IN BEHALF OF
The General Protestant Episcopal S. S. Union
CHURCH BOOK SOCIETY,
AT ITS THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY,
TRINITY CHAPEL, NEW-YORK,
ON SUNDAY EVENING, JUNE 22, 1856.
RT. REV. THOMAS M. CLARK, D. D.
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF RHODE ISLAND.
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY.
Ecclesiastes, xi., 6.
"IN THE MORNING, SOW THY SEED."
IT is a marked characteristic of the Church with which it is our privilege to be connected, that she gives such prominence to the element of Christian culture, and recognizes it as commencing so early in human life. All her services evidently pre-suppose that individuals are expected to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; starting from the position of "members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven." They are taught in the Catechism, and everywhere else, that Christian duties are expected of them, on the ground of their being Christians; which is surely more stimulating and encouraging than to tell them they are capable of nothing but sin. They are not left to go on in the ways of transgression, quieting fear with the thought, that, in some future period of life, a miraculous change will probably be wrought upon the soul, which will right everything, and restore it to as favorable a condition as it would have [3/4] held, if it had never been contaminated with corruption. This Church gives no such license to youthful lust; but she calls upon her children to serve God from the beginning—in the morning to sow the seeds of holiness and purity.
Neither does she exhibit religion to the child as an unnatural, abnormal, and mystical process, outside of all his ordinary experiences; nor does she repel him from the fold of Christ, by enveloping that blessed enclosure in an atmosphere of gloom; but she sings cheerful songs by his cradle, tinges his earliest associations with a celestial radiance, and strives to impress it upon him that the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace. She aims to educate her youth in the feeling that Christian faith is manly, ennobling, invigorating—something of which they ought never to be ashamed; that the service of God is the work for which they exist, and is not inconsistent with any healthy occupation or amusement; that it does no violence to the genial impulses of childhood; that it is the true preparation for life, rather than a mere technical preparation for death, and therefore cannot be commenced too early.
This is the theory of the Church, as all her offices and authoritative teaching show; and what sort of Christians might be trained under its influence, we can better tell when the educational resources of the Church are more fully developed. But, so long as many of her most fundamental principles lie dormant; so long as the most valuable [4/5] agencies of this spiritual body continue fossilized, we must be content to go on working partially and lamely, modes and dogmas that are foreign to our own Communion, and can be reproduced there, at the best, only in a mutilated and debilitated form.
It would be an era in the history of the world, if we could only give to one generation the complete physical, intellectual, and religious education which is involved in Christianity. The experiment has never yet been fairly tried; and the result is, that our popular religion is fragmentary, one-sided, sharp-sided, sometimes repulsive to sound taste, and elevated, comprehensive culture, and not at all likely to bring the mass of men under its control. How strange it is, in this nineteenth century of the Christian era, in this land where Christian truth has such a free field of action, that the majority of the people should still stand aloof from the Church, living and dying without any open recognition of the faith in which they are supposed to be bred. Where lies the solution of this extraordinary fact? Are men so constituted, that only a certain given proportion can ever be expected to yield to the claims of the Gospel? Has the truth of the living God inherent power over man, only to this limited extent? Or, has God ordained that only a fixed number shall be led by His Spirit to Calvary? Woe unto him who utters this libel against his Maker!
The true explanation is to be found in the want of proper Christian culture. We wait until habits are formed, and opinions fixed, before we bring our strongest [5/6] forces to bear upon humanity. We preach twenty elaborate sermons to adults, where we deliver one that is intelligible to the young. We devolve, in great part, the business of religious instruction, so far as the lambs of the flock are concerned, to persons who, however well-disposed, stand in great need of being taught themselves. We leave the nursery of young trees to grow very much at random, and wear out our strength in hacking the gnarled and knotted limbs of tough old oaks that can never be pruned into much symmetry, and then wonder at our limited success. If we continue to go on in the same old way, what reason is there to suppose that the future results will differ from the past?
A sound, symmetrical, thorough Christian culture is the great want of the age. In order to this, two conditions are indispensable.
In the first place, we must recognize the principle that the soil is capable of spiritual culture. Any theory of human nature which denies this, is destructive to all vigorous effort. No cultivator would think it worth while to plough in pure sand, or scatter seed on the solid rock. It is useless for him to do anything, unless he has reason to believe that there are in the soil those elements and capacities which are indispensable to germination and growth. He cannot make the seed grow, any more than we can cause grace to take root in the heart. Divine power is alike necessary in both cases, for all life is from God; but where the divinely-appointed conditions of culture are faithfully complied with, [6/7] whether in the natural or the moral kingdom, we may look for a corresponding harvest. We must, indeed, often labor under very discouraging circumstances—the soil may be very sterile—the clods so hard that we can scarcely indent the surface—the tangled growth of weeds it may be almost impossible to exterminate,—there are human beings so malformed in their very constitution, that truth glances off from them as if their souls were made of flint—and still we should remember, that every moral creature whom God has made is susceptible of converting grace. There is a better nature in him somewhere; and there is some crevice through which that nature may be reached. As in the best of us there is something vile, so in the worst of us there is some redeeming principle. All hopeful culture is based upon this fact; and some of the brightest stars that ever shone in the galaxy of the Church, emerged from behind the densest and darkest clouds.
In the second place, it is necessary that there should be a careful adaptation of means and instrumentalities to the nature of the soil, in order to successful culture. It would be impossible, within the limits of this discourse, to consider all the various agencies which God has put into our hands for the renewal of the human race. I must confine myself this evening to the discussion of a single topic, suggested by the nature of the occasion which has called us together.
Twenty-eight hundred years ago, the wise king and preacher of Jerusalem, weary of study, exclaimed: [7/8] "Of making many books there is no end!" What would Solomon have said, if he had lived in these days? If his book of Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes, reached an edition of twenty copies in a year, it probably seemed to him indicative of extraordinary enterprise; and half a score of new works during a single generation, must have met the full demands of society in the palmiest days of Palestine. A few shelves in a small closet held all the books which even our own good fathers ever read; and the same tough treatises, in their strong tough binding, were conned over, year after year, until every sentence was as familiar as the Catechism. But now, every one who has a thought must print it; and many alas, go into print without the thought. Every conceivable phase of every party, political and ecclesiastical, has its printed periodical; it rains pamphlets; and the great publisher measures his stock by the cord. The theological world is not a whit behind the secular in this matter; and what with the enormous issues of our mammoth publication societies, and the perpetual flow from innumerable other sources, it is almost as difficult to select proper reading now, as it was once impossible to find anything profitable.
It is in this latter aspect of the subject that the need of a general Church Book Society becomes apparent. It is not possible for the people at large to know very accurately what deserves to be bought and read. They must thresh a bushel of wheat to get a pint of clean grain; and it is difficult to decide whether what is sold for wheat is really the genuine article, or only a sheaf of [8/9] tares. There is an amazing amount of dreary platitude in general circulation, under the name of religious reading, highly recommended too, by those who ought to know better. It would be a great personal gratification to me, if I felt at liberty to name some of these books; but you would probably consider this as inappropriate to the place and the occasion.
Now, it need not be the main business of a Church Book Society, so much to print and publish standard works; for, as a general rule, this is better done by private enterprise; but it might do us great service by judiciously selecting and putting into extensive circulation such books as have intrinsic interest and value. In order, however, to do this effectively, such a society must have the general confidence of the Church, and stand far above the plane of all party and sectional opinions. Here we encounter the evil which cripples our efforts, and hinders our success. Differences of opinion about matters which lie altogether outside of the teachings of Christ—outside of the primitive creed which we all receive—outside of the practical Christian life,—questions of theological philosophy, which have nothing to do with a man's personal duty, and as to which we must differ, so long as we are variously constituted,—theories which are in their very nature changeable and progressive—modified by the peculiar life of the age whose essential quality alters, even where the language remains the same—speculative subtilties which few understand, or would care for if they did understand them;—such points as these we allow to vitiate our influence [9/10] and divide our forces, while the world around us is rushing swift to perdition. If there is no common faith embodied in our Book of Common Prayer; if there is no broad platform, where we can stand together and face the enemy; why should we any longer boast of our unity? The time may not be far off, when a strong pressure from without will drive us to the citadel, and then we shall be glad to have aid from all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
But the more special object of our Society is, to furnish a sound and wholesome juvenile religious literature; and this is a form of agency altogether novel and modern. Many of us can remember the time when such a thing as a child's paper was unknown, and there were not fifty religious books in existence, written expressly for the young. It was a wonderful relief to the juvenile portion of the community, on the long Sunday afternoons, when Hannah More's Cheap Repository Tracts first appeared—the forerunners of an entirely new style of religious reading.
I have already alluded to the necessity of a wise adaptation of the modes of culture to the nature of the soil, in order to success; and in this matter of juvenile literature the importance of the principle is very obvious. There is a certain kind of books which children read with the greatest avidity; and they shape those subtle laws of association which have so much to do with character, make all the cords of their nature vibrate, enkindle feelings that never die, write inscriptions on the tablets of the soul that can never be wiped [10/11] out, open processes of thought which may last through life—may last through eternity. All of us can remember words that we heard and read in childhood, which even now have a kind of supernatural hold upon us, and seem almost to carry us back into a pre-existent state of being. In every Sunday School library, you will find one particular set of books always in demand; and wherever you go, these same works, if they are to be had, are those which are sought after. The instincts of the children ferret them out, while other works, just as full of valuable truth, lie untouched on the shelves. Truths take vital hold upon the minds of children most effectively when they are conveyed in the form of biography, allegory, and history. Illustrations drawn from Scripture narrative, natural science, and every-day life, serve as the medium of great fundamental principles, which in their didactic abstract form would make no impression.
The EPISCOPAL SUNDAY SCHOOL UNION has carefully recognised all this, and kept distinctly in view the indispensable importance of providing readable books. Without this quality, it is certainly of very little practical consequence what they profess to teach. The best discourse is thrown away, if we cannot obtain a hearing. There are other conditions, besides that already mentioned, which are requisite in order to make a book which children will read. There is a certain style which has peculiar attractions to them, independent of the thought to be conveyed. It must be clear, intelligible, brisk, and piquant. They do not want childish talk—the babble of the nursery—idiotic nonsense—any more than they do [11/12] the stately flow of solemn inanities, which is so often inflicted on them. But they must be able to understand what they read, or they will not read, except upon compulsion.
Again, the Sunday School books written for our children should be true and real. I do not mean by this to exclude the element of fiction; for real truths may be clothed in this form, while falsities are draped in the semblance of truth. What I do mean is this—the duties inculcated should be real duties; the style of piety that is taught should be healthy, comprehensive, whole-sided, hearty, and made to appear attainable. There is a natural reaction in young minds, and in many old ones too, against everything over-wrought, excessive, technical, abnormal. The ideal of excellence presented in many books is such as it would astound us to see realized in actual life. No morbid Christian should ever be allowed to write books for children. It was a very suggestive remark which the honest boy once made to his mother, when he told her that he did not care to be very good, because all the good children that he read of died so young. One of the worst impressions that can be left upon the mind is, that religion is a desirable thing, in order to save us from something still more disagreeable.
I would remark, in the next place, that our Sunday School literature should be adapted to the real condition and wants of children, both as it respects the nature of the subjects treated, and their mode of treatment. [12/13] There should be a great deal of minute speciality in the instruction which is given. Abstract dissertations do not interest or profit them, unless they are made to see those direct bearing of doctrines. Children are prone to speculate, and they will often ask questions as to the deep mysteries of God and their own nature, which it is hard for us to answer; but infidelity of any sort is not natural to them; evil passion, vicious habit, ignorant transgression are. They need enlightenment, thorough, specific, and pertinent, more than vague exhortation. It is not enough that they be grounded in the great principles of the faith; not enough that they become familiar with all the details of Jewish history; there are matters which come closer home to their condition than the wars of the Israelites. They should know the dangers which actually encompass them; the peril that grows out of their own native passions. We should seek to form in them pure and virtuous habits, before indulgence has fettered their souls, and the canker of corruption eaten into the fibre of their hearts. The unity of the child's nature should be recognized, lest, while we are building up a strong wall of defence on one side, the enemy enter from the opposite direction and desolate the soul. It is sad to think how much Christian benevolence and earnest effort are thrown away, for want of a little practical wisdom; how many books and tracts are circulated which are of no earthly service. What a change would come over the world, if all the good seed sown there would only germinate; and it would germinate, if the nature of the soil where that seed is to be sown were more carefully regarded, and the [13/14] probability of its producing something taken into account. Charity helps the donor; labor strengthens the laborer; and so charity and labor are good, even if they accomplish nothing more than this; but it is desirable that they should also help the receiver. Are the various and potent instrumentalities for the moral culture of society, and especially of the young, which have been developed during the present century, accomplishing all that might reasonably be expected? With all the modern machinery at work, does society seem to be growing so much better? Are we producing wiser Christians, more stable Christians, more self-denying Christians? Are we sensibly gaining upon the domain of Satan? Of all the young men who pass through our hands in the process of their training, what proportion enrol themselves on the side of Christ, and become radiant lights in the Church? Are the results quite satisfactory? And if not, why not? It is because the good which is done is counteracted by evil influences which we do not recognise and forefend. If only here and there a green blade appears and a strong tree grows, in a field which we have sown broad-cast, it is because there is a worm which eats the seed in the ground, or a malarious wind that withers the tender stalk as soon as it meets the air. We are doing our work earnestly, but not thoroughly; and the worst of it is, we will not bear to be told the whole truth. Like ignorant husbandmen, we are tied down to our superstitions, we scorn the true science of culture, and meanwhile the devil triumphs. We have more confidence in our own infallibility, than we have in God and in truth. We say piously, that [14/15] He must give the increase, and we could not say a truer thing; but we ignore the fact that He gives the increase just in proportion to the faithfulness and wisdom with which we have complied with the conditions of increase.
I would next observe, that our Sunday School literature should be distinctly Christian in its tone and character. Some will wonder at this statement—not because there is any doubt of its truth, but because it is too true and obvious to need notice. What I mean by Christian is, the reproduction of the life and teachings of Christ, in their application to the condition of our own times. Books may be called Christian, which are, very different in their character from this. The most astounding development of history is seen in the structures which have been erected, and the teachings put forth, professedly on the foundation of Christ. Essential Judaism, Paganism, fatalism, mysticism, manichaeism, have all, at some period, superseded the simple, practical system of Jesus. In very many quarters, the Jewish element still preponderates over the Christian; the thunders of Sinai drown the merciful whispers of Calvary—the law overpowers the Gospel—the letter smothers the spirit—the form fetters the living substance.
Now, Christianity has its forms, revelation its letter, and piety its law; but in the spiritual training of children, the first place should always be given to that which brings Christ nearest to them. They should be taught to love their Church, mainly because Christ is there. They [15/16] should be trained to respect all holy forms, and places, and things, because of what they symbolize, not because of what they are. They should be indoctrinated in the great truths of theology, not as a bundle of dry dogmas, but as a body of living facts. It is in this way that we shall raise up a generation of robust Christians—men strong in the Lord of Hosts, who can give and take a blow without flinching; who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, and are always able to render a reason for the hope that is in them.
My Christian friends, it is a very solemn work to take in charge, the spiritual education of children, and speak or write words which are to be impressed upon their plastic minds. We are giving pulsation to cords which will vibrate through eternity. It becomes us to be very truthful in the discharge of this high trust. In dealing with one who stands on the same level of experience and culture with ourselves, if we utter that which is false, he may have the skill to detect the error, and neutralize the evil; but the child receives what we say on trust, and he believes before he knows the ground of his belief. He is, moreover, exquisitely susceptible to the influence both of truth and falsehood, and a stain left upon his moral nature may prove ineradicable.
The highest and holiest intellect of the Church ought to be employed in the preparation of that literature which is to give our youth their first impressions of God, and Jesus, and immortality. We want writers who were children once themselves—(for there are persons who would never seem to have had any childhood)—who can [16/17] recall the emotions of their early life, and out of their own consciousness reach the hearts of others. In this department there is a wide field unoccupied. There is no lack of books—many of them most excellent in all respects, and many which are only a nuisance—multitudes which are called good, because there is nothing bad in them, but which no intelligent child will read, if he can help it; but we need more of the highest character. We need children's books in new departments of thought, keeping pace with the progress of science, and showing how the facts of the natural world illustrate the glory of God and confirm his revelation. We need books that will exhibit the peculiar perils of our American youth, and prepare them for the special trials of faith and conscience that are likely to come in their generation. The Church needs to have her own books, explaining her own institutions, defending her own principles, and illustrating her own doctrines.
And to do this work properly, she must have her own organizations, and she must sustain them efficiently.
The Church must have her own periodicals—her weeklies, and monthlies, and quarterlies; and these must be worthy of patronage, and then receive it. Her educated clergy and laity must be willing to give a portion of their time and talents to supply the columns of these papers, and bring them up at least to the level of those secular organs which are so wonderfully moving the world.
 In all these respects, are we doing full justice to the ability of the Church—her intellectual and her pecuniary strength? Do we sustain our institutions with the zeal and energy which actuate other bodies of Christians? Does the current literature of the Church do her credit? Does the world get the best thoughts of our best minds? Are we meeting, fairly and effectively, the flood of error and absurdity with which society is deluged? Is it enough that we republish the pious thoughts of ancient minds;—ought not our own minds to be at work?
We hold, as a Church vantage ground at the present moment, such as is possessed by no other Protestant body in the land. We retain organic unity, amid the wreck of systems and the crash of confederations. We have a ritual which others are feeling after, if haply they may find it. We have a ministry whose origin we know, and whose office is respected. We have a creed, neither so lax as to include infidels or heretics, nor so strait as to exclude any true believer. What a work we might do, if we could all work together! What a power we might wield, if our strength could all be concentrated in the blow!
What hinders this? If we can legislate together, so long as legislation is confined to the mechanism of the Church, if we can pray and sing God's praises together, why must we part company, when we come to the real, effective work by which we hope to move the world? The fault is not altogether on this side, or on that. If Ephraim vexes Judah, Judah has already vexed Ephraim.
 To come directly to the practical point: Why should this Episcopal Sunday-school Union be allowed to languish as it does? Why is it that less than forty out of our sixteen hundred churches have contributed to its funds, during the current year? Do we not need such an Institution? Other denominations of Christians have their Unions and Publication Societies, and sustain them liberally. What a revenue accrues from what is quaintly called the "Methodist Book Concern!"; Why should we be on the verge of bankruptcy? Is it our poverty, and not our will, that consents to the shame? Does the trouble lie in the want of general confidence? Is it not believed that the effort to free the Union from alleged objections has been honestly and earnestly made? At any rate, it has been a very costly and very burdensome experiment. If it is not satisfactory, why not take hold and try again? Is it not better than to leave the old ship—which has certainly done the Church some service—to batter against the rocks and go to pieces? Why will not those who do have confidence in her future serviceableness, man the barque, and clear her from the breakers?
Ours is a comprehensive Church, and all her institutions should be bounded by no narrower limits than those which define her own creed and constitution. Thank God that we have not to define those limits in this nineteenth century of the world! If we had, the bed would be shorter than that a full-grown man could stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he could wrap himself in it. Thank God that her [19/20] dimensions are not the work of man's carpentry! Thank God for the old Order and the old Creeds! We want no restrictions on the one, and no refinements on the other. We wish for no more room than God has given us; but that we desire unrestricted. When the bricks are fallen down, Ephraim says, we will build with hewn stones. When the sycamores are cut down, Samaria says, we will change them into cedars. We are content with the old bricks and the old sycamores, for they have been tried; and, God helping us, with these materials we will build the old waste places, and raise up the foundations of many generations; counting it honor enough, if we may be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.