The Account is a composite work, which may have had its origin in approving comments by Lady Huntingdon about an account Coughlan had shown her of a death-bed conversion in Newfoundland. Coughlan prefaces his work with a dedicatory epistle to the countess, in which he points out the simplicity ("the artless Language of precious Souls") of the language in the conversion narratives but also their practical significance to still evoke religious change in the present. A "Preface" to the general reader underscores the devotional intention of his book. The "Account" proper is a fixed genre since the seventeenth century, but one encouraged by contemporary evangelicals and Methodists. The reader is privy to Coughlan's tribulations and successes as missionary in Harbour Grace. It is followed by dramatic death-bed experiences, whose actors exhibit paradigmatically the entire range of the spiritual life. While they draw on the old theme of a believer's happy death, a theme also extemporized in Methodist sermons of the day, they are placed in the new context of revivalistic conversions. Like the New Testament "redactors" and subsequent religious writers, Coughlan's editorial task is by no means a neutral endeavour. The report about his own missionary work in Newfoundland represents narrative preaching. But especially the death-bed experiences are arranged editorially and structured literarily with an explicit theological aim: to contrast the proto-typical despair of the dying sinner with the peacefulness of world-renouncing saints. The remaining testimonials are in letter form because they were solicited individually by Coughlan from his followers in Newfoundland. The letters suggest an active correspondence during his absence and show the strong ties that existed between the revivalist and his community. In form they consist of conversion narratives of differing length, usually following the dramatic schema from sin to salvation, but also of occasional letters about the spiritual growth of indivduals --referred to by one correspondent as "After-walk"-- and an accounting of the fate of the classes after Coughlan's departure. These letters belong to the testimonial literature of eighteenth-century Methodism and were encouraged by the Methodist leadership, as the presence of the genre in The Arminian Magazine and other magazines and collections of the time indicates. The book concludes with a paranetic text from an unnamed author, which is omitted from this edition.
In a Series of LETTERS,
To which are prefixed a few
Some of which were taken from the Lips of Persons,
who died triumphantly in the FAITH.
O come hither, and hearken all ye that fear God; and
I will tell you what he hath done for my Soul.
To which are added, some excellent Sentiments,
extracted from the Writings of an eminent Divine.
Humbly Dedicated to the Right Honourable
The COUNTESS of HUNTINGDON,
By the Rev. L. COUGHLAN,
Late Missionary to the Socity for propagating the
Gospel in Foreign Parts, at Harbour-Grace, and
Carbonear, in Conception Bay, Newfoundland,
and now Minister of Cumberland-Street Chapel, London.
LONDON: Printed by W. Gilbert, No. 13,
Cres-Church-Lane, Lendenball-Street; and Sold at
Cumberland-Street Chapel. 1776.