented his sailing with his regiment to Brazil, and after a visit to Flanders, where an uncle offered to secure a commission for him, he went to England, picked up the language, and in 1752 became tutor in a Shropshire family. Here he came under the influence of the new Methodist preachers, and in 1757 took orders, being ordained by the bishop of Bangor. He often preached with John Wesley and for him, and became known as a fervent supporter of the revival. Refusing the wealthy living of Dunham, he accepted the humble one of Madeley, where for twenty-five years (1760–1785) he lived and worked with unique devotion and zeal. Fletcher was one of the few parish clergy who understood Wesley and his work, yet he never wrote or said anything inconsistent with his own Anglican position. In theology he upheld the Arminian against the Calvinist position, but always with courtesy and fairness; his resignation on doctrinal grounds of the superintendency (1768–1771) of the countess of Huntingdon’s college at Trevecca left no unpleasantness. The outstanding feature of his life was a transparent simplicity and saintliness of spirit, and the testimony of his contemporaries to his godliness is unanimous. Wesley preached his funeral sermon from the words “Mark the perfect man.” Southey said that “no age ever provided a man of more fervent piety or more perfect charity, and no church ever possessed a more apostolic minister.” His fame was not confined to his own country, for it is said that Voltaire, when challenged to produce a character as perfect as that of Christ, at once mentioned Fletcher of Madeley. He died on the 14th of August 1785.

Complete editions of his works were published in 1803 and 1836. The chief of them, written against Calvinism, are Five Checks to Antinomianism, Scripture Scales to weigh the Gold of Gospel Truth, and the Portrait of St Paul. See lives by J. Wesley (1786); L. Tyerman (1882); F. W. Macdonald (1885); J. Maratt (1902); also C. J. Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, pp. 384-423 (1869).