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 3 of 3)
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often suggests what, in practice, is found to be easiest and best.


Again, I would observe, that it is not contemplated as practica-'
ble that the whole system which I am about to delineate should
be every where introduced; or that it should be carried into
complete effect, any where, immediately. Improvements in such
institutions require time and experience; and I doubt not, that,
in some resgects, better plans and arrangements than those here
specified will be discovered. My object will be accomplished
if improvements be commenced; and in some measure answer-
ed, if I can succeed in turning the public attention to the sub-

It appears to me, then, that the system of Sunday-school in*!? '
struction might be greatly enlarged, both as it relates to the
pupils received under their tuition, and as it relates to the sub-
jects of instruction. In regard to the former, my plan would"l"i.
be so large as to include all persons who need instruction, from
the infant of two years, up to the man of a hundred years of
age. Infant schools are now in a rapid progress of being esta- , ^r
blished, and they are filling the minds of the Christian and phi-^A
lanthropist with pleasure and surprise. And there is no reason
why there should not be Sabbath-schools for infants as well as
for children of greater age. In giving instruction, age should
make no distinction. Infant schools should therefore be a re-
gular part of the Sunday-school system. It is true, they are
kept through the week; and so are other schools; but their*^)
teachers, during the week, may give them no religious instruc-
tion. If the American Union does not gather these tender lit-
tle ones under her fostering wing, they may fall into the clutches
of those who will seek to devour them; their infant minds may** d
be made to imbibe the poison of error, instead of the sincere
milk of the word.

Again, — the Sunday-school system ought to embrace all those
youth who are included in Bible classes. There never can be
any definite line of distinction drawn between the appropriate
studies of Sunday-schools and Bible classes. In practice, all dis-
tinction is already confounded; and why should the instructions
of Sunday-schools stop at a particular point? Why not instruct
the pupils as long as they are willing to remain? The objections
that might be conceived to this amalgamation will, 1 trust, be


©bviated by the plan which will be submitted immediately for

But I would not confine the instruction of Sunday-schools
to youth; I would have it extended to all who are willing to be
taught. The fact is, that multitudes of adults need instruction
as much as the youth; and many would be delighted to have
the opportunity of learning. Pride and false modesty would
prevent some from coming forward, lest their ignorance should
become manifest; but I would spread a mantle over their weak-
ness, and devise a method of instruction which would require
from adults nothing else but to hear, with the privilege of ask-
ing questions as often as they might be disposed to do so.

Having developed my plan for the enlargement of the sys-
tem, as respects the pupils, I will add, that the execution would
require a correspondent enlargement in regard to teachers. It
would require that the pastor and his coadjutors, by whatever
name called, should all become active teachers in these institu-
tions. My idea is, that the whole church should form one great
Sabbath-school, and that all the people should be disciples or
teachers; or sometimes the one and sometimes the other, ac-
cording to circumstances. Knowledge, .like wealth, is not ac-
quired merely for ourselves; it should be like the light of a
candle, for the benefit of all in the house. Every man and wo-
man is under sacred obligations to teach those more ignorant
than themselves. There is no good reason why the instruction
of Sunday-schools should be confined to a few young people,
as is commonly the case. Let the aged fathers and mothers,
who have been learning for more than half a century, impart
of the rich stores of their experience to the young. Let the
learned, if there be such in the parish, not disdain to instruct
in the higher branches of liberal knowledge; and, especially,
let the pastor consider the Sabbath-school as one principal field
of his labours. Here the whole work of catechising, and of
instructing Bible classes, may be advantageously performed.
Here he may preach to the young, far more effectually than
from the pulpit.

But it is time that I should developc the proposed plan, as it
respects the enlargement of the studies pursued in these schools.


This has already been hinted at in speaking of Bible classes; but
I will now enter more into detail. After mature deliberation,
I am of opinion, that all the pupils who can ever be taught in
Sunday-schools, might be conveniently arranged into six dif-
ferent classes; and supposing a child to enter the first or lowest
class, and to go through the whole system, he would rise, by re-
gular gradations, through the whole of the six classes in succes-

The first class would include infants and others, who were
learning to spell and read.

The second class, such children as were able to read, but not
sufficiently advanced in age and intellect, to study the lessons
contained in the prepared books of questions. These children
should be furnished with a simple, historical catechism, contain-
ing questions and answers; and also plain moral precepts, with
a reference to the retributions of eternity. .

The third class should embrace all children and others who
are capable of learning the select lessons: in short, most of
those who now attend Sabbath-schools.

The fourth class should comprehend all those who have gone
over the selected lessons which relate principally to historical
passages; and they should be/urnished with a similar book of
selected lessons relating to the doctrines and moral precepts of
the Bible. Their answers to these doctrinal questions ought to
be in the words of Scripture. After which, they should learn
the catechism of the church to which they belong, with such
explanatory lectures, or exposition, as might be provided.

The fifth class would consist of such young persons as are
commonly included in Bible classes, who would be instructed
in the emblems, figures, parables, types, and most remarkable
prophecies of Scripture. This would include Biblical antiqui-
ties, and many other interesting matters which do not fall under
that denomination; especially a short system of sacred geogra-
phy, and a concise and perspicuous view of the collateral his-
tory of the Bible: by which I mean, such historical facts as are
referred to in the Scriptures, or may serve to elucidate the sa-
cred history.

The sixth class should be instructed carefully in the evidence*
of divine revelation, external and internal ; in the nature and


proof of divine inspiration; and in the history and canonical
authority of all the books contained in the Old and New Testa-
ments; together with the reasons for rejecting apocryphal books
of every description.

The obvious objection to this system is, that it is too much
extended: but is there any one thing included in it which every
intelligent Christian ought not to know? Is there any part of
this system, which, in a regular course of Christian instruction,
can be dispensed with? And if we cannot communicate as much
religious instruction as is desirable, that need not hinder us from
forming a complete system, and from carrying it into effect as
far as we can. It cannot, indeed, be expected that all, or even
a majority of scholars, will go through the whole course; but
some will be found willing to do so; and as the value of Bibli-
cal knowledge comes to be more highly appreciated, the num-
ber of thorough, persevering scholars will increase every year.

Another objection to a plan of instruction so extended is, that
competent teachers cannot be obtained to communicate instruc-
tion on all the points mentioned. The answer to this objection
has already been given in part, when we spoke of the part
which it was expected the pastor and other well informed per-
sons in the parish would takfe, in the instruction of Sunday-
schools. To which I will now add, that with a proper apparatus
of suitable books, on the subjects mentioned, some of which are
now in readiness, and others are in a course of being prepared
by the American Sunday-School Union, there will be found no
great difficulty in carrying the plan Into full accomplishment.

Moreover, if we create a demand for teachers of higher at-
tainments than are now needed, many of those already in office
will take much pains to prepare themselves for this work; and
thus the extension of the plan of instruction will have a most
favourable effect on tlie Improvement of many young persons
of both sexes, wlio are now devoted to this employment.

Besides, it would be one advantage of this plan, that those
teachers who should instruct the three lower classes, might be
scholars in the tlirec higher, if such an arrangement should be
made as would allow of the lower classes reciting in the morn-
ing, and the higher in the afternoon or evening.

If, for examplp, in villages and the country, the Sabbath-


schools should meet at 9 o'clock in the morning, at which time
the three younger classes would be instructed, and at which the
attendance of the pastor ought not to be expected. Supposing^
then, tlie publip service to commence, as is usual, at 11 o'clocky
the children might all attend in the church, under the inspec-
tion of their teachers; but let the afternoon be devoted entirely
to the instruction of the higher classes and of adults, at which
time let the pastor and his assistants attend, and aid in the
instruction of the school. And it may here be remarked, that
however numerous the schools may be for younger children in
the morning, it would generally be expedient that all the teachers
and advanced scholars should meet together in the church, or
some other central place, in the afternoon y because this descrip-
tion of learners will be less numerous than the younger, and
the minister cannot instruct in more places than one. This
arrangement would, it is true, exclude the afternoon sermon
where such a service is usual; but it would furnish a substitute
far more effectual for the instruction of the people. In cities
and large towns this plan may not be considered expedient,
or where the people have always been accustomed to a regular
afternoon service in the church; but if once the instruction of
adults as well as children was made a part of the exercise of
Sunday-schools, it would be found, on trial, to be far more bene-
ficial to all concerned to attend these, than to hear an additional
sermon; and especially as the usual service of prayer and praise
might be as solemnly performed in the Sabbath-school as in the
church. And on all these occasions there ought to be some
kind of lecture delivered by the pastor. But in regard to the
particular arrangement, every congregation could determine it
best for themselves. All that I mean by the above observations
is, to show that the plan proposed may, without any great in-
convenience, be reduced to practice, as in cities and large towns
the evening might be occupied with the exercises of the Sab-
bath-schocls, if that was preferred to the afternoon.

In regard to the instruction of adults, several methods might
be proposed, which would render the service both pleasant and
profitable. They might meet, on some convenient time in the
week, in little knots, or on Sabbath morning, and converse
freely on the subject of the lesson prescribed, whatever it might


be; and in the time of the regular meeting of the Sabbath-school,
such as were willing might be questioned by some elderly per-
son, or by the pastor, and the others might be permitted to hear
and to learn. Having studied the lesson, they would be nearly
as much instructed by the examination of others as by their
own; a plan of this sort is now in operation in a very large
and respectable congregation in New-Jersey. But should none
of adult age consent to be publicly catechised, it need create no
discouragement; for the jjastor, or other teacher, might pro-
pound the questions and answer them himself, allowing all
persons freely to make any inquiry, or ask for any explanation.
It is scarcely conceivable what a spring this practice would im-
part to the minds of the people, which are commonly left to
stagnate; and as it would undoubtedly increase their knowledge,
so it would add much to their happiness, by leading them to
shake off that inertness which is so unfavourable to real enjoy-
ment. It is not necessary, however, to establish any uniform
method for the instruction of adults; what would be well suited
to one people, would not be adapted to another: a judicious pas-
tor would be able to regulate this matter in his own flock. Let
the experiment be fairly made, and if it do not result in much
good, I shall confess myself disappointed.

6. The only other subject on which I wish to make any re-
marks, is that of agents and auxiliaries. To carry into full effect
the plans of the American Sunday-school Union, many prudent,
industrious, and persevering agents, will be requisite. It has
hitherto been common to look to the profession of the ministry
alone for agents; but experience teaches, that they cannot be
supplied in sufficient numbers from that quarter; and consider-
ing the want and importunate demand for preachers in the des-
titute regions of our country, they ought not, except in extra-
ordinary cases, to relinquish the appropriate duties of their
office to become agents for this or any other society. Here the
question meets us, whether pious, active, and judicious laymen
would not answer for Sunday-school agents as well, and in some
respects better, than clergymen? Of this, I have myself no
doubt. But, can they be obtained? Why not? There are scores
of young men in our principal cities who have been long expe-
rienced in conducting Sunday-schools, and who take a deep in-


terest in their furtherance and prosperity. Undoubtedly some
of these zealous men will cheerfully offer their services as soon
as the door shall be opened for their employment. I know,
indeed, that on their part it would require a sacrifice of worldly
prospects for the sake of Christ and his cause: but, I ask, are
they unwilling to make this sacrifice? I should be grieved to
think, that that was the fact. Why should it be required of
ministers alone to exercise self-denial, and make sacrifices for
the promotion of the Redeemer's lyngdom? Did Christ give
one set of terms to ministers and another to private Christians?
Or rather did he not require of every disciple the same disposi-
tion to deny himself and to renounce the world, by taking up
his cross and following him? It cannot reasonably be supposed,
that the employment of pious laymen on agencies will in any
way infringe on the sacred office of the ministry. He will have
nothing to do with the peculiar duties of a preacher. He must
often, indeed, give public statements to the people, and it may
often be convenient to use the pulpit for this purpose; but an
exhibition of the views and plans of the American Union will
no more interfere with the duties of those ordained to the sa-
cred office, than speaking at the bar, or in the senate. And as
there does exist a jealousy among the several denominations, or
at least among some who belong to them, respectively, it might
have some tendency to obviate the difficulty which has been felt
on this point, if well qualified laymen should be commissioned
as agents.

In regard to auxiliaries, it seems to me, that at present the
organization of the Union is very incomplete. Their con-
nexion with the parent, or central society is by far too loose and
undefined, to enable the whole body to exert that energy which
she would be capable with a more perfect organization. One
thing is clear, that all the agents of the auxiliaries ought to be
appointed by the Board of the American Union, and should be
amenable to this body. Unless it is intended to carry on the
operations of Sunday-schools by societies perfectly independent
of each other, something ought to be done speedily to draw the
bands of connexion closer, to enable the General Union to aid
more effectively the exertions of the auxiliaries; and to render
the auxiliaries in fact, what they are in name, aids to the parent


society in her arduous and extended operations. But while local
societies appoint agents to traverse large portions of country,
and carry on their measures without consulting or even inform-
ing the American Union of their plans and operations, it is just
the same as if there existed no connexion whatever. As far as
I can learn, there is not even any systematized plan of increas-
ing the funds of the general society by the numerous auxilia-
ries. It would require more wisdom and more time than the
writer can command, to devise an effective plan of union and co-
operation between the general society and its auxiliaries. All
I intended was, to bring the subject before the public; and I do
solemnly hope, that it will engage the earnest attention of the
General Union, and of all the local Unions in the land.

And now I would appeal to the pious and benevolent of all
denominations, to say whether this Institution, so extensive in
its operations, so multiplied in its ramifications, and so beneficial
to all classes of society in its results, shall be cramped or re-
tarded in its career of usefulness for want of adequate pecuniary
aid? Seldom, since its earliest existence, has the American Sun-
day-School Union made any appeal to the public for.this species
of aid: the operations of this society have been, not to draw
any thing from the people, but to confer benefits upon them;
and still it contemplates no other system; for while tens of
thousands are, every week, deriving rich blessings from the In-
stitution, those persons engaged in managing it give the strong-
est possible evidence of disinterestedness; — personal emolument,
or advantage they neither expect nor are willing to receive.
Now, it is evident that the principal burden of sustaining an in-
stitution in which the whole community have so deep an in-
terest, ought not to devolve upon a few persons: but, hitherto,
this has been very much the case. When it is considered how
small a sum from every Sunday-school, or even from every aux-
iliary, regularly forwarded, annually, to the parent society, would
enable them not only to carry on, but greatly to enlarge their
operations, especially in the publishing department, I cannot
persuade myself that there will be found any reluctance in the
public to contribute the funds requisite for the energetic and ex-
tensive operation of this powerful engine for doing good. There
can be no doubt, that the American Sunday-School Union is


highly in favour with all the friends of religion and sound mo-
rality in our country. Perhaps no other institution has so uni-
- versally conciliated the affections of the people. It is with con-
fidence, therefore, that I make this appeal to the public, to render
promptly and liberally all the pecuniary aid which is needed.
No permanent funds are contemplated by the society. What-
ever sums may be received will be immediately applied to the
important purposes of sustaining and enlarging the system of
Sunday-schools. That I am not mistaken in supposing that the
society needs pecuniary aid, is evident from the fact revealed at
the last Anniversary by the worthy President of the American
Sunday-School Union, that the Treasurer of the Institution was
^17,000 in advance for the Union. It is true, indeed, that the
sums due to the Institution are considerably more than what
they owe, but these are widely scattered, and the collection of
them very slow. For their valuable building, the Union is in-
debted almost entirely to the liberality of a few devoted friends
in the city of Philadelphia: but a large part of the purchase
money of this property is still due. From this brief statement
of facts, it will be evident to all the friends of Sunday-schools
in our country, that the time has arrived when it has become an
imperious duty for the Christian public to step forward and re-
lieve the Board from their pressing embarrassments, and to take
effectual measures to prevent the recurrence of the same in

In conclusion, I have only to say, that the more I reflect on
the power and salutary influence of the Sunday-school system,
the more am I convinced, that it has been raised up by a benig-
nant Providence to be one of the most effective engines in over-
throwing the kingdom of Satan, and promoting a general refor-
mation in society, especially in that class of people who have
evaded the influence of other means of improvjement. If what
1 have written may conti-ibute in some small degree to the fur-
therance of this good cause, I shall think that my time was well
employed, and that I have received a rich remuneration for my


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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 3 of 3)