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Observer, Jan. 1, '74.
In all God's creation there is life, and life means progression, even though it be a progression towards decay and dissolusion. Things of to-day are different from things of yesterday, and those of tomorrow will have progressed beyond those of to-day. In view, then, of eternity how solemn a thing it is to live and make progress towards that vast unseen life—in all its stages, its early ones not the least—is thus made a matter for our earnest and continual concern.
The most unthoughtful must be aware that in the human family, and in the animal kingdom at large, the early stages of life are those which require the most constant, unwearying care.
This is undoubtedly the experience of all parents, when first the physical, and then the mental powers of their children develope. The dumb creation afford innumerable proofs of the same facts. The instinct almost amounting to reason, which an offspring inspires in these creatures, the wondertul patience and care, the untiring energy in providing for the wants of their young, and the adaptation of means to ends in qualifying them for their mission in the world, prove that the Creator intended the time of youth to be one of especial and tender care with all His creatures.
There is a proverb to the effect that “ As the twig bends the tree will grow,"
," and all gardeners testify to the fact that it is at seed time that all the experience of years in the manipulation of soils, selection of seeds, and manners and times of planting is needed, while the susceptibility of the young and tender plants to blights of various kinds, renders constant watching and protection necessary to the accomplishment of anything like satisfactory results, either in ornamental or the more useful branches of horticulture.
In the world field, of which the Saviour speaks in the parable of the Sower, it is no less a fact, that the spring time of life is that which demands the most unwearying attention, while in hopefulness it invites our earnest and loving devotion to the work. And seeing that the hopes of an abundant barvest depend principally on the manner of sowing and the care bestowed on the early growth, how important it is that those who undertake to implant the seeds of Divine truth in the breasts of the young should be thoroughly competent for the work.
This brings me to the unqualified condemnation of what appears to be a very popular notion regarding Sunday school work, viz., that it is a work which may safely, if not naturally, be left to a number of young people. “A nice useful invention," say they, " for keeping young men and women employed, and thus probably out of mischief on Sunday morning and afternoon.” This view, certainly held by many, presents the work in a most miserable and disheartening aspect. What sensible and practical farmer would entrust the purchase of seed, the preparation of the land, and the sowing of the seed to the young and inexperienced men about him ? Would he not rather, while keeping them fully employed under his personal supervision, bring to bear upon his undei taking all the experience of many seed times, and thus hope to reap a plenteous and profitable harvest.
The Sunday school affords abundant scope for real, useful, and pleasant work, in which young people should be encouraged to take
Observer, Jan. 1, '75.
part, but where it is at all practicable, it is the duty of the Church to associate with them some person or persons of experience and ability, whose kind care and sympathy shall extend alike to teachers and scholars, giving counsel and encouragement, and tending the precious results of a faithful and patient seed sowing.
This requirement being of a particular rather than general application, we shall now advance some of the qualifications which we think should be looked for in all those who aspire to the noble and blessed work. Not having any direct scriptural injunction, nor apostolic precedent, in this matter, our only plan seems to be to apply to this eminently Christian work, those general rules and conditions which are imposed in other branches of Chistian effort.
We would therefore place first among these qualifications that of personal belief in the person and obedience to the laws of Christ
, and in doing so we believe we interpret rightly the conviction of our brethren generally on the subject. In this particular, as in others, we differ from most of our neighbonrs, with whom the chief requisites in a Sunday school teacher appear to be the possession of more or less intelligence, and a character fairly upright and moral.
Under such conditions it is a matter of no difficulty to maintain a large staff of teachers, for help comes from all sides ; but a system so loose cannot but result in evil consequences, and the mournful fact has to be told, that the example of hundreds of teachers thus enrolled is subversive of all discipline in the school-nay, more, the levity, the profanity, the immorality so manifest in many schools produce the most lamentable results in the after lives of both teachers and scholars. The criminal statistics of the country disclose a deplorably large percentage of crime committed by those who have filled either one or other of these positions, for many are the young men and women who have entered upon the work, whose only desire was to be and to do good, only to meet with ruin in this world and the certain punishment of sin hereafter, through the associations of the Sunday school.
This state of affairs is attributable, we believe, to one of two causes : either a sad misconception of the true nature of the work, or most culpable neglect on the part of those whose duty it is to act in this matter.
If the Sunday school is merely an academy of Sacred History, the general standard qualification of teachers need not be fixed higher than the one already named, including, of course, the necessary scriptural knowledge, and apparently the work may be efficiently done. But if the true nature of the work is, as we believe it to be, that of leading the young ones to love and obey the Saviour, most certainly those who undertake to guide them should themselves know “the wari' the blind lead the blind then both fall into the ditch."
All experience shows us how greatly an example for either good or bad influences the minds of children, and in no case does the proverb
Practice is better than precept,” hold so good as when young eyes, ears, and hearts are concerned. How important it is, then, that there should be manifest in the lives of our teachers those virtues and graces which are found only in communion with Jesus. In this way the Saviour
- If Observer, Jan. 1, '75.
will be honoured by the labours of His faithful and loving servants, and the blessing of God will crown the work with enduring, even eternal, fruits.
The next point that presents itself for our attention, is that of the intellectual attainments of our teachers. Under this head we would include, not only the usual quota of scholastic knowledge, but a comprehensive knowledge of the Word of God. And this latter, not a superficial or mental acquaintance with it, but, as becomes every Christian, an experimental knowledge of the great truths inculcated in the Book of Life.
With regard to mere scholastic attainments we think it unadvisable, if not impossible, to attempt to raise any standard by which to gauge our teachers. This, however, is required of every superintendent: to see that any teacher appointed to a class shall be so superior to its members as to be able to correct their mistakes, impart sound instruction, and secure the respect that superiority of education generally commands.
On the other matter, viz., Bible knowledge, more must be said. In these days of national education, the Sunday school is being relieved to a great extent of the drudgery of imparting the rudiments of a secular education, and thus it is being enabled to devote more time and energy to its proper and distinguishing work-teaching the Bible.
While we do not for a moment undervalue the possession or attainment of a varied and extensive knowledge, valuable alike in all Christian work, as in the world, still experience of men and things goes to prove that proficiency in any trade or particular branch of science is only attained by diligent application to that one thing, to the comparative neglect of others, and so the proverb says, “ Practice makes perfect.” Now if the special work of the Sunday school is to instruct the children in the saving truths of the Bible, and if in the providence of God the obstacles to the accomplishment of this special work are being removed, it is of the greatest importance that our teachers should be qualified in this direction to a special degree.
Placing this qualification at its minimum, it should certainly include the leading features of Old Testament history, the Mosaic economy and its relation to the Christian dispensation, and above all, the Life of Christ-His sin-atoning death, glorious resurrection and ascension, as the procuring cause of salvation and basis of all Christian faith and life. These being known and felt, the more simply, earnestly and faithfully they are told the better, and had we to choose between one whose mind was stored with Scripture knowledge, which would find its way to the lip through a warm and loving heart, though its mode of expression might not stand the test of grammar and dictionary, and another who had studied his Murray more than his Bible, unhesitatingly we would choose the former as more likely to be a successful teacher.
It is generally admitted that the most successful method of teaching is to induce the children to ask questions about the lesson under consideration, thus getting access to their thoughts and feelings on the subject, and the teacher that would be successful must be qualified to adopt those means which are most suited to the end. Of course
we do not imply that every teacher must be qualified to answer every question his scholars may propound, that were impossible, for every one who has encouraged the system must know that some of the questions are not at all relevant or desirable. But what we must look for in our teachers is that they shall be able to answer in a clear and intelligent manner the ordinary questions of children respecting the facts and doctrines of the Bible.
To be able to do even this much with profit to the scholars and satisfaction to the teacher, requires an extensive knowledge of scripture and a faithful memory, for doubtless many, or most of us, have at times found ourselves considerably at a loss to find the proper answer to a question at the time it is asked. And here a word of advice by the way-whenever a question is asked, which it is beyond the power of the teacher to answer fully and satisfactorily at the time, rather than huzard an answer which may involve the mind of the enquirer in greater uncertainty than before, it is better to acknowledge the importance of the question, and seek by thought and study, during the ensuing week, to be able to give the desired information.
So we judge that the teachers who would qualify fully for this work, must study the Bible believingly and regularly, compare scripture with scripture, prepare carefully the lessons for the class, and seek to illustrate and enforce the truths by all the means at command. It is to be feared, however, that many of us fail in this great essential, and not having sought and desired fresh supplies of nourishment ourselves, we place before the little ones, hungering and thirsting after knowledge, hard stones and vinegar, instead of that bread of Heaven and that living water, of which, if they partake they shall live.
Prayer is so important in connection with every department of Christian work, that we feel called upon to lay it down as one of the requisites in a Sunday school teacher. He who desires success must be a praying worker. Prayer without work will do but little, and work without prayer will be equally unavailing. We remember reading once of a young lady who had been remarkably successful in bringing one after another of her scholars to obey the Saviour, and on being asked the secret of her success she attributed it to the fact that she regularly prayed for each member of her class by name. Now, whether we adopt this system or not, certain it is, that by means of prayer, we secure the help of Him who alone can give the increase, and receive in ourselves, strength and patience in the hours of weakness and discouragement.
Passing on we come to notice a most important matter in connection with all work, especially that which has to do with young people. Indeed, so important is it, that it should be insisted upon as one of the most necessary qualifications of a Sunday school teacher. We refer to regularity of attendance. “If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well,” says the proverb, but it is a sad truth that many connected with Sunday schools attend so irregularly, that their actions bespeak a very poor estimate of the importance of the work they have undertaken. When such is the case, the greatest benefit they can confer on the school in general is, to stay away altogether, for their example is subversive of all order and discipline.
Observer, Jan. 1, '75.
A teacher who attends regularly has the only chance of success, for there is nothing holds a class together so well, as the assurance that the teacher whom they know best, and who knows them, will be in his or her place at the appointed time. The teacher thus becomes thoroughly acquainted with the disposition and capabilities of each member of the class. A continuous and progressive course of lessons can be pursued, old lessons enforced, and new motives presented.
The valuable experience of the past, combined with the ever fresh present, and so all the influences are on the side of order and progress, and the likelihood of substantial good being accomplished enhanced a hundred-fold. On the other hand we do not know of anything so calculated to break up a class, to dishearten others engaged in the work, and destroy all hope of attaining the object in view, as the example of that teacher, who from indolence, or want of perception of his duty in the matter, is one day there and another day away, one day professedly earnest and warm, the next unheeding and faint hearted. It is one of the most pitiable sights that comes under the observations of an earnest worker on the Sunday school, to see a class of children sitting during the opening services, minus their teacher, and so sitting till the distracted superintendent can draft them into another class, already large enough, or find a teacher who neither know the scholars nor is known by them.
Only second in importance to regular attendance is punctuality, and in a corresponding degree the arguments in favour of one apply to the other, and we would urge that all who have undertaken the work, and those who intend to do so, will resolve that from this time forward, no sacrifice of self shall be considered too great, that will enable us regularly and punctually to fill up our places in the school.
Thus fully we have sought to lay before you some, as we believe, necessary qualifications in a Sunday school teacher. We have endeavoured to avoid ideality, confining our remarks and suggestions to what may and ought to be realities in the lives and labours of our teachers. We might have dwelt at length on the advantages of patience and other kindred virtues, on the example of teachers in the matter of abstinence from intoxicating drinks, smoking, etc.; but to the thoughtful inquirer all this and more is implied in our first-named qualifications, and cannot be placed on higher ground.
We would simply add, that if as results of this paper we are enabled to secure the active sympathy of older and experienced members in the work, if young brethern and sisters, competent to undertake it, can be induced to join in the labours and pleasures of the school, if our teachers devote themselves to more diligent study of God's word, to the careful preparation of the lessons, and the frequent attendance at the Throne of Grace, and lastly, if regularity and punctuality of attendance is secured in all, we think that this conference and its essayist will have reason to feel that the harvest reward is a hundred-fold richer than the seed sown.
God grant us wisdom, patience and strength, so that we may not be weary in well-doing, and vouchsafe to us that happy experience, that in due season we shall reap if we faint not.