Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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"Immediately after my first visit to Philadelphia," says Mr. Ballou, "a second society was formed, and a large meeting-house was built in Callowhill. From this society I received a very urgent invitation to become their pastor; but, as my Boston friends felt desirous to have me stay with them, I could not think it my duty, for a few hundred dollars more remuneration for my services annually, to leave them, as my salary was at that time sufficient for my wants. So late as the year 1844, by invitation from the Callowhill society, I visited and preached for them for four weeks. While I was there, my friends proposed sending to Boston for Mrs. Ballou, with a desire that I would continue with them for an indefinite period. But my age admonished me not to undertake too much."
We may add here the following memorandum from notes which he gave the author of these pages relative to a subject before alluded to, concerning the matter of a larger pecuniary offer for his professional services:
"At one time, while I tarried in New York, the Pine-street Society presented me with a pressing invitation to settle with them, offering me some hundreds of dollars more than I was then receiving for my professional services, to induce me to remove to New York city. This official invitation, together with a very brotherly letter from the society in New York to my own in Boston, in which they endeavored to assign good reasons for my removal, I took with me to the Second Universalist Society, in School-street. I had previously given my friends in New York to understand that I would not be persuaded to leave Boston, unless my society would give their cordial consent to such a measure. After submitting this letter to my society, I was given to understand, in an official manner, that, by a unanimous vote, my society had resolved that I must remain with them. This of course ended the matter, as their wish was my guide."
We have related these circumstances more particularly to show the reader that Mr. Ballou was actuated by no mercenary motive in this matter, and indeed to prove that it was a principle altogether foreign to his character. We see that the offer of a greater pecuniary emolument (we believe the New York society offered him eight hundred dollars more than he was then receiving per annum, and also to bear the incidental expenses attendant upon his removal) had no influence upon his mind. If his society no longer desired his services, he was ready to leave them at once. If they were still attached to him, and preferred his ministration to that of any other individual, no pecuniary inducement should part them. We may use his own words, and say that the evidence of the unabated regard of the people of his charge, of their undiminished attachment to him and his services, rendered him far happier than any amount of silver and gold could possibly have done. Indeed, there was not one spark of mercenary feeling existing in his heart; it was contrary to his very nature.
Those who knew Mr.Ballou best were well aware of his punctilious notions as it concerned money affairs. He would not himself owe any man, and he liked "short settlements," believing in the old adage that they "make long friends." He was scrupulously exact in his dealings, and would be careful not to be overpaid or underpaid in a money transaction; and these peculiarities may have, with some, led to a belief that he was penurious in his disposition, though this was by no means the case. Could we with propriety refer to his numerous private deeds of charity, to the open-handed dealing that evinced the generous nature of his disposition and the liberality of his heart, we could exhibit a list of facts that would disabuse the mind of any one of such an unfavorable impression. We feel tenacious upon this point, realizing as we do the untruth of any such deduction; and for any one to make such a remark or inference, would be at once to expose his own personal ignorance of the man.
Mr. Ballou was not one to give injudiciously; he was not lavish in his bestowals; but what he gave to charitable purposes, more or less, he was careful to know would be productive of real benefit. Once satisfied of the worthiness of the purpose, he always gave in accordance with his means. His generosity was unostentatious, and sought such channels as run beneath the shades of domestic necessities, rather than those exhibited on hilltops, or that advertise themselves in open places. The author of these pages has witnessed from childhood a most liberal and charitable spirit as exercised by the subject of this memoir.
When he was solicited for assistance, he always listened attentively to every appeal, and carefully examined the case and its merits, when, being satisfied of its claims for aid, he not only gave himself, but took pains to interest others for the same end. At times he would call on his society, either collectively or individually, and thus do a great good by affording timely pecuniary aid, in many cases. He never asked of a person his religion before he gave him in charity; all were considered as members of the same great family, and "where want resided, he knew the door." The needy found in him a firm and judicious friend; one who was careful not to do them a harm, in the spirit of kindness, by encouraging a slothful or idle spirit, but who sent them away wiser and happier than they came to his door.
"Among the many moral duties," says Mr. Ballou, "which contribute to the mitigation of the misfortunes of human life, and to administer to the enjoyments of social beings, that of charitably bestowing a part of what a liberal Providence has put into our hands, on those who have been unfortunate in the loss of property, or by sickness, or other unavoidable visitations, should claim our earnest attention. This virtue at once combines many moral excellences, and seems to call into action some of the best qualities of our social nature. It is that, too, which seems to resemble the bountiful conduct of the Giver of every good and perfect gift; and in some degree compares with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich, and greatly ornaments the gospel professions of brotherly love. This, too, is a virtue which never loses sight of the good of its agent, who, being blessed with the genuine spirit of heaven-born charity, realizes that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Nor is there anything more acceptable to the Divine mind of universal goodness, than to see rational beings exerting themselves to assist one another. 'To do good and communicate, forget not, for with such sacrifice God is well pleased.'"
While Mr. Ballou was in Philadelphia during the year 1834, he preached nine sermons, which, like those delivered in the same city at the close of 1821 and the commencement of '22, were taken down by a stenographer in short-hand, and published in a volume of two hundred pages. In the preface to this volume, which, having been, like its predecessor, obtained through the reporter, was never seen by the author until in print, Rev. Abel C. Thomas, the publisher, makes the following remarks; valuable as coming from a discriminating and intelligent mind, and one which would scorn flattery as it would falsehood.
"Mr. Ballou is in the sixty-fourth year of his age, yet his eye is not dim, nor his natural force abated. His public communications are distinguished by extraordinary penetration, perfect knowledge of human nature, aptness of illustration, and closeness of reasoning. In private intercourse he manifests the feelings of a heart baptized into the spirit of the living God. It is impossible to listen to his public exhibitions of love divine without according to him the meed of sincerity and intellectual power, and it is equally impossible to mingle with him in the walks of social life without loving him from the heart."
Mr. Ballou was in the habit of making frequent use of the scriptural story of Joseph and his brethren, the parable of the Prodigal Son, the case of Saul of Tarsus, and other familiar parables, to illustrate the doctrinal points of his discourses upon the holy text. These illustrations, however, were always apt and appropriate, and any one who reads the Scriptures must very well know that these parables present almost innumerable bearings. Although he never did so without communicating some new point or bearing in the narrative, yet the frequency of these references was argued by some as an objection to his style of preaching. In reference to this subject, Rev. Abel C. Thomas, in an appendix to the book referred to, relates the following anecdote: —
"After the delivery of a certain discourse in one of our cities, by Mr. Ballou, one Universalist minister said to another, in a good-natured way, 'The old man is always harping on Joseph and his brethren, the Prodigal Son, and Saul of Tarsus.' 'Well,' said the other, 'it is a good harp, nevertheless, and Mr. Ballou knows how to play upon it. He always plays a new tune, and I could listen to him all night.'"
His book of nine sermons embraces some of the most stirring and able arguments that the author ever produced, and it has been read by more persons probably than any book of the same character in the country. The first edition was a large one, but was rapidly followed by others.
Mr. Ballou ever delighted in promoting the innocent amusement of his children in every reasonable way. He never adopted that stern and unapproachable disguise that but too often estranges the affections of the child from the parent. He was fond at times of unbending, as it were, from the extreme tension of mental effort, and entering into the childish amusements of his family circle; it was only long enough, however, to endear himself to that circle, for his time was too precious to admit of much relaxation, however grateful this might be to his feelings.
It was not with the subject of this biography as with those who wear two faces, one when at home and another when abroad; there was no deceit in him; he carried forth from his home the same face he wore there, the same aspect of mind and body, evincing precisely the same characteristics in public as he did in private. He knew no change, but was always eminently natural everywhere.
His social character was such as ardently to endear him to every member of his large family. While he maintained the dignity and authority appropriate to his general character, still he ever evinced an exuberance of good nature, and was amiable, gentle, and even playful at times, in his domestic and public intercourse.
During the year 1834, Mr. Ballou wrote and published a work entitled, "An Examination of the Doctrine of Future Retribution," contained in one volume of three hundred pages. This is affectionately dedicated to the second Universalist Society of Boston, as a token of regard, by the author, who had so long presided over this brotherhood in the most happy fellowship.
In the following extract from the preface to this book, the reader will find not only the spirit of the work referred to, but will also observe that the author states, in plain and unmistakable terms, some important points of his faith, – points wherein he differed from some respected brethren of the order, but which, however, form almost the universal belief of the mass of Universalists. Our quotation from this preface commences as follows: —
"It has always remained the fixed resolution of the writer of the following essay to keep a mind open to conviction; always active in investigating religious truth; constantly ready to profess and hold forth any opinion, however unpopular, and however opposed by divines, by the schools, or by his dearest friends, when convinced of its truth. This course has led him to give up many religious tenets which were taught him in his youth, and not a few which were embraced by the denomination to which he has from his youth belonged. Travelling this course, he early renounced the doctrine of endless punishment; the doctrine of the Trinity; that of native depravity; that of the imputation of sin and of righteousness; that of the vicarious sufferings of Christ; and, nearly eighteen years ago, the doctrine of punishment in the future state. It has been his lot to meet with much opposition on most of these points, from various denominations, and not the least strenuous from those of the denomination with which he has been happy to hold connection. For the painful travail endured from all this opposition, he has been abundantly compensated by seeing the rapid advance of the doctrines which he has embraced and endeavored to advocate.
"The object of the writer of the following pages is to place his views, respecting the doctrine of a future state of retribution, before the public, and to preserve his arguments on that subject, that when the time shall come, as he believes it will, when people in general will number the tenet of future punishment among those corruptions of Christianity which will then be abandoned, it may be known that the writer disbelieved it in his day; and also that the arguments with which he opposed it may then be known.
"Universalists now take a pleasure in looking back and tracing, from Origen down to our time, the progress of the doctrine which embraces the salvation of all men; and so they will doubtless continue to do in future ages.
"Some may query whether a proper regard to the opinions and feelings of honest, faithful, and affectionate brethren, who believe in the doctrine of future retribution, but yet earnestly contend for final restoration, would not incline the writer to be silent on the subject, and not to come out with this publication. To this inquiry it is replied, that such brethren, with their many commendable qualities, are warmly cherished in the affections of the writer's heart, nor are they the less regarded because they do not adopt his opinions. And he feels confident that such brethren will entertain no suspicions of his want of respect for them. They will not fail to consider that the views of the writer, on the subject of retribution, are not so wide from theirs as theirs are from the views of those authors whom they quote as authority in support of future retribution. They would doubtless sooner embrace the opinion of no future sin and misery, than defend the doctrine maintained by that good man, exemplary Christian, and faithful minister, Elhanan Winchester, which supposed that the wicked, in the world to come, would suffer, for ages and ages, inconceivable torment in literal fire and brimstone. Such torment is now denied by our doctors, who maintain endless punishment, and rejected also by those who believe in a state hereafter of discipline which shall end in an entire reformation. Such brethren will also cordially respond to the assurance that the writer of the following work will never withhold a sincere fellowship from a faithful brother, because he disagrees with him on the doctrine of divine retribution.
"It is very possible that some, who have a strong desire that nothing should be done which should tend, in the least, to endanger the harmony and cordial fellowship of Universalists, may think that prudence would, at least, plead for a delay, and suggest the propriety of deferring this publication to some future time, when it might give less offence. Such may be assured that their good wishes for the harmony and fellowship of our order are duly respected; but they cannot be ignorant of the fact that the doctrine of a future state of punishment has been disbelieved, by ministering brethren of our order, for many years, and that much has been published with a view to disprove that doctrine; and, moreover, that now that doctrine is generally disbelieved by Universalists of our connection; and yet much harmony prevails, and our fellowship remains, and is warmly cherished between brethren whose opinions disagree on the subject of this doctrine. The writer would further remark, that both age and infirmity admonish him that what he feels it his duty to do, he ought not to delay; and he cannot believe that any of his brethren can feel, in the least, wounded because their aged brother should finish his labors in accordance with the dictates of his own understanding. It is a happy circumstance, that in the denomination of Universalists, no one feels bound to defend and support the particular opinions of another, any further than he is himself convinced of their truth and importance. Our platform of faith is general, and allows individuals an extensive latitude to think freely, investigate minutely, and to adopt what particular views best comport with the honest convictions of the mind, and fearlessly to avow and defend the same."
In perusing this book, or indeed any of Mr. Ballou's numerous works, the reader cannot fail to be struck with the complete simplicity and purity of the author's style, at the same time being deeply impressed with the magnitude of the subject treated upon: he finds the book to be more like a familiar friend with whom he is conversing, than the deep logical work it really is. This is caused by the peculiar clearness and force of the style, while all is so conceived and put down as to be within scope of the humblest understanding. All his comparisons and illustrations are drawn from the most familiar objects about us, bringing our every-day life and experience to bear upon the theme; and thus his arguments were doubly forcible and plain. It was the common remark that little children could understand his sermons, and remember the moral inculcated. "If I can only make my subject so plain that children will understand me," he once said in relation to this subject, "my purpose will be gained, and I shall not be preaching in vain." Probably there never was a public speaker who possessed more fully the power of making himself perfectly and clearly understood, in every bearing of his subject, than did Mr. Ballou. This was commonly remarked of him by all, and more especially by those in his own profession of the ministry, who had learned by experience what a difficult matter it sometimes is to impress an audience with the precise idea intended by the speaker.
About this date, in Mr. Ballou's manuscript memoranda he says: – "I well remember a conversation I had with a learned doctor of divinity of this city, some years ago. It happened that we were both going into the country, and took the same stage. We had not travelled far before the doctor very politely addressed me, expressing a desire to know my opinion on a certain passage of Scripture, as he did not know how it was explained by those of my opinion in religious matters. The stage being quite full of gentlemen who were strangers to me, but to whom I was doubtless well known, I was somewhat surprised that the learned divine should introduce a scriptural subject, and especially one concerning which he supposed we entertained different views. However, I was well satisfied that he expected to see me embarrassed in presence of the passengers, whose curiosity was evidently excited. I replied that I was not unwilling, on any proper occasion, to give my views on any passage of Scripture when desired to do so, provided I was satisfied in my own mind concerning its true meaning.
"There was the most profound attention evinced, and the doctor introduced Gal. 6: 7 and 8. 'Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting:' the passage being one with which many occasions had made me quite familiar. I replied immediately, as follows: 'I presume, sir, you will understand all you wish to know of my views of this text, if you hear me repeat it, and duly observe where I lay especial emphasis; – Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.' The moment I pronounced the words of the text thus, there was a smile on the countenances of all in the stage, and a movement which signified satisfaction. I merely remarked, in conclusion, that no man who should sow in one field, would think of going to another to reap. The doctor made me no reply, nor did he ask any more questions.
"The above is but a sample," continues Mr. Ballou, "of the unnumbered cases in which I have seen how utterly abortive is a liberal education, with the addition of a theological school, in freeing the human mind from religious errors. So far from effecting any such desirable end, these so highly esteemed advantages generally serve to puff up the mind and heart with pride, and close every avenue through which light might be received."
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