JOSEPH BENSON DESCRIBES JOHN FLETCHER

In his article "The Rediscovery of Pentecost in Methodism," Laurence Wood noted that Joseph Benson had added an appendix to the second edition of his biography, The Life of the Rev. John Fletcher. Benson's biography was first published in 1804 and drew upon material written about Fletcher from John Wesley and John Gilpin. However, Benson's biography received an unfavorable review in The Christian Observer, which occasioned Benson's appendix.

Wood asserts that "this appendix shows how deeply established Fletcher's concept of the baptism with the Spirit was and that even his non-Methodist detractors understood its significance for Methodism." Wood also claimed that "Benson defended Fletcher's link between Pentecost and perfection, and he showed that Fletcher encouraged others to experience this baptism for themselves."

Joseph McPherson recommended this biography to Allegheny Publications for reprint, and his father's copy was used for the 1984 reprint, but the appendix was not part of that edition. Upon receiving a copy of the appendix Mr. McPherson encouraged the section of the appendix to which Wood refers to be reprinted in The Arminian. Here, then, is section 6 of Benson's appendix in its entirety:

The consideration of two or three particulars more shall close these remarks. Speaking of "the promise of the Father," or the gift of the Holy Spirit, including that rich blessing of union with the Father and the Son, mentioned John xvii.21, they observe, "Upon this sublime and important subject, much occurs in the course of this volume. But though we think that in the present day it is not sufficiently considered, even by religious persons, we are clearly of opinion, that both as to his expectations and expressions, relative to the gift of the Holy Spirit, Mr. F. exceeded the boundaries which are prescribed to us in Scripture. It appears also, in fact, that he never did experience that fulness of manifestation which he seems to have looked for so earnestly for so many years. Indeed, to expect another Pentecost, as Mr. F. evidently did, is, as we conceive, wholly unscriptural, and can tend only to spiritual delusion." So far the Christian Observer: and as the subject is of peculiar importance, I must be allowed to dwell a little upon it. This is a point which I can speak upon with assurance, having frequently conversed and corresponded with Mr. Fletcher upon it, so that I knew his views thereon perfectly. Now the questions are, What did he expect himself? What did he teach others to expect? And what did he himself experience? "He expected (say the conductors of that miscellany) another Pentecost." In some sense he did, but not in the sense they imagine. He expected a Pentecost, not literally, but figuratively speaking. Did he expect cloven or distinct tongues of fire to rest upon him, or the gift of tongues, or that of prophecy so called, or of healing? Did he expect to be enabled to raise the dead with a word or a touch? By no means; he looked for nothing of this kind. He expected only those ordinary operations and graces of the Spirit in a full and mature state, which the Holy Scriptures declare to be essential to the character of a true and perfect Christian. He expected "the spirit of wisdom and revelation, in and by the knowledge of Christ, that the eyes of his understanding being enlightened, he might know what was the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his (God's) inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power towards those that believe." He expected that his "faith should grow exceedingly," that his "love should abound more and more in knowledge, and in all aisthesei sense and feeling," even the love of God, of his people, and all mankind, "shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him." He expected to "be filled with joy and peace through believing, and to abound in hope by the power of the same Holy Ghost." He expected to be stamped with that divine image of God, which he had lost by the fall, to be a partaken of a divine nature; to be sanctified wholly, to "grow up into Christ his living head in all things," and to arrive at the measure of the stature of his fulness, being "filled with all the communicable "fulness of God," and "conformed to the image of his Son." And what he expected himself, he taught others to expect and urged them continually to press to this "mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Now who will take upon him to say that Mr. F. was in an error in this, and that we have no authority from Scripture to look for such things? But, say these Christian Observers, "It appears, in fact, that he never did experience that fulness of manifestation, which he seems to have looked for so earnestly for so many years." No? I think, on the contrary, it appears that he did experience it, at least in a very high degree. "As the Spirit gave utterance," says Mr. Gilpin; "he made his requests know unto God. There have been seasons of supplication in which he appeared to be carried out far beyond the ordinary limits of devotion; when, like his Lord upon the mount, while he has continued to pour out his mighty prayer, the fashion of his countenance has been changed, and his face has appeared as the face of an angel." Is this one of the passages from which these Observers have drawn their conclusion that, in fact, he never did experience the fulness of the Spirit which he looked for? "His deepest and most sensible communications with God," proceeds Mr. G. "were enjoyed in those hours when the door of his closet was shut against human creatures, as well as against human cares: here he was privily hidden, as in the presence of God; here he would either patiently wait for, or joyfully triumph in the loving-kindness of the Lord; here he would plunge himself into the depths of humiliation; and from hence, at other seasons, as from another Pisgah, he would take a large survey of the vast inheritance which is reserved for the saints; here he would ratify his solemn engagements to God, &c." Is this passage also among the premises from which these gentlemen draw their inference?

The family who gives an account of his marriage, having described his daily practice in the family, adds, "Thus did he walk with God, filled with the Spirit of his beloved Lord." "Union with Christ, observes Mr. G. "was enjoyed by this eminent servant of God, in a more than ordinary degree: it was intimate and constant. He experienced the fulfillment of that condescending promise, If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. He obeyed the summons, and received the promised visitant; and from that time his heart became the dwelling-place of Christ. There he experienced the teachings of uncreated wisdom, and held ineffable communion with the author and finisher of faith, imbibing abundantly the Spirit of divine instruction, and sitting under his shadow with great delight. By this sacred intercourse, continued from day to day, his union with Christ became so entire, that he was at length enabled to adopt the expressive declaration of the great apostle, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And yet to these Christian Observers, who judge, not from any personal acquaintance they ever had with this man of God, nor from any other documents wherewith they have been furnished, but from these very pages, "It appears, in fact, that he never did experience that fulness of manifestation which he looked for!"

Mr. G. proceeds in the same page, "The strictness of this union was evinced by his whole disposition and carriage. The mind that was in Christ was discovered also in him." -- "He copied the character of his Lord with so great exactness, that all men took knowledge of him that he had been with Jesus. Fellowship with Christ is, with the generality of Christians, a state of much uncertainty; but by this holy man it was well nigh uninterruptedly enjoyed, through all the different stages of the spiritual life. It was his consolation in the season of adversity, and his glory in the day of rejoicing: it sustained him in the hour of temptation, afforded him peace in the midst of trouble. At home or abroad, he was still sitting with Christ Jesus in heavenly places. In sickness or in health, he daily conferred with this Physician of inestimable value. In honour or dishonour, he still was dignified with the favour of this everlasting King." And is this another of the paragraphs in this memoir which support the conclusion drawn by these Reviewers?

It is true, however, as a friend has observed, who was long in the same house with him, and daily observed his whole spirit and conduct, that "in his highest fervours of divine love, he always acknowledged that he wanted more." And who does not that has any experimental acquaintance with it? Hence the following language in a letter to his parishioners, "Let not a drop satisfy you; desire an ocean, at least a fountain springing up to your comfort in your own souls, and flowing towards all around you, in streams of love and delightful instructions, to the consolation of those with whom you converse." And "Till the great outpouring of his love be come, we ought faithfully to stir up the gift of God which is in ourselves and others, and to supply, by the depth of our humility, and the ardour of our expectation, what is yet wanting to our experience." May, and even in the latter years of his life, when, as Mr. Gilpin testifies, "his heart was, as it wee, a vessel running over with Christian charity," still he longed for more. "I sometimes find," said he to Mrs. F. a little before his death, "such gleams of light and love, such wafts, as it were, of the heavenly air! so powerful as if they would just then take my soul with them to glory! But I am not filled: I want to be filled with the fulness of God." But even these his large desires seem to have been satisfied before his dissolution; for "when he was in his last illness," says Mrs. F. "he conveyed much to my mind, as I understood by it, the accomplishment of his large desires." As further proof of this, "On Wednesday," proceeds Mrs. F, "he told me he had received such a manifestation of the full meaning of those words, God is love, as he should never be able to express. "It fills my heart, said he, every moment; O Polly, God is love! Shout! Shout aloud! I want a gust of praise to go the ends of the earth." Sally coming in, he cried, "O Sally, God is love! Shout both of you! I want to hear you shout his praise." "A few days before his departure," adds she again, "he was filled with love in an uncommon manner, which he testified as long as he had voice, and continued to the end in a most lamb-like patience, in which he smiled over death, and set his seal to the glorious truths he had so long preached." So much for the correction of the unaccountable error of the Christian Observers, when they say, "It appears, in fact, that he never did experience that fulness of manifestation which he looked for so earnestly for so many years!"

Mr. McPherson recently wrote, "I have carefully read that part of the appendix in which Benson describes Fletcher's seeking after a filling of the Spirit. I agree with you that this great spiritual giant was seeking a 'deeper experience or a closer walk, not a subsequent work of grace.' Dr. Wood's asserting, on the basis of this reference, that Fletcher equated Pentecost with Christian perfection is definitely erroneous and therefore misleading. I further agree that Benson does not make reference to' the baptism with the Holy Spirit' in this printed piece."

McPherson observed further that in Fletcher's "Discourse on the New Birth" is the statement, "Yes, you will be baptized by the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins, and justified freely by faith" (4:115). And in Fletcher's sermon fragments entitled, "The Tests of a New Creature: Or, Heads of Examination for Adult Christians," can be found the following statement:

This is certain, -too much grace cannot be desired or looked for; and to believer and obey with all the power we have, is the highway to receive all we have not. There is a day of pentecost for believers; a time when the Holy Ghost descends abundantly. Happy they who receive most of this perfect love, and or that establishing grace, which may preserve them from such falls and decays as they were before liable to" (4:270).

McPherson concluded, "In one passage, he extends to penitents the promise of being 'baptized by the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins and justified freely by faith' and in the latter passage, speaks of 'a day of pentecost for believers; a time when the Holy Ghost descends abundantly.' Do not these passages give added support to the conclusion we have been making that Fletcher took a 'holistic' view of the Holy Spirit's overall work in the hearts of believers?"

Benson's description of Fletcher should make it clear that early Methodism was more interested in the fruit of the Spirit than with the gifts of the Spirit. Although John Fletcher used pentecostal language, his emphasis was neither that of the later American holiness movement nor the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

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