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The Sunday School.*
MATTHEW xix. 13, 14. Then were there brought unto him
little children that he should put his hands on them and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
The subject of this discourse is indicated by the name of the Society, at whose request I appear in this place. The Sunday School—this is now to engage our attention. I believe, I can best aid it by expounding the principles on which it should rest and by which it should be guided. I am not anxious to pronounce an eulogy on this and similar institutions. They do much good, but they are destined to do greater. They are in their infancy, and are only giving promise of the benefits they are to confer. They already enjoy patronage, and this will increase certainly, necessarily, in proportion as they shall grow in efficiency and usefulness. I wish to say something of the great principles which should preside over them, and of the modes of operation by which they can best accomplish
* This Sermon was pronounced before the Sunday School Society, by the Rev. WILLIAM E. CHANNING.
their end. This discourse, though especially designed for Sunday schools, is, in truth, equally applicable to domestic instruction. Parents who are anxious to train up their children in the paths of Christian virtue, will find every principle and rule, pow to be laid down, a guide for their own steps. How to reach, influence, enlighten, elevate the youthful mind, this is the grand topic; and who ought not to be interested in it? for who has not an interest in the young ?
I propose to set before you my views under the following heads. I shall consider, first, the Principle on which such schools should be founded; next, their End, or great object; in the third place, What they should teach ; and, lastly, How they should teach. These divisions, if there were time to fill them up, would exhaust the subject. I shall satisfy myself with offering you what seem to me the most important views under each.
Į am, first, to consider the principle on which the Sunday school should be founded. It must be founded and carried on in Faith. You must not establish it from imitation, nor set it in motion because other sects have adopted a like machinery. The Sunday school must be founded on and sustained by a strong faith in its usefulness, its worth, its importance. Faith is the spring of all energetic action. Men throw their souls into objects, only because they believe them to be attainable and worth pursuit. You must have faith in your school ; and for this end you must have faith in God; in the child whom you teach : and in the Scriptures which are to be taught,
You must have faith in God; and by this I do not mean a general belief of his existence and perfection, but a faith in him as the Father and Friend of the children whom you instruct, as desiring their progress more than all human friends, and as most ready to aid you in your efforts for their good.
You must not feel yourselves alone. You must not think when you enter the place of teaching, that only you and your pupils are present, and that you have nothing but your own power and wisdom to rely on for
You must feel a high presence. You must feel that the Father of these children is near you, and that he loves them with a boundless love. Do not think of God as interested only in higher orders of beings, or only in great and distinguished men. The little child is as dear to him as the hero, as the philosopher, as the angel ; for in that child are the germs of an angel's powers, and God has called him into being that he may become an angel. On this faith every Sunday school should be built, and on such a foundation it will stand firm and gather strength.
Again, you must have faith in the child whom you instruct. Believe in the greatness of its nature and in its capacity of improvement. Do not measure its mind by its frail, slender form. In a very few years, in ten years, perhaps, that child is to come forward into life, to take on him the duties of an arduous vocation, to assume serious responsibilities, and soon after he may be the head of a family and have a voice in the government of his country. All the powers which he is to put forth in life, all the powers which are to be unfolded in his endless being, are now wrapt up within him. That mind—not you, nor I, nor an angel, can comprehend. Feel that your scholar, young as he is, is worthy of your intensest interest. Have faith in his nature, especially as fitted for religion. Do not, as some do, look on the child as born under the curse of God, as naturally hostile to all goodness and truth. What! the child totally depraved! Can it be that such a thought ever entered the mind of a human being ? especially that of a parent! What! in the beauty of childhood and youth, in that open brow, that cheerful smile, do you see the brand of total corruption ? Is it a little fiend who sleeps so sweetly on his mother's breast? Was it an infant demon, which Jesus took in his arms and said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven ?" Is the child, who, as you relate to him a story of suffering or generosity, listens with a tearful or kindling eye and a throbbing heart, is he a child of hell ? As soon could I look on the sun and think it the source of darkness, as on the countenance of childhood or of youth, and see total depravity written there. My friends, we should believe any doctrine sooner than this, for it tempts us to curse the day of our birth ; to loathe our existence; and, by making our Creator our worst foe and our fellow-creatures bateful, it tends to rupture all the ties which bind us to God and our race. My friends, have faith in the child; not that it is virtuous and holy at birth ; for virtue or holiness is not, cannot be born with us, but is a free, voluntary effort of a being who knows the dintinction of years of life.
right and wrong, and who, if tempted, adheres to the right ; but have faith (in the child as capable of knowing and loving the good and the true, as having a conscience to take the side of duty, as open to ingenuous motives for well-doing, as created for knowledge, wisdom, piety, and disinterested love.
Once more, you must have faith in Christianity as adapted to the mind of the child, as the very truth fitted to enlighten, interest, and improve the human being in the first
It is the property of our religion, that whilst it stretches beyond the grasp of the mightiest intellect, it contracts itself, so to speak, within the limits of the narrowest ; that whilst it furnishes matter of inexhaustible speculation to such men as Locke and Newton, it condescends to the ignorant and becomes the teacher of babes. Christianity at once speaks with authority in the schools of the learned, and enters the nursery to instil with gentle voice celestial wisdom into the ears of infancy. And this wonderful property of our religion is to be explained by its being founded on, and answering to, the primitive and most universal principles of human nature. It reveals God as a parent, and the first sentiment which dawns on the child is love to its parents. It enjoins not arbitrary commands, but teaches the everlasting principles of duty; and the sense of duty begins to unfold itself in the earliest stages of our being. It speaks of a future world and its inhabitants, and childhood welcomes the idea of angels, of spirits, of the vast, the wonderful, the unseen. Above all, Christianity is set forth in the life, the history,