John William Fletcher|
John William Fletcher (1729-1785) was a contemporary of
John Wesley, a key interpreter of Wesleyan (or Arminian) theology in the 18th
century, and one of Methodism's first great theologians. Of French Hugenot
stock, his given name was actually Jean Guillaume de la Flechere. Fletcher was
renowned in the Britain of his day for his piety and generosity; when asked if
he had any needs, he responded, "...I want nothing but more grace."1
Most of Fletcher's theological writings date from the period between 1770 and
1778, when there was great conflict between Wesley and the Methodists and
British Calvinists. When Wesley's Calvinist opponents made the charge that
Wesley had endorsed works righteousness, Fletcher demonstrated that this was not
the case. Rather, Fletcher countered, Wesley's language was an attempt to attack
antinomianism in the British Church. Fletcher's subsequent publication Checks to
Antinomianism supported Wesley further; this was the first distinctively
Wesleyan theological writing published by someone other than John or Charles
Fletcher became the chief systematizer of Methodist theology. Addressing
Wesley's position on the sovereignty of God as it relates to human freedom,
Fletcher developed a particular historic perspective espousing a series of three
dispensations (time periods) in which God worked uniquely in creation. (This is
not to be confused with Dispensational theology, which was fashioned long after
Fletcher's death.) Through these dispensations, God's sovereignty was revealed
not in terms of ultimate power but in terms of an unfathomable love. Fletcher
sought to emphasize human freedom while connecting it firmly with God's grace.
Fletcher's writings, while serious in nature, display a witty tone, almost
satirical in nature. He typically spoke of God in terms of divine moral
qualities rather than in terms of power or wrath. His themes were:
"1. Man is utterly dependent upon God's gift of salvation, which cannot be
earned but only received; and
2. The Christian religion is of a personal and moral character involving ethical
demands on man and implying both human ability and human responsibility."2
Fletcher himself summarized his theological position:
"The error of rigid Calvinists centers in the denial of that evangelical
liberty, whereby all men, under various dispensations of grace, may without
necessity choose life...And the error of rigid Arminians consists in not paying
a cheerful homage to redeeming grace, for all the liberty and power which we
have to choose life, and to work righteousness since the fall...To avoid these
two extremes, we need only follow the Scripture-doctrine of free-will restored
and assisted by free-grace."3
John Wesley had chosen Fletcher to lead the Methodist movement upon Wesley's
passing, but Fletcher died prior to Wesley.
Though the entire Methodist family utilizes Fletcher's work, his writings have
found particular popularity among Holiness theologians.
1: W.A. Sangster, "Called to Be Saints", Proceedings of the Ninth World
Methodist Conference (Nashville: Methodist Publishing House, 1956), p. 363.
2: David Shipley, Methodist Arminianism in the Theology of John Fletcher (Ph.D.
diss., Yale University, 1942), p. 372.
3: John Fletcher, "On Predestination", Checks to Antinomianism (New York: J.
Collard, 1837), pp. 333-334.