Page images
PDF
EPUB

children themselves set upon it induce them to devote some portion of their evenings during the week to the subjects of the past or following Sunday. But the effect upon their hearts need not, in any case, be supposed so evanescent. Let it be remembered, that many of these children, after working six days, twelve hours each day, voluntarily submit themselves to discipline and instruction on the only day which is at their own disposal. Now, surely this is such a training in self-denial as, of itself, might be expected to produce very beneficial effects upon the habits and temper. I ascertained, by my own inquiries, that many children, who have, for seven or eight years, regularly worked six days in shops and factories, have, as regularly, during the whole of that time, attended their school, punctually and cheerfully, on the Sabbath-day, This, I say, is, of itself, a moral training of considerable power; and, on minds so disciplined and prepared, words of kind counsel and instruction will have their due and desired effect. The machinery of these schools, except as regards superintendence, is very complete. The classes commonly consist of twelve children; and to each class a teacher is assigned by the clergyman, or superintendent, who keeps a list of the names and residences of the children in the class, marks down the attendance, lessons, and behaviour, every Sunday, and makes a report to the superintendent. The teachers also frequently call at the residences of the children, to inquire into their behaviour at home, the causes of absence, &c. Sometimes the teachers subscribe to purchase rewards for the most deserving scholars ; always they take an interest in the well-being and improvement of the children specially under their care. Surely the power of this moral machinery must be immense, and its effects twice blessed. There are, of course, defects and failings here, as in every human plan or project. Some of these may be usefully noticed. I have already hinted at a defect in the superintendence. This does not consist in the absence of all surveillance,-for there is an active and intelligent superintendent in every school,—but in the want, on the superintendent's part, of proper and sufficient authority. This was particularly observable in the girls' school, where the superintendent would find it a difficult and delicate matter to rebuke a teacher, if occasion should be, as, for instance, for want of punctuality; or to punish refactory and inattentive scholars. This defect is, I suppose, partly remedied by the reports which the superintendents make to the clergyman ; but his animadversions must sometimes come too late. Evils also arise when inefficient

teachers undertake to explain and enforce matters beyond their reach ; and probably too much is attempted in this way. Sometimes the repetition-lessons seem too long and too various : i.e. in a class of twelve children, it may happen that scarcely two or three will be learning the same part, though all using the same book. Some binderance is caused to the junior classes, and confusion generally ensues through the school, by the practice of making all together (who are able) read aloud the Psalms appointed for the service of the day; the intention being, I presume, that the children should be better prepared to make the responses in the church. Great inconvenience results from the number of very young children permitted to attend, who, of course, cannot appreciate the object of being assembled there, can learn very little, and require much care and attention even to be kept quiet and still. Too much liberty seems to be allowed, in regard of the children choosing for themselves which school they will attend, if I am right in supposing, that one great object and benefit of a Sunday School is to attach children and people to their own church and minister, and to correct the disposition, too common and prevalent, to wander from Church to Meeting-house, and from Meeting-house to Church, and to heap to themselves teachers. This irregularity, perhaps, cannot be altogether prevented, especially while the anomaly remains of a Church without a district. It is to be regretted, I think, that no other convenient time can be found to receive the children's pence for their clothing and sick-clubs, for Prayer-books, Bibles, &c. The practice of receiving such payments and subscriptions on the Sunday seems almost universal in the manufacturing districts, and I conclude, therefore, that no serious objections to it have been expressed or felt; but it causes some interruption, and is otherwise hardly convenient. The utility and acceptableness of such collections to the poor are not impugned. The peculiar and characteristic charm of a Sunday School is the quiet and unsecularised communication of religious knowledge; in the first place, as a serious and solemn preparation for the services of the Church; and combined with, or consequent upon this, a strengthening and extending of devotional habits during the remainder of the week.

It will probably seem, to persons not acquainted with the nature and necessities of the populous overgrown parishes in manufacturing districts,—not acquainted, I mean, with their destitution in respect of the ministrations of the Church and means of grace,--that I have unduly magnified the use and importance of Sunday Schools. But I have the most positive evidence and testimony, that in those districts they are the very salt of society, and prevent the whole mass from corrupting and dissolving. They deserve, then, to be known, encouraged, and improved ; and such is the object of this detail.

FASTING.

The following Chapter on Fasting is extracted from CHOLLERTON, and will

furnish the reader with some valuable thoughts when preparing himself for a course of discipline in Lent.

“You were speaking the other day of fasting, Charlotte,” said Arthur, the next time the three young people found themselves together in the boudoir, “ as a crotchet, and I suppose the same view is taken of it by many others besides yourself. Nevertheless, it appears strange to me, and I think it cannot fail to do so to every Christian who will examine the subject with an unprejudiced mind, that the duty—the undeniably Christian duty of fasting should have been so generally neglected as it is at present among ourselves. We are the only organised body of Christians that have ever existed that have not recognised it as a duty. Indeed, our own branch of the Church Catholic has always recognised it as such; for the Church still bids Her members fast, though, unhappily for us, she has lost for the present the power of enforcing obedience in that or in any other respect."

"I do not know what you mean, Arthur,” replied his sister" by our Church bidding us fast. I thought fasting was one of the many superstitious observances that were abolished at the Reformation.”

" So far from its having been abolished,” returned he, “either then or since, you have only to turn to a Prayer-book bearing the date of the current year, if you happen to have one, and you will there find twenty-six days, besides the forty days of Lent and every Friday in the year, set down to be observed as days of fasting or abstinence. The Prayer-book, drawn up by the Reformers, to whom people now-a-days are recurring as the sanctioners of every thing that savours of laxity, condemns our present habits in a way plain to the comprehension of every one; and their individual practice equally tells against us, to those who are acquainted with their lives.”

" Is it not strange, too,” said Anna," that people who profess

and I am sure, in very many instances, really believe themselves to be guided by Scripture-should overlook there, the injunctions to fast ? Has not fasting in a great measure the same ground to rest on that prayer and almsgiving have ?"

“ Certainly,” replied Arthur. “You allude to the Sermon on the Mount, where our Lord tells us how we ought to pray, how to give alms, and how to fast. It appears to me that we have three reasons for fasting, any one of which ought to be sufficient to induce us to do so. We have, first, Scripture, which contains both our blessed Lord's commands and many instances of apostolic example; we have the injunctions of the Church, of which we profess ourselves members; and we have the examples of all holy men who have preceded us."

“ On the ground of expedience alone," said Anna, who began now to express her opinions as freely before Arthur as to Charlotte, “one would imagine that an earnest man, bent beart and soul to accomplish the one great object for which he is createdto live to the glory of God, and work out his own salvation with fear and trembling,-would eagerly catch at every aid to a holy life that could be presented to him. Does it not look like presumption in us to refuse an assistance, of which the greatest saints have made use ?”

“That is, of course, the lowest ground on which you can take it,” replied Arthur, “but to my mind it is a strong one."

“Well, but, Arthur,” said his sister, “ and Anna too, for you both seem to take the same side of the question, though this is the first time I ever heard you hold forth on the subject-my dear opponents both, let us discuss it on the ground of expedience, as you say. How can fasting conduce to a holy life? First of all tell me what do you mean by fasting ?”

Arthur turned for a moment towards Anne, but she was so evidently preparing to listen, and not to speak, that he replied to the question that was addressed to them jointly.

“I look upon fasting,” said he, “as such a change in or lessening of our usual food, as shall mortify the flesh. The extent to which the practice of fasting should be carried in each individual case cannot be determined, and happily it need not. We are each of us the best judge of what is practicable in our own case. The health and external position of each of us differ. When the health permits it, and the habit has been long acquired, and the individual is so circumstanced as to be able to make the day of fasting a day of retirement for prayer and meditation, a much stricter fast might be kept than could be observed by a

person first recognizing the duty and then attempting to perform it, perhaps surrounded by those who blame, or at least ridicule, the practice, and to whose opinion much deference may be due."

“Well, then,” said Charlotte, “supposing me to understand the extent—which I don't exactly yet—but suppose me to comprehend that we are all to judge for ourselves of the extent to which we are to fast, tell me, pray, how is it to benefit us? what good are we likely to get by fasting ?”

“ I might tell you, Charlotte,” answered Arthur, " that a blessing is sure to attend obedience; but I believe you confine me now to the third reason which I brought forward. We are to argue it only as a measure of expedience. I must bring you to admit that the Church has of right authority over you, before you can feel that obedience to Her will be followed by the blessing of God. I will acknowledge that fasting in itself, as an act by itself, is of no use. We mistake the intention of it, if we look upon it as an end, and not as a means. I am not surprised that a person who has never tried it herself, nor been taught to consider it as a duty, should be doubtful as to its efficacy. We must all feel, dear Lotte, the most thoughtless among us must feel at times that we are too much drawn away from God, and our hearts and minds filled too exclusively with the things that perish. How apt are we at these times to say to ourselves, that if we were differently placed, if the world, with its pleasures and its pains, its cares and its allurements, was not so close upon us on this side and on that at all moments, we would turn our thoughts to God: and this is true of most of us. There is a spark of love to God --of thankfulness to Christ-in our hearts. God's Holy Spirit given to each of us in our Baptism, is still within us; buried and well-nigh stifled may be by sin, but it is still there, capable of sanctifying our souls and bodies if we will strive, in dependence upon God's assisting grace, so plentifully given to those that ask it in faith, to cast out the sinful affections and unholy thoughts that clog its motions. If while we are so striving we find that external sights and sounds, the veriest trifles, too small to be mentioned, yet too numerous not to make their influence felt, lead us away from the narrow path in which we desire to walk, will it not be our wisdom to seize some of these external trifles, and make them tell on the other side ? Fasting will be one means of doing this. If we fast as our Church in her care for our welfare bids us, no week will pass without one day being spent chiefly in repentance and humiliation before God. What we suffer on that day-if we may venture to call the slight

« PreviousContinue »