« AnteriorContinuar »
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
THE editor is aware that he must chiefly ascribe it to the high esteem entertained by the public in general, and by the members of the Methodist societies in particular, for the character of the late Rev. Mr. Fletcher, and the great veneration in which his memory is held by them, that the former impression of this work has had so rapid a sale, and that a second edition is so soon called for. He is, however, happy to find, by the testimonies he has received from different quarters, that the manner in which he has been enabled to execute his office of compiler, has been highly satisfactory to Mr. Fletcher's friends, and to the readers of the publication in general.
It is true, the editors of a periodical work; termed the “Christian Observer,” have represented it as an imperfection in his mode of compilation, that he did not “weave the whole of his materials into a completely new work.” But this, he must observe, was not the task assigned him; nor would he, if desired, have consented to undertake it, well knowing, both that it would require more time than he could have spared from his other, not less important employments, and that the work would gain nothing thereby in point of real usefulness. For he was well persuaded, that he could not express the same things in his own words, so well as the Rev. Messrs. Wesley and Gilpin had expressed them, nor clothe the materials furnished by these truly pious and learned writers in more pure, elegant, and forcible language, than they had used. He knew, therefore, that to have pursued the plan the conductors of that miscellany have suggested, would not have rendered the work more interesting, or more instructive to the reader, or in any respect better calculated to answer the great and important ends of religious biogra
phy, which are not to gain honour and applause to the writer; but rather to excite and animate the reader to greater zeal and diligence in pursuit of whatever excellence might be described or exemplified in the subject of it. Add to this, he was sensible it was not the wish of any of the parties by whom he was pressed into this ser. vice, that the narratives of Messrs. Wesley and Gilpin should be superseded and lost sight of. He knew it was rather their desire, that these well written, though incom. plete accounts, should be brought forward afresh into public view, preserved and perpetuated, by being incorporated in one volume, with such other materials as might be collected; thereby furnishing the public with such a clear and full history of that incomparable man, as might be of lasting use to the Church of Christ, and a mean of edification to thousands yet unborn. But “the natural consequence of this mode of compilation,” say they, “is, that the work is defective in clearness and uniformity, and that it is occasionally prolix and redundant.” As to prolia'ily and redundance, the editor is under no concern. The persons for whose use chiefly he undertook to compile this volume, have such veneration for the memory of Mr. Fletcher, that any information concerning him that is authentic, and at all instructive, or calculated to cast light upon his character, is peculiarly welcome ; although to readers less apprized of his worth, it might appear unnecessary, or even superfluous. Under a persuasion of this, at the same time that the editor has corrected two or three unimportant mistakes, inadvertently made in the former impression, he has enlarged the narrative still more in the present publication, by inserting several anecdotes, original letters, and other communications which had not come to hand when his manuscript for the first edition was sent to the press. But as to this point of prolicity, the Christian Observers themselves have formed his apology. “It is but fair to observe (say they) as to this volume, that, as it was evidently intended chiefly for the perusal of the followers of Mr. Wesley, who are almost universally great admirers of Mr. Fletcher, the editor might not think it necessary
to pay so much regard, in the construction of his work,
to perspicuity of arrangement and elegance of manner as to the minuteness of his details, and the abundance
of his matter.” This statement, bating the unmerited g
insinuation contained in it against the followers of Mr. Wesley as persons who have less taste than their neighbours for order and elegance in composition, the editor acknowledges to be pretty near the truth. He owns he did pay, and thought it his duty to pay, much more attention to the matter than to the form and manner of his work. He paid, however, considerable attention to the latter also, and ventures to say, while it has all the elegance which the fine pens of Messrs. Gilpin, Wesley, and Fletcher could give it, the greatest part of its contents being expressed in their words, it has all the perspicuity and clearness which “an arrangement according to the date of the events,” could bestow, an arrangement which these observers themselves acknowledge to have been attended to. As to uniformity, it has what is quite sufficient for a work of the kind; a uniformity, not indeed of language, the simple and laconic style of Mr. Wesley differing very materially from the diffuse and florid manner of Mr. Gil. pin, and the copiousness of Mr. Fletcher; but what is infinitely more important, a uniformity of testimony, respecting the amiable and excellent subject of the narrative, and that blessed Gospel which he preached, which he lived, and which his most eminent gifts and graces highly adorned. It is also uniform as to its design, and it is hoped, that all its parts co-operate to produce the important effect intended, and that is, to induce every reader to follow Mr. Fletcher, as he followed Christ. .
In short, the editor believes that he has pursued the best plan which he could have chosen, in order to trace, exhibit, and attest, from the mouths of different witnesses, Mr. Fletcher's character and conduct through every period of his life; and to give the reader at once a clear and full view of his progressive wisdom, piety, and usefulness, and especially of that heavenly and divine mind, whereby he was prepared for the great and glorious reward awaiting him in the kingdom of his Father.
But without entering farther into the examination of what he cannot but think to be the unkind and illiberal remarks, contained in the forementioned publication, on these two most eminently useful men, the Rev. Messrs. Wesley and Fletcher, and on the Methodists in general;—as a proper contrast to their critique, and a confirmation of the observations just made, the editor will now take the liberty of laying before the reader the judgment passed upon this work, by the conductors of two other periodical publications. Although no followers of Mr. Wesley, but persons of very different sentiments, as to some important points of Christian doctrine, nevertheless they could not close their eyes to the uncommon piety, and other excellencies of the subject of this narrative.
“Whatever difference of opinion,” say the editors of the Theological and Biblical Magazine, (see their num. ber for April, 1805,) “may be entertained respecting some important points of doctrine, which the late Mr. Fletcher publicly maintained, we believe that there is but one opinion as to the exalted piety of this eminent Chris. tian. We have perused these memoirs with deep interest, and we hope also not without profit. His humility, disinterestedness, affection, zeal, and heavenly mindedness have, perhaps, been seldom equalled; and few, we believe, will rise from the perusal of the volume before us, without being ashamed of their own unprofitableness, and adoring the riches of Divine grace, which were so extraordinarily manifested to this man of God. While reading this account of Mr. Fletcher, we frequently called to mind the late most amiable Mr. Pearce, of Birmingham, whose Life has been written by Mr. Fuller. There seems, indeed, to have been a very great resemblance in these two characters, both in the ardency of their Christian love, their entire devotedness to God, and the constant communion they held with the Father of spirits. We have not room for quotations, yet we feel strongly inclined to give a few expressions of his, which indicate great candour toward those who thought differently from him in some less important particulars of doctrine.” After producing a passage to this purpose, which the reader will find in page 338, “God forbid, &c,” they add, “We, among many others, differ widely from Mr. Fletcherin some points of doctrine, but we cannot withhold our admiration of a character so truly lovely and exalted. Mr. Benson has performed his part, in collecting the materials for this Life of Mr. Fletcher in a very respectable manner.” The following sentences are transcribed from the Eclectic Review for June, 1805, in which this work is considered at large—“There have been some, in most ages of Christianity, and in most countries where it is professed, who have emulated its primitive and genuine excellence. Among these exalted few, the subject of the biography before us is unquestionably to be ranked. In whatever period he had lived, to whatever department of Christians he had belonged, he would have shone in the religious hemisphere, as a star of the first magnitude.” After giving, from the volume, a general outline of his history, they add, “We must refer to the narrative of his short illness, given by Mrs. Fletcher, and to an ample character of him previously introduced, for a more adequate idea of this excellent man than we can attempt to impart. It was deemed preferable to give the preceding outline,