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The Sabbath School and Bible Teaching
Illustration


The word illustration we use in a wide sense, to embrace everything necessary, after the explanation of the terms of a lesson, to its further elucidation. We have hitherto been occupied merely with the language in which truth is clothed; we now come to the mode of representing the truth itself. Illustration, in this extended sense, is teaching, properly so called. Having broken the shell of truth, the teacher must now give his scholars its kernel.

We would here remind our readers of what we have already said of the necessity of coming to the class with a well-furnished mind. Our first care is not about the style of teaching, or the mode in which our views are to be conveyed to the minds of others, but about the truth itself. If our principal aim is to make our lessons interesting, whilst we neglect to make them instructive, we fall far short of our duty. Good matter, and matter suitably taught, are alike necessary. Unless our lessons have sufficient substance, no animation can give them weight. They may please, but they cannot impress. If, on the other hand, they are deficient in life and spirit, no solidity can give them power. But while the substance of a lesson is our first care, the manner of teaching is scarcely less important.

There is a system of teaching which may be called the intellectual, in which children are taught as if they were all intellect, and as if a subject, on being stated, defended, and proved to them, must effect every purpose for which it was designed. It is cold, hard, and unsympathising, and is little calculated, we fear, to teach either the love of the gospel, or the beauty or the terrors of the law. What must a child think of the doctrine of future punishment, for example, who has had it taught in a tone as if the teacher's great object were to prove that his views on it were sound ? and who hears a solemn text quoted, such as "The wages of sin is death," merely as a triumphant demonstration of his position 1

The prime object of teaching is not to give children information, but to bring them under the influence of the truth they are taught. If the sole attention of the teacher is bestowed upon the dry bones of instruction, and the lesson fails in consequence to awaken the sympathies of the learner, it wants one of the principal elements of a good lesson. The mere communication of knowledge is not teaching, unless the feeling or spirit which pervaded the knowledge is communicated along with it. In transplanting a tree, we must transplant it living. If we narrate a melancholy incident in such a way that our hearers are not moved to pity, we have not told the story properly, even though we may not have omitted one particular, and though our narrative has been quite accurate; while a less accurate account, imbued with more feeling, would be a truer representation of it, because of its possessing the spirit which the other wanted. The more accurately, indeed, that we depict the details, our description will be the more faithful; but no accuracy of incident or costume will atone for want of life. The principal object of a merry tale is to excite mirth, of an engaging story to interest, and of a moral tale to instruct; but if they fail in effecting these several purposes, the failure is fatal, though other useful purposes should flow from them; for they have not effected the end for which they were told. This principle is equally true in religious matters. Religious instruction is intended to produce contrition, humility, faith, love, and holiness; and we never teach religion properly, unless we exhibit it in a manner calculated to bring our scholars under the influence of these graces. We may have taught much information about religion, but we have not brought them face to face with religion itself. We might, for example, detail to a child the character and attributes of God with accuracy; we might teach him all the names of God, and supply him with Bible illustrations of each of his attributes; yet, if through our fault the child had not been impressed with the glory of the character of God as a whole, we had in a great measure missed our aim. If these remarks are true, then it must be a principal object with a teacher to make his lessons interesting. What does not interest, cannot influence. It is a serious mistake to make religious instruction dry.

To make this more evident, let the following examples of two modes of stating the same things be examined :—

God made light merely by commanding it to be.

The condition of the covenant of works was Adam's perfect obedience.

Pay your devotions to your Creator. —
(From
Simple Maxims for Children.')

God said, Let there be light, and there was light.

Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

While in the above examples we have stated substantially the same things, how differently do they affect the mind? We see, then, that it is as needful to imbue our lessons with life, as to make them substantial.

Yet different lessons must be taught in different modes. We must endeavour to imbue every lesson with its own spirit. Descriptions must be made picturesque; devotional lessons be filled with feeling; and when an object is to prove some great truth, clearness, precision, and good arrangement are what must be principally sought after. If our lesson is, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters," it must be bold and earnest. But if it is the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, how soft and tender should our instruction be ! A few examples of the different ways in which the spirit as well as the substance of a subject may be preserved and communicated, will be useful. It will be observed they are not particularly designed for children.

"Man's, chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever."—(Shorter Catechism.)

"Those who can look with dry eyes on others' sins, never truly mourned for their own."—(Bishop Hall.)

Prayer.—"Were men to hear the voice of God and conscience, they would not remain speechless; but they that are born deaf are always dumb."—(Baxter.)

Property.;—"Property is like snow, which, though it were level to-day, would be blown into wreaths to-morrow."

The Religions of Man and the Religion of God.— "Humanity hath separated itself from God. The storms of passion have broken the mysterious cable which retained the vessel in port. Shaken to its base, and feeling itself driven upon unknown seas, it seeks to rebind itself to the shore; it endeavours to renew its broken strands; it makes a desperate effort to re-establish those connexions without which it cannot have either piece or security. In the midst of its greatest wanderings, humanity never loses the idea of its origin and destiny; a dim recollection of its ancient harmony pursues and agitates it; and without renouncing its passions, without ceasing to love sin, it longs to re-attach its being, full of darkness and misery, to something luminous and peaceful, and its fleeting life to something immovable and eternal. In a word, God has never ceased to be the want of the human race. Alas! their homage wanders from its proper object, their worship becomes depraved, their piety itself is impious; the religions which cover the earth are an insult to the unknown God who is their object. But in the midst of these monstrous aberrations, a sublime instinct is revealed; and each of these false religions is a painful cry of the soul, torn from its centre and separated from its object. It is a despoiled existence, which, in seeking to clothe itself, seizes upon the first rags it finds; it is a disordered spirit, which, in the ardour of its thirst, plunges, all panting, into fetid and troubled waters; it is an exile, who, in seeking the road to his native land, buries himself in frightful deserts."— (Yinet's Vital Christianity.')

A Beautiful Night.—
"All was so calm and still, on earth and air,
You scarce would start to meet a spirit there;
Secure that nought of evil would delight
To walk in such a scene on such a night."

Heaven.—
"Oh, happy, happy country! where
There entereth not a sin,
And death that keeps the portals fair,
May never once come in."

The Fiery Serpents.—"Well, I told you that the cloud stopped, and then I saw a camel come up, and it kneeled down, and then the people that were near took something off the camel's back; for they could reach them, you know, when the camel kneeled down. Should you like me to tell you what they took off the camel's back? Well, I cannot tell you everything that they took off, but I can tell you some things. First, they took off a great stake, and drove it down into the ground, this way; then they took off another stake and drove it into the ground, in that way; then they took off another, and another, and drove them into the ground; so they had got a stake in each corner: well, then, they put four more stakes across from one stake to another, like that; then they threw a great cloth over the stakes, and fastened it down to the ground at the sides; then they could creep under it, couldn't they?—would not that be nice?—and do you know what they would call that? "A tent." Yes; and then the children could creep under the tent, and the father and the mother, and they could be all so comfortable. Now, you know it would not be always day, would it? so at night it was very comfortable to have this tent to sleep in. But I should have told you that there was more than one tent there; there were a great many tents; and they were all put in a row as our houses are put in a row; and then there was another row opposite to it; so it was like a street with tents on each side.

"Well, the people were all fast asleep in their tents, when all at once I heard a scream, and I saw a woman running out of her tent, and she was running away from a serpent, that was just the colour of fire :—then I saw a great many people all running out of their tents, and they were all screaming so dreadfully; and when they got out of their tents they found that there were serpents in the grass too, and there were serpents everywhere around them, and these serpents began to bite the people : and you might have seen one man with a serpent on his arm, and another man with a serpent on his leg, and another on his back, and another on his shoulder, and another on his hand : and then, after a while, you would have seen this man swell all over, and fall down and die; and you might have seen a mother trying to hold her baby up in her hand, as high as she could, that the serpents might not reach it; but at last, a serpent got hold of the mother's arm; and then, you know, she could not hold up the dear little baby; so it fell among the serpents that covered the ground, and they both began to swell, and they would not live long."—(Curwen.)

We think, in all these cases, the writer has succeeded in transferring to the minds of his readers, not only his thoughts, but his feelings. He strikes the very chord that was vibrating in his own breast; and it is, in a great measure, to the mode of expressing his thoughts that he is indebted for this result. Were teachers to gain this power of imbuing their lessons with life,-a power which can neither be analysed nor described, but which every one can feel, it would increase the value of religious instruction many fold.

Let us now offer a few directions as to The Mode of Illustration. The nature of teaching, which consists so much of the contact of mind with mind, makes it impossible to prescribe any rules by which a person may infallibly become a good teacher. A teacher, any more than

"A poet, does not work by square and line,
As smiths and joiners perfect a design."

We can only remind our readers of a few principles by whose light they should be guided in their instructions.

1. Let a teacher endeavour to adapt himself to the mental and moral condition of his class. A lesson may be excellent in itself, and yet be very ill suited to the children to whom it is addressed. Now we are to estimate teaching, not by the amount or the quality of what the teacher has spoken, but by what the children have taken in. They have been taught only so much as they understand or feel. "Teaching," says Mr Curwen, "is the act of taking an idea out of your own mind, and putting it into the minds of your scholars." The teacher should put himself in the place of his scholars, and imagine, as far as he can, what are their knowledge, feelings, or prejudices. He should ask himself, Were I in the class, would this which I am now saying interest me? Would I understand it? Would it tell on my mind? A little practice in this self-examinatory process, will compensate for that fine tact which some individuals have by nature, by which they know instinctively how to adapt themselves to their audience.

The spiritual condition of our scholars should be attentively studied. A converted and an unconverted, child require different treatment. Let us neither "break the bruised reed," nor say "peace, where there is no peace." The Rev. Andrew Fuller sorrowfully remarks in his diary, "Visited a dying woman to-day. Found how little of my preaching suited her case."

2. The teacher must be simple. Simplicity can only be attained, first, by the teacher's thoughts being well arranged, so that they follow each other in their natural order. If number three occupies the place of number two, there can be no simplicity. Secondly, by his teaching only one thing at a time.—Thus, if the subject is argumentative, take pains to fix what the argument is, before bringing forward one proof in its support; and let the first argument be fully understood before adducing another. Or if it is the qualities of a subject you are discussing, do not heap them on each other; never allow them to tread on each other's heels, unwind your ideas from your own mind at the same rate they are taken up by your scholars. Never let the thread of thought become ravelled.

3. Exhibit the same subjects in different aspects. Every new aspect of a truth that we discover, is almost equivalent to the discovery of a new truth. We have not seen the beauties of a diamond till we have seen it on all sides and in different lights. It was a new view of God's omnipotence that he gave to Moses, when, in answer to his objections, he said, "Who hath made man's mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord?" An example of the benefits of amplification may be given from an address on the omniscience of God. This we might discourse of to a child' in the following manner:—

"Mary, do you know that God knows all things? He saw Adam and Eve when they hid themselves in the trees of the garden. He saw Moses when he lay in his little ark by the side of the river. He saw Timothy when his mother taught him to read the Bible. He sees every person in the world just now. You know in Africa there are a great many millions of men and women; they are black. They are called negroes. God sees them all, and he sees the missionaries who are there teaching them God's Word; and at the very same moment he sees all the people of this country, and every person in this town. He sees you, Mary. He saw you when you were a little babe in your cradle; he sees you at all your plays, and in the school; he knows what you say and what you think; he sees every tear that falls from your eye, and every smile that plays on your cheek; he hears you singing his praises; and when you pray, Mary, God listens to everything that you ask; and when you lie down, and the room is dark and still, and there is nothing moving but your pulse, and nothing heard but your breathing, then God sees you, for 'the darkness and the light are both alike to him.'"

In the above specimen there has been no progress made beyond the very first thought, "God is omniscient but then it has been associated with a great many circumstances before unthought of, and will occupy quite a different space in the child's mind. We need scarcely say that this example is intended only to illustrate the advantage of presenting the same subject in new lights. The extent to which it should be carried must be left to the good sense of the teachers. It is only when the idea is important that it can bear much expansion: gold only can be beaten out very thin.

4. Be minute. A teacher's mind should be like a daguerreotype, which not only exhibits the outlines faithfully, but the most minute particulars. The graphic power of Scripture history is, in a great measure, owing to the minuteness of the detail. Instead of telling us in general terms what occurred, or narrating it in the third person, we see the individuals themselves, and hear them speaking. Thus, in the history of Elijah, 1 Kings xvii. 8-16, instead of being told, in modern style, that on Elijah coming to Zarephath, he saw a woman at the gate, of whom he asked a little water, it is said, "When he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow woman was there gathering of sticks; and he called to her, and said, "Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink."

In our Lord's parables there is the same minute and faithful pictorial description. Thus, in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is described in this manner: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day."

It needs taste, however, and what we may call an artistic eye, to know what particulars to select, and how to group them for effect. The particulars selected must always be characteristic, and they must be so arranged as not to obtrude themselves, but give effect to the point or moral of the description.

5. Lessons should be illustrated by numerous Scripture references—"Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart." They are profitable for all purposes, "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Teachers should not trust to their memories, but seek out fresh texts for every lesson. If this is neglected, there will be a few stock texts which, in a short time, like sixpences which have passed through a great many hands, will have the impression almost worn out.

6. Lessons should be illustrated by historical examples. Facts are the best teachers of principles. What a powerful illustration, for instance, of the crime of breaking the fifth commandment, is to be seen in the life and fate of Absalom! and what a comment on the tenth commandment is Ahab's conduct towards Naboth!

7. A free use should be made of imaginative illustrations. It is well when a teacher, fully acquainted with his Bible and his lesson, abandons himself to the impulses of his mind, and teaches freely, using whatever illustrations either his memory or his fancy may suggest.

There is a crampedness and formality in our religious instructions that are extremely prejudicial. Our minds are kept in fetters by the supposed necessity of repeating a certain number of theological words, and proving, in an authorised way, so many abstract doctrines. Instead of religious teaching being the most simple, direct, and earnest thing in the world, it is frozen into impotence by technicalities, and the fear of diverging one step from the beaten path; and all sense of the reality of our dootrines is often lost in the rigid, lifeless aspect in which they are presented. Now, religious teaching should, above all things, be natural. It is one sinner pleading with another sinner to flee from the wrath to come. A story, an anecdote, a simile, a parable, framed if need be for the occasion, should be given with the same spontaneous freedom as in illustrating any subject about which we are very much in earnest in daily life. The mind should take a wide range, and lay all nature under contribution to "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour."

Historical examples and imaginative illustrations are not only useful, they are absolutely necessary to good teaching, and as much pains should be taken with them as with the substance of the lesson itself. Of their uses, we shall name three.

(1.) They make the subject more engaging. They are the spices which give it a relish. Food would probably be nearly as nutritious were we to give up the use of salt, but its insipidity would destroy all pleasure in tasting it.

(2.) They make a subject more memorable. There can be little doubt that, as a general rule, the memory of the imagination is livelier than the memory of the intellect, or of any other part of the mind except the heart. The imagination has the same place in the faculties that the eye has among the senses. We remember what we see, much more distinctly than what we hear, smell, taste, or touch. When a subject has been impressed upon the imagination, it never fails to be frequently brought up before the other faculties, and that in a very vivid manner.

(3.) Illustrations are a great help to the meaning of a lesson. The principle on which they proceed is that of analogy, to explain something unknown, or imperfectly understood, by what is well known. It will be necessary to give an example or two.

In Mark's Gospel, chap, xi., we find that Jesus sent two of his disciples to bring away a colt for him to ride on, without asking the leave of the owner. The explanation is easy. Our Lord had very possibly made some previous arrangement with the owner, or he was so well acquainted with him that this freedom was an ordinary circumstance. No difficulty would be felt with this explanation ; but it might, help to give it completeness were we to illustrate it by the case of a man who, going into his brother's house, and not finding him at home, took away a book he wished to look at without asking permission. They would feel there was no impropriety in the conduct.

The following illustration of the necessity of a change of heart, we think very happy; it is from a popular preacher:—

Taking out his watch, he addresses the children thus: "Suppose my watch were not going well, would it do it any good were I to go to the town-clock, and take out my key, and make the hands of the watch to point the same as those of the clock? You know this would do no good, for the hands would soon be as far wrong as ever. I must send my watch to the watchmaker, that he may put its heart right, and then the hands will go right too. So it is with you, children. You must first get your heart put right, then your hands will go right, and your feet and all will go right."

Again, we might illustrate the evil of sin, by the following comparison:—"Suppose I were going along a street, and were to dash my hand through a large pane of glass, what harm would I receive?" "You would be punished for breaking the glass." "Would that be all the harm I should receive?" "Your hand would be cut by the glass." "Yes; and so it is with sin. If you break God's laws, you shall be punished for breaking them, and your soul is hurt by the very act of breaking them."

Or suppose we had been teaching the duty of setting the affections on the things which are above, an advanced class would understand the following illustration :—

If you will go to the banks of a little stream, and watch the flies that come to bathe in it, you will notice, that while they plunge their bodies in the water, they keep their wings high out of the water; and after swimming about a little while, they fly away with their wings unwet through the sunny air. Now, that is a lesson for us. Here we are immersed in the cares and business of the world; but let us keep the wings of our soul, our faith and our love, out of the world, that, with these unclogged, we may be ready to take our flight to heaven.

Perhaps some teachers may he discouraged by seeing such a demand made for illustration, and may begin to question their ability to teach, seeing their powers of comparison and illustration are so small. But, in the first place, the faculty of illustration can be cultivated like any other faculty. If a person keeps his eye on the common occurrences of the week, or notes down anything remarkable in his reading, he may supply himself with numerous simple illustrations. One figure will suggest another; for a mind searching after any particular kind of knowledge, draws to itself, by a mysterious sympathy, the kind of nourishment most suited to its wants.

But, secondly; though fancy is extremely valuable to a teacher, it is not indispensable. Its want may, in a great measure, be supplied by an extensive acquaintance with the emblems and history of the Bible. Perhaps there is not one sin or duty, or any peculiarity of circumstance in which a man can be placed, to which a parallel may not be found in the Bible. Any person, therefore, well acquainted with Scripture, need never be at a loss for suitable illustrations. The evils of lying, stealing, anger, blasphemy, unbelief, and apostacy, are all displayed there with a pencil of incorruptible integrity. Nowhere else are to be seen such examples of faith, hope, and charity; such patience in suffering, such humility in prosperity, such zeal, for Christ in life, or such constancy in death. The Bible is an inexhaustible mine of illustration.

Yet we must take care not to overload our lessons with illustrations, and smother the truth iu flowers. Nor should we overcolour any part of our lesson, lest the over-lively figure divert the mind from the more sober part of the lesson. "Here we may cite the example of the Spanish painter, who obliterated certain vases which he introduced into a picture of the Lord's Supper, because he found that at first view every spectator's eye was caught by these splendid ornaments, and every one extolled their exquisite finish, instead of attending to the great subject of the piece."

Pictorial teaching is sometimes overrated. Teaching by this mode, when carried to excess, consists of a series of pretty pictures, which amuse the fancy for a little, but, having no body or substance, give nothing for the mind to act upon. The idea seems to be entertained, that the only road to a child's heart is through the imagination, and that plain language is either unintelligible or uninteresting. Accordingly, let the sentence be ever so simple, as, "Jesus went unto Jerusalem" instead of saying this in so many words, we are told that, long ago, had you been near Jerusalem, you might have seen a man walking along, dressed in a flowing mantle, accompanied by twelve disciples, &c. Now, were some moral depending on the description, as in his triumphal entry from the Mount of Olives, it may be given at length, so as to lead the scholar to the moral; but in such a case as the above, the more plainly you speak the better. Or, again, were these the words, "From heaven did the Lord behold the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner instead of concentrating attention upon the misery of a soul that is ruled by tyrant passions, as anger, hatred, and self-will; the groaning of a prisoner, his bolts and bars, his dungeon, darkness, and despair, monopolise the lesson. The child is taught to pity a prisoner, but not to understand the wretchedness of a prisoner of Satan.

Now, children, though they have a passion for stories, and though their intellectual powers are comparatively undeveloped, can think very well, and love to have their powers called into exercise. They can understand a plain advice, a warning, or an argument about religion, as well as if they related to common things, A child will soon tire of an endless succession of fancy pictures, and will sigh for plainer fare.

We must caution our readers against coarseness or vulgarity in their figures of speech. It is not in good taste to use such an expression as, The Bible is like a stone-breaker, because it breaks the hard and flinty heart.

8. In order to effective teaching, the language in which we express ourselves must be the ordinary language of good sense and good feeling. Teaching has been seriously injured by the infusion of such a large number of theological terms. When a subject is treated scientifically, we look for scientific expressions; but when it is treated popularly, then we expect popular expressions. In a book on chemistry, the words acid, alkali, caloric, occur as a matter of indispensable necessity; but what pedantry in common conversation to speak of heat as caloric, or of charcoal as carbon? In a book of theology we naturally expect to meet frequently with the words imputation, covenant of works, and federal head; but to what purpose are they introduced in popular teaching? Why should the religion of childhood especially be taught in so stiff a dialect?

The theological terms most in use, are such as the following: atonement, imputation, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, righteousness, ordinance, vicarious, substitutionary, punitive justice, covenant of works and covenant of grace, divine sovereignty, propitiation, office of a priest, attribute, advent, curse of a broken law, election, surety, and federal head.

Most of these terms are useful for certain purposes, and it is necessary to understand them all; but they are employed as constantly as if the teachers imagined the ideas they express could be taught in no other way; that the word was the doctrine; and that a person who did not know what propitiation or federal head meant, must be absolutely ignorant of what Christ has done for the world.

Now, we decidedly object to such words forming the common vehicle of religious instruction. They are little understood, and still less felt. Why talk of the "vicarious satisfaction of Christ," when we might say, "Jesus died in our room"? The language of religion should be the language of common life—as poetical, graceful, and devout as you will, but entirely untechnical. Familiar words, at whose voice the door of the affections has already opened, will most readily find admission when religion is the theme. We appeal from the practice of the moderns to the example of Jesus and his apostles. Their uniform practice, when addressing individuals, was to speak in the most direct language. Our Saviour says, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." Can anything be plainer than this? In Peter's first sermon he says, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ." And, not to multiply examples, Paul himself is pre-eminent for the life and freshness of his language;—"Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." Are not the apostle's own words worthy of serious attention?—"Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what was spoken? for ye shall speak unto the air." "I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."

Abbot remarks, with his usual good sense, that "children will understand the language of maturity easily enough, if the logic and rhetoric are theirs." In teaching, therefore, we need not laboriously pick out all the hard terms; let us get into the style of children, and they will follow our meaning. At the same time, one of the ways of acquiring their logic and rhetoric is. to study their vocabulary. In avoiding words above their capacity, we learn also to avoid a style above their capacity.

We do not plead for a babyish style of language, which reduces everything to the level of the nursery, but for the language which springs spontaneously to the lips of a man who is in earnest about God and the salvation of the soul.

The illustration of the lesson is followed by its application.


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