Archibald Alexander.

Suggestions in vindication of Sunday-schools, but more especially for the improvement of Sunday-school books, and the enlargement of the plan of instruction online

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Online LibraryArchibald AlexanderSuggestions in vindication of Sunday-schools, but more especially for the improvement of Sunday-school books, and the enlargement of the plan of instruction → online text (page 1 of 3)
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The importance of the general diffusion of religious know-
ledge, seems now to be universally admitted. No longer is it
pretended, that ignorance is the mother of devotion; or that
real knowledge can be injurious to any portion of the commu-
nity. Experience teaches, that the more ignorant men are, the
more liable are they to be hurried into acts of violence and ex-
cess; or to be seduced into vice by the persuasions and example of
the wicked. Most malefactors, who are condemned by the laws
of the country, are exceedingly ignorant of religious truth: the
mob, often influenced and led on to acts of shocking outrage,
is every where composed of the least informed of the people.
An ignorant multitude is always liable to be misled by design-
ing demagogues, or seduced by artful impostors. A regard to
character, and a respect for tlie opinions of others, is greatly
strengthened by an increase of knowledge, and this is one of
the strongest barriers against infamous vice. Conscience, the
most powerful of restraints, possesses force in proportion to the
light of truth in the mind. Superstition may, indeed, be pro-
moted by ignorance, but true religion, never. Fanaticism also
is closely allied to ignorance, but the most effectual remedy
against enthusiasm, is genuine piety. Skepticism, it is true, is
often associated with a considerable extent of knowledge; but
the cure of infidelity must be found in a correct acquaintance
with the truth; and the best preventive of this evil is, early
religious instruction. It cannot be doubted, that the manners
of men are polished hy education. Where do you find man-
ners the most sordid and brutal, but among those who have
never been instructed? Ferocious passions naturally spring up

in minds entirely uncultivated. And it need not be feared that
instruction will render the poor more miserable, by making
them more sensible of their humble condition. Sound religious
knowledge will teach them, that happiness may be enjoyed as
fully in a cottage as in a palace; that contentment with our con-
dition is the duty of all; and that want and affliction furnish a
very salutary discipline, by which faith is tried, virtue improv-
ed, and the soul prepared for a better world. The discontented,
envious poor, are not commonly those who have been religiously
educated, but the ignorant and profligate. It can admit of no
doubt, therefore, that the diffusion of knowledge, and especially
of religious knowledge, among all classes of people, is a thing
to be desired; and that no pains and labour can be considered
too great, which are the means of accomplishing this end.

But how this can be most successfully eflected, is a question
which demands the serious consideration of every friend of man.
God has, indeed, appointed the preaching of the gospel as the
great instrument of the instruction and moral reformation of
men, and nothing should be allowed to supersede this; for God
is wiser than man; and will, moreover, honour and bless his
own institutions. Let it be admitted, then, that the faithful
preaching of the gospel is the great means to which all others
should be subordinate. But God has also directed Christians to
give mutual instruction to one another, and "to hold forth the
word of life" to those who are in darkness. Private instruc-
tion is as much authorized as public preaching; and, in its place,
is as necessary. Indeed, without private instruction, public
preaching will be in a great measure useless. One who is to-
tally uneducated, cannot understand the purport and connexion
of a sermon. The people must, by some means, be prepared
by elementary education, to profit by the public teaching of the
church; and the want of this elementary knowledge, is one
great reason why so many hear to so little profit. They hear,
but they understand not; and thus the good seed is lost. This
preparatory instruction ought to be given in every family; but
alas! I need not say how commonly this is neglected, or so im-
perfectly attended to, that our youth are, in many places, grow-
ing up in shameful and dangerous ignorance. But if parents

and masters will not perform their duty in this respect, can no
remedy be devised? can no substitute be proposed? Yes; God,
in his kind providence, has directed the attention of his church
to a remedy which may be considered effectual, if it be dili-
gently and universally used. This is the SUNDAY SCHOOL
system of instruction. Although this method of teaching the
young and ignorant is so simple, yet it deserves to be ranked
second, to no discovery of our age. I do not know that the
beneficence of providence has been more manifest in any thing
which has occurred in our day, than in the general institution
of Sunday-schools. Other benevolent institutions provide the
means of religious instruction; but the Sunday-school makes
the application of them. Indeed all others require this for
their successful operation. Bibles and tracts cannot be useful
to those who cannot read; but in these humble seminaries the
ignorant are* taught to read. Pious youth are wanted to be
educated for pastors and missionaries; and where will you go
to find them, but to the Sunday-schools? Here will often be
seen the first buddings of that piety, which expands in the per-
formance of faithful missionary labour in some heathen land.
A large majority of the missionaries now in the field, were nur-
tured in Sunday-schools. Here will be sown, in many a heart,
the precious seed which will germinate in a thousand bene-
volent efforts, and bring forth fruit unto eternal life. While
the civilian is earnestly employed in devising plans for prisons,
and dungeons for solitary confinement, let it be the noble object
of the patrons of Sunday-scliools, to render all such institutions,
if possible, unnecessary. And this is not a vain hope, if all the
children in the country could be brought under the regular in-
fluence of this mode of instruction. Scarce any of those taught
in these schools have ever been disgraced by a condemnation
for crime.

We are, as the voice of experience teaches, never less liable
to lose the fruit of our labour, than when we instil religious
instruction into the susceptible minds of children. This pre-
cious seed is seldom entirely lost; for although it may lie long
buried, as it were, under the dust, it may spring up at a late day,
and flourish long after the hand that sowed it, is laid in the


grave. Besides, we are not aware how much positive evil is
prevented by the impressions of religious truth on the minds of
youth. In the Sabbath-school the little boy is taught the Ten
Commandments; it is moreover inculcated on him, that God is
angry with the wicked, and that his curse will follow the evil-
doer. Also, he learns there, that the evil of sin is so great,
that God's own Son came into our world, and died on the cross,
to make an atonement for it. In his Bible, which he here learns
to read, he finds it written, that " the loicked shall be turned
into hellf^ and that the ungodly shall not inherit eternal life.
Now, when this boy goes into the world, and meets with disso-
lute companions, who tempt him to steal, or murder, or bear
false witness, will not these solemn truths which he has learned
at school, rush upon his mind, and operate as strong restraints
to preserve him from the commission of crimes, under the power
of which he would easily fall, were it not for these salutary im-

Sunday-schools were originally instituted with a special view
to those unhappy children, who through the ignorance, or pro-
fligacy, or carelessness of their parents, have no religious in-
struction; but on the contrary, are brought up under the in-
fluence of evil counsels and worse examples; and such children
ought still to be considered the direct object of these institu-
tions; but it has been found, that they may be rendered highly
useful to children of every description. Often it happens, that
well disposed and pious parents are poorly qualified to commu-
nicate religious instruction to their own children; and not un-
frequently, children are more attentive to lessons of morality
and religion coming from others, than to those which they learn
from their own parents. From these they are so accustomed to
hear advice and reproof, that they are very apt to contract a
habit of heedlessness when admonished by them; but when an-
other, who claims no authority but that which is founded on
kindness, speaks affectionately to these children, they are mute
with attention, and seem to be tenderly affected with what they
hear from their beloved Sunday-school teachers. The good or-
der and solemnity maintained in these schools, has a great effect
in predisposing the youthful mind to be attentive and serious^

and also the gentle emulation which is properly excited, gives
a spring and alacrity to the spirits which is favourable to im-
provement. There are few parents, I believe, who can instruct
their own children as well as they may be taught in many of
our Sabbath-schools.

But the good effect of this institution is nearly as conspicu-
ous, in regard to the teachers, as the pupils. It has been long
a maxim, that to know a thing accurately, the best method is
to teach it. And with respect to religious knowledge, it has
ever been found very difficult to induce people generally, whe-
ther old or young, to give such patient attention to divine
truth, as to become well acquainted with the doctrines and pre-
cepts of the Bible. Now this difficulty is happily obviated in
regard to the teachers in our Sunday-schools. The necessity
which they are under of teaching the lesson, furnishes a motive
sufficiently strong, to induce them to study it with diligence,
and by the aid of all the helps to which they can have access.
Thus many of our intelligent young people are actually becom-
ing accurate Bible theologians. They are acquiring divine
knowledge, in that way, which leads them thoroughly to under-
stand what they learn, and to fix it indelibly in the memory.
I do not know any better school in which these persons could
be placed for their own improvement, than to enjoy the privi-
lege of teaching the children in Sunday-schools. The advan-
tages of this situation, I am persuaded, have not been overrat-
ed. The good resulting from this benevolent employment has
not been confined to mere improvement in sacred knowledge,
but in many instances, has issued in the conversion of the heart
to God. There can, I believe, be no doubt, but that a larger
proportion of Sunday-school teachers, have become truly pious,
within a few years, than of persons of any other class or de-
scription. God fulfils his own gracious promise, that they that
water shall themselves be watered. The benefits derived from
these blessed institutions to teachers, are, themselves, a rich
compensation for all their labour, and for all the expenses in-
curred, in keeping them up.

But Sunday-schools have not only been beneficial, in a high
degree, to the pupils, and the teachers, but also to the parents,


and other relatives, of the children. Many parents are so hos-
tile to religion and to religious men, that they can scarcely be
approached, in any other way, than through their children.
All such persons view religion, distorted and deformed, through
a medium of dense prejudice; but when their children repeat
their lessons in their hearing, and read to them from the sacred
Scriptures, new light often darts into their minds, and speedily
a great change takes place in their sentiments. Sometimes,
also, ignorant or profligate parents will accompany their chil-
dren to a Sabbath-school, who can by no other means be induced
to enter the walls of a church. When there, their attention is
rivetted, while they listen to the answers of their own children;
and thus the truth finds access to minds long estranged from
God, and deeply buried in ignorance.

But it is not the ignorant and vicious parent only, that de-
rives benefit through the attendance of his children at Sunday-
schools; many well-informed and respectable people are led by
the inquiries of their children, to search after many things
which they never knew before, or had forgotten. In families
where much attention is paid to the lesson for the week, all
hands are set to work to find out appropriate answers to the
questions. Commentaries are consulted, and I have no doubt,
that, in many cases, the exercises of the Sunday-schools have
been the means of bringing these valuable books into families,
where they would not otherwise have been found. And it is
much to be desired, that we had a commentary, sound and con-
cise, evangelical and practical, adapted to Sunday-schools. If
such a book were placed in every family from which children
come, how extensively would Bible knowledge be difi'used in
a short time?*

It may , moreover, be mentioned as one of the minor advantages
of Sunday-schools, that they promote neatness and decency of
dress and personal appearance,among the poor. The moral, pious,
and industrious poor are generally remarkable for cleanliness,
and for being tidy in their dress, when they go out from home:
but the idle, intemperate, and profligate, are usually disgustingly

* It is understood that such a work is in the course of preparation.

filthy; and their children are squalid in their whole appearance*
Now, how close the connexion is between neatness, and purity
of mind, I shall not attempt to determine; but that every step
in civilization is favourable to virtue and religion, there is no
room to doubt: and whatever will have the effect of inducing
parents to exercise some care and industry, in attending to the
personal appearance of their children, so as to put them into
decent trim, has, in my opinion, a very salutary result.

But my object in this essay, is not, merely to descant on the
utility of Sunday-schools: I wish to enter somewhat particularly
into the principles on which these institutions should be con-
ducted; and the improvements, which may, without difficulty,
be engrafted on the existing system. Not, that I mean to give
any precepts, relative to the minute regulations of these insti-
tutions. My experience does not enable me to judge, or direct
any thing on this subject: and it is one on which teachers and
superintendents are better capable of directing, than other per-
sons. But although I have had no experience in the manage-
ment of Sunday-schools, I have not been an uninterested spec-
tator of their origin and rapid progress; and the more I reflect
upon the subject, the more important does the institution appear.
1 confess, therefore, that I feel no small solicitude, that nothing
should occur, which would have a tendency to retard its ad-
vancement, or prevent it from attaining to that perfection and
accomplishing that measure of good, of which the system is
capable. My zeal in the cause of Sunday-schools, therefore,
together with the request of some respected persons who are
devoted to this object, must be my apology, for offering my
opinions, freely, to the public, on this interesting subject.

1. I have observed, with pleasure, that the system of Sunday-
school benevolence, in its most prominent features, is catholic.
It willingly embraces all who receive the Bible, and are willing
to use it. It has, therefore, been considered a desirable ob-
ject, to combine as many religious denominations, in this enter-
prise, as possible; and it is not perceived, that with prudent
management, there can exist any ground of unpleasant collision.
The American Sunday-School Union, as a society, professes
no creed but the Bible; although the individuals who are con-



cerned in its management, belong to several distinct denomina-
tions; to the forms and peculiar opinions of which respectively,
they adhere. But, in conducting Sunday-schools, they know
no sect but Christianity; no creed but the Bible.

The object of Sunday-schools, is, to communicate that know-
ledge which is common to all who hold the fundamentals of
Christianity. There is, undoubtedly, in our time, some ap-
proach to the spirit of unity and Catholicism; and, certainly, this
spirit, when genuine, should be cherished, as pertaining to the
gospel of Christ. In whatever institutions, therefore, chris-
tians of different denominations can combine tlieir benevolent
and pious efforts, with an increase of strength, and without
compromising their peculiar tenets, they ought to unite; and it
partakes of the nature of schism, to break this union, on ac-
count of narrow sectarian feelings and interests. While schemes
of close connexion between those who differ in matters viewed
to be of some importance to the purity of faith and worship,
are only adapted to produce collision, and greater alienation
than before existed; it is delightful to see those, who have long
been too far apart, drawn near together, by the power of their
mutual love to Christ, and by the sweet bands of brotherly love.
Why should those who are so soon to inhabit one house in
heaven, treat each other as aliens and enemies? or, spend their
time in building up high walls of separation? Let each section
of the church catholic, maintain, with becoming firmness and
zeal, what they honestly believe to be the truth of God; and no
imputation of bigotry can justly be charged upon them, while
they pursue this course: but, as the points of difference between
evangelical Christians are trivial, compared with the important
and fundamental truths in which they agree, brotherly kindness
ought not to be interrupted on account of their differences; and
whenever any occasion offers, on which they can cordially unite
their efforts, it is manifestly their duty to receive one another
as Christ has received them; and to show to a world which is
ever cavilling on account of the dissentions of christians, that
real christians can love one another still, although partially se-
parated by names and forms.


It is manifest, from an examination of the constitution of the
Sunday-School Union, that all its articles are catholic: no pre-
ference is there shown to any one denomination. And it is
equally evident, from a consideration of the character of the
gentlemen who compose the board of Managers, that no par-
tiality has been exhibited. It would scarcely be possible to
form a board, with a more equal respect to the several denomi-
nations concerned in this enterprise; and, as far as is known to
me, the same impartiality is manifest in the proceedings of the
board, both in the selection of their officers and committees,
and in the books selected for publication.

I have been led to make these remarks, because it has been
objected, by some, to this society, that while it professes ca-
tholic principles, it is, in fact, merely an instrument for build-
ing up one denomination. But how is this possible, when no
one denomination has a majority in the board? Will all parties,
retaining their peculiar sentiments and attachments, concur, in
promoting the separate interests of a society different from their
own? And I would ask of those who make this objection, what
single act of the American Sunday-School Union has even the
semblance of partiality for a particular sect? I am verily per-
suaded that no such act can be pointed out. It may be true,
indeed, that some denominations enter more zealously and ge-
nerally into the enterprize than others, but this argues no fault
in the constitution, or partiality in the board; or in their agents.
The remedy is — and it would be a most desirable one — that all
denominations emulate each other in zeal and energy, in pro-
moting Sunday-schools, in their respective churches. Here is
a wide field for a noble, a holy competition. But surely, there
exists no ground of complaint, and no reason for objection to
the constitution or administration of the Society.

2. But while the American Sunday-School Union have been
scrupulously careful to maintain impartiality, as it relates to
the several religious denominations united in this scheme of
benevolence; it is probable, that they have not been sufficiently
aware of another objection, which has recently been made by
some warm friends of the institution. It is alleged, that there
is danger, lest the American Union should establish a system of


religious instruction every where, independent of the regular
and authorized pastors of the church. It is said, that their
agents penetrate into the parishes of every denomination, and
there establish their schools without the consent, or concur-
rence of ministers, or other church-ofFicers; and that by this
means, the religious instruction of the youth is likely to be
taken out of the hands of those to whom, according to the
economy of Christ*s house, it has been regularly committed
And, moreover, that we have no security for the soundness of
the doctrines inculcated by the teachers of a society, which may
propagate just what opinions it pleases; and so it may happen,
that the children of a parish may, in the Sunday-schools, be
taught doctrines directly repugnant to those held by the minis-
ter, and by the church to which he belongs. I bring forward
this objection with all its force, that its weight may be duly ap-
preciated by the Managers of the Union.

Now, in answer to this, it can be truly stated, that the Managers
of the American S, S. Union have ever been solicitous to obtain
the co-operation of the clergy in their respective spheres of ac-
tion and influence; and they have not only invited their aid, but
have even, in some instances, given offence to some clergymen
by one of their standing questions, which they regularly call
upon the schools under their care to answer; which is, " How
far are the ministers engaged in promoting the schools? Have
you taken any steps to interest ministers in your vicinity to
promote Sunday-schools?"* But if ministers, generally, have
paid little or no attention to the subject, and the schools have
gone forward without their aid or inspection, surely the blame
does not lie at the door of the American S.S.Union. If the clergy
of the different denominations will not take hold of this thing,
and give it a direction within their own parishes or preaching
districts, it is impossible for the American S. S. Union to compel
them to perform their duty. And if the minister of a parish

* The following is one of the duties enjoined in the commission which the
Managers give to their agents: — "It will be your special duty to. wait on all
ministers of the gospel, and make known particularly to them, the nature and
objects of your mission, and use your influence to interest them in promoting
Sabbath- schools in their respective congregations, towns, and counties."


will not come forward and lend his aid and counsel, must the
work stop? Must the Sunday-school agent make no effort to pro-
vide for the instruction of those who are willing to be taught
within those bounds? Surely, no sincere friend to the rising gene-
ration would affirm this. And candour compels me to declare,
that when at the late meeting of the Delegates of Auxiliaries with
the Board, in Philadelphia, this subject was brought up and
discussed, the Managers discovered every disposition to adopt
any resolution, or take any measures, which would have the
effect of enlisting the clergy of the several denominations, cor-
dially in this work: and when a resolution was proposed and
voted by the Delegates of the Auxiliaries, to urge this matter
again and more earnestly on the pastors and other church-offi-
cers, it received the decided approbation of the Board of Mana-
gers of the American Sunday-School Union. But the aspect
of^ the question which is most important is, not who have been
remiss in the discharge of duty in time past, but what can be
now done to avert the danger and prevent the evil which it has
been seen is imminent. In observing on this subject, I beg
leave respectfully to say to the ministers of the gospel of every
denomination: —

Dear brethren, I scarcely know a pastoral duty of higher re-
sponsibility, than to lend your utmost aid and influence to give

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Online LibraryArchibald AlexanderSuggestions in vindication of Sunday-schools, but more especially for the improvement of Sunday-school books, and the enlargement of the plan of instruction → online text (page 1 of 3)