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John C. Symons.

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[Illustration: JAMES, THOMAS, AND GEORGE.]


THE VILLAGE SUNDAY-SCHOOL:

With brief Sketches of
THREE OF ITS SCHOLARS.


BY JOHN C. SYMONS.

REVISED BY DANIEL P. KIDDER.


New York:

PUBLISHED BY LANE & SCOTT,

FOR THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION OF THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL
CHURCH, 200 MULBERRY-STREET.


JOSEPH LONGKING, PRINTER.
1850.



PREFACE.


The writer of the following pages makes no pretension to authorship. He
is deeply conscious that many defects characterize his production; and he
hopes that they will be treated with the consideration which so candid an
avowal merits, and which the fact demands.

The narratives are substantially true; but, for obvious reasons, the
names of persons and places are changed.

The reason why this little book is sent into the world is, the writer
considers the details which it contains of an exceedingly encouraging
character, and calculated to support and strengthen the pious teacher in
the discharge of his important and sometimes discouraging duties.

The writer has felt the need of encouragement while laboring in the
Sabbath-school; and he has had that need supplied in no small measure
from the consideration of the facts now before his readers. He hopes that
the effect which these facts have had upon his mind, will be produced
upon the minds of all who may peruse these pages. If such be the case - if
but one devoted, self-denying teacher derive encouragement - his end will
be more than answered.

With earnest prayer that the great Head of the Church will grant his
blessing upon this little work, the writer submits it to his reader.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I. THE VILLAGE - THE NEW SUNDAY-SCHOOL - THE SUPERINTENDENT - A REVIVAL.

II. THE HISTORY OF JAMES.

III. HISTORY OF THOMAS.

IV. HISTORY OF GEORGE.

V. CONCLUSION - BENEFITS OF SUNDAY-SCHOOLS.





CHAPTER I.


THE VILLAGE - THE NEW SUNDAY-SCHOOL - THE SUPERINTENDENT - A REVIVAL.


M - - is a small village in the west of England, delightfully situated in
a wooded pleasant valley. Through it runs the parish road, which - as it
leads to the seashore, from whence the farmers of that and the
neighboring parishes bring great quantities of sand and seaweed as
manure - frequently presents, in the summer, a bustling scene. The village
is very scattered: on the right of the beautiful streamlet which flows
silently down the valley, and runs across the road just in the centre of
the village, stands an old mill; which for many a long year has been wont
to throw out its murmuring sound, as the water falls over its broad and
capacious wheel. On the other side of the stream, and just opposite the
old mill, a few yards from the road, stands a neat, commodious, and
well-built Methodist chapel, which, from the prominence of its situation,
and good proportions, has often attracted the eye of the passing
stranger.

It was about the period when my narrative commences that the chapel was
built. For many years the Methodists had preached in the village, and
there had been a small society under the care of an aged patriarch, whose
gray hairs and tottering frame bespoke the near approach of the last
enemy: soon he came, and suddenly removed that good man to "the palace of
angels and God." In consequence of the preaching-place being far out of
the way, and the place itself - an old barn - anything but inviting, there
had been for many years but little success.

In 18 - , two or three zealous brethren from another part of the circuit
settled in the vicinity of M - - , and steps were at once taken to get a
favorable site, and to raise subscriptions towards building a chapel as
speedily as possible. The neighboring "squire" was waited upon by two of
the new members, with whom he was personally acquainted; when, without
hesitation, he gave them the spot of ground on which the chapel now
stands. The chapel was soon built, and opened for divine worship; and
many of the old members, who had witnessed the introduction of Methodism
into the village, were constrained to exclaim, "What hath God wrought!"

The village, though small, was surrounded by a populous neighborhood, and
many of the friends were anxious for the establishment of a
Sabbath-school. In this they had many difficulties to contend with;
arising principally from the awful carelessness of parents about their
children's spiritual welfare, and the want of adequate help to carry on a
school. However, they determined to make an attempt: and, accordingly, at
no great period after the new chapel was erected, a school was
established. As the society was small, pious teachers could not be
secured, and they were under the necessity of employing persons of good
moral character, or of abandoning the school altogether.

Few, perhaps, are more sensible of the advantage of pious teachers, than
myself: and, whenever it is possible, I would have no others in a school.
How is it to be expected that a teacher, careless - at least comparatively
so - about the salvation of his own soul, can faithfully and earnestly
enforce the duty of salvation upon his young charge: and yet this is the
principal design of Sabbath-schools. It is not so much to teach the
children to read, - though this is a great object, - nor even to give them
a superficial acquaintance with the Bible; but to lay before, and as it
were rivet upon, their minds the practical duties of Christianity. How
can one who loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, successfully enforce the
duty of love to God with the whole heart, and soul, and mind, and
strength? How can one who knows nothing of the saving faith of the
gospel, successfully exhort his children to believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ? For, as he does not feel the necessity of these and kindred
truths himself, he cannot enforce them so as to win the affections, and
touch the hearts of the children. But of the privilege of pious
teachers, M - - Sunday-school was deprived.

The superintendent was a man well known and much respected, and was
eminently qualified for his arduous task. With the exception of the
senior female teacher, he was the only decided person in the school. He
had much to contend with: and I am sure, from my own observation, had
many been situated as he was, the school would have been speedily
abandoned. He resided about a mile and a half from the chapel, but
morning and afternoon, winter and summer, wet or dry, he was at his post!
The numbers which attended the school might have been about seventy. The
teachers, considering that they were not members of society, were pretty
attentive for a year or two; but after that they began to fall off, and
frequently was the superintendent obliged, in addition to his regular
duties, to place the senior boys of the first class over the lower ones,
and take the remainder, with the second class, under his own care.
Laboring under so many disadvantages, it cannot be expected that M - -
Sunday-school should in any respect be very prosperous: yet this I may
say, that though I have been connected with Sabbath-schools for some
years, and have had an opportunity of examining several, I have rarely
ever met with a more orderly set of children, or a better conducted
school.

But who, from such a school as this, would have expected anything like
success? and yet the sequel will show, that, even under such unfavorable
circumstances as these, God did not fail to work for his honor and glory!

The senior class of boys consisted of about a dozen promising lads, whose
ages varied from nine to fourteen. They were placed under the care of two
respectable moral young men, but who, with very many excellent qualities,
were devoid of religion. The boys were encouraged to commit to memory
portions of Scripture, for which they received small rewards; and thus a
spirit of emulation was created as to who should possess the greatest
number of these. Among those who distinguished themselves were three
brothers, named James, Thomas, and George. James, the eldest, remained
but a short time in the school: but Thomas and George continued much
longer, and learned the whole of the three first Gospels, and part of St.
John. They were very regular in their attendance, and when in school
behaved just as others did, only that for their generally correct answers
in the catechetical exercises, which usually followed the reading of
Scripture, they were almost constantly at the head of the class. They had
comparatively little time during the week; but often on a Sabbath morning
have they repeated one or two hundred verses of Scripture. And here let
me remark, that Thomas has since assured me, it was not a love for the
Scriptures, nor a desire to become acquainted with them, which induced
him to commit such large portions, week after week, to memory! it was a
desire, - a kind of emulation, - to be at the head of the class, and to be
thought highly of by his teachers and the superintendent. In this he
gained his reward; for he was looked upon by them as the most promising
lad in the school.

There was one thing connected with M - - Sunday-school, which is worthy
of notice and of imitation. The superintendent never dismissed the
children without giving them a short address of from five to ten minutes.
It was usually his custom on these occasions to impress upon the mind of
his young hearers some important truth, through the medium of an
interesting anecdote, or some well-conceived figure; so that, though the
remarks he made might be soon forgotten, yet the anecdote and subject
illustrated by it remained, and will, I doubt not, be remembered to the
latest period of their lives by many of those who were privileged to
listen to him. I am thoroughly satisfied that an effectual method of
reaching the ear and the understanding of children, is through some such
medium as that used by the superintendent of M - - Sunday-school. I hope
the period is not far distant, when it will be more generally adopted.

A few years ago, the village of M - - was visited with a very gracious
revival, during which a great number were soundly converted, most of whom
have continued steadfast in the faith. Many of the teachers and scholars
were among the number of those who gave their hearts to God.

The following extracts show the extent and reality of the revival: -

"There has been," writes the superintendent, "an extensive revival in
this circuit. On Friday, the Rev. Mr. V - - preached at this place. A
prayer-meeting was held after the sermon, when several began to cry aloud
for mercy - one professed to have obtained pardon. We have held
prayer-meetings nearly every night, and a very gracious influence has
rested upon us. We had, on one occasion, no less than twelve penitents
crying to God for the pardon of their sins, amongst whom are some of the
most thoughtless in the neighborhood. So many of our teachers and
scholars were under conviction, that we did not think it proper to have
school in the morning, but held a prayer-meeting, at which the presence
of God was eminently felt, and several cried aloud. Nearly every female
teacher or scholar, in our Sunday-school, is convinced or converted, and
some of the males also. Glory to God!"

On another occasion he writes, - "Our revival still continues, though we
have not had any crying aloud for mercy lately, but every time we meet in
class we have some new members. The numbers, small and great, who had
begun to meet in class, amounted to nearly one-third of our general
congregation - their ages vary from eight years old to above sixty. Mrs.
R.'s, our sweet singer, was a delightful conversion. She had long been
seeking the Lord sorrowing. One morning she went into a neighbor's house,
to inform them that a young woman had found peace: while in the house she
was herself constrained to cry for mercy. One of the leaders was called
in to pray with her, and, after a severe struggle, she found peace. The
next Sunday I asked her (for she was singing delightfully) whether it was
not sweeter to sing as she did, than before? She laid her hand on her
breast, and with uplifted eyes, said, 'Yes, it is indeed, for I have
often been condemned while singing words in which my heart did not join,
but now I can sing with all my heart.'"

One of the teachers, writing to a friend, says, "You will rejoice to
hear that the work of God is steadily progressing in this part of his
vineyard. Many are found crying, in bitterness of soul, 'What must I
do to be saved;' while others are enabled to adopt the language of
inspiration, and exclaim, 'O Lord, I WILL praise thee; for though thou
wert angry with me, thine auger is turned away, and thou comfortest me.'
You will have heard that many members of Mr. T.'s family have been truly
converted. Sunday-school teaching is now a delightful employment; most of
our children are feeling the power of religion; and many of them, perhaps
one-third, meet in class. Four out of seven, whom I teach, are, I trust,
adopted into the family of God, and two others evince a desire to 'flee
from the wrath to come.' I think I may venture to say there is not a
family in the vicinity of our chapel, but has some one or more praying
persons belonging to it."

It is exceedingly gratifying to know that the great majority of those
who were converted belong to the school, continue steadfast, and are now
pious and useful members of the Methodist Church.




CHAPTER II.


THE HISTORY OF JAMES.

There is a something connected with early associations which is almost
indescribable. Every one has felt it, but few, very few, have been able
to excel in a description of it! Who has not felt, as he gazes upon the
cottage, - the home of his childhood, - his youthful days flash with all
the vividness of reality before his mind; and as he stands and muses on
the bygone years, numbered with those before the flood, he is almost
spell-bound to the spot! All his childish pastimes and youthful pleasures
pass in review before his mental vision; while the little trials with
which his cup was mixed, are not without their influence in mingling a
melancholy with the pleasing reminiscences of the past. Much has been
said on this principle of association, and truly much remains unsaid on
the subject. Scarcely is there a green sod, or a purling brook, a shady
forest-tree, or a smiling flower, an enchanting and fairy landscape, or
a barren and desolate heath; scarcely an object in nature, or a work of
art, which does not awaken some gratefully pleasing, yet painful
recollections of the past!

It is to this principle I attribute much of the good which results from
Sabbath-schools. Often has the pious teacher to return from his onerous
duties in the school, and retiring to his closet, to mourn on account of
the fruitlessness of his efforts; and Satan never fails, at such seasons,
to fill his mind with discouraging thoughts, which weigh down his
spirits, and lead him almost to decide on retiring from the work. To
such, let the precept and promise of God's word, - "Cast thy bread upon
the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days," - be a source of
never-failing encouragement. How frequently, in after life, has it been
found, that the instruction of the Sabbath-school, though it may have
lain dormant for a time, has not been annihilated; but, through some
circumstance, or by some object, it has been resuscitated in the memory,
and it germinates, blossoms, fructifies, and brings forth glorious fruit,
which has cheered the hearts and upheld the hands of many thousands of
the most self-denying and arduous laborers in God's vineyard.

James, the eldest of the three lads mentioned, was a youth of
considerable promise. He had one of the most retentive memories I have
ever met with. Having reached the age of seventeen, his parents placed
him with a Methodist in a neighboring town, as an apprentice. For twelve
months after his removal, he stood aloof from all connection with the
Church and people of God; after which period, as he remarks in a letter
to his brother, "at the request of the superintendent of C - - school, I
became a teacher in that school, and for four years remained as such."
James continued as a teacher in the school for about twelve-months
previous to his becoming a member of society; at the expiration of which
time, he was induced, by the persuasions and invitations of his
fellow-teachers, to meet in class. From this period he became a steady
and devoted follower of the Lamb, and was at all times anxious to do what
lay in his power to further the cause of the Redeemer. From his first
connection with Sabbath-schools, when about five years old, he had
conceived a love for them; and as he grew up his love and attachment to
them increased, and his delight now was to devote all his energies to
their promotion. As he more than once remarked to me, he conceived he was
greatly indebted to Sunday-schools for the benefits he had received from
them, and he determined, so far as in him lay, to discharge the debt of
gratitude he owed.

His qualifications as a teacher were of no mean order. To an earnest
desire for the salvation of his young charge, he added a large store of
Scriptural and general knowledge, all of which was brought to bear upon
the edification of his class. He was firm and resolute with his children,
and at the same time kind and affectionate; so that I may safely assert
that there were few, if any, more efficient teachers in the school than
James. And the secret of the matter was this; - his heart was in the work;
he delighted in it, and many of his happiest hours were those spent on
the form with his class. The responsibility which he justly conceived
attached itself to the Sabbath-school teacher, was shown by his attention
to any of his own class who were sick; and not a few interesting records
has he given of Sunday-school children, who, dying in the Lord, have left
a bright evidence behind them that they are gone to glory.

Who can count the number of those who, through the instrumentality of
Sunday-schools, are now before the throne of God, joining with angels,
and archangels, and the spirits of the just made perfect, in singing,
"Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon
the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Truly, there is no
individual who verifies the truth of the Psalmist's declaration, - "He
that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come
again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him," - more frequently
than does the pious Sunday-school teacher. Methinks I see him enter the
paradise of God, met and surrounded by those who sat in his class, who
listened to his teaching, and who were directed by him to "the Lamb of
God who taketh away the sins of the world." Joyful indeed will such
meetings be. O may such bliss be ours!

After serving five years as an apprentice, James removed to London. There
are many persons who imagine, that to settle in London is the very acme
of happiness; how little do such persons know of the reality! It is true,
that in the religious sphere there are many advantages possessed by the
resident of the metropolis. He has the teaching and counsel of ministers
eminent for their piety, usefulness, and talent; he is brought into
connection with some of the holiest and best men of the day; and, if
his time be not altogether absorbed in the world, he has constantly
numerous means of grace within his reach, so that he can frequently and
delightfully join the great congregation, mingling his voice with theirs,
swelling the anthems of praise and the solemn accents of prayer, as they
rise like incense to the skies. But there is, on the other hand, much
more allurement and temptation; there is everything around to draw away
the attention from heavenly objects. Those with whom you have to
associate, and who constantly surround you, are men of the world; men
whose whole _delight_ is in _forgetfulness_ of God! - men, in many
instances, whose whole energies are directed to ridicule, blaspheme,
and overthrow the pious and devoted Christian; so that, being thus
surrounded, the temptations of our great enemy are powerful, and often
more fatal.

Many a promising young man within the range of my own limited
acquaintance, has, through coming to London, made "shipwreck of faith,
and of a good conscience;" and to any into whose hands this little work
may find its way, let me earnestly and faithfully say, "Flee the very
appearance of evil;" parley not one moment with temptation; but when
tempted, fly at once to the cross, lay hold there, nor let that hold be
loosened, till the enemy is vanquished, and your soul filled with
perfect peace. Be particular what companions you have; "a man is known
by the company he keeps." And let me warn you to be careful how you
comply with the invitations of ungodly associates, in attending places of
amusement and scenes of gayety. The wise man says, "My son, if sinners
entice thee, consent thou not." Many and specious are the arguments which
will be adduced to gain your consent; but take the precaution to ask
yourself, honestly, and as in the sight of God, Can I get any good there?
May I not get harm? Can I ask God's blessings upon it? Should I like to
die while there? If these questions can be answered satisfactorily, then
give your consent; but beware, even under those circumstances, how you
choose for your companions those who know not God!

It was at the end of March, 18 - , that James left his native country. On
his arrival in London, he was at once provided with employment at a large
establishment. Here he had much to contend with, being surrounded by, and
brought into immediate contact with, a great number of men, many of whom
were not only devoid of religion themselves, but ridiculed and sneered at
those who made the least profession of respect for the commandments of
God. Being known as a "Methodist," and refusing to work on the Sabbath,
when ordered to do so, or leave his situation, he came in for a
considerable portion of their obloquy and contempt.

There are few persons more social in their character than the subject of
our narrative. To such, how beneficial and salutary is the influence
arising from that friendship and communion so well provided for among
the Wesleyans, and of which he soon availed himself. For want of this,
many suffer; and, surrounded by the temptations and seductive influences
of the giddy and polluted votaries of pleasure, they look back to the
empty enjoyments of the world - they eat, drink, and are merry, while
to-morrow they die. Providentially for James, there was one person in the
establishment in which he labored who feared God, and to whom the gospel
had come with life and power; he was a class-leader at a neighboring
Wesleyan chapel. He took him to his class, where he constantly met,
until his leader was translated from the Church militant below to the
Church triumphant above. It was the privilege of James to witness, in his
dying hours, his firm and unshaken confidence in the Redeemer. He was
"ready to depart, and to be with Christ."

In July, 18 - , James became connected with a Sunday-school in T - -
street. At this period the number of scholars was fifty, and teachers
six; while the school required every assistance that he could render.
With the assistance of a devoted young man, who soon became his
colleague, the school was put into order and efficiency. Here, in
consequence of the want of teachers, and the close, unhealthy,
cellar-like appearance of the place, the school was not very prosperous;
but the society and cause were still less so. In fact, but for the vigor
and vitality evinced in the Sunday-school, the chapel would have been
soon given up. In September, 18 - , he writes, "I have been fifteen months
in connection with this school. The future may show to me great good
resulting from this school, but at present we have only enough to
encourage us." For five years he had much to contend with from the apathy
of friends, or from the neglect of those who ought to have been the
friends and patrons of the school; as well as from the indifference of
parents to the religious welfare of their children. There have been a few
pleasing indications of good; and, considering the difficulties they have
to contend with, the conduct of the children was generally favorable. The
few exceptions were forgotten in the sweet smiles and affectionate
remembrances of others.

I will conclude this sketch of James with a remark or two of his own: - "I


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Online LibraryJohn C. SymonsThe Village Sunday School With brief sketches of three of its scholars → online text (page 1 of 3)