Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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His was a noble example of a well-balanced mind, without any of that startling, comet-like splendor, which has usually been considered as the very light in which genius lives and moves. His faculties were all brought into admirable harmony, and thus operated with powerful and never-failing effect. There were no contending elements in his nature; no struggles of ambition; no strife of penuriousness; no battling of passion. Like the beautiful harmony of the elements of nature, his bosom was redolent of concord. And what a worshipper he was, too, of the forms of nature, and her mysteriously glorious works about him! There was no object in nature so minute or so apparently unimportant but had attractions for his scrutinizing eye. He was exceedingly fond of flowers, – those "illumined scriptures of the prairie," – of the rural scenery, the lowing herds and various tenants of the grove. Often have we heard him praise and dilate upon these, when, a mere boy, we have travelled with him upon his various missions into the country. He was one to
"Stay for a moment," he said to us, on a certain occasion, as we were riding through the country, and had just surmounted a high elevation, commanding a beautiful view of the outspread plain below. It was the closing of a clear autumnal New England day. "What a mild and holy religion is breathed by nature in such a scene as this! How soft the influence that steals over the senses! Though fresh from God's own hand, and quickened by his presence, it teaches us no terror, no gloom; it rouses no fierce passions within the heart; it is calm, meek, forgiving; and equally for all breathing things. How hallowed and God-like are the blissful teachings of nature!"
He gazed so long, in silence, upon the silvery Connecticut, where it threads its course not far from Holyoke Mountain, following out the theme of his thoughts, that we marked well what he had just said, and remembered it. We had just risen a hill that overlooked the verdant plains of Hadley, and the scene is as fresh to us now as though but an hour had intervened. Such appreciations and realizations were most natural to him; and a vein of illustration, drawn from these lovely exhibitions of nature, will be found running through the broad meadows of his doctrinal arguments, like a purling stream, refreshing and vivifying the verdure of divine truth. A reference to nature in her rural dress and belongings, as illustrative of the great plan and purpose of God's goodness and impartiality, was a favorite custom with him. He would draw thence so many incentives for thankfulness, such unmistakable tokens of Omnipotent impartiality and universal love, such powerful reasons for disbelieving the unhappy creed that imputed to a Being, whose works are redolent of loveliness, attributes so repugnant to the heart of his children, that few could listen unmoved, – few refrain from outwardly evincing the realizing sense he produced in their pliant understandings.With a full appreciation of these divine evidences of God's goodness, we say it was most natural for him to pause thus; and, with eyes drinking in of the spirit of the scene before us, exclaim, as he did, that it "taught no terror, no gloom; but that its influence was meek, forgiving, and equally for all breathing things."
By strict frugality and industry, Mr. Ballou acquired for himself a competency, besides dividing a handsome sum of money between his children; and in this latter respect he was somewhat original in his mode of carrying out a disposition of his property. He chose to give to his children while he lived, preferring to witness the pecuniary assistance he might render to his family, and to participate in its enjoyments in his own life-time. His means were acquired solely through patient labor and frugality. He never enjoyed a farthing in the way of legacy, nor by any fortunate turn of business or speculation. These matters he never engaged in at all, and often said that he was perfectly satisfied with a return of six per cent. for his money; and that if others felt the same, much of misery and misfortune would be spared them and the world at large. Some idea may be formed of the careful manner in which he considered his responsibilities by the following facts, namely: he never placed his name to a note, or due bill, in the whole period of his life; never borrowed money; never kept an account at any place of business, but always paid for that which he bought at the time of purchasing, however large or trifling the amount; and, after his long experience of life, he endeavored to impress upon his children that an adherence to these rules, as far as was practicable, would be productive to them of much good, and prevent a vast deal of trouble, and needless anxiety of mind, in relation to secular matters.
By the different societies over which Mr. Ballou officiated as pastor, he lost, in all, a considerable amount of money, through want of good faith in the payment of his salary. This refers to his associations before he came to Boston. In one instance, the sum of money thus sacrificed by him exceeded one thousand dollars; yet he was never known to institute a suit against any individual or society, but left them to settle their unfaithfulness with their own consciences.
His greatly improved prospects, and increased pecuniary means, never in the least influenced his manner of living, his habits or demeanor. These ever continued to be characterized by the same simplicity and prudence that marked his course from earliest manhood. At his house there was ever the same open and free hospitality exercised; and every one, who knows anything about the life of a settled clergyman, is aware that he must, of necessity, have constantly about him a large number of visitors and partakers of his hospitality. Besides which, as we have before signified, his hands were ever open for the needy, whose wants he delighted to supply; enjoying in return that happiness that true charity alone can impart.
"It always appeared to me inconsistent," says Mr. Ballou, "with the profession of a minister of the gospel, to live expensively; that is, far beyond what is required for the necessities and comforts of life. As the minister is supported by the people of his charge, the propriety of his living beyond the income of his parishioners in general, seems questionable. Moreover, it has best suited my natural taste to avoid extravagances and superfluities."
Tupper, the erudite and truthful author of Proverbial Philosophy, has very beautifully said, – "The choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation." Believing thus, Mr. Ballou wrote contentment on every dispensation of Providence that fell to his share.
The work we have in hand might be filled alone with the most sincere eulogiums from ministering brethren, who have referred in public to the life and character of the subject of this biography; but, in the few which we have selected and introduced here, we have been guided by the purpose of presenting only such as have seemed to us – knowing the facts from long experience – to be the most truthful in the delineation of the character and disposition of Mr. Ballou. Moreover, the reader will, perhaps, be too often led to remember that it is a son who writes this biography of a father; and when he can bring to bear the mind and evidence of older and abler writers than himself, as treating upon the subject before us, the work may be thus strengthened and enriched. In this spirit, and under this chapter of "Domestic Characteristics," the following extract from the discourse delivered upon this subject by Rev. Henry Bacon is given: —
"I am not now to speak of a stranger, known only by reputation, but of one with whom I have been familiar from my earliest childhood. The more I attained power to judge his qualities, the more have I learned to esteem the man, his character and ministry. He came to Boston, as pastor of the Second Universalist Society, when I was scarcely four years old, and though my parents were members of the First Society, yet their house was one of his homes. The impression made in boyhood by the stately form of Mr. Ballou, – his meekness, his speech of singular clearness, adaptedness and wisdom, his singular temperance at the table, and his kindness to childhood, – was never removed; and I use no strained and forced language when I say Hosea Ballou was a great man. I say this, not looking from a sectarian point of view, but as guided by the principles that ought to govern us in our judgment of men, comprehensively regarding their qualities, and what they have been to their age.
"He is a great man who is impelled to bear the new truth abroad, that, like its Great Source, he may be 'found of those who asked not after him;' to make the hill-side and the grove, the river shore, the barn, the humble farmer's room, or the shadow of a great tree, his church, and there proclaim the gospel in its wholeness, with a readiness that shows the heart is full of the matter, and with a willingness to answer any queries, and respond to any voice that speaks a word against the completeness of the redemption proposed in Christ. By his keen insight into human nature, his rare powers of logic, his unique use of words, his intelligibility to the humblest capacity in treating of the greatest subjects, and his profound wisdom in choosing means to reach directly the ends desired, Hosea Ballou was a great man. In an instant he stripped away all the show and tinsel of learned ignorance, or drove the dart between the joints of the harness of barbarian bigotry, and laid low the pretender. By his unshaken and majestic faith and trust; by the steadiness with which he kept the honor of God, in the supremacy and efficiency of the Scriptures, ever before him; and by the willingness and capacity to receive any new application of the great principles of the gospel, he was a great man. All this was crowned and glorified by his personal character, by the purity of his walk and conversation, his rare temperance amid the most solicitous temptations, and the harmony he breathed into all his children and the rule he swayed over them; he was a great man, abiding the last, best test of greatness, 'being such an one as Paul the aged.'"
As will be surmised by previous remarks in this work, Mr. Ballou, in the matter of politics, had of course his preferences of principles and of men, and he always voted for them, besides keeping himself well read in the most important political matters of the day, pro and con, and weighing well in his own mind their bearing upon the true principles of political economy; but here his interest ceased. He took no active part, even in conversation, upon the subject, though at times he would show by his remarks that the great principles of either party were familiar to him. Still he always avoided, as a topic of conversation, a subject which is so often the theme of bitter contention between those who in all other respects are excellent friends. He never changed his political sentiments, which, however, for very good reasons, were scarcely known, or, at least, not intimately so, out of the family circle.
His irreproachable life was in itself one of the strongest arguments in favor of his religion; his mild and dispassionate manner on all occasions, his unblemished integrity and unimpeachable character, through his whole life, rendered him universally beloved, as well as showing a living example of the divine principles he endeavored to inculcate in his public teachings. There is an energy of moral suasion in a good man's life, passing the highest efforts of the orator's genius. The visible but silent beauty of holiness speaks more eloquently of God and duty than do the tongues of men and angels. A minister's religious faith should be delivered to his people, not as a matter of theoretical knowledge, – something learned in the study, – but as something experienced. "Nothing," says Bishop Stillingfleet, "enlarges the gulf of atheism more than the wide passage which lies between the faith and lives of men pretending to teach Christianity." Religion is not a didactic thing, that words can impart or even silence withhold: it is spiritual and contagious glory, a spontaneous union with the holy spirit evinced in our daily lives and example. Those who have true religion make it the garment worn next the heart, but, alas! too many make a cloak of it. The most learned divine or philosopher that the earth has ever known, though he spoke with an eloquence and wisdom near akin to inspiration, must yet be powerless as to spiritual and godly influence, if, at the same time that he points to wisdom's way,
Hooker has very beautifully remarked, that "the life of a pious clergyman is visible rhetoric;" and some one else, with equal truth, that "to preach sound doctrine, and lead a bad life, is building up with one hand and pulling down with the other." Preaching, to be available, must be consistent.
Mr. Ballou may be said to have lived the doctrine he professed, in the strictest sense of the phrase, and to have followed the glorious example set him by his Divine Master. His ambition was to be an imitator of the meek and lowly Jesus.
Touching this subject he was wont to say to his hearers: – "Brethren, I want a doctrine that I can prove by reducing it to practice; for we are enjoined to 'prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.' People may go to the house of devotion, they may hear learned ministers hold forth the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, they may admire the beautiful oratory and flowery rhetoric in which such sentiments are dressed, but they must leave them all behind them when they go home to their beloved families. They can never practise the domestic virtues and duties on these principles of doctrine. The doctrine of Jesus is a practical one, and we can never do our duty in the family circle unless we live and conduct according to it."
This is an example of Mr. Ballou's style of argument and of illustration. He brought everything home, where all could understand the analogy; he never went abroad to seek for illustrations, never indulged in deep philosophical dissertations, thus hoodwinking his hearers and marring his subject. The reader will at once be struck by the force and truth of the remark, that, however sincerely a person may believe the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, still, on leaving the house where these principles are taught, he must leave them behind him. No one, not even the most zealous supporter of such a creed, ever attempted to practise it in his family circle. Washington Allston has pithily said, "A man cannot lie all over;" so it is a fact that he cannot be utterly wrong from top to toe; though his mind may be deceived, and his sentiments indicate partial delusion, yet his heart, ten to one, will be right. Some token of his nicely constructed nature will turn itself into "king's evidence" against his false theories. And thus we find men, sincere Christians at heart, who believe and promulgate the doctrine of partial grace, all the while evincing in their home influences and general lives, the truth of the gospel of Christ.
When Mr. Ballou was last in New York, some one of the brethren in that city induced him to visit the office of the American Phrenological Journal, where his head was examined after the rules of the science, and the following characteristics were written out by the examiner, as is customary in such cases. Since the decease of the subject of these memoirs, they have been made public through the journal referred to. To many this extract will possess more than ordinary interest, and we have therefore given it place here, under the head of personal characteristics.
Mr. Ballou was once asked, in a most triumphant manner, by a religious opponent, in the presence of a large number of individuals, "If your doctrine be true, sir, how is it that it has never been preached before? Here in the nineteenth century it would seem to be a new discovery." He replied, in his usual calm and effective manner, "Friend, it has been taught by two eloquent witnesses at least, so long as the sun has shone and the rain fallen on mankind. These faithful agents of Almighty love have ever taught the doctrine of impartial grace to all men; they dispense their blessings on rich and poor, high and low, and thus bear witness of the character of Him who sends them."
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