Part 4. The Christian Teacher & The Faithfulness of the Teacher

Written by, J. R. Miller (1840-1912).

imagesLiving must always go before teaching and must enforce it.

Personal character is that which gives value and weight to our speech. We all know men who talk eloquently and say things, but whose words have little influence. The reason is that their life, as men see it, fails to give evidence of sincerity and earnestness. Then we know other men whose words are plain, perhaps who falter and stumble in speech, but whose lives are so true and so evidently Spirit filled, that their simplest sentences have weight and influence.

Other things are important. A teacher should be intelligent in his subjects; inaccuracies of statement make marring and confusion in the minds of the pupils. He should not fail to be thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures which he is to expound, so that error in fact or in doctrine may never be taught by him. Wrong teaching in spiritual things may wreck a destiny. Ability to teach is also an important qualification in one who undertakes to instruct others. There are many people of large intelligence, whose knowledge of the subject concerning which they are to teach is full and accurate, but who lack the teaching faculty. A Bible teacher should be apt to teach.

Yet, while all these and other qualification are essential, that which after all counts for most in the teacher is the element of personal character.

Nothing but ‘heart’ can reach and impress heart. It is life alone, which can quicken and nourish life. It is the man as he is–which gives influence and force to what the teacher says and does. It was Arnold the man, quite as much as Arnold the teacher, who did such important service for English boys at Rugby. The same is true of everyone who does effective and enduring work in school and class. This is especially true in teaching new Christians, where the lessons to be taught are moral and spiritual, having for their object the building up of character. The best teachers, measured by scientific standards, will fail altogether of real effectiveness, if their teaching is not enforced and sustained by a good and worthy character.

It goes without saying that inconsistency in the life and conduct of a teacher vitiates, perhaps altogether annuls, the best and wisest instruction.

We must not only point out the right way to those who sit before us to be taught and guided, but must ourselves walk in the way. Christ came in the flesh to bring the life of God down close enough to us for us to see it, and we in turn as teachers are to bring down in our own personality the life of Christ, close to those whom we would help, so that they also will follow Christ.

That was Paul’s way of teaching, — “I beseech you therefore, be imitators of me.” He was to men, the interpreter of Christ. He invited people to look at him to see in his life, a miniature of Christ’s. “Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.” He was not afraid to ask those he taught to take him as their example. Nor in this confidence did he take any honor from Christ. He was conscious in his heart that he was following Christ, and showing in his own life and character, the fruits of the Spirit which he desired to see in others.

Every teacher should have the same consciousness; he should make sure that if his pupils imitate him they will also imitate Christ.

A little child came to her mother with this question: “Is Jesus like anybody I know?” She was trying to make out in her own thought what Jesus was like. Her mother should have been able to say: “Yes, I am trying to be like Jesus — I am a little like him. Look at me, and you will learn what he is like.” It requires a high order of Christian living to give one this confidence, but those who represent Christ as teachers should live near the Master, and should be so blameless in their character that they need not fear men’s eyes. They should be able to say what Paul said.

How can we who are older Christians and have more experience in the Bible expect those younger in the things of God than ourselves, who look to us for pattern and guidance, to try to live better than we are living? We can teach only what we know, and we really know of Christ only what we get wrought into conduct and character, into act and disposition. We can lead others only over paths that are familiar to our own feet. We are called to be witnesses of Christ, and a witness is not a repeater merely of something he has heard; he can tell only what he has seen and learned by personal observation and experience. No one can ever teach more of Christ than he knows through personal acquaintance and friendship with Christ. All efforts, therefore, to guide others further into spiritual life than we have gone ourselves, are futile and unavailing.

However glibly the words may fall from our lips, there is no power in that teaching which has cost us nothing more than a little memorizing of sentences.

The lessons which impress others as we speak them must come out of our own heart, and must have been fused into the fabric of our own experience. We must have learned them for ourselves, perhaps in struggle and pain, or our most eloquent counsels and exhortations will have no more warmth in them than winter sunbeams dancing among icicles. Indeed, teaching with which our own daily life and conduct do not harmonize, inspires only sneers in those who listen to us. It does only harm to the cause we would advance.

Nothing comes of an irascible, quick-tempered man’s moralizing on the duty of gentleness and sweetness of disposition. There is no use in a close, hard, exacting, miserly man commending the Master’s teaching, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” for his conduct shows that he does not really believe what he commends. One who lives near to God is struck through, as it were, with the life and the Spirit of God. His very face is transfigured, as the inner light shines out through his features. His simplest sentences have an unction that makes them impressive. His presence is a benediction wherever he goes.

Every Christian teacher should seek to possess spiritual power.

He can find it by living near to God. Those who commune with God will come from their closets to their classes, like Moses from the forty days on the mount, their faces shining with the brightness of God’s holy love. Communion with God must always go before good service. There can be no largely useful life which is not inspired by fellowship with Christ. There is no other secret of spiritual power. Nothing can work the works of God, but God himself in the heart. There can be no mere imitation here. No set of rules can be prescribed, the following of which will produce certain spiritual results. Power in Christian work can come only through Christ living in us.

It is a serious responsibility which one accepts who becomes a teacher…

it is a perilous thing for a teacher to occupy a place in the presence of all the possibilities which lie in other peoples lives, and then to be unfaithful or even negligent. It is a serious thing if, being helpful in many ways, the teacher yet fails in the higher spiritual work which belongs to one who is set as a guide to human souls. We may do many good things for our pupils who gather about us and look into our face; we may teach them many things that will adorn their life and character; we may impart to them knowledge that will be of value to them in their life and work; we may aid them in other ways — in literature, in social life, in their general culture; yet, if we do not succeed in leading them to Christ, and fashioning in them the divine likeness, we have failed in that part of our duty and responsibility which is most essential and vital, that without which all our help avails nothing in the end.

A teacher needs to be most watchful and faithful, not only with his teaching, but also in his personal life…

…that from the end of it all, when he faces eternity, he may not have to look back with tears of repentance over a failure. Of all the solemn sayings of Jesus, none are more solemn than his words concerning him who should cause one of his sheep to stumble. “It is better for him that a great millstone should be hanged about is neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” We need the mind of Christ in us, the gentleness of Christ, the patience of Christ, that we may never misguide a child of God that asks us the way home; and we need to be filled with the grace of Christ, flowing out in conduct, disposition, and character, so that never by any act, word, or influence of ours, we may cause a little one to stumble, hurting a soul we might have helped to save.

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Taken fromThe Devotional Life of the Sunday School Teacher
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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: James Russell Miller (March 20, 1840 – July 2, 1912) was a popular Christian author, Editorial Superintendent of the Presbyterian Board of Publication, and pastor of several churches in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Christian Commission was created in response to the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run. On November 14, 1861, the National Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) called a convention which met in New York City. The work of the United States Christian Commission was outlined and the organization completed next day.

In March 1863, James Miller promised to serve for six weeks as a delegate of the United States Christian Commission, but at the end of this time he was persuaded to become an Assistant Field Agent and later he was promoted to General field Agent. He left the Commission on July 15, 1865.

Mr. Miller resumed his interrupted studies at the Allegheny Theological Seminary in the fall of 1865 and completed them in the spring of 1867. That summer he accepted a call from the First United Presbyterian Church of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. He was ordained and installed on September 11, 1867.

Rev. Miller held firmly to the great body of truth professed by the United Presbyterian Church, in which he had been reared, but he did not like the rule requiring the exclusive singing of the Psalms, and he felt that it was not honest for him to profess this as one of the articles of his Christian belief. He therefore resigned from his pastorate to seek membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In his two years as pastor, nearly two hundred names were added to the church roll.

The Old and New School Presbyterian Churches were reunited as the Presbyterian Church (USA) on November 12, 1869, and Dr. Miller became pastor of the Bethany Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia just nine days later. When he became pastor at Bethany the membership was seventy-five and when he resigned in 1878 Bethany was the largest Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, having about twelve hundred members. Rev. Miller then accepted the pastorate of the New Broadway Presbyterian Church of Rock Island, Illinois.

In 1880 Westminster College, his alma mater conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity and later in the same year came the invitation to undertake editorial work for the Presbyterian Board of Publication in Philadelphia. Hence Dr. Miller had to resign the Rock Island, Illinois pastorate.