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It would be a decided advantage if the young people were to remain a year, or even two, longer under instruction than they usually do, so that they might ascend from mere juvenile recitations to the proving of doctrines or the collation of Scriptures, such as the prophecy in one book, and its fulfilment in another; or the conversion of an apostle in one city, and his planting of churches in another.
If a looker-on, who confesses not having attended more than a dozen Sabbath-schools in various cities, may venture an observation, it would be, that in Scotland more pains are taken to lay in a store of scriptural knowledge, and give the understanding food which may work upon and guide the conscience, while in America more pains are taken to arouse the conscience and address feeling. If the latter method succeed at present, and a permanent change be wrought, it is well; but should it prove but a momentary flash of feeling which expires, it is not so likely to return, for it has no firm foundation in the mind. The recollection of an emotion is not potent like the return of a Scripture truth, coming with an authority which cannot be gainsaid or resisted.
Many there are who carry a grateful love for their teachers through the church during life, and many young ones who entertain a respect and confidenee for their Sunday guides, but still the fear arises that, amid the multitude, there be young guides who require to be themselves guided, and that the
calm consistent walk of their fathers is painfully departed from by some who venture to be Christian instructors. The admonition to the pupils to beware of being “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God,” falls powerless from the lips of a teacher who crowds to juvenile parties, and passes evenings in music and dancing. And it is very painful to see loving mothers watching their offspring plunge into a sea of folly which they do not seem to hope to control, and then turning with a moistened eye and asking, “Ah! do you think they will be drowned ?” Who shall solve the question? Prayer may be answered for them—God may in mercy arrest them, and shew them, perhaps by a stroke of his chastening rod, that what they pursue is unsatisfying, and leads to dreariness and vanity. At any rate, it was not such early occupations that made the parents such advanced Christians; and it is probable that more domestic union in divine teaching, and less herding together in smiling throngs on the Lord's day, might prevent the ardour for, and extent of, vain social pleasures, over which Christian parents mourn, and from which they forebode evil.
Some small arrangements which might be easily changed, seem inconvenient and pernicious in their consequences; such as that of laying the Christian Messenger, or other religious newspapers, in the pews, and distributing the Sabbath library-books to the children just before the service commences.
The temptation is great, and is yielded to without reserve, of occupying time previous to the commencement of divine worship in reading and diverting the mind by religious news, or so-called religious tales, which might be fitly employed in petitions for the pastor, and for power to unite the heart to fear God's name. It is very painful to see the paper scarcely thrust aside to make way for the hymn, and the little ones devouring the narrative portion of their book-carefully passing by the “sermonising”—while the man of God is pouring salutary instruction into their unlistening ears.
The question was gravely put in a Southern city, whether, seeing parents are indulged with a portion of worldly matter in the Presbyterian, Observer, and Evangelist, it would not be right to indulge the children in the same way in their Record or Messenger. “Do you refer to a Sunday or religious paper?" was the question in reply. “Yes; of course, pious children would pass the news by until Monday.” “But you teach them to pray, 'Lead us not into temptation;' would not this method lay a snare before them?” “Those who have any fear will see and shun it.” “But those who have not will fall into it, and get the habit of lax employment of sacred time, acquired by means of you who wish to do them good. Believe me, sir, in Scotland, your question would admit of but one answer.”
This little colloquy indicates a degree of slightness with respect to the use of sacred time and happy
opportunities, which may lead to painful consequences.
Many solid Christian people feel so deeply that the libraries are flooded with trifling and insipid would-be religious stories, full of vague and unsound theology, that the evil must speedily be corrected.
There is a degree of sensibility in the Americans, in all matters of taste, which often calls forth admiration, and which mingles with occasions of sorrow as well as of joy. At times, perhaps, the tasteful might with advantage be restrained, lest it occupy the room of some more precious thing.
One simple example of what is meant, may be exhibited without a breach of delicacy. A gentleman, past the meridian of life, with manners and countenance beaming with benevolence, enters a room where he is hailed by the children with loving welcomes. But especially the little girl, who is his pupil, places herself on his knee, and twines her fingers through his half hoary hair.
The mother, with grateful expression, relates that he is the teacher, and most beloved by all his class, in school and out. The gentleman mentions how many years he has kept a Sabbath-class of children at the age reckoned most liable to distressing deaths, and how he never had a death amongst them, but kept them on till ready to be promoted to a higher class. It was remarked “that this was happy for him, and for parents; yet, sometimes the removal
of a schoolmate by death, impressed the young mortals with a new and important view of the eternal world.” “ You would not wish for a death for the purpose of giving the children such a lesson ?" inquired the mother. “Surely not; but, at the moment, I remember a large school in silence, and many in deep emotion, when the children, by their own motion, selected a hymn, and recited it after the death of one of their number, the effect of which remains with some to this day. The poem began thus :
Death has been here, and borne away
A sister from our side.
As young as we—she died.'
Well, madam,” said the excellent man, with his loving, smiling countenance, "we have not been so many years united, without opportunity to send the lesson of mortality home to the heart. We lost a beloved lady, one of our teachers, some time ago. She was very dear to her own pupils, and they sincerely mourned her; and I led my own little train to the funeral, dressed in white; and when we came up the centre aisle, in a double column, they divided, and passed up each side of the coffin, and each laid a bunch of roses upon it. They then seated themselves on each side of the wide pulpit stairs, which they nearly filled.”
It was easy to say, for it is true, that the scene must have been touching and pretty, but there was