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THE EVIL TENDENCIES OF THE

SUNDAY SCHOOL.

A month or two since, under the influence of the annual epidemic which drives Cockneys into the country so soon as they feel the first breath of spring, we took up our abode at a quiet farm. While there, we had numerous opportunities of studying the habits and instincts of the denizens of the farm-yard. Among them was an elderly gander of retiring manners and contemplative disposition. The cares and responsibilities of a numerous family never seemed to ruffle his serenity; but, strange to say, it was only necessary to draw his attention to a red garment or fragment of scarlet cloth, to work an entire change in his demeanour. His usually mild eyes flashed fire, his wings were shot out horizontally with the speed of an arrow, and he went waddling at the offending article," th-th- th—, ing," with a ferocity that was truly alarming. Remove the cause of his irritation, and he would immediately relapse into a state of bodily quiescence and mental placidity.

The author of the volume before us* irresistibly reminds us, at least in one respect, of our quondam fellow-villager, the gander. Here are a dozen or so of miscellaneous essays and reviews, some " critical," * *"theological." The secular essays are fair productions, neither better nor worse than hundreds more that figure every year in our monthly and quarterly periodicals. They are marked by good sense, even if not by any striking originality of thought or stylo, and by themselves could certainly have done no discredit to their author either as a minister or a gentleman. Their tone and temper, on the whole, are unobjectionable enough; but the moment Mr. Kirkus touches upon theology, he is changed," like the son of Kish, “into another man ; except, that it is a change for the worse and not for the better. “Evangelicalism," to adopt his own term, is the scarlet garment which transforms this genial essayist into a reckless and cynical critic; a careful artist into a splenetic caricaturist. Mr. Kirkus has a pious horror of evangelicalism-it is the abominable thing which he hates; and he takes the utmost pains, even in the preface, to communicate to the public the momentous intelligence that whatever others may be, he is “not an evangelical.” Indeed, the volume appears to have been got up with this particular end in view—the literary essays serving as decoy ducks to lead on to the " theological If this be not his object, we are at a loss to

ones.

* Miscellaneous Essays, Critical and Theological, by

Rev. W. Kirkus, LL,B. (Longmans.)

conceive why this bundle of unknown or forgotten compositions has been ushered a second time into the literary world. It is true that authors are sometimes charged with motives of a low and commercial character, but this cannot be the case with our essayist. He is too sublimely wrathful with Dr. Cumming for issuing seven-andsixpenny volumes of "Pulpit fortune-telling," to have any such grovelling aims; though for the matter of that, plain folks may find it hard to perceive how it is that a seven-and-sixpenny book of pulpit fortune-telling should be, as Mr. Kirkus would say, "a wickeder thing" than a half-guinea octavo of pulpit lampoonery.

But let that pass. We will not do Mr. K. the injustice of supposing that the object of his theological essays is to demonstrate how much virulent animosity and reckless misrepresentation may be compressed into a given number of printed pages. It would, indeed, be painful to think that any man, calling himself a Christian minister, and claiming to be a scholar and a gentleman, should deliberately publish a book for the express purpose of caricaturing the doctrines, the worship, the characters, and the tastes of the members of the denomination to which he belongs, and those of other denominations who hold essentially the same religious opinions. It would be still more painful to believe that a young man, whose ministry began but the other day, should deliberately insult that body of his fellow-christians to whom he owes his present position—that, for example, he should pour contempt upon their illiteracy, “ vulgarity,” and “hatred of learning,” by whom the funds were contributed which transformed Mr. Kirkus from an obscure student into a Christian pastor, and secured for him that amount of education without which he could never have had the opportunity of disparaging those who, with equal deserts, have enjoyed less good-fortune. His object must be to vindicate himself from the imputation of "evangelicalism ;” the personalities, the exaggerations, the expletives, the half-concealed profanities, are only means to this end. Indeed, if we are to believe the preface, Mr. Kirkus is something of a martyr. He is afraid the article on evangelicalism will give offence. If so, he is sorry for it, but he could not help writing it; he wrote it " because he felt he must." Necessity was laid upon him. He wrote under a stern sense of duty; upon duty's altar he was prepared to sacrifice anything; and he has done it. Truth, decency, and gratitude, to say nothing of charity and courtesy, are immolated with unsparing hand, and the close of the offering sees Mr. Kirkus grimly and majestically sitting down among the ashes. He has done his duty, at least he has done what " he felt he must." He has relieved his

mind. He feels better now. He has at least told the world what he is not. He has lampooned Cumming and sneered at Spurgeon ; he has scoffed at the early chapters of Genesis, and had a passing fling at the 2nd Epistle of Peter; he has expressed his disgust at prayer-meetings, and poured the vials of his wrath upon Plymouth Brethren. He has shown, to his own complete satisfaction, that one popular minister delights in “fallacies of Billingsgate," and that the rest, taking them as a whole, are immersed in quarrels about as dignified as those of “a couple of costermongers." What does it matter, then, if he himself has demonstrated the richness of his vocabulary in those "fallacies," and his eminent fitness for taking an active part in these “quarrels?” He has proved that a millenarian clergyman is not the gentleman that he professes to be; what does it signify if he has also shewn that it is possible to claim that title and to forfeit it in the same paragraph ?

Our readers will perceive at what an "alarming sacrifice" any honest writer, and certainly one of such tender susceptibilities as Mr. Kirkus, must have penned the following paragraph :

“ In truth, 'evangelicalism' on the practical side is worse, if possible, than 'evangelicalism' on the theoretical side. It would be an abuse of language to apply the term theological to the puerilities of 'evangelical discussion, but even the amusements of the model 'evangelical' are to be found in his religious eccentricities. When a person who does not belong to the narrow circle has the misfortune to be anyhow beguiled into it, he discovers that the people with whom for a while he has become connected do not understand his language, and that it is quite impossible for him to understand theirs. He finds that they are quite indifferent to philosophy, art, criticism, music; but that their little world has been shaken to its very centre by a correspondence in a halfpenny newspaper. The minister of Bethesda is waging war with the minister of Siloam, and the elders of the cave of Adullam are meanly siding with Bethesda. The matter in dispute is to any man of education as unintelligible and contemptible as the quarrel of a couple of costermongers. But he is expected to be profoundly interested, and to perceive that the interests of humanity and the glory of Almighty God are imperilled by the audacity of the minister of Siloam. If the unhappy mortal who finds himself involved in these controversies should manifest a Laodicean indifference to all parties in the dispute, and to the trumpery about which they are all arguing, he will find himself regarded with a coolness which comes nearer and nearer to pious horror. But, outside this region of everlasting controversy and twaddle, the 'evangelical' theory can find nothing in this world worthy the regard of an immortal spirit. The charities of home, the love of husbands for their wives, of parents for their children, the sincere and unselfish affection of kinsfolk and friends—the trail of the serpent is over them all.'

The Sunday school being essentially an out-growth of evangelical Christianity, it is not to be wondered at that Mr. Kirkus

found it a part of his mission” to run a side-tilt at the institution and its agents, not forgetting the Sunday School Union. The hand that painted evangelicalism can paint its schools with equal force and beauty. Behold the picture, done in distemper at St. Thomas's Square, Hackney :

" The increase of lay agency, especially in Sunday schools, however otherwise beneficial, has done much to increase the area and lessen the depth of religious discussion. Sunday schools are necessarily affected by the ecclesiastical system with which they happen to be connected; but they are everywhere and essentially, for good and for evil, anti-clerical. The Sunday School Union, which very faithfully represents democratic tendencies, seems to encourage Separate Services for Children, which are now becoming very general. In these, the prayers, hymns, lessons, sermons,' are all in the hands, not only of very young men, but young men who have had no special theological training, and, often, a very inconsiderable religious experience. It is surely no libel to say that very many Sunday school teachers have had no education at all. Their lessons and 'addresses' are extremely meagre, even though produced with much difficulty to them. selves; and their preparation occupies time that can be ill spared from selfculture. Nevertheless, they are people of no small importance. Apart from the good nature and many very excellent qualities which they frequently possess, they are little Popes to their respective classes. They imagine that they are obliged to have an opinion on the most difficult theological problems, and they cling to it with all the tenacity of ignorance and prejudice.

Sunday schools, moreover, furnish the demand for that kind of religious literature in which simplicity often degenerates into irreverence, nearly always into twaddle, the Halfpenny and Penny Magazines, Friends, Records, Messengers, Witnesses, and such small fry of religious periodicals. Such literature may, possibly, be useful. Sunday schools are, undoubtedly, in a high degree beneficial. But, in this world, tares and wheat grow together; and Sunday schools have assuredly, as at present managed, increased the number of theological disputants far more surely and rapidly than their ability or knowledge, and have thus given occasion to a great increase of the dishonesty of ignorance." Our readers (if they care

to trouble themselves about Mr. Kirkus's opinions at all) will probably be somewhat puzzled at his alarm at the " democratic and anti-clerical ” tendencies of Sunday schools and Sunday School Unions. But the fact is, Mr. Kirkus knows that a plurality of "popes” is a thing that can never last long; and although he thinks lightly of St. Peter's Epistle, he is quite willing to sit in St. Peter's chair. Consequently the King of Italy is not an object of deeper horror to Pius IX. than the lay Christian teacher is to the “little pope" in St. Thomas's (it should have been St. Peter's) Square. “The tendency of modern evangelicalism,” he tells us, “is (diabolical device !] to

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lower the minister to the level of the lay evangelist, Sunday school teacher, and Scripture-reader!!" And if this be the tendency of the system, what can be expected from its institutions ? No one knows better than Mr. Kirkus that the best antidote to "popery of all kinds is an effective lay agency to support and sustain ministerial work; and, therefore, loving autocracy, he hates the democratic element even in its mildest forms. But there is a moral as well as an official autocracy, and Mr. Kirkus does not need to be told (however unpalatable the truth may be) that when the minister is the “best man,'' morally and spiritually, as well as intellectually, in the little community over which he presides, he has nothing to fear from the multiplication of lay helpers. St. Paul felt no petty jealousy towards those who laboured with him in the Gospel, nor did he need to "magnify his office" by factitious dressings which only impose upon the thoughtless and ignorant. But when men, whether clerical or otherwise, have not learned, as Paul had, to rule their spirits and their tongues, no amount of bluster or denunciation will enable them to rule their fellows. · Christian ministers set too high a value upon their Sunday schools to take alarm at a little would-be-priestly clap-trap; and the Sunday School Union has been too long before the religious world to suffer from any adjectives which may be tagged on to its time-honoured name. Its work, unlike Mr. Kirkus's, has not been done in a corner;

and upon its work its character may safely rest. The cuckoo-cry of “want of education" on the part of teachers, is growing less applicable every year, thanks to the influence of such

anti-clerical” organisations as the Sunday School Union, and of those Christian pastors who, instead of taking fright at the prospect of being degraded to the level of their lay brethren, help them to raise themselves to a nearer equality with those who are over them in the Lord.” Much yet remains to be done; but every year sees some good progress made, and a priestly and supercilious Procul este, profani,” will neither improve the teachers who stand in need of improvement, nor increase the true dignity and importance of those who utter it.

In meet accordance with Mr. Kirkus's horror of the lay and democratic, is his horror of the cheap and popular. With him, cheapness is a synonym for vulgarity; though he need not look far to find a publication which is vulgar without being cheap. Most persons would consider that “cheapness" and "smallness themselves advantages in religious or other periodicals designed to circulate among the young. But Mr. Kirkus discovers in them little else than “twaddle" and "irreverence." Perhaps on sober

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