2. Outside Responsibilities
"Oh," we hear some one say, "you forget that we have our meetings to attend; and I have a Sunday-school class and must prepare the lesson;" and perhaps another devotes an hour each week to tract distribution and visiting; and another holds a little gospel-meeting 'each week in some cottage which has been opened to him. Another has open-air preaching during the summer, etc. Are we to neglect these in order to carry out your schedule? Most certainly not. Forsake not "the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is." We should never allow ourselves to become neglectful as to attending the regular meetings. Promptness, regularity and attention to these things are certainly as little as we can render. How many have been stumbled by the absence of older Christians from meeting or their coming in late when unnecessary. We must surely make provision for these duties.
Then, as to the special preparation for certain work. A Sunday-school teacher dare not go to his or her class with the lesson perhaps barely read over and no distinct preparation. Let it not be thought that the children do not notice this. As a teacher can tell when the scholar has not prepared the lesson, so the reverse is also true. A little regularity and system will no doubt help here also. In fact, we believe that if some schedule has been settled upon and persistently followed out, it will enable one to pursue also other work more systematically.
Space will not permit our going into the whole subject of Sunday-school work, which will have a place elsewhere, but we may be allowed to suggest a certain line of preparation which ought to enable us to get a fair measure of acquaintance with the lesson without taking too much time. We will suppose that the lesson is clearly designated, and consists of as much as half a chapter. The first day, this could be read and a number of parallel passages and references looked up, occupying possibly ten minutes in all. The next day and those following could be occupied by an analysis of the lesson verse by verse, adding references to our Scripture. If ten minutes each day is used in this way, or its equivalent at one time, a half hour toward the close of the week will suffice to arrange in an orderly way what we desire to put before our class.
We cannot, of course, expect to carry our studies as far as we would like to do, and we would also say that the very young Christian would probably better not undertake to teach a class until he has had time to acquire a certain knowledge of truth. "Not a novice" would apply here. It is best that young Christians should be put in the Bible Class for a season at least, and graduated from that into the regular work for themselves.
The same remarks would apply to those who are conducting a little cottage meeting, or open-air preaching, or anything of that kind. We would distinctly state that wherever practicable, one should meditate upon and study the subject upon which he expects to speak. It is no mark of spirituality, nor do we believe it to be a correct application of the Scripture, that we should take no thought how or what we shall speak, nor expect the Lord to fulfil that promise given in a far different connection: "It shall be given you in that same hour what ye ought to speak." Here, He is assuring His disciples that they will never be deserted when brought before kings and rulers for His name's same. They need not meditate in advance any line of defence, or any elaborate statement of what they hold. If they have been living in the enjoyment of these things and bearing faithful witness, they may be sure that the Lord will not desert them in their time of need. This would also hold good where one was absolutely unable to know in advance what he was going to speak upon, or if an unexpected opening were given for preaching the gospel. At such times, often, there has been the greatest liberty and directness, and the Lord's help has been manifested.
But we speak not of the exceptional. Do not divine things require our careful attention? Instead of rambling on, scarce knowing what one is saying, is it not more honoring to the Lord to be before Him in prayer, and have a more or less distinct conception of what we are going to speak upon? Of course, it is not a question of words. We can trust the Lord for these as for all else, but we do plead for a little more care and study. It is not "writing sermons" or anything of that kind, but only treating rightly the blessed privilege we have, and esteeming that the things of the Lord require as much attention as we would give to temporal affairs.
The prophet Malachi rebukes the people for bringing the blind and the lame as an offering to the Lord, and in solemn satire suggests that they offer such things to their ruler and see if he will accept them. This may well apply to what we are saying. Robert McCheyne used to say: "Always beaten oil for the Sanctuary," the oil that is freshly beaten out in prayerful study.
A little judicious care perhaps may enable us to incorporate our Sunday-school and other work with our regular routine of study. This would be particularly true where we were devoting more than an hour to that work. We return, therefore, to our original plea for system, both in time and method in Bible study, and trust that the busiest life will still find room for at least fifteen minutes' daily work.