IHOPE you do not altogether forget the Sabbath-school, and yet I am afraid a great many Christians are scarcely aware that there are such things as Sabbath-schools at all; they know it by hearsay but not by observation.
Probably in the course of twenty years they have never visited the school, or concerned, themselves about it. They would be gratified to hear of any success accomplished, but though they may not have heard anything about the matter one way or the other, they are well content. In most churches you will find a band of young and ardent spirits giving themselves to Sunday-school work; but there are numbers of others who might greatly strengthen the school who never attempt anything of the sort. In this they might be excused if they had other work to do; but, unfortunately, they have no godly occupation, but are mere killers of time, while this work which lies ready to hand, and is accessible, and demands their assistance, is entirely neglected. I will not say there are any such sluggards here, but I am not able to believe that we are quite free from them, and therefore I will ask conscience to do its work with the guilty parties.
Children need to be saved; children may be saved; children are to be saved by instrumentality. Children may be saved while they are children, He who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” never intended that His church should say, “We will look after the children by-and-by when they have grown up to be young men and women.” He intended that it should be a subject of prayer, and earnest endeavor that children as children should be converted to God. The conversion of a child involves the same work of divine grace, and results in the same blessed consequences as the conversion of the adult. There is the saving of the soul from death in the child’s case, and the hiding of a multitude of sins, but there is this additional matter for joy, that a great preventive work is done when the young are converted. Conversion saves a child from a multitude of sins. If God’s eternal mercy shall bless your teaching to a little prattler, how happy that boy’s life will be compared with what might have been if it had grown up in folly, sin, and shame, and had only been converted after many days! It is the highest wisdom and the truest prudence to pray for our children that while they are yet young their hearts may be given to the Savior. To reclaim the prodigal is well, but to save him from ever being a prodigal is better. To bring back the thief and the drunkard is a praiseworthy action, but so to act that the boy shall never become a thief nor a drunkard is far better hence Sabbathschool instruction stands very high in the lists of philanthropic enterprises, and Christians ought to be most earnest in it. He who converts a child from the error of his way, prevents as well as covers a multitude of sins.
And, moreover, it gives the church the hope of being furnished with the best of men and women. The church’s Samuels and Solomons are made wise in their youth; Davids and Josiahs were tender of heart when they were tender in years. Read the lives of the most eminent ministers and you shall usually find that their Christian history began early. Though it is not absolutely needful, yet it is highly propitious to the growth of a welldeveloped Christian character, that its foundation should be laid on the basis of youthful piety. I do not expect to see the churches of Jesus Christ ordinarily built up by those who have through life lived in sin, but by the bringing up in their midst, in the fear and admonition of the Lord, young men and women who become pillars in the house of our God. If we want strong Christians we must look to those who were Christians in their youth; trees must be planted in the courts of the Lord while yet young if they are to flourish well and long.
The work of teaching the young has at this time an importance superior to any which it ever had before, for at this time there are abroad those who are creeping into our houses and deluding men and women with their false doctrine. Let the Sunday-schools of England teach well the children. Let them not merely occupy their time with pious phrases, but let them teach them the whole gospel and the doctrines of grace intelligently, and let them pray over the children, and never be satisfied unless the children are turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, and added to the church, and then I shall not be afraid of popery. Popish priests said of old that they could have won England back again to Rome if it had not been for the catechizing of the children. We have laid aside catechisms I think with too little reason, but at any rate, if we do not use godly catechisms we must bring back decided, plain, simple teaching, and there must be pleading and praying for the conversion of the children, the immediate conversion of children unto the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God waits to help us in this effort. He is with us if we be with Him. He is ready to bless the humblest teacher, and even the infant classes shall not be without a benediction. He can give us words and thoughts suitable to our little auditory. He can so bless us that we shall know how to speak a word in season to the youthful ear. And oh, if it be not so, if teachers are not found, or, being found, are unfaithful, we shall see the children that have been in our schools go back into the world like their parents, hating religion because of the tedium of hours spent in the Sunday-school, and we shall produce a race of infidels, or a generation of superstitious persons; the golden opportunity will be lost, and most solemn responsibility will rest upon us. I pray the church of God to think much of the Sunday-school. I beseech all lovers of the nation to pray for Sunday-schools; I entreat all who love Jesus Christ, and would see His kingdom come, to be very tender towards all youthful people, and to pray that their hearts may be won to Jesus.
The theme lies very near my heart. It is one which ought to press heavily upon all our consciences. God must lead your thoughts fully into it; I leave it, but not till I have asked these questions: — What have you been doing for the conversion of children, each one of you? What have you done for the conversion of your own children? Are you quite clear upon that matter?
Do you ever put your arms around your boy’s neck and pray for him and with him? Father, you will find that such an act will exercise great influence over your lad. Mother, do you ever talk to your little daughter about Christ; and Him crucified? Under God’s hands you may be a spiritual as well as a natural mother to that well-beloved child of yours. What are you doing, you who are guardians and teachers of youth? Are you clear about their souls? You week-day schoolmasters, as well as you who labor on the Sabbath, are you doing all you should that your boys and girls may be brought early to confess the Lord? I leave it with yourselves. You shall receive a great reward if, when you enter heaven, as I trust you will, you shall find many dear children there to welcome you into eternal habitations; it will add another heaven to your own heaven, to meet with heavenly beings who shall salute you as their teacher who brought them to Jesus. I would not wish to go to heaven alone — would you? I would not wish to have a crown in heaven without a star in it, because no soul was ever saved by my means — would you?
There they go, the sacred flock of blood-bought sheep, the great Shepherd leads them; many of them are followed by twins, and others have, each one, their lamb; would you like to be a barren sheep of the great Shepherd’s flock? The scene changes. Hearken to the trampings of a great host. I hear their war music, my ears are filled with their songs of victory.
The warriors are coming home, and each one is bringing his trophy on his shoulder, to the honor of the great Captain. They stream through the gate of pearl, they march in triumph to the celestial Capitol, along the golden streets, and each soldier bears with him his own portion of the spoil. Will you be there? And being there will you march without a trophy, and add nothing to the pomp of the triumph? Will you bear nothing that you have won in battle, nothing which you have ever taken for Jesus with your sword and with your bow? Again, another scene is before me: I hear them shout the “harvest home” and see the reapers bearing every one his sheaf.
Some of them are bowed down with the heaps of sheaves which load the happy shoulders: these went forth weeping, but they have come again rejoicing, bringing the sheaves with them. Yonder comes one who bears but a little handful, but it is rich grain; he had but a tiny plot and a little seed corn entrusted to him, and it has multiplied well according to the rule of proportion. Will you be there without so much as a solitary ear; never having plowed nor sown, and therefore never having reaped? If so, every shout of every reaper might well strike a fresh pang into your heart as you remember that you did not sow, and therefore could not reap. If you do not love my Master, do not profess to do so. If He never bought you with His blood, do not lie unto Him, and come unto His table, and say that you are His servant; but if His dear wounds bought you, give yourself to Him; and if you love Him, feed His sheep and feed His lambs. He stands here unseen by my sight, but recognized by my faith; He exhibits to you the marks of the wounds upon His hands and His feet, and He says to you, “Peace be unto you! As My Father hath sent me, even so send I you. Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; and this know, that He that converteth a sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”