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The subjects are the choice of the class, the members will therefore feel an additional obligation to be present to hear the teacher's exposition. By this plan, you will have variety; also a particular lesson for each member. Some subjects will be very difficult; a few may be ridiculous, but the judicious teacher can turn them all to good account. It may happen that one will try from sheer mischief to set the teacher fast, and will chuckle at the prospect of the teacher's confusion when the subject selected for that object is announced for the coming Sabbath. When the lesson is opened, and great truths are shown to be hidden in the mysterious language which the proposer thought would perplex the teacher, admiration takes the place of mischievous design, and the teacher has won the esteem of the proposer for life. This plan gives the teacher the opportunity of solving doubts, which members of our select classes do not like formally to express. It is remarkable what a number of passages are selected, such as “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?" and others indicative of an awakened conscience, where the above plan is adopted. Some may prefer a systematic course of lessons for both young men and young women's classes, but what succeeds in one class may fail in another; no two classes are alike; no two localities are alike ; nor can you find two minds exactly alike, hence the difficulty of making a list of lessons adapted to all. The above plan recognizes the fact, that in one sense all minds are alike, and therefore while each subject will be adapted to all, it will be equally suited to each, as it also takes into account the universally admitted truth, that each mind has its own peculiarity.
From the many other questions which claim attention, we can only select the following: what good results from our select classes meeting in the general school at the opening service and during the address ? This will be regarded as a bold question. From those who are in favour of the retention of old plans, we request a calm hearing
We are fully aware that changes are not always improvements, and that changes which are not improvements are often great evils, and tend to keep an institution in a state of disturbance. It is far wiser to adhere to old plans than to adopt new ones, unless they be better than those which they displace.
The argument which is generally used in favour of select classes meeting in the general schools, (which argument is regarded as conclusive,) is, that for our select classes not to meet in the general school, would be to break up our schools into fragments, and fill our young men and women with pride.
This argument was urged in favour of infant classes meeting in the general school some years ago. Superintendents who insisted on infant class teachers bringing the infants into the general school at the opening service, would now regard such an act as wrong in principle and inconvenient in practice.
Try to look at this question calmly. Select classes consist of our eldest scholars, and are (or ought be) taught by our best teachers, and are expected to take an intelligent view of all their engagements in the Sunday school. They usually meet in the general school at the opening, they sing and pray with the rest. After prayer the teacher in the general school proceeds to his lesson. The select class teacher very properly prays with and for his class before he begins his lesson. The peculiar age and circumstances of his class require peculiar petitions. Individual members require special mention. The loss of a relative, or the sickness of a member, is not overlooked. The erring and headstrong youth, who had gone into forbidden paths, and who after a long absence from school, has been conquered and reclaimed by a mother's prayers and tears, makes his appearance.
The teacher can utter his affectionate solicitude for him best in prayer, though in a tremulous voice-for that erring one is a noble lad, and only wants grace to make him a gem,-the class is melted, and the youth is broken down. A mother's tears were hard to resist, this is a greater trial still to his fortitude; he never knew till now how much he was loved; there is no chiding, no questions, that prayer binds him to his teacher for life.
Every Sabbath the teacher will have some member, who has been beset by enemies to the Bible, or who may have ungodly parents at home, whose care will require special mention; these we think are legitimate objects for the prayers of our select classes.
We regard prayer as a most important exercise of select classes, but if duly attended to in addition to attendance at the opening of the general school, the time required will materially shorten the lesson, and thus place the teacher of the select class at a disadvantage in relation to his fellow teachers in the general school. The above evil would be lessened, (though not removed,) if select classes were not required to be present in the general school during the address.
To some members of select classes, the address in the school is the great trial of the Sabbath, If the subject of the class for the day be the Union lesson, the teacher has expounded it; the members of the class have therefore to pass their time in simple endurance, to keep up the appearance of union with the school. Some make their escape when the teaching is over, to the great grief of the teacher, who finds it impossible to answer such questions ås,
good shall we get by remaining during the address?" The teacher may have moral influence enough to prevent them from leaving generally; but when the teacher whose name shall be nameless) has to give the address, they know that he will lecture the young women on the vanity of dress, and the young men on the sin of intellectual pride, bringing all to a climax by telling them, “ that their consciences are seared with a hot iron.” When this man ascends the desk to talk at the members of select classes, no wonder if young men and women openly mutiny, and walk out of the school.
And who can blame them? God never intended his work to be done in this way. You might as well attempt to smooth the stone with a velvet cushion, as seek to affect for good the minds of our young men and women, either by talking at them or by the pretty little tales which some spin out to interest infant minds. After young men and women have listened to the well-prepared lesson of the teacher, is it to be expected that they can profit by the utterances of those whose only object is to interest for the time being, but who never seek to instruct?
To those who still hold that our select classes should be present during the address, we would say, raise the character of Sunday school addresses from little tales, which constitute them mere entertainments for young children without any point, to useful lessons ; illustrate as much as you like by both pictures and anecdotes, but all bearing on some useful lesson, and our young men and women will have something which will invite their respectful attention.
We should not be justified in speaking so strongly, but this evil gives an opportunity for the wayward among our young men and women to break through the restraints of the class, and to commence that course which ends in severing their connection with the school. We lose many of our young men and women, the commencement of whose downward course arises from dissatisfaction, caused by a want of consideration of their requirements, and an intelligent use of means to meet them, instead of insisting on their passive obedience to the routine which now fetters us and mars much of the work which is done for Christ. When they pass out of our hands and go into the world, young men and women see everything to allure,adaptation is ever seen and felt, and soon they are beyond our reach.
Sin is everywhere gilded. The singing saloon echoes the sound of music on the Sabbath evening, but it is in the tune of the sacred song of the Sunday school. Let us study the law of adaptation, and retaining only what is useful, be willing to learn the lessons which passing events are calculated to teach. Wo not only ought to endeavour to remove the impediments which prevent our select classes from securing their proper results, but we should try to increase the inducements for young men and women to remain in our Sunday schools.
If our ministers could strengthen the hands of Sunday school teachers, by conducting periodical services to congregations composed of our select and adult classes on Sunday afternoons, such services would, we have little doubt, be a great blessing. We can. not do more on the present occasion than suggest the above, as a very desirable addition to the agencies which have for their object the retention of elder scholars in our Sunday schools.
We have not done more in this brief paper than call attention to several important points, the consideration of which by this Conference may result in the increased success of our select classes. We shall feel grateful if reading this paper be the means of exciting the interest of delegates on the various subjects mentioned, when the Conference is over, and each has got to the real work of his respective school. We believe, that an efficient select class is the last link to be worked out in the Sunday school system. Wherever there is a select class, the chain is ready for the church to unite the school with itself. Let the church do her part, for the teacher will do his, and with God's blessing success must be ours.
The Sunday school idea is still being developed. There are heights it has not attained, but which it shall reach. The pious parent knows, that it is a most powerful aid to him, and the minister has long acknowledged that the Sunday school is the chief highway to the church. The efficient working of our select classes will be the pledge of the complete triumph of the Sunday school system. This must and will come to pass. If we do not manfully battle with the difficulties which stand in our way, they will be removed by others. Let us not be discouraged by the thought that it is little that we can do. As in the natural world, the feeblest agencies are often related to the greatest ends, so in the moral and religious world, they are amongst the levers which have raised man from the lowest state of degradation to one of peace and happiness. Among these agencies the Sunday school holds a first position. It was feeble at first; but when the difficulties which arise in the working of our select and adult classes are all practically solved, the day will be fast drawing nigh, when the Sunday school shall bless all nations on the face of the earth.
Unknown, and yet well known.”—2 Cor. vi. 9. Jesus said of His disciples, “ The world knoweth them not," and surely it is one of the first discoveries of a spiritually enlightened soul, that the world is out of sympathy with it, cannot understand, and cares not to examine its new aspirations and experiences. Every true Christian must often feel himself, not only a "pilgrim," but a “stranger" on the earth.
Apart, however, from this strictly religious aspect of the case, and speaking comparatively, it must be true of the majority of persons, that they are "unknown" beyond the immediate circle of their family and friends. We who meet in these thoughts now, may doubtless class ourselves
the men of low estate," of whom the multitude around know nothing, and for whose welfare the world takes no thought.
Perhaps sometimes our pride is wounded by this reflection, and we are fain to crave more notice. Or may be, our life-burdens, pressing heavily, wring from us a cry for more of that blessed human sympathy which goes so far to relieve their weight. Or, perhaps, we long for some noble band of kindred spirits to help our hymn of joy,
“ That to God's treasury might be coming in
Both all our praise, and more." Full often, for lack of these, we go to our closet (which, but for One Presence there, would be so lonely), feeling sadly and sorely that we are in the world “unknown."
But this is only one aspect of our circumstances as Christians, and we need not stay looking upon it until we forget that there is a bright reverse. For though “unknown, yet well known," says the Apostle.
How “well known" are we to God! Our names are uttered lovingly in heaven; angels receive commission to wait upon us; the Great Intercessor makes special mention of us before the throne, while He who sits thereon answers, “I know them by name, and they have found grace in my sight."
Our circumstances are “ well-known," every variation of prosperity or trial is matter of interest there.
Our tears are never shed in secret, for the witnesses whose close observation is prompted by compassion all Christ-like, count them as they fall, and "go and tell Jesus."