William Gadsby's Fragments (Complete)

Sunday Schools

Just, before this volume was completed, it was suggested to me that my father’s views on Sunday Schools ought not to be omitted. I have, therefore, copied the following from the first number of the Sunday School Visitor, a little magazine published by mc in 1844, and to which my lather was a contributor.—J. G.

A Few Thoughts Upon The Utility Of Sunday Schools

My Fellow-Mortals,—Allow me to observe that I really do consider that, next to tho preaching of tho glorious gospel of the Messed God, and a spiritual attendance to the order and ordinances of God’s house, Sunday Schools are one of the best institutions in the kingdom; and I am sorry to see such a want of zeal for the promoting of them among some who profess to maintain the discriminating truths of God’s grace. Because some abuse them, and make them into what they call nurseries for the Church, are we to discard them, or stand aloof from them, and say that because others make an improper use of them, we will not use them in a proper, becoming, and useful way? To me this appears highly wrong. I have heard some persons remark that too much education given to the poor raises them so far in life that they become an injury to the middle class of society; and I have really felt shame when I have heard such remarks. Can any person, with tho fear of God in his heart, believe that the labouring poor ought to be bond slaves to either tho high class or the middle class of society, and all means be kept from them of enabling them, if they are steady, industrious, and prudent, of raising themselves in society? Surely not. Some who are now in the highest ranks of society in the neighbourhood of Manchester were once poor; and let them not now forget themselves, and think it wrong to try to be a means of raising others from their degradation. Let them remember that there is an overruling Providence, and that the Lord has it in his power to strip them of what they now possess, and bring them down to poverty again. Let them not be high minded, but fear, and do what lies in their power for tho real good of their fellow-creatures. For my own part, I feel persuaded that Sunday Schools are of great benefit to civil society; and that those persons who engage themselves freely to teach in Sunday Schools are useful members of society, and should be much esteemed as far as they fill that office well; for they are a means of raising the rising generation of poor children from that degradation into which they must otherwise have sank; and I have no doubt that some of my readers know for themselves that this is true.

Some people have said, “We have known teachers and promoters of Sunday Schools who have introduced and practised, among themselves, vice and immorality, and therefore we cannot sanction Sunday Schools.” Admitting this, in some instances, to be a lamentable fact, if Sunday Schools are to be discarded because some ungodly men have abused them and promoted their own shame in so doing, by the same rule, what institution is not to be discarded? Must not the blessed gospel of God’s grace be preached, because some who profess to believe it, and have at times appeared zealous in promoting the preaching of it, awfully abuse it? How many zealous professors of the gospel have ended in shame and disgrace, and almost broken the heart of the preachers of those truths they once advocated! Judas was one of the first twelve apostles, yet he sold the Lord and Master for thirty pieces of silver, (Matt 21:14,15) and in the end hanged himself, and went to his own place. (Matt 27:5; Acts 1:25) Many in the apostolic ago disgraced their profession, and it is an awful fact that there are many who do so to the present moment; but who, except an infidel, will abuse and discard the gospel and the preaching of it on that account? Men may awfully abuse the light and the knowledge they have, to the sealing of their own condemnation; nevertheless, the blessed gospel is still the glorious gospel of the blessed God, and must be preached. Have not schools of what the world calls the highest respectability brought up pupils who have turned out disgracefully? and must all school teaching and learning be given up on that account? Surely no one that is sane will say they must; yet, by the name rule by which some discard Sunday Schools, it will be difficult to determine what class of schools must not be discarded. But suppose we look for a moment at that class of people who have had no education at any school whatever; are they so free from, vice and immorality, so dutiful to parents and their superiors, so tractable, industrious, and sober, so useful in society, as to be a pattern of virtue and good order? Surely not, but very often much the reverse. A little attention to the list of the unhappy youths who are brought into the courts of justice for crime will soon convince you of this. But I say again, that if every institution must be given up or discarded which man’s vile carnal nature may induce him to abuse, I know not what institutions must be maintained. But to me it appears incumbent upon every one who knows the worth of good order in civil society to be zealously concerned in maintaining it, and to do all in their power to bring up the rising generation in a way to promote it; and Sunday Schools appear to me to be one means of accomplishing such a desirable end; and the disappointments men may meet with by the way should induce them to be more watchful and cautious in all their proceedings, but not give up their charge, nor relax in their efforts to do good to others. Real Christians are called upon, as they have opportunity, “to do good unto all men, especially unto the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10; 1 Thess 5:15-28) And I really do consider that preserving poor children from rambling in the streets, lanes, and fields on a Lord’s Day, teaching them to read God’s word, and giving them an opportunity of hearing it read and preached, is one branch of doing good.

There are tens of thousands of poor children, in this day of vice and immorality, who, were it not for Sunday Schools, would be left to follow their own carnal inclinations, almost without any restraint; for it is a lamentable fact that, in too many instances, their own parents pay but little attention to them; and in a great many cases the parents have it not in their power to give them any education themselves. Perhaps, in the parish of Manchester, where I now live, there are not less than fifty thousand children who are kept under some restraint on the Lord’s Day at Sunday Schools, and arc taught to read; the greatest part of whom, but for this instruction, would be left to run at large, and, in numbers of instances, would be committing some depredation, and their minds would be openly corrupted with vice and dissipation; indeed, though sad to relate, there are too many of this description already. There are great numbers of children, from eight years of age and upwards, who are running too much at large, and living in practices which are likely to end in their ruin. And does it not become us to use all the means in our power to prevent the increase of such an awful evil, and to induce as many as we are able to learn to road the word of God and to attend upon public means, giving them good advice, pointing out to them the awful nature and consequences of sin and the only ground upon which a sinner can be saved, and using all proper means to promote their real welfare, by inducing them to be good members of civil society, and endeavouring to impress upon their minds that they are accountable unto God for all their ways and actions? To me it appears incumbent upon parents and teachers who fear the Lord to teach children their duty to God as their Creator and Preserver and the God of all the mercies they enjoy. Children are the same in nature now as they were in the days of old, and the Lord commanded Israel to teach their children his commands and statutes; as it is written, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deut 6:6,7. See also Deut 4:10; 31:9-13; Joel 1:1-3) It is incumbent upon us to teach children the truths of God, as the truths of God, and leave the event in the hands of the Lord, who alone can make his truth manifest in the conscience; as it is written: “Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” (Ps 78:1-7) And Sunday Schools, properly managed, are one means by which poor children are gathered together to read and hear the word of the Lord.

Children should also be taught their duty to their parents and .the various branches of the family, and to their superiors in every station of life, yes, and to themselves, and to each other, and to their fellow-creatures at large, as members of the human race and of civil society. The evil nature of disobedience should be taught them, together with the awful nature and consequences of sin in all its bearings; and all proper means should be used to induce them to shun vice and immorality, and to regularly attend a place where God is worshipped, and his truth faithfully preached. It should also be pointed out to them that strict sobriety and good behaviour, honesty and industry, are one road to advancement in civil society, and that many thereby, in the dispensations of God’s providence, have been raised from poverty to the enjoyment of the com- forts of this life, and some even to affluence; while disobedience, vice, idleness, and immorality have brought their thousands to ruin in this world who might otherwise have been comfortable, as far as worldly comforts go. I consider that it is possible to teach children their duty both to God and man, yea, and to themselves too, as the creatures of God, without telling them that they have it in their power to obtain eternal salvation by anything which they can do. Eternal salvation, in all its bearings, is of the rich, sovereign, free grace of God, and can only be vitally experienced by the divine power and operations of God the Spirit; but that is no reason why we should not endeavour to bring up the rising generation in sobriety, industry, and good order, and teach them to read and hear the word of the Lord; for we know not what God, in the dispensations of his grace and providence, has to do with them, and he has said, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

My fellow-mortals, we see on every hand open infidelity, vice, and profaneness strut about our streets, and they are secretly lurking in almost every corner, and laying their flesh-pleasing baits to catch the unwary youth; and does it not become every one who loves sobriety and good order, and much more those who know the plague of the heart and the preciousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, to guard the rising generation against such awful delusion? I really think it does; and Sunday Schools, becomingly managed, are one means to accomplish so desirable an end. Who that has children of his own, having the fear of God in his heart, does not consider it becoming in him to train up his children in the way they should go? (Prov 22:6) He that cannot err says, “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” (Prov 29:15) havo we not frequently witnessed the truth of this portion of God’s word? and if some parents are so awfully careless as to pay no attention either to themselves or to their offspring, those that fear the Lord should be so much tho more zealous in endeavouring to promote the welfare of the rising generation, and bring them under tho means of being taught their duty both to God and man, and of obtaining real useful knowledge in its various branches. A knowledge of God’s truth, both law and gospel, as well as other branches of useful knowledge, arc good in themselves, as far as they go; but as knowledge, in its various bearings, is often abused, it behoves the superintendents, teachers, and friends of Sunday Schools to be careful to watch over the morals of the children, and accompany their cautions, admonitions, warnings, and instructions, with strict attention to their good behaviour. In real tenderness, they should endeavour to convince tho children that they are their true friends, and that it will be to the children’s advantage to act according to their instructions; and while they use all diligence in teach ing the children to read, they should endeavour to impress it upon their minds to be concerned to understand what they read, and to be very orderly whilst in a place of worship, and listen attentively to what they hear. The instructors should also lay before the children the necessity of prayer, and with solemn feeling tell them that such as live and die without prayer and without real repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, must perish in their sins, and the end will he the wrath to come.

And now, my friends, I would say to you who know the nature and worth of real prayer, pray with and for the children, and pray that the Lord would be pleased to crown your labour of love with his blessing; and pray that the dear Lord may give you wisdom, and strength, and grace to live and act in all things as it becometh the gospel of Christ. And that the God of peace may grant you every needful blessing, and prosper Sunday Schools, as far as it will be for his glory and the good of society, is the prayer of a real friend to Sunday Schools,


Manchester, Dec, 1843.