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God from which, Sunday after Sunday, he has to gather lessons for his class. How is he to be best fitted to teach them? Obviously and beyond all question he is disregarding a solemn duty, and throwing away a blessed opportunity, if he should come to his work without any preparation at all. How can he pray for or expect God's blessing on his work, if he has bestowed no pains upou the preparation for it 1 In what way, then, is the willing student to spend his energies and time to best advantage in anticipation of his Sunday work?
There are three distinct means of help towards the understanding of God's Word, about each of which we would briefly speak—
1. The Bible itself.
2. Notes of lessons, prepared and published f« the Teacher's use.
3. Commentaries, Cyclopaedias, and Bible Dictionaries.
I. The Bible Itself.—The Word of God is often its own best interpreter.
(a.) The first step must be, in every case, carefully to read through the passage to be taught, in order that we may get its main features and the general scope and bearing of the passage clear in our own mind.
(Z>.) We read again, in order to fill in more carefully the details of the picture. This time special regard must be paid to the context, and we must note the time, the place, the persons, and all the surrounding circumstances which go to fill in the main outline.
(c.) Then, when we travel over the same ground once more, we shall be prepared to mark the points which seem obscure, and on which we need to obtain further information than can be gathered from the narrative itself. To answer these enquiries, and give the needed information, the marginal references will come to our aid, and a careful study of these will often make plain to us what had otherwise been doubtful and obscure.
It may serve to make this method of study more clear if we take a very simple example in illustration. Suppose that our subject is St Peter's deliverance from prison (Acts xii).
(a.) The first attentive reading fixes in our mind the main outline, and perhaps determines for us the lesson which it will be best to teach—God's providential care, and unexpected answer to prayer.
(b.) On our second reading we notice, perhaps, that this was not the first time St Peter had been in prison, and we mark the time, the place, the persons, etc.—Jerusalem, at the Passover, St Peter, Herod, the angel, the soldiers, the praying church, Rhoda, etc., etc.
(c.) Then we consider what points of obscurity or doubt require to be cleared up, and we test our own knowledge of the circumstances. Thus—Which Herod? What time? Which James? What prison? Quaternion? Prison rules? Sandals? Ministering angels? Then we turn to our marginal references. We note here only two points. (1) Verse 9—"He thought he saw a vision." The reference tells us that he reallyhad seen a vision not long before, the remembrance of which, perhaps, was now fresh in his mind. (2) Verse 15—"Then said they, 'It is his angel.'" The reference to Matt, xviii. 10 reminds us of the only passage in which the word angel is used in this sense, and helps us to assign the meaning to it.
In this way many difficulties will be met, and many doubts resolved, and no teacher who has taken the trouble to pursue this plan of painstaking preparation, with the Bible only as his guide, will find that his lesson is altogether lost and his study thrown away. Indeed, there are many persons who maintain that the Sabbath School Teacher needs no other guide, and that it would be wiser for him altogether to lay aside the use of notes of Lessons, or the help of Commentaries and Dictionaries, since all these means of help are necessarily tinged with human infirmities and errors. It is urged that it would be better to discard them altogether, and trust only to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the reading of the Word. It seems to us, however, to be unreasonable to argue thus. Is there any one whose knowledge is so perfect that he is free to disregard entirely the conclusions which have been reached, or the facts which have been discovered by otbeis? Certainly no one who aspires to be a student can afford to despise the accumulated knowledge of so many centuries in the illustration and interpretation of Scripture, and begin the enquiry for himself anew.
We wish, however, to say a word or two upon IL The use of prepared notes of Lessons.—-These are intended as helps to study, and not as aids to idleness. If they are allowed to become a substitute for private and personal study, they are worse than useless. They are intended to indicate to the teacher a plan which it may be of advantage to pursue; but they ought not to dictate the only possible course for him to follow. If wisely written and rightly used, they will often open to the careful teacher new topics for enquiry and new trains of thought, which will cause him to go again for their solution to his Bible and his books. In this way they will stimulate study instead of displacing and superseding it.
III. The use of Commentaries and Dictionaries.—With respect to these our own strong opinion is, that the Sunday School Teacher would be wise to use all the help he can procure for his own improvement in preparation for his work. Let him not turn aside from any means, however humble it may seem, from which he may derive a thought or a fact which may be of assistance to him. But as of Notes, so of Commentaries; let it be borne in mind that the use of these is not to supersede his own careful study, but to assist him in it. Of course, no Commentary can supply altogether that which the Sunday School Teacher has to present to his class. At least, it seems to us that a lesson which should be simply a collection of notes in the form of a commentary would be singularly feeble and uninteresting. Commentaries, too, are of so many different kinds. Some would supply practical hints and furnish the lessons to be drawn; some would help to clear up difficult texts and deal with questions which affect the interpretation of them; some, again, are devoted to historical and geographical illustrations, and some are a combination of all of these. But it is not to be expected that the Sunday School Teacher will have the means of consulting all these, nor if he has them within his reach would the time at his disposal be sufficient for the prolonged enquiry. All, therefore, that we need say about the use of a Commentary is this:—Make diligent use of whatever means you possess; weigh carefully all that is said upon the subject of the passage which you are to teach; but do not accept it as an infallible guide, or allow it to take the place of your own personal pains and study.
The Bible Dictionary or Cyclopedia stands upon a different footing from the Book of Notes or the Commentary. It is to the student of the Bible what the glossary is to the student of Chaucer. It enables him to read and understand that which without its use would have to remain dark and obscure. God's revelation has come to us through the vehicle of human thought and human language. We have to 6tudy all that is known of the history, the language, the geography, the manners, the laws, the institutions of an ancient people who were made the recipients of the Divine message. Take, for an example, the passage to which we have already referred of St Peter's deliverance from prison. It is a very simple and well known story, but we noted in the earlier verses several difficulties which the student would have to mark for further enquiiy. Now, most of these difficulties are just of the kind to which a good Bible Dictionary would supply the answer; and when these answers have been gained the sacred narrative is surrounded with a new interest; there is a vividness and a reality given to the whole picture; and the Teacher is better furnished with matter for the lesson which he has to teach.
Some persons, perhaps, might fancy that these, after all, are matters comparatively unimportant and indifferent, and that the Teacher had better confine himself to the practical lessons to be drawn from the passage he has to teach. We reply that nothing is trivial or unimportant which tends to throw light upon the Word of God; and, moreover, the more clearly we are able to grasp the surrounding circumstances the more distinctly shall we be able to place the picture before others; and whatever helps us to make our teaching more vivid and more real must be of help to us in our work.
Take even the simplest and most familiar Bible story, and it will be made more clear and therefore more true, in proportion as we carry out this plan of close and careful enquiry. Look at the story of the Nativity. How much more vividly is it realised, and therefore how much better will it be taught, when the student has made himself familiar with the topography of Bethlehem, has unravelled the difficulties of the Roman " taxing," has read something about an Eastern "inn," and has enquired about the grotto —or cavern-stables—where in all probability this great event took place.
If the Teacher will try to form the habit of testing his own knowledge, or rather his own ignorance, he will not fail to find in almost every passage of God'3 Word, even the most familiar, some fact which requires to be cleared up, some circumstance which wants explanation, or some allusion upon which he needs to be informed.
Now, the Bible Dictionary is designed to supply all these needs, and to furnish the Teacher with information which will render his work more complete and give it greater interest. We should be glad to know that the Bible Dictionary was regarded as a necessary part of the Teacher's materiel, without which he could not be considered as properly equipped for his work.
But here again, perhaps, one word of caution may be needed. The object of the Bible Dictionary is to give information and to supply facts. It is, of course, impossible that all men should form the same opinions or come to the same conclusions. The Teacher must be cautious against accepting unreservedly and unhesitatingly the conclusions or opinions of another mind. We would rather urge that he should carefully collect his facts from every available source, and then form his own conclusions for himself. The simple and sufficient rule by which he should be guided in all hiB preparation is to manfully face every difficulty and to leave none unsolved, at least until he has used all the means which lie within his reach in order to obtain a solution, and then he need never fear to confess to his scholars his ignorance. It is only the careless Teacher, who has taken no
Eains to acquire knowledge, who need blush at the exposure of is ignorance. When we have worked zealously and faithfully according to our talents and our opportunities, we shall have done all that can be required of ua But no one has a right to be surprised at failure in his work if he have not been at pains to carry out the golden rule, " Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
A. M denotes the year of the world, according to the Septuagint, or Greek version
of the Bible.
Latin. i „ Teutonic or Saxon. ? is meant to intimate a doubt. Cir. (Circiter, L.), “about,' or 'near: Comp., compare. Marg., the reading in the margin of the Common Bibles Inteps., intensive, or increasing the force of a word.