I wish to address a few words of a practical nature to those of you who are engaged in the work of the Sunday School. I trust that any who are not so occupied will bear with the remarks made; and, should they be thereby induced to join in that work for themselves, it will, I am sure, be a happy result. Since wherever one goes, the same cry is raised of the fewness of teachers. As of old, the harvest is great but the labourers few.
If then you are happily employed in this manner, permit me to say at the outset what I hope may be true of you. You ought to be firmly convinced in your own soul that in this service you are serving the Lord, and that it is His will you should be doing what you are doing.
Do not think I wish to unsettle you. If you are already quite clear upon this very important point, it will in no sense injure you to be reminded of it. On the other hand, if you have not seriously considered the matter, the sooner you face the question the better. The bricklayer was angry when his master put his foot to the wall he was building and pushed it over. But he had not a word to say as to the strength of his wall; and, after all, that was far more important than his own feelings. The master was only testing his servant's work, as I wish I could test yours. Believe me, there is no desire to knock down your wall, but only a real anxiety that your structure should prove a solid one.
Do you ask why it is so important that Sunday School teaching should be undertaken as a work for the Lord? Because when we feel we are serving the Lord, the motives for our service are kept pure and constant. What was the secret of the ardour of the apostle Paul? "The love of Christ constraineth us," he wrote (2 Cor. 5:14). Christ sent him (1 Cor. 1:17). Christ strengthened him (Phil. 4:13). And eventually the Lord would crown him (2 Tim. 4:8). He ever realised that he was not his own; he was the Lord's bond slave (Rom. 14:8). And the apostle was so constantly under the personal direction of Christ in what he did and in what he did not, that he could place on inspired record that remarkable expression, which is really his autobiography, "To me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21).
Now just as Christ afforded the spring of the apostle's service and life, so let it be with you. As you are engaged with your class from week to week, have it ever before your soul that you are doing it to the Lord and for the Lord. The sense of this personal service will enable you to persevere in spite of the many opposing difficulties connected with this, and indeed with all Christian work.
There are many young teachers who feel that no one ever had such troublesome classes as they have. The dozen scholars under their particular care are the most difficult dozen to manage that ever sat before one teacher. They have tried all kinds of plans to gain attention during the lesson of instruction; but for every one heeding the teacher four others are laughing, whispering, and playing.
What is to be done? They have endeavoured in many ways to preserve order, and win the ears of the children. But all is in vain. They have besought the scholars to be attentive. They have promised marks and prizes for good behaviour. They have threatened great threats against the noisy ones. They have even tried the effect of telling the class a few Sunday School fables, such as, "Little Mary and her dicky bird," "Faithful Rover pulling naughty Sammy out of the water," and others. But the effect was only brief. The teacher found the dozen pair of eyes upon him for a moment or so, but as soon as the tale was over the disorder began again as before.
How disheartened the teacher becomes, as week after week passes with the same result! He feels ready to give up in despair.
If any of my young friends have such an experience, I earnestly beseech you to consider whether your work is of the Lord. If He has given you it, He will sustain you in it; and moreover, He will honour your perseverance in face of such real difficulties as these are, by giving you the joy of His own approval. He will, in due time, allow you to see proofs that He is working by means of you.
Do not, however, suppose that such difficulties are of necessity indications that the Lord has not sent you. The apostle did not think so. He went on with his work at Ephesus, although there was much positive opposition. He writes, "I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost; for a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Cor. 16:8, 9); so that adversaries did not drive Paul from his post. No, obstacles and hindrances should only prove the reality of your purpose of heart and your devotion to the Lord. They should certainly throw you in dependence upon the strength of the Lord. And He will then enable you to overcome all these discouragements that trouble you so.
"But," it is sometimes asked, "how is one to know whether one is sent by the Lord, or not?" This question is one to be settled before commencing the work. It ought to be quite clear to you yourself that it is the Lord's will you should take a class.
How the Lord will make you know what His will is I fear I cannot say. But you must hold fast that if the Master has any service for you to perform, He Himself will send you to do it, and will give you the assurance that you are taking orders from Him. At the same time you must on your part be desirous of hearing His voice. The Lord uses many ways of bringing His work before His servants; by means of the Scriptures, or the advice of their elders, or the vacant class. but whatever the means, it is imperative that, after earnest, continued prayer, you should find that the Lord by those means is showing to you what His will is.
Don't have it in your mind that you have been a scholar long enough, and that it is now time for you to teach others, because you are too grown up to learn any more. Don't take a class because a dear friend of yours does so. Don't go a long way round to seek your work. If you are really anxious to serve the Lord, and it is His will that you should take up any particular branch of His work, do you not believe that He will open the way for you? Most assuredly He will.
Some who are actually engaged in Sunday School work think that if the Lord were with them they would get on better, and they think of resigning. Now we surely ought to have the Lord's mind in giving up a work as much as in starting it. If it were our own work we might perhaps consult ourselves only. But if the Lord has given us work, we must have the permission of the Master to leave it.
It is well known that teachers do sometimes forsake their classes in a huff. Something offended them. The school is mismanaged. They are not sufficiently consulted. Away they go, turning their backs in a moment upon what they professed to be doing for the Lord's sake. Can there be any real sense of serving the Lord in such cases?
If you have anything to do with Sunday School work let it be begun, continued, and ended as unto the Lord. Let your hearts be in personal communion with Him about every detail of it continuously. And you will then be sure to know the joy of His own blessing in your soul.