Senior classes, of one kind or another, have been
common in the church almost from the beginning of
Christianity; but, until the establishment of
Sabbath schools, they were confined, in a great
measure, to the children of pious parents, and to
such young persons as were desirous of connecting
themselves with the church. The Sabbath school
proposes to embrace all the young men and young
women of the kingdom in its senior classes.
The number of youths between the ages of fourteen and twenty in Great Britain, is about two millions. From this number let us deduct one-half for those whose education is completed, or whose employments may prevent them from being scholars, and we have the large number of one million suitable for senior classes. Should we assign thirty scholars to each teacher, above thirty thousand teachers are required fur instructing them. We question if one-fourth of a million are now attending senior classes.
No question is oftener asked, or is asked more anxiously, than the question, What is to be done for our senior scholars? They leave us at the age when it is most dangerous to forsake the school, and when it is most beneficial to attend it; just when the slumbering passions, over which we have so long kept watch and ward, are awakening to new vigour, they break loose from our care, in too many instances never to return.
1. One cause of the disinclination of lads and young women to attend Sabbath school, is the prevalent misconception that it is designed for children only. A false shame, on this account, is very widely diffused, inducing a great many to forsake the school about the age of fourteen or fifteen. Bat though the feeling is so general, we have no reason to consider it inveterate; it has not enough of rationality about it to enable it to resist s well-directed assault. The time of life when the supposed incompatibility of attending begins is entirely arbitrary. The same girl who leaves the Sabbath school because she is too old or too big to attend it, has no objections to the minister's class; and the lad, who thinks it beneath him to be a scholar on the Sabbath, will attend a lecture on religion, or a week-evening class, without difficulty. Now, there is no reason in itself why more shame should be felt in attending a class on Sabbath, than one on a week-day; or in learning religions lessons, than writing or arithmetic. Since the prejudice, therefore, is so unfounded and unintelligent. we do not think it is at all insurmountable.
2. The new-born sense of independence, which at this age begins to show itself, is another great obstacle to attendance. Young persons begin to work, to act for themselves, to receive and spend wages; and, as they are casting off domestic restraints, they become impatient of those of the school. They are also more sensitive to reproof and remark than formerly; and, while passing from tbe boy to the man, or from the girl to the woman, and uncertain of tbe exact position in which they stand, they resent the exercise of authority more keenly than when they are either younger or older. Young persons who leave school at fifteen, will sometimes return voluntarily and cheerfully a few years later, lamenting their fault.
3. The natural disinclination of the heart to religions truth, is another reason why tbe school is abandoned. At the age of fifteen young persons begin to see the practical character of religion; that it interferes with their passions, and condemns many of the practices in which they, or those they associate with indulge; and that the school not only breaks in upon the time which their companions devote to the Sabbath excursion, but forbids and condemns their vices. They feel, therefore, that a choice must be made; that they can no longer serve both God and the world; and their desire is too often against the troth.
4. The want of superior teachers is a fourth reason why young people forsaken school. Teaching by rote, task lessons, and mere earnestness, are no longer attractive enough for thinking youths. They need something as practical as what they find in books, newspapers, and society; and unless real knowledge is communicated to them, we cannot be surprised at their leaving school: it requires a very superior style of teaching to interest senior scholars.
As a means of increasing the number of senior classes, we make the following suggestions.
1. Their importance should be frequently pressed upon tbe church. No teacher requires to be convinced of their value; but how many church-goers are nearly ignorant of their importance. A feeling in their favour requires to be created. The pulpit, and the general religious literature, as well as the Sabbath school literature, should take up their claims. The conscience of the church should be aroused on their behalf.
2. The movement will be greatly aided by the increase of minister's classes. Were all ministers to become as faithful as some now are, we should soon socure the attendance of all the young people who attend church. Many, who will attend the pastor, will attend no one else. By this means we should break down the improper feeling that obtains on the subject. Young persons would not be singular in attending a Sabbath class; and the temptation from careless companions would be greatly lessened. Once let it be the custom to attend, and the rest is easy. In some districts in the north of Scotland, and in some of the manufacturing villages, almost the half of the scholars are above fifteen years of age.
3. A superior class of teachers should be provided. Senior scholars require a teacher who will make them think, to whom they cannot imagine themselves superior, whose mind possesses power, and who can adapt himself to the new views that are opening up to them. Any teacher of moderate abilities and acquirements, who will devote himself to his class, will do much good; bat the higher that his attainments are, we may expect that his teaching will be proportionably attractive.
4. Separate rooms for the Senior classes. A teacher may have twice as many pupils in a room, occupied by his class alone, as in a miscellaneous school. This is one advantage of a separate room. It tends also to remove the feeling of shame in being associated with younger children.
5. A more efficient management of the junior clases. If children are brought to school at an early age, and they are carefully watched, until their attendance in school becomes a fixed habit, they will pass into the senior classes without much difficulty.
But no plan will succeed at once. Senior classes can only become popular, as Sabbath schools have become popular, by persevering effort. Many of our best Christian schemes are frustrated in consequence of our affixing a too limited period for trial. Although senior classes may not become general in the course of a few years, it is no reason for questioning their ultimate prosperity. If in ten years we do not succeed in making them universal, let the church persevere for twenty or forty years, and it must finally triumph. It is not so much a grand effort that will be successful, as the united force of a multitude of agencies.
Yet almost any teacher may secure the attendance of a good adult class, in present circumstances, if he will take the requisite pains. Let him be 6tudious and prayerful in his preparations, and punctual in his attendance; let his teaching be thorough, practical, and spiritual; let him forward, to the best of his power, the temporal interests of his scholars—chalk out for them a course of reading speak to them frankly when ho meets them—and visit them when ill or absent; and, in almost any circumstances, a good class may be collected and retained.
In directing attention to the mode of teaching a senior class, we have in view those youths whose education entitles them to a superior style of teaching. 1. The teaching should be intellectual. We have been painfully impressed with the want of thought in much of the teaching bestowed upon intelligent senior classes. The style of examination, of illustration, and of reasoning, is sometimes no higher than in a junior Bible class.
at the age which we suppose the members of a senior
class have reached, there is a great amount of
mental activity; the reason begins to act with
vigour; there is an earnest search after principles,
causes, and evidence; they are indisposed to accept
information on trust; and the question, Why? is
asked as often as the question, What? The
instructions should be adapted to these mental
cravings. We shall illustrate these remarks by one
or two examples.
One of the subjects with which an adult class requires to be familiar is, the Evidences of Christianity. When young persons leave their father's house, unacquainted with the evidences of religion, they are exposed to great temptations from infidelity; and the edifice which has been reared at home with great labour, may be overthrown in a moment through the insufficiency of its out-works. Besides, there are a number of difficulties attending religion, which arise to the mind in the speculative period of youth, and which may settle into permanent doubts unless they are removed. These doubts cannot be put down with the 6trong hand of authority; they require to be met in a kindly spirit. Most of the objections to religion found in books or society, occur less or more to every person of meditation; and it is just because these doubts bad a previous existence iu our own minds, that they are so formidable when openly expressed. When these objections have been answered, they become additional arguments for the truth.
A senior class should, therefore, be made acquainted with the evidences of the authenticity and divine origin of the scriptures. The line of proof, which may be found in any common work on the subject, is the following:—
The existence of the Old Testament can be traced from the time of Christ back to the age when it was translated into Greek, two hundred years before Christ, and to the time of Ezra, when the different books were collected and arranged. The existence of the New Testament in the first and second centuries, can be proved by the numerous quotations from it in ancient authors. The inspiration of the scriptures can be established by evidence equally conclusive. Fulfilled prophecy, miracles, the transforming influence of the gospel, and its revelations of the character of God, and of a future state, are proofs so strong as to leave nothing to be desired to make them more complete. Now, we expect that teachers shall make their scholars acquainted with the nature and the details of this proof, and thus enable them to "render a reason for the hope that is in them." The Lord's Supper will form the subject of our second example. The following ideas should be communicated to a senior class in connection with this sacred rite. They should be made acquainted with its origin, its true nature as illustrated by the circumstances in which it was first instituted, and the manner in which it was observed by the apostles. They should be taught how much is implied in partaking of the Supper, and the obligation of every believer to show forth the Lord's death. The corruptions which have been imposed upon the Lord's Supper, and their contrariety to scripture and common sense, should be exposed, and a number of minor particulars should be mentioned regarding it, such as the date of the first supper—its similarity, in some respects, to the paschal feast— and the different names by which it is known.
Our last illustration shall be taken from the doctrine of a future state. The following subjects, in connection with this doctrine, should be considered by an adult class :—
The immortality of the soul; the proofs of its immortality derived from scripture; the unscriptural nature of the belief entertained by some, that the soul sleeps with the body; the baseless doctrine of purgatory; the nature of the resurrection, and its connection with the resurrection of Christ; the spirituality of the bodies which the saints shall possess, and their eternal felicity. These are intended merely as specimens of the mode of treating the lessons of a senior class.
The style of the reflections introduced into a scripture narrative should partake of the same character. Thus, Acts xviL 16, "Now, while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry." To a young class wo could do no more than point out here the zeal of Paul as an example; but we might show to senior scholars from this passage, the benevolent spirit of Christianity as illustrated in the person of the apostle. We should always lead them back to great principles.
The exercises and essays prescribed to senior scholars should also require some thought. They might be required to answer such questions as the following:—Why does the Bible not contain a systematic view of religion? What is the province of reason in religion? What were the marks of an apostle? When was the gospel of Matthew written, and in what language?
It is an excellent exercise to assign senior scholars suitable subjects for essay, commencing with very simple narratives; and as the powers of thought and composition advance, making them more difficult The essays should all be short.
Senior scholars should be encouraged to purchase a Bible-dictionary and a Concordance. If they can provide themselves with a Commentary also, it would be profitable. "The Scripture Text Book," published in Dublin, is a most valuable book of reference, both for teachers and scholars.
2. Senior scholars should be carefully instructed in their duty to the world. No part of Christian morality has been less inculcated than this. While we have been taught to read the word of God, to pray, to be honest and pure- hearted, we have not been sufficiently initiated into the spirit of that love which Jesus bore in his bosom when be came to save a lost world. Many Christians who understand that they are the salt of the earth, forget that they are the light of the world. In ancient times it was the custom of persons of every rank to teach their children a trade; so it ought to be our uniform practice to train upon children to occupy some active post in the church. They should be educated to do good They should never be permitted to imagine that their talents or acquirements are to terminate on themselves. The idea of worldly prosperity and personal advancement, should be constantly subordinated to means and opportunities of benefiting mankind. They should be taught, that their mission in the world is the same as that of the apostles; that the extension of Christ's kingdom, and the salvation of sinners, is as much their business as the business of any minister or teacher; that they are under the same obligations to be zealous in this cause, as to be honest or truthful; and that, as it is the highest work on earth, it has the highest reward in heaven. Were a generation of children trained up to these duties, it would soon change the face of society.
3. The teachers of senior classes may -benefit their scholars by suitable advices regarding the books they ought to read, their choice of a profession, their amusements, and their associates. Many valuable suggestions may be insinuated on these subjects in the course of teaching. One sin against which they should be most carefully guarded, is the sin of drunkenness. Could our youths be induced in a body to abstain from intoxicating liquors altogether, more would be effected, we believe, towards the moral elevation of this country, than by any other menus, the influence of the gospel excepted. It is one objection to a mixed class of both sexes, that there are several subjects on which we cannot speak so frankly as if they were separate.
We have, perhaps, set up a standard somewhat higher than is generally to be found among senior classes. There is a large number of classes, where from a defective education, the style of teaching cannot be raised much higher than that of an ordinary Bible class. We refer our readers to the previous chapters on teaching for the mode of instructing such young people.
Three observations may be borne in mind. First. The members of a senior class should not bo treated like children. There is a respect duo to a young man or woman, which every person of right feeling will be ready to pay. We do not like to see them required to rise up when they answer questions, to hear them repeating hymns and catechisms like children, or to see their slightest motions watched with the care requisite in an infant class. The teacher should recognize the new position which they occupy, and deal with them as with persons who are able to appreciate motives, and in whom a certain amount of independency of thought and action is becoming.
Secondly. The reasoning powers of uneducated youths, if they can be called into exercise, though sluggish, are considerably stronger than those of even lively children, They grow even while sleeping. For this reason, when their slumbering powers are awakened, we may make our instructions correspondingly intelligent.
Thirdly. Young men and women being engaged in the actual business of life, the manner iu which wo enjoin obedience, love, and faith upon a child, is unsuited to them. They have a wider range of duty; they have greater responsibilities; their passions are more vehement; deeper interests are connected with them ; on all these accounts, the gospel most be exhibited with a breadth and fullness corresponding to the new life on which they have entered.
It is one of the most painful circumstances connected with a senior class, that its members are at the most perilous stage of life. The statistics of crime establish the mournful fact, that more crimes are committed between the ages of fifteen and twenty, than during any other period of five years. The proportion is increasing yearly. The number of convictions in England, in the year 1846, was 25,000, of which 6236, consisted of criminals between the ages of fifteen and twenty. "Where are now some of those happy faces that once sat so cheerfully under our care, and to whom wo broke the bread of life? There are not a few who are walking in the footsteps of the saints; but some are wandering outcasts; some in jails and prisons, are suffering for their crimes; and some in banishment and shame shall lay their bones in a foreign land. Where is that young man of whom we augured so much from his talents and amiability, and that young woman, to whose cheek sprung so readily the blush of innocence? Were they in their graves, it might be well with them. But who is that victim of debauchery and drunkeness? Who is that dishevelled creature, in whose haggered cheek there is not a trace of her former beauty? Sabbath school teachers—teachers of youth, be faithful; do not withdraw your warnings and instructions too soon; many a fair appearance is "the torrent's smoothness ere it dash below." The fate of your scholars, even now, trembles in the balance; slacken your efforts and all your instructions may be lost: Oh, labour and pray without ceasing till Christ be formed in your scholars' hearts the hope of glory!