Father of mercies, in thy word
What endless glory shines!
Forever be thy name adored
For these celestial lines. — Anne Steele.
O may the gracious words divine,
Subject of all my converse be;
So will the Lord his follower join,
And walk and talk himself with me:
So shall my heart his presence prove,
And burn with everlasting love. — Charles Wesley.
Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. — John 5:39
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. — 2 Timothy 3:14-15
For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons. — Deuteronomy 4:7-9
Two and a half million and more are enrolled in the Sunday schools of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Year by year, the number increases. Our schools are organized and operated in all climes. They thrive beneath the Southern Cross. They are planted within the Arctic Circle. They are a power for good wherever they exist. They inspire and inform the intellect. They teach the highest style of morals the world has ever known. They encourage, foster, develop, and fructify the divine spiritual life in the soul. They are the hope of the Church and the world. They must be active, potent, and wisely directed in the three all-important particulars mentioned. No Sunday school can justify its existence unless it constantly cares for the intellectual, moral, and spiritual life of those who make up its membership. Most of those enrolled in our Sunday schools are young people, the vast majority under twenty-five years of age. They are in the formative period of life.
They are not fixed, settled, or grounded in their opinions, convictions, and habits. They are especially susceptible to all influences ‘which surround them. They are open to influences that are helpful, heavenly, and benignant; at the same time, they are as open to influences that are harmful, worldly, and malignant. The arch enemy of all goodness and all youth is not a careless spectator of our Sunday schools. He stands by the threshold of every home and sees the young people as they set out for the Sunday school room. He follows them along the street. It may be tempting them, by the way, and most likely, he finds a place with the people of God even within the sacred walls of the Sunday school room. We cannot have the sole and unchallenged opportunity to influence and direct the minds of our young people. A thousand snares and pitfalls beset their pathways; a thousand bewildering allurements dazzle their wondering eyes. A thousand persuaSive voices call them away from the narrow path of life and encourage them to enter the broad way that, with artful but satanic hands, has been strewn with what appears to be flowers as beautiful and fragrant as ever bloomed in paradise. Surely it will be no small and feeble effort that can hold young souls to the ways of repentance, faith, and holy living when they are confronted by all these things that are well calculated to touch the deepest sensibilities of their natures and to which all that is within them that is earthly, depraved, and sinful so naturally and sympathetically responds.
The only way for our young people to overcome this mighty conflict that comes to all, the only way to reach the best results intellectually, morally, and spiritually, is through repentance and faith, which is ultimate in a sound, clear, definite conversion. This conversion is consciously received and then witnessed by the direct testimony of the Holy Ghost. To bring our young people to such an experience as this, an experience which involves the idea of heart purity, a renunciation of all worldliness, a devotement of all the powers and faculties of body, mind, and soul, ought to be the constant desire and ambition of every worker in all our Sunday schools, from the superintendent down to the youngest and humblest teacher. This desire and ambition must exist, or the work will never be accomplished. We find what we seek. We hit the mark at which we aim. We achieve the purpose for which we consecrate our lives. Indeed we may fail even when we have done our very best. But, then, and always, let us say to our souls: “Fear not; For all may have, if they dare try, A glorious life or grave.”
But in these harvest fields of God, it is absolutely sure that failure can never come to those who join themselves to God and are the holy and helpful influences of earth and heaven. The word of the heavenly Father assures us that “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” And Jesus says: “He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto eternal life.” The double promise ensures that “we cannot toil in vain.”
Every Sunday school in our Church should have a revival every year. Such a consummation ought to be expected, and preparations for it ought to be made with as much method and forecast as the farmer gives to the production of his crops. The farmer has the divine promise that seedtime and harvest shall never fail. All workers for souls have promises just as sure, and as often verified in all parts of the world and all ages of the Church, that spiritual harvests will be gathered when God’s husbandry comply with the possible and easily understood laws and conditions of the kingdom of grace.
That the Sunday school may measure up to its opportunity in revival effort, it is essential that the superintendent should be a truly converted man. He must be a godly man. He must enjoy the sweetness of the Gospel in his soul. He must manifest the fruits of the Spirit in his daily life, especially in his interaction with teachers and scholars. In all these respects, every teacher ought to be like the superintendent. And, here, pardon the word of earnest persuasion, if these words should be read by any Sunday school worker who confesses to his soul that he does not come up to the required standard, I beg of you without delay to enter some secret place where you may be alone with God, and resolve that you will never cease your efforts, never cease your prayers and tears, until you are personally saved to the uttermost, and graciously filled with the Holy Ghost, and so prepared for the all-important work to which you are called. I once knew a most exemplary young teacher with a class of fifteen young ladies from sixteen to twenty-two. Not one of them had ever made a profession of religion. Like so many young ladies of their age, they were more concerned with worldly pleasure than the eternal interests of their souls. Their teacher had been in her place for more than a year. She was faithful and beloved, but month after month passed, and her class seemed to be drifting away from God. At length, the teacher’s heart was troubled; she could not rest. She asked herself, “How can I answer God for these precious souls?” A time of serious heart-searching followed, in which it was revealed to her that she was not just right herself. For nearly three weeks, she cried out for divine help, and at last, her prayer was heard and answered. She came into the enjoyment of a richer, deeper, clearer, sweeter salvation experience than she had ever known. Then there came to her a tremendous burden of soul for her class. Night and day, her prayers went up to God for his help and the convincing and convicting grace of the Holy Ghost. Thus she prayed until two weeks had passed until she had the witness that her prayer was answered. She went to her pastor and told him of her experience and her hope that her class would be converted. At the close of the Sabbath evening service, she urged him to invite penitents to come forward for prayers. The pastor heeded her request. Three of the young women went forward that first Sabbath evening for prayers. A week from that time, five more of the class went forward. And two weeks later, the remaining seven were at the altar. The entire fifteen were blessedly converted and, in due time, joined the Church on probation. At the close of their probation, they were all received into the Church in full connection. In the meantime, the revival spread, and more than a hundred, besides the fifteen, were converted and became connected with the Church.
These are the days of the Sunday school and the Epworth League. No wise pastor will neglect, much less ignore, these two most important departments of our Church forces when he plans a revival campaign. If the officers and teachers of the Sunday school, and if the young Christians of the Epworth League, consecrate themselves to the active, aggressive work of winning souls to Christ, they can most effectually help on the revival. The pastor should keep so thoroughly and constantly in touch with the young Christians and Sunday school workers that he can certainly count on their cooperation. It only needs a little judicious consultation and consequent agreement as to time and method of work. The Epworth League and Sunday School will stand side by side with the pastor and the official board for the prosecution of services that look to the salvation of multitudes of precious souls. Not by the exercise of authority, nor by compulsion, never by threats and scolding, can this combination of the working forces of the Church be secured, but rather by the manifestation on the part of the pastor of the spirit of Christ, by tender love for souls, by earnest devotion to the work of God, by a supreme personal consecration of all powers and faculties to the rescue of the perishing, and by that gracious endowment of power which only comes when the soul is baptized with the Holy Ghost and filled with his abiding presence.
O, for the spirit of wisdom and of a sound mind on the part of all our preachers, so that they may successfully lead the forces of the militant Church forth to such victories as shall cause joy on earth and in heaven! O, that they may never forget that to give efficiency to wisest plans and most challenging work, there is a constant need for the Comforter’s help and guidance.
By Bishop W. F. Mallalieu
Updated 2023 Nathan Zipfel