A just distinction has been drawn between teaching the head and teaching the heart, though the nature of the distinction is not always clearly apprehended. Perhaps the best way of explaining the distinction is to say, that when we address the intellect, we teach something which a person is to know or believe; but when we address the heart, we teach what he is to do. In the one case, our immediate purpose is to inform the understanding ; in the other, to influence the practice. Thus, in teaching the doctrine of the omniscience of God, we instruct the intellect; but our teaching becomes an address to the heart, when we infer from this doctrine the necessity of watchfulness over the conduct.
If man had continued upright, the teaching of the understanding and of the affections would have had the same result, for the necessary inferences would have spontaneously suggested themselves. We could not speak to a perfectly holy being of the omnipotence of God, without his next reflection being, "Then with what confidence may I repose on his care?" But the case is very different with us in our present corrupted condition. The intellect is still ready to receive information, but it is with the greatest reluctance that it follows truth into its consequences ; it has no objections to be taught the particulars of Christ's death, but it shrinks from the humiliating reflection that it was our sins which were its procuring cause. Since the scholar, therefore, is slow in making a personal application of what he reads in the Word of God, the teacher must do it for him.
The application is one of the most important parts of Bible teaching, and should indeed be the termination of all our religious instruction. Every twig of knowledge should bear its appropriate fruit. To influence the will, and bring every thought into subjection to Christ, is the ultimate aim of all instruction. We teach the Bible, not to make our scholars learned or intelligent merely, but to make them devout; not to produce great scholars, but to mould holy characters. A knowledge of the history, doctrine, and precepts of the Bible, which has no influence on the life, is only like a torch put into the children's hands, the more clearly to shew them the path to ruin.
We believe less attention is given to this branch of instruction than to any other; and that, where skill is sometimes displayed in the elucidation of a lesson, there is often a complete forgetfolness of the result to which it should lead. Thus, our scholars may be taught how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, braved the fiery furnace; but no hint is given of the numberless occasions in which they may illustrate the same devotedness. They are taught to admire the magnanimity of Abraham in giving Lot the choice of the land, or of David in pouring out the water of the well of Bethlehem, which had been procured at the risk of his warriors' lives; and yet a single remark on their own duty in the ordinary affairs of life may be considered a sufficient improvement of the lesson. The doctrines of faith, repentance, and the atonement, are taught and enforced by a perfect array of proofs ; but a commonplace and formal remark on the relation of those doctrines to them, too often forms the impotent conclusion. "How can we be saved?" is perhaps the last question of such an interesting lesson. A carelessly correct answer immediately follows—"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ;" and the teacher, satisfied with the reply, repeats the oft-repeated formula—"Yes, if you believe in Christ Jesus, you shall go to heaven, and there be happy for ever; but if you do not believe in Him, you must perish eternally." A far more thorough and varied application is indispensable, if we would teach the Word of God with effect.
1. In the first place, teachers should endeavour to convince their scholars that religion is a 'practical thing; so that they must be doers as well as hearers of the Word. A child will very soon learn to put off with a form of religion. Formalism is the religion of human nature, and is easily taught. To drive it from the minds of our classes must, therefore, be one of our great duties. Let us teach them that reading the Bible, learning lessons, attending school and church, and saying prayers, are not religion, but are only guides or helps to religion ; that religion is of the heart, and manifests itself in a holy life ; that it is like life in a tree shewing itself in leaves and blossoms and fruit; that it is not of such a nature as to be able to be taken apart, so that we can say, this is religion, or, that is religion; but that, like fire, it warms whatever it approaches, and makes a person in everything, in public and private, do all to the glory of God.
For this purpose we must map out, as it were, a child's daily life, and shew him how he will act if he obeys the Scriptures. Our text, for example, is the parable of the leaven. Were we to describe the sanctifying influence of the gospel, how it, has abolished slavery, mitigated the horrors of war, established just laws, and diffused a knowledge of God and salvation to millions untold, we should not have shewn the children how the gospel was leaven to them. We must deal more closely with them, and shew how, if they have this leaven in their hearts, it will make them honest, truthful, obliging, amiable, prayerful, and obedient. When we teach the fourth commandment, let us not only say, Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy; but, remember this Sabbath-day: not only, Thou shalt not steal; but, Thou shalt not steal from your mother, your brother, your companions: not only, Render to no man evil for evil; but, Do not give blow for blow, bad words for bad words. See how our Lord sets us an example. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."
The particular shape which our application will take, ought to depend on the circumstances of the scholars. We should look in their faces, and ask ourselves, What do they most require? Are they mean, or hypocritical, or passionate, or sullen? are they indifferent to religion altogether? or are they walking in darkness, seeing no light? What are their greatest temptations? One boy is with companions in a workshop who are notorious swearers; another is tempted to run off to sea against his parents' will; another, a girl, is light-minded and vain ;—a knowledge of these circumstances will prove of the greatest value in the application of our lessons. The poet says, that
"That very law which moulds a
And bids it trickle from its source,
That law preserves the earth a sphere,
And guides the planets in their course."
So let us shew that the .gospel and the law are not great principles reserved for great occasions, but that they enter into the minutest details of common life, and that the religion which we teach is a fireside and domestic religion, by which they are to be constantly moved. As the sun, which streams on ocean and plain, and there comes forth in its glory, is seen in its beauty when it tints the violet, and puts a blush on the rose; so the gospel, which impelled the apostle on his holy mission, and sustained the martyr at the stake, and then appeared in its might, comes forth in its loveliness when it sweetens every relation of life, and makes the hearer yearn after whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report.
2. Seek to convince the scholars that they are themselves guilty. Aim at conviction by direct addresses to the conscience. All teachers must have experienced the difficulty of convincing a child that he is a sinner, and of making him understand the difference between doing good as the means of salvation, and doing good from love to God, and as the fruits of faith—between being saved by works, and working because we are saved. Though we tell them ever so plainly that they cannot be saved by their own doings, the persuasion remains very deep-seated that if they are good boys and girls, all must be well. It is one powerful means of counteracting this delusion, to hold up before them the perfect standard of God's Word, and shew how miserably they have fallen short of its requirements. We may tell them that God said they were to love their neighbours as themselves, and then enumerate various instances of ill-will, envy, hatred, and revenge, of which we know children are usually guilty; or we may set before them the commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," and then shew how, in going prayerless to bed, in forgetting to thank Him for a quiet night's repose, and in living whole days without one thought of Jesus Christ the Saviour of sinners, they manifested that they did not love God with all their heart. In short, let us make the law a mirror in which they may see their faces all disfigured with sin,, and in this way awaken the voice of conscience, God's vicegerent in the soul.
Care must be taken not to mistake an appeal to the feelings for an appeal to the conscience. The more earnest teachers are in danger of falling into this error, and thus to mistake the impressions which their address has made. A child may take great pleasure in his religious lessons, never absent himself from the school, and listen with eagerness to every word the teacher utters, and yet be indifferent to true religion. He may be deeply moved, even to sobbing and tears, yet have no sorrow for his own sins.
We say a child may love the Sabbath-school without loving religion. There is no reason why the history of the creation, of the flood, of the burning cities of the plain, of David's courage, and Absalom's rebellion, and Solomon's riches, should not be made as attractive as any tale of fiction; and a good teacher may enchant his scholars with his descriptions, and yet leave their hearts untouched. It is not the history of the Bible that is repulsive to man—it is the most engaging of all histories; but it is its holy laws, its perfect obedience, its denial of all merit to the sinner, and its provision of salvation only through the righteousness of Christ. A love of Bible lessons does not necessarily imply a love of the way of life. We may shrink from the obedience, and yet be attracted by the way in which it is taught.
So, also, it is not the extent to which a child is moved, but the kind of emotion, that is to be regarded. It is not a very difficult matter to bring tears to the eyes of a child, especially of a girl; but it is very difficult to convince a child of his sinfulness. We have again and again seen a child weeping, what might be termed bitter tears, whom we had not the slightest reason for believing to be under serious impressions. It is quite possible so to describe heaven and hell, death, judgment, and eternity, as to excite * the most lively alarm; but we must remember that all true religion in a sinner is based on deep convictions of sin, and that, until he has looked at himself by the light of the law and of the cross, he is not really repentant. It is at the conscience, then, we must aim. Let us try to humble our scholars by an exhibition of their guilt, and to melt and move them by the amazing love of the Saviour; and, while neglecting no means of awakening their sympathies—for the feelings are helps to devotion—let us above all try to awaken the heart to a sense of its own desolation, and its infinite need of a divine Saviour.
3. The conversion of the children must be constantly present to the teacher's mind. Let us remember that every child who is not converted is in danger of eternal ruin, and that these our scholars, gentle and winning though some of them may be, and however closely they have twined themselves round our hearts, are, if not believers, every one on the way to death. To these very children let us offer the pardon of their sins, the renewing of their hearts, and the salvation of their souls. Let us give ourselves and them no rest till Christ be formed in them the hope of glory. Let us vary our illustrations, search the Scriptures for new aspects in which to present the ever-blessed truth, watch every favourable opportunity to reach their hearts, and be instant in season and out of season, to draw them from the errors of their ways. Little, iu-deed, has been gained for our scholars till they are safely housed in the Saviours fold.
4. Our application should always be preceded by instruction. We are far from wishing our schools to be turned into places of sentimental excitement. We must convince the reason, that through it we may gain the heart. A person listens with great indifference to exhortation about a duty which he does not understand, or the importance of which has not been clearly explained. Persuasives to holiness will be wasted, unless the nature and value of holiness itself have been clearly understood; and the most passionate invitations to the Saviour will be thrown away, if a child has not been taught why he is to come to Christ, and what he shall obtain by coming.
If you saw a female wringing her hands, and weeping in the deepest distress, your heart might melt in pity for her condition; but how soon would your compassion be dissipated if you could not discover the cause of her distress! One fact as to her real condition would influence your heart more than a river of tears. So the deepest pathos, and the most stirring appeals, will soon pass unnoticed if not sustained by solid knowledge. The mind cannot be nourished with stimulants any more than the body. We ought not to cultivate a sickly, sentimental piety, which expends itself in sighs, and exhales in hymns; but a rational, manly piety, which will stand the tear and wear of life, and which, instead of flying into seclusion to mope and despond, will come out to the world, and imbue it with the spirit of Christ.
Yet teachers often err by beginning their lessons with earnest appeals and admonitions before their scholars have been prepared for them by instruction. The consequences are, heedlessness, and a blunting of the feelings, even when the appeals are introduced in a more legitimate manner.
The following homely illustration may shew the importance of securing the reason on our side. We met a little girl one day in the porch of a Sabbath-school, who, pointing out another girl, said, "This lassie won't go into the school." "Come away," I said, "what keeps you from going in?" "I was away," she said, "for two Sabbaths, and I am ashamed to go in." "Your teacher will be glad to see you," I replied; "come away." But her only answer was, "I am ashamed to go in." Here it is plain my duty was first to convince her of the impropriety of her conduct: so I asked, "Was it right to stay away from school?" "Oh, no." "Is it wrong to go into school?" "Oh, no." "Well, then, if you do not go into the school, you will be ashamed of doing what is right." The argument proved successful. It might, of course, have been otherwise; but the incident sufficiently illustrates the value of enlightening the reason in order to influence the practice.
5. Our application should be founded on the lesson. This is essential to variety. It will be found that appeals and exhortations, when not growing out of the subject, are always the same. Death, hell, judgment, and eternity, are the invariable topics, which in a short time lose all their power. But if we keep to our text, the application will be as fresh as the lesson, and will form its not least interesting portion. We have seen the parable of the good Samaritan explained as an illustration of our duty to each other; but when it came to be enforced, the whole current of thought was changed, and the children were taught that Jesus is the best Samaritan, who has bound up the wounds of our souls, and given his life, instead of money, for our salvation, and they were invited to come to him for safety. Now, would it not be more natural to press home the duty of kindness to our neighbours by the love of Christ to us 1 If we wish to teach the doctrine of the atonement, let us choose a text on purpose—there are enough of every sort in the Bible.
We do not rigidly prohibit an analogical application of a passage of Scripture; but, if it is yielded to frequently, and especially if the chief doctrine is not fully applied, a dull sameness will pervade every lesson. It is when the whole lesson is firmly linked together, the explanation preparing the mind for the illustration, and the illustration for the exhortation, that we frame our instructions on just principles.
6. Our application should abound in personal appeals. Thou and you are pronouns which should frequently occur. Let the children feel it is not a general address the teacher is making to his class, but that each individual ought to have an interest in what we say, and that to them as individuals we appeal. Indeed, the nearer we bring the application of a truth to the scholar's personal circumstances, we shall do him the more good. It is one thing to say, "A bank has failed," and another, "The bank in which your money is lodged has failed." That men are all sinners, and that the child we address is a sinner, may make a very different impression.
Why should not the teacher's mind kindle up at the thought, that in that book which he holds in his hands is contained a pardon for the very worst child in his class— a pardon bought with the blood of the Son of God; that to him it is given to plead the cause of the Almighty with a sinner; that death and life are waging cruel war in his scholars' souls for the mastery; that the issue may be today—that a soul may be lost or won this very day; and that the Spirit of the Most High is on his side pleading the same cause with his wild or orderly scholars? Oh that we could feel that we are dealing with immortal truth, and the salvation of immortal beings; and that the "living truths of the living God" came glowing from our lips as if we had been to the world of light, and knew what our children would lose if they lost heaven, and what they would gain if they won it!
We are not to be understood as proposing to defer the application of the lesson to the conclusion. The conclusion may deal more fully in appeal than the other portions of the lesson; but suitable practical addresses ought to be intermingled throughout the whole, so as never to allow the children to forget their personal interest in everything that is taught.
We attach the very highest importance to this branch of religious instruction; without it very much of our teaching will be lost. Knowledge of any sort fixes itself more readily upon the mind when it is to be reduced to immediate practice; and religious knowledge needs every auxiliary in its combats with the sinful heart. That teaching which stops short at the mere communication of facts and truths, and neglects to illustrate their practical bearing, is of no great value. The teaching that allows a boy to retire from school full of proofs of the evil and danger of sin in the general, but that permits him, for anything his teacher has said to the contrary, to quarrel with his brother, disobey his parents, or pilfer from his master, is radically wrong.. Our teaching should be of such a kind that, in every relation of life, as brother or sister, parent or child, master or servant, friend or companion, the pupil may feel the law of God and the life and death of Christ a governing and animating principle. It should be of such a kind that at every turn in the life of the scholar he may be able to say, "My teacher taught me from the Bible what I ought to do here." Sweet as the hymns of angels ought to be the voices that urge him along the narrow way; but whenever he is about to sin, our lessons from the Bible ought to haunt him like a conscience, and flash up in his face the terrible warning, "You are on the way to hell." This is what we mean by practical application.
There is one mode of teaching religion in which everything practical is habitually excluded—it is that system which goes under the name of "teaching by rote." The lessons, in some cases, consist entirely of psalms, passages of Scripture, and questions committed to memory. The only standard of excellence is the amount of what is accurately repeated. The scholar who happens to possess the best memory is exhibited before the school as a prodigy. Whether or not the child understands what is so fluently repeated, or whether he is pious, and lives under the influence of the truths contained in his lessons, are questions less considered. The memory is the only faculty recognised as active, while the understanding and conscience are altogether passed by. When children thus taught arrive at maturity, and prove ignorant or wicked, they are pointed at as proofs of the worthlessness of religious instruction.
We can scarcely suppose that this system was ever deliberately planned; it is rather the product of indolence and indifference; but it has infected a large portion of the teaching of even good men, and is fruitful of evil.
Could any teacher, who knows what his children are— how wicked—how much in need of pardon, of regeneration, and thorough religious instruction—lay down such a plan of teaching as the following?—"I mean to-day to hear the children repeat their hymns; but if there are any difficult words in them, I shall not explain them. The passages they repeat from the Bible, I will take care to have accurately recited, but on no account will I shew them the use they should make of the Scriptures; and the Catechism, of which they understand very little, I will not explain, because much of it is difficult, and when they grow up they will understand it as I do." No man would dare to form such a plan, yet many act upon it, and instead of knowledge, give their children mere words without meaning.
But they will understand what they learn as they become older! Have we, then, fixed the age when it is proper for children to be taught that they are guilty in the sight of God; that God loves them and seeks their happiness; that Christ, on wings of love, came to earth for their salvation; and that the gates of light are standing open to receive them? These are the truths which we are not to teach intelligibly, but which they are to comprehend by and by, when they have grown older and wickeder! Suppose it were true that with years will come more understanding, who knows that these children are to live to maturity? Do children never die? Do we not wish our children taught their guilt and danger just now? Would we not have them sons and daughters of the Lord —believers in Christ just now? Do we not wish them to be ready for death, and for judgment, and for heaven just now? And if we wish these things just now, it is now when they are young, and because they are young, that they ought to be taught what they can immediately understand and practise.
That system which loads the memory, and darkens the understanding—which ranks its scholars according to the extent of their memories—and whose glory it is to exhibit them for the amount of words and questions they can repeat—does not teach, the gospel of Christ—at least teaches it so imperfectly, as very often to defeat its great end. It does not teach children the grace of Jesus, the end for which they ought to live on earth, the almighty strength by which they shall be supported when they lean on God, the light that shall cheer them as they pass through death's dark valley, and the immortal happiness stored up for them in heaven. It teaches them little more than answers to questions—a list of words, such as adoption, justification, and sanctification, which, for all the benefit they confer, might nearly as well have been in Latin.
Oh, let us not so tamper with the sacred coinage of heaven—let us not so mar the blood-bought truths of Christianity ; let us teach our children as if we saw them standing on the brink of a terrible precipice, and cried aloud—Stop, or you perish! Let us teach them as if we truly felt that unless and until they come to Christ, they cannot be saved.
The next subject to which we direct attention is the Revision of the Lesson.