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ON SABBATH SCHOOLS.
EXISTING under a modified form in Scotland from the period of the Reformation,-little needed among the Nonconformists of England, from the same epoch, a large portion of whose sabbaths was devoted to family instruction,-a system has arisen, among us, which we cannot too narrowly scan,—singular, original, and most potential. It is not the parole inculcation of religious truth, in this practice of rote among its young disciples the Roman Superstition more than vies with all,—but a rudimental training, a mental development, that in learning to read the Bible, religious instruction may not only be obtained but the capacity for acquiring it may be imparted. The plan is not uniform, but as generally adopted its purport is this: to explain, during some of the sacred hours, the art of reading as connected with that great means of grace and salvation, the study of the Scriptures. Yet this is but its lowest step. The warrant to do that which is chiefly mechanical is founded in its most religious end. God has given his Book to all,—to be read of consequence by all. The gift implies the privilege
and the duty. If we thus “profane the sabbath,” we are “blameless.” It is obvious, however, that the obligation which we hold most strict, the right which we deem most clear, to teach the young the signs and sounds of an alphabet in order to give them access to the words of eternal life, might not be needed; and that the present necessity to do so may quickly cease. The question then would simply be, What is the best mode of conveying scriptural knowledge to the young 2 It is to be feared that the parents, who send their children to be taught the art of reading, cannot read themselves. But a much wider and more serious view may be taken of the knowledge which those parents possess. It is lamentable how little disposed are the pious to speak of religion to their children. It may not be concealed that the aptitude to teach does not always belong to a competent knowledge of the thing to be taught. The fitness and the disposition of this class of parents to instruct their offspring in these matters may be, therefore, without invidiousness, distrusted. As it was requisite for those who could not read themselves, to send their children to those who could, if they were to be taught that method; so, it is as indispensable for them who are uninformed in religion themselves to devolve upon others the task of informing their children, if they are to enjoy that boon. Is there but an equivocal advantage in the system, is it only a succedaneum,_until, in the universal power to read, and the as universal possession
of the holy light, it may be superseded ? We have no doubt that this is the judgment of many. Not only is their objection raised to the very preparatory character of its tuitions, but that it is a withdrawment from the domestic discipline. But surely this species of education has a valid claim to certain apologies as well as every other. Now there is a defence commonly set up for a very similar plan. It is contended that it is better, the consideration of any incapacity apart, for the young of the most opulent families to be removed for a time from home. Their education is argued to be conducted thus in a more concentrated manner. A juster Geconomy of time and attention is secured. A farther plea is adduced in favour of its being conducted among many associates. The principle of competition is awakened, and the knowledge of the world, at some time inevitable, is only a little anticipated while it is gradually gained. Even a public curriculum finds numerous advocates, and its nationalism is loudly extolled. Surely, then, this humble system cannot be wholly vicious. Its change from the parental roof, its class-mates, its uniformities, are not unworthy features. Yet there are evils in each of these arrangements. The separation from the tender vigilance and circle of the family does a wrong to the feeling of the child, which it cannot, at any future age, altogether forget and slight. It is life's first trial. It is the heart's earliest shock. To be thrown into the society of indifferent companions, for weeks and months and years, incurs no small hazard of moral infection. Where there is also but one general treatment, the individuality of original temperament will often be destroyed. From such dangers this system is exempt. It seizes the good alone. The child is still the inmate, though not without the shifted scene, of the habitation where its infancy was reared. Its most frequent, though not exclusive, companions are brothers and sisters. Its return, after the few hours of absence, reinstates it in all its freedom of idiosyncrasy and development. There seems no consistency in any objection which the educationist can raise against the Sabbath School. But the valuable influence of these institutions, because of their unpretending character, has often been depreciated. The jeer has been raised against them, that the knowledge which they convey is so circumscribed. It has been forgotten, or concealed, that the knowledge was descriptive, that it was the most important, and that the agency employed in communicating it was precisely adapted to the knowledge itself. For none have boasted that this was, in a large sense, an education: all that has been asserted is, that scriptural knowledge may be, and that it is, in this manner, impressed most appropriately and most efficiently on an order of minds, which must be otherwise wholly unblessed with the knowledge of Divine truth, utterly untrained to the practice of Christian virtue. When a substitute can be found
for it, there will be no bigoted pertinacity to retain it. When the necessity shall itself have passed away, the labours which are now cheerfully rendered for the abatement of a tremendous amount of popular ignorance, will be still more cheerfully resigned. We can easily conceive of a better state of things. This is but a remedial and corrective measure. And still we should not wish to do away with the system itself. In it we have discovered not only a mighty fulcrum of good; we have gained a principle. Most happy would it be if every child that entered such a school was thoroughly grounded in the practice of reading and writing: for these acquirements, it is self-apparent, do not constitute knowledge, but are only particular means of attaining it. Knowledge might then be immediately pursued. Every mind would be prepared and quickened for its investigation. The furniture of the room, only now not unsightly because of its utility, would be exchanged for the more intellectual exhibitions of Christianity. There would hang the map on which might be traced the walks of Christ and the voyages of his apostles; or the chart, by which might be explained the descents of patriarchal line and the epochs of synchronous history. The spelling-book and the primer would be forgotten. Another apparatus would appear. The most educated youth could find advantage in its discipline. The most cultivated method of teaching would not be here misplaced. The system, always and exclusively