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Art. III.-Review OF THE REPORT OF THE AMERICAN SUN
DAY School Union. Sirih Annual Report of the American Sunday School Union. May 25th, Philadelphia, 1830.
This interesting document may be considered as auspicious in two respects, to the cause whose claims it is designed to recommend. The ability with which it is drawn up, furnishes evidence that the cause is enlisting some of the best talents in our country ; and the facts which it exhibits, show that the institution is moving forward in its operations with increasing power and majesty. Without attempting an analysis of the Report, (which we doubt not our readers will have the opportunity, and the disposition to examine for themselves,) we intend in this article to make it the basis of a few remarks upon the sabbath school institution ; illustrative of the energy of its operations, the simplicity of its principle, the grandeur of its results.
In estimating the moral power that belongs to this noble institution, we may look first at the subject on which it operates, the mind including the intellect and the affections; the mind of a child ; the mind in its most docile state, while it has not yet been brought in contact with the false maxims of the world. Far be it from us to deny that the mind of man in a state of nature, is a corrupt fountain which sends forth bitter streams: nevertheless we attack the evil propensity with far better hope of success in the weakness of its infancy, than if we wait till it has had time to gather the strength of age. The wild beast of the forest if taken from the dam may be tamed; but the same wild beast suffered to range the hills and vallies till all its native ferocity is brought into exercise, might punish the temerity of the individual who should approach him, by tearing him in pieces. The sapling which is growing up by the side of our path, will move with the motion of the hand; but let it alone, and it will become a giant oak, which will indeed wave with the wintry blast, but will cause the earth to rock around it. In like manner, we may take an individual while he is a child, and he will be ready to listen to our instructions; and when we point out to him the path to heaven, he may actually enter that strait and narrow way, and become a new creature in Christ Jesus. But if we should meet him after the world has had time to harden his heart, and deaden bis conscience, and diffuse the poison of infidelity through his soul, we might almost as well speak to the rocks or to the winds, as to him : we might with nearly as much prospect of success, call upon the leopard to wash out his spots, or stand at the door of the tomb and bid its tenants come out, as to press him with the subject of his soul's salvation ; for not improbably, like
Ephraim, he may be given up to his idols, and God may have let him alone. It is manifest then, that the sabbath school institution has not only the mind for the subject of its operations, but the mind in circumstances that promise the best success.
We may look, next, at the grand instrument by which this institation operates, the word of God, and a moment's reflection will show how admirably adapted it is to the improvement both of the intellect and of the affections.
Where shall we find another book, that has so much to employ and quicken and elevate the intellect, as the bible? Where else shall we find truths so sublime as those which relate to the character of God, the mediation of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the glories of heaven? Where else is the human character analyzed with such minuteness, or individual character portrayed with such living beauty? Where else shall we look for any authentice history of the creation, or of the early ages of the world? Is it our object then to select the noblest field for the imagination? we have it in the bible; in the sublimity of its truths, and of the imagery under which they are often conveyed. Would we contemplate the finest specimens of narrative? We find them in the bible; in the history of Joseph, and Moses, and the good Samaritan, and a multitude of others. Or would we study the science of human nature, and learn what the heart of man is, by learning what his conduct has always been? Here again, there is nothing like the bible; for it exhibits man in every variety of condition. Laying out of view then the moral influence of the bible altogether, we can say that it is fitted above any thing else to improve the intellect; to bring its powers into vigorous aud successful action. And to this end it has been studied, and successfully studied, even by infidels; who, while they have hated the holiness of its truths, have been enraptured by the simplicity and majesty, with which those truths are communicated.
But it were far too little to say of the bible, that it is adapted to the culture of the intellect; for it exerts its best influence in regulating, purifying, and elevating the affections. In this part of the human constitution, as it now exists, there is wild disorder; for here sin has erected its throne, and here he exerts his most baleful influr
Now it is the tendency of the bible to dethrone this usurper, and to give to the active principles of our nature a new and holy direction. It is its tendency to bring back the affections from the forbidden objects after which they have gone out, and to fasten them
upon objects on which they may be worthily employed. It is its tendency to refine and exalt the social affections, thus diffusing a kindly influence over the intercourse of life. But beyond this, it brings the soul to rest upon God, and changes it into his image, and breathes into it his spirit, and finally prepares it to be ta
ken up into his presence. That this is the genuine effect of God's truth
upon the heart, witness every true believer on earth, and every redeemed soul in heaven.
Such is the instrument by which the sabbath school institution operates : and who now will not say, that it is most happily accommodated to the subjects on which it acts? Whether we regard the of culture the intellect, or the culture of the heart, what means can be employed in comparison with the bible?
We may contemplate farther the living agency, which the sabbath school employs to wield this well adapted instrument. And first of all, there is the agency of teachers; most of them young men and women full of ardor and enterprise ; a large proportion of them, decidedly pious—of course acting under the full impression of christian responsibility; many of them of highly cultivated minds, and able, in their instructions, to draw from the most ample resources; and not a few of them in the higher walks of life, thus bringing the authority of rank to aid their hallowed enterprise. There is also the agency of parents, and in a multitude of instances, of christian parents; many of whom regularly instruct their children in the sabbath school lesson; and of those who do not, many have questions put to them which send them to the bible, thus obliging them to learn that they may be able to teach. And here there is a double advantage resulting from the relation between parent and child; for, on the one hand, there is the influence of parental affection to awaken the parent's interest, and call forth his best efforts, in the way of instruction; and on the other, there is the influence of filial affection, to dispose the child to listen with attention and profit. There is moreover enlisted in this enterprise the agency of the church; for the church does, by her ministers and other officers, exercise a general superintendence over the institution; not only guarding it against perversion and abuse, but by occasional visits, and sometimes by more active efforts, helping forward its benevolent operations. And more than all, and above all, there is the agency of God; for without the aids of his spirit, all human agency will be to little or no purpose. He can, and he often does, give to sabbath school instruction its appropriate effect, in enlightening the understanding, in renovating the affections, in transforming the whole character. Indeed so much more important is his agency than any other, that it were perhaps more proper to speak of him as the only agent, and all others as simple instruments; for without his blessing, all who are enlisted in the sabbath school cause might labor with their might, till the grave should close in upon them, and heaven would not gain a single soul through their instrumentality.
Now, for a moment, let us review the ground we have passed
over, and see whether we are not brought most legitimately to the conclusion that the sabbath school institution is fitted to operate with prodigious energy. What is the subject? It is the mind-the docile mind of a child. What is the instrument? It is the word of God; which God himself hath declared to be quick and powerful. What is the agency? It is the agency of teachers—intelligent enterprising pious, the agency of parents, of the church, and to crown all, of the Holy Ghost. What may we not expect that such agents acting with such an instrument, on such a subject, will accomplish? Is there not inherent in the institution a mighty moral power?
But from having spoken of the energy of its operations, we pass to an illustration of the simplicity of its principle.
The principle on which this institution is built is exemplified every week in almost every christian family. It is nothing more nor less than familiar instruction. An elder brother or sister sits down, surrounded by a group of the younger members of the family, to teach them lessons of morality and religion. There is here nothing stately, or distant, or reserved ; it is just a familiar and affectionate interchange of thought, between those who know more and those who know less, for the benefit of the latter. And the same spirit that dictates this instruction, will also discover itself in a watcħsul regard for the interests of these young children, during the whole week, and during every week; in seasonable counsels, admonitions and efforts, designed to do them good. Now if we look in upon a sabbath school, what more do we see than this same principle brought into action upon a more extended scale ; the children of many families collected in groups around their teachers, to receive instruction out of God's word, in the simplest manner possible. Here is no pulpit formality ; no assumption of authority, no distant or awe-inspiring manner; nothing to chill the blood, or obstruct the utterance, or confuse the thoughts of a child. The voice which speaks to them is not the voice of a stranger : -if it is not literally the voice of a brother or a sister, it is that of one whom they know and respect and love; and they listen to it with delight. And in the progress of the exercise, not only the teacher questions the child, but the child is encouraged to question the teacher, and the whole is in every respect, as familiar as a common fire-side conversation. And the teacher does not forget his class during the week, but so far as circumstances permit, he takes cognizance of their conduct, and if he does his duty, offers up his prayers for them in the closet, that his next meeting with them, and every meeting with them, may subserve their best and immortal interests.
From the simplicity of its principle, the sabbath school institu
*ion has this important advantage—that it admits of universal application, both in relation to circumstances and individuals.
In every large city there is a fearful amount of population, who, if left to themselves, will never enter the door of a church, or come within the hearing of religious instruction. Now if we were to go around into these habitations of ignorance and wretchedness, and invite their miserable tenants to the house of God, and even furnish them with apparel decent for appearing there, we might possibly succeed in bringing them for a single sabbath, or a few sabbaths; but as for making them regular attendants by any such means, it were unreasonable to expect it. Nay, if a church were built in the midst of such a population, and a preacher established in it, and its doors thrown open to all, without a farthing's expense, if nothing more were done, that would be in a great degree, a neglected church, and that in the same degree, a useless ministry. But let a sabbath school be planted amidst such a population, and let pious and enterprising teachers be sent out into the highways and hedges, on an exploring tour of mercy, and they will bring into this sacred enclosure a multitude of children ready to perish; and here they will come under the full influence of religious instruction; and as the sabbath school is only a stepping stone to the church, almost before they or their parents are aware of it, they are in God's house, listening to his word and singing his praises. Is it not manifest then, that the sabbath school, from the simplicity of its principle, does that which the church cannot do ? Indeed it acts as an handmaid to the church ; and having gathered its children together to receive its own appropriate blessing, it brings them with beautiful simplicity to the church to receive another.
We have noticed the application of the principle of sabbath schools in large cities, where there are multitudes who will not attend church, though they have the opportunity. It is equally applicable in destitute parts of the country, where there are many who have not the means of attending church, though they have the disposition. How many places are there in this land, in which either the church has never been established, or having been established, its walls are broken down, and little else appears now, than an unsightly mass of dessolation! There are some christian families remaining, who earnestly desire the privilege of a regular ministry ; but their number is so small, and their circumstances so straightened, as to forbid it, and they must be contented to hear the gospel at distant intervals, from some passing missionary. What then shall be done? Shall this population, fast degenerating, be suffered to sink into absolute heathenism, and the next generation come forward without God in the world? If not, shall some one of the faithful few who remain, regardless of the requisite quali