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THE SEVENTEENTH ANNUAL REPORT OF THE EDINBURGH GRATIS SABBATH SCHOOL SOCIETY.
WHEN we enter an extensive manufactory, and look around us, we are naturally filled with surprise at the various and complicated machinery which we see in movement ;'we admire the nice adaptation of every wheel or bolt to its intended purpose, the harmonious relation of every part to another, the facility and power with which the whole operates, and the beauty and excellence of the material which is thus fabricated. But the first question that occurs to us, particularly if we are entire strangers to the nature of the machinery, is, What is the cause of this regular and powerful motion. And to satisfy this enquiry, we are conducted to inspect the steam engine, upon which the action of the whole apparatus depends, and to see the fire, from the effect of which, upon the water in the boiler, the vapour arises that produces so magnificent a result. We are perhaps, however, too deeply engrossed with the grand operation of the machinery, to think much of its cause; yet we cannot forget the fire, and it is our wish, for the sake of its effects
, that it should be amply and equally supplied with fuel.
The religious world, at the present moment, presents to our view a vast and complex machine, moving with a regularity that delights, a power that astonishes, a sublimity that overwhelms the mind of the attentive and unbiassed spectator. Through the instrumentality of a variety of institutions, all formed for promoting the interests of divine truth, but each selecting for itself a peculiar department, a work is in rapid progress, which, when accomplished, will consummate the happiness of man on earth. Although what has been effected,
when compared with what remains to be done, sinks much in importance; yet it is cause for rejoicing, that the Book of Life is translated into more than fifty languages; that the glad tidings of great joy are proclaimed in almost every latitude; and that the Gospel has not only been read and heard, but understood, believed, and obeyed, by persons of every rank, age, colour, and nation.
Now, to what is all the exertion, the effects of which are so striking, to be attributed? Is it not to be ascribed to the influence of pure and undefiled religion on the heart: Many men undoubtedly befriend the cause of Bible Societies, and some perhaps that of Missions, who are probably far from understanding the power of godliness. But, although they contribute to the work, it was not with them that it originated, nor is it on them that it depends. It never would have been commenced, if love to God and to man, inspired by the gospel, and ruling in the hearts of Christians, had not planned, and undertaken, and continued it; for there is no other motive that can act as a uniform and steady incentive to instruct mankind in the will of God, but the faith of the Gospel. This faith, then, is the mighty engine which sets and keeps in motion the extensive machine of Christian activity.
The bulk of Christians must trace their religious impressions to their earliest years. The grace of God, indeed, is not limited in its exercise to any particular period of life. Numerous are the instances of men, who, although they have devoted the days of their youth to folly and sin, have afterwards been einiment servants of Jesus Christ, and have become as distine guished for their piety as they once were for their wickedness. Frequent, however, as examples of this kind are, the general rule lies on the other side. The operations of grace, like those of providence, are for the most part carried on by gradual steps and regular means; and these commence with the early instillation of religious principle into the mind. It is in youth especially, that God demands the heart; it is in youth, that those impressions are made on it by his grace, which terminate in its surrender to the Lord; and we consequently find, that the Christian character, in general, owes its complexion to the admonitions of a tender parent, of a faithful guardian, or of a benevolent teacher. When, therefore, we contemplate the efforts which are made for the diffusion of the knowledge of eternal life through the world; when we observe, that these have their origin in the influence of true religion; and when we reflect, that the existence of the latter is commonly to be traced to the instructions received in the morning of life,
religious education stands forth in its native importance, as the original cause, under the blessing of the Almighty, of almost all the good done in the world; as the necessary fire, through the instrumentality of which, the powerful engine is made to work, upon which the whole machinery of Christian benevolence de pends for its action.
It was from a conviction of such truths as those which have just been stated, that the Edinburgh Gratis Sabbath School Society commenced their labours in the religions instruction of youth. These labours, during almost every succeeding year, have been blessed with increasing success; and the annual period having, in the good providence of God, again revolved, when the Society demands from those, to whom they have entrusted the management of the establishment, an account of their proceedings, and when the public perhaps expects some muformation respecting the history and progress of the institution since the last Report was published, the committee hasten to the pleasing duty of complying with the demand, and of fulfilling the expectation.
The last, they may say, has been truly a prosperous year.; whether they consider the increase of Scholars, the growing desire of improvement which has manifested itself among them, the instances of piety which have occurred, or the interest which the public continues to take in the object of the society.
There are at present fifty-five Schools upon the society's establishment; and the number of young persons attending them is three thousand one hundred and seventy. Of these Schools, thirty-seven are in Edinburgh, and eighteen in the country immediately adjacent. During the last twelve months, there has been an increase of five Schools, and of nearly five hundred children; and since the year 1810, the number of Schools has received an addition of seventeen, and the scholars have been more than doubled. As the ratio of increase, howeter, is considerably greater in the case of the latter than of the former, and as many of the new Schools have been opened at no great distance from some of those which have been long established, it has been demonstrated, that the erection of new Schools, when regulated with reference to the extent of population, is not, upon the whole, the means of thinning those previously organised, but, on the contrary, augments the number of the children attending them. Nor is this all. The opening of additional Schools tends much to improve those already in existence; it operates beneficially on those who leach, and on those who are taught; stimulating the fidelity