Brooks on first-hand religion

While I was cleaning off my bedside table, to change out my reading, I came across my copy of Elbridge Gerry Brooks’s Our New Departure: or,The Methods and Work of the Universalist Church of America… (1874) This was his manifesto for the Universalist church, near the end of his life.

Brooks’s writing style was rather stilted, making his habilitation as theological influence unlikely. But I thought a few edited quotes might help — here, from his chapter “Experimental Religion” — largely made readable by unknotting the negatives and restating (in square brackets) some of his unwieldly dependent clauses.

[The Universalist] conception of religion… still prevalent among us, is that it is a good conscious towards man, rather than a pious heart towards God.

Protesting against Catholicism and Episcopacy, and reacting from them and their abuses, the Puritans renounced many things which are now seen to have been not only desirable, but, in a sense, essential. The result was a most austere religious life and a singularly barren worship, fitly symbolized in the bleak and rocky coast and the inhospitable soil to which the Plymouth pilgrims.

Moral faithfulness is indispensable. But nothing is farther from the truth than the idea, however or by whomsoever held, that we are religious enough when we are morally faithful. It virtually ignores God. It fails to take a whole half of our nature into account.

Made to be religious, we can never wholly rid ourselves of this tendency, and are sure at some time to come back to the recognition of God, however we may have lapsed from it.

Recognizing in us needs and capacities which crave something deeper than any intellectual solution of the universe, and something more interior and vital than any mould for our outward life, it comes to us a Religion, seeking not only to inform the understanding and instruct the conscience, but to take possession of every faculty, pervading it with the required sense of God, and so putting our whole being into time and tune with Him.

Opinions will change. Forms will perish. Interpretations will pass away. But man will never outgrow God. Religion there will always be the necessity of souls; the support and handmaid of the intellectual and moral elements of our being, whatever the progress possible to them.

It is one of the chief misfortunes of Universalism that it is so widely supposed to be fatally wanting in religious efficacy. This impression it is our duty immediately to correct; but it can be corrected only as we bear in mind the Master’s test, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” One life demonstrating that Universalism has power to infuse a sense of God into souls, and to make His life theirs, will do more than whole libraries of books, or any amount of argument.

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Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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