Medical technology has largely robbed us of the victorious deathbed scenes that end the biographies of many heroes of the Christian past. When the end comes now, we’re often isolated, sedated, and connected to machines.
Not so John Fletcher, Wesley’s associate. On Sunday, August 7, 1785, he began his sermon at church, but his countenance grew drawn and weak, his voice faltered, and he nearly fainted. Distressed murmurs ran through the congregation, and his wife Polly rushed to his side to dissuade him from continuing. But Fletcher sensed this was his last sermon, and he continued, mustering strength to discourse on the love and mercy of God. Afterward, he was helped home and took to his bed, “never again to walk in this world.” He slept much after that, but during his lucid moments, Polly read and prayed with him.
She later wrote: On Wednesday, he told me he had received such a manifestation of the full meaning of those words, “God is love,” as he could 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 to go to the ends of the earth.”
He then told her that, should speech fail, he would tap her twice with his finger to signify their testimony to each other of God’s love.
The next day, his speech became befuddled, and Polly leaned over and whispered, “God is love.” Instantly, as if all his powers were awakened, he broke out in a rapture. “God is love! love! love! O for that gust of praise!”
Polly remained by his side. He was hardly able to utter another word, but he kept tapping her with his finger. At last his lips moved again, and she heard him pray, “Head of the Church, be head of my wife!”
He sank quickly after that, yet frequently tapping Polly according to their sign, until “his precious soul entered into the joy of the Lord, without one struggle or groan, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.”