By John Angell James, 1816
Directions as to the MANNER in which a teacher
Having disclosed to you the ultimate object of your
exertions, and prescribed the qualifications necessary for accomplishing it,
I shall now lay down some directions for the regulation of your conduct.
1. There should be a discriminating attention to the different capacities, and tempers of the children.
A Sunday School may be considered as a plantation of young minds, the plants of which grow in different ways, and blossom at various times; each of them requiring a method of culture adapted to its nature. Some need to be brought forward to the sun; others to be thrown back into the shade. Some need to have their luxuriant growth repressed; others to have it encouraged.
Children vary exceedingly in their capacities for learning. Perception is more quick, memory more retentive, comprehension more enlarged in some than in others. What would be industry in one, would be indolence in another. Of this the teacher should be aware, lest by expecting the same in both cases, he produce despondency in the former, or nourish idleness in the latter. Nothing is more discouraging throughout the whole range of education, than to have the mind put upon exertions to which its faculties are unequal. The spirit, in such a case, like a horse that has sunk beneath his burden, lies down in despair, with scarce a struggle to rise. It is of immense importance that you should know the real capacity of your children, and that you should never require of them impossibilities. You will often need much penetration to discriminate between a lack of inclination, and a lack of ability—this, however, may be easily acquired.
The temper, as well as the mind, will require the same judicious attention. Some are timid, and will need great pains to produce more confidence in themselves; others are forward, and must be assiduously taught to be more cautious. Some are open and sincere; others are artful and deceptive. Sometimes you will find a child of such tenderness, that harshness would be like training the sensitive plant with a bar of iron; and then again you will meet with such hard incorrigible stubbornness in another child, that a lenient softness would be like tying down the branches of the mountain oak with a silken thread. Study then the character of the children. Minds, like locks, are different—the same key will not open them all, yet a skillful locksmith may be open them all.
It is astonishing what may be effected in the work of education, by a little ingenuity and invention. There are some teachers who have a certain medication which they administer in every case. They never vary the application—a command, a threat, and a blow; and if this does not succeed, the case is abandoned as too desperate. Whereas a little variation in the mode of treatment, would have carried the point, and ensured success. We need more ingenuity in the business of education. To a certain extent, you should be experimentalists upon the human mind; and when you meet with a case which ordinary methods do not reach, you should call to your assistance the powers of invention, and try the effect of new measures. I will here insert two anecdotes illustrative of my meaning.
Mr. Raikes was in the habit of visiting the parents and children belonging to his schools at their own houses. He called on a poor woman one day, and found a very refractory girl crying, and sulking. Her mother complained that correction was of no avail, and that an inflexible obstinacy marked her conduct. After asking the parent's permission, he began to talk seriously to the girl, and concluded by telling her, that as the first step towards amendment, she must kneel down and ask her mother's pardon. The girl continued sulky. "Well then (said he), if you have no regard for yourself, I have much regard for you. You will be ruined, and lost, if you do not begin to be a good girl; and if you will not humble yourself, I must humble myself, and make a beginning for you." With that he knelt down on the ground before the child's mother, and put his hands together with all the ceremony of a juvenile offender, and supplicated pardon for the guilty daughter. No sooner did the stubborn girl see him on his knees on her account, than her pride was overcome at once, and tenderness followed; she burst into tears, and throwing herself on her knees, entreated forgiveness; and what is still more pleasing, she gave no trouble afterwards.
What would many people have done in this instance? uttered a scolding threat, and left the girl the miserable victim of her own bad temper. A little ingenuity effected a rescue, for which, perhaps, this child blesses the name of Raikes to the present hour.
Mr. Lancaster had once under his care a boy of most indolent and intractable habits, on whom the ordinary methods of punishment produced no effect. He resolved, as the case seemed almost desperate, to try an experiment. He placed him as monitor over an inferior class, and in order more effectually to awaken a feeling of interest, and excite a habit of application, he opposed this class to another in a contest, proposing a reward to the monitor, whose class was victorious. The experiment succeeded to admiration. Ambition was excited in the boy's mind. During the probationary week he was every morning at school in good time, urging on his class to the most vigorous exertions. His truant habits were now broken; and rewarded by success, he became from that time a pattern of industry.
By teachers less versed in the art of instruction, this
boy would have been given up as incorrigible. You perceive what I mean by
ingenuity and invention, in education. Cultivate it. Indolence may
sometimes be excited, where it cannot be driven. And one vice, where it
cannot be forcibly and immediately eradicated, may be starved and withered
in the shadow of some opposite virtue, which a skillful, and assiduous
gardener may raise against it.
2. Exercise great judgment in the application of rewards and punishments.
I am not now going to propose any particular kind of rewards, and punishments, as this little volume is not intended to regulate the formation of schools, but is addressed to teachers in their individual capacity, who are already engaged in supporting the order and arrangements of the school, to which they belong. My remarks will therefore apply to the subject generally.
The proper application of rewards, and punishments, is the most difficult part of the business of instruction. To perceive the first germinations, either of excellence or vice, when the former needs most to be encouraged, and the latter may be most easily destroyed, requires a most watchful and discriminating eye. To nourish merit by reward, and at the same time not to promote the growth of pride and selfishness, which are so apt to spring up by its side by the forcing heat of excessive commendation, requires uncommon skill; and no less judgment is necessary in the case of punishment, lest by pulling up some noxious weeds with too violent a hand, we tear with it some better plant.
With respect to REWARD, I should advise that as much as possible you deduce it from a child's own feelings. External stimulants, I am aware, are sometimes necessary. Indolence must often be roused by the proposal of a prize, the value of which ignorance and insensibility can comprehend. Anything is an advantage where everything else fails, which moves the stagnant dullness of some minds. But as a system, I recommend you, as much as possible, to make your children a reward to themselves. By a little pains you may make them sensible of the pleasures of good behavior, and the vast advantages of knowledge. When they have succeeded in a lesson, or an effort at good conduct, send them to their own bosom for a rewarding smile, and endeavor to make them sensible of the value of such rewards. By this means you are carrying on a system of moral education, by elevating the tribunal, and strengthening the authority of conscience. This powerful principle is often totally neglected in the business of instruction. Its dictates are scarcely ever enforced, its authority seldom exhibited, and its solemn awards entirely superseded—by a bribing, hireling system of mercenary rewards.
In the education of the heart, conscience is the great auxiliary whose aid should be perpetually engaged. When a child has behaved so as to deserve commendation, instead of being judiciously instructed by his teacher in the pleasure of doing right, I acknowledge it is a much more easy method of reward simply to confer a ticket, which at some future day is to be transmuted into money—but it is more than questionable whether it is the most effective method.
I again repeat, I am not for excluding all external rewards, but I enjoin, as preeminently important, an endeavor to produce in the mind of the children, a conviction, that one of the best rewards for doing right, is the pleasure of doing it.
Much the same strain of remark will apply to PUNISHMENT. External chastisement is sometimes necessary. Even corporeal punishment, although it should be excluded as a regular system, may perhaps, in some cases of extremity, be resorted to, like bitter medicines, with success. In all cases of chastisement a teacher should carefully ascertain the degree of crime, and never forget to discriminate between sins of inadvertence and willful depravity. Between the thoughtless follies of childhood, and those actions which are deeply tinctured with moral turpitude, there is a wide difference, of which you should never lose sight. The teacher who in the infliction of punishment, removes all the distinctions which exist between different classes of offence, is in the way of removing, at least in the minds of his children, the natural distinction between right and wrong. Endeavor to keep your own temper. Never is a cool dispassionate manner more necessary than when administering reproof, or inflicting punishment. Grinding teeth, or flashing eyes, or quivering lips, or angry words, are very unlikely means to bring a child to penitence. They may terrify, but will not melt. They may extort confession but will not produce conviction. Enveloped in the mist of passion, how can you discriminate the precise degree of punishment requisite to produce repentance?
Let chastisement always be attended with an obvious regard to the interest of its subject. No censor is so solemn or so effectual as love; and no reproofs sink so deeply in the heart, as those which fall from the lips of affection. Mercy would soften the mind for the impressions of justice. Where there is a conviction, that you chasten for the children's benefit, and not to gratify your own feelings—submission, if not reformation, will generally follow.
Your great concern in every case of misconduct should be to produce a cordial penitence for the fault. This, so far as the offender is concerned, is the very end of punishment. Without a perception of the impropriety of his conduct, and real sorrow for the offence, whatever punishment a child may receive, no solid basis is laid for reformation; and therefore very little is effected. By calm statement, by mild and forcible expostulation, by an appeal to the understanding and feelings of the children, much, except in cases of almost incorrigible obduracy, may be effected in leading to genuine penitence.
Great pains should be taken in every instance of moral delinquency to convince them that their offence is committed chiefly against God, and not merely in opposition either to the rules of the school, or the will of the teacher. It should be represented as a sin to be confessed to God, and for which there is no pardon, but through the blood of the Savior.
Great judgment should be exercised in endeavoring to conduct the whole business of punishment, in such a manner, as shall be least likely to irritate or exasperate the feelings of the delinquent. Surgeons, when it is necessary to employ the knife, are very careful to keep the whole frame as cool as possible, and to choose a time for operation when the diseased part is least under the power of inflammation. Select your times, and particularly remember not to push the rigors of punishment too far, nor continue them too long. The moment you perceive the mind softened to cordial concern for the fault, and that stubbornness or impenitence has given way to docility or contrition, then is the time for punishment immediately to cease. Beyond this it would be breaking the bruised reed, and nipping the buds of reformation by the chilling influence of despair.
In short, as in the business of reward, so also in the
business of punishment—make great use of the children's own feelings. Put
the rod into the hand of conscience, and excite a trembling dread of the
strokes which are inflicted by this internal censor.
3. Discharge your teaching duties in a HUMBLE and AFFECTIONATE manner.
God, who framed the constitution of the human mind, and constructed all its mechanism, has himself informed us, what are the springs of action, which, by those who have anything to do in guiding its operations, should be chiefly touched. "I drew them," says Jehovah speaking of his conduct towards the Israelites, "with the cords of love, and the bands of a man." Here then, in this single short expression, we have compendiously expressed the whole theory of human government, whether it apply to families, to schools, or nations, whether it be designed to control the savage or the sage. This verse, which contains the philosophy of government, should be studied by everyone who has anything to do with his species in the way of enlightening their minds, improving their hearts, forming their characters, or exacting their obedience. The cords of love are the bands of a man.
In prescribing to you, therefore, the manner in which your duties are to be discharged, I must enjoin an affectionate and humble temper. Here I would not be understood as inculcating that weak, and foolish indulgence, which drops the controls of authority, and by abandoning the children to their own inclinations, is still more destructive than the sternest tyranny. The temper that I mean is perfectly compatible with the most inflexible authority, but it expresses itself in tender and gentle manner and language. The law of kindness is in its lips. Its commands and prohibitions are firm, but mild. It avoids a surly, stern, repulsive tone, and often distributes looks and smiles upon its objects, which enter to their very hearts, and win them as captives to itself. It represses all that impatience which the ignorance, the follies, and the vices of the children without great watchfulness, have such a tendency to produce; and renders its possessor patient, loving and humble.
A teacher adopting such a method, takes the nearest road
to the hearts of the youths committed to his care. He will secure their
affection, and thus hold in his hand the key of their disposition. You
mistake, greatly mistake, if you suppose a stern, tyrannical manner is
necessary to maintain your authority. Besides, it becomes you to recollect,
that you are not mere ordinary schoolmasters; you are teachers of piety; and
that religion too which has so much to do with love. It is the duty of your
office to teach the children the knowledge of that great Being, of whom it
is said "God is love,"—to point to the cross of Jesus, and instruct them in
the height, and breadth, and length, and depth of the love of Christ, which
passes knowledge—to repeat to them severally, the commands of the two
tables, and inform them that the fulfilling of the whole law, is love—to
announce to them the three cardinal virtues of Christianity, faith, hope,
love—and to inform them, the greatest of these is love. In short, to teach
them that godliness, the essence of which in this world, and its perfection
in the world to come, is love! How ill adapted, how inconsistent, how
contradictory to such an office—is a harsh, surly, and tyrannical method of
expression. In teaching the religion of Jesus, we must exhibit his spirit,
as well as inculcate his doctrines; we must learn of him, who as a teacher,
was meek and lowly in heart; for it should never be forgotten that in his
religion, mercy and truth meet together.
4. Unite your affectionate manner, with a DIGNIFIED manner.
I have already hinted that these two are by no means incompatible with each other. Their union forms the very perfection of a godly teacher. Humility is not necessarily connected with degradation; nor is it requisite to be familiar, in order to be affable. Remember you are placed on an eminence above your children, and however affection may lead you to stoop from it with kindness, in order the more effectually to reach them—still you must never descend from it, to be upon their level. Between you and them there is a boundary line, which must be mutually observed; and in order to keep them from overstepping it on their side, do not approach too near it on your own.
You must keep up your authority! For if you
cannot ensure obedience, you had better retire. Let your method of
addressing them in common conversation, be dignified, and respectful. Call
them by their proper names, and never employ the abbreviated terms of vulgar
phraseology. Avoid all jesting and low familiarity, together with the broad
loud laugh of jocular merriment. If ever you would have them respect your
authority—never trifle with it yourself. Let them see that you govern from
principle, and not from caprice. In order to this, never require anything
but what is reasonable, and insist upon the performance of all you require.
Always deliberate before you command, or threaten—and then never relax
afterwards. Your great aim should be that they may both love and respect
5. Pursue your exertions with unwearied PERSEVERANCE.
It was little to the honor of Reuben, when his dying father thus delineated his character, "Unstable as water, you shall not excel." Instability is a great blemish of character, which occasional excellencies may conceal for a season—but do not remove the blemish. Instability is in general contemptible, but in the cause of teaching Scripture—it is cruel. Like the fig tree, which the Savior blasted, it excites our hopes, only to disappoint them. There are some people whose activity for a season, is ample. For a while they are all bustle and energy—but it is only for a while. I will not say that their exertions are utterly useless. Their zeal serves the part of thunder storms in the atmosphere of benevolence. Its roll is impressive, and its flashes, vivid as lightning—but just as transient. Still, however, even the storm is useful, though in a very subordinate degree to other influences—which are more steady, more permanent, and more fruitful. How often have we had to lament the sudden resignation of teachers, whose labors required nothing but continuance to render them incalculably useful; but over whom we exclaimed with a sigh, "You did run well, what has hindered you?"
It will be proper to enumerate here some of the causes which frequently operate in producing a lack of the perseverance I am now enjoining.
A. In some cases a lack of perseverance arises from the self-denying nature of the employment; and the difficulties and sacrifices of which were not previously considered. In prospect of any intended labor, it is the part of wisdom to sit down and count the cost. Where this is neglected, even the smallest difficulties, as they come upon us when neither expecting them, nor prepared for them—are likely to have a very discouraging effect upon the mind. It is vain to deny, and useless to conceal—that the office of a Sunday School teacher, is attended with no trifling sacrifices of ease and comfort, which unless they were previously foreseen, will, in all probability, soon drive them from the work.
Should these pages meet the eye of anyone who is about shamefully to retire before the face of a few unexpected toils—I entreat him to consider the importance of the cause he is disposed to abandon. Let him meditate upon the worth of souls, and call up the interests of two worlds, which depend so much upon religious instruction—and then say, if he ought not to blush at the thought of retreating. Did the Son of God labor through a life of poverty, agonize in a death of torture, for immortal souls—and will you cast from you their interests because a little sacrifice of time and ease is required? Can you pretend to fellowship with Christ? If selfishness has not chilled your blood at its fountain, let it rise into your cheek with the blush of holy shame, and be the signal from this hour for rallying your retreating benevolence.
B. Some teachers have been induced to give up their employment on account of a misunderstanding with their associates. It is much to the reproach of human nature, that there is no object—however remote from the usual track of discord; however elevated above the mists of misunderstanding; or however distinct from the interests of selfishness—but sometimes becomes the unwilling occasion of strife, and alienation among those who support it. One would imagine, if experience were not a more credible witness than fancy, that the regions of benevolence were too rarified an atmosphere for discord to breathe in. But we know to the contrary. Offences among the active supporters of a Sunday School are, alas! too common, and have driven away many a valuable teacher from his office. Let those, however, who are under the influence of such a temptation, and have well near resolved to quit their post, because of some injury they have received—seriously consider what the poor children have done, that they are to be objects of their revenge; for on them at last the anger falls!
Let them imagine the great God following them into their retirement, and proposing to them a question similar to that with which he surprised his disheartened prophet, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Would they venture to reply, or if they did, would it not be with trembling and confusion, "Lord, I was offended by my fellow teachers, therefore I determined to give up the employment altogether." "And what," it may be expected, would Jehovah reply, "have these poor ignorant, lost children done—that they must suffer for the wrong you have received? Have I borne with your offences, and provocations, lo! these many years—and have never forsaken you? And yet now for one slight injury do you forsake both my cause, and the interests of those poor babes, that I had entrusted to your care! Is this your gratitude! Is this your obedience! Is this your religion!" Bow to the rebuke. Confess your folly. Be reconciled to the offender—and persevere in your duty.
C. Nearly connected with this is a dislike to some of the arrangements of the school, which not infrequently induces a teacher to make their alteration a condition of his continuing in office. This cannot, and very generally ought not to be done, unless the managers are convinced that the proposed alterations are for the benefit of the institution—and even then it ought not to be done with the view of gratifying an individual—but of improving the school. The disposition which leads a man to say, "Unless you alter this or that—I will immediately resign," with whatever plausible excuses it may be covered—is usually in reality nothing more or better than rank pride. Such teachers would do well to consider what would be the consequence, if everyone like themselves had an alteration to propose, as a condition of their continuance. They can scarcely pretend to be actuated by feelings of benevolence, since whatever defects or imperfections they may discover in the school, even with all these clogging their operations, they can certainly do much more good by continuing than retiring. If they are really convinced that the system of instruction would be improved by the adoption of their views, and are conscious of being actuated by benevolence, and not merely by self-will, then, in the true spirit of a reformer, they should continue in their office, with the hope of one day being able to accomplish the object of desire.
D. In some cases young people have left their office, because there were none in the school of equal social or economic standing with themselves in life. What! shall pride, that disgusting and destructive vice, be allowed admission to the field of mercy's sacred labors? What! must our very compassion be made dependent on the finery which the milliner, the jeweler, or the tailor can supply to a fellow laborer, in the cause of God and souls? That the 'frivolous and the mirthful' should refuse to resort to a place where 'corresponding glitter' is not to be found, is not surprising. But to refuse to distribute the benefits of instruction to the ignorant, and the blessings of salvation to the perishing–unless we have by our side one as well dressed as ourselves, seems the very climax of all that is absurd in human pride!
Is this then a cause which can be ennobled by the 'splendor'—or degraded by the 'obscurity', of its teachers? Is it not enough that you are employed as the almoners of God's richest gifts, and engaged for the benefit of immortal interests? The loftiest seraph that glows, and burns in the temple above, if commissioned by his God, would accept with gratitude the office you are disposed to vacate, and in teaching the knowledge of his exalted Lord, would think himself most honorably employed, though his pupils were the poorest of children, and his associates the poorest of teachers. If however you must have fellow-workers who are your equals—you have only to look up with the eye of faith, and you would find yourself surrounded with ministers and missionaries; prophets and apostles; the wise and good of every age, who have all been pursuing, though in another way, the same grand object as you are seeking. And even all this, what is it to the thought of being, although in the humblest sense, a fellow worker with God, and Christ, in the redemption of a lost and miserable world?
E. Marriage has very frequently put an untimely close to a teacher's labors. I have seen very many instances in which the next Sunday after the marital union has been formed, both parties have relinquished their office at the school. Does that union, then, which was designed by its divine author as the basis of society, release us from a single obligation to promote its welfare? Or do we acquire a sanctity of character at the marriage altar, which is profaned by exposing it in a Sunday School? Or do the tender affections which this connection produces, unfit the parties for an office, one qualification of which is love?
I acknowledge, that in many, perhaps in most cases, the secession of females becomes a matter of necessity—but for a young man to give up his attention to the cause of God, the very first Sunday after he has received the greatest relative blessing heaven has to bestow, is a cold expression of gratitude to his benefactor. Until a rising family of his own prefer more just and sacred claims upon his time than the children of the poor—it is both absurd and cruel to take it away from them! How can he better prepare himself to become the preceptor of the little circle, that may one day surround his own fire-side, than by acquiring the art of instruction among the sons and daughters of the stranger?
Such are the more prevailing causes that produce a lack
of perseverance, and such the manner in which they may be removed.
5. I mention CONSTANCY as exceedingly important, in the manner of discharging the duties of a teacher's office.
This, perhaps, may seem like a repetition of the direction just expressed. But there is a difference. By perseverance, I intend a continuance in office. And by constancy, a steady, uniform, and undiverted discharge of its duties. In most large towns circumstances are continually occurring which put this virtue to the test. Some popular minister is to preach; or one of the resident ministers is to preach a charity sermon, or funeral discourse. On such occasions, without a firm and ready attachment to the business he has undertaken, a teacher is in great danger of being induced to quit his post.
There is one sect in the religious world, which, although not enumerated in any book of denominations, or any theological dictionary; which, although it has neither distinct creed, nor separate temples, still is entitled to a specific notification; this sect I shall denominate the "CURIOSI"—their identifying trait is a love of novelty. They belong to any preacher who, for the time, can interest them by something new; and they attach themselves to every congregation that has something extraordinary going on. Thus, as they are carried along the stream of profession like twigs and chips that are floating near the edge of a river, they are intercepted by every weed, and whirled in every little eddy.
If you would be a useful, or respectable teacher, you
must not belong to this denomination. It does not rank very high in heaven
above, or earth beneath. They would fain persuade you, that like the bee,
they are sucking honey from every flower. But more like the butterfly, they
rove through all the garden of the Lord, not to sip the most luxurious—but
to flutter with a vain and useless frivolity around the most gaudy blossom
within the sacred enclosure. Be always at your post, and let it be your
glory to find what powerful attraction you can resist, rather than be absent
from your needy charge.
6. PUNCTUALITY in a teacher is vitally connected with the prosperity of the school.
When one considers the importance of the object in which you are engaged, and add to this the little time at most, you can command for seeking it—one might have presumed that it would be quite unnecessary to caution you against devoting less time to this ministry. And yet it is painful to be obliged to assert, that there is scarcely one evil, under which the whole system more severely suffers, than a lack of punctuality in the teachers. It is an evil which eats into the very core of the institution. Precisely in the degree to which it exists, the order of the school must be interrupted, the solemnity of instruction disturbed, and the whole machine be impeded. Nor will the mischief stop here. The children perceiving that it is useless to be there before their teachers, and imitating their irregularity, will sink into the same habits of inattention and neglect. Late masters, must make late scholars. 'Tis useless for you to admonish your class to be early, if by example you instruct them to be late.
There are several causes which lead to the evil of which I now complain.
A. A thoughtless disregard to the importance of punctuality in general, is observable in some people. They are always, and in everything, late. If they have an engagement to perform, they never think of preparing for it until the time of commencement is past. On the Sunday they do not set off to public worship, until the clock reminds them they ought at that moment to be in their pew. "A few minutes," they lazily exclaim; "can make no great difference." A few minutes make no difference!!! If everyone, and in everything, were to act upon this principle—but for one day, the world would be chaos. This procrastinating temper is a bane, under the influence of which the interests of society are suffering in a thousand ways; and that man would deserve the thanks of his species, who could furnish the most effectual antidote against it. There is a time for everything; and let everything be done in its time. In common language we speak of fetching up lost time—but in strict propriety, this is impossible. A moment lost, can never be recovered!
B. Late rising on the Sunday morning is a great obstacle in the way of punctuality. Perhaps I shall be thought uncharitable in expressing my apprehensions, that by many professing Christians, the season of slumber is protracted to an unusual length on the morning of the Sunday; and that day which was mercifully intended as a season of rest, is sinfully converted into a period of indolence. Considering how closely the world and its concerns follow us on other days, one might imagine, that we would feel disposed to make the Sunday as long as possible. It is the last day we ought to shorten. And were our souls in a state of high spiritual prosperity, we should, like the lark, be soaring towards heaven upon the wings of the morning, while the greater part of the world below us was still wrapped in silence and in sleep; and, like the nightingale, continue to pour forth our songs in the night, when the multitude around us, to relieve the tedium of the sacred day, had prematurely sunk to their rest.
But consider that your sloth defrauds not only your own soul—but also the souls of your children at the school! The idea of such forbidden slumber should present you with—is a shepherd depriving his lambs of their food. Rising late, you are often driven to the school without prayer, and without preparation, and even then are often long late yourself. Every beam of the morning, as it gently touches the lids of your eyes, seems to address you in the language of Christ to his slumbering disciples, "Why sleep you? Rise and pray." Or if this be too gentle a voice to rouse you from your slumbers, let harsher tones disturb you, "What do you mean, O sleeper? Arise, call upon your God."
C. Another cause of lack of punctuality, is too much time employed at the dinner table. Are there Christians who devote the Sunday to more than ordinary gratification of the palate, and who, in order to provide for their pleasure, employ their servants or themselves during the most precious portion of the day, in preparing for the table? Alas! to the shame of many, who make large professions, this question must be answered in the affirmative! In some cases it is beyond a teacher's control to alter the arrangements of a family—but it is within everyone's ability to content himself with anything the house affords, rather than be late at school, by waiting for the roast that is smoking at the oven. Do I ask a costly sacrifice for the interests of the children? What! a WARM dinner on Sundays too much to give up for those souls, for which the Savior gave his blood? This too much to relinquish, in order that you may hasten with the bread of life to those who are perishing for lack of it? Can you begrudge this gratification when it is to enlarge your opportunity of endeavoring to save those souls, which if finally lost, shall never have the temporary mitigation of their torments—which even a drop of water affords to a burning tongue!
Let me then enjoin, with peculiar earnestness, a strict
regard to punctuality. That you may feel more strongly the
obligations to this, I again entreat you to recollect how short a space of
time, even at most, the children can enjoy your instructions, A few hours on
the Sunday, with respect to most of them, are all the time during which
through the whole week they hear or see anything like piety. Make not the
little time, less.
7. Crown all your labors with fervent, and habitual PRAYER.
It is important for you, in all your exertions, to bear in mind the total and universal depravity of the human race. By total depravity, I do not mean that people are as bad as they can be, for in general they lie under strong restraints--and most do not sin with reckless abandonment. I do not mean that they are all equally wicked, for some are less sinful than others. I do not mean that they are destitute of everything useful, and lovely in society; their social affections are often strong and praiseworthy. I do not mean that their actions are always
wrong; the contrary is manifestly true. What I mean by total depravity, is an entire destitution in the human heart by nature--of all spiritual affection, and holy propensities. In this view every child is totally depraved.
To change this state of the mind, and produce a holy bias; to create a new disposition, to turn all the affections into a new channel, and cause them to flow towards God and heaven, is the work of the omnipotent and eternal Spirit, who in the executions of his purposes, however, generally employs the instrumentality of man. Now this view of the case must be ever before your mind; it must mingle with all your plans, and direct all your exertions. You must accurately understand the nature of the materials on which you have to work, and be intimately acquainted with the source from whence success is to be expected. You must sow the seed in its season with the diligence of the farmer, and then exercise, like him, an unlimited dependence upon the influences of the heavens; for it is God that gives increase to the labors of both.
A spirit of earnest prayer should be the living soul of all your conduct. While your eye is fixed upon the children, your heart should be lifted up to God. You should sit down as between them and the fountain of life, and while opening by instruction a channel to their hearts, seek to draw the living stream by prayer from heaven. Your closet should also be the scene of your concern for their welfare. In those seasons of hallowed seclusion, when your soul makes her nearest and happiest approaches to the throne of divine grace, concentrate on their immortal interests. God loves the prayers of his people, and especially delights in the prayers of pious benevolence. Importune him, therefore; to bless your efforts. Confess to him that the work of conversion is all his own. Hang the interests of the school upon his arm, and lay them down in the light of his countenance.
Especially on the morning of the Sunday, in the prospect of your exertions. Next to your own growth in grace, seek the principal subject of your prayers, in the welfare of the children. Pray for grace to be found faithful; and to be made sufficient for these things. Entreat of God to rouse you from lukewarmness, and to enable you to feel the weight of others' souls, upon your own. There qualify yourself, if I may so speak, for your office. 'Tis astonishing what an effect is produced, even on our own feelings, by fervent prayer. It elevates in our minds, and endears to our heart—every object which it embraces. It is not the pleading of an hireling advocate, who, after the most eloquent appeals, receives his fee, and forgets his client. But the intercession of genuine love, which is inflamed towards its object, by its own impassioned entreaties on its behalf.
Prayer will cherish all the tenderest sensibilities of the heart, and keep down the growth and influence of our natural selfishness. Did you come to the school every Sunday morning, like Moses from the mount, direct from the presence and the converse of God; bringing all the solemn tenderness with which you had supplicated for the children at the mercy-seat—what a godly character would be imparted to your deportment! The solemn air of eternity, irradiated with the beams of heavenly glory, would be visible upon your countenance; while the meekness of Jesus, and the mercy of his gospel, breathed forth in all your language, would admonish the children, that it was not a time for them to trifle, when their teacher had come to them with a "message from God!"
Provided they possess other qualifications in an equal degree—those who are most prayerful will be most successful. On the other hand, it is matter of little surprise, that no spiritual benefit or success attends the efforts of those by whom the duty of prayer is neglected. They labor, as might be expected, in a field on which the dew of heaven seldom distills—and which brings forth little else than thorns, and briers. Whenever we shall be favored to perceive a spirit of prayer resting upon the great mass of our teachers, and insinuating itself into all their exertions, we shall not wait long before we hear of a degree of success among the children, which will delight and astonish us; for it is said of Jehovah, that "He hears prayer."