« PreviousContinue »
When the lack of religious instruction in Common Schools is mentioned, pious parents generally advert to Sabbath-schools, and try to console themselves with them as a substitute. And so they might, in some degree, were the influence all-pervading, and the attendance steady, and did not the heart require “ line upon line and precept upon precept,” before the truth sinks into it.
Were all who venture to take charge of classes themselves enlightened Christians, had all the gift of teaching, and all the zeal and love which would induce them to accompany lessons with their prayers
—then one might comprehend how the tender mother who has begun to teach the sweet story of Jesus, and has delighted to hear her little ones lisp hymns in his praise, can venture to resign her office to another; then one might see the father confide the charge which is given him of God to a youth who, in the common course of things, is not likely to be as experienced a Christian as himself; then one might
hope that mollifying Sabbath influences would subdue young hearts, and bring them home to their parents what they wish them to become. One cannot but question whether this is the natural result, if the natural guides withdraw entirely from the office of ordering their children well themselves. There is a uniting power, a respectful affection, an elevating sentiment, which, if it be awakened at all, is lost by the parent and transferred to the teacher. The years in which the young and helpless draw their support from their parents, are also the years when their sympathies may be interwoven, so as to make a life-long web of mutual help and unfailing concord. Why should this be sacrificed, and a gap made of the intervening time between the nursery lessons and their entering on public life? It is said, if the well-qualified parents withhold their children from the Sabbath-school, the ill-qualified will not send theirs. If this be so, it must arise from a mistake lying somewhere as to the origin and use of such schools. When Mr Raikes first assembled a few children in the city of Gloucester, he did not go to the most pious people in the city and ask for their children, that he might instruct them in addition to the little vagabonds of the highways and hedges—but he filled his benches with the uncared-for, and his example was quickly followed by thousands. An unfortunate consequence of children, who might be at least as well trained at home, going out
for religious instruction is, that they are often seated with the school in church; and thus another bond with their own family is not formed. They do not walk to the house of God in company; they are not under the parental eye during the service, and the hoard of remembrances is not treasured up which might come over the heart in after-life, like a breeze from the sweet soạth, fanning the flame of love, or awakening the drowsy conscience.
There is no more tranquil use of Sabbath morning hours than to enrich the memory with the Word of God, and no more social way of passing its evening than in reading and catechising the domestic circle. In a country where sociality is so lively, and natural
buoyancy is so excitable, a stamp of domestic tran. 'quillity may be placed on such use of the sacred hours, which may steady the character for life.
No one can suppose, from these remarks, that Sabbath-teaching in schools is meant to be rejected. To the Christian artisan who is glad of the unwonted delight of an hour for repose and meditation, what a privilege to send his young ones to the care of pious teachers, who act under the inspection of his pastor or elders ! He is glad that they are better taught than he could teach them, and that they procure from the library books which he could not seek for them, and he prays for a blessing on the teacher and his efforts; while to the children of the ignorant and regardless, the Sabbath-school is a boon of whose worth they are as yet unaware.
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.