THE SABBATH SCHOOL - COOPERATION WITH GOD
A sermon delivered on Wednesday, August 28, 1850, by the Rev. Professor Finney,
of Oberlin College, U. S.,
To the members of the Sunday School Union, at the Tabernacle, Moorfields.
"We are laborers together with God." I Cor. III. 9.
MAN is sometimes a mere instrument in bringing about certain events; and in bringing about certain other events, he acts as a responsible agent. When he does anything without rendering an intelligent cooperation, he is more properly an instrument; but when he is a sympathizing, intelligent, designing, co-operating agent he is a co-laborer with God in producing results by such combined agency. There are multitudes of cases in which men may be said to combine with God. For instance, in raising the productions necessary for his subsistence, man is a co-worker with God; for he makes use not only of man instrumentally, but as a designing, active agency--aiming to secure a result as, really as God is--sympathizing with him in the great end at which he aims--without the loss of his own responsibility, liberty, cooperating with him designedly and understandingly. It is enough to say, that when men have the same end in view--when they sympathize with him, and take the same means to secure the end in view, they may be said to be "laborers together with God."
In speaking to the subject before us, I shall notice---
I. THE PARTICULAR WORK HERE REFERRED TO
II. WHO ARE PECULIARLY CO-LABORERS WITH GOD IN ACCOMPLISHING THIS
III. WHY GOD MAKES USE OF THIS COMBINATION
IV. THE ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
V. VARIOUS HINDRANCES WHICH RETARD THE WORK
I. The particular work here referred to.
The particular work to which the apostle here alludes, is the conversion and sanctification of sinners. In bringing about their salvation, God has, of course, done much without man's co-operation--Christ has made atonement without him; still, however, there was the applying of this atonement, and this was the particular work in which the apostle was engaged.
II. Who are co-workers with God?
The apostle in this case is speaking of himself and his fellow-laborers in the gospel; his eye was particularly upon them; but from the very nature of the case, and what is said in other places, we understand that all persons engaged in religious teaching--every one designing to accomplish the great end, and engaged in giving instruction for the purpose of accomplishing it--sympathizing with God in the grand end in view-- endeavoring to accomplish it by the means he has appointed--all such persons are "laborers together with God." Now, not only all teachers, but all those who are employed in any department of labor necessary to the accomplishment of this result, may be said to be "laborers together with God." Such, for example, are editors and others, laboring, directly or indirectly, to attain the desired object; but I shall notice more particularly this evening, one class--Sabbath-school Teachers, who are co-workers with God in the highest sense. The next inquiry is,
III. Why has God employed this combined agency?
We should never forget that God always acts wisely. Whatever he does, we are bound to assume that no other course than the one he pursues, would be so wise and good, if wise and good at all. Now, God cannot depart from the path of wisdom. First, then, God has chosen to associate man with him in this matter; we are, therefore, bound to infer that he has acted wisely in so doing; and that another course would not have been wise. To doubt this, is to call in question his goodness; and we are to infer, therefore, from the fact that he has chosen this method of doing this work, that he could not wisely attempt to do it alone. I will not speak of the possibility or impossibility of it; but the fact that such is the way God takes, shows that, in his judgment, this is the wisest way. It follows, therefore, that as this is God's way, he will not do it any other way; and that if there is not this cooperation on the part of man, we have no right to look for the promised result.
But let me say again: Another reason why this is so, is, because we need this labor. It is just the very exercise we want in order to prepare us for heaven. We need to cultivate our benevolent feeling and affections; this is just the kind of culture that is necessary for our spiritual well-being, these are just the channels in which our thoughts should be directed.
Again, it is honorable to God and man. If he requests any such feeble instrumentality as man's, why the excellency will be seen to be entirely of God, and not be ascribed, even in part, to the instrument, as might be the case even were angels employed in man's place. Furthermore, man can sympathize with man. God will get glory by bringing about so great a work by such means. Man will be benefited; and surely he is greatly honored by such an association with God, in so great a work.
But I must not enlarge here; I shall now proceed to point out, The Conditions of Success, and then the Hindrances which stand in the way.
IV. The conditions of success.
The conditions of success are, first, sympathy on the part of those who labor to this end with God. You must enter into his designs and views, having confidence in his wisdom and judgment, deeply sympathizing with the self-sacrificing spirit of Christ. There must be deep sympathy with him in regard to his passion for souls universally. Deep sympathy on the part of those who are co-workers with him, is indispensable to success. Who doubts but that one of the greatest secrets of the success of the early Christian ministry was this deep sympathy with Christ in his work. Their self-denying labors--their self-sacrificing spirit, showed that they entered deeply into sympathy with their Divine Master in this work. Now, until men really enter into sympathy with Christ in this matter, as the apostle and primitive Christians did, do not let them pretend that there is some Divine Sovereignty, or anything else, preventing similar success.
Again: Man must understand what is to be done. If he conceives that to save a soul is entirely an act of Divine creation, what has he to do with it? What cooperation has he? But it is not so, and man must, therefore, understand what is the nature of the work which has to be done. Again: He must understand the laws under which it takes place, and how it ought, therefore, to be done. If he has to take any part in it, he needs to understand clearly what part he has to take, and how it is to be performed, whether men are converted by persuasion accompanied by a presentation of the truth, or by a physical act of creation. If he makes a mistake here, he is not of much service in carrying forward the work; he must not go blindly forward without caring to ascertain the part devolving upon him.
But, again: He must possess the requisite skill. He must himself be divinely taught. He must know God's truth himself. He must understand what it is to be converted himself, or how can he labor for the conversion of others? What infinite folly for such a one to attempt to undertake the conversion of others! As well might a man with a beam in his own eye, attempt to pluck out the mote from his brother's eye; let him first cast out the beam from his own eye, and then he will see clearly to pluck the mote out of his brother's eye. He should have some knowledge by experience of what it is to be converted. If he is going to teach the sinner to obtain a new heart, let him understand what it is himself; for if he undertakes the work without knowing anything about it in his heart, he will prevent the work. So does a minister who pretends to point out the way of salvation, without himself having walked therein.
But let me remark again: He must understand the means necessary to this end. Having the end in view, knowing the means appointed by God to secure it, let him apply the means to the end, in an intelligent manner. Would you expect a man to be converted by talking to him about the Bey of Algiers? Yet this is as nearly connected with the subject in hand, as are the methods some take to effect the conversion of sinners. If you are to be co-workers with God, you must know what God is aiming to do--what particular mistakes you have fallen into--as wisely adapting the means to the end as a physician, who inquires into the habits of his patient, what caused the disease, what prolongs it, and the difficulties in the way of its removal. Now, suppose a physician, pretending to be a co-worker with God, should give up the use of means, sending one and the same prescription to all his patients, getting up a common panacea for all their ailments--what would you think of such quackery? But is not spiritual quackery even worse than this? Has not God ordained that man shall be converted by the truth? What then, is most calculated to impress the sinner with a consciousness of his necessity and with faith in his remedy?--what to teach him to get present hold of it?
Therefore, if men would be co-laborers with God, let them be sure to adapt their means to their end. They have no more right to expect to secure their end without the use of suitable means, than has the physician who does not adapt his means to his end, or any other man, attempting any other thing. God is perfectly wise in the selection of the instrumentality by which he does things. He has told us that he converts men by the truth; he has made us understand this. From the Bible and the universal conscience of all who ever were convinced by the truth, everybody can see that there is a Divine philosophy in every step--proper means to every end--all things conspire so that there is a divine, a philosophic beauty throughout the whole. The man who does not comply with the prescribed conditions is just as absurd as one who should undertake, in his business, to neglect the means from which certain results are always expected, and by which they are naturally accomplished, and yet expect to succeed.
Again: I do not mean to say that this result comes to pass by natural causes without the direct interposition of the Almighty; but that it is effected by laws with which he never interferes. His natural laws are everywhere present, and he will no more violate them in the spiritual, than in the material world. Do not let me be misunderstood; I do not think the means accomplish the end without Divine interposition, but the means are adapted to the end. Who would expect God would convert a man by the preaching of some truth which has no manner of connection with him? Nobody. Suppose I go to an impenitent sinner, and attempt to convince him of sin by discoursing on some purely abstract truth, without any particular bearing on his conduct and responsibility. How could I expect him to be converted by such means? Would any of you expect it? No indeed! But why not just as well convert him when talking about some irrelevant, as well as some relevant matter? Or, suppose you talk of things partly relevant and partly irrelevant. But you must necessarily come to the conclusion that the more you adapt the means to the end, the more certain you
are of securing it. You would not expect Divine interference unless you acted wisely. Suppose a minister should preach from week to week about Cicero, or Demosthenes, and other such matters? You would never expect him to be instrumental in conversion. You say God will not make use of such means as these in the conversion of men. Now, carry this out in all your teaching, Sabbath-school instruction, and preaching; and never forget that when you do not apply the proper means to the accomplishment of your object, you not only do not act wisely, but you are not likely to secure your end.
Again: Another condition is diligence. God himself is diligent, and he loves to see you so. If I take my own individual case, I may say that, since I have been in the ministry, I have been pressed, I cannot say how many times, to spare myself and take more rest, and take more care of myself. But Jesus Christ laid down his life, and I can afford, if necessary, to lay down mine. It is not the point how long any one lives, but what he does. If a man is endeavoring to spare his own health, and to make that a primary object, setting it before his duty,--he is not doing very much.
It is necessary for persons under some circumstances, to lay themselves fully out, or to do nothing at all. Suppose, for instance, you see a man out upon the Niagara in a little boat, some two or three miles above the Falls, drifting gradually onwards to that mighty cataract. He has oars, but the day is warm, and he does not like to exert himself too much, as it would injure his health. The longer he delays, the greater his speed, and therefore, the greater his danger; at length, it increases visibly at every step, till he comes to the Falls, when the whole river seems to roll back in mighty volume, and to struggle lest it precipitate him into the profound abyss beneath. Now suppose, under such circumstances, that he should only take moderate strokes with his oars, lest he injure himself by over-exertion! Why, he might just as well not move at all.
He is placed in circumstances where he must work arduously and continuously, or it is of little use his working at all. He must lay himself fully out. To preserve one's life is a duty, when it can be done consistently with other and more important duties. But it is often our duty to sacrifice life, or at least, to risk it; and the man who cannot do this will never accomplish very great things. The work must be done, come life or come death.
Another condition is, faith in the Divine presence and co-operation. Christ has told his Church to accomplish this work, and he has promised to be with them--not sometimes, but always, even unto the end. They were to go forth, and to make disciples of all nations; and "lo," he says, very emphatically, "lo I am with you always," and everywhere to the end of the world. Now, it is of great moment that those who attempt this work should understand that God is always with them, and that they may rely on his co-operation with as much certainty as that he will not lie, if they will only lay themselves out upon the alter as they ought to do, I do not believe that a solitary instance could be adduced in which the proper means have been perseveringly used in a true spirit, where success has not crowned the efforts. The promise here given may be depended upon, just as much as a natural or physical law. It is the Divine promise of an omnipresent Jehovah to be always with those who engage in his work--always, to the end of the world. It is just as if he had said--Whatever there may be for me to do, I shall not be wanting; I shall be always with you. We are to assume then, I say, that God will interpose, as confidently as an engineer in the construction of his mechanism expect it to obey natural laws, which will cause it to act when it is constructed in accordance with those natural laws. Mark me! I do not confound this Divine interposition with natural laws. But look at the facts in all history. When there has been a deep sympathy with God--means wisely adjusted to the end--in short, when God's commandments and requirements have been complied with in the proper spirit--when has it been found that God did not fulfill his promise? But let me say again: It is very easy for men to put it upon Divine sovereignty when they have gone to work absurdly, and then say, "I have done my duty, and I must leave the rest in the hands of the Almighty!" But even if you have complied with God's requirements, who does not see that you must follow it up! It never will do to faint with a single effort!
Another condition of success in this work is--we must leave nothing to miracles--we must not assume that God is going to convert men by miracles--we must not leave men to be convinced by miracles. Miracles never did convert men; they were only used to confirm their faith in the message that was sent from God. This having been once accomplished, they had the same gospel that we have. We do not need direct revelation as they did. I have said we must not leave anything to miracles; this is done wherever God is left to work without instrumentality. "How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?" Now, the apostle reasoned that no such thing was to be expected unless means were used. If, therefore, we expect God to work miracles, and leave things to be done by him miraculously, we as really tempt God as farmers would if they waited for him to raise their crops by miracles.
Again: We are to expect nothing without Divine interposition. We are to remember that sinners so obstinate and stubborn will not turn to God except as he interposes to persuade them. Our persuasion will not suffice without his enlightenment. Again: We are also to understand that we are not to expect God to do this alone; he has chosen to do it by means of cooperation with us; we are to be co-laborers with him in it; and while we are not to expect that we can do it without his aid, we are not to expect him to do it without ours.
But this leads me, in the next place, to remark, that we must not stop short in seeking our end. We must not confine ourselves to sowing the seed, and neglect the watering of it. We must press our suit till we obtain our object, and not leave it for God to go on with it alone.
Another important condition is, we must take care not to hinder the work, by throwing obstacles in the way; but as this subject will come up for notice under the head of "hindrances," I will not further enlarge here.
In the next place, if we would secure this end, we must pray to be instructed, study the laws by which it is accomplished, and the means best adapted to secure it. We must adjust the means to the end as nicely as a chemist would do the various substances on which he is to experiment, and as confidently expect the results. We must study the state of mind in a man or child. What is the child taught at home? What does it know? What does it fail to know? We must thus endeavor to remove every obstacle, as a chemist in his laboratory would prepare all the component parts in a mixture, to secure the result of his experiments. Unless he adjusts these things in their exact proportions, his experiments will not succeed. To be sure it is a natural law, but if he does not comply with it, he will not secure his end. Now, who does not see in the gospel this nice adjustment of the truth to the end which it is designed to accomplish? Now, suppose you are going to endeavor to do your part towards the conversion of a certain child to God. What are you going to do? Are you going to tell him some story with no manner of connection with the subject? How can you wake him up to a sense of sin--set his mind fermenting on the subject? How can you best explain to him the atonement? Who does not see that there must be the nicest adjustment of the means to the end? If this is done in a proper spirit, you may expect the result, and you will not be disappointed either.
The first great hindrance to this work which I shall notice, is the many false assumptions which are made; and consequently, the amount of false instruction which is given,--a course which is extremely mischievous. For example: How often is it presumed that God does his work alone? Now, I do not say he cannot possibly do it alone, but I do say he cannot wisely do it alone; but to say that the Almighty cannot wisely do a thing is, virtually to say he cannot do it at all, for he cannot act unwisely. This hindrance is extremely powerful; for of course, where men think God does it alone, they do not care to co-operate.
Another assumption is, that his sovereignty is of such a character as to render it extremely doubtful whether he will co-operate with us. Where this is the case, men have but little expectation of success--they care but little to adapt the means in the end--and the result is naturally a failure. Show me a man who, though doing the best he can, as he thinks, does not feel certain of success, and you will show me an unsuccessful man; for he, instead of being duly impressed with a sense of the presence and cooperation of God--of the fact that God is most minutely watching his efforts, and ever ready to apply his seal to the result--instead, in short, of addressing himself right to the work with the expectation of seeing it accomplished,--he will do no such thing. This is one of the greatest errors in the Christian Church. Why did not the apostles assume God's sovereignty in this sense? Everybody can see that the primitive Christians went right to the work, as if they expected God's agency might be depended upon, taking it for granted that the Divine cooperation would by no means be wanting. Is there anything in the prophecies, in the gospels, in the epistles--is there anything in the entire Word of God to warrant our saying that the time for such things is gone past? No indeed; judging from the Bible, we have a right to expect more and more of the Divine cooperation and power. Such a supposition as the mistake I have noted, dampens the energies of the saints; and prevents their securing the end.
Another mistake is: It is assumed that the want of success is to be ascribed to God's sovereignty. Now, this is tempting God. There are men not half awake to the subject, ascribing the want of success to God's sovereignty!--men who have actually not employed the proper means! Indeed, the entire affair is nothing more or less than overlooking the fact, that God's government is a moral government. They confound physical with moral government, and physical with Divine influence, confusing and bewildering their minds; no wonder, then that their efforts are not crowned with success.
Another hindrance may be found in the assumption that if the work is God's work, there is no such thing as HINDERING it! "No such thing as hindering it!" Indeed! In what part of the Bible have you made that discovery? Was there "no such thing as hindering" conversion in the days of the apostles? The fact is, that if the means are not suitable to the object which is sought to be attained, it never will be attained; and to say that the means "will be sure to be adjusted to the end," is just as reasonable as would be the parent who forsook his child, on the plea that "if God designed him to get well, he would be sure to get well; he need not, therefore send for a physician--it was no use his doing anything!" To be sure I know," he says, "that God has settled in his own mind whether he shall or shall not get well, and the means will not be neglected if the end is to be secured." But it is just as easy to devote one's self to the conversion of the soul, as to the healing of the sick. Why then do men apply rules to the salvation of the soul, which would not entitle them to be considered sane if they applied them to anything else?
Again: Children are told to pray for the Spirit, when all the time they are resisting it. Instead of throwing all the blame on the sinner, and making him see that he is always resisting the Holy Ghost, they make it appear to him as if he were in reality more willing to receive the Holy Ghost than God was to bestow it! Whereas, if he would but yield to the convictions of the Holy Ghost, he is a converted child, or man, that moment. Yielding to the truth presented to the spirit, is conversion.
Again: He is set to pray for a new heart, instead of being told at once to give his heart to God--thus completely confusing the whole question, by assuming that he has nothing to do except to wait for God to make him a new heart, which they expect to come, like an electric shock, or something of that kind. Now, what is this assuming? Why, that he is really willing to be a Christian, and waiting for it! Now, does the Bible teach this? If so, where? It is in fact, telling the child that he is willing enough to be converted, and that he must pray to God and get him to be equally willing! Now, this is as gross an error as it is possible to propagate. Conversion is an act of the will in turning from sin unto God. The truth is, the sinner is not willing; the moment he is willing--that is conversion. The very act of being willing is the act which constitutes conversion. Now, to set a sinner to do what pre-supposes willingness on his part, is to throw the responsibility upon God. Now, my dear hearts, what can be a more deadly error than that?
Said a lawyer to me in one of the great cities of Pennsylvania, "Mr. Finney, is there any hope for me? When at college, I and two or three of my fellow students waited on the president, and asked him what we should do to be converted. He told us to keep out of bad company, to read the Scriptures, pray for a good heart, and in God's good time, we should either be converted or go back again into the world." As he said, they did "go back into the world." Bursting into tears, he continued, "My two companions are now in a drunkard's grave, and I have but just escaped! Now, is there any hope for me?" I told him, your president was probably a good man, but he taught you just what the devil wished you to be taught. Instead of at once accepting Christ, believing the truth, breaking down before him, he set you to read the Bible and to pray, thus throwing all the responsibility upon God. You were waiting for God to convert you without your cooperation. That was just what the devil wanted! "Oh! I see it," said he, "I see it!" Now, how many souls have been ruined in this way? Is that the way to trifle with immortal souls?--to assume that they are willing, when Christ says they will not come unto him. I know not, brethren, to what extent you are guilty of this; but this I know, that these are errors which are now doing incalculable mischief among children and others.
Again: ofttimes the instruction given to children places them in a false position with regard to the Spirit of God, the use of means, and their own duty. It places them in a position of being willing to do their duty; although impenitent and unbelieving, it gives them to understand that they are willing, and that it is God who is causing the delay--it gives them to understand that they are using means, and doing all they can to procure their own conversion; but it is false!--unutterably false, and pernicious! It is as false as to teach universal salvation. Why, I would just as soon teach infidelity right out, or any other error that can be taught, as to delude people with the idea that they are willing to come to Christ--that if the Spirit of God will only help them, all would be right now, when every single breath they breathe, they are resisting the Holy Ghost, and nothing else. What man was ever converted that did not learn that he had been all along wrong in thinking he was using means with God, instead of God's using means with him? Now, if a man has not learned this, I do not believe he is converted at all. When persons are truly converted, they see that the difficulty is not in God, but in their own blind resistance--perseveringly holding on to their sins, trying to make themselves better--trying to do something else than coming at once to Christ.
Another great hindrance is this,--the immediate conversion of children is not so much as expected. Why, how strange it is! So far from its being expected, such expectations have been discouraged. I doubt now whether there are many Sabbath-school teachers in this house that would dare to tell of it if his children were converted. No; if he should have the highest confidence possible without direct revelation from God, he would be himself astonished, and would not expect his fellow teachers to believe it. His fellow teachers would say, "Don't say that. Don't get up any animal excitement here! We don't believe in it." Why, now, who does not see that it is not wonderful they do not succeed; their failure is just what might reasonably be expected under such circumstances.
But let me say again: The idea whether young children can or cannot be converted, is still a matter of doubt to many. How infinitely strange this is! In the first place, children are exceedingly susceptible of conviction of sin, their little consciences are exceedingly tender. Their sins, if pressed upon them, will sometimes throw them into utter agony. I have seen the times when my own dear little ones could not commit sin without its causing them to perspire and tremble! I have seen this also in others. You can recollect, doubtless, many of you, some sin which your parents almost overlooked, but which, it may be, stung your little heart to a high degree. Again: Children are more inclined to believe than persons who have put it off and gone on hardening themselves. They can see they are sinners, that they need a Savior, and that Christ is that Savior. I do not mean to say that children when they become moral agents are not unholy; I believe they are, but they have not become so inveterately hardened as many older persons; consequently, everything would teach us to expect the conversion of little children. They are the most hopeful objects; they are the most likely to be converted; the work of conversion, as far as man's agency is concerned, is most easy in them, because it takes less instruction to work their conversion than those who are settled down. Again: some of them think that when they get older, they will be better--that their conversion will then be easier. Some ministers have actually refused children solely on the ground of their age.
There was a case of this in New York. One of the principal physicians in the place was himself an infidel, but his wife was a Christian. They had a little girl between seven and ten years of age. There was a great revival in the church to which the lady belonged; and this little Hannah, one of the most beautiful little children I ever beheld--became seriously anxious about her soul. The father found this out and was bitterly opposed to the mother for cherishing it, and reprimanded her for it. He said he "could not understand it, and he did not believe the child could." He would not, therefore, have the mother encourage such a delusion. However, one day, some time after this, as he was on his way to a patient's house, he began to think seriously on the subject, and saw at a single glance his relation to the Savior; he altered his mind, went home and confessed to his wife that he saw his error--that his pride of intellect had led him to overlook what the child in her simplicity at once had seen. Now, who does not see that this is the true teaching of the Bible? There are truths in religion, which the more lofty men's minds are, the more will they be impressed by them; but the simple truth of the way of salvation is so simple, that they are less likely, as we have seen, to understand and receive them.
Another hindrance is, that teachers have sometimes been flattered, puffed up, made proud when they needed reproof. What would you think of a minister who should always be flattered? Why, he must be a man of great grace, or he would speedily be a ruined man. Would you not expect such a man to be ruined, to lose his unction and power? Sabbath-school teachers are often spoken to in such a manner as to puff them up, when they were doing more harm than good. I shall produce some terrible facts before I am done, which will show that they are often doing almost unmingled mischief, whereas they flatter themselves they are doing an incalculable amount of good! The children are becoming hardened, while all the time, the teachers think they are doing great good. I always love to comfort those who need, deserve, and can legitimately be comforted; but far be it from me to plaster where probing is needed. If you would be flattered, you must go somewhere else; for I cannot flatter those who are not bringing about the great end to which Christ has told them to direct their efforts!
Another hindrance is, the best talents are not engaged in the work. Let matrons that know how to deal with children--men of mind and talent--parents acquainted with the management of the young--let such come forward, and take hold of the work. They ought to be leaders in it. Again: ofttimes Sabbath-school teachers have not the sympathy, cooperation, and prayers of the Church, but are left to themselves, all but uncared for by the body of Christians with which they are more immediately connected. Again: they have not by precept and by example warned the young of the sin and danger of their course.
I said I must present some facts. Now, I have some documents before me, containing statistics compiled by one who has long been engaged in Sabbath-school operations, which go to show that a vast proportion of the inmates of our prisons, have at one time or other, for various lengths of time, been under instruction in our Sabbath-schools! Nay, some of them have actually been teachers in them! In one prison it was found that thirteen out of sixteen had been in a Sunday-school. The total number of inmates of the goals from which these returns have been collected is 9,960; of these, 6,261 have been under Sabbath-school instruction! This is almost two-thirds! From the matrons of a number of penitentiaries, similar facts have been elicited:--number of inmates, 431; of these, 311 had been under Sabbath-school instruction; and thirteen had been teachers! Thus, more than two-thirds of these degraded males had been in Sabbath-schools; and more than three-fourths of the females! In the Wakefield House of Correction, for instance, 310 of the inmates had been in Sabbath-schools, 93 of whom had attended them over five years! 68 between 3 and 5, 59 between 2 and 3, 47 between 1 and 2, and 43 under 1 year. Now, what have we here? Just the very opposite of what we might naturally expect from Sabbath-school instruction. If it secured what it is expected to secure, the figures would just be reversed.
Making all allowance then for the diversity of agencies and other matters, when the inquiry came to be made, it was found that a large proportion of these fell through strong drink. One of the chaplains says: "Put away strong drink, and these institutions may speedily be shut up." All of them bear similar testimony. I have here a copious arrangement of judicial testimony to the same effect. Pains were taken to inquire of these poor children, Did your teacher teach you temperance? Did he by precept and example endeavor to guard you against a custom so dangerous? "No!" Thus, their greatest danger they were never warned against. This mighty maelstrom swallowing up all--never so much as warned! Is this the way?
Now let me say, brethren, in America, precisely an opposite state of things has been the result of Sabbath-school instruction. At least such has been my experience; and I consulted my friend, Brother Beecher, the son of the Rev. Dr. Beecher, and his testimony coincides with mine; and the uniform testimony of our country is that, seldom is a Sabbath-scholar found to be a criminal. The facts of the cases in our country, are actually quoted to defend and support Sabbath-schools. In every instance that I am aware of, total abstinence is pressed upon Sunday school children, and indeed also upon a very large proportion of the pupils of our common schools. Mr. Beecher agrees with me that, as far as our united experience goes, we are not aware of a single Sabbath-school where this is not so.
In seeking to promote revivals of religion among children, we must take care to make use of the great law of sympathy, and the laws of mind to work our end. It has been absurdly assumed that, what is effected through the law of sympathy, is not from God. But this is untrue; for the law of sympathy has a great deal to do with actuating the mind of man. One man's conversion is frequently instrumental in effecting the conversion of another. This is just what might be expected; and to bring a whole mass of children to act together and on one another is the true philosophy of converting children; and in the conversion of the world, it is God's method to bring men to act upon one another. Scores of thousands of American children have been converted in revivals of religion. If children are instructed without securing this result, they are hardened, and wax worse and worse. See how awfully this is the case in this country!
Now, I do not know how you have tried to secure revivals among the children of this country, or whether you have done so at all; and since I read the facts I have stated, I cannot tell you how my mind has been burdened that such should be the results of the Sabbath-schools in this land. I never heard anything of the kind before. Now, what is the matter? Can these facts be denied?
I have right before me the name of the man who informed me--what shall I say?--why, that the Sunday-school Union does not favor the Temperance movement! That some of its most influential members are engaged in the traffic, and set their faces against inculcating such principles. Now, I speak with kindness; but if this is so, it is too bad. It is awful; and although the voice is here coming from the prison and from the tomb--although the earth is loaded with wailing and lamentation and consequence of this traffic--yet they will not give it up. Oh! tell it not in Gath! Can such people expect the blessing of God? No indeed! It would be tempting God to expect it!--it would be tempting God to expect it!--IT WOULD BE TEMPTING GOD TO EXPECT IT!
Now, beloved, will you suffer such facts to go forth, and yet make no efforts to guard the children against this danger? Will the teachers now in this house let this state of things go on and on! Will you not say it shall be put a stop to forever.
In many parts of the United States, it is as much expected that young children should be converted, as their parents and the elder children. Sabbath-school teachers labor for it, expect to secure it, and do secure it. Everything favors the idea of the conversion of little children. We find them reputable members of our churches. They are the most hopeful subjects in the world; and the Church should expressly lay themselves out to secure their conversion to God.
But I have already trespassed too long on your time. I will conclude the subject next Wednesday evening.