"On The Prevalent Defects of Liberal Ministers”
Abiel Abbot, Beverly, MA
Berry Street Essay, 1821
Read before the Ministerial Conference
May 30, 1821
[The essay has not yet been recovered; this fragment is taken from the memoir by Rev. Everett Stevens which prefaces a collection of Abbot’s Sermons (pp. lix-lx)]
Dr. Abbot was an eminent lover of religious peace. He believed the essential doctrines of christianity to consist in those broad and fundamental points, which are plain and intelligible to the serious inquirer. He did not believe, that the saving doctrines of the gospel were contained in metaphysical questions, on which the best and wisest of men have differed. The strictest adherence to principles he conceived to be consistent with an enlarged respect to the cherished opinions of others. He conceived, that in order to the ends of church government, and to a worthy participation of the christian ordinances, no further profession of belief was essential than that of the christian religion, as revealed in the holy Scriptures. He lamented the prevalent spirit of controversy as a source of fruitful evil. "It does not fully relieve my mind," he says in an address before the Berry Street Conference, in May, 1821,"that things are urged to this extremity by those of the opposite part, nor that I believe, that the evils will fall heaviest on those who provoke them, nor that I have hope that truth will be advanced by the conflict.—This state of things is dangerous to the peace and unity of churches and parishes, and has been fatal to some. It is effecting those divisions, more particularly in the country, which weaken the congregational interest, break down that order which has been the glory of New-England, give strength and numbers to sects most distinguished for disorderly and enthusiastic zeal, break up old parishes into such fragments as that none of them can maintain the institutions of the gospel, and thus reduce much of the population to lay-preaching, or, at best, to the instruction of unlettered men, and convert some of the most populous villages in the state, and neighbouring states, to missionary ground..—In such a state of things, brethren, forbearance and discretion are quite as important as ardor in debate, or triumph in conflict"