Page images

appear almost superfluous to assert, that in order to teach we must know; and, in order to know, we must be willing and unxious to learn. No man can really teach that which he has never taken pains to learn. Nor is it enough that the Teacher should possess a mere smattering of knowledge. He ought to be a thorough master of his subject. No one who desires to gain a complete and accurate knowledge of any art, will be satisfied to receive instruction at the hands of any one whose knowledge of that art is shallow and superficial. He naturally seeks the aid of a teacher who is thorough and proficient. Imperfect and inadequate knowledge on the part of the teacher is sure to be reproduced, with all its imperfections, in the scholar, and is certain to cause also a want of interest and zeal. We do not say, indeed, that the Teacher who is best instructed will always be the most successful, because there are many qualifications besides mere knowledge which help to form an efficient Teacher. But we do say, and that most emphatically, that no Teacher either deserves or has any right to expect success, unless he has given all diligence, and taken all pains to gain a thorough knowledge of the subject which he is to teach.

And, in these days, there are special reasons which increase the importance of a thorough preparedness on the part of the Sunday School Teacher—for now he occupies a recognised, and definite, and prominent position in the machinery of the Church for religious instruction of the young. A hundred years ago, when the founders of the Sunday School first gathered together a few children, in order to preserve them from the common and open profanation of the Lord's Day, they little imagined to what dimensions the movement, thus inaugurated, would extend. And, in these days, when the Sunday School is to be found in every town and almost every village in the land, there is a danger lest the tendency should arise to lay a greater burden upon this machinery than it is at all adapted to bear, and then, when failure comes, to find fault with the system rather than lay the blame upon those who have overtaxed its powers and overstrained its capacities. Just as we have sometimes seen a horse vainly struggling with a load far beyond its strength, and at the same time mercilessly beaten by its driver, as though the poor beast were to blame, because he had been too heavily burdened, and was unable to accomplish a task which was impossible. But while we protest against having our Sunday School system loaded with responsibilities which it is not fitted to discharge, at any rate let the high expectations which are formed of us, and the evident and growing desire to increase our burdens, stir us up to employ all our energies, and to use all our efforts, so that if we are not able to accomplish all that is demanded of us, we may, at the least, do as much as lies within the reach of our capacities. If we disclaim, on the part of the Sunday School system, any desire to occupy the whole ground, or to give all the religious training which our children have a right to claim-if we refuse to ignore the value of religious instruction in the Day School, or the duty of Christian parents to bring up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord - let us also be very jealous of our own exalted position as religious teachers of the young, and let us be eager to recognise and anxious to discharge the responsibilities which lie upon us, and which are ours to use, just in proportion to the opportunities which God opens before us. And, in these days, when so great efforts are being made, and rightly made, to improve our teaching in every department of human knowledge, it is only reasonable that Sunday School teaching should

share in the general improvement, and be more searching and more thorough.

But it may be said that we are making a much larger claim than the ordinary Sunday School Teacher would be able to meet. There are many Teachers in our schools who possess but moderate gifts, and who are only able to secure a small amount of time to give to the preparation for their work; and who, nevertheless, are influenced by the constraining love of Christ," and are anxious to do all that they can for the Master whom they love. Are such persons to be deterred from the offer of their voluntary service in the cause of the Sunday School? By no means. In this, as in all other work, the rule holds good—“It is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. What we claim from every Sunday School Teacher is that he should diligently use all the opportunities he has, and never shrink from the labour and the self-denial which the work entails. And be it remembered that opportunities are often hidden from those who do not seek them; while to those who are diligent and watchful, larger talents will be given than they had even dared to hope for. This is God's rule in all the work to which He calls us

- To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Once more, then, we urge upon the zealous Sunday School Teacher that, if he would be successful in his work, he must be, according to his opportunities, an earnest student—a student of the subject which he has to teach; a student of the plans and methods of teaching; a student of the characters and dispositions and necessities of his scholars.

With the two latter branches of the subject of the Sunday School Teacher's study we do not purpose now to deal; but it is above all things of paramount importance that the Teacher should be a student of the WORD OF GOD; and this not only because every Christian ought, for his own sake, to seek the guidance of the revealed will of God for his own personal edification and help, but especially because this is the subject with which his teaching is concerned.

It is some passage of the Word of

God from which, Sunday after Sunday, he has to gather lessons for his class. How is he to be best fitted to teach them? Obviously and beyond all question he is disregarding a solemn duty, and throwing away a blessed opportunity, if he should come to his work without any preparation at all. How can be pray for or expect God's blessing on his work, if he has bestowed no pains upon the preparation for it! In what way, then, is the willing student to spend his energies and time to best advantage in anticipation of his Sunday work?

There are three distinct means of help towards the understanding of God's Word, about each of which we would briefly speak

1. The Bible itself. 2. Notes of lessons, prepared and publisbed fcz the Teacher's


3. Commentaries, Cyclopædias, and Bible Dictionaries.

I. THE BIBLE ITSELF.—The Word of God is often its own best interpreter.

(a.) The first step must be, in every case, carefully to read through the passage to be taught, in order that we may get its main features and the general scope and bearing of the passage clear in our own mind.

(6.) We read again, in order to fill in more carefully the details of the picture. This time special regard must be paid to the context, and we must note the time, the place, the persons, and all the surrounding circumstances which go to fill in the main outline.

(c.) Then, when we travel over the same ground once more, we shall be prepared to mark the points which seem obscure, and on which we need to obtain further information than can be gathered from the narrative itself. To answer these enquiries, and give the needed information, the marginal references will come to our aid, and a careful study of these will often make plain to us what had otherwise been doubtful and obscure.

It may serve to make this method of study more clear if we take a very simple example in illustration. Suppose that our subject is St Peter's deliverance from prison (Acts xii).

(a.) Tbe first attentive reading fixes in our mind the main outline, and perhaps determines for us the lesson which it will be best to teach-God's providential care, and unexpected answer to prayer.

(6.) On our second reading, we notice, perhaps, that this was not the first time St Peter had been in prison, and we mark the time, the place, the persons, etc.—Jerusalem, at the Passover, St Peter, Herod, the angel, the soldiers, the praying church, Rhoda, etc., etc.

(c.) Then we consider what points of obscurity or doubt require to be cleared up, and we teșt our own knowledge of the circumstances. Thus-Which Herod ? What time? Which James? What prison? Quaternion ? Prison rules ? Sandals ? Ministering angels? Then we turn to our marginal references. We note here only two points. (1) Verse 9—“He thought he saw a vision." The reference tells us that he really had seen a vision not long before, the remembrance of which, perhaps, was now fresh in his mind. (2) Verse 15_" Then said they, *It is his angel.'” The reference to Matt. xviii. 10 reminds us of the only passage in which the word angel is used in this sense, and helps us to assign the meaning to it.

In this way many difficulties will be met, and many doubts resolved, and no teacher who has taken the trouble to pursue this plan of painstaking preparation, with the Bible only as his guide, will find that his lesson is altogether lost and his study thrown away. Indeed, there are many persons who maintain that the Sabbath School Teacher needs no other guide, and that it would be wiser for him altogether to lay aside the use of notes of Lessons, or the help of Commentaries and Dictionaries, since all these means of help are necessarily tinged with human infirmities and errors. It is urged that it would be better to discard them altogether, and trust only to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the reading of the Word. It seems to us, however, to be unreasonable to argue thus. Is there any one whose knowledge is 80 perfect that he is free to disregard entirely the conclusions which have been reached, or the facts which have been discovered by otbers! Certainly no one who aspires to be a student can aiford to despise the accumulated knowledge of so many centuries in the illustration and interpretation of Scripture, and begin the enquiry for himself anew.

We wish, however, to say a word or two upon

II. The use of prepared notes of Lessons. These are intended as helps to study, and not as aids to idleness. If they are allowed to become a substitute for private and personal study, they are worse than useless. They are intended to indicate to the teacher a plan which it may be of advantage to pursue; but they ought not to dictate the only possible course for him to follow. If wisely written and rightly used, they will often open to the careful teacher new topics for enquiry and new trains of thought, which will cause him to go again for their solution to his Bible and his books. In this way they will stimulate study instead of displacing and superseding it.

III. The use of Commentaries and Dictionaries. With respect to these our own strong opinion is, that the Sunday School Teacher would be wise to use all the help he can procure for his own improvement in preparation for his work. Let him not turn aside from any means, however humble it may seem, from which he may derive a thought or a fact which may be of assistance to him. But as of Notes, so of Commentaries ; let it be borne in



mind that the use of these is not to supersede his own careful study, but to assist him in it. Of course, no Commentary can supply altogether that which the Sunday School Teacher has to present to his class. At least, it seems to us that a lesson which should be simply a collection of notes in the form of a commentary would be singularly feeble and uninteresting. Commentaries, too, are of so many different kinds. Some would supply practical hints and furnish the lessons to be drawn; some would help to clear up difficult texts and deal with questions which affect the interpretation of them ; some, again, are devoted to historical and geographical illustrations, and some are a combination of all of these. But it is not to be expected that the Sunday School Teacher will have the means of consulting all these, nor if he has thern within his reach would the time at his disposal be sufficient for the prolonged enquiry. All, therefore, that we need say about the use of a Commentary is this:—Make diligent use of whatever means you possess ; weigh carefully all that is said upon the subject of the passage which you are to teach; but do not accept it as an infallible guide, or allow it to take the place of your own personal pains and study.

The BIBLE DICTIONARY or CYCLOPÆDIA stands upon a different footing from the Book of Notes or the Commentary. It is to the student of the Bible what the glossary is to the student of Chaucer. It enables him to read and understand that which without its use would have to remain dark and obscure. God's revelation has come to us through the vehicle of human thought and human language. We have to study all that is known of the history, the language, the geography, the manners, the laws, the institutions of an ancient people who were made the recipients of the Divine message. Take, for an example, the passage to which we have already referred of St Peter's deliverance from prison. It is a very simple and well known story, but we noted in the earlier verses several difficulties which the student would have to mark for further enquiry. Now, most of these difficulties are just of the kind to which a good Bible Dictionary would supply the answer; and when these answers have been gained the sacred narrative is surrounded with a new interest; there is a vividness and a reality given to the whole picture; and the Teacher is better furnished with matter for the lesson which he has to teach.

Some persons, perhaps, might fancy that these, after all, are matters comparatively unimportant and indifferent, and that the Teacher had better confine himself to the practical lessons to be drawn from the passage he has to teach. We reply that nothing is trivial or unimportant which tends to throw light upon the Word of God; and, moreover, the more clearly we are able to grasp the surrounding circumstances the more distinctly shall we be able to place the picture before others; and whatever helps us

« PreviousContinue »