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THE FIRST SABBATH SCHOOL LESSONS
Written by Elder James White by the roadside at the dinner hour, using his lunch basket as a writing table. These four lessons appeared in the first number of the Youth's Instructor, in 1852.
A Sabbath school of pioneer days, held in a farm house. On the stroke of the bell, the members filed past the collection box with their penny offerings.
IN the early days of the advent movement little was done in a denominational way for the spiritual instruction and upbuilding of the children and youth. They attended meetings of various kinds with their parents, and the preaching, while not directed especially to them, was marked by directness and simplicity, and not ill adapted to the needs of the young. The temptations from without were many. It was not an easy thing to endure the scoffs and jeers or the silent contempt of schoolmates and acquaintances; for to be an Adventist in those days meant, if not persecution in some form, then at least a reputation for singularity and aloofness, from which the young people often suffered more than their parents.
But if the children had little done for them in an organized way, many of them had the inestimable privilege of being under the care of prayerful fathers and mothers. They knew that their parents loved the truth more than life, and were making
daily sacrifices in order to forward its interests. They knew, too, that they themselves had been dedicated to God from the cradle, and that fact had a saving influence upon them.
These children were early taught habits of devotion. Bible religion had a large place in the homes of the pioneers; it was not crowded out by pressure of worldly cares. In most families worship was held regularly two or three times a day, and it was not a brief, formal service. The portion of Scripture was generous, the prayers offered by father and mother were instinct with the hope of a soon-coming Saviour, and the children themselves took part both in prayer and in the reading of the ScripIf the home was provided with a musical instrument, evening worship was usually accompanied by the singing of advent melodies.
Meetings conducted by adults especially for the children and youth do not seem to have been held in early times, but we find occasional references to gatherings for prayer and Bible study under the direction of groups of earnest young people. Ellen G. White as a girl was active in organizing and carrying on such meetings at the time of the advent movement of 1843-44. James White, himself a young man in those days, had a keen interest in the children, and wherever he went, his preaching appealed to young as well as old. In the course of his tour among the Freewill Baptist churches of Maine in the winter and early spring of 1842-43, he had seen many children and young people awakened by the advent message. A little group of awakened youth at West Gardiner kept together after he left, and held meetings by themselves. About a year later, when he was in the neighborhood, a messenger came twenty miles to get him to go to Gardiner and baptize these youth. Their parents had opposed the idea, telling the children that the pastor of the church would baptize them; but they had insisted that the young minister whose preaching had touched their hearts, should perform the ceremony, and they had their way.
There were people in the church who had serious doubts about the propriety of baptizing children, and some had even tried to intimidate these lambs of the flock. "What kind of experience does Mr. White suppose these babies can tell?" asked a rigid Baptist minister. The large schoolhouse was crowded at the appointed time, and these unfriendly ministers were there to watch the proceedings. Elder White had a few seats vacated in front, and in response to his call twelve boys and girls of ages running from seven to fifteen years came forward. He took for his text the words, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your
Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The children were cheered and comforted by the discourse, and at its close they rose one by one, and by the aid of judicious questions each of them gave evidence of a clear, intelligent experience. When the call was made for any who were opposed to the baptism to rise, no one rose. The children were accordingly led down into the watery grave, and duly presented to their parents with smiles. of joy on their young faces.
In the early days of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, the children at various times had some special labor put forth in their behalf, but the work was more or less irregular and spasmodic. While Elder and Mrs. White were residing at Oswego, N. Y., soon after their marriage, they enjoyed marked success in laboring for the children and youth in the company of believers in that city, and a considerable number dedicated themselves to the service of the Master.
Some years later, when the work was yet in its infancy in Ohio, J. H. Waggoner went to the church at Lovett's Grove, and seeing a good many children, told the leader, Oliver Mears, that something ought to be done for them. Brother Mears thought the matter over, and the next Sabbath told the members what the minister had said. He proposed that every Sabbath, after the regular meeting, prayer should be offered to God, that He would save the children. "Bear the children in your arms to the Saviour," said the good elder, "and may the Lord come in and convert them." After four such meetings for prayer had been held, a little girl stood up and said, "I want to be a child of God." There was not one of those little ones that did not follow. The floodgates were open, and parents and children rejoiced together that the Lord had graciously answered prayer in imparting also to the younger members of the flock a desire to serve Him.
The early camp-meetings afforded excellent opportunities, which some were not slow to improve, of laboring in the interests of the young people. At the beginning the facilities were of the most meager kind. At the camp-meeting held in Lansing, Mich., in 1876, one of the sisters gathered some children together and held a meeting with them while they sat on a large log in the woods. Similar efforts were put forth by others, and valuable personal work was done between the meetings, resulting in the conversion and baptism of a goodly number of young ̧ people at all the important camp-meetings. I. D. Van Horn, in his camp-meeting tours in the early eighties, was often asked to conduct meetings for the children, and his tender, heart-to
heart talks on such practical subjects as conversion, repentance, and obedience to God's law are gratefully remembered by not a few men and women of today, whose young feet he directed into the paths of peace.
Perhaps the earliest systematic and thoroughgoing effort in behalf of the children and youth was made at the camp-meeting held in Mankato, Minn., in the summer of 1883. O. A. Olsen, then president of the Minnesota Conference, had especially requested Elder George I. Butler, the president of the General Conference, to bring with him a man who would give special attention to the young people. The man thus brought was R. A. Underwood. Associated with him in the effort was Lewis Johnson, one of the Minnesota laborers. A fifty-foot tent was set apart for the work, and in it these men held meetings daily at 8 A. M. and 5 P. M., devoting the intervening hours largely to personal work for the young people, either individually or in groups of two and three, in retired places in the grove. For a time they also held meetings with the children, but they found so much to do for the youth and young people, that the children were later turned over to some of the sisters, who held suitable services with them.
At the close of the camp-meeting 125 persons were baptized in the Minnesota River, the large majority of the candidates being young people who were making their first start to live the Christian life. From this time onward, meetings for young people and also for the children became a regular feature at all Seventh-day Adventist camp-meetings, and ministers in visiting the various churches took an increasing interest in the welfare of the younger members of the flock.
It was a great boon to the children of the early days when in the summer of 1852 the Youth's Instructor began to make its monthly visits to the homes of Seventh-day Adventists. James White had always felt a deep interest in the children; but that summer, while traveling with Mrs. White from Rochester, N. Y., to Bangor, Maine, his mind was especially burdened on the subject, and he determined to provide some form of systematic religious instruction for the children and youth. One day when he and Mrs. White had eaten their luncheon under the trees, he sat down by the roadside and began to write out some Scripture lessons for the children, which duly appeared in the first number of the Instructor. "We give four Sabbath school lessons in this number," wrote the author, "one for each week, and hope the parents will establish Sabbath schools even where there are but two or three children in a place. And we expect the chil