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SUNDAY SCHOOL REPOSITORY;
No. VIII.] October, 1814. [Vol. I.
THE SEVENTEENTH ANNUAL REPORT OF THE
EDINBURGH GRATIS SABBATH SCHOOL SOCIETY.
WHEN we enter an exte'nsive manufactory, and look around us, we are naturally rilled with surprise at the various and complicated machinery which we see in movement ;*we admire the nice adaptation of every wheel or bolt to its intended purpose, the harmonious relation of every part to another, the facility and power with which the whole operates, and the beauty and excellence of the material which is thus fabricated. But the first question that occurs to us, particularly if we are entire strangers to the nature of the machinery, is, What is the cause of this regular and powerful motion r And to satisfy this enquiry, we are conducted to inspect the steam engine, upon which the action of the whole apparatus depends, and to see the fire, from the effect of which, upon the water in the boiler, the vapour arises that produces so magnificent a result. We are perhaps, however, too deeply engrossed with the grand operation of the machinery, to think much of its cause; yet we cannot forget the fire, and it is our wish, for the sake of its effects that it should be amply and equally supplied with fnel.
The reli^ous world, at the present moment, presents to our new a vast and complex machine, moving with a regularity that delights, a power that astonishes, a sublimity that overwhelms the mind of the attentive and unbiassed spectator. Through the instrumentality of a variety of institutions, all formed for promoting the interests of divine truth, but each f«leetin«r for itself a peculiar department, a work is in rapid "which, when accomplished, will consummate the r^neJ'8 0f man on earth. Although what has been effected,,
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when compared with what remains to be done, sinks much in importance; yet it is cause for rejoicing, that the Book of Life is translated into more than fifty languages; that the glad tidings of great joy are proclaimed in almost every latitude; and that the Gospel has not only been read and heard, but understood, believed, and obeyed, by persons of every rank, age, colour, and nation.
Now, to what is all the exertion, the effects of which are so striking, to be attributed? Is it not to be ascribed to the influence of pure and undefiled religion on the heart: JVIany men undoubtedly befriend the cause of Bible Societies, and-somc perhaps that of Missions, who are probably far from understanding the power of godliness. But, although they contribute to the work, it was not witli them that it originated, nor is it on them that it depends. It never would have been commenced, if love to God and to man, inspiied by the gospel, and ruling in the hearts of Christians, had not planned, and undertaken, and continued it; for there is no other motive that can act as a uniform and steady incentive to instruct mankind in the will of God, but the faith of the Gospel. This faith, then, is the mighty engine which sets and keeps in motion the extensive machine of Christian activity.
The bulk of Christians must trace their religious impressions to their earliest years. The grace of God, indeed, is not • limited in its exercise to any particular period of life. Numerous are the instances of men, ,who, although they have devoted the days of their youth to folly and sin, have afterwards been eminent servants of Jesus Christ, and have become as distinguished for their piety as they once were for their wickedness. Frequent, however, as examples of this kind are, the general rule lies on the other side. The operations of grace, like those of providence, are for the most part carried on by gradual steps and regular means; and these commence with the early instillation of religious principle into the mind. It is in youth especially, that God demands the heart; it is in youth, that those impressions arc made on it by his grace, which terminate in its surrender to the Lord; and we consequently iiud, that the Christian character, in general, owes its complexion to the admonitions of a tender parent, of a faithful guardian, or of a benevolent teacher. When, therefore, we contemplate the efforts which are made for the diffusion of the knowledge of eternal life through the world; when we observe, that these have their origin in the influence of true religion; and when we reflect, that the existence of the latter is commonly to be traced to the instructions received iu the morning of life,—a.
religious education stands forth in its native importance, as the original cause, under the blessing of the Almighty, of almost all the good done in the world; as the necessary fire, through the instrumentality of which, the powerful engine is made to work, upon w hich the whole machinery of Christian beuevolence depends for its action.
It was from a conviction of such truths as those which have just been stated, that the Edinburgh Gratis Sabbath School Society commenced their labours in the religious instruction of youth. These labours, during almost every succeeding year, bave been blessed with increasing success; and the annual period having, in the good providence of God, again revolved, when the Society demands from those, to whom they have entrusted the management of the establishment, an account of their proceedings, and when the public perhaps expects some information respecting the history and progress of the institution since the last Report was published, the committee hasten to the pleasing duty of complying with the demand, and of fulfilling the expectation.
The last, they may say, has been truly a prosperous year; whether they consider the increase of Scholars, the growing desire of improvement which has manifested itself among them, the instances of piety which have occurred, or the interest which the public continues to take in the object of the society.
There are at present fifty-five Schools upon the society's establishment; and the number of young persons attending them is three thousand one hundred and seventy. Of these Schools, thirty-seven are in Edinburgh, and eighteen in the country immediately adjacent. During the last twelve months, there lias been an increase of five Schools, and of nearly five hundred children; and since the year 1810, the number of Schools has received an addition of seventeen, and the scholars have been more than doubled. As the ratio of increase, however, is considerably greater in the case of the latter than of the former, and as many of the new Schools have been opened at no great distance from some of those which have been long established, it has been demonstrated, that the erection of new Schools w lien regulated with reference to the extent of population, is not, upon the whole, the means of thinning those previous It organised, but, on the contrary, augments the number of the children attending them. Nor is this all. The opening of additional Schools tends much to improve those aJrea»lv in existence; it operates beneficially on those who Irarh and cm those who are taught; stimulating the fidelity '3 L 2
and ardour of the one, and rendering the other more regular, attentive, and docile. In contemplating the increase of last year, the Committee cannot but indulge the delightful thought, that the attention of the community is becoming more alive to the infinite importance of religious knowledge to the young. When it is recollected, that parochial schools have lately been established in this city, for the instruction of children on the evenings of the Lord's day, and that several schools more, founded by different institutions, or conducted and patronized by enlightened and benevolent individuals, also open their doors upon the same occasions for the benefit of youth; when it is considered, that many hundred young people, besides the growing number of those under the care of the society, are thus blessed with the external means of knowing the things which belong to their peace, no feeling surely is so becoming as that which the contemplation of these circumstances must kindle in every Christian breast; humble, sincere, glowing gratitude to the Father of Mercies.
Gratifying as it is to know, that the Schools in general are so well attended, how much more gratifying are the facts, that the conduct of the children that frequent them is, in general, improving; that very many of them are growing in the knowledge of the Scriptures; that, in general, the first buds of serious thought and godliness begin to discover and unfold themselves; that some who have died, have departed in the faith and hope of the gospel; and that others who survive, have "asked the way to Ziou with tlteir faces thitherward," and "have joined themselves to the Lord," it is hoped, "in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten!"
The subsequent instances of peaceful and happy deaths among the children, are taken from the reports of the Schools to which they respectively belonged.
"There was one boy," says the teacher of one of these Schools, "who, I have every reason to believe, died in the Lord. He was twelve years old, and had lately been bound apprentice to a shoemaker. He had not been long at the School, but he had shewn himself to be a sedate, serious, thinking boy. One evening, after the usual exercises were over, his sister came to me and told me that he was unwell, but that he had desired her to request a hymn-book, as he said, that although he was ill, lie could sit up in bed and learn hymns, Unfortunately I had not at the time a hymn-book to send to this dear youth, and when his sister returned without it, he wept bitterly. Not apprehending, that his disease was of a dangerous nature, I did not make any enquiry after him during the week; but, alas! next Sabbath evening his place was empty, and I was told that he had died the day before. I took the first opportunity of calling on his master, who seemed to be a man of great good sense, and was making some enquiries about him, when he interrupted me, saying, with a degree of feeling that proved his words to be the language of the heart, 'Ah! Sir, he was a superior youth! I seldom knew a boy like him, so attentive to his business, so exemplary in his whole' conduct. I might go through a thousand boys before I could lind such an apprentice.' He likewise told me that he had been an excellent reader, and that every leisure moment which he had was devoted to his book. In the evenings, and on the Sabbath, he used to read to his master and the whole family, who all said that it was a pleasure to hear him. To his mother be was most kind and affectionate. Upon one occasion, when she was under the pressure of severe affliction, observing her in tears, he enquired why she wept,—-she told him-«—he replied, mat he might yet have it in his power to make her as happy and comfortable as ever she had been, and that she should not weep, as it grieved him to the heart to see her do so; and he added, 'Ycu should not doubt the promises of God; He will bestow on you those things which are necessary.' When first taken iU, his mother asked him where he would wish to go if he died; his reply was, 'to heaven.' She asked him again how he could get t/iere; he answered, ' Only through Jesus Christ,' Tbe distemper of which he died was violent from its commencement, so that he was sometimes insensible. Not only, however, did he suffer with patience, but he also employed himself much in speaking earnestly to his sister, and in giving her much good advice. Some passages of the New Testament were, at his own request, occasionally read to him. Indeed his Bible and his Catechism had become his only comfort; his mind teemed calm and happy; and his whole conduct might be viewed as in some measure a suitable preparation for the heareslv state. At last, after an illness of eight days, he left for ever the reaions of mortality, and, I doubt not, joined the chosen family of little children before the throne of God."
The teacher of another School says: "About four months a£o, one of the boys died. He was naturally deformed, and consequently was prevented from associating much with others of the same age. His mother being a poor woman, with a /ii-Te family to support, I felt interested in her welfare, and had occasion now and then to visit her. When I went, I geni-rallv found her son reading his Bible. He was about a fojtai""* m °* a (Usease uot uncommon in the case of persons