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had it fallen into the hands of more skillful or industrious husbandmen. Should the harvest fail because the ground was incurably barren, or because the clouds had “rained no rain upon it,” no blame could rest upon the sower; but were he to scatter his seed by the "way-side," and leave it there without covering or protection; or “upon a rock," where there was no deepness of earth;" or among the roots of “ thorns,” which were sure to “spring up in due time;" he would be compelled even to blame himself; for in none of these cases could any reasonable man ever look for any other result.
The youthful mind, connected with our congregations and societies, is a soil naturally full of evil tendencies, but capable of very glorious things. If neglected, it will degenerate into a desert. If cultivated, it will become a field which the Lord hath blessed. The adult members of the church, but more especially her ministers, and those who are associated with them in the general management of her spiritual and temporal affairs, are solemnly charged with this important duty. The good seed is put into their hands, with an authoritative direction to scatter it abroad; and accompanied by a distinct intimation, that the faithful performance of this duty, from age to age, will produce a gradual improvement in the moral character of each succeeding generation, and, of course hasten the millennium.
The great Head of the church long since" established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children : that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born: who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God," Psalm lxxviii, 5-8.
“ The earth,” says our Lord, “bringeth forth fruit of herself ; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear," Mark iv, 28. The “ blade” to be produced is the love of God; for that is the living principle of all moral good, which shoots out into the love of man, and ripens into a harvest of holiness and happiness, which we shall reap and enjoy through time and through eternity. This love, in the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, " is the first and great commandment.” If it is the first and great thing which God has enjoined, it is the first and great thing to be implanted in the minds and hearts of our children. An education conducted upon a purely Scriptural principle would seek, before and above all other things, to win the heart to God through the medium of the understanding; or, to constrain children to love him, by making them to comprehend how greatly he has loved them.' It has become too much the habit of fallen men to hesitate, and inquire, and reason, where they ought simply to believe and obey. Accordingly, instead of seeking, with promptitude and zeal, first of all, to bring our children to know and love God, some of us think, in our wisdom, there is a previous question to be asked; namely, how far it is wise, and fit, and advantageous, to bring them up in this particular way: just as if it was not a clearly ascertained and settled point, that the command of God is the soundest philosophy; that no one understands human nature so well as its Maker; and that he is infinitely more concerned for the present and future well-being of our children than we can possibly be ourselves. The conclusion arrived at, as the result of our reasonings on this subject, commonly is, that a strictly religious education is the best, as a preparation for death; but that something rather different is necessary as a qualification for the present life. If our children were likely to die in early life, we should endeavor, by especial efforts, to direct their attention to the love of God to fallen man, in order to prevail upon them to love him in return. But because they are likely to live some years, and we wish them to push their fortunes, we begin to doubt whether this is, after all, quite the wisest course to be taken; for, although purity of heart may prepare them to see God, it seems to us to promise little or nothing in the way of advancing their interests in the present world.
Our blessed Saviour appears to have been of a different judgment when he taught us to say, " Thy will be done on earth as it is in hea. ven.” As in that divine form we are taught to pray for our own well-being, so this petition plainly assumes that men and angels are to be made happy on one and the same principle. Our chief good here, as well as in paradise, consists in obedient love. Earth is to be turned into heaven by doing the will of God. There never was a vainer dream than for human beings to imagine that they can do well, even in this life, without the love of God. They might as well expect to “gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.”
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” A vine produces grapes; but grapes are produced by no other tree. It can extract nutriment from the sun, and the rain, and the air, and the earth, and render all these powers and influences subservient to the production of its own delicious fruit. All other trees may be warmed by the sun, nourished by the rain, refreshed by the breeze, and fed by the fatness of the earth, but they can produce no grapes. Our children may be surrounded by “all things” in this world; but unless they love God, these will not work together in the production of their wellbeing. Their combined result will be only " vanity and vexation of spirit.” “All things work together for good to them that love God;" but good cannot be produced through any other medium. The various forms of good, peace of conscience, joy of heart, domestic harınony, social happiness, political prosperity, comfort in affliction, triumph in death, and the glories of heaven, are all the produce of one root,—the golden and diversified fruits of the same vital principle. That principle is the love of God; and to plant that principle in the hearts of children, either is, or ought to be, the great business of education.
As nothing but a corn of wheat will ever produce a blade of the same quality; so nothing but the word of God will ever give birth and being to the principle of love to him in the heart of man. The cha. racter of God is displayed in the account which he has given of himself. He has declared his great designs of infinite love-what he has done in the gift of his Son,
and is hourly doing under the dispensation of the Spirit, for the purpose of effecting our salvation; and it is the
signet of God's character of eternal mercy, as exhibited in this wonderful revelation, which leads us to love him in return. “The sower soweth the word;" and if ever a harvest of blessedness is reaped, it is the effect of the entrance of that word into the heart. The first part of education is to get this divine seed into the heart; and the second is to watch its growth, and to bring it to maturity.
It is readily conceded, that this matter does not depend entirely upon the church. There is a duty which belongs to the parents, and another to the children. It would be the perfection of blindness to overlook the great truth, “ By grace are ye saved." These things are neither denied nor forgotten, although it is the especial design of this paper to urge what is due from the Methodist connection, as a church, to the children and youth committed to its care by an over. ruling Providence. The failure of the harvest in the first two cases mentioned in this parable is attributed to a defective apprehension of divine truth. In the first case it was not understood at all. In the second, it was understood but imperfectly. “ When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which is sown in bis heart. This is he which received seed by the highway side,” verse 19. To them the word of salvation was just like a sentence repeated for the first time in some strange language, when the ear catches the sound, but the mind perceives not what it means. Yet should the mind recur to it again, and begin to inquire and think, it might possibly discover that hidden meaning which it had not seen at first. It is therefore the business of the devil to hinder this, by keeping the thoughts intent upon other things.
In the case of the stony-ground bearers, the word was apprehended, though but feebly, and only in part. They saw so much of its excel. lence as to receive it with joy. They saw so little of its infinite importance, that in “time of temptation" they “ fell away." Had the word not been understood at all, it would not have been so eagerly received. Had it been better understood it would not have been so easily given up. As the “ kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field” which is offered for sale, so he who has a just notion of its real character and value will be sure to make it his own; for he will go and sell all that he has, and buy it. Whoever consents to let it go in a time of persecution, thinking that property, and friends, and life, are more than it is worth, may have been struck with the verdure and beauty of the surface, but assuredly does not discover the rich mines below. It is the first business of education to enable children to make this great discovery. To secure a more general and complete understanding of the word of God is the most likely way of lessening the number of these melancholy failures. If we cannot insure success in all cases, yet general success should be expected and sought in the use of well-adapted means.
As an instrument of reclaiming profligates, converting heathens, and preserving them unto eternal life, Methodism is almost perfect; but for the purpose of preventing evil by the religious training of youth, it still admits of vast improvement. The first part of this “ labor of love" we have studied, and understand. We undertake it in a business-like manner, and are favored with corresponding suc.
When the same skillful efforts are applied to the second part also, they will meet with an equal reward; for the field is more pro. mising, and will yield a more abundant harvest. One great want is a large increase of schools; while, perhaps, some of the old ones might be better conducted. The way to have less way-side ground is, not only to sow the word by teaching, but to cause the children to understand it by catechizing. Arithmetic is taught by being made the subject of a great number and variety of well-considered questions. The pupil is not merely told, but also asked what is the amount of certain given numbers, after being added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided, as the case may be. The mental effort which is necessary in answering these questions, not only puts him in possession of the science, but also renders it so familiar that he finds it always at hand to assist him in transacting the daily business of life. Here it may be remarked, a subject is first given to the scholar, and then he is questioned upon it. A man about to pump a dry cistern would first of all fill it with water; and when children are to be questioned they must first be supplied with the means of returning a satisfactory an. swer. Why should not religion be taught in our schools upon a similar principle? That admirable little book, the Wesleyan Catechism, con. tains an excellent compendium of evangelical truth; and our children should be largely and particularly questioned upon the matter which it contains until the whole is thoroughly comprehended. We care not whether what is called the “ lesson system" be adopted or not; whe. ther the “ Key” be used, or its place supplied by a better; but we insist upon the principle of accompanying the instruction conveyed by the catechism with a multitude of interrogatories; and upon the process being continued until the subjects are thoroughly understood, and these living seeds of truth and goodness are fairly imbedded in the soul. The necessity of something of this kind can scarcely be matter of doubt. It was stated by a Sunday-school teacher, in a conversation recently held on the subject of catechizing, that a clever boy in his class had, on one occasion, just repeated that sentence in the catechism, God " always was, and always will be." The following question was then put, “ Did he ever begin to be ?" and the reply was, “Yes.” The teacher further gave it as his opinion, that a majority of children would return the same answer. This case was adduced in order to prove that the question itself was an improper one because it elicited such an incorrect answer. Yet it certainly proves that either that question, or another much like it, was greatly needed; for the boy, however “ clever,” had been repeating what he did not understand. Silly and absurd replies, of course, must always be expected; for the children will answer according to their knowledge. But cera tainly they constitute no valid objection to the “ Key" itself, while the teacher, if he will but use his own understanding, may with perfect ease turn them all to a profitable account. A Sunday scholar, about ten years of age, having recently repeated the same sentence, was asked the same question, and returned the same answer. then desired to repeat the sentence a second time, and think about it; after which she was again asked, “ Did he ever begin to be?" Instantly it became evident that her mind had perceived something it had not seen before ; for a gleam of intelligence spread over her countenance-her eye sparkled-she advanced a step forward, and said, with some difficulty and emphasis, “ No, sir.” When pressed to give a reason for this altered answer, she replied promptly, “Because he always was.” It is much to be regretted, that in some of our Sunday schools this catechism is unknown, while in others it is merely committed to memory; which every man who remembers his own boyhood knows to be an irksome business; whereas its constant and general use might be easily rendered both a pleasant and a profitable exercise.
It is not wise to surround ourselves with difficulties and discou. ragements, by talking about the inutility of our labors without the co-operation of the parents, the concurrence of the children, and the influences of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the directions of Methodism, “Let every one attend to the duties of his own station;" and it is earnestly hoped that, in this instance, she will attend to her own, which are to multiply her schools, and place her catechism in the hands of every one of her children. When any of them “hear the word, and understand it not” at first, their minds must be brought back to it again and again, and forced to look for its meaning, until it is perceived, which it will be in due time. Those who " receive the word with joy” must be asked what it is that pleases them; and if it is merely the flowers at the surface, they must be taught to dig and search for the gold and silver below. This will be found by “search. ing,” since it is not far from every one of us ;' and when discovered will not easily be forgotten.
Neither let us be discouraged by being told that so many schools, and new methods of teaching, are all human inventions, and not the old, orthodox, and apostolic method of converting and saving mankind. The triumphant argument in defense of Methodism is drawn from its utility and success. That seed is properly sown which bears fruit unto perfection, although it has been scattered by a whirlwind, and forced into the earth by the foot of a beast. Whatever brings human beings to know, and love, and enjoy God, is sure to be acceptable to him. His word is a celestial, a living, and immortal seed; and the probability is, that if we can by any means get into the hu. man heart, it will take root, and bring forth fruit, in some thirtyfold, in some sixty, and in some a hundred ; and when the harvest is found to be abundant and good, we shall hear no complaints about the seed being sown in an improper manner.
If the first part of education is to plant the good seed; the second is to watch its progress, and bring it to maturity. The cause of the failure, in the third instance mentioned in this parable, was the prevalence of contrary principles. The good seed had been sown, and began to grow ; but it had fallen among thorns, and they “sprang up and choked it.” The word had been heard and understood, feelings and habits of piety were produced; but the “care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and it becometh unfruit. ful.” Beds of thorns, however, are not brought to maturity in a day. They first exist as seeds, and tender shoots are seen to grow in com. pany with other things; and years must pass away before they become so rank and abundant as to destroy all other vegetation. Wickedness, in like manner, is the result of a slow moral process.