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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efficiency and a right direction to Sunday-schools within the
limits of your parishes and your vicinity. You have known
and felt how difficult or rather impossible it is, for one man to
instruct effectually all the youth of a large parish. If you should
do nothing else, it would still be imperfectly done. Under
these discouraging prospects, some of you have probably been
driven almost to despair of effecting any thing; while others
have endeavoured, by occasional catechising, and by paying an
annual pastoral visit to the families under your care, to accom-
plish what seemed practicable: but you know, that unless pa-
rents, guardians, and masters will do their duty faithfully, in
the domestic instruction of their families, these occasional ex-
ercises nfever can be effectual to feed the lambs of Christ's
flock. 0! how much would many of our fathers in the minis-
try have given for a half a dozen faithful co-adjutors in commu-


nicating elementary knowledge to the young? But in their
time, such aid could not have been obtained. No young per-
son, nor scarcely any elderly one, could have been persuaded
to become teachers. Such a thing was unknown and uncus-
tomary, and no one thought of it. But, now, Providence
has provided you with a piece of moral machinery, which, if
rightly directed, will be of as much avail to you, as the labour-
saving machines to the mechanic in our extensive manufactories.
It will not answer for you to leave it in the hands of others.
They may direct it well, or they may not; but as it is to operate
on the youth of your charge, for whom you have an account to
give, you ought yourself to attend to its operation. You ought
to be solicitously attentive to, and be found in the midst of, all
Sabbath-Schools within your own charge — watching, from week
to week, with that deep interest and anxiety which you cannot
but feel, the course of instruction — the conduct and character of
teachers and scholars — and the progress and prospects of the
school; admonishing in love and pastoral faithfulness the la-
bourers who may seem to be remiss — giving encouragement to
the faithful and a word of exhortation to all. Thus you will
make one of their number, — you will be intimately acquainted
and connected with all their plans and proceedings, and may
exercise over them all the kind care and salutary influence
which belong to your place and duty, and for which they will
return kindness, confidence, and gratitude. It is this faithful,
constant, official inspection, which the officers and managers of
the American Sunday-School Union greatly desire to see exer-
cised over their schools by every minister of the Lord Jesus
Christ; — they feel as if this was the right and province and
duty of ministers, and they have often mourned over the dis-
tance which has seemed to separate the chief labourers in the
vineyard from those whose design, responsibility, and success are
so nearly allied to their own. Others may perform the laborious
parts of the service, but it belongs to you, and it behooves you, to
inspect these schools, and see that nothing is inculcated which is
contrary to sound doctrine,and that no spirit of wild fanaticism is
introduced by ignorant zealots. As a watchman on the walls of
Zion, you cannot, you must not remain an indifferent spectator


of this powerful system. It will go forward whether you lend
your assistance or not; but it is your incumbent duty to give it
direction, so far as its operation affects those under your care.
Why is it that some of you, my brethren, have so little dis-
cerned the signs of the times, as not to perceive, that a mightier
moral engine has not been set in operation for ages? That it
affords to the faithful pastor greater facilities for the instruction
of his people than any thing before discovered? And is it pos-
sible that any of you have paid no serious attention to the pro-
gress of Sunday-schools, and have given no effectual aid to their
establishment in your parishes? or that, having them there, you
are contented that they may take their course, (and whoever
will, may have the superintence of their Instruction?) I respect-
fully ask you, who have hitherto neglected this subject, what
you could desire in the way of aid to your arduous pastoral du-
ties, more convenient and effectual than Sabbath-schools in every
district of your congregation? By their means you enjoy the
assistance of ten, twenty, thirty, or forty persons, every Sab-
bath, earnestly and diligently engaged in giving religious in-
struction to the children of your charge; and giving it to mul-
titudes whom your instructions would never have reached. And
your young men and women, instead of spending the Sabbath
idly or unproiitably, are now, many of them — if Sunday-schools
abound with you — in a train of useful learning and improve-
ment, which will every year be rendering them more capable
of being useful and respectable members of the church, and
will qualify them for becoming heads of families with a good
prospect of being able to teach them the way of life, and to
bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the
Lord. I am acquainted with one large congregation, where the
pastor, until lately, neglected Sabbath-schools, and they lan-
guished until they were near extinction; but now he feels their
importance, and devotes himself to promote their prosperity,
visiting one of them and lecturing to children and parents
every Sabbath, and the whole aspect of this congregation is
changed. The desire of learning has extended itself to all ages;
and there is, throughout the congregation, a lively attention and
alacrity in relation to sacred things, which is very different from


the apathy and lukewarmness of their former condition. I con-
fess, I do not see how Jiny man having the care of souls, can
reconcile it to his conscience, or how he will answer it to his
Master, if he continues to be indifferent to this important con-
cern. But it is not sufficient that you approve the institution,
and speak well of it, and give free consent to its introduction
into your parish: much more than this is incumbent on you, and
expected from you. It is a duty, the obligation of which you
cannot evade, to give your personal aid and counsel to carry on
this important work. Many ministers begin to have their eyes
opened to see this business in a far different light from what
they formerly did; and begin to look upon Sunday-schools as
the most important auxiliaries to their great work of rescuing
immortal souls from everlasting destruction: and I hope the
time is at hand, when every clergyman and every church-officer,
will be found taking an active and a leading part in the affairs
of this institution, so far as it is connected with their respective

' And, here, I beg leave to state, that the American Sunday-
School Union prescribe no standard of doctrine to the schools
in their connexion. Their object is to bring their scholars to a
knowledge of the Bible, the great repository of all religious
truth. The Sunday-school teacher who seeks wisdom from on
high, and draws his instructions from this pure fountain, will
not be likely to be misled, or to mislead others, in any matter
of importance. But it behooves the pastors of the churches to
see to it, that nothing is inculcated on the youth under their
charge, which is inconsistent with that form of doctrine which
he himself esteems and teaches to be truth. And it is a fact too
well known to be here repeated, that the catechisms of different
evangelical churches have been frequently and willingly used as
books of instruction, whenever this has been requested by pa-
rents, or others having the right to direct the religious instruc-
tion of children. And if this long approved method of instruc-
tion has been less attended to than its importance demands, the
reason may be found in the diversity of religious denominations,
which are frequently mingled in the same school; or, where this
does not exist, in the inattention of the clergy to the schools


^established within the precincts of their pastoral charges. Fol^j
I may venture to affirm, that no evangelical pastor will ever
meet with any difficulty in having 'the catechism or form of
doctrine adopted by his own church, inculcated on the youth of
his own parish. I am, at this time, acquainted with a large and
flourishing Sunday-school, containing above a hundred scholars,
in which the catechism of the church to which they belong is
made an object of attention and instruction on one Sabbath in
each month. But in schools unconnected with the pastoral
charge of any minister — of which there are many — the super-
intendents and teachers must of course pursue that mode of re-
ligious instruction which to them appears best: and as long as
all the books of instruction used in Sunday-schools are pub-
lished, and may be examined by all who feel an interest in this
subject, there can be no danger that error will be circulated by
means of this institution.

3. Another important subject connected with this institution^
is the publication and circulation of books. As much has been
said of late respecting the character of the books issued from
the Depository of the American S. S. Union, I will take the liberty
of expressing my opinion of the manner in which this depart-
ment of the business should be conducted.

Although the preparation of books was not originally contem-
plated as a part of the Sunday-school system; yet, in the pro-
gress of the enterprize, it has grown up to an importance which
is fully equal to that of any other department. Indeed, when
we reflect upon the recent origin of this Institution, and upon
the smallness and obscurity of its commencement, we cannot
but be astonished at the extent of its operations in the circula-
tion of books. If we except the book establishment of the Me-
thodist Episcopal Church, I believe, there is no other society in
this country which supplies so large a portion of the population
with its reading. And, certainly, they who select and distribute
the books which are perused and studied by the people, and
especially by the young, will have a greater influence in form-
ing the character of the nation than any other persons, let them
use what other means they may.

The plan of- connecting libraries'with each school, and esta-



blishing depositories in convenient situations, is characterized
by wisdom. It has long been a desideratum to have congrega-
tional libraries for the use of the people; and, frequently, attempts
have been made to establish them; but with very little success.
The people have not taken a lively interest in these institutions,
and where they exist, do not, generally, make much use of the
books. The reason of this seems to be, that the authors selected
for such libraries, though valuable, are not suited to the taste,
nor level to the capacity of common people. Few have leisure
or inclination to go through ponderous volumes, or to peruse
books of deep reasoning, and replete with learning. The ex-
periment made by the American Sunday-School Union, evinces^
that small books, written in a lively style, and rendered interest-
ing by pleasant narratives, are the kind of reading which is
adapted to the taste of a large part of our adult as well as youth-
ful population. For, although the libraries are intended par-
ticularly for the use of the children, yet it is found, that when
the books are*brought into the families to which the scholars be-
long, they are read with avidity by persons of all ages. By this
means, the books published and distributed into every nook and
corner of the United States, by the A merican Sunday-School
Union, are producing a great effect on a vast multitude of peo-
ple. The management of this business has been committed, by
the Board of Managers, into the hands of a publishing commit-
tee, who have, without the least prospect of personal emolu-
ment, devoted to it their time and attention, with an untiring
assiduity, which demands the gratitude of all who are friendly
to the universal diffusion of knowledge. The caution exercised
by this committee will be manifest, when it is understood that
no work is sent to the press to which any of the committee ob-
jects. The demand for books, however, has increased so rapidly,
and the call for variety, as well as numbers, has been so urgent
and incessant, that it may not have been practicable for the pub-
lishing committee, in every instance, to furnish the most suita-
ble works. They have done^, perhaps, the best that could be
done in their circumstances; and while they have merited our
warmest commendation for their disinterested labours, there
seems to be no just ground for censure, because they have not


done what it was impossible to do. I think it necessary to en-
ter thus far into a vindication of the publishing committee, since
much has been said respecting the character of the books pub-
lished, under their inspection; and complaints are still abroad on
this subject. But while I would cheerfully award unqualified
commendation to this respectable committee, I do not mean to
say, that they have fallen into no mistakes, in managing this mo-
mentous concern. But it should be kept in mind, by those in-
clined to find fault, that this responsible business has devolved
upon them unsought and unexpected. Indeed, there is something
wonderful in the rapid increase of every thing connected with
this Institution. The persons who now have the management
of this great concern, began their labours in obscurity, neither
desiring nor seeking the notice of the world; but God has abun-
dantly prospered their humble and disinterested efforts; so that
now they find themselves, without having aspired to it, placed
at the head of one of the most useful institutions in the world.
They feel their responsibility to be great beyond expression,
and are deeply sensible, I trust, of their need of wisdom from
on high; and, at the same time, will be thankful for any sug-
gestions which the friends of the cause are disposed to make to
aid them in their arduous work. I am not apprehensive, there-
fore, of giving any offence to the Board, or their committee by
the freedom of my remarks.

The principal objection in regard to the books issued from
the Depository is, that, too generally, they were of a light and
fictitious character. Now, I am not sufficiently conversant with
all the publications of the Union to judge correctly on this sub-
ject, but I am inclined to believe, that there has existed a mis-
take on this point. Too many fictitious stories, and some of
them containing few lessons of moral or religious instruction,
have been put into circulation. The tendency of this is to
vitiate the taste of the rising generation, so that while they are
greedy after fiction, they will have no appetite for solid, instruc-
tive reading. And, I believe, the committee themselves have
for some time been turning their attention to works of more
substantial value.

But, it is evident that no course which can be pursued in thii


business, will unite the suffrages of all good people; for some
object to all fictitious writings as having in the main a bad ten-
dency, and as incompatible with the simplicity and sincerity of
the Christian religion. It seems necessary, therefore, to say a
few words on this subject; — but it would require a volume ta
discuss it fully.

I would, then, observe, that we cannot proscribe all writings
in which fictitious personages are introduced, without passing a
sentence of condemnation on various parts of Sacred Scripture,
and particularly on the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These must fall under the denomination of fictitious discourses;
or discourses in which unreal personages are introduced, and re-
presented as speaking and acting, that by this means important
truth might be conveyed to the minds of men, in such a manner
as to be understood, to obviate prejudice and to create interest.
The Song of Solomon, also, a canonical book of Scripture, is
from the beginning to the end a spiritual allegory. This method
of instruction seems also to be dictated by nature; for fables or
apologues and allegories, are in use among all nations; and the
severest moralists have never supposed that there was any thing
inconsistent with the strictest regard to truth in the introduction
of fictitious personages: for where there is no purpose to deceive,
and where no one is deceived, there can be no violation of truth
and sincerity. Words are but the signs of our ideas, and it mat-
ters not what language we use, if it fairly conveys our true
meaning to others. When a man employs words ironically, the
literal sense is absolutely false if the irony be just; and yet the
meaning of the person is as clear, and more forcible, than if the
truth were simply uttered.

Again, — a fictitious narrative, used as a vehicle for important
moral instruction, bears a strong analogy to the use of general
terms in common speech. We know, that all things in existence
are particular or individual things; but finding a great many in-
dividuals which bear a striking: resemblance to each other, we
give a common name to the whole. In like manner, there are
many individual persons of similar character; there are many
courses of conduct, which, with their causes and attendant cir-
cumstances, are of usual occurrence; and it is important to col-


lect these features of human life, and so embody them, that they
may be useful to those who are yet without experience. Now,
this may be done in several ways, as by general maxims or
aphorisms; by narratives of real facts; or connecting those com-
mon matters of observation and experience with fictitious per-
sonages, which, as it leaves the moral instructer at liberty in the
selection of circumstances, possesses some advantages over the
simple narrative of facts in the order, and with the circumstances,
in which they occur. When, however, the picture of human
manners or character is fairly taken from nature, it is, what may
with propriety be called, general history; it is a representation
of what often actually happens, without the peculiar circum-
stances of any single case; and the difference between a judi-
ciously constructed fictitious narrative, intended to convey mo-
ral instruction, and real history, is no greater than between the

f '• 'u^e of a proper name and a common appellative, when we speak
of any individual. In this way much might be taught, which, in
common, is learned by painful experience. And this mode of in-
struction being capable of being rendered highly interesting to
the young especially, ought not to be relinquished, or given up
to those who will employ it for the mere indulgence of fancy
and feeling, and frequentl)'^ to the real injury of the reader. It
is impossible to suppress all fictitious writings, or to restrain
young people from reading them; is it not then the dictate of
wisdom to provide them with such as are not only innocent but

■^ instructive? Is not this the most probable method of weaning
'our young people from the fondness for novel-reading? the ef-
fects of which are sometimes so fatal, and most commonly in-
jurious. But, I am aware, that the land of fiction is a dangerous
ground to travel over. There is no species of writing so liable
to abuse; and none so difficult to execute with judgment. The

^^.imagination, when indulged, is prone to extravagance; and is as
liable to become wild on religious subjects, as any others. A
vivid fancy is often without the guidance of sound judgment

> .. and correct taste; and when a writer begins to feel a deep in-
terest in the personages of his own imagination, the great end
of writing is apt to be forgotten, and the narrative be so woven,
as to create interest and afford pleasure, rather than to convey


moral instruction. It should also be remembered, that fictitious
writuigs should never be permitted to form the principal read-
ing of the young; and they should be prepared with much judg-
ment and care, and used with great caution. A judicious parent
will not refuse to indulge his child, occasionally and moderately,
with wholesome sweetmeats, creams, and comfits; but who
would think it wise to feed him with nothing else? Just so,
writings of this description may be useful to interest young
people, and to form a taste for books in those in whom it does
not naturally exist, and to convey moral instruction in a grateful
vehicle; but the books commonly used, should be of a more
solid and didactic kind.

Upon the whole, then, I would give it as my opinion, that
while fictitious works should not be altogether proscribed, they
should not form a large proportion of the books issued from the
Depository; and that in the selection of those to be put into
the hands of children, the utmost caution should be used. It
would be a real loss to the rising generation, to call in all the de-
lightful and instructive little stories of Mrs. Sherwood and Miss
Edgeworth. Who would object to the " Shepherd of Salisbury
Plain," or other stories of Miss Hannah More, in the "Cheap
Repository," because they are not real histories? For a long
time it was commonly supposed, that that tract of unrivalled
excellence, "The Dairyman's Daughter," was a fictitious story;
and now, when it is known, from the best authority, that it con-
tains a history of real facts, its effect is probably no greater than
before; although it affords us much pleasure to be assured, that
the persons in whom we have taken so lively an interest, did
actually exist. One thing, in my opinion, ought faithfully to be
done by authors: they should inform their readers whether the
personages and occurrences of their narratives, are real, or ficti-
tious; for whatever be said of the lawfulness of fictitious wri-
ting, it never can be consistent with truth, to palm on the public
a tale of the Imagination for historic truth.

It may occur to some, that there does not exist sufficient se-
curity, that the books selected for publication will uniformly be
of the proper character. It may be alleged, that the committee
of publication, consisting of gentlemen engaged in secular busi-


ness, who can only devote their leisure hours to the examina
tion of books, there is reason to apprehend, that an injudicious
selection will often be made. And, moreover, it may be thought,
that as clergymen, as a class, are better acquainted with reli-
gious books, and better judges of their adaptation to be useful
to the rising generation, than any other description of men,
that it would be wise to submit all contemplated works to them
for their opinion and advice, before publication. To which I
would reply, that several of this committee are men of liberal
education, and are so situated as to have it in their power to de-
vote much of their time to this interesting work. Moreover,
they have constantly, the aid and advice of the Corresponding
Secretary of the Society, and of the Editor of the Magazine,
who are not only pious, but literary men, whose whole time is
devoted to the interests of the Union. But still, I am pleased
to find that the public mind is awake to the importance of this
subject, because it is evident, that the same power of multiply-
ing and distributing books which is calculated, under a wise
direction, to be the means of so much good, is equally capable,
under a different guidance, to become an engine of incalculable
evil. It gives me pleasure, therefore, to have it in my power to
state, that the committee are so deeply sensible of the high re-
sponsibility of their office, and of their own liableness to error,
that they have been in the habit of subjecting those works, con-
cerning which there could be any doubt, to the judgment of
men in whose opinion the religious public repose the greatest
confidence. And it is still their wish and purpose, as far as pos-
sible, to avail themselves of the suggestions and counsels of such
men, both of the clergy and laity; so as to secure, as far as
human frailty will permit, the selection of those books for pub-
lication, which will be best adapted to promote the edification
of all who read them.

I will now proceed freely to inquire, whether the system of
instruction in Sunday-schools admits of any improvement or
enlargement. And here, before I go farther, I would remark,
that my observations on this subject must be considered theo-
retical, rather than practical : but the benefit of theory is, that it


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 2 of 3)