Recently, I transcribed a sermon from an original manuscript which was published in The Arminian Magazine (Volume 26 Issue 1 Spring 2008). The sermon was presented as one of John Fletcher's sermons (1729-1785). I regret to inform the readership that the sermon is not one of Fletcher's sermons. The sermon was not written in Fletcher's hand. While the sermon is held by the Shropshire County Records, which purports it to be an authentic Fletcher sermon along with a number of other manuscript sermons, and while other scholars have supposed Fletcher to be the author the collection of manuscript sermons, internal evidence of the corpus leads one to conclude that Fletcher is not the author of these sermons nor are these sermons transcriptions of original Fletcher material. At the time of the publication, I had not examined the internal evidence of the sermons. David R. Wilson recently evaluated these manuscripts and determined that the corpus cites a hymnal and periodicals which were published in the early 1800s, subsequent to Fletcher's death. I regret any confusion which this may have caused the readership of the Arminian and thank David for calling attention to the error. Perhaps his forthcoming Ph.D. thesis will further corroborate the evidence presented here.
Editorial Note: While Russ is a fine Fletcher scholar, this attempt to introduce new material illustrates a resurgence of interest in Fletcher studies. David Wilson wrote, "I appreciate the attention given to Fletcher in your magazine and hope this continues as his works are a gold mine (especially the manuscripts which have never been published!)." This body of unpublished Fletcher material also includes writings which have never been translated from French. Thus, this retraction highlights the need for a new complete, critical edition of Fletcher's writings.
Please also note that this type of "criticism" is properly regarded as lower or textual criticism. Adam Clarke was a pioneer in this field. In the case of Scripture, it is legitimate to use critical methods to establish which variant manuscript reading best reflects the inspired original. However, this discipline becomes highly subjective when it attempts to speculate on the sources used, the editorial process involved, the circumstances surrounding, and the motives behind the writer. The result is that everything is explained in rationalistic terms, according to evolutionary presuppositions, and all too often the plain assertions of Scripture itself are denied.
In Christian Reflections, C. S. Lewis wrote,
I have watched reviewers reconstruction the genesis of my own books in just this way. Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense: by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. . . . Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why - and when - he did everything. . . . My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.