William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 79 of 169)
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Christian truth." I acquiesce in the answer ;
but the question then comes, "In what forms
shall the religion be taught, so as to wake up
the life of the child ? Shall a catechism be
taught?" I say. No. A catechism is a ske-
leton, a dead letter, a petrifaction. Wantini;
life, it can give none. A cold abstraction, it
cannot but make religion repulsive to pupils
whose age demands that truth should be em-
bodied, set before their eyes, bound up with
real life. A catechism, by being systematical,
may give a certain order and method to teach-
ing; but systems of theology are out of place
in Sunday-schools. They belong to the end,
not the beginning of religious teaching. Be-
sides, they are so generally the constructions
of human ingenuity rather than the living
forms of divine wisdom ; they give such un-
due prominence to doctrines which have been
lifted into importance only by the accident of
having been made matters of controvenv;
they so often sacrifice common sense, the
plain dictates of reason and conscience, to
the preservation of what is called consis-
tency ; they lay such fetters on teacher and
learner, and prevent so much the fre^ action
of the minci and heart, that they seldom
enter the Sunday-school but to darken and
mislead it.

The Christian religion should be learned
not from catechisms and systems, but from
the Scriptures, and especially from that part
of the Scriptures in which it especially resides,
in the histories, actions, words, sufferings,
triumphs of Jesus Christ. The Gospels, the
Gospels, these should be the text-book of
Sunday-schools. They are more adapted to
the child tlmn any other part of Scripture.
They are full of life, reality, beauty, power,
and in skilful hands are fitted above all
writing to awaken spiritual life in old and
young.

The Gospels are to be the study of the
Sunday-school teacher, and of all who teach
the young; and the great object of study
must be to penetrate to the spirit of these
divine writings, and, above all things, to
comprehend the spirit, character, purpose,



• In.tlM remarks which I am to make on what is to be
taught m the Sunday-school, I take it for granted that tliis
school is the first stage of a course of rcl^ious instruction,
not the whole course ; that it pr<n>arcs for, but does not
Inclnde Bil>le classes, and otlier dosses in wlrich the most
difficult books of Scripture, the evidences of natural and
revealed religion, and a sjrstem of moral philoaoi^, should
b«uught.



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motives, love of Jesus Christ. He Is to be
the great study. In him, his religion is re-
vealed as nowhere else. Much attention is
tiow given, and properly given, by teachers
to what may be called the letter of the Gos-
pels, to the geography of the country where
Christ lived, to the customs to which he
refers, to the state of society which sur-
rounded him. This knowledge is of great
utility. We should strive to learn the circum-
stances in which Jesus was placed and lived,
as thoroughly as those of our own times.
We should study the men among whom he
lived, their opinions and passions, their hopes
and expectations, the sects who hated and
opposed him, the superstitions which pre-
vailed among the learned and the multitude,
and strive to see all these things as vividly as
if we had lived at the very moment of Christ's
ministry. But all this knowledge is to be
gained not for its own sake, but as a means
of bringing us near to Jesus, of letting us into
the secrets of his mind, of revealing to us his
spirit and character, and of bringing out the
full purpose and import of all that he did
and said. It is only by knowing the people
among whom he was bom, and brought up,
and lived, and died, that we can fully com-
prehend the originality, strength, and dignity
of his character, his unborrowed, self-sub-
sisting excellence, his miraculous love. We
have very few of us a conception how Jesus
stood alone in the age in which he Uved, how
unsustained he was in his great work, how he
found not one mind to comprehend his own,
not one friend to sympathize with his great
purpose, how e\'ery outward influence with-
stood him ; and, for want of this conception,
we do not regard Jesus with the interest
which his character should inspire.

The teachers of the young should strive to
be at home with Jesus, to know him fami-
liarly, to form a clear, vivid, bright idea of
him, to see him just as he appeared on earth, to
see him in the vtxw dress in which he mani-
fested himself to the men of his age. They
should follow him to the temple, to the moun-
tain top, to the shores of the sea of Galilee;
and should understand the mixed feelings of
the crowd around him, should see the scowl of
the Pharisee who listened to catch hiswords for
some matter of accusation, the imploring look
of the diseased seeking healing from his words,
the gaze of wonder among the ignorant, and
the delighted, affectionate, reverential eager-
ness with which the single-hearted and humble
hi^ng on his Ups. Just in proportion as we
can place ourselves near to Christ, his wis-
dom, love, greatness will break forth, and we
shall be able to bring him near to the mind of
tlie child.

'rhe tnuh is, that few of us apprehend
vividly the circumstances under which Jesus



lived and taught, and therefore much of the
propriety, beauty, and authority of his charac-
ter is lost. For examj^le, his outward coiKfi-
tion is not made real to us. The pictures
which the great artists have left us ol jesus
have helped to lead us astrav. He is there
seen with a glory ground his head, and
arrayed in a robe of graoe and majesty.
Now, Jesus was a poor man ; he had lived
and wrought as a carpenter, and he came in
the dress tommon to those with whom he had
grown up. His chosen companions were
natives of an obscure province, despised for
its ignorance and rude manners, and tlxy
followed him in the garb of men who were
accustomed to live by dailv toil. Such was
the outward condition of Jesus. Such was
his manifestation to a people burning with
expectation of a splendid, conquering de-
liverer ; and in such circumstances he spc^e
with an authority which awed both high and
low. In learning the outward drcunistances
of JeSus, we not merely satisfy a natural curio-
sity, but obtain a help towards understandiDf
bis character and the spirit of his religion.
His condition reveals to us the force and dig-
nity of his mind, whkh could dispense with
the ordinary means of Inspiring respect. It
shows the deep sympathy of Christ with the
poor of our race, for among these he chose to
live. It speaScs condemnation to those who^
professing tobelie\'c in Christ, separate them-
selves from the multitude of men because of
the accident of wealth, and attach ideas of
superiority to dress and show. From thii
illustration you may learn the importance of
being acquainted with every part of Chrat's
history, with his common life, as well as his
more solemii actions and teachings. Every-
thing relating to him breathes instruction, and
gives the teacher k power over the mind of
the child.

The Gospels must be the great study to the
Sunday-school teacher. Many, when tBey
hear of stu^^ing the New Testament, imagine
that they must examine commentators to an-
derstand better the difficult texts, the dafk
passages in that book. I mean something
very different. Strive, indeed, to clear up as
far as you can the obscure portions of Christ'4
teaching. There are texts which, in conse-
quence of their connection with fpr^oHed
circumstances of the time, are now oif tocW*
tain meaning. But do not think that ^
most important truths of Christianity «rt
locked up in tlwse dark passages of the New
Testament. There is nothing in the daifc,
which is not to be found in the plain. portioRl
of Scripture. Perhaps the highest use <j|
e.xaminmg difficult texts is to discover their
harmony with those that are clear. Thfe
parts of the Gospel which the Sunday-St4»oo4
teacher should most study af^ thoac \vl*ich



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Deed no great elucidation from criticism, the plunged Into an abyss of darkness, Jesus
parables, the miracles, the actions, the suffer- becomes to me the most unintelligible .being
mg", the prayers, the tears of Jesus ; and these in the universe. God I can know. Man I
are to be studied that the teacher may learn can understand. But Christ, as described in
the spirit, the soul of Christ, may come near human creeds, a compound being, at once
to that wonderful being, may learn the greal man and God, a^ once infinite in wisdom
purpose to which he was devoted, the affec- and ignorant of innumerable truths, and who
tions which overflowed his heart, the depth and is so united with two other persons as to
eypansivene^s of his love, the profoundness make with them one mind, Christ so rcpre-
of his wisdom, the unconquerable strength of sented baffles all ray faculties. 1 cannot l.iy
his trust in God.* The character of Christ hold on him. My weak intellect is wiiolly
is the sum of his religion. It is the clearest, at fault ; and I cannot believe that the child's
the most beautifid manifestation of the cha- intellect can better apprehend him. This
racter of God, far more clear and touching is a grave objection to the doctrine of the
than all the teachings of nature. It is also I'rinhy. It destroys thQ reality, the distinct-
the brightest revelation to us of the Moral ness, the touching nearness of Jesus Christ.
Perfection which his precepts enjoin, of dis- It gives him an air of fiction, and has done
interested love to God and man, of faithful- more than all things to prevent a true, deep
ness to principle, of fearlessness in duty, of acquaintance with him, with his spirit, with
superiority to the world, of delight in the the workings of his mind, with the sublimity
Good and the True. The expositions of the of his virtue. It has thrown a glare over him,
Christian virtues in all the volumes of all under which thp bright and beautiful features
ages, are cold and dark compared with the of his character have been very much con-
genial light and the warm coloiu-ing in which cealcd.

Christ's character sets before us the spirit of PVom what I have said, you see what I sup-
his religion, the perfection of our nature. pose the Sunday-school teacher is to learn and

The gjeat work, then, of the Sunday-school teach. It is the Christian religion as unfolded
teacher is to teach Christ, and to teach him in the plainest portions of the Gospel. Before
not as set forth in creeds and human systems, leaving this topic, I wish to offer some remarks,
but as living and moving in the simple his- which may prevent all xnisapprehe;ision of what
tories of the Evangelists. Christ is to be I have said. I have spoken against teaching
taught ; and by this I mean, not any mystical Christianity to children as a system. \ have
doctrine about his nature, not the doctrine of spoken of the inj^dequacy of catechisms. In
tlie Trinity, but the ^irit of Christ, breathing thus speaking, I do not mean that the teacher
(brth in all that he said and all that he did. shall have nothing systematic in his know-
Wc should seek that the child should know ledge. Fjy from % He must not satisfy
his heavenly friend and Saviour with the dis- himself with studying separate actions, words,
(inctness with which he knows an earthly and miracles of Jesus. He must look at
friend ; and this knowledge is not to be given Christ's history and, teaching as a whole,
by teaclidng him dark notions about Christ, and observe the great features of his truth
which have perplexed and convulsed the and goodness, the grand characteristics of liis
church for ages. The doctrine of the Trinity system, and in this way learn what great im-
seems to me only fitted to throw a mistiness pressions he must strive to make on the child,
over Christ, to place him beyond the reach of by the particular facts and precepts which
our understanding and hearts. When I am each lesson presents. There ought to be a
told that Jfesus Christ is the second person in unity in the mind of the teacher. His in-
the Trinity, one of three persons, who con- slructions must not be loose fragments, but
stitute one God, one Inhnite mind, I am be bound together by great views. Perliaps

you may ask, what are these great, views of
• . Christianity, which pervade it throughout, and

3J \ to which the mind of the learner must be

dT - continually turned ? There are three, which

g » seem to me especially prominent, the Spiritu-

l!3 I ality of the religion, its Disinterestedness, and,

gt t lastly, the vaslness, the Infinity of its Prospects.

3 ' Thefirstgreatfeatiu-e of Christianity which

sA I should be brought out continually to the child,

is its Spirituality. Christ is a spiritual deliverer.

His salvation is inward. This great truth
^ L cannot be loo much insisted on. Christ's

SB r salvation is within. The evils from which he

^ J comes to release us are inward. The felicity

n which he came to give is inward, and thcrc-



Mi I His salvation is inward. This great truth

!• ' rnnnnt he loo much insisted ou. Chris*'"

The evils from which
; are inward. The felic
g^ve is inward, and the

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foie cverUttting. Carry, then, your pupils into
themselves. Awake in them, as far as pos-
sible, a consciousness of their spiritual nature,
of the infinite riches which are locked up in
reason, in conscience, in the power of know-
ing God, loving goodness, and practising duty;
and use all the history and teachings of Clu-ist,
to set him before them as the fountain of life
and light to their souls. For example, when'
his reign, kingdom, power, authority, throne,
are spoken of. guard them against attaching
an outward import to these words ; teach them
that they mean not an outward empire, but
the purifying, elevating influence of his cha-
racter, truth, spirit, on the human mind. Use
all bis miracles as types, emblems, of a
spiritual salvation. When your pupils read
of his givmg sight to the blind, let them see
in this a manifestation of his character as the
Light of the worid ; and, in the joy of the
individual whose eyes were op^ed from per-
petual night on the beauty of^ nature, let them
see a figure of the happiness of the true dis-
ciple, who, by following Christ, is brought to
the vision of a more glorious luminary than
the sun. and of a more majestic and enduring
universe than material worlds. When the
precepts of Christ are the subjects of conver-
sation, turn the mind of the child to their
spiritual import. Let him see that the worth
of the action lies in the principle, motive,
purpose, from which it springs; that love
to God, not outward worship, and love to
man, not outward deeds, are the very essence,
soul, centre of the Christian law. Turn his
attention to the singular force and boldness
of language in which Tesus calls to rise above
the bodv and the world, above the pleasures
and pains of the senses, above wealth and
show, above every outward good. In speak-
ing of the promises and threatenings of Chris-
tianity, do not speak as if goodness were to
be sought and sm shunned for their outward
consequences ; but express your deep convic-
tion that goodness is its own reward, worth
infinitely more than all outward recompense,
and that sin is its own curse, and more to be
dreaded on its own account than a burning
hell. When God is the subject of conver-
sation, do not spend all your strength in
talking of what He has made around you ;
do not point the young to his outward works
as his chief manifestations. Lead them to
think of Him as revealed in their own minds,
as the Father of their spirits, as more inti-
mately present with their souls than with the
sun, and teach them to account as his best
gifts, not outward possessions, but the silent
influences of his Spirit, his communications of
light to their minds, of warmth and elevation
to their feelings, and of force to their reso-
lution of well-doing. Let the spirituality of
Christianity sHInc forth In all your teachings.



Let the young see how superior Jesus was to
outward things, how he looked down on
wealth and show as below his notice, how he
cared nothing for outward distinctions, how
the beggar by the road-side received fhwn
him marks of deeper interest than Pilate on
his judgment-seat or Herod on his throne,
how he looked only at the huntan snrit and
sought nothing but its recovery and me.

I have spoken of the Spirituality of Chris*
tianity. The next great feature of the reli-
non to be constantly set before the child is
Its disinterestedness. The essence of Chris-
tianity is generous affection. NotWng so
distinguishes it as generosity. Disinterested
love not only breaks out in separate teachings
of Christ ; it spreads like the broad light of
heaven over the whole religion. Every pre-
cept is but an aspect—an expression of gene-
rous love. This prompted every word, guided
every step, of Jesus. It was the life of his
ministry; it warmed his heart in death; it
flowed out with his heart's blood. The pupil
should be constantly led to see and feel this
divine spirit pervading the religioru The
Gospels should be used to inspire him with
reverence for generous self-sacrifice, and with
aversion to everything narrow and mean. Let
him learn that he is not to live for himself;
that he has a heart to be given to God and
to his fellow-creatures; that he is to do the
will of God, not in a mercenaiy spirit, but
from gratitude, filial love, and from sincere
delight in goodness; that he is to prepare
himself to toil and suffer for his race. The
cross — that emblem of self-sacrifice, that
highest form of an all-surrendering lov^^is
to be set before him as the standard of his
religion, the banner under which he is to
live. and. if God so require, to die.

There is one other great featiuv of Chris-
tianity, and that is the vastness, the infinity of
its prospects. This was revealed in the whole
life of Jesus. In all that he said we see his mind
possessed with the thought of being ordained
to confer an infinite good. That teacher
knows little of Christ who does not see him
filled with the consciousness of being the
author of an everlasting salvation and happi-
ness to the human race. " I am the resur-
rection and the life. He that believethonme
shall never see death." Such was his lan-
guage, and such never fell before from humaa
lips. When I endeavour to bring to my mind
the vast hopes which inspired him as he pro-
nounced these words, and his joy at Che anti-
cipation of the immortal fruits whieh his life
and death were to yield to our race, I fed
how little his character is yet understood by
those who think of Jesus as a man of s<MT(Mr»
borne down habitually by a load of gtieC
Constantly lead your pupils to observe MMf
real, deep, and Vivid was the impressioo oA



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365



(be mind of Jesus of that future, everlasting
life which he came to bestow. Speak to them
of the happiness with which he looked on all
faimian rirtue, as being a ^rm which was to
unfold for ever, a fountam of living water
which was to spring up into immortality, a
love which was to expand through all ages
and to embrace the universe. It is through
the mind of Christ, living, as it did. in a
higher world, that they can best comprehend
the reality and vastness of the pro^iects of
the human soul.

Such are the three great features of the
religion which the teacher should brine most
ftctfaenily to the mind of the child. In
these. OS in all my preceding remarks, you
perceive the importance which I attach to the
character of Cfhrist, as the great means of
giving spiritual light and life to the mind.
The Gospels, in which he is placed before us
so vividly, are in truth the chief repositories
of dhrine wisdom. The greatest productions
of human genius have little quickening power
in comparison with these -simple narratives,
in reading the Gospels. I feel myself in pre-
sence of one who speaks as man never spake;
whose voice is not of the earth ; who speaks
with a tone of reality and authority altogether
his own ; who speaks of God as conscious of
his immediate presence, as enjoying with him
the intimacy of an only Son ; and who speaks
of heaven as most familiar with the higher
states of being. Great truths come from
Jesus with a simplicity, an ease, showing how
deeply they pervaded and possessed his mind.
No books astonish me like the Gospels.
Jesus, the hero of the story, is a more extra-
ordinary being than imagination has feigned,
and 3ret bis character has an impress of nature,
consistency, truth, never surpassed. You liavo
an seen portraits which, as soon as seen, you
felt to be likenesses, so living were they, so
natural, so true. Such is the impression
made on my mind by the Gospels. I believe
that you or I could lift mountains or create a
work! as easily as fanaticism or imposture
could have created such a character and his-
tory as that of Jesus Christ. I have read the
Gospels for years, and seldom read them now
witlu>at gaining some new or more striking
view of toe great teacher and deliverer whom
f^yef portray. Of all books, they deserve
most the studv of youth and age. Happy
the Sunday-school in which thor spirit is
revealed 1

But I have not yet said everything in
lavour of them as the great sources of in-
stroction. I have said that the Christian
reUgion is to be taught from the Gospels.
This is their great, but not their only use.
Much incidental instruction is to be drawn
from them. There are two great subjects on
which it is very desirable to give to the young



the light they can receive, human nature and
human life ; and on these points the Gospels
furnish occasions of much useful teachmg.
They give us not only the life and character
of Christ, but place him before us in the
midst of human beings and of human afiairs.
Peter, the ardent, the confident, the false, the
penitent Peter; the affectionate John ; the
treacherous Judas, selling his Master for gold ;
Mary, the mother, at the cross ; Mary Mag-
dalen at the tomb; the woman, who had been
a sinner, bathine his feet with tears, and
wiping them witn the hair of her head ; —
what revelations of the human soul are these !
Wliat depths of our nature do they lay open !
It is a remarkable fact that the great masters
of painting have drawn their chief subjects
from the New Testament; so full is this
volume of the most powerful and touching
exhibitions of human character. And how
much instruction does this book convey in
regard to life as well as in regard to the soul I
I do not know a more affecting picture of
human experience than the simple narrative
of Luke :— •* When Jesus came nigh to the
city, behold, there was a dead man carried
out, the only son of his mother, and she was
a widow; and much people of the city was
with her." The Gospels show us fellow-
beings in all varieties of condition, the
blind man, the leper, the rich young ruler,
the furious multitude. They give, practical
views of life, which cannot be too early im-
pressed. They show us, in the history of
Jesus and his Apostles, that true greatness
may be found in the humblest ranks, and
that goodness, in proportion as it becomes
eminent, exposes itself to hatred and re-
proach, so that we must make up our minds,
if we would be faithful, to encounter shame
and loss for God and dutv. In truth, all the
variety of wisdom which youth needs may
be extracted from these writings. The Gos-
pels, then, are to be the great study of the
Sunday-school.

I cannot close these remarks on what is to
be taught in the Sunday-school, without re-
peating what I have said of the chief danger
of this institution. T refer to the danger of
mechanical teaching, by which the young
mind becomes worn, deadened to the greatest
truths. The Gospels, life-^ving as they are,
may be rendered wholly moperative by the
want of life in the instructor. So great is my
dread of tame, mechanical teaching, that I
am sometimes almost tempted to question
the utility of Sunday-schools. We Protes-
tants, in our zeal for the Bible, are apt to
foiget that the very commonness of the ooolc.
tends to impair its power, that familiarity
breeds indifl'erence. and that no book, there-
fore, requires such a living power in the
teacher. He must bevrare lest he make the



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Gospels trite by too frequent repetition. It



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 79 of 169)