Our Peculiar Position as Liberal Christian—Our Duties and Prospects

Andrew Bigelow

Berry Street Lecture, May 26, 1841


Note:  The following is a report on the 1841 Berry Street Lecture, found in the The Monthly Miscellany of Religion and Letters, June, 1841.  The full text has not been located.


BERRY STREET CONFERENCE: —The meeting of the Conference this year was well attended. The brethren assembled about half past 8 o'clock on Wednesday morning, May 26. Prayer was offered by Rev. Mr. Capen of South Boston. The annual Address was delivered by Rev. Andrew Bigelow of Taunton, upon "Our peculiar position as Liberal Christians—our duties and prospects." 1. Our position. Our numbers and progress, Mr. B. thought, are often represented in too flattering terms; we do not exceed a seventieth part of the population of the United States. We are in danger, he feared, of losing our character of a movement party. Our difficulties on the side of the world confront us as ministers, and as ministers Unitarian. As ministers, we are opposed by the worldliness that prevails. As Unitarians, we are deprived of our proper influence by the demand for expedients—short-hand processes; the prejudices of the religious community are against us. A further difficulty arises from the influence of the age on the individual. It is an excitable age; it is the fashion to strike at specific evils. The independence of the pulpit may lie in breasting the current. By yielding to the excitement about us, we may neglect other important duties. Again, we are at our ease and "settled on our lees." The wants of others are not sufficiently regarded. We raise problems and questions irreverent,—even respecting God, forgetting that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. 2. Our duties. First, we should "harmonize" more. Secondly, we should be "whole-souled men," in right earnest, men of faith. Thirdly, our philanthropy should be more expansive, or rather, should be deeper. We have too much of the exclusive, "with a dash of the Brahminic." We want more of a martyr spirit—more of the spirit of propagandists. Some dozen years ago Mr. B. attended an academical lecture at the College of the Propaganda in Rome. There were a thousand eager listeners, young men, drinking in the doctrines and spirit of the Church. Where are they now? At work, all over the earth. And we are resting supinely! Like the half tribe of Manasseh, we desire to possess the rich pastures of Gilead, but are not willing, like them, to go over and fight the battles of the Lord. 3. Our prospects. We are the champions of liberty and a purer faith than is held by others. Our forces are strong enough; if our "stationary position” were only broken up, we should dispute our way vigorously and successfully through the land. We may encourage young men to take up the warfare. If we do not succeed, the truth will prevail; but it becomes us to be true to our cause. God is calling us to quickened diligence by the events of his Providence.

After the Address, Rev. James Thompson of Barre was chosen Moderator, and Rev. Chandler Robbins of Boston, Scribe. Thanks were returned to Mr. Bigelow for his Address. The Standing Committee for this year were chosen viz. Rev. Alexander Young, Rev. S. K. Lothrop, Rev. George Putnam. A Report was made by Rev. Dr. Walker, Chairman of a Committee appointed last year on a new translation and Commentary on the Bible. The object, it stated, was in the way of completion, so far as the production of a Commentary on the New Testament, from Rev. Mr. Livermore of Keene, N. IL, the first volume of which would appear in the middle of July. Rev. Dr. Noyes, the Report also said, had another volume of his translation of the Old Testament nearly ready for the press. A Report was also made by Rev. Dr. Walker, of the success which had attended the efforts, on the part of a Committee of this Conference, to raise money for the Theological School at Cambridge; of which an account has been given in our pages. The Conference then voted to discuss the following question, proposed by the Standing Committee.

"Are we as a denomination accomplishing results worthy of our numbers, intelligence, and wealth; if not, what shall be indicated as our prominent deficiencies, and to what means shall we look as likely in the best manner to advance the cause of Liberal Christianity."

An animated and profitable discussion ensued, and continued through the morning; in which Rev. Messrs. Jones of Brighton, Allen of Bolton, Stetson of Medford, Russell of Chelmsford, Clarke of Boston, Osgood of Nashua, N. H., Thomas of Concord, N. H. Loring of Andover, Burton of Newton, Hall of Providence, R. I., Folsom of Haverhill, Hill of Worcester, Miles of Lowell, and Gage of Haverhill, took part. Some conversation followed upon the means which might he used to give circulation to the expected volumes of translation and commentary on the Bible, and then the Conference adjourned to the next annual meeting.