« PreviousContinue »
clear, vivid, bright idea of him, to see him just as he appeared on earth, to see him in the very dress in which he manifested himself to the men of his age. He should follow him to the temple, to the mountain top, to the shores of the sea of Galilee, and should understand the mixed feelings of the crowd around him, should see the scowl of the Pharisee who listened to catch his words for some matter of accusation, the imploring look of the diseased seeking healing from his words, the gaze of wonder among the ignorant, and the delighted, affectionate, reverential eagerness with which the single-hearted and humble hung on his lips. Just in proportion as we can place ourselves near to Christ, his wisdom, love, greatness, will break forth, and we shall be able to bring him near to the mind of the child.
The truth is, that few of us apprehend vividly the circumstances under which Jesus lived and taught, and therefore much of the propriety, beauty, and authority of his character is lost. For example, his ontward condition is not made real to us. The pictures which the great artists have left us of Jesus have helped to lead us astray. He is there seen with a glory around his head, and arrayed in a robe of grace and majesty. Now Jesus was a poor man; he had lived and wrought as a carpenter, and he came in the dress common to those with whom he had grown up. His chosen companions were natives of an obscure province, despised for its ignorance and rude manners, and they followed him in the garb of men who were accustomed to live by daily toil. Such was the outward condition of Jesus. Such was his manifestation to a people burning with expectation of a splendid, conquering deliverer; and in such circumstances he spoke with an authority which awed both high and low. In learning the outward circumstances of Jesus, we not merely
satisfy a natural curi. osity, but obtain a help towards understanding his character and the spirit of his religion. His condition reveals to us the force and dignity of his mind, which could dispense with the ordinary means of inspiring respect. It shows the deep sympathy of Christ with the poor of our race, for among these he chose to live. It speaks condemnation to those who, professing to believe in Christ, separate themselves from the multitude of men because of the accident of wealth, and attach ideas of superiority to dress and show. From this illustration you may learn the importance of being acquainted with every part of Christ's history, with his common life, as well as his more solemn actions and teachings. Every thing relating to him breathes instruction, and gives the teacher a power over the mind of the child.
The Gospels must be the great stady to the Sunday. school teacher. Many, when they hear of studying the New Testament, imagine that they must examine commentators to understand better the difficult texts, the dark passages in that book. I mean something very dif. ferent. Strive indeed to clear up, as far as you can,
the obscure portions of Christ's teaching. There are texts, which, in consequence of their connexion with forgotten circumstances of the time, are now of uncertain meaning. But do not think that the most important truths of Christianity are locked up in these dark pas. sages of the New Testament. There is nothing in the dark, which is not to be found in the plain portions of Scripture. Perhaps the highest use of examining difficult texts is to discover their harmony with those that are clear. The parts of the Gospel, which the Sundayschool teacher should most study, are those which need no great elucidation from criticism, the parables, the miracles, the actions, the sufferings, the prayers, the tears of Jesus; and these are to be studied, that the teacher may learn the spirit, the soul of Christ, may come near to that wonderful being, may learn the great purpose to which he was devoted, the affections which overflowed his heart, the depth and expansiveness of his love, the profoundness of his wisdom, the unconquerable strength of his trust in God. The character of Christ is the sum of his religion. It is the clearest, the most beautiful manifestation of the character of God, far more clear and touching than all the teachings of nature. It is also the brightest revelation to us of the Moral Perfection which his precepts enjoin, of disinterested love to God and man, of faithfulness to principle, of fearlessness in duty, of superiority to the world, of delight in the good and the true. sitions of the Christian virtues in all the volumes of all ages are cold and dark, compared with the genial light and the warm colouring in which Christ's character sets before us the spirit of his religion, the perfection of our nature.
The expo. The great work, then, of the Sunday-school téacher, is to teach Christ, and to teach him not as set forth in creeds and human systems, but as living and moving in the simple histories of the Evangelists. Christ is to be taught, and by this I mean not any mystical doctrine about his nature, not the doctrine of the Trinity, but the spirit of Christ, breathing forth in all that he said and all that he did. We should seek, that the child should know his heavenly friend and Saviour with the distinctness with which he knows an eartbly friend; and this knowledge is not to be given by teaching him dark notions about Christ, which have perplexed and convulsed the Church for ages. The doctrine of the Trinity seems to me only fitted to throw a mistiness over Christ, to place him beyond the reach of our understanding and hearts. When I am told that Jesus Christ is the second person in the Trinity, one of three persons, who constitute one God, one infinite mind, I am plunged into an abyss of darkness. Jesus becomes to me the most unintelligible being in the universe. God I can know. Man I can understand. But Christ, as described in human creeds, a compound being, at once a man and God, at once infinite in wisdom, and igno, rant of innumerable truths, and who is so united with two other persons as to make them one mind, Christ so represented baffles all my faculties. I cannot lay hold on him. My weak intellect is wholly at fault; and I cannot believe that the child's intellect can better apprehend him. This is a grave objection to the doctrine of the Trinity. It destroys the reality, the distinctness, the touching nearness of Jesus Christ. It gives him an air of fiction, and has done more than all things to prevent a true, deep acquaintance with him, with his spirit, with the workings of his mind, with the sublimity of his virtue. It has thrown a glare over him, under which the bright and beautiful features of his character have been very much concealed.
But I have not yet said every thing in favor of thèm, as the great sources of instruction. I have said, that the Christian religion is to be taught from the Gospel This is their great, but not their only use. Much incidental instruction is to be drawn from them. There are two great subjects on which it is very desirable to give to the young the light they can receive-human nature
and human life; and on these points the Gospels furnish occasions of much useful teaching. They give us not only the life and character of Christ, but place him before us in the midst of human beings and of human af. fairs. Peter, the ardent, the confident, the false, the penitent Peter; the affectionate John; the treacherous Judas, selling his Master for gold; Mary, the mother, at the cross; Mary Magdalen at the tomb; the woman, who had been a sinner, bathing his feet with tears, and wiping them with the hair of her head ;-what revelations of the human soul are these! What depths of our nature do they lay open !- It is a remarkable fact, that the great masters of painting have drawn their chief subjects from the New Testament; so full is this volume of the most powerful and touching exhibitions of human character. And how much instruction does this book convey in regard to life, as well as in regard to the soul! I do not not know a more affecting picture of human experience than the simple narrative of Luke; “When Jesus came nigh to the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow ; and much people of the city was with her." The Gospels show us fellow-beings in all varieties of condition, the blind man, the leper, the rich young ruler, the furious multitude. They give practical views of life, which cannot be too early impressed. They show us, in the history of Jesus and his apostles, that true greatness may be found in the humblest ranks; and that goodness, in proportion as it becomes eminent, exposes itself to hatred and reproach, so that we must make up our minds, if we would be faithful, to encounter shame and loss, for God and duty In truth, all the variety of wisdom which youth needs, may be extracted from these writings. The Gospels, then, are to be the great study of the Sunday school.
I cannot close these remarks on what is to be taught in the Sunday school, without repeating what I bave said of the chief danger of this institution. I refer to the danger of mechanical teaching, by which the young mind becomes worn, deadened to the greatest truths. The Gospels, life-giving as they are, may be rendered wholly inoperative by the want of life in the instructor. So great is my dread of tame, mechanical teaching, that I am sometimes almost tempted to question the u. tility of Sunday schools. We, Protestants, in our zeal
for the Bible, are apt to forget that the very commonness of the book tends to impair its power, that familiarity breeds indifference, and that no book, therefore, requires such a living power in the teacher. He must be aware, lest he make the Gospels trite by too frequent repetition. It will often be best for him to assist his pupils in extracting the great principle or truth involved in a precept, parable, or action of Jesus, and to make this the subject of conversation, without further reference to the text by which it was suggested. If he can lead them by fit questions, to find this principle in their own consciousness and experience, in their own moral judgments and feelings, and to discover how it should be applied to their characters and brought out in their common lives, he will not only convey the most important instruction, but will give new vividness and interest to the Scriptures, and a deeper conviction of their truth, by showing how congenial they are with human nature, and how intimately connected with human affairs and with real life. Let me also mention, as another means of preserving the Scriptures from degradation, by too frequent handling, that extracts froni biography, history, natural science, fitted to make religi. ous impressions, should be occasionally introduced into the Sunday school. Such seems to me the instruction, which the ends of this institution require.
We have now seen what is to be taught in the Sunday school, and the question now comes, How shall it be taught ?
The first aim of the teacher will of course be, to fix the attention of the pupil. It is vain that you have his body in the school-room, if his wind is wandering beyond it, or refuses to fasten itself on the topic of discourse. In common schools, attention is fixed by a severe discipline, incompatible with the spirit of Sunday schools. Of course the teacher must aim to secure it by a moral influence over the youthful mind.
As the first means of establishing an influence over the young, I would say, you must love them. Nothing attracts like love. Children are said to be shrewd physi. ognomists, and read, as if by instinct, our feelings in our countenances; they know and are drawn to their friends. I recently asked, how a singularly successful teacher in religion obtained his remarkable ascendancy over the young. The reply was, that his whole intercourse expressed affection. His secret was a sincere love.