« PreviousContinue »
THE following work was undertaken, and nearly completed, during M. DE LA FLECHERE's last residence in Switzerland, where it was originally intended for publication.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
MANY celebrated writers have offered excellent treatises to the public, some on the character of a true Christian, and others on the duties of a good pastor. It were to be wished, that these two objects might be so closely united, as to fall under the same point of view: and to effect such a union is the design of this work, in which may be seen, at one view, what were the primitive Christians, and the apostolic pastors; and what they are required to be, who are called to follow them in the progress of piety.
As example is more powerful than precept, it was necessary that some person should be singled out, who was both an excellent Christian, and an eminent minister of Jesus Christ. The person we fix upon is St. Paul, in whom these two characters were remarkably united, and a sketch of whose wondrous Portrait we endeavour to exhibit in the following pages. When this apostle is considered as a Christian, his diligence in filling up the duties of his vocation, his patience in times of trial, his courage in the midst of dangers, his perseverance in well doing, his faith, his humility, his charity, all sweetly blended together, constitute him an admirable model for every Christian. And when we regard him as a dispenser of the mysteries of God, his inviolable attaghment to truth, and his unconquerable zeal, equally distant from fanaticism and indifference, deserve the imitation of every minister of the gospel.
The holy Scriptures furnish materials in abundance for the present work, the Acts of the Apostles from 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, besides the Acts, contains twentytwo 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 show 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 and professors who have explained such confessions.
Among other excellent ends proposed in publishing the following sheets, it is hoped that they may bring back bigoted divines to evangelical moderation, and either reconcile, or bring near to one another, the orthodox professor, the imperfect Christian, and the sincere deist.