S. S. (Simon Somerville) Laurie.

The training of teachers and methods of instruction; selected papers online

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Online LibraryS. S. (Simon Somerville) LaurieThe training of teachers and methods of instruction; selected papers → online text (page 19 of 25)
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philosophy of the method of attaining that end, as will reduce
all rules to a unity not a dead unity, but a living unity and
so keep him in close daily contact with the philosophy of mind
as a growing organism.




IN religious instruction and training there can be no such
peculiarity as to exempt them from the principles that govern
method in education generally. In speaking of this subject I
shall not, however, trouble you either with psychology or with
method in the pedantic sense.

And yet Method there must be in all teaching ; above all
in religion, where the aim is to convey to the growing mind
skilfully and effectively what you know and believe and feel
with a view to evoke the spiritual life that animates yourself.
"Soul," says Carlyle, "is kindled only by soul:" that is certain.
But there is a method or way which must be observed, if there
is to be kindling. A man who has not a method or ' way ' in
educating the young to religious conceptions and the religious
life is to be likened to a man who should undertake to pilot a
vessel to the mythical Islands of the Blessed, knowing only this
the islands existed somewhere in the far west, but being
unfurnished with a chart of the ocean to be traversed, and
ignorant of navigation. He steers on the impulse of the
moment. Such a man might have all the personal qualifications
for his post, but he has none of the professional preparation and
fitness. He would stand in need of a chart, and of instruction
in the method or way of finding his true course. By some
happy inspiration he might be going straight for his haven in

1 Delivered, by request, to the Edinburgh Sabbath School Teachers'
Association, 1886.


the morning, and again undoing all his work in the evening by
retracing his course over the pathless ocean, and perhaps
finding himself further from his destination than when he
started. So with the teacher. His impulse in teaching may
keep him all right, for example, during the first part of a lesson,
and in the second part he may undo everything nay, like the
mariner in search of the Islands of the Blessed, he may more
than undo his work ; he may be further off than ever from his

The goal of the teacher is the religious result in the mind
of the pupil ; and this result is life, not knowledge. Without
this religious result the true spiritual gain for the pupil the
facts of doctrine, which may be acquired after a rote fashion,
are of little value.

The most difficult and delicate of all subjects of instruction
is religion, if what we aim at is the spiritual life of faith, hope,
and love sustained by ethical ideals which have their beginning
and end in God. A man who can give a really good religious
lesson can give a successful lesson on any subject which he
knows. And this, because the subtleties and delicacies of
spiritual life demand more subtle and delicate handling than
any ordinary school subject. As trainers in religion, we are
dealing with the sentiments and emotions of childhood, and
the smallest untoward incident may rouse in our pupils
sentiments and emotions the very opposite of those we desire
to call into activity.

It is childhood we are dealing with, I say. The autumn
harvest depends on the work done in the spring-time.

i. The desire to teach. First, the religious instructor be he
a volunteer teacher or a parent must have the desire to teach.
The teacher who takes up Sunday-school work simply because
it is the " right thing to do " will fail. He must have in him,
I say, a desire to teach, a longing to teach, the truth as it is in
himself. He has found a guide for his own life, and his


affection for young and unformed minds constrains him to
impart to them the spiritual treasure he has found. A mere
sense of duty in teaching is not enough. The sense of duty
vindicates the primary impulse, so to speak, and comes into
requisition as a motive-power in those periods of dejection and
of hopelessness which attend all work of a moral or spiritual
kind. In religious teaching, above all other teaching, the
consciousness of an inner law commanding you to teach is a
mere accessory to the spiritual impulse of love which impels
you to teach.

2. Belief in the children you teach. Next to the first and
prime qualification of a desire to teach is belief in the children
whom you teach. If you do not believe that they have an
innate capacity for spiritual truth, your teaching will certainly
not reach their minds and hearts. It is their soul's need that
you are supplying. You must presume that they are, in
however rudimentary a way, crying out in the depths of their
nature for a knowledge of God and divine things. They are
truly children of God, not of the devil. They do not stand in
antagonism to their spiritual Father ; they desire to be friends
with Him, to give Him their love, and to receive His. If you
do not teach in this conviction, your instruction can take the
form of external precept only ; it cannot reach the inner springs
of the human spirit. All the words of all the catechisms
cannot create God in the heart of the child : they can, at best,
only evoke Him. It is not you that sow the seed : the seed
was sown at the moment the child was born sown both in the
heart and reason of the child. Your task is simply the careful
nurturing into life and flower and fruit of the seed already there.
Your fostering hand supplies appropriate soil and gives the
warmth and tendance necessary for growth : that is all. Christ
Himself has said : " Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
When He said it, He meant it. Happy the teacher who could
say, after he has left behind him the turbulence of boyhood,
the egoism of youth, the struggles of mature life, " I am as one


of these." It is to protect these children from being even such
as you know that you yourself have been, that you seek to
instruct and to guide them. Believe in their simple instinct
for the elements of spiritual ideas.

3. Restriction of the teaching. Do not teach all you know
and feel. The temptation to do this is great greatest where
there is zeal. It is a mistake to yield to it. You have to
teach only what meets the children's present need, their present
case. Confine your instructions, then, to what is essential
to what is germinal ; that is to say, to those truths and
sentiments which have in themselves an inherent power of
expansion and growth through their encounter with the teach-
ings of life those truths which will stand the wear and tear
of every day, which shine the more the more they are shaken
by the shocks of destiny, and which come out vindicated by
stern experience.

4. Give milk to Babes. In selecting from what you know,
select not only what is essential, but also what is easy and
comprehensible. You cannot, if you would, antedate spiritual
growth. God has set down an order in the manifestation of
Himself to our souls. The attempt to anticipate growth
produces in the child a feeling of intellectual and moral
anxiety, and even perplexity, which become so associated with
religion that children reject the whole because of its seeming
intricacy. This feeling of difficulty and complexity hangs
about the whole subject throughout boyhood and youth, and,
in the case of even the well-disposed, one of the results is a
merely formal, hard, and unintelligent belief as opposed to a
living faith. Christianity is a very simple matter. If it were
not so, it could not be the world-religion. Give, then, milk
to babes, for this is all they can assimilate. We are not
nourished by what we eat or drink, but by what we digest.
To begin religious instruction with catechisms is a great
nay, an irretrievable blunder. Hooker says, "With religion
it fareth as with other sciences ; the first delivery of the


elements thereof must be formed according to the weak and
slender capacities of young children." To religion above all
subjects the injunction of Watts must be obeyed, " In learning
anything there should be as little as possible proposed to the
mind at once : and, that being understood, proceed then to
the next adjoining part." Lessons should be short, easy and
pleasant. No punishments, no place-taking, no prizes are

5. Prepare your teaching. It is impossible to carry out
the preceding advice as to selection and as to simplicity, if you
do not prepare the lessons you mean to teach. Every Sunday-
school teacher should study his lessons in some such book
as the Cambridge Bible for Schools, and should carefully
make up his mind as to what he means not to say, as well as
to what he means to say. If you do not prepare, you may
spoil the whole effect of an otherwise good lesson by intro-
ducing matter either too difficult, or alien to the subject in
hand, or by in some way confusing the lesson and destroying
its unity. You thus deprive it of clearness, directness and
efficacy. If you are really fit to be a teacher, the preparation
for each day's work will be easy ; for if you are yourself living
the Christian life, your experience will readily suggest to you
the true import and significance of the lesson in hand.
Besides, it is not the deeper spiritual lessons that may be
drawn from your subject that you ought to convey to the
young mind, but only those that lie on the surface and are of
obvious application.

6. Determine the substance of your instruction. I am
dealing with Method, not with dogma; but, as there can be
no religion without dogma of some sort, I must illustrate
Method by emphasizing the dogmas specially to be taught to
the child. Certain characteristics of the substance of in-
struction have been already indicated. We must teach the
essential and the comprehensible. Let us, then, make up
our minds as to these. I should say that the prime and


primary object of a teacher of religion should be to bring into
living activity in the consciousness of each child what may be
called the sense of God. We wish him to feel God within
him and about him. Next, we wish him to feel this God to
be Father and Fountain of his spirit. We must then beware
of representing Him as the prototype of the stern traditionary
father of the Scottish race. This is what the historian of
religions would call a tribal conception of God. We fathers
of to-day are not now such barbarians as many of our well-
meaning and pious, but ill-conditioned and mistaken, grand-
fathers were. We have attained to a purer and higher
conception of fatherhood. This child is the child of God,
and God is his Father, in the modern Christian sense of that
sacred word ; nay, better even than an earthly father, for He
is much more- ready to forgive. The face of the Almighty
Father is a benign face, and if His child errs, the change on
that face is a passing shadow only, not a judicial frown.
If His justice is infinite, so also is His mercy. It is this which
"endureth for ever." Penitence and the earnest desire after
new obedience restore the clouded fatherhood in all its native
benignity, for He does not desire the death of the sinner.
His demands are really not exacting ; He does not drive His
young flock over hard and stony paths, but leads them over
the green pastures and by the quiet waters. See that this
feeling and conception of God be evoked. Beware of

Along with the feeling of God and of the fatherhood of
God, we must evoke in the child's heart what naturally tends
to arise in connexion with these teachings, viz. Reverence and
Awe. These sentiments, when they are of the genuine and
not the spurious kind, are compatible with love alone. Fear
is not compatible with love. No man who ever lived feared
God and loved Him at the same time, though, like a poor
slave, he might call aloud that he did love Him in order to
obviate possible penal consequences. " Fear," says Jean Paul,


" is begotten of the devil." And, I may add, the worship of a
God whom we fear is devil-worship.

Next to the feeling of God and the sense of His benignant
Fatherhood, penetrating like a warm light into the soul of the
child, and the awe and reverence which accompany these
spiritual ideas, I should like to make the child early feel in his
inmost heart the elder-brotherhood of Christ. The man
Christ Jesus walking here on earth, working and loving and
suffering coming here to lend a helping-hand to the weak
and erring child and to the strong and sinful man, is the
conception I should wish to present to the young Christian.
Let him grasp this and understand once for all that, if he is in
Christ, he is also in the Father. This elder brother is the
revealer of God to him and as such his supreme Teacher ; He
is the Way by which he is to walk, and, as such, the bridge
between man and God ; He is the Master who is to be loyally
served ; or, as the Scottish Catechism sums it up, He is
Prophet, Priest, and King.

Note this, that the personal Fatherhood of God tends to
give place, as the child grows older, to that more universal
conception of God as a Spirit infinite and incomprehensible,
removed to a distance from man, which is expressed so well
in the Scottish Catechism. It is just at this time that the
elder brother Christ comes to the child as God in the concrete,
God humanized, God-man, and restores the reality of the idea
of God. The Son is there, and each, by being in Him, is in
God the Father.

Again, the immortality of the human spirit has to be
assumed in all religious teaching the fact that our striving
life is a preparation and probation for a higher existence and
that a blessed eternal life hereafter is for all who find eternal
life here.

"The low dark verge of life
Is but the twilight of eternal clay."

These truths, I consider, are the essential substance of

L. L. 1C


Christian instruction. Whatever else may be added must be
built on them as on a sure foundation. There is no difficulty
in them : difficulties begin when men begin to speculate and
refine and theologize. The child will accept these simple
teachings readily, easily, gladly. Why should he not?

And how all-important it is that he should accept them !
Leave human nature alone, and, spite of the divinity in it, the
evil which is also there has a curious and appalling persistency
and an ease of conquest which bewilder us. Give the ideas
of the divine Fatherhood and of the elder-brotherhood and
Sonship of Christ thoughts so concrete as to be easily grasped
by the young, so real as to seem like nature's food and by
the help of these the child, the boy, and the man will raise
themselves to their true and sole humanity. That there should
be a daemonic tendency in a nature which has yet, by its very
constitution, a capacity for God, is part of the mystery of man.
The physical world reveals many a parallel. Do we not see
the flower rooted in the earth and earthy, and yet that same
flower striving to take into its bosom the light of the sun as
the primal source of life, growth and fruition, and truly living
and growing only in so far as it absorbs the central light ?

7. Preserve a due proportion in your teaching. If we are
to limit our teaching to the essential in the first instance and
to the milk of the Word, we are to take care when we advance
to the teaching of other things less vital, to give our various
teachings their due proportion in respect of importance. For
example, if you believe that strict Sabbatarianism is an essential
teaching, teach it ; but if it be only subordinate and accessory
doctrine, if (as the greater part of Christendom holds) the
keeping of the Sabbath is merely a means of grace, and if your
own deliberate practice affirms this, beware of putting the duty
of Christians in respect of such matters on a level with the
truth essential to the Christian life. By so doing, you divert
attention from what is vital. For the moment, the teaching
may be accepted on your mere authority ; but as the pupils


see your doctrine practically set aside by those who hold high
and admitted positions as Christian men, the doubt which
attaches to such subsidiary beliefs will assuredly tend to infect
the essential truths. Rebellion against the whole Christian
system will be, and we all know is, the inevitable result.
Beware then of confounding the essential with that which,
though desirable, is only subsidiary and instrumental. "By
faith we are saved"; the faith, that is to say, not of intellectual
assent, which by itself is simply husks, not grain, and increases
the probabilities of spiritual death rather ; but the faith that is
living and may be seen of all men in our judgments and deeds.

When I say preserve a due proportion in your teaching,
I merely say, in other words, give prominence to the essential.
It is very important, for example, that children and grown
people should go to church and take advantage of every means
of edification ; but even this, important as it is, is not essential.
True, with a certain class of people, there is no religious life at
all, if there is no church attendance. In speaking thus I do
not wish to give offence, but merely to emphasize the vital
character of certain truths as compared with others. That is
to say, teach only what in your heart of hearts you believe.

8. Speak the truth. Take your daily conduct, that is
to say, as the test of your belief. When a man takes your coat,
you do not give him your cloak also ; when he smites you on
one cheek, you do not turn the other. On the contrary, you
either strike back, or hand the offender over to society which
has got instructions from you and others to smite him back.
The true significance of such passages is summed up in the
general doctrine, "Forgive your enemies." If you do not
teach such scriptural utterances with the necessary explanations
and qualifications, you make a pretence of an ideal system of
life which the child and boy find to break down in practice.
You know it to be a pretence. When these utterances are
taught absolutely, the sensitive young conscience finds Christi-
anity unworkable, and the doubt, which thus attaches to these



doctrines, extends to the whole fabric of Christian truth and
brings the whole down in ruins. I beg you to consider these
things. Christ's yoke is easy and His burden light. We do
not live under the Judaic Law. The Christian life is a simple
matter to see into, though it may be difficult to exemplify in all
we think and do. By putting difficulties in the way and
exaggerating breaches in conduct, you do a wicked thing.
It is the finer spirits that suffer most from the inner contra-
dictions that result. These difficulties are stumbling-blocks,
and check the natural flow of the spiritual life, sometimes
causing its total extinction. It were better for you, teacher or
parent, that you were cast into the sea with a millstone round
your neck to sink you, than that you should thus choke the
growing seed of the religious life in the young soul. This is a
strong utterance, but it is not mine. (St Luke xv. 2 ; Mark ix.
42.) Offences must come; but woe to you if they come by you.
9. Preserve an order in your teaching. We must never
forget the difficulty the young have in grasping the abstract or
general. Take, for example, the question of regeneration or
sanctification. We all feel the child's difficulty instinctively,
for no one, I suppose, would think of asking a child of five to
learn these theological definitions. If we would not ask a
child of five, should we ask a child of seven or of nine or of
eleven ? This, surely, is an important question ; for our object
is to preserve religion from being mere formalism, and there is
a formalism of words and dogma which much more surely
retards the religious life than the formalism'of ritual. "Training
up children" is one of the leading characteristics of the Christian
religion ; and it might give it a claim to acceptance if it had no
other, that it addresses itself to the young, the ignorant, and
the simple-minded, in accordance with the now recognized
principles of sound educational method. For it makes use
everywhere of the concrete. The whole essential truth is told
through things and persons and acts. Christianity is a life and
can be learned through human lives. It is a story, and as a


story alone should it be first learned not as dogma, save in
respect to those essential truths of which I have spoken, if they
may be called dogma. Educational method regards dogmas
as tares that push up and choke the fine grain of God as it
begins to grow in the heart of the child. There is no time to
develope this aspect of the question, nor is there need : it is so
manifest, though constantly forgotten.

10. Reverence. If with all your teaching you fail to evoke
reverence, you have failed altogether. Injunctions are here
useless ; the children must be trained to do what is reverent, if
they are to grow up reverent. Reverence, instinct with a
certain awe, can be taught ; not by the bare statement of facts,
but only by stirring the feelings and by giving reasons for acts of
reverence and worship. Not only in children, but in men, this
feeling or emotion is, probably, the most vital part of religion.
It brings a great deal else in its train. Reverence and worship
of an infinite God-Father humbles, and at the same time
exalts, man to the highest of which he is capable ; and this
elevated state of being cannot but influence character and
conduct. When reverence is wanting, the child may know
his catechism, yet remain irreligious. You may make an
eminent Pharisee in this way, but not a living Christian.
By presenting God as a Father, you call forth the finer
emotions ; and by means of habitual prayer, you give that
expression to the emotions you have evoked which makes
them permanent. But the prayers should be simple, intel-
ligible, and above all, in their manner, reverential. To this
simple attitude of reverence and worship you can easily bring
children, for it is a natural and needful expression of their
inner life. This is what Christ meant when He said, " Unless
ye become little children " &c. Simplicity and reverence are of
the essence of the religious emotion ; and they are character-
istic of childhood.

I would now speak of certain auxiliaries in the teaching


of religion. These are Memory, Music, and the Style of

1 i ) Memory. All parts of the New Testament are not of
equal value to children. But the passages which more directly
appeal to them in the Gospels and Epistles (and these passages,
so fit for children, are also precisely those which will most give
strength in middle life and consolation in declining years)
should be read, understood and committed to memory. The
modern educationalist is apt to slight the learning of passages
by heart. These words of truth and beauty should not be
committed to memory once for all, and then set aside as done
with ; they should be frequently reverted to in the course of
instruction. Then, verses and hymns which simply and
rhythmically present religious truth should be learned by
heart. Such publications as " Hymns for Little Children," for
example (if you omit what teaches sectarianism), are invaluable.
So, also, many of the paraphrases and psalms, if taught to us
when young, become a life-long possession. These memory-
stores are, in truth, a kind of living presence in our souls
watching over us. They furnish us with spiritual armour for
the battle of life. They are a part of every militant Christian's
weapons and equipment. These passages of Scripture it is far
more important to lodge in the memory than the precise words
of catechisms.

Understand that I would not exclude catechetical dogma
the form of sound words when the fitting time for this comes.
But I would never forget this, that the ability to define adoption
and sanctification is a small thing compared with being adopted
and sanctified. There is a prevalent superstition on this subject.
The very words of catechisms must be given by children. Is
it not a surer sign that the doctrine is intelligently apprehended
if the substance and meaning are given in a boy's own words ?

(2) Music. But if religion, in the rhythmical falls of

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Online LibraryS. S. (Simon Somerville) LaurieThe training of teachers and methods of instruction; selected papers → online text (page 19 of 25)