The Sunday School Teacher's Guide

By John Angell James, 1816


It is a fact which all experience proves, that the most important object, by being constantly in sight, loses much of its power to interest. Zeal is apt to languish, when it is no longer excited by the stimulus of novelty—and the fervor of first love, without great care, will soon sink into dull formality. It is not to be wondered at, if among the active supporters of a Sunday School, the vice of lukewarmness should sometimes be found. Hence it is of importance to ascertain the best means for keeping up the zeal of the teacher's office. By this I mean, the prosecution of its duties with vigor, interest, and delight—in opposition to that lifeless and indolent manner of dragging through them which is but too common with many.

1. Keep in view the ultimate object of your labors.

The more importance we attach to an object, the less danger we shall be exposed to, of ceasing to regard it with solicitude. Whatever is momentous, must be interesting. Hence the necessity of keeping steadily and clearly before your mind, the salvation of the soul, as the ultimate end of all your efforts. What can have such a tendency to engage the feelings, and keep them engaged, as this? The mere endeavor to teach them reading or writing; the effort at only intellectual improvement, cannot in the very nature of things have such power over the heart of the teacher—as the steady contemplation of the immortal soul's salvation as a noble prize—and eternity as a wonderful excitement. If anything can keep up the spirit of the office, it is to bring the mind from time to time under the influence of such inducements as these. When you feel your heart losing its ardor, and sinking into a lukewarm state, look afresh to the world of immortality, and behold in the crown of eternal life, the object of your pursuit. If anything can keep your attention alive to the interests of the children, it will be the constant repetition of this sentiment—"I am seeking their everlasting salvation!"

2. Well conducted Sunday School Unions have a powerful tendency to promote the spirit of your office.

The occasional meeting of fellow laborers from different schools, together with the interesting communications and mutual exhortations which are then delivered, have a very enlivening effect. The very sight of so large a body of fellow teachers, engaged in the same cause, has an exhilarating tendency, especially when one and another details the results of successful exertions. Not only do neighboring flames brighten each other's blaze—but even dying embers upon the hearth, by being brought into contact mutually rekindle the expiring spark. Thus the communion which is established by these associations, promotes, in a very powerful manner, the feelings essential to the character of a good teacher. A holy emulation is also excited, which, if it does not degenerate into envy, leads on to the happiest effects. The annual meetings which are necessarily connected with the union, aid the general impression, and keep up the interest in an eminent degree. It has been universally admitted by those who have tried the plan, that it is pregnant with advantages to that particular object which I am now considering. The teachers who are connected with the best regulated unions, can testify, from ample experience, to their adaptation in keeping up the spirit of the office.

3. Occasional meetings among the teachers of the same school, for conversation and prayer, in immediate reference to their joint labors, are exceedingly beneficial.

At these meetings everything should he communicated which occurs in the course of individual experience, that is at all calculated for general encouragement. Each one should feel himself under obligation to render these friendly interviews as interesting as he can, by making known everything he sees, or hears, or reads, that is of an instructive, or stimulating nature; especially taking care that nothing is done for the sake of vain glory or pride, as it would effectually counteract their beneficial influence—to have them converted into occasions for display.

4. Ministerial assistance, in the way of exhortation, inspection, and advice, would powerfully contribute to keep up the true spirit of the office.

Engage your respective ministers to meet you occasionally in your social interviews, that by the breath of animated exhortation they might fan the expiring spark, and feed the holy fire. Accustomed to public admonition, they know how to touch the springs of action, and to awaken the dormant energies of the human mind. It is no pride in me to say, that if a minister's heart is engaged in the work, and he is respected by his people, he has it in his power to awaken an interest in the minds of the teachers which scarcely anything else can supply. Use every means therefore to engage his zealous concern in the welfare of the institution.

It is matter of great surprise and equal regret, that many ministers appear to take little or no interest in the concerns of the Sunday Schools supported by their congregations. They are scarcely ever to be seen among the children, or affording their presence and instruction at the meetings of the teachers. The annual sermon which they preach for the benefit of the institution, seems to be regarded by them as a legal discharge from all further obligation to intervene on its behalf—and until they sit down to compose their sermon for the next anniversary it is neglected and forgotten. To what can such an omission be attributed? They can scarcely imagine that a school containing two, three, or four hundred immortal souls, is an object below their notice, or beyond their duty—nor will they shelter themselves under the excuse that when they undertook the charge of the congregation, they did not stipulate to concern themselves about the school. Does it comport with that zeal and pity by which they profess to be moved—to hear of so many immortal souls, most of them grossly ignorant, and wicked, assembled every week within the sphere of their labors, for religious instruction—and yet scarcely ever inquire how they are going on? Do not such ministers strangely neglect the means of increasing their own personal influence, who allow so important an institution to be in constant operation amidst their people, and yet have little or no share in directing its movements? Is it not teaching their congregations to act independently of their pastors, and to diminish the weight of their office, already in the estimation of many far too light? Do they consult the interests of the church by neglecting those of the Sunday School? If a proper share of attention were given to those poor youths, in all probability its happy result would often prove a balm to heal the wounds occasioned by a lack of ministerial success. Here they would find materials to build up their dilapidated churches, and strengthen the walls of Zion, which have been long moldering beneath the desolating ravages of death. It is true, in many cases the pastor's hands are already nearly full of cares, and his arms weighed down with the interests suspended upon them—but the duty I enjoin would add little to the number or the weight of his engagements, while it would add much to his influence, his usefulness, and his comfort.

5. A constant perusal of publications that relate to Sunday School instruction, especially the details of successful exertion, would be exceedingly useful.

Any particular taste is vigorously stimulated by the perusal of books that treat of its appropriate subject. Be ever watchful therefore to meet with new information and facts illustrative of the advantages of the work in which you are engaged. You rise from reading an encouraging anecdote, with fresh eagerness. You see what others do and how they do it—thus, while you are directed, you are also excited. I recommend, with peculiar earnestness, the 'Teacher's Magazine', already alluded to in the introduction, as eminently adapted to preserve in your bosom the true spirit of your office.

6. An imitation of the best examples would promote the same end.

In every school we shall find some whose superior qualifications and zeal entitle them to be considered as models. Instead of observing them with envy, mark them with admiration, cultivate their acquaintance, and endeavor, by the glowing ardor of their spirit, to re-kindle the fervor of your own.

7. Occasionally devoting a portion of time to examine the state of the mind in reference to your duties, would be a means of improvement.

It should be impressed upon your mind, that there is in the human spirit—a lamentable propensity to lukewarmness, which can be effectually roused only by a violent and perpetual struggle with ourselves. The true spirit of religion is very powerfully assisted by extraordinary seasons of devotion. The attention is more arrested and fixed by what is unusual, than what occurs in the ordinary routine of customary engagements. Half an hour occasionally devoted to a serious examination of the state of the heart, in reference to the object you have embraced, when you could deliberately survey its magnitude, ascertain the manner in which it should be regarded, recollect the way in which it had been pursued by you—would rouse your zeal from its slumber, stimulate your heart to fresh activity, and be attended with the happiest effects.

To all that I have enjoined, should be added a constant supplication at the throne of divine grace, that God, by his Holy Spirit, would keep alive in your heart those feelings of holy benevolence and pious zeal in which the spirit of the office essentially consists.