Precis—Information on Berry Street Essay (Actual essay still at large)
"The Relation of Christianity and the Christian Ministry to the Secular Activity of the Times”
Rev. Ephraim Peabody, Retired from King's Chapel
Berry Street Essay (a.m.)
May 30, 1855
The Ministerial Conference.
This association of ministers met in the vestry of the church in Bedford-street, on Wednesday morning, at 9 o'clock, and listened to an address from the Rev. Ephraim Peabody, D.D., whose subject was "The relation of Christianity and the Christian ministry to the secular activity of the times."
It is a rule of the Conference that no reports of its discussions shall be made. But this rule has been so far transgressed by our city reporters that we find rather a full synopsis of the two addresses in the newspapers. We shall not be thought guilty of violating it, therefore, if we copy from the Traveller the following abstract of Dr. Peabody's, who said:
Activity is the grand characteristic of the present age; and among the phases and developments of this spirit, religion and education stand most prominent. But knowledge has not superseded the necessity of revelation; and the Christian religion and the Christian ministry are still necessary to the well-being of society. What relation, then, has this intellectual activity to Christianity? and how far is the Christian ministry essential to keep up the knowledge and practice of Christianity? The advancement of intelligence is a means of increasing the assurance of religious truth, as set. forth by a Divine and unqualified revelation. Man's relation to God is the most important subject worthy his consideration in the present life. The realms of nature, physical or moral, cannot supply this knowledge—it must be found in revelation. There are un- folded the secrets of the future state. The intellect, however cultivated, can never carry us beyond its own knowledge. Christianity supplies this, as a revealed system, and that, too, with authority. The danger to society is not to be found in ignorance only, but equally or more so in intellectual activity. The most dangerous men to society, in a religious view, have been those of most enlarged intellectual powers, without humility. The patriarch shepherd on the distant plain, although untaught, yet knew, and humbly adored God. Primitive times have always been characterized by a religious power. Civilization, as it advances mankind, secularizes the mind, shuts out the vision of the heavens, and destroys the simple religious influence. Every class of life is preoccupied, and religion becomes the secondary object of attraction. Men are too busy to attend to it. Let the sick, let the dying pray, says the man of the world; I have no time to pray. Activity in life impels him to resolve that he will have no more religion than he is forced to have. It becomes the duty of the ministry, then, to set before the rising generation what our belief is and what it requires of us. Skepticism everywhere prevails, and the young man, unable to answer its queries, and poisoned by its influence, soon doubts the whole system of revelation. If he had been properly taught, he would have been prepared to resist all such insidious attacks. Men often became skeptical from the mechanical force of a pressure of business, or a peculiar study, upon the mind.
The activity of the age demands an increased supply of religious rites and ceremonies. Intelligence does not make men less worldly, but gives birth to something more dangerous—intellectual worldliness. Hence the rites of Christianity, the services of the Church, and the tolling of the Sabbath-bell become necessary to call men back from the world. Ancient philosophy never supplied a hope beyond all this—it was but a hopeless grasping after something which the humblest Christian now has revealed to him and enjoys
The most important, point, then, to be drawn from these views is the importance of the Christian ministry. Its existence is necessary to religion, and conditions of society have also existed when Methodism on the one hand and Catholicism on the other were also necessary. The culture of the times does not supersede, but shows the greater need of the sacred ministry. The advancement of society does not do away with, but gives a greater scope for the exercise of all professions, and hence the necessity of a class devoted to the instruction of religion. To care less for it is no argument that there is less need for it. Religion was not more needed in France, Italy, and Germany in the days of Luther than it is to-day. The office of the Christian ministry is more needed, and a higher intellectual culture is required now, than they ever were before. The facilities of the religious and secular press demand it with the advancement of the age.
The speaker concluded by drawing a striking picture of what the Christian minister ought to be in these times, and what the people required of him. A Protestant ministry, in contradistinction to a Catholic one, obtains influence as it shows itself competent to its work. All must have nearly the same gifts. He who would become a Christian minister must not devote his time and attention to extrinsic matters. His is a special work. He is no longer the only intelligent man in his parish, and when he leaves his peculiar duties now he invades another man's office, neglects his own business, and does what he so undertakes worse than the man to whom it properly pertains. If he is half teacher, half writer or half politician, it is but only just to suppose that he is only the other half a minister. There never was a time when so much was required of a Christian minister as the present, and there is no work in which a man can be possibly engaged with greater honor than this—that is, to build up the kingdom of God in the world and to benefit the souls of men.