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THE following Work was begun and nearly completed in the course of Mr. Fletcher's last residence at Nyon, where it formed a valuable part of his private labours, during a long and painful confinement from public duty. On his return to England, he suffered the manuscript to lie by him in a very loose and disordered state, intending, at his leisure, to translate and prepare it for the press. In the mean time, he entered upon the arduous task of revising and enlarging a French poem, which he had lately published at Geneva under the title of "La Louange," and which was reprinted at London in the year 1785, under the title of "La Grace et la Nature." The second appearance of this poem was speedily followed by the dissolution of the Author. Soon after this melancholy event had taken place, Mrs. Fletcher, in looking over the papers of the deceased, discovered the first part of the Portrait of St. Paul, with the perusal of which she favoured the translator, who, finding it a work of no common importance, was readily induced to render it into English. From time to time different parts of the work were discovered, and though the manuscript was so incorrect and confused, as frequently to stagger the resolution of the translator, yet a strong persuasion that the work was calculated to produce the most desirable effects, encouraged him to persevere till he had completed his
chapter viii. containing little else than a narration of the labours of St. Paul, or an abridgment of his sermons and apologies. The New Testament, beside the Acts, contains twenty-two different books, fourteen of which were composed by this apostle himself with all the frankness suited to the epistolary style, and all the personal detail, into which he was obliged to enter, when writing in an uncommon variety of circumstances, to his friends, his brethren, and his spiritual children. It is on
such occasions that a man is most likely to discover what he really is; and it is on such occasions, that the moral painter may take an author in the most interesting positions, in order to delineate, with accuracy, his sentiments, his circumstances and his conduct.
Let it not be said, that, in proposing this apostle as a model to Christians, we do but cast discouragements in the way of those who are at an immense distance behind him, with respect both to grace and diligence. The masterly skill that Raphael and Rubens have discovered in their pieces, serves not to discourage modern painters, who rather labour to form themselves by such grand models. Poets and orators are not disheartened by those chef d'œuvres of poetry and eloquence, which Homer and Virgil, Demosthenes and Cicero, have transmitted to posterity; why then should we be discouraged by considering the eminent virtues and unwearied labours of this great Apostle? The greater the excellence of the pattern proposed, the less likely is the laboured copy to be incomplete.
It is granted that all the faithful are not called to be ministers, and that all ministers are not appointed, like St. Paul, to establish new churches: But it is maintained, that all Christians, in their different states, are to be filled with the piety of that apostle. If the most inconsiderable trader among us is not allowed to say, "I deal only in trifling articles, and therefore should be indulged with a false balance,"—if such a trader is required to be as just in his shop, as a judge on his tribunal; and if the lowest volunteer in an army is called to shew as much valour in his humble post, as a general officer in
his more exalted station; the same kind of reasoning may be applied to the Christian Church: So that her youngest communicant is not permitted to say, My youth, or the weakness of my sex, excuses me from exercising the charity, the humility, the diligence, and the zeal which the scriptures prescribe."
It should be laid down as an incontrovertible truth, that the same zeal which was manifested by St. Paul for the glory of God, and the same charity that he displayed, as an Apostle, in the very extensive scene of his labours, a minister is called to exercise, as a pastor, in his parish, and a private person, as father of a family, in his own house. Nay, even every woman, in proportion to her capacity, and as the other duties of her station permit, should feel the same ardour to promote the salvation of her children and domestics, as St. Paul once discovered to promote that of the ancient Jews and Gentiles. Observe, in the harvest field, how it fares with the labourers, when they are threatened with an impetuous shower. All do not bind and bear the weighty sheaves. Every one is occupied according to their rank, their strength, their age, and their sex; and all are in action, even to the little gleaners. The true church resembles this field. The faithful of every rank, age, and sex, have but one heart and one mind. According to their state, and the degree of their faith, all are animated to labour in the cause of God, and all are endeavouring to save either communities, families, or individuals, from the wrath to come; as the reapers and gleaners endeavour to secure the rich sheaves, and even the single ears of grain, from the gathering storm.
If, in the course of this work, some truths are proposed, which may appear new to the Christian Reader, let him candidly appeal, for the validity of them, to the holy scriptures, and to the testimony of reason, supported by the most respectable authorities, such as the confessions of faith adopted by the purest churches, together with the works of the most celebrated pastors
those of this world, make themselves wings and fly away: The heavenly dove may be grieved, and take its flight to humbler, and more peaceful roofs. I am glad you do not want hard or violent measures: I hope you never will countenance them, no, not against what you dislike. I believe things will turn out very well at the Conference, and I shall be a witness of it, if the Lord of the harvest give me a commission to be a spectator of the order and quietness of those who shall be there; if not, I shall help you by prayer to draw from far the blessing of love upon our friends.
In being moderate, humble, and truly desirous to be a Christian, that is, to be the least, the last, and the servant of all, we avoid running ourselves into difficulties, we escape many temptations, and many mortifying disappointments. For my part, as I expect nothing from men, they cannot disappoint me; and as I expect all good things from God, in the time, way, measure, and manner, it pleaseth him to bestow, here I cannot be disappointed, because he does, and will do all things well.
I trust you labour for God and souls, not for praise and self. When the latter are our aim, God, in mercy, blesses us with barrenness, that we may give up Barabbas, and release the humble Jesus, whom we crucify afresh by setting the thief on the throne, and the Lord of glory at our footstool: For so do those who preach Christ out of contention, or that they may have the praise of men. That God may bless you, and your labours, is the prayer of your old Brother,
To the Right Hon. Lady Mary Fitzgerald.
HON. AND DEAR LADY,
MADELEY, July 30, 1785.
WE have received your kind letter, and mournfully acquiesced in the will of our heavenly Father, who by various infirmities and providences weans us from our selves and our friends, that we may be his without reserve. It was, perhaps, a peculiar mercy that Providence blocked up your way to this place this summer. A bad putrid fever carries off several people in these parts; Two of our neighbours died of it the last week; and my wife, who had visited them, was taken in so violent a manner, that I was obliged to offer her up in good earnest, as an oblation worthy a son of Abraham. hope the worst is over, but her weakness will long preach to me, as well as my own. Dying people,— -we live in the midst of dying people.-O let us live in sight of a dying, rising Saviour, and the prospect of death will become first tolerable and then joyous! Or if we weep, as our Lord, at the grave of our friends, or at the side of their deathbeds, we shall triumph in hope that all will be for the glory of God, and the good of our souls.
I am, my dear Lady, &c.