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The Sabbath School and Bible Teaching
Home Missionary Schools


No kind of school requires to be planned -with more deliberate care, or conducted with more spirit and tact, than a home missionary school. It possesses few natural attractions to those for whom it is designed, and it is composed of very combustible materials, which the slightest spark may inflame. Constraint, obedience, and order, are very foreign to the habits of the children attending it. It is like a territory reclaimed from the sea, round which the waves still surge, seeking entrance by some unguarded spot.

The class of children for whom the missionary school is intended are the outcasts of society, whose parents are openly wicked—the children of the drunkard and the thief. They are for those who are too ignorant or too wicked to make it expedient to introduce them into a congregational school. Except in small towns, and villages where all the children are acquainted with each other, and mix familiarly during the week, a separation should always be made between those who are well educated and those whose habits are vicious. There is a double propriety in it, for a well-dressed child will be tempted to look down upon his ragged classmate, and a natural shame will deter the very poor child from displaying his tattered garments to superior company ; and it is running too great a risk to place a well-trained child near the contaminating influence of those who are familiar with evil.

There are two peculiarities in missionary schools which must receive due attention before they can be efficiently wrought. 1. They must be aggressive in their character. They do not wait for scholars—they seek them ; they bring the gospel to their very threshold, and compel them to come in. 2. The teachers of these schools must accommodate themselves to the wants of the children they mean to reclaim. The deepest poverty must not be despised; the darkest ignorance must not be despaired of; nor the most desperate wickedness be deemed irreclaimable. Like the Saviour, the missionary teacher is to seek the lost. It is with our eye on these two great features of the missionary school that the subsequent directions are given.

Missionary Sabbath-schools are commenced either under the auspices of a congregation, or through the zeal of private Christians. When they are organised under the care of a congregation, they are relieved of many of the difficulties which beset them. The burden of pecuniary support is at once transferred from the anxious teachers to the congregation; the congregation is a reservoir from which to draw a supply of teachers as they are needed; the sympathy and prayers of the congregation are with them; and schemes of a more comprehensive character can be devised than is usually within the power of individual enterprise. Indeed, were the Church in a healthy condition, little would be left to individuals. Individual^ zeal, instead of being obliged to force an opening for itself, would always be provided with an appropriate sphere of labour; and "the sacramental host of God's elect," instead of issuing forth in scattered and disunited bands, would march onward to victory, a serried phalanx which nothing could withstand.

To shew how efficiently a congregation may carry on a scheme of missionary operations, we shall give a brief description of the mode now adopted by some of the congregations in the large towns.

1. A district of the town, of limited extent, where religious destitution abounds, is first selected. It may contain from 300 to 500 families. It is unwise to make it so large as to prevent the missionary from visiting every family once a-month.

2. A home missionary is appointed to the station. His salary may amount to from <£40 to ,£70 a-year ; the last sum should be reached, if possible. His duties are— (1.) To visit all the families periodically—read the Bible, and converse with them—leave a tract—and endeavour to bring them to a church, or to the meeting held in the district. (2.) To visit the sick. (3.) To send the children to the missionary day and Sabbath-school established in the district. (4.) To establish weekly meetings, where addresses shall be given by himself or some other competent person. (5.) To make an annual religious and educational statistical report of his district.

3. Christian instruction agents, under the direction of the missionary, occupy a subdivision of the district, and are expected to visit those under their care once a-month. Their duties are the same as those of the missionary.

4. A clothing society, judiciously managed, may be introduced into the plan.

5. A week-day school, under an efficient salaried teacher, is the next feature of the scheme. It is confined to the children of the district, but is not entirely gratuitous. In Dr Chalmers's mission school, West Port, Edinburgh, the charge is from a penny to twopence weekly. The amount thus collected will lessen the expense by a third or a half. Where the poverty of the parents renders them unable to pay this small sum, they are admitted free. A sewing-school should be added for the girls.

6. A Sabbath-school for the whole uninstructed children of the district completes the scheme. These different agencies will be found to work well together. The schools are filled through the visitations of the missionary and the Christian instruction agents ; the week-day school relieves the Sabbath-school from the drudgery of teaching reading ; and the Sabbath-school, by dividing the children into small classes, provides a more thorough religious education for them than can be given during the week. Were this machinery applied on a sufficiently extensive scale, it would leave little to be desired.

Leaving this more extended scheme, let us now turn to the organisation and management of a common missionary Sabbath-school.

1. The teachers. The teachers who undertake to establish a missionary school, ought, if possible, to have some experience in teaching. Let them learn to row a little in the still waters of a well ordered school before facing the tempest in a missionary school; at all events, they must be persons of nerve, thoroughly in earnest, and prepared to make considerable sacrifices. Very young teachers, teachers of an easy disposition of whom the scholars will not stand iu awe, persons who either refuse or neglect to visit absent scholars, or who on slight grounds are frequently absent, are not suitable. We have seen a boy of fifteen or sixteen, surrounded by a group of children nearly as tall as himself, doing his best to benefit them, hut paralysed amid a tempest of disorder he was unable to control. Let the teachers who commence the school be more anxious about the quality of their assistants than their number; its prosperity will be perilled by the choice of unfit agents. "You must rather," says Lord Bacon, "leave the ark to shake as it shall please God, than put unworthy hands to hold it up." When the missionary school has been in operation for some time, it may become almost as manageable as any other school.

2. We recommend the choice of a small district out of which the children are to be drawn, rather than the opening of a school for indiscriminate admission. It is the most systematic mode of extending missionary operations; it gives the teachers a definite amount of work for which they are responsible; and it enables them to do their work far more thoroughly, and to reach the lowest strata of society, for which the school is principally established. The labour of visiting will also be very much lessened.

3. The school should be placed in the district selected, or as near to it as possible; scarcely any advantages of situation or accommodation will compensate for the school being at a distance from the district. It was to meet the reluctance of children to go far to school that Local Schools were instituted. A small district containing from twenty to fifty children is selected; these children are gathered into a room in the district, either all at one time or at different hours, and are taught by one teacher. The advantages of this system are, that the district being so limited, the teacher obtains a thorough acquaintance with its character and wants, and is able to reach every child with very little trouble. To balance these merits there are very serious drawbacks. Classification, so essential to good teaching, is nearly impossible; and the solitary labours of the teacher among wicked children demand a strength of resolution which few possess. It is found that the change of teachers in such schools is very great.

4. The district should be thoroughly canvassed for scholars. Every house must be visited, the names of all the children who attend no school noted down, and repeated visits made, if necessary, to bring them out. Of the spirit -with which this canvass should be conducted, we have an amusing example in the case of a city missionary. He had obtained the consent of a woman to her boy going to a week-day school; on the day appointed the boy did not make his appearance; he called again—some trifling excuse was made, and a promise again obtained, but broken in a similar manner; a third time he went to see her—she saw him coming up the close, and barred her door against him. He, not to be baulked, sauntered away till he thought she would be off her guard, and then returning, got to the door before she-saw him; but hearing his footsteps, she crept below the bed; from this he soon dislodged her by in-, forming her that he knew where she was, and that he was determined not to leave without taking the boy with him. He gained his point.

The canvass will require to be repeated at intervals, as there is a frequent change of residence among the poor.

In conducting the canvass, scrupulous care should be taken not to interfere with children attending other schools.

5. The classes should be small; four or five scholars are enough to begin with in each. It is nearly impossible for. one teacher to manage a large number of children who perhaps never knew what it was to obey a command since they were capable of disobedience; from neglecting this necessary rule a number of schools are almost useless. Of the scenes which this neglect produces, the following is a specimen:—A teacher, who had a large school under his sole charge, had been very much annoyed by the unruly conduct of his scholars, and had given them a very solemn rebuke before prayer. While praying they seemed to be very quiet, and the good man was tempted to be somewhat lengthened with his devotions; when he opened his eyes, he found himself in darkness, and that all the children had silently slipped out of the school!

The common excuse for large classes is the scarcity of teachers. Persons say that they have not the heart to exclude a single scholar who is willing to come in: there is. more good feeling than wisdom in this saying. A large, disorderly school will soon fall to pieces; whereas a small school, thoroughly disciplined, has such a healthy root, that it may increase indefinitely. Besides, far more children receive instruction in a small, orderly school, than in a large one where the children are unruly. We would have the teachers of a new missionary school to be very rigid in enforcing this rule. As the school becomes orderly, additional scholars may be taken in, and the classes greatly enlarged.

6. Order should be rigidly maintained. We do not look for great order in a new school for several weeks or months after its formation; but Sabbath after Sabbath may one rule after another be fully established, and one and another scholar subdued, till the change is complete. Everything depends on the teachers. We have seen two schools, composed of the same class of children—the one a Babel of noise, and the other perfectly quiet. While, therefore, we x must be prepared, in the first instance, to meet with great insolence and insubordination, we may calculate, in the course of a few weeks, by good management, 011 a regularity, peace, and attention which at the opening of the school seemed impossible.

7. Visitation of absentees is altogether indispensable. A teacher who does not visit his scholars need not expect to have the same class on two successive Sabbaths; if frequently absent himself, he will soon have no class at all. The absentees at first will probably equal those who attend, and for several weeks or months the deficiency may continue ; but patience and perseverance will finally succeed in retaining a class.

8. The children should be provided with suitable school books. A supply of Bibles and Testaments for those who have none should be kept in the school-room. But all the children should be encouraged to procure Bibles for themselves. It would be easy to present them with copies, but they will neither be so much prized nor so well preserved as if the children purchase them with their own savings.

9. A week-evening class for reading, writing, arithmetic, music, and sewing, should be attached to every considerable missionary school. Many who cau read are unable to write, and many who can read the Bible cannot read any other book. It will fit the children for more extensive usefulness if they gain some acquaintance with different branches of secular knowledge, and it will qualify them for a higher style of religious instruction. A teacher informed us, that, having opened such a class about midsummer, he promised a New Testament to all who could read it before the New-year ; the boys entered into the proposal with great spirit, and every one in the school earned a New Testament. These week-evening schools are already numerous and successful, but they might be multiplied with great advantage.

10. Some care ought to be taken of the children's personal appearance. They may at least be made to keep their faces and hands clean, and their hair smoothed. Rags we may not be able to banish altogether, but when the children have become attached to the school, they may be taught to come a little more tidy.

11. The children should be taught politeness. They may easily learn to say " Sir ?" and " Ma'am ?" instead of "Eh ?" or "What?" and to say, " If you please," or, « I will thank you," instead of making a blunt request. In some schools, the children, instead of " Sir," and " Ma'am," use the word "teacher." It can only be adopted in the younger classes.

12. A sick and clothing society, and a savings' fnnd, are useful in a missionary school.

Finally, be instant, both in season and out of season. Remember how short a time children remain at the missionary school, and choose for them only the most important lessons. Remember what an example they have at home, and set Christ before them in all his forgiving love and unwearying care; and remember that a tempest of sinful passions is already raging in their hearts, and that you must speak loud and plain if you would be heard. . We shall conclude this chapter with some observations on the duty of the Church towards the destitute population of this country.

1. We shall consider the attendance on the Sabbath-schools. The attendance varies in different quarters. In London it is scarcely a third of the children between the years of five and fifteen; in the manufacturing districts it is about two-thirds; and in a few towns it is even higher. We may remark, that as the number of children is always about one-fifth of the whole population, when. the proportion at school is ascertained, it is easy to calculate the number who are neglected! In Scotland, the average of attendance is rather more than one-third, and it is on the increase. Five years ago, Edinburgh had only one-third of its population at Sabbath-school—there , is now more than a half. In Glasgow, Dundee, Greenock, and Dumfries, the proportion is about one-third. In . Paisley, Ayr, Arbroath, and Aberdeen, it is about two-thirds. In some country districts the attendance is very limited. On the whole, we may estimate that not more than one-half of the children of Great Britain are regularly attending Sabbath-school. In Ireland, there are about 250,000 out of one million and a half of children, at Protestant

Sabbath-schools. The number of teachers has been estimated at about 200,000 or 250,000 in England, above 25,000 in Scotland, and 25,000 in Ireland. Whilst there is much to encourage in these statistics, there is also matter of very grave reflection. From the large number not in attendance at school we may deduct a considerable proportion for those who receive instruction at home ; but, having made sufficient allowance for these cases, we believe that 200,000 children in London, and throughout the kingdom generally one-third of its youth, are neither taught at home nor reap any direct advantage from the ; Sabbath-school.

2. Let us look now at the religious habits of the adult population. We question if more than a third of the people in England are in the habit of frequenting a place of worship. We have visited several towns where there was not a fourth part accustomed to hear the gospel. In Scotland more than two-thirds of the people attend church. It appears from this, that there are many millions in England, and about one million in Scotland, who neglect the ordinances of religion. The small number of home missionaries who are labouring among them reach a very small number of this vast multitude.

3. The ignorance of children and adults is very great. We recounted the story of Christ's life, at a meeting in Manchester, to some females, to whom it was entirely new. Twenty girls, in one mill in Glasgow, were found ignorant of the name and character of Jesus Christ. We have repeatedly found children, from six to ten years of age, who did not know who it was that made them. A teacher in Edinburgh asked a young woman if she had heard of heaven — she said she did not remember. Had she heard of hell ?—Yes. Did she know who Jesus Christ was 1 —No. She was quite sure she did not know that word. Had she heard of God 1—Yes; she had heard people swearing by God. These specimens might be multiplied to any extent.

4. The crime consequent on such a mass of ignorance is very great. Whether the wickedness of the present age is less or more than it was in previous periods of our history, we shall not take it upon ourselves to determine. It is enough that crimes of the deepest dye cry loudly for the only cure which can be applied to them. Legal enactments and penalties cannot reach the sources of our drunkenness, debauchery, thefts, and robberies ; the gospel, applied by Christian instrumentality, is the only remedy for these evils. Every crime that we read of in the newspapers—every prison with its iron bars and massive gates —every transport-ship that spreads its sails to a land of exile—is a fresh call on the Church to save our country from crime.

5. The Church, in its present condition, is able to instruct the whole destitute population. The true cause of the ignorance of the people is the sloth of the Church. Were all our congregations acting vigorously, every child in the three kingdoms, in the course of a very few years, would be receiving religious instruction. In Scotland, where the attendance on church is so large, if one member out of every ten—that is, fifty out of every five hundred—were to become Sabbath-school teachers, we should have enough for the whole of Scotland. This proportion may very easily be realised. In one congregation in England, out of 260 members, we found that 60 were Sabbath-school teachers ; in another in Scotland, out of 500 members, 90 were teachers; in one in Ireland, out of 800 members, 160 were teachers. If all the congregations in the country were to act in the same spirit, a complete revolution would be effected in its religious condition. We do not expect every member of the Church to become a teacher ; but it is surely not asking too much, that ten or fifteen out of every hundred who have professed their faith in Christ, shall engage to lead the children of the land to His cross.

There is a great want of faith on the part of the Church in the omnipotence of the gospel. Upon the minds of many there is an impression that ignorance, vice, and crime are inevitable. Now, if the gospel of Jesus Christ is not adapted to the most degraded victims of vice—if it cannot elevate the lowest classes of society, and purify the very fountains of corruption, it is not what it professes to be : it is not a gospel for every creature. It has failed hitherto, merely because it has not been applied with sufficient consistency, perseverance, and faith. As it has converted nations from heathenism to Christianity, so\ it can convert the whole mass of society from formalism or irreligion to vital godliness.

Let us suppose that every child in Great Britain, from the age of four years and upwards, were under suitable religious instruction for the next twenty years, and that during this period every means had been tried to train these children in the paths of holiness—there would be a most surprising change effected in the face of society; difficulties would disappear year by year, encouragements would multiply, and a race of Christians would arise who should bear the name of Christ to the ends of the earth. There is nothing wanting to make this picture a reality but more zeal and love in the Church. We require no new machinery, and no new gospel. We have enough of money for all our expenses, without burdening a single congregation; and members enough to teach every child, had they only the will to obey their Saviour's parting command, for the instruction of the world.

If we were under the necessity of making a comparison of the different missions of the Church, we should have little hesitation in placing the Sabbath-school, and its kindred society the home mission, in the first rank. The destitute population, in Great Britain alone, is equal, perhaps, to the whole attendance in all the foreign missionary stations throughout the world. There are three hundred thousand teachers employed in our schools. The influence of an individual for good or evil in this country is greatly superior to the influence of an African or an Indian.

This is a work in which all may be actively employed; there is no stormy sea to cross—no foreign tongue to learn; the children are of our own country; the same blood runs in their veins; they speak our mother tongue; they are here, playing in our streets, running our errands, crossing our path wherever we go, and all the while they are perishing for lack of knowledge. Yet what a small space does the home mission occupy in the public eye", compared with the foreign mission! How few prayers (comparatively) arise in our churches and families for the Sabbath-school and Sabbath-school teachers !

These children cannot speak for themselves; let us speak in their name; let us ask if another generation is to live and perish through the neglect of their brethren. Can the Church be aware that in Scotland one hundred and fifty thousand children, in Ireland one million, and in England a million more, rose last Sabbath morning, and lay down at night, without its once being said to any of them, There is a God—there is a hereafter—Jesus Christ died for sinners ?

The idea is entertained that this neglect cannot be very injurious, since they are only children. Children! see that boy whom the Church is neglecting to teach : the boy becomes a lad, and the lad becomes a man ; and who fill our gin-shops and our taverns? who crowd our police offices and our bridewells, our prisons and our Botany Bays? who fill the gloomy mansions of despair? "Who but those same boys whom the Church neglected to instruct ? See, also, that little girl playing so innocently that you stop to watch her harmless mirth. She, too, grows up untaught, a heathen mother of heathen children; or becomes perhaps the greatest pest of society. What shall be inscribed over her grave?

" Here lies another victim of the church's neglect."

Christians! "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." "He that loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" The temporal wretchedness of these children is great; but the essence of their misery is this, that they are "without Christ, without God, and without hope." Could a stamp be placed on the brow of every child, how many would have this terrible brand on theirs, "I am on the way to woe!" Will the Church—will Christians not rise as one man to redeem them from destruction? Think, reader, how this epitaph would read upon your, tombstone—"Here lies a Christian who never tried to save a soul." Two millions and a half of our own children cry day and night for salvation; have pity on them, for without Christ they will become stranded vessels on the stream of time, a peril to others, and ruined themselves. "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few." May God, who is the Lord of the harvest, send forth labourers unto His harvest.

 

In this work we have addressed our readers as if they were all Christians; but some of them may be entire strangers to the truth. Some of our readers, last Sabbath, may have spoken to their children about a God they do not love, and a Saviour in whom they do not believe; they may have described the happiness of a heaven which there appears no prospect of their ever seeing, and they may have even conversed about hell with coldness and indifference, »while they themselves were nearing its awful verge. Oh! it might make the angels weep, to see men, like torches, burning away in giving light to others! Reader, it is not too late to repent. The time has not arrived, though it is at hand, when it shall be said, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he who is filthy, let him be filthy still." "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that he sayeth say, Come. And let him that is athirst, come; and, whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Then shall David's prayer be fulfilled, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee."

THE END


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