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SUNDAY SCHOOL RESULTS.
A Paper read at the Sunday School Convention, Newcastle-on-Tyne. BY MR. T. P. BARKAS.
LIKE all other agencies, Sunday schools have a past, a present, and a future.
The first topic for consideration at this Convention naturally divides itself into two branches; one past, the other present; and both past and present have intimate relations with and bearings on the future.
The proposition before us takes an interrogative form, and asks two questions. The first; Have Sunday schools accomplished the objects for which they were founded? The second; Are they now accomplishing the objects for which they are conducted?
Before attempting to reply to either of these questions, it may be desirable to understand precisely what they mean. Many controversies would be found to be perfectly useless, if the controversialists understood each other's precise positions. The shields of religious, moral, scientific, and social truths would often be found to have both gold and silver sides, if those who contended about them would but exert themselves to walk entirely round them, and see them not only from their own favourite positions, but also from those of their opponents.
I shall attempt to give the questions as practical a bearing as I possibly can, in order that we may not have a mere logomachical war, where parties may contend for mastery, without any practical results; but a friendly discussion, in which old truths may be put in new lights; new truths placed before us for examination and acceptance; and useful practical conclusions be deduced for the future guidance of Sunday school teachers.
First-Have Sunday schools accomplished the objects for which they were founded?
Sunday schools, as we all know, were founded by Mr. Raikes, in the town of Gloucester, in the year 1781. The primary design of their establishment was to teach neglected children the arts of reading and writing; to impress upon them moral duties, and to keep them from rambling about the streets on the Sabbath day. These were the objects for which Sunday schools were originally founded, and these, for many years, were the principal objects for which they were conducted. As in many other departments of labour and knowledge, the real importance and value of the Sunday school institution was not at first fully realised, and it was only gradually that the great truth dawned upon the
minds of the general Christian public, and upon the minds of those who laboured in the Sunday school field, that the children before them had not only bodies and minds, but immortal souls; and were not only related to this world in a secular and social character, but were also inalienably the heirs of a future and spiritual state of being, and that, therefore, the primary design of the Sunday school should be to train souls for heaven.
Thales, the Grecian philosopher, who found that amber, when rubbed, attracted light bodies; Franklin, when he drew electricity from the clouds; Wheatston, when he tried the conducting powers of various metallic wires, little thought that their puny experiments would result in discoveries so grand, as to out-rival the wildest imaginations of the poet. Shakespere makes Puck girdle the earth in forty minutes, and that was thought by all one of the wildest vagaries of the poet's brain; but now all the fancies of the poet are eclipsed, and electricity, which hundreds of years before the advent of our Saviour, was the plaything of Thales, is harnessed, like a fiery steed, into the chariot of human progress; and with a celerity that equals that of light, with an intangibleness resembling that of Deity, with an incomprehensibility equalled only by that of life, it does our bidding, and words of warning, encouragement, love, and reproach, are in an instant of time flashed to many of the remotest corners of the earth; and through its instrumentality, the leading events which have transpired in all portions of the globe, will, in the course of a few years, and within a few hours of their occurrence, be laid upon the breakfast table of almost every educated human being. Much of this has been, and the remainder will be accomplished gradually,
Thales, rubbing amber, and finding it attract light bodies, may be compared to Raikes gathering together the outcasts of society, and teaching them the rudiments of secular knowledge, and the beauty of moral truth; but he, like Thales, little knew to what extent his small seed of effort for humanity would grow.
The Second stage in the history of Sunday schools, or that to which we belong, brought with it increased conceptions of the importance of the agency, and laid out for cultivation a more comprehensive and catholic field.
In the present day, while Sunday school teachers appreciate secular instruction, and know something of its real value, not only as a means of elevating and humanizing the character, but of enabling them to bring more forcibly before the minds of their scholars Christian truth, they, at the same time, recognize the fact, that all have, in this country at least, the means of obtaining secular instruction, in day schools, mechanics' institutes, and other
educational agencies, that cover and bless the land; and that, therefore, the work of Sunday school instruction should, as far as practicable, be confined to tuition in religion, and that all secular teaching and secular knowledge, should be made to bear upon the primary object of Sunday school tuition; viz.-the conversion of the souls of the children to the truth as it is in Jesus.
We now see the objects for which Sunday schools were first established, and for which they are now continued. Let us see if those objects have been attained, and if not, why?
The element of time enters into all arrangements that have for their object the elevation and improvement of mankind. No agency, not even the Gospel itself, nor even the living embodiment of the Gospel, as manifested by Jesus Christ, succeeded absolutely; that is to say, all men do not immediately come under its influence; and experience teaches us, that not only do not all mankind come immediately under its influence, but that it may be many ages in operation, and yet but a small proportion of mankind have personal enjoyment of its many blessings. Not only is time an element in relation to the human beings existing at any given period of the world's history, but the field to be cultivated is ever extending, and if the Gospel or Sunday schools perfectly accomplished their object at any given period, there would, in the natural departure and increase of the human family, be a continually fresh field for exertion. In a sense, therefore, no matter how perfect the organisation, no matter how numerous and gifted the agency, the increase of population would always be in advance of the workers; this must always be true, and presents a difficulty to the theory of those who expect Sunday schools to do EVERYTHING. If, however, we take the question on its real and practical merits, then we shall see that they, to a large degree, accomplish the objects for which they are conducted. If we take it in the theoretical sense, viz.:— that they should educate for earth and heaven every neglected child, then they certainly do not accomplish that.
There are many reasons why the latter should not be considered the object at which Sunday school teachers aim. The first is, that the present instrumentality cannot possibly overtake the work, and the next, that if they could overtake the work to such an extent as to have every sane child and youth between the ages of four and twenty under tuition, the agency is human, and therefore limited and imperfect. Our object should be, not to aim at the immediate conversion of the whole world; not to have all children immediately under Sunday school instruction, for these things without direct Divine interposition are impossible; but to endeavour to raise the intellectual, moral, and spiritual character of our teachers to the
highest possible standard; to induce and prepare as many more as can possibly be obtained, to enter the Sunday school vineyard, and gradually, as opportunities offer, to gather children to the Sunday schools. All great works, human and divine, religious, moral, social and mechanical, so far as our knowledge goes, proceed slowly and surely to an ultimate issue.
The earth in its present form, sprang not into existence suddenly. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;" but how long an interval between that period in the remoteness of eternity, and the introduction of man, neither revelation nor nature tells us. All the indications in the crust of the earth teach us that the processes through which the earth passed in preparation for man, occupied myriads of ages, and that the coal we now burn consists of the remains of primeval forests, which flourished myriads of ages before man appeared on the scene. The whole of our coal fields are marks of Divine fingers indicating the pre-determination of the Almighty, that provision should be made on earth for human inhabitants. The Almighty can afford to work slowly, he has eternity in which to accomplish his designs, and generally those things that are of greatest value are of slowest growth. The oak grows for 100 years and flourishes for centuries. The mushroom springs up in a night and departs in a few hours.
We must not be discouraged by apparent retrogressions, either in Sunday school or other useful labours. Action and reaction are the characteristics of nature both physical and spiritual. We have ebbings and flowings of tides, and ebbings and flowings of human progress. Even the planets have their ebbings and flowings in relation to the sun, and yet these changes are acknowledged to be compatible, and not only compatible, but essential to the harmony and stability of the celestial mechanism.
We have advances and retreats in Sunday schools, and other labours for the evangelisation of mankind. Sometimes the sky is dark and gloomy, at other times bright and serene; at one time the old landmarks of Christianity seem as if they were about to be effaced, and again they, like the landscape after a storm, shine more refulgently bright, pure, and clear than ever. We have gradual changes in theological opinion, certain human dogmas that were considered as infallible truth crumble and decline; but the great central truths of the Christian religion which rest on the unity of God, on the sacrifice and purity of Christ, on the fact of a divine revelation, on the sinfulness of man, and on a future state of existence which embraces rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked, shine more brightly at the termination of every purifying ordeal.
We have seen then, very briefly, what is the philosophy connected with Sunday school and other movements; let us now look at the facts, and see what external and internal progress has been made, There may be much external and little internal progress, or there may be little external and much internal, one is not always to be taken as the measure of the other. We shall see that although Sunday schools have not accomplished everything, they have accomplished much, and that they contain within themselves the germs of still wider triumphs. We learn to do by doing, and the gradual and great success of the Sunday school enterprise, is only a few drops of the shower that will eventually fall when we rightly appreciate our duties and privileges.
Mr. Watson in his excellent paper on the state of Sunday schools in England, which is contained in the report of the Sunday School Convention, recently held in London, (a report which every teacher should possess and carefully read), remarks that "there are nearly 300,000 teachers of various grades of intellectual acquirements, in close intercourse with above 3,000,000 of the young people of our land;" and again, "We owe to Sunday schools that increased attention to the general education of the people, which has ended in raising England from almost the lowest in the scale to but one step below the highest, there being now one in seven of the whole population in attendance at daily schools."
I am indebted to my friend, Mr. E. Ridley, for the following statistics respecting our own more immediate neighbourhood.
The subsequent figures have reference to the Sunday schools in association with the Newcastle Sunday School Union. The num bers are of course only approximately correct, inasmuch as the schools slightly fluctuate from time to time.
In Newcastle and the Neighbouring Villages... 12,065
These numbers do not include the scholars connected with the Established Church of England, with the general body of the Wesleyans, who have a Union of their own, with the Unitarians, with the Roman Catholics, and other smaller sects.
It will be seen that the proportion of scholars to teachers in the Newcastle Sunday School Union Schools is very nearly that of the average of teachers and scholars in all parts of the Kingdom, there being about ten scholars to each teacher.
It is one thing to cover or enclose ground, but it is quite another