For long the need of help has been felt. The teaching of religion may have been less talked and written about, and less organised by societies and associations, than have been other subjects dealt with at school, but the problem of how best to make it a living force in youth and an enduring force throughout the whole of life is often wrestled with at conferences of schoolmasters which do not publish their proceedings, and by little groups of men who feel the need of one another’s help. It is certainly always present in the minds, if not in the hearts, of every head master, boarding-house master and tutor in England. These know well what the difficulties are; these know that a short cut to any subject is often a long way round: that a short cut to religion leads too often either to a slough of doubt or else to a pharisaical hilltop, from which there is no path to the great mountains where the Holy Spirit really dwells.
It is never well to insist too much on difficulties, but a bare statement of those that surround this subject is needed. There are the difficulties of course common to every subject; the difficulty of attracting the real teacher, keeping him as a teacher, improving him as a teacher when he has been attracted. Even those who start out on their career with a determination that the teaching of religion at all events should have its full share of their time and thought, find that as their teaching life goes on and fresh duties crowd in to usurp more and more all their energies, that the time they can spare, and the thought they can give, either to the preparation of their divinity lessons, or to the enriching and cultivation of their own souls, shrink. Now and then they are cruelly disappointed at the result of their efforts as some conspicuous failure seems to prove their teaching vain; they are often depressed by the apparent apathy of the leaders of the Church, by their manifest reluctance even to allow others to make the new bottles which can alone hold the new wine.
Schoolmasters belong to a devoted and to a comparatively learned profession. They should belong, especially those who feel the needs—and all must to some extent—of the religious life of the school, also to a learning profession; and their learning should go beyond the experience of boyish failings, and boyish tragedies, and boyish virtues with which they are almost daily brought into contact; beyond the dictionaries and handbooks that enable the Bible lesson to be well prepared; it should go out into the books that deal with the philosophy and the history of religion—the books of Harnack and Illingworth, Hort and Inge, Bevan and Glover, and of others who make us feel how narrow our outlook on our religion is. It would of course be foolish to drag our pupils with us exactly to the point to which these books may have brought us after many years’ experience, but it is essential that we should know of the existence of such a distant point if we are to give to those we teach any idea of there being beyond the limits that they can reach at school a great and wonderful and inspiring region which they, with the help of such leaders as have been mentioned can, nay must, explore for themselves if religion is to be something more than mere emotion, fitful in its working, liable to succumb to all the stronger emotions with which life attacks the citadel of the soul.