Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

school-rooms opened, or old ones enlarged and rendered more comfortable. An American minister writes in one of the papers, “ London has what it calls Sunday-schools, but they are generally only a milder form of inquisition. The school of Doctor Cumming's church was without picture or pleasant sight, and had thirty-seven scholars. Spurgeon's school-room is a sepulchre. The seats are narrow and without backs, and remind one of the Irishman's remark on a fine cemetery, that he thought it 'a very healthy place to be buried in. The people in England do not much like to have an American come into their Sabbath-schools. They always apologise, and say, “You are ahead of us in these things.?”

Now, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of this statement, so far as it concerns the apocalyptic doctor, but we must admit that so far as it concerns the Tabernacle “this witness is true.” London grows more foggy and dark every year at its centre, as the range of smoke-producing houses extends; and hence huge rooms like ours, built underground, become less and less suitable for school purposes. Would to God the funds were forthcoming for suitable buildings both for the School and the College.

In the matter of literature suited for Sunday-school teachers we are very hopefully progressing. The three hundred thousand teachers in Great Britain hare opportunities in the present day of acquiring an amount of Biblical knowledge which was denied to most ministers of the past generation. The Sunday-school Union has in this respect been a ource of the greatest blessing to the rising race. Its six periodicals are stated to have a united monthly circulation of two hundred and fifty thousand; and of late, a number of most useful commentaries, magazines of practical Sunday-school information, and bound works have been issued by independent publishers at a cheap price, and have found a large and remunerative sale.

One of the most laborious workers in this field is the Rev. J. Comper Gray, whose compilations have shown marvellous industry and literary skill. His most recent work, entitled “The Sunday-school World”—an encyclopædia of facts and principles—if not useful in the class, will be valuable to all who need suggestions upon the way in which to improve the Sabbath-school.* It is a volume of extracts from writers who have had practical acquaintance with the various departments of Sunday-school labour, and the facts and opinions given will be of considerable service to all who are engaged in this noble work.

It may be a somewhat delicate task, where all the labourers are voluntary and their labour largely self-denying, to offer criticism upon their qualifications. Yet as we believe that every Christian has some sphere of usefulness for which he is qualified, and that he is not qualified for every undertaking, so we think it is possible for him to get into a niche which others are better fitted to occupy, and thus may commit the double mischief of wasting his own energies in a position for which he is unsuited, and keeping another out of the place, who might have been abundantly successful. Every school, small or great, should be well organised, but a mistake at the outset is sometimes disastrous. How many Sabbath-schools have suffered beyond hope of recovery through incompetent rulers ! All the qualifications requisite for a successful superintendent are not often found in one person. A man who rules his own household with discretion and pleasantness may not always be able to guide the affairs of a school with wisdom. The mind must have been somewhat trained to the task: there should be a knowledge of human nature, an aptness to lead, and then a familiarity with details, a skill to grasp all the questions that affect the daily working of the school. It needs a special call to make a superintendent, almost as much as to make a minister. A man may be eloquent at the desk, able to present the church with well-prepared reports, and yet be deficient in those qualifications which command confidence in teachers and obedience in scholars. He may be pious, and yet weak; amiable, and yet over-diffident ; or he may be vigorous, but offensive; stern, and therefore repelling. The last form of fault is usually one which brings the whole business to a dead lock in a short time, for voluntary workers will not long submit to be addressed in a domineering manner.' We have known some cry out for “discipline,” who would not be for a week under certain martinet superintendents without rising in open rebellion. Teachers are often a touchy race, and need great discretion in those who are at their head. A superintendent by either ruling too much or too little may damage the school; and there are always a number of mutinous spirits ready to assist in the operation. Mach, however, must always depend upon him ; for he is the man at the wheel, and to a great degree steers the vessel or lets her drive. His inAuence will be very great, or distressingly small; and in spite of the willinghood of the teachers the school may never flourish when the superintendent is ill-fitted for his office. Our own experience and observation lead us to the conclusion that “it is difficult to raise a Sabbath-school higher than its superintendent.” It is not enough that he be a good teacher; he must be a wise administrator; for his gifts to teach will be brought into requisition at odd times and unexpected moments, and his position as constitutional ruler com pels him to occupy a post in which enthusiasm must be excited and sometimes curbed. Who will deny there is much truth in the following sketch :—The superintendent "does not forget that the whole body of teachers, old and young, will come late if he is late; and that if he is punctual they will all, excepting two or three incorrigibly heedless ones, be punctual too. When he arrives at school, it is understood that he has come with a definite purpose and not to let things straggle along the best way they can. With courteous firmness he goes about the business of the school. He, as pleasantly as possible, corrects what is wrong, according to the best of his ability. By some apparent magic he smooths down the crusty teacher, and quiets the turbulent one.

* Mr. Stock, of Paternoster Row, is the publisher.

He has succeeded in bringing to nought the plans of Mr. Books, the librarian, who in two years had invented fifteen new ways of keeping the library, cach worse than its predecessor. He has quieted Mr. Whimsick, the singing man, who bought all the new flash tune books as soon as published, and insisted that the school should sing them all through. And yet he keeps all these people in a good humour.” We remember one such superintendent in our days of schoolhood : he is now a minister. Of great enthusiasm himself, he could inspire others with a like zeal; the teachers were his hearty friends, the co

operation was mutual and their kind spirit seemed the shadow of his own. His executive ability won respect, and his unfailing skill confidence; bis goodness claimed admiration, and his gentleness excited love. Did not the children like him? for his sake they would obey teachers of less self-control, and greater indulgence; and whenever he had a word to say, all were assured that it would be the right word at the right moment. No aspiring orator who deigned to visit the school, ostensibly to encourage the dear friends, but actually to depress them and talk away all the lessons of the class, was privileged to mount the desk a second time; no critical, sour, church-visitor who must report something, and who felt it his duty to report on anything but that which was pleasing in everyone's eyes, was permitted to dictate, or dishearten the band of workers ; the school was the superintendent's family—he had to provide for their profit and pleasure, and to provide against the numerous accidents which injudiciousness and self-will might bring. And, as a consequence, the school flourished, the children received lessons which they now as grown-up people cherish; and there is still a corner in their memories for him who loved so well the souls of his scholars.

Dr. Todd has ruled that a superintendent should be a man of age. We doubt it. As a rule, the man of earnest piety who is in the strength of his manhood, is better qualified to sympathise with the work of the teacher and to understand his difficulties than even the Christian of hoary head and matured experience. But given the necessary gifts, the question of age may be safely left to take care of itself. Some men are wiser at thirty than others at sixty; and in a position requiring physical endurance, bodily strength is no mean requisite.

We have observed a tendency to lament the fewness of really qualified teachers in Sabbath schools. That there is ground for the complaint we are loth to believe, and that some are most distressingly incompetent is evidenced by the failure of their efforts to secure even the respect of those whom they essay to teach. The common remark is, alas, too true, " These are the best we can get,” for the office of teacher is not always an object of ambition to those who are qualified by nature and by grace for the work. But so far from lamenting, we would rather rejoice that so many thousands of Christian young men and women, who have to labour hard during the week, should consecrate the Day of Rest to the still harder work of Sunday-school instruction. Perhaps, however, much of the lack of teachers so commonly deplored in large cities, proceeds from an unhealthy desire to be engaged in other and more conspicuous work. Every city pastor will call to remembrance cases in which young men well qualified for the instruction of growing lads, aspire after street and mission preaching, for which their talents are not well adapted. Exhortations to Christian work need to be somewhat guarded, and it is but kindness plainly to dissuade many from attempting work requiring, not a higher, perhaps, but a more singular kind of ability. It is a mistake to suppose that the work of the evangelist is more honourable than that of a teacher. “The teacher," says a popular writer, “occupies a position midway between the fireside and the palpit. The teachers are the pastor's assistants in the work of God. They aim

at the same object as himself. They are pastors in miniature ; they are feeding their future flocks in embryo; they are moulding the generation to come. They are the pastor's right arm. Without them and their labours, however stupendous his abilities, and whatever his industry, he must always come immeasurably short of the results otherwise attainable.”

It has never been a question with us that all teachers ought to be converted persons, and should be members of churches. Their work is a Christian ministry, and for it piety-warm and deep-is essential. Archbishop Leighton observed that å minister's life is the life of his ministry, and this is no less applicable to the ministry which the teacher espouses, which is lesser in degree only, not in kind. Decided piety there ought to be in each person, but we question the wisdom of peremptorily rejecting in every case those of whom we may be hopeful, because they have not as yet openly professed Christ. We would hope that the desire to be of service in this good work is the fruit of an intelligent affection for the truths of God. Pious feeling there must be in any before they can fitly impart religious truths to the young

There are two great evils in Sunday-school work which operate sadly against its success ; namely, want of constancy and punctuality in teachers. How a teacher can expect to achieve his desire if his place be often filled by a stranger, it is not easy to say. For a minister so to act would be disastrous to any church; it is equally bad in a teacher and damaging to his labours. Inconstancy in the teacher leads to indifference and irregularity on the part of the best disposed child; while no impression of the instructor's earnestness can be left on the scholar's mind. For his own sake we would counsel constancy of service. Fickleness fritters away the best motives and renders worthless the most zealous effort. The inconstant teacher not only undoes that which he has succeeded in doing, but loses all the results which perseverance would have secured. The mischief wrought by want of punctuality is equally grievous. This is an evil due mainly to want of thought, and not of heart. Time for Christian labour is at any season precious; each moment when children are waiting for instruction is golden. Such opportunities are too valuable to be lightly diminished by minutes of disorderly "waiting for teacher." Every teacher should regard these two points of constancy and punctuality as indispensable to his fulfilling his duty with decency, much more with suecess. Whatever may be the weather, the children who attend will hardly make excuses for a teacher's absence, and there will be the feeling that if a child could be in class, there could scarcely be a sufficiently cogent reason for the absence of the grown-up instructor. Some teachers cannot pledge themselves to this, and for tant of others the superintendent is compelled to accept their assistance; there are uses to which these maimed soldiers can be put, but they are the irregulars in the army, and can be treated only as reserves.

Much has been recently said upon the increasing necessity for diligent painstaking preparation for the class. It has been urged that the growing intelligence of the present day, and the changes which the New Education Act will effect, demand a different and a higher kind of teaching. If this kind of tall talk were to be echoed by pastors and superintendents, some of the most useful teachers we know might be disposed, in sheer fright, to relinquish their efforts altogether. Everyone's ideal of pulpit excellence should be high; and the ideal of instruction in the Sabbath-school ought to be proportionately elevated; there should be special preparation for the class, and the best training which can be given by the Teachers' Bible Meeting ; but if in this desire for more learned teachers, the great object of the Sunday school movement be forgotten-namely, the conversion of the little ones, the pressing home upon the heart and conscience the simple truths of Christ's gospel the change will become a snare. We feel sure that all that is needed is to make as much use as time will permit of the many helps which are within the humblest teacher's reach. The lesson papers, the cheap commentaries, the many publications which explain the customs of Oriental nations, furnish all that a teacher, even in the higher classes, can possibly need. Let the teacher seek by these or other aids, to understand the chapters to be read in the class, and there will be no lack of interest. À St. Louis minister gives on this point some useful advice : “Take the subject early in the week. Think about it. Pray over it. Let it undergo the process of incubation, and by the time you have brooded over it a week it will be warm in your own heart, and be presented warm, fresh, and glowing to your scholars' hearts. Gather illustrations. Jot down incidents in your note book-incidents occurring in the home circle, in the street, everywhere. Consider your children-their habits, characters, circumstances—that you may know what things will most impress them. Adapt your teaching-concentrate. Take out the one cardinal thought of the lesson, and press it upon the mind and heart. Study the art of questioning, but never take the question-book into the class. Close the lesson with your best and strongest thought. Keep the best to the last. In brief, get the lesson, impart the lesson, impress the lesson.” Some fail in attempting too much, others in imparting too little; but he who prayerfully keeps his end in view is not likely to miss it. Teachers should be pre-eminently men and women of prayer; without it, they will not gain renewed strength to meet discouragements, or see those fruits of their labours which constitute their best reward.

The evil most intolerable to a child is that of dulness. The teacher ought not to be dull, for the heaviest mind may surely, by due care and perseverance, conquer its prosiness. What a change may be observed in the countenances of children when a dull teacher surrenders his class for an afternoon to a more lively brother! The children are wide awake and volatile, and it goads them to desperation to see a yawning teacher fulfilling his duties in a perfunctory manner. It is a punishment for them to remain under such control : the hours are dreary, the teaching a bore, and the school-room a prison, where they are kept for awhile in close confinement, because it is Sunday. Many schemes have been suggested to secure the interest of the children, but unless the interest be in the teacher all means will fail. The man must gain the heart and the willing ear, and the children, so far from complaining of weariness, will only regret the shortness of the school hours. Our female friends are more successful here than our brethren, because, as a rule, they have more tact and life, a nimbler

« AnteriorContinuar »