Religious instruction is attended with numerous discouragements. Children are often unamiable and unteachable, and are neither to be ruled by love nor fear. The impression of one Sabbath is effaced by the next; and sometimes those who had seemed not far from the kingdom of heaven fall a prey to temptation, and make shipwreck of the faith. This apparent want of fruit is one of the most severe trials of the teacher, and tempts him "to grow weary in welldoing," either because he fears success is hopeless, or that he is unfit for his duties.
The grand motives by which we should be actuated in doing good, are the command of God, and the love of Christ, irrespective of the results of our efforts; but it might give more cheerfulness to the instructions of our teachers, if they laboured in the sure hope, that whether success is visible or not, good to man and glory to God have been the results of their exertions. If they have not stopped the chariot of sin, they have at least hung as a dead weight on the wheels.
1. Visible success is not a certain test of real usefulness. The man who lays the foundation-stone of a bridge has as much honour as he who puts in the key-stone; and the teacher who imparts the first elements of religion to a child, is influencing his destiny as much as he who has the privilege of beholding his conversion. The sunshine of May and June is as necessary to ripen the harvest as the sunshine of July and August.
It may be confidently affirmed, that truth is never spoken in vain. It may not effect the direct purpose for which it was spoken, but it cannot die ; though buried for centuries, like the wheat found in the mummies of Egypt, it will one day bear its yellow harvest. God's care of the Church is not less than his care of the world. There is not a drop of rain ever lost; it may fall into no running stream, and moisten no drooping flower ; but though it fall in the heart of the burning desert, it is not lost; for it is caught up by the winged winds, to fall as dew or rain till the end of time. It is the same with truth. "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Let the following illustration be considered :—
"I was standing by the side of my mother, under the spacious porch of Dr Beattie's church, Glasgow, awaiting the hour for afternoon service, when I observed two young men turn the corner and walk towards the church. They were dressed in their working clothes, unshaven and dirty, and slightly intoxicated. As they passed the church-door they assumed a swaggering, irreverent gait, laughed, and finally commenced singing a profane song. My mother turned to me, and said, 'Follow these two men, and invite them to a seat in our pew.'
"I soon overtook them, and delivered my mother's message. One laughed scornfully, and began to swear; the other paused and pondered; he was evidently struck with the nature of the invitation. His companion again swore, and was about to drag him away. But he still paused. I repeated the invitation, and in a few seconds he looked in my face and said, ' When I was a boy like you, I went to church every Sunday. I have not been inside of a church for three years. 1 don't feel right I believe I will go with you.' I seized his hand, and led him back to the house of God, in spite of the remonstrances and oaths of his companion. A most excellent sermon was preached from Eccles. xi. 1, ' Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.' The young man was attentive, but seemed abashed and downcast.
"At the conclusion of the service, my mother kindly said to him, 'Have you a Bible, young man?' 'No, ma'am; but I can get one,' was his reply. 'You can read, of course?' said she. -'Yes, ma'am.' 'Well, take my son's Bible until you procure one of your own, and come to meeting again next Lord's Day. I will always be happy to accommodate you with a seat.'
"He put the Bible in his pocket, and hurried away. At family worship that evening, my mother prayed fervently for the conversion of that young man.
"Next Sunday came, and the next, but the stranger did not appear. My mother frequently spoke of him, and appeared grieved at his absence. He had, doubtless, been the subject of her closet devotions. On the third Sabbath morning, while the congregation were singing the first psalm, the young man again entered our pew. He was now dressed genteelly, and appeared thin and pale, as if from recent sickness. Immediately after the benediction, the stranger laid my Bible on the desk, and left the house, without giving my mother an opportunity she much desired, of conversing with him. On one of the blank leaves of the Bible we found some writing in pencil, signed 'W. C.' He asked to be remembered in my mother's prayers.
"Years rolled on; my mother passed to her heavenly rest; I grew up to manhood, and the stranger was forgotten.
"In the autumn of 18—, the ship St George, of which I was the medical officer, anchored in Table Bay.
"Next day, being Sabbath, I attended morning service at the Wesleyan Chapel. At the conclusion of worship, a gentleman, seated behind me, asked to look at my Bible. In a few minutes he returned it, and I walked into the street. I had arranged to dine at the 'George,' and was mounting the steps in front of that hotel, when the gentleman who had examined my Bible laid his hand on my shoulder, and begged to have a few minutes' conversation. We were shewn into a private apartment. As soon as we were seated he examined my countenance with great attention, and then began to sob; tears rolled down his cheeks; he was evidently labouring under some intense emotion. He asked me several questions—my name, age, occupation, birthplace, etc. He then inquired if I had not, when a boy, many years ago, invited a drunken Sabbath-breaker to a seat in Dr Beattie's church. I was astonished—the subject of my mother's anxiety and prayers was before me. Mutual explanations and congratulations followed, after which Mr C. gave me a short history of his life.
"He was born in the town of Leeds, of highly respectable and religious parents, who gave him a good education, and trained him up in the way of righteousness. When about fifteen years of age, his father died, and his mother's straitened circumstances obliged her to take him from school, and put him to learn a trade. In his new situation he imbibed all manner of evil, became incorrigibly vicious, and broke his mother's heart. Freed now from all parental restraint, he left his employers and travelled to Scotland. In the city of Glasgow he had lived and sinned for two years, when he was arrested in his career through my mother's instrumentality. On the first Sabbath of our strange interview, he confessed that after he left church he was seized with pangs of unutterable remorse. The sight of a mother and a son worshipping God together recalled the happy days of his own boyhood, when he went to church and Sunday-school, and when he also had a mother—a mother whose latter days he had embittered, and whose gray hairs he had brought with sorrow to the grave. His mental suffering threw him on a bed of sickness—from which he arose a changed man. He returned to England, cast himself at the feet of his maternal uncle, and asked and obtained forgiveness. With his uncle's consent he studied for the ministry; and on being ordained, he entered the missionary field, and had been labouring for several years in Southern. Africa.
"'The moment I saw your Bible this morning,' he said, 'I recognised it. And now, do you know who was my companion on the memorable Sabbath you invited me to church? He was the notorious Jack Hill, who was hanged about a year afterwards for highway robbery. I was dragged from the very brink of infamy and destruction, and saved as a brand from the burning. You remember Dr Beattie's text on the day of my salvation:—Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days."
2. A small proportion of the conversions effected by the instrumentality of the Sabbath-school is known to its teachers. We are far from claiming for the Sabbath-school the merit of the conversion of all its scholars who are converted. Bibles, Christian friends, religious works, and the preaching of the gospel, may have had equal or superior influence over them; but the numerous conversions which may be traced directly to the Sabbath-school entitle us to conclude, that there are many others whom the judgment day alone shall reveal. They are seen as yet only like the first stars which appear on the brow of eve as the day wanes, but they shall be seen hereafter like the starry host in the noon of night, shining in the firmament for ever and ever.
A few years ago, a teacher in England on his death-bed lamented to a Christian friend, that though he had been a teacher for twenty-four years, he had seen no fruit from his instructions. He died. His friend being in another part of England, shortly afterwards was asked by a gentleman if he was acquainted with Mr--, naming the departed teacher. On being told of his death, he said, feelingly, "It was through his instructions that I was brought to the knowledge of Christ."
3. Success, we believe, is always in proportion to exertion. Whitefield's astonishing influence may have been much greater than that of others who were equally devoted; but had he abated one degree of his fervent zeal, there would have been a proportionate decrease in his influence. Were every teacher imbued with his spirit, or with the spirit of M'Cheyne of Dundee, Harlan Page, Thomas Cranfield, or Sarah Martin, the wilderness and the solitary place would be glad, and the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose. The following is a valuable example of successful teaching; it is from Mr Watson's work on Senior Classes :—
"A senior class was formed more than twenty years since, in the neighbourhood of London; it was composed of youths, whose conduct, as they advanced in years, gave great concern to the teachers, and caused anxious thought as to what could be done to promote their welfare, and at the same time preserve the discipline of the school. They were separated from the other scholars, and instructed in the meeting-house with which the school was connected, by a teacher who was affectionate in his manner, constant in his attention, and who was always concerned to get something to instruct and interest his young charge. He possessed no striking talents, but he had a taste for reading; and whatever he met with, which he could turn to account for his class, was noted down in a book, kept by him for the purpose, and which thus became a storehouse, from whence he was always able to draw forth something to illustrate or enforce the subject of his instructions; his success in attaching to himself the affection of his scholars was great. Severe affliction, however, caused him to seek surgical assistance in one of the metropolitan hospitals; and when the young people came to the place of instruction, and found their teacher gone, they learned where he was, and proceeded thither with their Bibles: and every Sunday, while he continued there, these youths formed a class round his bed, and received, to the astonishment of the other patients in the ward, the Scriptural instruction of their much-loved teacher. An early death prevented his witnessing the more important results of his labours; but those of his fellow-teachers who have survived have seen the greater part of these youths unite themselves with the people of God, and follow their teacher in his work of faith and labour of love, in various departments of Sunday-school work. Where is the school in which such a teacher is not to be found?