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highest possible standard; to induce and prepare as many more as can possibly be obtained, to enter the Sunday school vineyard, and gradually, as opportunities offer, to gather children to the Sunday schools. All great works, human and divine, religious, moral, social and mechanical, so far as our knowledge goes, proceed slowly and surely to an ultimate issue.
The earth in its present form, sprang not into existence suddenly. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;" but how long an interval between that period in the remoteness of eternity, and the introduction of man, neither revelation nor nature tells ue. All the indications in the crust of the earth teach us that the processes through which the earth passed in preparation ior man, occupied myriads of ages, and that the coal we now burn consists of the remains of primeval forests, which flourished myriads of ages before man appeared on the scene. The whole of our coal fields are marks of Divine fingers indicating the pre-determination of the Almighty, that provision should be made on earth for human inhabitants. The Almighty can afford to work slowly, he has eternity in which to accomplish his designs, and generally those things that are of greatest value are of slowest growth. The oak grows for 100 years and flourishes for centuries. The mushroom springs up in a night and departs in a few hours.
We must not be discouraged by apparent retrogressions, either in Sunday school or other useful labours. Action and reaction are the characteristics of nature both physical and spiritual. We have ebbings and flowings of tides, and ebbings and flowings of human progress. Even the planets have their ebbings and Sowings in relation to the sun, and yet these changes are acknowledged to be compatible, and not only compatible, but essential to the harmony and stability of the celestial mechanism.
We have advances and retreats in Sunday schools, and other labours for the evangelisation of mankind. Sometimes the sky is dark and gloomy, at other times bright and serene; at one time the old landmarks of Christianity seem as if they were about to be effaced, and again they, like the landscape after a storm, shine more refulgently bright, pure, and clear than ever. We have gradual changes in theological opinion, certain human dogmas that were considered as infallible truth crumble and decline; but the great central truths of the Christian religion which rest on the unity of God, on the sacrifice and purity of Christ, on the fact of a divine revelation, on the sinfulness of man, and on a future state of existence which embraces rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked, shine more brightly at the termination of every purifying ordeal. o
We have seen then, very briefly, what is the philosophy connected with Sunday school and other movements; let us now look at the facts, and see what external and internal progress has been made. There may be much external and little internal progress, or there may be little external and much internal, one is not always to be taken as the measure of the other. We shall see that although Sunday schools have not accomplished everything, they have accomplished much, and that they contain within themselves the germs of still wider triumphs. We learn to do by doing, and the gradual and great success of the Sunday school enterprise, is only a few drops of the shower that will eventually fall when we rightly appreciate our duties and privileges.
Mr. Watson in his excellent paper on tlie state of Sunday schools in England, which is contained in the report of the Sunday School Convention, recently held in London, (a report which every teacher should possess and carefully read), remarks that" there are nearly 300,000 teachers of various grades of intellectual acquirements, in close intercourse with above 3,000,000 of the young people of our land;" and again, "We owe to Sunday schools that increased attention to the general education of the people, which has ended in raising England from almost the lowest in the scale to but one step below the highest, there being now one in seven of the whole population in attendance at daily schools."
I am indebted to my friend, Mr. E. Ridley, for the following statistics respecting our own more immediate neighbourhood.
The subsequent figures have reference to the Sunday schools in association with the Newcastle Sunday School Union. The numbers are of course only approximately correct, inasmuch as the schools slightly fluctuate from time to time.
Scholars. Teachers. In Newcastle and the Neighbouring Villages... 12,065 1,102
In the Hexham branch 1,275 133
„ Alston „ .... 807 81
„ Wolsingham „ 822 83
These numbers do not include the scholars connected with the Established Church of England, with the general body of the Wesleyans, who have a Union of their own, with the Unitarians, with the Eoman Catholics, and other smaller-sects.
It will be seen that the proportion of scholars to teachers in the Newcastle Sunday School Union Schools is very nearly that of the average of teachers and scholars in all parts of the Kingdom, there being about ten scholars to each teacher.
It is one thing to cover or enclose ground, but it is quite another to cultivate it to the greatest possible extent. The greatest con> meroial benefactors of their race are not those who enclose the largest spaces for cultivation, but those who cultivate well the spaces that are enclosed, and then endeavour to enclose and cultivate more.
We have at the present time a large area under cultivation. Mr. Watson informs us that there are 3,000,000 of seeds in the field, all requiring nurture and culture, and that there are 300,000 cultivators; that is one teacher to each ten scholars.
The first enquiry that arises out of this aspect of the question is this: are the 300,000 cultivators all skilled workmen and workwomen? And the second,—if they be skilled, do they do their duty? It is one thing to possess the means of doing good, and quite another to use these means rightly. There are hundreds of thousands in Lancashire starving for want of the common necessaries of life; there are persons in the same locality who have thousands of pounds for which they have no special use, and yet they do not relieve the distress which surrounds them. It will be admitted by all that the great want in the field of Sunday school effort is not a lack of scholars, nor is it a deficiency of teachers, hxit a want of a more comprehensive education on the part of the teachers, and perhaps a deficiency of earnestness in the prosecution of the work.
Plain truths, of a personal nature, are not always pleasantly received by those to whom they are addressed. If truths be told in a loving spirit, with a desire to do good, and not in a captious spirit, for the express purpose of finding fault, then they ought to be agreeably received. It is a peculiar characteristic of the human mind, that if we once become habituated to an erroneous or imperfect course of conduct, we rarely detect the error ourselves, and we unconsciously go on blundering to our graves; but another person looking at the same course from a different stand-point, sees defects of the existence of which we were not conscious. Why should not he be thanked for pointing them out to us? How are we to remedy defects of the existence of which we are not cognisant? He who, in a kindly spirit, at proper times and with due discretion, points out the errors of others is worthy of praise rather than worthy of the censure he too frequently receives.
Bearing the foregoing remarks in view, we will look at the state of education among our Sunday school teachers, and afterwards at the spirit in which the Sunday school work is conducted. Many, perhaps we may say the majority, of our teachers are young and imperfectly trained, not only in sacred, but also in secular knowledge, and therefore the instruction that is given, for the most part, lacks breadth and substantiality. I have seen schools, for example, though they are certainly the exception, where some of the teachers, even in the middle and advanced classes, have limited their teaching to reading the chapter or chapters, and telling a few anecdotes; cases where there appears to have been the absence of all right ideas of what really constituted Sunday school teaching; and where the lessons for the Sunday have either never been previously looked at, or if looked at, have not been understood by the teacher.
In order that teachers may be prepared for their Sunday duties, it is not only necessary that they previously read the chapter which is to be the subject of the lesson, but that they should seriously and prayerfully study it, and with a view to understanding it, they should obtain all the aid they can from the many excellent works now published, admirably adapted to aid them in their benevolent labours. I know of no book more fitted to assist teachers in the study of the New, and some portions of the Old Testament, than the "Notes" of the Rev. A. Barnes. Teachers in more advanced classes should master such works as "Butler's Analogy," "Angus's Bible Hand-book," "Nichols's Help to Reading the Bible," and last, though not least in these days of hyper-scepticism, that excellent book, published by the Religious Tract Society, entitled "The Bible and Modern Thought," by the Rev. T. R. Birks.
Men and women are naturally social and gregarious. You may find here and there a man who, through wounded pride or affection, or influenced by superstition, lives the life of a recluse; but mankind will cluster and group, it is part of their nature, and a part too of which advantage should be taken.
Not only then ought there to be solitary students of the Divine Word and Works, but teachers should themselves be taught. Taught either by meeting together weekly or at convenient intervals, and selecting some of_the best informed of their number to conduct preparatory classes; orwhere they have theadvantage of a minister, requesting him, in conjunction with the best teachers, to conduct the class for the mutual benefit of all the teachers in the school.
In these efforts, as in all others, we must not expect perfection, there will be great defects even in a teachers' Bible-class. Our duty, however, is to make them as good as we can, and leave the rest to an infinitely wise and gracious Providence.
There is a charm about the very name of home. A well-managed home where father, mother, sisters and brothers, all work together in harmony and love, is the best earthly type of heaven; indeed, heaven itself is described as a home.
School should be made to the young as attractive as home, and the teachers should be to their flocks as fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers; there should be the greatest sympathy and reciprocity of feeling between teacher and scholar, and in order to this, teachers should be on the most friendly terms with scholars; they should not only see them in school, but they should aid them during the week in the work of secular instruction. I do not mean the secular instruction which has reference to the ordinary routine of the day school, but secular instruction in the wondrous epistles written by the Divine fingers in the great book of nature itself. Depend upon it, we are not thrown into this world without any sympathy for the wonders which the Almighty has scattered broadcast about us: and the teacher whose knowledge of the laws and operations of nature is sufficiently extensive, will lose none of the affections of his pupils by taking them out with him or with her, occasionally, into the fields and woods, or by the sea-shore, and pointing out to them the divine handiwork which is manifest in the crust of the earth, in every blade of grass, in every trembling leaf, and in every living creature that roams over the face of the earth, or plunges in its oceans, lifting their minds from nature up to nature's God. This principle of teaching is applicable in all cases, but specially so in reference to our senior scholars. The great weakness in Sunday school tuition, is just where it ought to be most strong; and many of those who for years have been associated with the Sunday schools, leave precisely at the time which is most pregnant with promise of real usefulness.
Many, perhaps the majority of our scholars, leave school at an age when it is most desirable to retain them, and a frightful proportion of them fall into habits of idleness and vice; to which public houses, singing saloons, and other places of resort, open numerous temptations. Rely upon it, our culture cannot be too broad and our lessons too deeply graven in these days, when latitudinarianism is rampant on the one hand, and a narrow and rigid bigotry and dogmatic self-conceit on the other.
Enough, perhaps, has been said on the natural side of Sunday school teaching, viz., that side which has reference to the natural mode of acquiring and communicating knowledge.
We are, however, placed in relation to two worlds and two spheres of being,—a natural and a spiritual. Both conditions of life, in our case, constantly impinge upon each other, and we are as intrinsically the creatures of spiritual as of natural influence. We should not, therefore, look to natural instrumentality only, but we should seek for the aid of the spiritual.