Brooks: on not under-estimating sin (before we “rediscovered” it)

Another passage from Elbridge Gerry Brooks’s Our New Departure, pages 85, opening his chapter on sin. I wish this was more simply written, but it makes me think of more recent preachments on the “re-discovery” of sin among Unitarian Universalists. But Brooks shows this dynamic isn’t new and cautions about flying from one pole of opinion to another — and then confronts us across the years: once you find sin to be real, what are you going to do about it?

It is the penalty of all reform that those who wage it, opposing one error or abuse, necessarily incur the risk of swinging into another. Perhaps this has had no more striking illustration than is furnished in the rebound from the exaggerated doctrines of the sacrificial theology concerning sin, — as to its infinite enormity, on the one hand, and as to the vindictive and horrible punishment by which only can God duly attest His hatred of it, on the other. Not to enter into the broad field thus opened, however, it is enough now to ask whether we, as a people, have not shared in this extreme rebound. Arraigning and controverting these doctrines, have we not had speculations among us, and even definitely declared conclusions, the inevitable effect of which, logically, has been either to make sin an inconsiderable affair, a slight disturbance which is to be beneficently overruled, or to deny that there is really any such thing? Have there not been periods in our history, indeed, when such theories have to no small extent determined the burden of our pulpits, and the thought of our people? And do they not yet quite largely mingle in the opinions that prevail among us?

But are such theories morally healthful? Are they favorable to quickness of conscience, or to a propelling and inextinguishable sense of obligation? Do they tend to distress us with a rebuking consciousness of the guilt of sin, or to induce humiliation and penitence on account of it? In few words, are they fitted spiritually to arouse and stimulate anybody? to fill anybody with a loathing and abhorrence of sin?