teacher, whatever may be his talents or
acquirements, even though long practice has made him
familiar with the Bible, and given him facility in
expressing his ideas, ought to neglect the study of
his weekly lessons. The wisest -man has much to
learn from the wisdom of the Bible; and the most
skilful teacher will be the first to confess that he
knows but little, as he ought to know, of the way of
Extempore teaching is, we believe, far from being
uncommon. Some excuse for it is to be found in the
circumstances of the teachers. Their limited means
of procuring books, and their still more limited
time for perusing them, prevent them from making
their preparation so thorough as the importance of
their duties would require. But, after making
sufficient allowances for these adverse
circumstances, we fear there is a large amount of
blame resting on teachers. Instead of solemnly
setting apart a portion of their leisure hours for
the examination of their lesson, and taking
advantage of all the helps which they have at
command, some trust to their fluency, others to the
information they can collect at the teachers'
meeting, and others to the notes on the lesson which
they have bought, and which they retail as they find
them in the book.
extempore teaching is nearly as objectionable as
extempore preaching. The word taught is the same,
and the souls to whom the teacher speaks are as
precious as those addressed by the minister. Were a
minister to open his Bible at his text, without
having mastered its meaning, and, without previous
thought, to attempt to expound it to his people, how
long would he be popular? how long would he be
useful1? Vagueness, diffuseness, repetition, and a
want of freshness, are the invariable results of
extempore teaching. The Word of God is too precious
to be handled so carelessly, and it is not fit that
an immortal and perishing soul should merely have
the first words that come to hand. We need not
wonder that such teaching yields little fruit. Have
we sown sparingly, and shall we not reap sparingly?
When we mingled so much chaff with the wheat, shall
we wonder that but little grows.
teacher who habitually neglects to study his lesson,
will soon degenerate. The cistern that is always
letting out and taking little in, will very soon be
dry. He is an ill mower who never whets his scythe;
he spoils both his work and his weapon. The
unstudious teacher making little progress himself,
his scholars will make less. Ten years hence, you
shall find him pursuing the same well-worn track of
thought, quoting the same texts of Scripture, and
telling the same stories. The habit of teaching
remains, but he has lost interest in it. When
persons so willingly devote the study of years to a
business or an accomplishment, why will they grudge
one or two hours a-week to prepare themselves more
fully for the service of heaven?
excuse of want of time is true only to a limited
extent. We believe some of those who are most
engrossed during the week, are most conscientious in
their preparations. Let us improve the time we
really have, and we shall not be called to account
for what we did not possess. Let us give the lesson
a first place, to which all lesser things must give
way, and it will be studied. Let us only be misers
of knowledge, and though we gather it in halfpence
and farthings, we shall eventually be rich.
from neglecting to study that there is so much vague
teaching. There is a sort of general indeterminate
way of speaking, which has no apparent object. Every
sentence in itself is simple and easily understood;
but we cannot discover what the teacher would be at.
What he says is all pious, and, in its own way,
useful enough, but it is totally destitute of point.
He makes no progress. His last remarks might have
been as appropriate at the beginning of the lesson
as at the close; they have no special reference to
the subject in hand, and little application to the
particular class to whom they are addressed. The law
and the gospel, addresses to saints and sinners, are
intermingled without order; and it is evident at
every stage of the lesson, that the teacher has
never grappled with the truth which his subject
illustrates, or understood in what way it was
calculated to benefit his hearers.
cure for this error is to master the lesson, and
have a distinct object to gain in teaching it.
Though a person should understand his lesson, yet,
if he does not concentrate his information about it
upon a point, he merely lays his knowledge at the
door of the mind, and is not likely to effect an
entrance. The impression cannot he more distinct
than the stamp. We cannot communicate views more
distinct than we ourselves possess. A sailor never
speaks vaguely about the different parts of a ship,
nor a tradesman about his handicraft. If we knew the
Bible as intimately as they know their professions,
we should hear less of vague teaching. Persons are
vague only in speaking of what they do not clearly
Another error, the result of want of preparation or
misdirected study, is superficiality. Superficiality
sometimes passes current as good teaching under the
name of simplicity. In this simple mode of
instruction, mental effort on the part of teachers
or scholars is not thought of. The plan of teaching
is to take every sentence as it stands in the Bible,
and treat it as if it stood alone, and the lesson
had no general subject; and the matter of the
teaching is an occasional explanatory remark, with a
few passing reflections. Thus we have seen the
second chapter of Luke's Gospel taught in this
way:What does the angels appearing to the shepherds
teach us? That we should not despise the poor. What
does the song of the angels teach us? To glorify God
for our salvation. What does the conduct of the
shepherds in coming with haste teach us? To obey the
commandments of God. What do we learn from the
shepherds making-known the saying? To make known the
coming of our Lord. No attempt was made to give the
children a true conception of the grace of our Lord
in becoming man, or to awaken their hearts to the
lofty strain of the angels' jubilee song.
mode of teaching sometimes degenerates into a mere
play of words, as in this passage, "God is just."
What is God? He is just. Who is just? God; and so
the sentence is ended. But the child has not made
one step in religious knowledge by the questions,
for he remains as ignorant as before of the nature
of justice. Or let the sentence be, "Except ye
repent, ye shall all likewise perish." The questions
asked are, What are we to do? To repent. Who are to
repent? All. Why are we to repent? Lest we perish.
It is obvious that our first business ought rather
to be, to explain fully what repentance is, and that
then we should press on our scholars the duty of
repentance. The simple questions noted above suggest
very little to their minds.
the example from Luke, cited above, the lessons,
from the way in which they are put, have not justice
done to them. We shall never make a person know the
value of the truth that comes before him, by merely
pointing out that one thing is good, and another
bad, or that certain doctrines are taught in certain
passages of the Bible. Bare statements, that one man
is holy, and another wicked; that Job was the most
patient man, Moses the meekest, and Samson the
strongest; or that one event teaches humility,
another honesty, and another prayerful-nesshave no
moral power. A lesson, or inference, should be the
conclusion we draw from an attentive consideration
of all the circumstances of a case. If such
consideration has not been given, our lesson,
whether true or false, is of no value, because it is
not accompanied with conviction. For example, if you
place these three sentences before a childCain
killed AbelJael killed SiseraDavid killed
Goliathhe will draw the same inference from them
all. Before a person can draw a lesson aright, he
must understand the facts, and have a standard
before him to which they are applied. An intelligent
apprehension of the object of teaching, and the
meaning of the passage of Scripture, is the best
remedy for superficiality.
third error, the result of the same neglect of
study, is untextual teaching. When a person has not
a firm hold of his subject, he is easily seduced
from it by an accidental association. We have heard
a person teach the doctrine of original sin, from
the text, Thou shalt not steal. When his knowledge
of the lesson is slight, he is compelled to wander
in search of matter into other fields, which,
however, soon become exhausted. We say to all
teachers, keep to your text, study it at home, go
richly laden to school with its treasures, and the
brief hour will appear too short for all the fresh
thought you have to communicate.
us now see in what manner a lesson ought to be
studied. Here let us first give one preliminary
direction, to inexperienced teachers.
inexperienced teacher who feels at a loss how to
proceed with the study of his lesson, should
commence with the first word, and go carefully over
the lesson word by word, and clause by clause,
asking himself as he goes along, Do I know the
meaning of this? Am I able to explain this? What
illustration would be proper here? What lessons does
this teach me? In this way he will accumulate a
large amount of material, and will gradually learn a
more direct way of arranging his thoughts.
exampleRom. v. 1, "Being justified by faith, we
have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Here the words justify, faith, justification by
faith, peace, peace with God, peace through Christ,
demand separate examination; and the teacher should
satisfy himself that he can communicate his ideas of
these things as clearly as he knows them himself.
Another example may be given from 1 Sam. iii. 1,
"And the child Samuel ministered, unto the Lord
before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in
those days; there was no open vision." The teacher
should ask himself, What must I tell about Samuel to
my scholars? In what way did he minister to the
Lord? Will the children know what ministering means?
Who was Eli? How shall I explain what is meant by
the word of the Lord being precious? Would it be a
suitable reference to speak of the number of Bibles
in our own country? Must I tell the children what
the word of the Lord is? What is meant by open
vision? Let him make himself his own scholar, as it
were, till he gains experience. The teacher who
commences ill this painstaking way, will soon find
his path brightening before him. When the lesson is
to be studied more thoroughly, there are three
directions which may be attended to:
The first thing to which the teacher must turn his
attention in studying his lesson, is to discover its
general bearing. Let him try to find out its drift,
the grand lessons it teaches, the current of thought
that runs through it. When this has been discovered,
he has then the subject of his lesson before him.
For example, in the fourth commandment, our subject
is, "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy." This
is the turning point of the commandment, of which
the remainder is merely reasons and illustrations.
the passage, "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes
he became poor, that ye through his poverty might
become rich;" the principal thought is the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ, and upon this should our
illustrations of Christ's poverty and riches hinge.
again, in the parable of the prodigal son, the love
of the father is the great lesson of the first part,
and must stand out as the terminating point of our
person, when he has settled the subject of his
lesson in this way, has before his eyes a definite
purpose to serve. Instead of occupying himself with
unconnected explanations, pious but pointless
reflections, and haphazard questions, he tries, we
shall say, on that day, and by that one lesson, to
convince the children of the value of their souls,
or the evils of hypocrisy, or the holiness of God,
or the happiness of heaven; something at least
important and tangible. Instead of wandering at
random wherever the impulse of association or the
answers of the children may lead him, his subject is
a helm to his thoughts, and guides them steadily to
a point. He tries to lodge one or two great truths
in the minds of his scholars; and this distinctness
of purpose gives method and clearness to every part
of the lesson. Both teacher and scholars know what
they are about, and where they are at.
Having ascertained the scope of the lesson, the next
step is to draw out apian of teaching it. This plan
ought to be nothing more than an outline of the
natural divisions of the passage of Scripture.
example. Matthew vi. 25-34. The chief lesson in this
passage is manifestly the evil of anxiety about
worldly things. This, then, we term the title of the
passage; and the following are the arguments by
which it is enforced, each of which is one of the
heads of a lesson.
Because He who gave man life, and formed his body,
has not neglected provision for his support, verse
Because if God feeds the birds, shall he not feed us
1 verse 26.
Because anxiety will not prolong our lives, verse
Because if God array the short-lived flower so
beautifully, lie will far more clothe us who are
rational and immortal, verses 28-30.
Because anxiety will degrade us to mere worldlings,
Because our Father knows we need subsistence, verse
Because if we seek religion first, we shall gain the
world also, verse 33.
Because every day has enough to do with its own
sorrows, and what we have to concern ourselves with
is present duty, verse 34.
Second example. Rev. vii. 9,10. The general subject
of these verses is the condition of the redeemed. We
Their numbers.A great multitude.
Their variety.Of all nations and kindreds.
Their attitude.They stood before the throne.
Their dress.They were clothed with white robes.
Their employment.They cried with a loud voice, &c.
example. What is justification? (Shorter Catechism.)
The nature of justification.1st, We are pardoned.
2d, We are treated as if we were righteous.
The ground of justification.The righteousness of
Christ is imputed to us.
The manner in which we obtain justification.By
The source of justification.The free grace of Cod.
Fourth example. Luke xiii. 6-9. The barren fig-tree.
Our privileges.We are planted in a garden. Here
should be taught the superiority of this country to
heathen lands, the care that has been taken of us,
the Bibles, Sabbaths, teachers, and friends we have
had to instruct us, and the like.
Our duty.God expects us to bring forth fruit. Here
enumerate the principal duties which are required of
us, as faith, love, and obedience.
Our unfruitfulness.Here describe the sins of which
we are guilty, and the manner in which our time and
talents, but especially our affections, are allowed
to run waste.
God's displeasure.Cut it down; why cumbereth it the
ground ? Under this head we might warn the scholars
by examples, such as that of Jonah's address to the
Nine-vites, of Daniel to Belteshazzar, and of Christ
to the church of Ephesus.
God's forbearance.Let it alone this year also. Here
we should enlarge on the many years during which God
has spared us.
The reason of his forbearance.If it bear fruit,
well. Shew here that every hour and every year we
live is to give us time for repentance.
The limits of his forbearance.If not, then after
that thou shalt cut it down. Here let us prove, that
if we have not sought God on earth, we shall not be
able to find him afterwards.
example. Hebrews xii. 1, 2.
The race the Christian is to run.Under this head we
should describe the life of a Christian.
The preparation for the race.1st, He is to lay
aside every weightthat is, to keep out of
temptation. 2d, He is to put off his besetting sin.
The manner in which he is to run the race.With
patience, or perseverance.
The model after which he is to run.Looking to
The motives which should cheer him.He is compassed
about with a great cloud of witnesses.
to be observed, that these plans or outlines are not
intended to be an artificial framework into which
the different parts of the lesson are to be
violently forced; they are the real framework,
separated from the incidents appended to them. Until
a person rightly unwinds what may be called the clue
of thought, he cannot teach any passage of Scripture
in its entireness.
a plan like the above has been sketched, the teacher
has a clear channel, in which his thoughts may run.
He knows not only the main lesson, but the steps by
which he is to reach it; and instead of teaching in
the dark, he teaches intelligently.
The next step is to provide sufficient materials for
illustrating the lesson. It must be a principal care
of the teacher to make his instructions substantial.
Good thought is the basis of good teaching.
Knowledge is the food of the soul, and is equally
necessary for children as for adults, though it may
be differently prepared. Many teachers starve their
scholars, from underrating their capacities. All our
materials should be ranged under their respective
heads, and carefully conned over until the teacher
is familiar with them, so that his texts and
illustrations shall spontaneously present themselves
when required, as the parties in a procession
silently assume their places when every one knows
his turn. It is a great matter to have one's tools
in good order. A story should be told with spirit,
and a text quoted accurately, fluently, and at the
recommend teachers not to delay the examination of
their lessons till the end of the week, lest they
study them hurriedly and superficially. When we
study the Bible, we should always ask what it says
difficulty may be suggested, that though a plan of
teaching be drawn out, yet, from the ignorance,
stupidity, or wilfulness of the children, it cannot
be followed. We find one child who refuses to answer
our questions, and another who gives an entirely
wrong answer, and we are obliged to step aside to
accommodate ourselves to their circumstances. To a
certain extent this difficulty must be admitted; but
if there is so much temptation to stray from the
passage, is there not the more need for a guide
through it? Our outline need not be so inflexible as
to refuse to bend to the necessities of the scholars
but neither must the teacher be so facile, as to
yield to every interruption to his thoughts. He must
bear himself like a man passing along a crowded
street, who is forced now to incline to the right,
and now to the left, and may occasionally be brought
to a momentary halt, but who resolutely pushes his
way to his destination. A little practice will teach
the scholars to follow his line of thought, which is
preferable to the teacher following theirs.
well thought, well arranged lesson, possesses very
many advantages over an extempore lesson. It is much
richer in material, and much deeper in sentiment.
The orderly manner in which the particulars are
ranged make them memorable, and, above all, the
lesson possesses unity. Union is power, both in the
world of matter and in the world of mind. When a
number of soldiers march over a suspension bridge,
lest the bridge should be brought down by their
tread they are obliged to be put off step; yet how
trifling the effect of the footsteps of a single
soldier! This proves the force of united action. So,
when all the divisions, texts, and illustrations,
are marshalled in regular order, their moral power
must be proportionably great.
preparation over, let us now view the teacher with