Behold, you are called a Jew, and rest in the law, and make your boast of God,…
I. HIS WORK AND OFFICE. "An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes."
1. In these words this is comprehensively described, both as respects the material upon which the teacher has to work, and the appliance which he brings to bear upon it. He has to deal with human nature in its ignorant and helpless condition: to make the naturally foolish "wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."(1) "The foolish!" According to Scripture, the natural state of mankind is one of folly, and the way of sin the way of foolishness. And right reason agrees with this; for surely it is folly to neglect the great end of a man's being, and to come short of eternal happiness. Surely it is a gross infatuation to risk that precious jewel, the soul, in seeking to grasp the pomps of the world, or to grovel in the dust of its pollutions. And this foolishness, though not so exaggerated as in more advanced years, is incident to the years of childhood. It is "bound in the heart of a child"; "childhood and youth are vanity" (Proverbs 22:15; Ecclesiastes 11:10). It is so in the very nature of things. Impressible for good as the mind of a child unquestionably is, and free as it is from the prejudices of riper age, still when left to itself it will invariably take the wrong direction, and by degrees develop its sinful tendencies. The soil of the heart, if it be not cultured for the good seed of the Divine word, will be speedily sown with evil principles, and bring forth an abundant measure of foolish and evil habits.
(2) Thus "foolish," the young are mere "babes" as far as regards spiritual health and strength. This designation sufficiently expresses men's natural inability to recover themselves out of the way of folly, and advance in the true life of God (Jeremiah 10:23). And, if this is true of man in mature life, how much truer must it be of his childhood. But the Sunday school teacher has to deal literally with babes, and needing as much care, in a moral point of view, as the very babe which hangs upon its mother's breast. They are the lambs of the flock, the young and tender, who stand in need of kind assistance, of gentle leading, of suitable provision. They are those of whom the good Shepherd spake (John 21:15).
2. The office must be of the last importance. It is to "train the little ones in the way they should go"; to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." The Sunday school is a nursery for heaven. It is true that it has afforded a means of education to many a poor child; but its grand object is to make scholars in the school of Christ, This may be done now with greater ease than at any other time. The young plant may be trained to assume almost any shape, if bent and turned while it is yet flexible, To preoccupy and cultivate the ground should be the aim of the Christian philanthropist: it will not long lie fallow; for Satan and his agents will be assiduous enough in their endeavours to plant it with tares. If we do not train the foolish and helpless for God, Satan will train them for himself (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Psalm 78:3-7; Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6).
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH HE SHOULD ENGAGE IN HIS WORK.
1. Sincere desire to promote the spiritual well-being of the children. What we want is to Christianise our people, and when is this so likely to be brought about as in youth? Do not think, then, that you have done enough when you have taught them to read the letter of the Bible: you must seek to imbue them with its spirit. But here an inquiry will naturally be suggested, are you competent for this, i.e., are you a converted character, or only a professor. Here is your test. Thus, only as you are led by the Spirit of God are you fit to be "an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes."
2. Self-denial, patience, and perseverance. There will always be much to try and discourage you: the waywardness of some, the dulness of others, and the uncertainty of not a few. There is much call for gentle and cautious treatment: the variety of dispositions and capacities must be noted, and dealt with in various ways; and the difficulty of so doing will often occasion discouragement. Some require to be urged on, while others must rather be restrained (Genesis 33:13). You are sorely tried on account of the little impression which seems to be made upon your children; but little is manifest as the result of your teaching; do not despair, the seed often remains a long time in the soil before it begins to fructify: if you work in a proper spirit, "your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord" (Ecclesiastes 11:1). You cannot expect to do everything at once.
3. Unwavering dependence upon Divine aid. While on the one hand the inquiry may be made, "Who is sufficient for these things?" on the other hand, it may be confidently, though humbly, urged, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." He whom we serve has all hearts and all things at His disposal: He can overturn or remove this or that obstacle, and make our way smooth before us, and so interpose as to leave us without excuse, if we grow weary or faint in our duty. Hence we must fervently pray for Divine enlightenment and teaching. We want wisdom as well as strength. And in seeking for the guidance of the Spirit, we are not to despise or pass by all proper human aids. We may the more confidently crave the teaching of the Spirit, when we have duly sought after available knowledge; for the Divine blessing is invariably given in the use of means.
4. A single eye to the Divine glory. When the Christian sets this before him as the end of his life, he will not regard ordinary difficulties. This will lead him to strive after the conversion of souls.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. The general assurance of success. Enough is said to encourage every labourer to prosecute his work with assiduity. And not a few instances might here be recorded of pleasing results. Not only have children been instructed and converted to God, but they have proved the means of instruction and conversion to their parents and others. How many who now occupy stations of eminence and usefulness owe their all, under God, to Sunday schools.
2. Personal benefit. In many cases the instructor has been savingly taught himself, while teaching others. And where he has been truly pious, when engaged in the work, the graces of the Christian's life have been called into exercise, and their growth promoted.
3. The final reward (Matthew 25:40).
(J. S. Broad, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,