Charles Finney, now 63 years of age, was no stranger to Rochester. More than anyone else he had been responsible for shaping and molding the present moral and spiritual climate of the city by means of protracted gospel services held at two different periods in 1830 and 1842. His first time there this congreagational fireball ignited such a blaze that the surrounding towns and villages were also claught in the spiritual inferno. Before he was through the greater number of the leading men and women of the city had been corraled and brought to Christ. His second engagement there was twelve years later (1842). Again his ministry produced a bountiful harvest as the more influential people of Rochester were converted.
The legal profession was greatly benefited by his ministry there. many of them had been skeptics, but when they saw the effect of his ministry on fellow members of the bar they became curious. Their curiosity led to concern and conviction as the Spirit of God began to deal with them personally.
On this second visit a written request was brought to him. Would he preach a series of sermons adapted to their way of thinking? This he did and the results far exceeded his expectations. Now, thirteen years later, they came to him again. Would he delvier a series of lectures on the moral government of God? Finney complied. From the opening session he shaped his lectures in such a way that these men would be convinced that if the Bible was not the Word of God they were in an awful jam. They were without hope. Thy could not, said Finney, infer that because God was good he would forgive sinners. Instead, he reasoned, it might not be wise for Him to pardon such a world of sinners who were in rebellion against His government. Without the help of the Bible to throw light on the situation it was impossible for human reason to conclude that sinners could be saved. They would have to conclude that impenitent sinners could not be pardoned, but would instead be punished.
As the lectures continued some of the lawyers were heard to acknowledge that there as no escaping the logic of his arguments. Finally, after several days of preaching the law and demolishing all their excuses and hiding places (and being a lawyer, himself, he knew where they were hiding), he began to present Christ to them as their only hope. When the invitation was given to turn from their sins and accept Christ as Savior they responded immediately and a large number of them were converted.
Since so many of these leading citizens submitted themselves to Christ, the common man did likewise. The awakening, as in the two previous revivals, continued to grow and spread abroad until the surrounding towns and villages were likewise affected.
John Fletcher was not native to England. He was born in Nyon, Switzerland, not far from Geneva. His swas a happy boyhood. Growing up in the beautiful land of lakes, forests and snow-capped mountains his ear was naturally attuned to nature's rhapsodies [like those delightful tunes the Trapps sang in "The Sound of Music"?--Ed]. Here the call of God seems to have gradually laid hold of the young man. He did not at first respond, but hesitated to take on "so great a burden". Instead, like the prophet Johah, he tried to flee by joining the army. Here the overruling hand of God aborted his plans. Because of an accident in which he was badly scaled by hot water he was not ready for duty whent he ship sailed. The ship was never heard of again.
The year 1752 saw the young man off for England. He went there for the express purpose of learning the English language. He made such incredibly rapid progress that he was soon in the prominent and influential family. Through this family he came in touch with the parish at Madeley which in turn became the setting for his life work.
It was Fletcher's good fortune to come to England in the time of the great Evangelical Revival. The open air meetings, under the preaching of Whitfield, Wesley and many others, had been going on for twenty years. England had become a spiritual wasteland, but under the labors of awakened men, both in and out of the church of England, there was a return to God. Broken homes were restored as broken lives were mended.
This renewal was also known as the Methodist revival, but Fletcher never heard of the Methodists. When he made inquiry the reply was, "Why, the Methodists are a people who do nothing but pray. They are praying all day and all night." To which he replied, "Are they? Then by the help of God I will find them out if they be above the ground." Find them he did, and not long after he was admitted to their society.
Fletcher was ordained into the Christian ministry in 1757. Though he was now a minister of the Church of England he, like many others, had a good relationship with the Methodist societies. The first church offered him "was a splendid situation," so the Patron [the clergyman who dispensed the parish churches and their incomes to the aspiring young ministers of the established state Church] thought. "The parish," he intoned, "is small, the duty light, and the income good...four hundred pounds per annum and it is situated in a fine, healthy, sporting country." One can almost sense the disdain written on the lips of the young man when he replied, "Alas sir, Dunham (the name of the parish) will not suit me. There is too much money and too little labor." As if groping for something to say the Patron queried, "Would you like Madeley (in the west of England near Wales)?" Instantly came the reply, "That sir, would be the very place for me."
This parish [a church sanctuary, including the cemetery and the clergyman's house and the surrounding area of town, city, or country wherein resided the baptized members of his responsibility] was no ordinary dominie's [parish cleric's] dream. The people rarely went to church. They have been variously described as "stupid heathen", "ignorant" and "profane" [terms which are old-fashioned and little used now, but which still could characterize the average congregation today, if we are honest about ourselves! The latest surveys tell us that church members today are grossly ignorant of the Bible and the historic truths of Christian faith, so it is true, that we today are generally ignorant and profane and stupid, as worldly Christians who hardly ever open a Bible or hear a Bible-based message would naturally be.--Ed.].
This was to be his chosen field of labor. His salary, by the way, instead of the four hundred pounds [at the church he turned down] would be a mere twenty five pounds per year [maybe about what a servant girl got in those days, or an iron foundry worker or miner?--Ed.].
His approach to the parish was not unlike that of John the Baptist. Sin was sin and he spelled it out. Since most of the people did not go to church, he went to them. He would break in on their all night revelries and, with blazing eyes, warn them about their sins and the consequences. He hated the saloon and the saloon keepers hated him.
[This is a good issue to bring up. You can just hear the sanctimonious prigs, the self-righteous folks, saying that is wrong, you can't hate the bartender, you must love the bartender despite what he is doing to help people drink their lives and their incomes away! These same people will say we have to respect President Obama despite all the wrong he is doing--out of respect for the Office of President! Really? I cannot respect a liar and a thief and whatever else he is, but I love his soul, and want to see him saved for his own sake, since Christ died for him too. I recall how despicable a person I was in my early college days when I was running away from the Lord--did I warrant someone loving me in that state? Not at all! Yet God gave me grace even then, which was intended by God to convict my heart of my sinfulness. What grace can we possibly extend to President Obama? I must oppose his policies, but I can only pray for him, that is the only possible grace I can give him. To pretend to others he is a good man serving this country well, that is false in any way, and does him no good at all and certainly does not help this country get back on the right track.--Ed].
There was constant war. But Fletcher could be tender and kind too. He spent hours in the homes of his parishioners talking to them about Jesus.
If he had any ambitious dreams they soon came tumbling down. His uncompromising preaching and his labors were too personal and soon the parish was in turmoil. Almost everyone seemed to be against him. The opposition became so violent that he considered leaving. But the storm blew over and soon his church came to be known far and wide as a place where hungry and sorrowing hearts [we certainly can use some today in the churches!--Ed.] could find help. Help they got, and as they went on their way they fanned the flames of personal heart renewal.
On a visit to his beloved homeland Fletcher was approached by one of the local men and asked if he could not remain a little longer and preach to them, "if only for a single week." When it was found to be impossible the disappointed man broke into tears with the exclamation, "How unfortunate for my country! During my lifetime it has produced but one angel of a man, and now it is our lot to lose him."--C.B.F.