Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

features of revealed truth. As virtue is voluntary obedience to truth, it cannot be obedience to error; and the general character of a man's opinions, must have some influence on his conduct. If the man who believes there is no God, or that he does not punish the transgressions of the wicked, is an honest man and a good citizen; he certainly has less reason for being so, than his Christian neighbour.

Now, to instil these truths into the rising generation, is the grand object of sunday-schools. The bible is generally used as a text-book by all who are able to read it, and the human productions associated with it, are peculiarly such, as are calculated to exemplify, illustrate and enforce these truths. That these schools are the most efficientengine, ever set in motion for this purpose, is demonstrated by experience, and is conceded even by the trepidation of the enemy at their extension. If, then, we receive as true the declaration of the text, that righteousness does, exalt a nation, and if it be certain that sabbath-schools do tend to promote righteousness; the conclusion inevitably, follows, that sabbath-schools tend to exalt a nation. There can be no escape from this inference. Nor is it even pretended, that sabbath-schools are so mismanaged, as not to produce their proper effect. The enemies do not come with proposals for the improvement of the system; it is against the whole moral machinery that their battery is directed, and for the express reason, that its influence is so powerful! That fact being thus clearly established, it merely remains for us to particularize the mode of its operation, whilst we inquire secondly

HOW DO SABBATH-SCHOOLS TEND TO EXALT A NATION? We are not here called on to discuss the manner, in which divine truth affects the mind; and merely make the passing remark, that no reason can be assigned, why moral truth should not have the same kind of intrinsic tendency to produce conviction, which belongs to mathematical, analogical, or any other species of truth. Nor does our design embrace the nature of that additional divine influence, which must accompany it, to render it effectual. The reality of this influence being clearly taught in Scripture, we shall be profited more by prayers for its bestowment, than by disputes about its nature. It is to the effects of sabbath-schools, as exerted on individuals and on the community at large, that we wish to call your attention.

As the duty of bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, is so clearly taught in Scripture, and so obvious from the nature of the case, it is reasonable to expect, that it would receive much attention in the history of the church. That which comes nearest to the modern system of sabbath-schools, is the noble institution of catechetical instruction, which has, with some exceptions, been practised Nore or less faithfully, in all ages of the church; and in the hands of pious ministers and catechists, has always proved a blessed institution. As the Christian church degenerated, this institution also became corrupt. Under Charlemagne, a canon was made, directing all ministers to attend to catechisation, and to explain the doctrines of the creed in the vernacular tongue, that is, in the

corrupt Latin then prevalent. Yet it soon sunk amid the night of the dark ages, and only by the Reformation was restored to its proper use. Since that time, instruction on this subject has been given to the theological student, as a regular branch of Pastoral Theology, and many.

treatises on it are extant, from which some excellent precepts might be transferred to the manual of the sabbath-school teacher. In the earlier ages, catechumens were sometimes divided into the proselytes, whether Jewish or Pagan, who embraced Christianity, and those who were the children of Christian parents. This latter class of pupils was often, at least in part, the same with those of our sabbath-schools.

Nor did Christian parents neglect the private instruction of their offspring. History exhibits many instances, in which the most distinguished luminaries of the church, recorded, in terms of glowing gratitude, the parental care expended in their early religious instruction. It may suffice to specify an Origen, an Augustine, a Cyri), and a Clement of Alexandria.

And how many instances can, even at this early day, be adduced, of persons, who have borne testimony to the blessed influence of sabbath-schools on their character in time, and their probable destiny in eternity? The religious education of our offspring is an allimportant, arduous work; and those who labour to perform faithfully, are most willing to accept all the aid afforded by sabbathschools. But how many parents, insensible of its importance, neglect this sacred duty? How many others, from want of time, or of capacity, perform it very imperfectly! And shall the young immortals therefore grow up in ignorance and vice, fit candidates for everlasting burnings? Oh no! the heart of every christian, of every philantropist will respond—let them be brought under the influence of sabbath-schools. By this noble institution, the attention of parents themselves, is loudly called to the importance of a religious education; they are prompted to rear with more sacred care, and watch with more tender solicitude the young immortals committed to their charge. Nor is this all. It furnishes them with most desirable and efficient auxiliaries for the work. In our own land above 60,000 individuals have been enlisted in this glorious cause, and are co-operating with parents in training up the rising generation for usefulness on earth, and an eternity of glory beyond the grave! As volunteer legions, who, in the hour of danger, pour forth from their homes, and their families, to fight their country's battles, are animated by a better spirit and more ardent zeal, than those whom necessity pressed into the ranks; so our sabbath-school teachers are generally the very persons in every town and village, who feel most sensibly the importance of religious instruction, and will labour most zealously to disseminate it. And what arithmetic can calculate the rich harvest of eternal blessings, which is daily growing up from seed thus sown in youthful minds ? Upon the aged the most faithful instruction is often thrown away, but rare indeed are the cases, in which the good impressions made on children are ever fully erased. How often has not the seed thus sown, speedily germinated, and

brought forth the most delightful and abundant fruit ? How many young immortals have, in these schools, been made wise unto sal vation ? With what ardent feeling have they not uttered their gratitude to those, who early taught them to walk in the ways of God; but in heaven, when treading the golden streets of the celestial city, and basking in the rays wherewith the glory of God and the Lamb do lighten that abode, with what feeling, think you, will the sabbath-scholar and his teacher meet!

But not only children are numbered among the pupils of sabbathschools. The bible being generally used by all who are capable of reading it, pupils of riper years, find in that sacred volume, abundant materials for study: and, by the various helps already published for bible classes, such recitations of more advanced persons, are rendered highly interesting alike to teacher and the taught.

Nor is the influence of sabbath-schools on parents unworthy of notice. When irreligious parents see their children preparing for sabbath-school, they are reminded, that the day of the Lord is intended for religious improvement; and may be led to reflect upon the manner, in which they themselves spend its sacred hours. Curiosity leads them to look into the books, brought by the children from the sabbath-school library--they look, they read, their heart is touched, and the books designed for the children, become the messengers of salvation to the parents. hildren often request instruction on the subject of their bible lessons. In order to give it, parents themselves must read the chapter,—they read, and many are the cases, in which the words given by inspiration, flash conviction into the mind, and become the power of God unto the salvation of their souls!

The teachers also, are not labouring in vain, or spending their strength for nought. As in intellectual science, so in morals, one of the most successful methods of acquiring proficiency, is to teach. The sacred truths are not less efficacious, nor the accompanying divine influence less copious, in the case of the teachers, than of the taught. No other method of spending the Lord's day, could be better calculated to call home the wandering thoughts, and rivet the attention on divine truth, and impress the soul with the reality and importance of religion, than the occupation of sabbath-school teachers. How many are the cases in which, whilst watering others, they have been watered themselves ; in which, teaching others, God has graciously taught them ? And can any thing be more congenial to the feelings of him, who has not merely a name to live, but has really passed from death unto life, than to spend a portion of his sabbath hours, in bringing home the lambs to the fold of Christ? Such exercise invigorates the christian's graces, gives scope and energy to his benevolent sympathies, and engraves the traits of his Master's character more deeply on his soul. It was the benevolence of action, which characterized that most glorious and divine teacher, who went about doing good, and that pre-eminent exemplar of human teachers, who bade us labour for the mind which was in Christ Jesus, bis master. It is for want of action, that many a christian character exhibits such a morbid, wavering feebleness; and small

[ocr errors]

indeed is the value of that benevolence, which sheds the tear of sympathy over the tale of imaginary sorrow, and gazes listless, and unmoved, upon the realities of human wretchedness. How truly christian, how salutary is the work of the sabbath-school teacher, how bright the glory encircling his path in this lite, how great his reward in the kingdom of heaven!

Such, then, being the salutary effects of sabbath-schools on the Indiriduals, mo e immediately connected with them; i- it possible, that they can exert a different influence on the Community at large ?

Reason would expect, that, as nations are but an aggregate mass composed of individuals, the elements of national and individual prosperity and decline, must be the same. To this position, history bears unwavering testimony. Nations have their rise and fall, as well as individuals; and the causes which accelerate the one produce the other. Vice is the grand high-way to national, no less than individual, ruin. Many are the nations, which have travelled this downward road; and why should we expect, that the great King of nations, will arrest the wheels of revolving empire in our behalf, and not regulate our rise or fall by the same laws, which determine the destinies of other nations? On the contrary, no truth is more clearly established by history, than that nations in general are prosperous and happy, in proportion as they are virtuous. What then are the effects of sabbath-schools upon a nation ?

They tend to diminish the number of criminals in our land, by clo sing the avenues, from which our prisons and penitentiaries are filled. Enter one of these abodes of guilt, and converse with its miserable inmates about the important truths of religion. Their ignorance will soon teach you, that neglect of religious education, is the fruitful mother of, by far the greater portion of penal misery, endured in our land. Finding food enough in this degenerate world, these habits grew with their growth and strengthened with their strength, until breaking forth in overt violation of the civil law, they conducted their victims to these abodes of wretchedness. And, as they trod with heedless foot their downward course, no warning voice recalled them, no parental instructions recurred to their memory, no sabbath-school lesson of God's anger at transgressors, filled them with alarm, or arrested them in their way to ruin! Sabbath-schools, by removing the cause of this evil, must tend to remedy the effect. The solemn sanctions of religion, impressed on the mind in early years, exert a powerful influence in restraining men from sin. This belief is not mere theory. The experiment has been tried, and actual calculations proves, that comparatively very few of those, who enjoyed this instructior., are ever arraigned at the bar of their country for the transgressions of ber laws; and the Recorder of London states, that, among a class of population peculiarly degraded, out of two thousand children taught in sabbath-schools, only fourteen had ever been brought before him for crime.

Again, sabbath schools tend to preserve the purity and stability of our political institutions. Man by the very structure of his mental nature is a religious being, and must have some religion. Few men have ever been for any length of time, unwavering atheists. Even the farfamed Voltaire, when he felt his heart-strings breaking, and when he saw the hideous form of death before him, applied for consolation to the minister of that Jesus, whom he had so virulently persecuted, so blasphemously vilified! No nation has ever been found, which had not some kind of religion; and, consequently, no organized government has ever existed without it. Even the skeptical Polybius, the celebrated Greek historian, who flourished about a century before the Christian era, and as the relick of his Universal History proves, had carefully studied the governments of different nations, pronounces the religion of the Romans in the earlier ages of the Republic, the most useful feature of their government, the strongest pillar which sustained their liberties. How much more benign and efficient an influence must the pure, the holy precepts of Christianity exert on the nation sincerely embracing them? What stronger barrier could be presented against intrigue and corruption, than the dread of a righteous judgement, an endless retribution. What more powerful motive to fidelity amid the storms of political animosity and conflicting interests, than the belief that all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do? Nor is it at all remarkable, that moral principle should be esential te the faithful administration of a good government. What is government but a civil compaet between the rulers and the ruled, by which each party is obligated to certain duties, under the sanction of an oath, expressed or implied? But what binding power has moral obligation on him, who has no fear of God before his eyes, no sense of future retribution on his mind? However just the laws, however virtuous the higher rulers may be, if a nation be generally corrupt, what power can ensure the just administration of the government in its minor ramifications ? Can a virtuous emperor, or king, or president, or cabinet, exert an omnipresent influence throughout the nation, deterring the unprincipled magistrate from the oppressing the poor, the widow and the orphan ? especially when public sentiment in the surrounding community is not such as to restrain him ? In a republican government, moreover, there are many and strong temptations to a corrupt exercise of the elective franchise in the citizen, to corrupt, self-interested, partial legislation in the representative; which no power in existence can resist, save a vigorous, uncompromising moral feeling pervading the community. In short, moral or religious principle is to the body politic what constitutional vigour is to the animal frame; it not only diffuses habitual energy through all its members, but tends also to heal the wounds from time to time inflicted on it. What then, could exert a more salutary influence on our civil institutions, than the general introduction of sabbathschools; which, beginning in the early years of docility, impress the fear of God, the love of moral integrity, of peace, of justice on the future citizens, and legislators and executives of our land? What could more effectually tend to regulate that tendency to inequality in all governments, which the agrarian laws of Judea, of Sparta, and of Greece, failed eventually to restrain, than sabbath

« AnteriorContinuar »