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Thank-you Mr Raikes!

I  suspect that at your Sunday School last Lord’s Day, nobody thanked the Lord for Robert Raikes. I would further venture to say that the name of Robert Raikes is virtually unknown!  Yet he was the man responsible for the organisation  of Sunday Schools in 1780 and what he devised then has been passed down to the present day.  Others had planned such schools before him, but the impetus Raikes exerted successfully drove the movement forward.

Raikes (1735-1811) was a publisher and owner of the “Gloucester Journal”. Through its columns he was able to launch various campaigns. His first crusade was on behalf of prisoners in Gloucester’s two prisons. The courts then dealt harshly with minor crime; for example, the theft of a loaf to feed a starving family was in the same category as murder!

He succeeded with some improvements in prison conditions but he was frustrated that generation after generation was in a downward spiral of sin and depravity. He believed that ‘vice was preventable’ so why not start with the children? So, in 1780, he began the ‘Sunday School Movement.’ His first recruits were a crowd of unruly street children, whose families had no conception of spiritual matters. They were taught how to behave, to read choruses and to learn verses of Scripture. When they showed evidence of improvement, Raikes took them to church services. Strange to say, efforts were made to ban the teaching of children; some maintained it was subversive to society! Raikes followed his Master, “who went about doing good”.

In his lifetime, Raikes saw 250,000 children enrolled in Sunday Schools; by 1831 a quarter of the child population was receiving Bible-based teaching. The simple format for teaching children the things of God quickly spread, and soon, where there were faithful preachers of the Gospel, there were also Sunday Schools. In the Victorian era men like Cadbury, Spurgeon, Heinz and Rockefeller associated themselves with efforts to evangelize children.

Raikes’s endeavours were marked with commemorative events in 1830, 1880 and 1930 but I have been unable to trace any comparative event for the 200th anniversary. Many congregations lament how few children now regularly attend Sunday school. Is it the case that we have come to a time such as Raikes found in 1780 – a godless generation, with social conditions that dictate whether the child attends, and Sunday desecrated by State funded sports activities?  Are we now seeing the insidious result of an educational system that is often void of Scriptural based teaching? Do we ignore the advice of Martin Luther? “I would advise no-one to send their child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme”. Yes, we are in a different age – but God is still the same and the Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation.  May the vision of Raikes be seen again in our day!  Thank-you, Mr Raikes!

David Browne.