The Connexion between early Religious Instruction and Mature Piety.
IN ST.. PAUL'S CHURCH, PHILADELPHIA,
MAY 22, 1837.
BY STEPHEN H. TYNG, D.D.,
RECTOR OF THE CHURCH OF THE EPIPHANY, PHILADELPHIA.
THE EIGHTH OF A SERIES OF ANNUAL SERMONS PREACHED AND
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
"Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."—Psalm xcii. 13-15.
The meaning of this figurative language will be readily perceived; and, I trust, the propriety of its application to the present purpose and occasion will be equally apparent.
The object of the psalmist is to place the aspects of piety and sin, as they are displayed in the history and lives of men, in a strong contrast. In doing this, he gives great effect to his descriptions by deriving his illustrations from the vegetable kingdom of nature. He exhibits the wickedness of man as often growing with great rapidity; but he affirms its duration is as transitory, and its destruction as certain, as its maturity has been precocious. "The wicked spring as the grass, and the workers of iniquity do flourish; but it is, that they shall be destroyed forever." "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree: yet he passed away, and lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found."
In strong contrast with such a description of the speedy and entire destruction of wicked men, he exhibits the growth of the renewed soul in piety as permanent and unchanging. "The righteous shall [3/4] flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like the cedar in Lebanon." His obedience and his prosperity shall be persevering and sure. His purity and his peace shall be eternally immoveable. He then traces, in the verses of my text, the origin of this growing, vigorous piety, and exhibits it as springing from an early introduction to the ordinances and instructions of true religion; "a planting in the house of the Lord." He describes it also in its subsequent history. He affirms, that this early participation in religious benefits, this "planting in the house of the Lord," shall be followed by a continued religious character; a piety which shall still be found brighter and more valuable, even in extreme old age. "They shall flourish in the courts of our God; they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." He finally declares, that the assurance which he has of the fulfilment of this hope rests upon the power and the faithfulness of God. The blessing will be bestowed, "to show that the Lord is upright; that he is the rock that there is no unrighteousness in him." This work of grace in the soul of man, so powerful, so permanent, so glorious, is designed to proclaim the honour and to display the fidelity of that Almighty Being, "God manifest in the flesh," upon whose power its accomplishment entirely depends.
Under this beautifully figurative language, the text affirms that connexion which I apprehend will be found very uniformly to subsist, between an early acquaintance with religion, in its doctrines and ordinances, and the piety of mature and aged life. The object of my present discourse is to trace some of [4/5] the facts of this connexion; and to show some of the peculiar advantages which early religious instruction, and especially the instructions of the Sunday-school, are found to give towards the formation of mature and fruitful piety, and the securing of ultimate joy and comfort in religion. In order to present the suggestions which I would offer upon this subject the more clearly, I will attempt,
I. To illustrate the operation of early religious instruction towards the formation of subsequent religious character.
II. To exhibit the foundation upon which we cherish this important expectation; and,
III. To urge, upon this ground, the claims of the Sunday-school enterprise, and of the American Sunday-school Union, upon the attention of my hearers.
I. I shall first attempt to illustrate the operation of early religious instruction, and especially Sunday-school instruction, towards the formation of subsequent religious character.
1. The great object which we have in view in all such instruction, and for which we anxiously labour in our efforts for the establishment of Sunday-schools, is happily expressed in our text. We wish to plant the children of our land in the house of the Lord. We wish to constitute true piety their pleasure and their home; to make the privileges and ordinances of the gospel, the appointed channels of divine grace to man, the soil in which they are to grow, and the atmosphere from which they are to be nourished, by the blessing of God containing and [5/6] imparting the vitality, the life-giving spirit, by which they are to be sustained, and through which they are to gain the gift of life eternal. This is the grand object of Sunday-school instruction. We desire and intend, under the good hand of our God upon us, to plant the whole rising generation of immortal beings around us in the sanctuary of the Most High; not as posts, or as stones, in the mere formalism of religious ceremony, but as living trees, in the fruitfulness and beauty of truly spiritual character. We would forestall the power of Satan and the evil influence of the world; and preoccupy the mind, and bind the affections, and pledge the character, and covenant the soul to Christ, before the enemy shall have time allowed him to come in with power, and sow his harvest of tares with effect. In the case of each individual child, we wish to be the instrument of converting a sinful soul to God, and of uniting it, in the infallible bonds of the gospel, to the Redeemer of mankind. As the grand end and consummation of our enterprise, we wish thoroughly to Christianize the land in which we live, and to make the limits of the spiritual communion of the gospel co-extensive with the habitations of our people. And though, on the way to this great end, we may be blessed in gaining many subordinate objects in the present concerns of men, each of them exceedingly important; though we may promote, in various methods, the temporal happiness and prosperity of mankind; we consider all these attainments as incomparably inferior. Our great and all-absorbing purpose is the salvation of immortal souls, and the building up of the kingdom and glory [6/7] of Emmanuel; "to show that he is the rock, and that there is no unrighteousness in him." This is the design, for the accomplishment of which our Sunday schools are established, and for which every teacher in the land is, or should be, simply and intently labouring. To the attainment of this end, early religious instruction, and particularly the instruction of Sunday-schools, furnishes very important advantages.
2. In tracing these advantages in the operation of such instruction towards the securing of the ultimate piety of the soul which enjoys it, we find first the encouraging fact, that we are often entirely successful in the early accomplishment of our whole object. In the truly spiritual conversion of many of the youth of our land under Sunday-school instruction; in their final new birth for God, we do succeed, by the power of God, in whose hands we are the humble instruments, in "planting them in the house of the Lord," in uniting them as branches to the Lord's spiritual vine, that they may bring forth fruit for him. It is a well known fact, that there have been already, in the Sunday-schools of this country, many thousand children spiritually renewed for God. There probably is not a pastor in our land, whose affections, and time, and prayers have been given in any fair measure to this important part of his great work of winning souls, but can testify to the faithfulness of God, in his blessing upon this interesting portion of the flock. There is no part of the pastor's charge which so readily and surely rewards him for all the toil and effort which he devotes to it as the Sunday-school. It has appeared [7/8] to me, for several years, a remarkable and unaccountable oversight among many of the ministers of Christ, who, I doubt not, really feel an interest in the salvation of souls, that so little comparative attention has been given to what all my observation and judgment, as well as all my own experience, have united to convince me, is the most pliable portion of the subjects of their effort, and the field which renders them the most speedy and abundant harvest for the labour which is bestowed upon it. It is but a few years since this work began among us; very few years since it has assumed much of efficiency or shape; yet the subjects of God's renewing power, as here displayed, are already preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, at home and abroad; very many more are now preparing themselves for future usefulness as the ambassadors for Christ; and our schools, and colleges, and seminaries could this day give up to us some hundreds of instances of this description, in answer to our call for evidences of the divine favour resting upon our Sunday-schools. Each year as it passes by us, brings out to view new instances of precious youth, here begotten again to the enjoyment of a lively hope, through the divinely renovating power of the Spirit of Christ.
This fact is undoubted: and it presents an advantage in the operation of Sunday-school instruction, so prominent and so undeniable, that no serious mind can be supposed to undervalue it. What is so important in the history of man, as to determine the great question of his eternity in the morning of his life? What object, connected with him, can be so deeply interesting, as this early removal for him of all [8/9] cause for subsequent regret and sorrow, in the interests of his soul? this securing for God the affections and the powers of his untouched and unoccupied heart? What will so tend to annihilate the sorrows, and to promote the enjoyments, even of his present life? And this inestimable result our whole experience shows us we may attain, just in the proportion in which we devote our energies and prayers to the cultivation of this interesting field of labour. The blessed Spirit of God thus attends the communication of his truth and the study of his word. And increasing multitudes around us are testifying, that they have found with Timothy, that the Scriptures known from a child are able to make them wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. The connexion between early religious instruction and mature piety, at this step of our investigation, is too apparent to claim a prolonged notice. Such souls, converted in their youth, and bound early unto God, are most of all certain of "flourishing in the courts of our God," of "bringing forth fruit in old age," of being abiding monuments of the faithfulness and power of God. They secure for themselves most effectually the blessings of religion. They are habitually the most persevering in the path of holiness. They are the most useful to the souls of men, and the most honourable to God, in the great operations of the gospel on earth. They press forward to glory, having "an abundant entrance" into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Upon them the church of God depends for its messengers of mercy to the world. Upon them the world depends for its intelligence of salvation and [9/10] peace in Jesus Christ. The highest benefit that can be conferred upon the world is the conversion of the young. The most beneficent individuals in the world are they who are selected and blessed as instruments of accomplishing this important end.
3. But it will be said that, in a large number of instances, we do not gain this inestimable result. The children committed to us attain the age at which they leave this spiritual nursery, without a "heart right in the sight of God." Then, upon this supposition, another most important advantage of this system of effort is, that where we do not immediately gain the whole object, we lay the foundation and prepare the way for a subsequent restoration of their souls to God. They have, notwithstanding, gained immense benefits, upon their possession of which our hope delights to rest, as, under the faithful blessing of God, the probable instruments of a future blessing to their souls.
Their minds are stored with the truths of the holy word of God. They have acquired, and have laid up, a knowledge of the Scriptures—the facts, the doctrines, the instructions, the precepts of the Scriptures, which no other method ever devised could have imparted. They are thus, in their knowledge of spiritual things, wiser than their teachers could have been, before this system of useful effort was established. This is an advantage of incalculable importance. The Bible is made to them a familiar book. They pass on to their maturity well acquainted with its contents and communications. They are prepared to stand in their places in the society of men, with minds almost involuntarily [10/11] formed upon different principles, and acting upon a different system, from those who have had no such advantages. The mere speculative knowledge of Scripture truth which they have gained undoubtedly renders them far better qualified to discharge the present duties of life, and to fill up their measure of obligations to society, than any other preparation could have done. But mere temporal benefit is not the point to which I wish particularly to direct your notice. The truths of the word of God are, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the appointed means of man's renewal in holiness, after the image of God. And when we have laid up in the cells of memory, and in the repositories of the intellect, these blessed truths, we have done much towards preparing the way for the converting operation of the Divine Spirit, which shall "plant them in the house of the Lord."
Then the Bible is made to them a book of enjoyment. It is surrounded in their minds with the most attractive and pleasant associations. The way in which it has been brought before them has given to it a peculiar charm. Their acquirement of its instructions has been entirely voluntary. The connexions of the Sunday-school have called into exercise the kindest feelings of their nature, and chiefly developed the most precious and purest affections of their hearts. There is nothing gloomy or repulsive connected with the word of God in the associations of their minds. They can remember nothing in subsequent maturity, which was involved in the early presentation of religious truth to their minds, but that which bears the most pleasurable aspect. They will love to think of the paths in which their [11/12] childhood walked, with this blessed word as a lamp to their feet and a lantern to their steps. The way is thus prepared for the almost certain spiritual benefit of their future lives. The snares of infidelity will be spread in vain for them, for they are destitute of that wish that the Bible were false, which is the uniform preparation for its conquests. The temptations of profligacy and vice must contend with obstacles in their minds, generally insuperable, before they can gain a victory over what the Bible has done for them. The preaching and the influence of the gospel will find in them a readiness to hear, an ability to understand, and a likelihood to be profited by it, which is elsewhere so often wanting, and which is so encouraging as the harbinger of succeeding benefit. Should I go no farther than this, I can hardly conceive of a happier influence to be exercised upon our surrounding population, or a greater blessing to be bestowed upon our community, or a surer way to make our land eventually "Emmanuel's land," than thus intimately to acquaint the whole rising generation with the communications of the Scriptures, and to encircle those communications in their minds with the most agreeable feelings and thoughts; even though we were not allowed to see a single child really brought to God amidst the actually present efforts of the Sunday-school.
Then, under this instruction, children acquire a love for the ordinances of public worship, the institutions of the Lord's house. They have no other associations than those of pleasure and happiness connected with the religious services of the sanctuary. The Sabbath has not been to them a weary [12/13] day. Its successive arrival is attended with nothing that is repulsive. They grow up to the settled period and state of life with the feeling of gladness in going up to the house of the Lord more and more deeply engraven upon their hearts. They have been accustomed to find, and to look for, real enjoyment connected with it, and they expect it even in the maturity of life, with no other anticipation. There has been no cultivation of the disposition to sit down with the scornful, or to unite with those who scoff at sacred things. Now, who can doubt the importance of this attainment? Who can fail to see how much and how effectually it prepares the way for the subsequent conversion of the soul, and the renovation of the character for God? What benefit, short of the actual spiritual regeneration of them all, can be greater or of more importance in its consequences to our youth, and to our land, than to surround the blessed and life-giving ordinances of the gospel in their minds with attraction and pleasure. I know that there is often a danger of giving the "form of godliness, without the power thereof." I know, also, that some even think the giving the form of religion, without its spiritual power, a disadvantage, rather than a benefit. I can never accord with such a sentiment. I suppose in these remarks the heart to be still entirely unchanged; and yet I must speak of an acquired attachment to the ordinances and institutions of religious worship as a vast blessing, and a promising preparation for better things. In such a state of mind, there must be either the outward form of piety, or the outward form of sin; there must be either an attention to [13/14] religious services, or a neglect of them; our only choice is this alternative. I can have no hesitation in my preference; and I look to those portions of our land, where the experiments have been thoroughly tried, and tried in strong contrast, for the evidence upon which a judgment may be formed. The habits of early attendance upon religious services I have seen operating efficiently to prepare the way for the ultimate conversion of a large proportion of souls. And while the day of the Lord is so desecrated, and the ordinances of the gospel are so despised around me now, I look to the influence of our Sunday-schools for this inestimable benefit, the imparting to another generation now pressing forward to maturity, at least, a love and reverence for the outward institutions of the gospel: and I shall hail this result as a most likely preparation towards planting them finally in the house of the Lord.
Then the children in our Sunday-schools gain also a reverence for the ministry. This is a benefit of a kindred character with the former. They acquire a love for the pastor around whom they have gathered for instruction, not because they are taught to love him as a matter of duty, but because he has been always before their minds under an attractive and interesting form. He has ministered to their enjoyments; he has increased their pleasures; and there is implanted in their hearts an instinctive reverence for his character, and personal fondness for himself. The feeling of personal regard which is thus exercised towards him is applied also to the office which the pastor holds, and to the ministry on which he comes to them. Others in the same high [14/15] office are welcomed with respect for his sake, and it becomes a principle within them, not easily eradicated, to think of and to receive the ministers of the Lord Jesus with the reverence which the Saviour has made their due. I deem this fact of incalculable worth in its probable bearing upon the piety of their maturer life. I trust I have no disposition to magnify my office for my own aggrandizement. But I cannot conceive, that any serious mind, amidst the circumstances of our country, can be willing to undervalue the stated Christian ministry. It is undoubtedly, and by divine appointment it is to be, the great instrument of rescuing and evangelizing the world. The vast interests of the souls of men must measure its importance. The developments of eternity will alone exhibit its actual operation and effects. And amidst the reckless contempt which in our time is so often thrown upon the living ministry, the ordinance of God, the acquiring for it the reverence and affection of the rising generation is equally a blessing to them and to the world. Towards the happy settlement of their character, and the ultimate attainment of the blessings of religion for their souls, it is an immense advantage. Towards the security of religious principles, and the perpetuating of them in other generations of our people, it is equally so.
These constitute a class of benefits which the instruction of the Sunday-school imparts, even where it has not been blessed of God to the actual spiritual conversion of the children while under its influence. They are benefits which are imparted, in a degree, almost mechanically and necessarily. They will be found to be so uniformly acquired under the [15/16] proposed influence, that I apprehend the cases which form exceptions to this rule will be few and uncommon. There must be great deficiency in the organization of the school, or unusual perverseness in the mind and character of the scholar, where at least these benefits are not secured, and these important ends attained. Now in gaining this point, we lay the foundation for their subsequent turning to the Lord; we prepare his way, and, to a very great extent, remove the obstacles which true religion meets in the circumstances of men. And though, after all, the conversion of the soul of man is the simple result of sovereign grace, the work of the Holy Ghost; and man has no right to speak of it as in any degree under his control for others; yet it is doing much towards it to remove the obstacles which I have here presented; and thus to prepare the way for the acceptable and saving operation of the truth of God. And this inestimable benefit we do indubitably gain, in the great majority of instances, among children who have been educated under the influence of the Sunday-school.
4. But I am prepared to go a step farther than this. Suppose we fail in gaining the blessings of true piety for these children in the active part of their maturity. Suppose the time at which the principles and character of men are generally settled passes by, and leaves them still under the dominion of that "carnal mind" which "is enmity with God;" we have not even then come to the issue of our experiment, and have no right to sit down at this point in despair of its good result. We still have conferred an unspeakable benefit in laying the foundation for [16/17] the easy accomplishment of a subsequent return to God. And even under this aspect, we can hardly over-estimate the importance or influence of early religious instruction. If after all our efforts to "plant them in the house of the Lord," our children should still grow up, even to old age, hardened and reckless,—and seem to be prepared for little else than, as despisers, to wonder and perish,—we have still deposited under this frozen surface a seed, in which there long remains the germ of life; and often, after a winter protracted even to old age, has reigned in an unresisted dominion over it, the power of God may come down, and the clouds will heave, and the fallow ground will be broken up, and the dews of heavenly grace will nourish and bring out the little feeble plant which is striving to force its upward way. We certainly lay a foundation in the mind in early religious instruction, which, whatever may be built upon it by the power of the world and sin, will itself remain. And the time will come when all this superincumbent mass shall be again thrown off, and the foundation which was thus early laid shall be again exposed to view. God has been pleased so to constitute the mind of man, that, in old age, it involuntarily forgets the bustling concerns of its maturity, and spontaneously and habitually recurs to the annals of its youth. The events of that period are now brought back more near than the concerns of yesterday, and the memory can recall facts and circumstances in all the freshness of their first occurrence which have been long forgotten, and as it might have been supposed, forgotten forever. Then, when in these latter days of [17/18] sickness or age, distress and anguish come upon them, and the goadings of sorrow drive them to think of a neglected God, there is found in their own minds a knowledge of truth which, as an anchor, will hold them fast to better things, provided by the kindness which taught them the way and the word of God in the days of their youth.
I would have this illustration well understood. Two persons, it may be in the last periods of life, under the influence of whatever immediate cause, become anxious for their souls, eager for their salvation, and determined to escape from the wrath to come. They have been equally profligate, and hardened, and atheistic in the past current of their life. Their course in vice may have been an excessive one. The eye could discern no circumstance of distinction in the progress and accumulation of their iniquity. But, one of them had the advantage of religious instruction, Sunday-school instruction, which the other had not. Now mark the different process and result in their attempts to return to God. The one, when awakened to reflection, is able to throw off immediately the load of error and guilt which has been accumulating through his life, and to cast himself back upon the foundation which was laid in his youth. Better principles than those upon which he has practised have been laid at the bottom of his mind, and they will, upon his search, at once present themselves to view, and start forth into immediate growth. He recurs to them; and with the advantage of their influence, he may be easily and readily established in the way of truth. The Bible shines out before him, with rays of light [18/19] starting from hundreds of passages which were impressed upon his infant understanding. Exhortations and advice, that have been forgotten by every one, save now by himself, are resuscitated in his conscience. He has nothing to forget, but that which, according to the constitution of his nature, is most easily forgotten. He has nothing to remember, but that which this wise ordinance of God helps him to recall. He is able to take his stand instantly on the foundation of the gospel. He may become immediately an efficient helper in the work of the gospel. He blesses God, and he blesses the teachers who were the instruments of God, with a feeling which words cannot utter, for the inestimable advantage which this early instruction has conferred upon him. It may even be called in the language of our text, though it was so long a time before he began to grow, "a planting him in the house of the Lord." I have known this experiment evidencing this result, I think at the distance of at least thirty intermediate years of sinful and profligate rebellion against God. The other of these two awakened sinners attempts also to throw off this acquired weight of guilt, and to find his way to God. But then with him there is nothing left. His mind in regard to all religious knowledge and impressions is a total wilderness. He has no early principles. He has been taught nothing of God, or the will of God. He has no knowledge of the Bible, no acquaintance with religious institutions, and no anchor of truth in his mind. He becomes the likely prey to every ambushed error. And perhaps he long wanders, consuming himself in the speculations of a distorted [19/20] intellect, questioning and doubting about every thing that claims his submission; perhaps he finally wanders, is lost in the snares of some deluding heresy, and never finds the way of truth and holiness. His religion, at the best, is generally so unsettled, that he is comparatively useless, and his mind is so unfurnished, that he cannot venture to instruct any. Now the difference in the result between these two persons is immense and most important. But the only circumstance which makes the difference is the privilege of early religious instruction given to the one, and the want of it in the other. And this is a circumstance which will certainly affect the residue of the present life of each with a most important influence, and probably be found to operate upon their experience for eternity. If then we could do nothing more by our Sunday-school instruction, than thus to lay the foundation for comfort and safety in a late return to God, the benefit of it is beyond our power to calculate, and ought never to be undervalued.
In tracing the operation of religious instruction in its influence upon the mature and ultimate piety of men through these three successive steps, I do not profess to have done more than to make some suggestions, which the better judgment and the riper intelligence of others may improve and carry out to far greater advantage. I believe I shall be allowed to have spoken in conformity to the actual experience and observation of many who hear me; I believe, too, in conformity with what will be the universal judgment, upon this subject, of sound and practical men who consider it. These suggestions [20/21] cannot fail, I think, to show the vast importance of early religious instruction, and especially (because the benefits which have been specified come more particularly from it, and some of them exclusively from it) of Sunday-school instruction. They will have their designed effect, if they shall tend to excite any to greater interest in this important Christian enterprise; to quicken the diligence of Sunday-school teachers in their undertaking; or to direct the notice of my brethren in the ministry of the gospel, more distinctly and permanently, to the influence which it ought to receive from their supervision and encouragement, and the influence which it must have upon the results of their ministry for the souls of men.
II. Let me proceed to speak, as the second general topic of our meditation, of the foundation upon which we cherish this expectation of benefits from early religious instruction. The psalmist expresses it in a feeling which we would gladly cultivate, and in language that we would never forget. It is "to show that the Lord is upright, he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." Our simple confidence in this, and in all enterprises which concern the honour of God, and the building up of his kingdom on the earth, is in the faithfulness of God. We are acting among men as the instruments of his gracious providence, and we are to be prospered in doing them good only by the special gift and power of his Holy Spirit. We do not suppose that there is any inherent power in the "letter" of the Scripture to convert the souls of men; or that even by its [22/23] arguments merely, the proud heart and the carnal mind of the sinner are to be persuaded into subjection unto God. We suppose it to be "the Spirit" alone which giveth life; and we look for a saving efficacy in the instructions of the word of God, only because we have the gracious promise of the Spirit to accompany and to bless it. Under this promise, realizing that God alone giveth the increase; believing that his word shall not return unto him void; expecting the gift of the Holy Spirit when we ask for it looking for the time when all his children shall be taught of him; feeling sure that he is with his servants alway, even unto the end of the world, we trust to the faithfulness of his promise, "The Lord is upright, abiding as a rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." And whenever the souls of men are renewed for him, it stands as an evidence to man of the faithfulness of the Most High. Resting upon this attribute of the Lord, we hope for large and glorious results from the dissemination of the revelations of his word. And though his promises attach not particularly to the Sunday-schools, they do attach to the communications of his sacred truth to men, which is the grand object of Sunday-school instruction, and for the effectual attainment of which it is so peculiarly adapted. And because this system of labour is an honouring of his word, and depends simply upon the instrumentality of that which all its efforts are calculated to impress, we have the right to appropriate especially to this course of labour, those blessed promises which proclaim the future universal dominion of truth and righteousness among men. And we may say, [22/23] without any straining of the Scripture, that our success in this effort tends to show that the Lord, who is our rock, is upright and faithful. We go forth to our task with the Bible in our hands, and beseeching the special gift of his Spirit, to sanctify, in the time and season which we leave in his power and to his choice, the words we speak for him; and we confidently look for a time when the seed which is sown in the hearts of our children shall spring forth, to blossom and bear fruit to his glory.
Added to the encouragement which his word gives us, is all the animating experience of his people. This has been, in every age, upon the side of the suggestions which I have presented in this discourse. You can hardly select the biography of a distinguished and useful man of God, which is not an instance of the efficiency of early religious instruction. In some, the benefit is immediate and progressive. In others, the commencement of apparent growth is not until after a season of guilt and folly has passed by. But all unite to ascribe the blessing of God upon their souls, and through them upon others, to this simple but efficient source. Such instances are so numerous and so familiar to you all, that it would be useless to recount them. They have come down upon us in such a current of testimony, that we have authority to say, the general experience of the people of God establishes our hope of the connexion between early religious instruction and mature piety, of which I have spoken at this time.
In addition to the experience which other Christians have had, and the testimony which they have [23/24] given upon this subject, we have all the encouragement of our own observation. Who among us has ever made this effort in vain? What Sunday-school teacher, who has entered upon his sacred task with God, and has abode in it with God, has found disappointment to his hopes, and discouragement to his heart, from the failure of these expectations of benefit to others? What pastor, who has at all laid himself out to edify and cultivate this department of his spiritual charge, has found himself labouring entirely without comfort or success? What church, that has attempted to nurse and watch over the children whom God has committed to its care, and has urged its members to a personal and persevering engagement in the duty of their instruction, has found God absent from the effort, and the Spirit of God refusing to bless it?
Were there no arguments from our own success or from the success of others, we should still be bound to go forward, relying upon the simple faithfulness of God. If he hath spoken, it should be enough for us. But all encouragements combine to assure us, that we are doing here a great work, and that it is by no means without the Lord, that we have undertaken it, or are prosecuting it to its conclusion. Such is my established confidence in this effort, and my judgment, not formed hastily, or without opportunity of observation, that I am fully convinced no single instrument in the hands of the Spirit for doing good to men, and for building up the kingdom of Christ in our day, will be found in the end to have accomplished an equal amount of gainful result, for the degree of labour and expenditure which it has [24/25] cost. I count it most peculiarly a Christian enterprise, and one which will certainly meet the continued blessing of that gracious Being, who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," and "take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."
III. The conclusion of this course of remark leads me to urge the claims of the Sunday-school enterprise, and of the American Sunday-school Union, upon the attention of my hearers.
I place the general claim first, because I feel upon this whole subject, as do the managers of this Union, that our great object is to promote and to build up Sunday-schools, without reference to this particular instrumentality, and that our attachment to this latter is wholly on the ground of its tested adaptation to the attainment of the former. It is impossible that an association like this should have reference to the peculiar wants of every denomination of Christians in our land. And it is therefore expedient and desirable that each denomination should undertake for itself the supply of its distinctive wants in the doctrinal instruction of its youth. We would see every Christian engaged in the personal work of Sunday-school instruction, and every child in our land partaking of its benefits. And if these schools can be supplied with the aid they need, more effectually from the arrangements of their own ecclesiastical connexion, the American Sunday-school Union will take the [25/26] same interest in assisting them, and will give them the same advantages from their co-operation, as if they were in single dependence upon themselves. This is not an union of denominations, nor bearing any ecclesiastical character whatever. It is an union of private individuals for a public benefit. It is a personal combination to supply, in the most advantageous manner which shall be found possible, the means for establishing and sustaining Sunday-schools throughout every Christian denomination, and in every section of this land, without interfering, in any measure, with the wishes or the views of any. It is to supply for all, that amount of Christian instruction, and the materials to disseminate it, which all may easily accept, and which shall be opposed to the views of none. Under such circumstances, when I urge for them the great duty of Sunday-school instruction, I fulfil the plan and desire upon which they design to act.
But the more I have considered the benevolent character, and the beneficent operation, and the very peculiar adaptation to usefulness and success, of their special effort, the more am I convinced of their just claim to the liberal and persevering co-operation of Christians of every name. This Union, I am persuaded, has done more towards correcting and sanctifying the juvenile reading of our country, and towards furnishing healthful and useful books for the minds of our children, than all other persons whatsoever combined. I have been for several years stationed, by the providence of God, at the seat of its operations, and have thoroughly marked the influence of its plans. The gentlemen who [26/27] are engaged in it have given an amount of gratuitous labour and attention to the sustaining of the important effort, which I am convinced no other benevolent institution of our land demands. They have, besides, always been themselves the largest contributors to the funds upon which they have acted. In their arrangement of provisions for future usefulness, there has been a liberal and prudent system. There are now prepared the materials and machinery for carrying forward this happy undertaking to any conceivable extent, with far less expense to the Christian community than any other arrangement could propose. Their library, of five hundred religious and interesting books for children, might be readily increased to one thousand; and their large number, of near one million of children in schools, to twice that number, if they should be sustained and encouraged, as they ought to be, by the Christian community. The fruit of this vine is but just ripening. The arrangements for carrying forward this enterprise are but just coming to maturity. And the American Sunday-school Union was never better prepared to meet the increasing wants of the country, or to expend with advantage the increasing pecuniary assistance of the Christian community, than now. Under the control of business-laymen alone, there is no possible danger either of ecclesiastical domination or interference. If it is said to be a mere book concern, let it not be forgotten that the only stockholders are the whole community of Christians, and they reap all the profit of the establishment. Let the publications of this Union be examined; let the system upon which it [27/28] acts be understood; let the results which it has accomplished be weighed; and I can hardly suppose that any Christian will come to any other conclusion than my own; that, for the spiritual blessing of our rising generation, it is a precious gift of God to our country, and claims for its enlargement and support the united efforts of Christians of every name. In supporting it, we sacrifice no principle and no attachment. We do good to ourselves in doing equal good to all others. In neglecting it, as some seem disposed to do, we can gain no benefit. We lose the advantages which it gives. We can in no other quarter supply their place.