The office of a Sabbath-school teacher is equally honourable and responsible. It is no light matter to be intrusted with the care of immortal spirits in the first dawn of their existence; to write upon the young minds of children the holy law of God; to be an angel to their ignorance, and open for them the seals of the book of life; to guide their feet into the way of peace, and teach them, with suitable tenderness, to listen to the words of Jesus—the sweetest that ever fell on mortal ear—"Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This is an office worthy of the ambition of the most eminent rank, and the most exalted intellect.
The personal benefits of teaching religion are great: it invigorates the teacher's mind, and greatly enlarges his knowledge. Not only does it oblige him to study, and to make his information accurate, but, in the act of teaching, his knowledge enters into a thousand new combinations, and a fresh stream of thought is poured through his mind. It has also a most salutary influence on the heart. One half of a man's nature is lying torpid so long as he does nothing 'to benefit his fellow-creatures.
We shall arrange our remarks on teachers under the three following heads I. The qualifications of teachers; II. The choice of teachers; III. Recommendations to teachers.
I. The qualifications of teachers. As the qualifications of teachers may be learned from their duties, we do not think it necessary to dwell upon this topic. Whoever knows the way of salvation for himself, is to a certain extent qualified for imparting a knowledge of it to others. Talent, though invaluable, is not entirely indispensable. Fervent piety will atone for much intellectual deficiency. Many of the most successful teachers have been more indebted to their piety than their talents. If religious instruction consisted in discussing theology, unloosing knotty points of faith, and scrupulously weighing evidences on contested points of doctrine, none but learned men would be eligible as religious teachers. But, as the principal duty of the Bible teacher is to declare the message of God to sinners, and as this message is written in the Scriptures with great simplicity, whoever understands it may become a guide to those who are ignorant.
On the other hand, let us not fall into the too common error, that, because children are young and ignorant, every person is qualified to teach them. It is true that the very humblest style of teaching is to be preferred to none; but what a different result should we have had, if all our pious and zealous teachers had been intelligent and apt to teach! It is a very solemn consideration, that the most inexperienced teachers must be set at once to the very highest work—To save souls.
A large proportion of Sabbath-school teachers are drawn from the upper ranks of the labouring classes and the lower ranks of the middle classes. Their education in consequence is frequently defective. Many of them have received their sole education in a Sabbath-school; and their reading has been snatched at broken intervals, and has, perhaps, been very much confined to religious books. We cannot wonder that ungrammatical expressions, crude notions, and a somewhat bare style of teaching, should occasionally prevail. But the humble efforts of the self-educated teacher are not to be despised. It is to his honour, that, in the culpable absence of superior teachers, he, though conscious of his deficiencies, is willing to do what he can. Many of our hard-working artisans and shopmen—many females who ply the busy needle all the week—by their labours put to shame their superiors in station; for, if any have a right to the excuse so often heard, that the Sabbath is required as a day of rest, it is such as they who are entitled to it.
The Sabbath-school has not obtained from the better educated portion of the Church the same countenance that has been given to the missionary cause. There has been an unacknowledged conviction, that a person who taught amid the squalor of a missionary Sabbath-school was stepping down from his station. The school in this way is deprived of much valuable assistance. An educated mind is more flexible, and can accommodate itself to a far greater variety of circumstances, than a mind uneducated; and never shall our Sabbath-schools attain their true position, until the best educated, the most intelligent, talented, and pious members of the Church, are found in the ranks of teachers. The Church has a right to their services, and should require them. Do we ask too much in making this claim? We do not ask too much. Unless we can over-estimate the worth of the soul, and the value of the blood of Christ—unless the gospel can be too well understood, and too well taught—we are entitled to demand that the highest talents and the highest piety in the Church shall be engrafted into the Sabbath-school.
We do not make this statement to discourage any humble or pious teacher: were every one required to be highly intellectual, to have a vast range of information,-"a vivid imagination, or a happy facility of expression, how thin would the ranks of the Sabbath-school teachers become ! These qualifications, though eminently important, are not the first. Were we required to name one indispensable qualification in a teacher, we should rather say it is to be deeply, thoroughly, prayerfully in earnest. No one can say that this is an impossibility. Light from heaven will stream upon the page of revelation as the earnest teacher reads it; his prayers—the prayers of an agonised spirit over perishing souls—will not always remain unanswered; and the lips that stammer about everything else, will wax eloquent when they speak of the love of Jesus.
II. The choice of teachers. There are. two circumstances which render it difficult for us to express a decided opinion upon the choice of teachers;—first, the remissness of educated members of the Church in becoming teachers;
and, secondly, the diffidence of many whom we believe to be real Christians in connecting themselves with the Church. So that, on the one hand, we have persons forward in every good work, who are not communicants and, on the other, we have persons already connected with the Church unwilling to do the duties of members.
We are not prepared to say that no person who is not a member of a church should be admitted as a teacher of a school. There is an evident propriety in all the teachers professing themselves to be disciples of Christ; and it is sufficiently obvious that church members ought to be foremost in volunteering their services; but if members refuse to teach, and thousands of children require instruction, shall we reject those who are willing because they are not members? If a person of good character and attainments is ready to do good which but for him must be left undone, why should we refuse his aid? Is it not a severe reproach on church members that they should be outstripped in zeal by those who make less profession? And have not the latter this qualification above the members— their zeal—their love? It must be noticed also, that were membership made a prerequisite to teaching, the test would have no certain value, from the different standards by which qualification for membership is judged.
This much may be granted, that, if possible, all the teachers should be members, and that no person should be admitted as a teacher whose character is not unexceptionable, and who, as far as can be judged, is not under the power of the gospel. We dare not sanction the teaching of a merely moral man, who will teach a lifeless religion, and inculcate what he does not believe.
The following rules, where they can be applied, may be found useful.
1. A new teacher should be introduced to at least a portion of his fellow-teachers. A teacher of a retiring disposition will sometimes remain isolated from his brethren for many months, and be chilled by the cold looks of strangers, where he had hoped to see none but friends.
2. A probation of one or two months may be assigned to a candidate before he is formally enrolled among the permanent teachers. The enrolment should take place at a general meeting of the teachers of the school. This will indicate to the new brother the importance attached to his admission.
3. One month's notice should be required of a teacher before leaving the school. This will prevent a hasty resolution to retire from being as hastily acted upon, and will afford time for procuring another teacher.
It might raise the standard of qualification were candidates examined by competent authorities before admission ; but the Church must provide better schools for the education of teachers, before we can expect such an examination to be profitable.
III. We shall now offer some personal recommendations to teachers.
1. Teachers should sedulously cultivate their minds. It is an honourable ambition to become a first-rate teacher; and we cannot attain great proficiency in teaching without study and mental cultivation. Poets, it is said, are born, not made ; but teachers are made, not born. There may be a few who attain great eminence as teachers without much effort; but the vast majority of good teachers reached their present position after long and laborious exertions. Knowledge must be dug out of the mine—it must be quarried out of the flinty rock. The tree of knowledge has a stately stem. We must climb far to reach even the lowest boughs; and the ripest fruit is always on the highest branches. But whoever takes the requisite pains will find that he is amply rewarded for his labour. Were other motives wanting, it should be enough for a Christian that with increased mental cultivation he has increased means of doing good. "An able minister of the New Testament "is a character above all estimation. Let us only recollect that " we are not sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God."
We recommend teachers to keep up their acquaintance with popular religious works—to study a good system of theology, in order to obtain definite views of doctrine— and, above all, to be mighty in the Scriptures. They should not confine their reading to religious works, but should open their minds to general knowledge of all kinds, that they may be thoroughly furnished for their duties. All educational works should be attentively studied till they understand the principles of teaching; for a person may be intelligent without being apt to teach. Great benefit will be derived by a teacher from reflecting on his own teaching. A weekly review of his successes and failures, so as to discover their causes, will render him essential service.
2. Teachers should study the characters of children. It is equally necessary to know the constitution of tile patient as to be acquainted with the medicine. The sins and temptations of children should be studied; and wherever we see the current strongest, there let us build the strongest bank.
Teachers should also study the peculiarities of the two sexes, for that there is a difference in their mental constitution is undoubted. The difference extends both to the intellect and to the moral nature. Thus, while girls are quicker than boys, boys take a firmer grasp of a subject. We do not say that the one is cleverer than the other, but that the talent is of a different kind. Boys have more perseverance than girls, but girls are more patient than boys. Men would sacrifice more for principle than women; women would sacrifice more for affection than men. A mother's love is proverbial. Their sense of justice and of compassion are in inverse proportions. A man, on hearing a tale of oppression, indignantly denounces the tyrant; the first thought of the woman is pity for the sufferer. How suitable these feelings are to the provinces of the different parties ! Their temptations are different. Few boys care about dress ; few girls do not. But how much more prevalent are the grosser vices among boys than girls! A difference may be seen in their mode of conducting themselves at school, and in the manner in which they carry on their disputes. Boys are more unruly than girls, but girls are more restless than boys. There is a strange uneasiness sometimes seen in a class of girls, which, from its intangible character, is difficult to repress. A blow comes readier to a boy than to a girl, and a dispute between boys is usually speedily settled by an appeal to arms: girls, on the other hand, without coming to an open rupture, will carry on a series of petty annoyances for a long period. It is easier to convince a man than a woman; but woman is most persuadable. Is it for this reason that they enjoy the happy pre-eminence of being more accessible to the influence of the gospel, and that there are more women than men found in the Church of Christ ? We have glanced at these peculiarities merely to shew how wide the field of study is, and to put teachers on the track.
3. Teachers should guard against improprieties of manner. A person's manner ought always to be natural. Affected liveliness, affected earnestness, or affected solemnity, are alike improper; commonplace objects do not require any peculiarity of tone because they happen to be associated with religion. There is no reason why we should speak of Jordan or Jerusalem, David, Joseph, or Samuel, in a peculiar manner, merely because they are mentioned in -the Bible. We are to mention them as we should mention any common names, London or Edinburgh, the Thames or the Tweed.
It is an error, however, of a far more injurious character, to treat solemn truths with levity. Teachers are not without temptation to speak about religious matters in a tone of unconcern. Familiarity is apt to blunt the edge of our sensibilities, and to make even the holy and reverend name of God lose some of its august majesty.
It is difficult to strike the medium, and mingle cheerfulness and seriousness in proper proportions. When we are over-solemn, we discourage the children. Now, religion, though a child of sorrow, and though it is often born with a tear in its eye, is nursed by hope and joy. On the other hand, if our cheerfulness degenerates into levity, the serious employment of the school will be forgotten. Some are to be found who can speak of the transfiguration, the crucifixion, or the resurrection, with the most painful indifference, and who, amid the darkness that overshadowed the land, within sight of the Saviour's agonies, and within hearing of his expiring cry, can teach with a levity that is almost profane. Let us guard against the most distant approach to such an error. If you once allow your children to think that you are not in earnest with them —that you are merely going through a lesson—it will be destructive to everything spiritually good.
Our manner, then, ought to he serious, hut it should be a natural seriousness, which is not put on for the occasion, but which springs up from the deepest emotions of the heart. Yes, with what earnestness ought a saint to teach Christ to a sinner! - How apparent should it be, when he is speaking of the evil of sin, that he is not repeating something which he read in a book, but is disclosing the sad experience of his own heart! and how evident, when pointing to the cross of Christ, that he has been there himself!
4. Avoid lecturing. A teacher who is not very watchful, especially if he is at all zealous, is in great danger of falling into a lecturing style of teaching. So deeply does he feel the power of the truth, and so anxious is he for present results, that he cannot stop for the slow process of catechising and illustration; impression is all in all with him; exhortation is the beginning, middle, and end of his lessons. Is it not his mission to gain over his scholars to the cause of Jesus? Influenced by these ideas, he may be seen with a beaming countenance, his eye lighted up with enthusiasm, and with animated gestures, exhorting and warning his scholars, like one who has a message of life and death. But look at his scholars while he addresses them;—if there is an inattentive class in the school, it is his; he has not got the ear of his scholars at all; his warnings are not heard; his exhortations are unheeded, and, beyond an impression of their having had something said to them about which the teacher seemed very much in earnest, the children depart as they came.
The natural way of teaching, is to address a few observations to the class, catechise them on what they have heard, shew them the importance of the subject of lesson, put a few more questions, give an illustration of the subject, and follow it up by fresh questions; proceed to a new part of the subject, treat it in the same varied style; and, never dwelling long on any one thing, intermingle explanations, questions, addresses, and illustrations throughout the whole lesson.
5. A farewell letter should be addressed to a scholar on his leaving school. If there has been a good feeling subsisting between the teacher and his pupil, it will dispose him to receive the letter with gratitude; he will preserve it, and it may long be a witness for the truth amid the temptations of busy scenes. We have heard of letters of this description having been the means of bringing young people to a decision which many years of faithful teaching had been unable to effect.
6. Teachers should be regular in their attendance. The Sabbath is undoubtedly the most unhealthy day in the week. Colds and headaches on this day are extremely prevalent. In truth, it is surprising and distressing to see what trifles will cause a teacher to absent himself from his hallowed labours. As if no sacrifice of feeling or convenience were necessary—as if the Sabbath-school were to be attended only when he had nothing else to do—the visit of a friend, a sermon, or a trivial ailment, is sufficient to produce his absence. The school is opened, the scholars make their appearance, they look often to the door for their teacher's coming, but there is neither teacher nor substitute, nor excuse for absence. One child, who is indifferent to the truth, is allowed to go other seven days unwarned ; another, whose conscience may have been touched, is permitted to relapse into insensibility; and a third, who is hungering for the bread of life, may starve for all that is done by his careless teacher. Oh for the spirit of the apostle Paul, who " ceased not to warn every one day and night with tears!"
7. Teachers should persevere in their labours as long as God gives them means and opportunity. There are too few veteran teachers. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love," is a charge applicable to a large body of teachers. A change of residence, a petty difference with a brother teacher, a few weeks' sickness or absence from home, or marriage, are sufficient grounds with a number of teachers for deserting the Sab-bath-scliool. They have not changed their sentiments about the duty or necessity of teaching; they do not even profess to disrelish it, or to be unfitted for it; but, as if caprice or indolence was the keeper of their consciences, they abandon the school at its bidding. Is a deserter from the field of battle branded with eternal infamy? how deep, then, the shame of the men or the women who cast away their arms in the hottest of the strife, and stand passive when souls are lost or won ! How often does Satan, through gaps in the ranks of teachers, break in and steal away souls! The teacher has made a poor exchange. For a time at least, the Sabbath-day drags wearily by, he misses his wonted employment. His prayers want their former warmth—how can he say, "Thy kingdom come," when God has said to him, "Go work in my vineyard," and he refuses to go? He has six or eight fewer to love and to be loved by, than he had—he has no class now. A teacher should never resign his class without telling God his reasons. There ought to be a waxing, but no waning in the Christian's zeal; a flow, but no ebb; a spring, a summer, and an autumn, but no winter; a dawn, a morning, and a noon, but neither evening nor night.
8. Let the teachers abound in prayer. Prayer moistens the root of every grace, gives life and stability to every duty, puts a staff into the hand of every infirmity, and drops balm into every open wound. The teacher may be ever so intelligent and skilful, but if he neglect prayer, he will be surpassed in success by that other teacher, the air of whose closet is fragrant with the incense of prayer. The more spiritually-minded the teacher is, he will have the more success. The sweeter that the tune is, it is the harsher when played on an ill-tuned instrument, and we can never teach the gospel well with a heart out of tune. When you strike a harp, if there is another harp in the room, it will vibrate to the same note; and when our hearts are thrilling with the love of God, we may hope to awaken the same emotion in our scholars. If we wish to stamp our name on wood, we do not press the iron letters on it cold, we bring them hot from the furnace; and if our lessons from Scripture are to be imprinted on the minds of our scholars, they rmist come from hearts glowing with devotion.