Part 5. The Christian Teacher & Working With Children

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


The Sacredness of the Christian Leader’s Work…

One of the most significant words in the teaching of Jesus, is that in which he gives his command concerning the care of the children.

He asked Peter a question, “Do you love me?” and when he got a satisfactory answer, he said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He had in mind the figure of a shepherd. David had sung, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Jesus himself had used the figure to describe his own tender watchfulness over his people. They are his sheep. The children are the lambs. The word used here means, “little lambs.” This suggests that even the very youngest children are included. There were infants that were once brought to Jesus, whom the disciples would have kept away, but whom he welcomed so warmly, saying “Allow the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” No mother of an infant child should ever feel that the Son of God is too great to care for her baby, to receive it into his arms and to bless it.

An interesting story is told of Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary. Once when throngs were coming to him and he was almost utterly exhausted, he said to his servant: “I must sleep, or I shall die. No matter who comes, do not wake me.” Then he crept into his tent and his faithful attendant stood guard. Presently the young man saw his master’s pale face at the tent door. Beckoning to him, Xavier said, as if frightened: “I made a mistake! I made a mistake! If a little child comes, waken me.” It is thus with our Master. When even a little child needs him he is always ready to answer the call.

No flock of lambs in any wilderness is beset by so many perils as are the children in this world.

It is the duty of the Church to protect them. The mother is the child’s first natural keeper. Every home should be a sanctuary, where the little ones born into it shall be safe. We are careful about health and bodily safety. We make our homes secure shelters from the elements. We look after drainage, ventilation and warmth. We are careful about food, water and clothes. Are we as careful about the moral shelter which we provide in our homes?

Protection is not all. The lambs must be fed — not their bodies only, but their minds and their spiritual natures as well. Every home should provide for the best possible education of the children who come into it. The mother is the child’s first teacher; her heart is the child’s first schoolroom. The children should be taught early to look up to God, to trust him, to love and obey him. If they are Christ’s lambs they should be trained from infancy to know their good Shepherd, to listen for his voice and to follow him.

The parents come first, but the teacher’s part is also of the greatest importance in the shepherding of Christ’s lambs. The Sunday school is the Church caring for the children. Very sacred are its functions. It obligations cannot be met by any mere perfunctory or routine service. In the Jewish church the most urgent commands were given concerning the training of the children. They were to be instructed from their infancy in the Holy Scriptures. These heavenly words were to be lodged in their hearts so early and so deeply that they would color their first thoughts, sweeten their first affections and give tone to all their aspirations and desires.

This is what we as teachers should seek to do for the young children in our classes. We should fill their hearts and minds with divine influences — the words which are able to make them wise unto salvation. We have the children when their lives are easily impressed, and when the blessing of our teaching will help to shape them for noble character and great usefulness. We should use the utmost diligence to take possession of them then for God.

Jesus made very clear the essential qualifications of a true shepherd.

Before he committed his little lambs to the care of Peter, he asked him in a most solemn way, “Do you love me?” and got his answer, “Yes, Lord.” There must be in the heart love for Christ, to make the apostle ready to be a shepherd of Christ’s lambs. There was special reason why the question should be pressed at this time. Peter had sinned — he had said in his weakness that he was not one of the Master’s friends. He must unsay that denial and assert his love for Christ in a most unmistakable way, before he could be entrusted with the care of souls — little children’s souls.

It is well that all who are set to care for children should understand the full significance of this requirement. Love for the work itself is not enough. There are some people who like to teach children, but this is not a sufficient qualification. Enthusiasm for children does not alone fit one for the sacred work. The children are Christ’s especial care, and he will not entrust them to anyone who is not loyal to him, and who does not know him and love him.

He does not say that the shepherds must be very learned, or very wise, or highly cultured–but he does insist that they must love him. It is his work — caring for the children, and no one who does not feel toward them as Jesus himself does, is ready to do the right work for them and in them. The lambs are tender and easily harmed. An ungentle touch would hurt them. An unkind word might mar the beauty of their spirit. Wrong advice might wreck their destiny.

It is evident that nothing but love, will fit one to be a shepherd of Christ’s lambs.

Imagine a mother without affection. A little child is laid in her arms, but she does not love it. She undertakes the care of it in a perfunctory way, nursing it, providing for it, teaching and training it, yet all without love. Think of that tender young life growing up in this world of danger, without the nurture of love! It might almost as well be in an orphanage, as with an unloving mother.

But even the best human love, the deepest, purest, and most sacred of human affections, is not enough to prepare one to be a shepherd of the lambs. The love of Christ must be in the heart of one who would fittingly do this holy work. Unless a woman loves Christ — however she may love her child — she is not ready to be a true mother of little children who belong to Christ. The teacher who does not love Christ, however naturally affectionate and sympathetic she may be, lacks the essential qualification for being a true shepherd of Christ’s little lambs.

Why is the love of Christ necessary for this shepherding?

Nothing else in this world is so sensitive as a child’s soul. A rough or careless touch may leave eternal marring on it. You go out one day with a geologist, and he shows you on certain rocks the prints of birds’ feet, the indentations made by falling raindrops, the impression of a leaf with all its fine veinage marked. Once that rock was plastic clay, and the birds walked over it, the rain fell on it, and the leaf fluttered down and lay there. Next day the clay became dry and hardened, holding in it all these impressions. At length it became rock. Then some mighty upheaval tossed it to the side of a great mountain, where the man of science found it. But through all the long centuries, and in fire and flood, it has kept these ancient marks to tell the story of its origin.

Yet more sensitive to impressions than the plastic clay and holding them yet more tenaciously, is the life of a little child.

Every phase of influence that passes over it, even momentarily, leaves its own record indelibly written. If we who are caring for the gentle life are impatient, the impatience will leave its trace; if we grow angry, our anger will make a wound; if our life is impure, it will leave tarnishing. They must be holy, pure and meek–who would do Christ’s work worthily on the soul of a little child. Nothing but the love of Christ in a heart will make it truly fit for the shepherding of Christ’s lambs.

This wonderful love transforms the life in which it dwells. It makes the heart warm and tender; it makes one patient, thoughtful, kindly and sympathetic; it softens harshness and crudeness into gentleness; it gives one mercy and compassion toward the erring; it kindles that higher love which seeks the higher good of a life. When one loves Christ truly, one has some measure of Christ’s own love, and is thus prepared to be as Christ to others.

We need to think seriously of the responsibility of taking a young life into our care for teaching and influence. There is a responsibility in all friendship. We are flattered when people come to us and wish to have us for friends. Confidence and love bring us pleasure. But what are you going to do with this new friend who has come into your life? What kind of guardianship are you going to exercise over him? Are you good enough to take him under your influence?

One of Charles Lamb’s letters gives a most interesting illustration of unusual thoughtfulness in this line. A young person was disposed to trust him as a friend, giving him his confidence. Mr. Lamb wrote to this person and said: “I do not wish to deter you from making a friend, a true friend, and such friendship, where the parties are not blind to each other’s faults, is very useful and valuable. I perceive a tendency in you to this error. I know that you have chosen to take up a high opinion of my moral worth, but, I say it before God, and I do not lie, — you are mistaken in me. I could not bear to lay open all my failings to you, for my shame would be too pungent.”

That was a brave and noble thing to do. Not many men would have done it. Yet the responsibility of accepting a new friend, especially when it is a child or a young person, is always most serious. If our hands are not clean, if our hearts are not pure, if we are not ready to be absolutely true to the person, we dare not do it. Nothing but the love of Christ in the heart, fits one to receive another life into the confidence and affection of holy friendship. It is a serious thing to take a class of children or young people, becoming their teacher; and if one has not the mind of the Master, one dare not do it. Before he entrusts his lambs for shepherding to any human care, Jesus asks with searching earnestness, “Do you love me?” Then getting the answer, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you,” he says, “Feed my lambs.”

When we love Christ truly, we are ready for any service he may give us, however sacred it may be.

Then we can take the tender young life into our hands, and our touch will not harm it. Then we can answer the children’s questions; for one who lives near the heart of Christ is taught of him, and can guide his little ones into the truth. Then the love of Christ, burning in us, will make us like Christ; and just as we become like him are we ready to shepherd his little lambs.

Taken fromThe Devotional Life of the Sunday School Teacher

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.