"Onthe duties of the church as distinct from the congregation and on advantagesthat might result from using it as an association for religious and benevolentexertion”

NathanParker

Berry Street Essay, 1824

 

Deliveredto the Ministerial Conference, Boston

May1824.

[No copy of the essay itself survives, but HenryWare, Jr., wrote a memoir of Rev. Parker as a preface to a book of Parker'ssermons published in 1835; there, he mentions this address as follows:

"In an Address delivered in 1824, beforethe Ministerial Conference in Berry Street, Boston, heexplained his views on this point, and illustrated the principles on which heacting.I regret that no copy of thisAddress has been found among his papers.It was in conformity with those views, that the church in his own parish instituted, in 1813, a regular series ofquarterly meetings as of a society for devotion and charity."

Ware includes an extensive description of whatthis meant for Parker’s practice as a minister; this excerpt from the memoirprovides Ware’s account of what Parker described in his 1824 Essay.]

In filling up his officeas a parish minister, it was his object to be always doing something, and in asvarious ways as possible, but with as little of noise and notoriety as mightbe. Perpetual activity, but no bustle, seemed to be his design. He therefore,in his plans for doing good, consulted circumstances and occasions, and pressedno measure till he had prepared the way for its success. Hence he rarely ifever failed in any measure which he attempted. Being resolute and persevering,but never rash, he went in accordance with the intimations of providence andfound aid from thence. When he would kindle the flame of devotion andphilanthropy, he blew upon it gently, and never gave those furious andimpatient blasts which put out the fire they are over eager to light. It wouldbe well if all who conduct important enterprises, would study such examples,and learn that bustle is not strength, nor precipitation success. Real energyis calm; true power works without passion. I have seen the commander of a shipon the Atlantic Ocean move about the vesselquietly, never raising his voice, never looking or speaking as if excited,equally composed in pleasant weather and in storms, maintaining order by thepower of his self-possession and tranquillity, andkeeping all as quiet as himself, by the confidencewhich he inspired. So should it be with the spiritual pilot of the church;steadily watching for the safety and progress of all, but without impatience,impetuosity or tumult, he should neither strive, nor cry, nor cause his voiceto be heard in the street; but with the gentleness of his Master when on earth,and imitating the sober order of Providence,should lead the way to charity and truth.

It was in this spiritthat Dr Parker projected and executed the several plans which he set on footfor the improvement of his flock, and by means of which he effectedso much for its advancement in knowledge and true holiness. It is necessary todescribe these at some length, because they exhibit his pastoral policy and thegenius of his ministry, and present the picture of the religious organizationof society on principles and in a method which can hardly fail to secure happyresults wherever adopted.

The first of these inpoint of time, and certainly not the least in usefulness, was the formation ofthe Church, that is, the communicants, — which had formerly been a body, likemost churches, set apart simply for maintaining the ordinances, — into anassociation for religious improvement and benevolent action. It was a favoriteidea of Dr Parker, that the Founder of Christianity was the originator of thatgreat system of associated action by which his followers are in the present ageaccomplishing so much. The institution of the Christian church was the firstinstance of this association, and by the power which belongs to it as such, ithas made its way through the world. He wished to restore to the body of thecommunicants its place and duty in this regard. He thought that it possessedadvantages beyond most other methods of organization, for the promotion oftruth and charity. In an Address delivered in 1824, before the MinisterialConference in Berry Street, Boston, he explained his views onthis point, and illustrated the principles on which he was acting. I regretthat no copy of this Address has been found among his papers. It was inconformity with those views, that the church in his ownparish had instituted, in 1813, a regular series of quarterly meetings as asociety for devotion and charity. At these meetings is transacted all thebusiness which ordinarily demands attention, such as the appointment ofdelegates to any council, the care of the charity funds, and the discussion ofcases of discipline. Then conversation ensues on the state of religion, thecondition and wants of the poor or tempted brethren, and the measures to bedevised for their relief. The meetings are thus a great means of keeping up amutual acquaintance among the members and a proper Christian sympathy in eachother — an end still further secured, by the regulation that every individualshall keep by him a list of the members. Since 1823, one of the brethren hasfor each meeting written a dissertation on some important subject of religiousinquiry or duty, which has given a direction to the conversation of theevening. Thus the Church acts as a perpetual standing committee of inquiry andcharity, ready to consider and pursue any suggestions of truth and usefulness.It is not a nominal, but a visible and effective bond of faith and love; and aconstant excitement to individual activity, fidelity and watchfulness. Therecords of the meetings testify to the many solemn and affecting interviews towhich this arrangement has given rise; they contain elaborate reports on churchrelations and personal responsibility, and discussions of vital questions oftruth and duty. To show the spirit of the institution, and the influence whichit has been adapted to exert. I am desirous of extracting a brief passage froma Report on the state of the church, in August, 1822.

This report showed thatthe condition of the Church had remained very nearly the same for more than acentury. In answering the question, why there had been no improvement duringlater years, three causes of hindrance were enumerated: — the controversialspirit of the times, prevalent errors respecting the Lord's supper,and the imperfections of church members. Each of these causes is dwelt upon atsome length. I quote a portion of the appeal to the brethren under the lasthead; premising, that it was written by one of the lay members.

"Perpetual watchfulnessand care are the conditions on which we hold all our virtues as well as all ourworldly possessions. As repentance is the foundation of all Christian virtueand implies an abhorrence of sin as such, — do we keep alive our strongimpressions on this subject? Do we ever think lightly of sin, or lead others tobelieve that we do? Do we give any countenance to the commission of sin, by ourpresence, or indirect approbation or permission?

"Christian penitence isaccompanied and followed by faith. Do we believe,—really believe,— all the promises and threatenings ofJesus Christ? Do we feel daily and hourly that the eye of God is upon us? Do werealize that we shall certainly appear before the judgment seat of Christ, notmerely to answer for the deeds done in the body, but to give an account ofevery idle word, and to have every thought of the heart revealed? Do we act asif we were indeed pilgrims and strangers in the world? orare we as much excited by its ambition arid allured by its pleasures andengrossed by its business and distracted by its cares and grieved by itstroubles, as if we had no other world upon which to fix our attention?"

Similar inquiries arethen suggested respecting the duties of Christian love and active benevolence.And the Report end