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THE MARKS OF A GOOD SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER.
By the Rev. John Nelson Goulty, of Brighton. SUNDAY school instruction is a variety in education, which sprang up in this country about the year 1780 and 1781, the seed of which has been scattered in every direction at home, transplanted into other lands, and proved to be adapted to every clime. A plant, so much and so generally admired, presenting so beautiful a sight to the eye, and producing fruit so grateful to the pious taste ; affording to the mind such valuable excitement, and filling the heart with such holy satisfaction, ought, indecd, to be cherished, cultivated, and propagated, with the utmost care and skill.
Sunday schools properly consist of two general orders of scholars.
Ist. Those who require to be taught to read and reverence the Bible, to observe the Lord's day, and to be disciplined to social order and religious habits, as the basis of personal character.
2nd. Those who, having learnt these first principles, require to be occupied and interested in all that relates to the carrying out, and carrying on, of a work so well begun.
The first of the orders are plants that have sprung up in the wilderness; the other, those that have had some cultivation, and are too often left to wander, exposed to every temptation and danger, at the very period of life which is most interesting and hazardous. Too old, or too big, to be any longer ranked as children, and not having sufficient motive, or sufficient material, for the office of teacher, they are tempted by pride, or permitted, for want of suitable occupation, to steal away into the world, where they soon imbibe its spirit, and fall a prey to its devices. Alas! how many, who once bid fair for the kingdom of God, have, at this door, been let out of the fold, and never returned !
These observations will go far towards assisting us to determine the qualifications of Sunday school teachers. In considering these qualifi. cations, it is proper to notice objects in view. These respect the mind, the soul, and the moral destiny of man.
Every onc of our species claims to be considered, and to be treated, as possessing a mind. However true it is, that man is thus elevated above the brutes that perish, it is one of the important effects of education, to make young people feel that they are endowed with mind. Man possesses capabilities of mental exercise, with as much call for suitable cultivation, as his bodily frame calls for discipline and care. There is no part of the frame-work of man which is to be considered as unnecessary; and it is only depravity, that, in any instance, has suggested the suspicion of incapacity, or induced the tyranny, that would crush or depress the energies of mind in any class of the human species, be the skin white or black.
The first principles of mental exercise must be good, as tending to elevate the man, not above his station, or above his fellow man, but above the low debasement of slavery and ignorance; as tending to give reason a power over mere sense, by tracing the line between right and wrong; thus assisting to subjugate the passions, refine the taste, open sources of mental enjoyment, pre-occupy and fortify the mind against unhallowed influence, correct the judgment, and chasten the feelings.
Let but education have its fair operation, and every class of society will find its level and its own advantages from it. It is admitted, that, to educate one part to the neglect of another, is to endanger the neglected: but let every order among us, awake to the operation, and then what would the highest have to apprehend from the lowest? We are at best, far enough from the summits of knowledge. Besides, it is now too late to prevent, or to stop the process of education; the stream deepens and widens as it flows, and it would be a waste of time to lament the commencement of that, the advance of which cannot, and ought not to be hindered. Let us rather give ourselves to the fact, open our eyes to the prospect, and stir up ourselves to the demands which are being made upon us. If “reason frowns on him who wastes that reflection, on a destiny independent of him, which he ought to reserve for actions of which he is the master," then, let us buckle on the armour, and prepare to wield the weapons of our warfare. We have no greater enemy than ignorance. Let us nerve every energy, and apply all our powers to regulate and direct the mighty machine of education. If the lower orders are beginning to rise in mental and moral culture, what will be the natural influence, but to push forward the class just before them ? this again will urge the class above, and the great result will be a more elevated scale of society, from the foundation to the top stone of the building. If the poor are the hands and the feet of society, the vigour that is necessary to give life and health and usefulness in the extremities cannot be supplied without the vital principle in the head and heart. The competition is fair ; and the power of knowledge will destroy what it cannot improve.
Every man has a soul! It is this consideration which stamps the character of Sunday schools. Compared with the elevation of the soul “what are sun, moon and stars, but trifles ? and what is time, but the twinkling of an eye.” Every man is a sinner! all under the curse, gone astray, lost, ruined, undone; as such, man is to be sought out, reclaimed, restored, saved. There is only one way to heaven, one Bible, one cross, one Saviour, one Spirit. Every man is destined for immortality! he is here but for a season, yet is never to cease to be the conscious agent which he has been. What an immense importance
attaches to his present existence, and to the means which are employed for his moral and his spiritual welfare !
The difficulty any where of fixing the minds of young people on the things of eternity is only increased, in a scene and an atmosphere like that by which we are here surrounded. Every scene is in battle array against us, the moral atmosphere prejudicial. Children and young persons brought up in perpetual excitement require only more excitement. of our local position we may indeed say,
" Here satan's seat exalted stands
And all my truth maintains."
1 Real respectability of character: that is, marked by seriousness, steadfastness, gravity, sincerity, “sound speech which cannot be condemned "--any thing trifling, flippant, frivolous, or jocular, is not consistent with the character of a Sunday school teacher.
2 A proper estimate of the importance of the work, and of the privilege of being engaged in it. It will not do to come to this undertaking, as to a mere occupation; or because others do it. The heart must be in it. It is the seed of the kingdom, it is leaven. The character and advancement of the church of Christ are concerned, and the everlasting interests of those who are committed to your care. To render any measure of benefit is an honor, and affords a peace of mind and a comfort of heart which is a great reward.
3 Personal religion. This qualification rises in importance with the sphere and object before you ; and in order to be eminently useful you must seek to be eminently holy, devoted, and spiritual. How can any one instruct others in what he does not himself understand ? The subordinate objects, the mere mechanical parts of Sunday school teaching, may be performed and usefully) by teachers who are not decidedly religious, provided they possess the two qualifications before mentioned. But the great, the ultimate end of Sunday school teaching is essentially connected with the personal religion of the scholar; and cannot be expected to be promoted, urged, or effected, by one who has not himself “ tasted that the Lord is gracious.” If the ruins of the fall, in your own case, excite no real concern, how can it be expected that you would weep over the desolations and ruin which sin has made in others; “ IIe that winneth souls is wise;" he knows the way of salvation, and has felt " the powers of the world to come.”
4. An enquiring mind. Thoughtful, solicitous, hungering and thirst. ing after spiritual food ; to know and feel the truth ; to be aware that there are heights and depths and breadths and lengths which pass our knowledge, that the Scriptures contain a pearl of great price, a fountain of living waters, in the various streams of which there are "depths in which the elephant may swim, as well as shallows in which the lamb may wade.” “ Therefore, leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.”
5. “ Apt to Teach.” This qualification is in some instances, a peculiar gift; but it is seldom wanting altogether, where the earnest and intense interest of a devoted mind exists; where there is a hallowed flame of love to souls, and a burning desire for their salvation. On this point, we may remark, that in general, we take too much for granted; and find, in fact that we need “ line upon line, precept upon precept."
6. A self-denying kind and patient disposition. Whatever we have to do with mind and heart, meets so many trials, there is so much in human nature to hinder, so much to obstruct and discourage, that nothing, but a deep and powerful motive, a motive drawn from the Cross, will bear us and bear us on. The love of Christ is the only allpowerful principle. But love to Christ and love to souls will bear us on, will animate, inspire, and support, when hearts and flesh would fail us, A tenderness to the young, a holy resolution to persevere, a preparedness for opposition to our inclination, and for personal sacri. fice, are highly important.
LASTLY. Simplicity of feeling, humility of mind, and the habit of prayer. Many teachers in Sunday schools have been undone, and have undone others, by a want of these essential qualifications. A willingness to be taught, the disposition of a disciple, a genuine dependence on the influences of the Holy Spirit, and on “ the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” together with the great principle of not living to ourselves, in connexion with the qualifications which we have before mentioned, will be most likely to obtain the divine blessing.
If so, who ought to be Sunday school teachers. As far as the children of the poor are concerned, for which Sunday schools were originally instituted, teachers have been found, principally, from those ranks of society immediately above them. From these have been found a supply of most useful and honoured labourers. Nothing will I trust discourage these devoted friends of the cause ; and it may be inferred, that it is not a little that will discourage them, or they would long since have drawn back for want of co-operation from higher classes. It is to be feared, that, Sunday school teachers have been too often more fit subjects for instruction than suitable to instruct others. Untaught and unexperienced, but with the best feelings, they have been left to feel their way, in darkness and difficulty, when they would gladly have sat to receive some spiritual instruction.
In many instances they have been left a prey to the dissipating
variety of books, and plans of Sunday school teaching, which an itch for novelty, a love of book-making, or a desire of book-selling, has imposed upon the public; some of which I hesitate not to say are highly exceptional. Surely instruction ought to be adapted; for error of sentiment and of feeling, at such an age especially, may be lasting and unalterable.
Allow me to offer three other suggestions.
I. That, a provision be made for young people as they advance to leave the Sunday schools. Such as the establishment of higher classes of instruction, Bible classes or Minister's classes.
II. That Sunday school instruction claims the countenance and assistance of experienced and influential persons.
III. That the course of instruction should have the best of ministerial and pastoral superintendence.
It is now nearly fifty years since I became a Sunday school teacher, and I only regret that I should ever have allowed even ministerial and pastoral duty to relax those exertions. I do now, however, take the charge of my own Sunday schools, and beg respectfully to recommend my brethren in the ministry to do the same.
I. N. G.
LETTERS TO A YOUNG SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER.
MY DEAR FRIEND-Although fully conscious how very imperfectly qualified I am for such a task, I feel that I cannot refuse your request to give you a few hints in reference to the great work in which you are about to engage. It is indeed matter of no little satisfaction to find, that you are not thoughtlessly assuming so great a responsibility as that of a teacher of babes ; and if any of the following remarks, should, by the blessing of God, lead you to feel that responsibility even still more, we shall both have reason for deep thankfulness.
In commencing any undertaking it is very important to have a clear and definite conception of the nature of the work proposed to be done. For if without any previous consideration, we rashly pledge ourselves to perform duties, of whose scope and nature we are in a great measure ignorant, the very strong probability is, that those duties will be very imperfectly discharged, if indeed they are not entirely neglected. And this remark, applicable as it is to all the ordinary engagements of life, applies with great force to the important work to which you have dedicated yourself. Hence before entering upon your office as a Sunday school teacher, it will be well for you calmly and carefully to endeavour to realize the momentous