Letter

Scope and Content

From Thomas Wright in Hightown [near Liversedge, Yorkshire] to John Fletcher in Madeley. He has taken the liberty of sending Fletcher this letter 'in persuance of the hint I gave you when at Madeley.' Wright has been impatiently expecting Fletcher's reply to 'Mr [Richard] Hill's last performance' and had started to fear that Fletcher's opponents had cajoled him into a truce. He is very pleased therefore to see that an advertisement has appeared saying that the pieces were ready for the press. 'I am entirely of Mr [John] Wesley's mind with respect to the providential rise and progress of the present controversy. The Calvinists of every denomination were arrived at such a pitch of dogmatical assurance in propogating their peculiar errors under the specious names of Gospel doctrines, Gospel-truths, the doctrines of Grace etc etc, as to threaten in a great measure, if not totally, to obscure what was real and precious gospel-truth indeed! And I have known some simple serious persons so intimidated by their overbearing spirit, and that air of assurance (not to say infallibility) with which they assert their own, and traduce the sentiments of their opponents, as to be utterly afraid, so much as to mention in their presence, even the plainest passages of scripture itself ... for fear of being branded with the odious appellations of Arminians, heretics, free-willers etc etc Or at least subjected to their pious sneers and contemptuous pity as, as comparatively carnal, weak, dark, blind people ... it was therefore high time to check their religious insolence ... As people of fortune, parts and literature ... generally adhere to the Calvinistic party, as being at present composed of ... honourable and fashionable professors; so on the other hand, the Methodists are, for the most part a poor, illiterate and despised people, and therefore are ... in general, easily puzzled with the casuistical subtleties of them; in consequence of which, they are in a great measure afraid and ashamed to own and assert their principles in the presence of Calvinists ...' Furthermore, most professors of universal salvation are generally speaking ill-qualified to defend their views on evangelical principles. It had therefore become very necessary for those who God has rendered qualified to argue this case, to speak up for the 'genuine, universal, practical Gospel of Jesus Christ.' It appears to Wright that God has 'taken you by violence against your more peaceable inclination, and thrust you ... head and shoulders into the controversy in order to defend and support with peculiar closeness and energy the suffering cause of exploded truth.' In arguing his case, Fletcher will encounter great difficulty and discouragement - loss of friends, increase of enemies, detraction, slander and abuse. Attempts to blacken his character will be complemented with 'false tenderness and delicacy'. However, Wright is sure that Fletcher will not be taken in by such tactics and will instead defend the 'whole truth as it is in Jesus'.

Wright hopes that Fletcher will excuse his vanity, but he has taken the liberty of transcribing part of the poem that he quoted during the visit that he made to Fletcher's with his friend. There follows a lengthy poem beginning with the lines: "Hail Wesley, Fletcher, [Walter] Sellon hail! ..."

He hopes that Fletcher will not fail to attack their 'pernicious errors' with the strongest arguments that reason, scripture and experience can provide. It is unlikely that any of the genuine Calvinists will be persuaded of the error of their beliefs; however, Wright is aware from his own knowledge, that 'your books have already been blessed to the great satisfaction of many in clearing up what before appeared to them, very doubtful, intricate and abtruse propositions; to the confirmation of many, that were wavering and among these, some of Mr [John] Wesley's preachers ...'

Wright had heard of Mr [Thomas] Oliver's book written against Richard Hill, but has not yet seen it; nor has he heard whether Fletcher's publications in the controversy have yet been published. 'I remember you have mentioned in your checks [to Antinomianism], a treatise on perfection; another on the 17th Article of the Church of England; and a dissertation upon the reasons of so many learned and pious men embracing the errors of the Calvinists; pray, what are become of them? I should be very glad to see them all ... I sent the poem I had writ as a a counterpart to Mr [Richard] Hill's Heroic Poem to Mr Wesley, to Mr C[harles] Wesley, but he thought it was "railing for railing". I think I have no vanity for any trifle I can produce to appear in print; however, many of my brethren are of a different opinion in this respect, from Mr Charles Wesley, and Mrs [Miss Mary] Bosanquet in particular says she would like Mr Hill to see it, by some means or other, and disapproved of my sending [it] to Mr Charles [Wesley], for his approbation. I therefore intend soon to send it by letter to Mr Hill.'

They have heard some reports here that Fletcher intends to travel with [John] Wesley this next summer. If this is the case, they would be very pleased to see them here.

Wright trusts that Fletcher's health is improved - he recalls that Fletcher was unwell when he last saw him.

In a postscript, Wright says that Fletcher can reply to him at Lower Bacup near Hightown, near Halifax. They have got their preaching house nearly finished, for which they were raising money, and have started preaching in it. They have a good prospect of a large congregation - many that have been atending had never previously been to hear the Methodists.

Note

Notes

  • Sir Richard Hill (1732-1808) was born in Hawkstone, Shropshire, the eldest son of a wealthy Shropshire baronet and brother of the famous clergyman Rowland Hill. He was educated at Westminster School and Oxford University and travelled widely in Europe as a young man. In 1757 he was prominent in his support of George Whitefield and the Calvinistic Methodists, and in 1768 attacked his old university for expelling six undergraduates for converting to Methodism. In the early 1770s he played a major part in the disputes between the Calvinistic Methodists and the Arminians. He was elected to Parliament in 1780 and gained a reputation as a formidable speaker. Hill was a staunch supporter of evangelicalism throughout his life. Source: DNB and Dictionary of Evangelical Biography edited by Donald Lewis
  • Thomas Olivers (1725-99) was converted in Bristol by the preaching of George Whitefield after a dissolute early life and subsequently joined the Methodists. He entered the itinerancy in 1753 and after working in many parts of the country, settled in London as the corrector of John Wesley's printing press. Source: Arminian Magazine 1779, 77ff, and Methodist Magazine 1799, 511.
  • Walter Sellon (1715-92): Little is known of Sellon's life before he started to correspond with John Wesley in 1744. Sellon was appointed Classics Master at Kingswood School in 1748 but left two years later. Sellon was ordained through the influence of the Countess of Huntingdon and enjoyed a very successful evangelical ministry. Despite his once close connection with the Countess of Huntingon, Sellon was one of John Wesley's closest allies during the Calvinist controversy of the 1770s. Source: The Works of John Wesley (1982), Volume 26, 121, edited by Frank Baker, Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) and Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, edited by Donald Lewis (1995)