The popular idea that they must of necessity, during the most impressible and important period of their existence, belong to the world, the flesh and the devil, is utterly foreign to the Lutheran, or Scriptural view. That the child is fated, for a number of years, to be under the influence of evil, and to be permitted to "sow wild oats" before divine Grace can reach it, is certainly a principle that is contradictory to the whole scheme of salvation. Yet this seems to be the idea of those parents who will not believe that God can reach and change the nature of a child, and bring it out of the state of nature into the state of Grace, and keep it in that Grace. These people treat their children much as a farmer does his colts, letting them run wild for a while, and then violently breaking them in.
This pernicious idea has also obtained sway to an alarming extent in the Sunday-school system of our land. The children in the Sunday-school, whether baptized or not, whether from Christian or Christless homes, are looked upon as outsiders, impenitent sinners, utter strangers to Christ and His Grace, until they experience such a marked change that they can tell exactly where and when and how they were converted. Hence the popular idea that it is the object of the Sunday-school to convert the children. This seems to be the underlying principle of both the American Sunday-school Union and American Tract Society; institutions otherwise so excellent that we are loth to say aught against either. This idea pervades also the undenominational helps and comments of the International Lesson System. This is the undertone of the great mass of undenominational Sunday-school hymnology. It is the key-note of the County, State, National and International Sunday-school Conventions and Institutes. So popular and wide-spread is this idea that many Lutheran pastors, Sunday-school teachers and workers have unconsciously imbibed it. Even our Church papers, professing to be strictly confessional, often publish articles setting forth the idea that it is the object of the Sunday-school to Christianize the children. As though the baptized children of the Church, the children of devout Christian parents, had been heathen, until Christianized by the Sunday-school! Many of our Sunday-school constitutions also set it down as the object of the school to "lead the children to Christ," or to "labor for their conversion."
Now we believe that this idea is un-Scriptural and therefore un-Lutheran. If what we have written in the preceding chapters on baptismal Grace, the baptismal covenant, and the possibility of keeping that covenant, is true, then this popular idea, set forth above, is false. And vice versa, if this popular view is correct, then the whole Lutheran system of baptism, baptismal Grace, and the baptismal covenant, falls to the ground.
But notwithstanding the immense array of opposition, we still believe that the Lutheran doctrine is nothing else than the pure teaching of God's word. Where we have the "Church in the House," there we have lambs of Christ's flock. Ah, how many more we could have, how many more we would have, if the fathers and mothers in the Church understood this precious article of our faith, and prayerfully built their home life thereon! Then would there be a more regular and healthful growth of the Church, and the necessity for fitful, spasmodic revival efforts would cease. But we digress.
From our Christian homes the baptized children of the Church come to the Sunday-school. How is the school to treat them? -- We speak now of the baptized children from Christian homes; we will speak of the unbaptized and untrained further on.
These children, with all their childish waywardness and restlessness, do generally love Jesus. They do trust in Him, and are unhappy when they know they have committed a sin against Him. They do, when taught, pray to Him, believe that He hears their prayers and loves them. Shall the teacher now begin to impress upon the minds and hearts of these little ones the idea that they are not yet Christ's, and that Christ has nothing to do with them, except to seek and call them, until they are converted? And shall they go home from Sunday-school with the impression that all their prayers have been empty and useless, because their hearts have not been changed? Dare the Sunday-school thus confuse the child, raise doubts as to Christ's forgiveness and love, and "quench the Spirit?" Oh how sad, that thus thousands of children have their first love, their first trust, quenched by those who have more zeal than knowledge!
No, no, these are Christ's lambs. They come with His marks upon them. Let the Sunday-school teacher work in harmony with the mother who gave these children to Christ. Let the whole atmosphere of the school impress on that child the precious truth that it is Jesus' little lamb. Feed that lamb, feed it with the sincere milk of the Word. Lead that lamb gently; teach it to understand its relation to the Great Shepherd, to know Him, to rejoice in His love, to love His voice, to follow His leadings more and more closely.
Instead of singing doubtfully and dolefully:
"I am young, but I must die,
"Child of sin and sorrow
"Depth of mercy, can there be
"Hasten, sinner, to be wise,
"I can but perish if I go,
"When saints gather round Thee, dear Saviour above, And hasten to crown Thee with jewels of love,
Some of these sentiments are unscriptural. Some may do for penitent prodigals. But all are out of place on the lips of baptized children of the Church. Let such rather joyfully sing:
"I am Jesus' little lamb,
and such other cheerful and healthy hymns as breathe the spirit of the Church of the Reformation.
This we believe to be the object of our Sunday-schools, as far as the baptized children of Christian parents are concerned. They are to be helps, to keep the children true to their baptismal covenant, and to enable them to grow strong and stronger against sin and in holiness. Jesus did not tell Peter to convert, but feed His lambs.
From these considerations we see how important it is for Lutheran Sunday-schools to have teachers who "know of the doctrine, whether it be true;" who are "rooted and grounded in the faith;" who are "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them;" who are "apt to teach."
A teacher who does not understand and appreciate the Lutheran doctrine of baptism is out of place in a Lutheran Sunday-school. It is certainly not desirable to have the child instructed at home that it was given to Christ in baptism, received and owned by Him and belongs to Him, and then have the Sunday-school teacher teach it that until it experiences some remarkable change, which the teacher cannot at all explain, it belongs not to Christ, but to the unconverted world. The teaching of the pulpit, the catechetical class, the home and the Sunday-school, ought certainly to be in perfect harmony -- especially so on the vital point of the personal relation of the child to the Saviour and His salvation. To have clashing and contradictory instruction is a sure way to sow the seeds of doubt and skepticism.
We must have sound instruction and influence in the Sunday-school, and to this end we must have sound and clear helps and equipments for teacher and pupil. The worship of the school, the singing, the opening and closing exercises, must all be in harmony with this great fundamental idea of feeding those who are already Christ's lambs.