The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity
Andrew Preston Peabody
Berry Street Lecture, 1861
Note: The following is a report on the 1861 Berry Street Lecture, found in the Christian Inquirer, May, 1861. The full text has not been located.
"The Ministerial Conference" assembled in the Bedford-street Vestry, at 10 o’clock A.M.
Rev. Dr. F. A. FARLEY was appointed moderator, and offered prayer.
The annual address was then delivered by Rev. Dr. A. P. Peabody.
The subject of the address was “The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity.” This was opened with a fine illustrative description of an ancient structure in apparent ruin. The rubbish being cleared away, it would be found that it rested on no other than a supernatural foundation beneath all the apparent ruin. He then stated many of the particulars of decay, and the excellence of all the qualities beneath. This structure represented Christianity. There is much about Christianity which we cannot expect and do not desire to last always. This does not hold good, however, of Christianity itself. It is of itself impregnable to the force of time. He spoke of Christianity, first as a system of morality. The chief illustration of this point was drawn from the doctrines of political economy, his strictures on some systems of which were rather severe. Its moralities are immutable. The systems of ethics set forth in the Gospels can neither be added to nor taken from. It is perfect in its own nature as law for the government of men. It will be sufficient for all ages and all people. It is of universal application, and meets all possible exigences of life universally. Its apparent progress has only been in its application, not in its qualities. It is slowly working its way in to the heart of humanity.
He spoke, secondly, of "the character of Christ." His illustrations of this point were drawn from comparisons of the Saviour’s character with the characters of notable historic personages. Christ, be said, appears the same from century to century. He seemed to a God to the corrupt, in an ignorant and corrupt age, when virtue was rare. Those most revere him who are themselves most worthy of reverence. No one feels that he has exhausted the knowledge of Christ. None look with so much reverence into his face, as those whose wonted place is with John on the Saviour's breast. In revering him, we are worshipping God.
Thirdly, he spoke of the "Christian miracles” as supplying a natural want in the nature of things. Modern Spiritualism was alluded to as illustrative of this point. Miracles are a part of nature, for people are continually praying for them. Christianity itself is natural religion. It is immortality made manifest in the risen Saviour.
Fourthly, he spoke of the "mediatorial life of Christ." This point was illustrated from the desire of such a revelation by Pythagoras and Plato. The Saviour's mediatorial office was a spiritual necessity. The entire ancient world craved this office, to bring the human to the divine. They did not know what was acceptable to God in the form of sacrifice. Men can never outgrow this necessity of a mediator. It must always be the central law of the moral universe. The Church must necessarily stand on the Rock of Ages, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
The usual thanks of the Conference moved for the address, with a request that it be made public, which was carried.