The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
a self-sacrificing spirit.
PRACTICAL HINTS IN RELATION TO PUBLIC WORSHIP.
1. Attend on the stated ministrations of your pastor. If there is more than one church professing your own sentiments in the place where you reside, select the pastor who is most spiritual, and will give you the best instruction. But, when you have made this selection, consider yourself bound to wait on his ministry. Do not indulge yourself in going from place to place, to hear this and that minister. This will give you "itching ears," and cultivate a love of novelty, and a critical mode of hearing, very unfavorable to the practical application of the truth to your own soul. If you wish to obtain complete views of truth—if you wish your soul to thrive—attend, as far as possible, upon every appointment of your pastor. Ministers generally adopt some plan of instruction, which they believe to be adapted to the state of their people, and frequently pursue a chain of subjects in succession, so as to present a complete view of the great doctrines of the Bible. Whenever you absent yourself, you break this chain, and lose much of your interest and profit in your minister's preaching. I do not say but, on special occasions, when some subject of more than usual importance is to be presented at another place, it may be proper for you to leave your own church. But, in general, the frequent exchange of pulpits between neighboring ministers, and the occasional appearance of a stranger in the pulpit, will furnish as great variety as you will find profitable.
2. Be punctual in attending at the stated hour of public worship. This, though of great importance, is sadly neglected by many congregations. Punctuality is so necessary in matters of business, that a man is hardly considered honest when he fails to meet his friend at the hour of engagement. And why should it be thought of less consequence to be exact and punctual in our engagements with God than with man? The person who enters the house of God after the service has commenced, embarrasses the preacher, and disturbs the devotions of others. Besides, he shows great lack of reverence for the sacredness of the place, time, and employment. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him." Always calculate to be seated in the sanctuary a few minutes before the time appointed for the commencement of worship; that you may have time to settle your mind, and to lift your soul in silent prayer to God for his blessing.
3. Go to the house of God with a preparation of heart. First visit your closet, and implore the influences of the Holy Spirit, both upon yourself and your fellow-worshipers, that your and their hearts may be prepared to receive the truth; and, if possible, go immediately from your closet to the house of worship. On the way, shut out all thoughts except such as are calculated to inspire devotional feelings; and, if in company, avoid conversation. Whatever may be the nature of such conversation, it will be very likely to produce a train of thought which will distract and disturb your mind during public worship.
4. When you approach the house of worship, remember that the Lord is there in a peculiar manner. He has promised to be where two or three shall meet in his name. It is in the assembly of his saints that he makes known the power of his Spirit. As you enter his house, endeavor to realize the solemnity of his presence, and walk softly before him. Avoid carelessness of demeanor, and let your deportment indicate the reverence due to the place where "God's honor dwells." "Guard your feet when you go to the house of God." I do not like to specify any particular acts which are unbecoming in the house of God, lest I should seem to imply that a young lady may be guilty of a public breach of the rules of good breeding; but, if you bear in mind continually that you are a guest in the house of the Lord, and that the Lord almighty is there to witness all you do, you will be likely to be serious and circumspect.
When seated in the place of worship, set a watch over the senses, that your eyes and ears may not cause your mind to wander upon forbidden objects. There is great danger that the attraction of people, characters, and dress, may dissipate the serious thoughts with which you entered the sanctuary, so that you will lose the benefit of the means of grace. Set a watch, also, over your imagination. This is a time when Satan is peculiarly busy in diverting the fancy; and, unless you are doubly watchful, he may lead away your mind by some phantom of the imagination, before you are aware of it. Keep these avenues of temptation guarded, and seek to bring yourself into a prayerful frame of mind, that you may be suitably affected by the various exercises of public worship.
5. Unite in spirit with the devotional part of the service. "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." Sing with the spirit and with the understanding, and see that you do not mock God with an empty song of praise, which finds no response in your heart. Endeavor, also, in prayer, to follow the words of the person who leads, applying the several parts of the prayer to yourself in particular, when they suit your case, and yet bearing in mind the various subjects of petition which relate to the congregation and the world; remembering that God abhors hypocritical worship, in which men appear outwardly as worshipers, but have no spiritual apprehension of the meaning of the solemn service in which they are engaged. In all the exercises of public worship, labor and strive against wandering thoughts. This is the time when Satan will beset you with all his fury. Now you must be well armed, and fight manfully. Be not discouraged, though you may be many times foiled. If you persevere in the strength of Jesus, you will come off conqueror at last.
6. "Take heed how you hear." Consider the speaker as the ambassador of Christ, sent with a message from God to yourself. "Now, then," says the apostle, "we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we beg you, in Christ's stead, be you reconciled to God." The figure here used is borrowed from the practice of one government sending a person on a particular errand to another. The analogy, however, does not hold good throughout. It is like a sovereign sending an ambassador to persuade rebels against his government to submit to him, and accept of pardon. But, in such a case, it would be possible, either for some person who was not sent, to deliver a false message in the name of the king, or for one who was really sent, to deliver a different message from the one sent by him. So it is in relation to preachers of the gospel. There are many whom Christ has never sent, who are spreading abroad lies over the land; and there are others, really sent by Christ, who have, in some respects, misapprehended their instructions, and therefore do not deliver his message just as he has directed. But our blessed Lord, foreseeing this, has wisely and kindly given us a check-book, by which we may discover whether those who speak in his name tell the truth. Hence we are commanded to "search the Scriptures," and to "test the spirits, whether they be of God." And the Bereans were commended as more noble, because they searched the Scriptures daily, to know whether the things preached by the apostles were so. If, then, they were applauded for testing the preaching of the apostles by the word of God, surely we may try the preaching of uninspired men by the same standard.
But beware of a fault finding spirit. There are some people who indulge such a habit of finding fault with preaching, that they never receive much benefit from it. Either the matter of the sermon, the apparent feeling of the preacher, or his style, or manner of delivery, does not suit them; and therefore they throw away all the good they might have obtained from his discourse. Remember that preachers of the gospel are but men. So weak are they, that the apostle compares them to "earthen vessels." Do not, then, expect perfection. Bear with their infirmities. Receive their instructions as the bread which your heavenly Father has provided for the nourishment of your soul. Do not ungratefully spurn it from you. What would you think to see a child throwing away the bread his mother gives him, because it does not suit his dainty appetite?
But the instruction delivered to you by the ministers of Christ, if it agrees with the word of God, is the bread which your heavenly Father has provided as the food of your soul. It may not suit your taste. It may not be savory enough. It may be coarse food. It may not have any such dressings as render it palatable to a capricious appetite. Or it may be, in your estimation, too strong meat. Still it is the food which God has provided for your soul; and you will suffer incalculable loss, if you are so dainty as to throw it away. But, if there appears really to be a deficiency in your minister's preaching, pray for him, that he may preach better. See to it, however, that the fault be not with yourself, in not keeping your heart in such a state as to be able to appreciate good preaching. Many sermons, which appeared dry and dull the first time they were delivered, on being repeated in a time of awakening, and heard with a new ear, have been pronounced excellent, and full of instruction.
Hear, also, with self-application. From almost any passage in the Bible the Christian may draw a practical lesson for himself. Some truths may not be immediately applicable to your present circumstances; yet you ought to be affected by them. Even a sermon addressed exclusively to impenitent sinners is calculated to excite the most intense feelings of the Christian's soul. It reminds him of the exceeding wickedness of his past life; it shows him what an awful gulf he has escaped; it leads him to mourn over his ingratitude; and it calls forth his prayers and tears in behalf of the perishing. Strive to bring home the truth, so far as it is applicable to yourself, in the most searching manner. Examine your own heart diligently, that you lose nothing which belongs to you.
Do not hear for others. Let everyone make his own application of the truth. Many are so intent on finding garments for others, that they lose their own.
Hear with a prayerful frame of mind. If any part of the discourse is intended for professors of religion, let your heart continually ascend to God for the Holy Spirit to apply it to yourself and to every Christian present. If any part of it is designed for impenitent people, let your soul put forth an agony of prayer, that it may be blessed for their conversion.
Remember and practice what you hear. We are exhorted to give earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. James tells us, "If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in the glass; for he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was." Alas, how many thus hear! But, in regard to them, our Savior likens them to a man that built his house upon the sand, which, when the storm came, was swept away with a terrible destruction. How many, who have paid a decent respect to the worship of God, without practicing the self-denying duties inculcated in his word, will find their foundation swept from under them in the terrible storm which is at hand, none can tell. Let us see to it that we are not among the many who will say, in that day, "Lord, Lord," without having obeyed his word; that he should say to us, "Depart from me, you who work iniquity."
MEETINGS FOR PRAYER.
Intimately connected with public worship are social meetings for prayer. We have examples of these in the primitive church. The disciples held a ten days' prayer-meeting, before the advent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. When the apostles returned from before the council, they held a prayer-meeting, and the place was shaken where they were assembled. When Peter was imprisoned, the church held a prayer-meeting in the night, and an angel delivered him out of the prison. We read of a place by the river side, where prayer was "accustomed to be made." And at Miletus, Paul held a precious prayer-meeting with the elders of the church of Ephesus. These meetings have been maintained among evangelical Christians in every age. They are the life of the church. They are the mainspring of human agency in revivals of religion. Without a spirit of prayer, sufficient to bring God's people together in this way, I see not how vital piety can exist in a church. The feelings of a lively Christian will lead him to the place of prayer. But it will not do to follow our feelings at all times, because they are variable. If you allow yourself to be guided by the mere impulse of feeling, you can never be depended on as a stable and consistent Christian. We ought the rather to be guided in all things by settled and permanent principle. Those who are so governed are the only Christians who can be relied on in an emergency.
The follower of Christ is called a soldier; but the main thing with a soldier, and without which he would be good for nothing, is, that he is always to be found at his post. But what would become of an army, or of the country which they defend, if, when called to duty, but a small proportion of them should be found there? And what will become of the cause in which the great Captain of our salvation is engaged, if but few of the soldiers of the cross are to be found at the place of rendezvous? Let it be a settled principle with you, then, to be always at your post. Let nothing but absolute necessity keep you from the place of prayer.
THE SABBATH SCHOOL.
I cannot persuade myself, in this connection, to pass over an institution which occupies so prominent a place in the employments of the holy Sabbath, as the Sabbath school; and I think I may presume on the interest which those for whom I am writing feel in this department of Christian effort and improvement. I know of no means of intellectual and spiritual improvement, accessible to all, which will by any means compare with this. It furnishes a stimulus to intellectual effort, of great value to people of all ages, and in every department of life. It is one of the best means of self-education which the times afford; for there is no study better adapted to develop, enlarge, and strengthen the mind than the investigation of Scriptural truth. And it has this peculiar advantage, that it combines moral and spiritual improvement with intellectual cultivation. There is perceptible in the minds of those who have been for a number of years connected with the Sabbath school, a wakefulness of mind, an acuteness of perception, and a definiteness in their views of truth, not often to be found among those who have not had this advantage. It creates the necessity for study, and obliges everyone to learn something new every week; and this keeps the mind active, and secures a constantly progressive advancement in knowledge. It tends, also, to keep alive religious feeling, by keeping the truth before the mind, and bringing different minds together, to act upon one another. I can hardly persuade myself that it is necessary to advise young Christian females to become connected with the Sabbath school; for it would seem that their own feelings would lead them to a place of so great interest and improvement; and I suppose the majority of those into whose hands this book may fall, have been trained up in the Sabbath school, and have never left it. And I trust none of them will ever feel that they are too old to continue to attend as pupils. In many parts of the country, it is the custom for the whole congregation, both old and young, to be formed into a Sabbath school; and a most excellent custom it is. May I not hope that the young ladies for whom I am writing will be everywhere forward to encourage so good a custom?
But young Christian ladies ought to calculate upon qualifying themselves to teach in the Sabbath school, in case their services in this department shall be required. It may be personally more agreeable to sit as a learner; but duty requires that we should always prefer an opportunity of imparting, to that of receiving, a spiritual benefit. Indeed, this is the true way of securing a personal benefit; for our Lord has said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive;" and he verifies his word, by pouring the richest spiritual blessings into the souls of those who lay themselves out most for the benefit of others. This is especially the case with Sabbath school teachers. They are excited, by the responsibilities of their station, to greater study in the preparation of their lessons, and in acquiring information to impart to those they teach; and this secures a greater intellectual benefit. Their pupils, also, give direction to their desires, prayers, and efforts, and thus their piety is cultivated, strengthened, and increased. If successful, too, they are permitted to rejoice in the fruit of their labors. Every faithful Sabbath school teacher, therefore, knows, from experience, that it is "more blessed to give than to receive." I may presume, therefore, that every young lady who loves the Savior will esteem it a privilege to be a Sabbath school teacher.
But, should you be called upon to engage in the interesting and responsible work of Sabbath school instruction, enter upon it heartily. If you cannot do this, I advise you not to attempt it. If you engage in such a work without being deeply interested in it yourself, and laying yourself out upon it, you will find neither pleasure, profit, nor success, therein. Presuming, therefore, that you will be desirous of using all the means in your power to qualify yourself for such a work, I offer for your consideration the following hints, which are given under the impression that your pupils are children or young people—
1. Endeavor to obtain just views of the importance and responsibility of the work. In a certain subordinate sense, the Sabbath school teacher is the pastor of a little flock. He is appointed, in his sphere, to watch for their souls, everyone of which is of more value than the whole world. The influence which he exerts upon these souls may give direction not only to their character and influence in this life, but to their character and destiny throughout eternity. The responsibility is therefore fearful indeed.
2. Keep before your mind the objects to be attained by Sabbath school instruction, and pursue these objects with directness of purpose and effort. These objects are, the conversion of the souls of the pupils, if they are unconverted; and their sanctification, and preparation for usefulness, if converted. To attain either of these objects, it is necessary that they should have a clear and discriminating knowledge of those truths of God's word which teach them their lost and ruined condition by nature, and the way of salvation revealed in the gospel; because it is through these that the Holy Spirit operates in the conversion and sanctification of souls. These truths must, therefore, be so illustrated, simplified, and brought down to their capacities, that they will see their application to themselves, and learn from them their duty. But, to prepare them for usefulness, energy of mind, and habits of deep thought and close study, are of great importance, and must, therefore, be cultivated in the Sabbath school.
3. Labor to obtain clear, full, and discriminating views of gospel truth yourself. This is indispensable, if you would impress the same upon the minds of others. If your general views of truth are obscure, indefinite, and unsatisfactory to yourself, your instructions will be of the same character.
4. Study to become skillful in the sacred are of communicating divine truth to the minds of children. Little as this may be esteemed, it is one of the most valuable talents you can possess. I know of no other which females can so profitably employ in the service of Christ. You must, therefore, study the juvenile mind. Endeavor to understand the philosophical principles of its early development, and reduce them to practice. Be familiar with children. Become acquainted with their language and modes of thinking, and strive to adapt yourself to their capacities. You may also obtain many valuable hints by reading some of the many excellent works which have been published on the subject of education, some of which are especially designed for Sabbath school teachers.
You must also aim at drawing out the minds of the children, and teaching them to study, and to think, with clearness and precision, for themselves. There is a great difference between conversing with children and talking to them. By the former, you call their minds into exercise, and get hold of their feelings. Thus you will secure their attention. But the latter will be much less likely to interest them; for, being the recipients of thought, instead of thinking for themselves, they participate less in the exercise. By engaging them in conversation, and leading that conversation in the investigation of truth, you teach them to think.
If we simply explain to a child the meaning of a passage of Scripture, the whole benefit lies in the instruction he receives at the time; but, if we show him practically how to ascertain the meaning himself, and bring him under the mental discipline which it requires, we give him a kind of key to unlock the meaning of other passages. By an ingenious mode of catechizing, children's minds may be led to perceive and understand almost any truth much more distinctly and clearly than by any direct explanation which a teacher can make. By catechizing, I do not mean the repeating of catechisms, but the calling out of their minds upon any Scripture truth that may be before them, by a series of simple questions, leading them to see the truth as though they had discovered it themselves. But it should be a leading object to secure the thorough study of the lessons by themselves. The teacher should never answer a question until it has passed round the class; and remarks should be brief, and directly to the point, intended either to bring out the meaning of the Scripture more fully than their answers do, or else to impress the truth practically upon their minds.
But never forget that you are dependent upon the Holy Spirit for the proper direction of the powers of your mind. Pray, then, for clearness of perception and discrimination of judgment, that you may understand the truth, and for skill to communicate it to your class. Study every Sabbath school lesson in your closet, with these ends in view. Persevere in your efforts until you become mistress of the are of teaching.
5. To be a successful Sabbath school teacher, you must have a rich, fertile, and growing mind. Nothing else will compensate for the lack of this. You cannot, for any length of time, sustain the interest of a class, unless there is a constant growth in your own mind. If there is a continued repetition of the same thoughts, remarks, or exhortations, you will soon grow dull and uninteresting. But, in regard to the manner in which this is to be accomplished, I must refer you to a subsequent chapter, on mental improvement.
6. Make yourself thoroughly acquainted with the lesson. Study the portion of Scripture which is to be the subject of your lesson, with all the helps you can obtain, until you have satisfied your mind on every point involved in it, and until you can answer every question which you intend to propound to your scholars. Unless you do this habitually, you cannot be qualified for a teacher. If the teachers of the school with which you are connected hold a meeting of mutual consultation upon the lesson, never fail to attend, when it is in your power. These meetings are essential to a well-conducted and successful Sabbath school; and, when properly managed, they are both interesting and profitable to those who attend them. And you will contribute very much to this interest and profit, if you are always present, with your lesson thoroughly studied.
7. Let your own heart be affected with the truth you are endeavoring to teach. Upon this, so far as your instrumentality is concerned, greatly depends your success. Unless you feel the force of the truth yourself, it will be very difficult for you to convince your scholars that you are in earnest. While preparing the lesson in your closet, endeavor to obtain a realizing sense of the personal interest which you and your class have in the subject you are contemplating. See what bearing it has upon their eternal destiny, as well as your own; and pray for the Holy Spirit to impress it powerfully upon your heart. Always, if possible, spend a little season in your closet, as an immediate preparation for the duties of the Sabbath school. Get your heart refreshed, in view of the practical truth contained in the lesson, and go before your class deeply impressed with its solemn import.
8. Make a personal application of the practical truths contained in the lesson, and embrace frequent opportunities of conversing separately and privately with everyone of your scholars in regard to their religious feelings. If they give no evidence of piety, explain to them the duty of immediate repentance and submission to God, and urge them to perform it without delay. Do this under the solemn impression that it may be your last opportunity, and that you will soon meet them at the judgment-seat of Christ.
If you have reason to believe their hearts have been renewed, show them the importance of holy living. Urge upon them the duties of watchfulness, self-examination, studying the Scriptures, and prayer. Show them, also, the necessity of carrying out their religion into every action of their lives. Show them that the design of true religion is to make them better, to give them better dispositions, to keep them humble, and make them more amiable, obedient, and dutiful, in everything. Teach them, also, the great importance of improving their minds while young, to fit them for the service of Christ. You may have before you some future Harriet Newell, or Mrs. Judson, who may willingly surrender all the comforts of this life to carry the glad tidings of salvation to the benighted heathen.
9. Be earnest and importunate for the Holy Spirit to bless your labors. Without this, all your efforts will be in vain. Feel continually that you are but an instrument in the hand of God, and that all your success must depend upon him. Yet he has promised to give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him. Let no day pass without presenting before the throne of grace every individual of your class, rehearsing, as particularly as possible, the circumstances and feelings of each. Visit them as often as you can, and, if possible, persuade them to meet with you once a week for prayer. But make no effort in your own strength. Search well your motives, and see that self-seeking has no place in your heart. If you seek the conversion of your class, that you may be honored as the instrument, you will be disappointed. God must be glorified in all things.
Downloaded from Grace Gems - A Treasury of Ageless, Sovereign Grace, Devotional Writings
Bible Bulletin Board
Middletown, DE 19709 USA