Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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We well remember being present on a certain occasion when an intimate friend of Mr. Ballou's asked him, – "Do you not think that the life of a clergyman is far from being a desirable one, when you consider all the sorrow and grief that the discharge of the duty attendant upon the profession necessarily makes one acquainted with?" He replied, evincing the peculiar light that was ever emitted from his eyes when he spoke earnestly, "Were I to live my life over again, knowing what I now so well know, by more than half a century of experience, I would choose again the same profession I have followed so long. The humble and faithful servant of Christ enjoys an inward happiness that none but his Master may know. There is no employment more fitting for the human heart, more ennobling to the nature of man, than the study of God's word, and none from which so great and reliable happiness may be derived." These evidences of his experience were treasured by many who were accustomed to seek his society for the benefit and pleasure of his conversation. The brethren throughout the order, and indeed every one who knew him, seemed actuated towards him by a spirit which the universal title he bore served to indicate; they always called him Father Ballou. I do not think there was one minister in the numerous order of Universalists who did not acknowledge his pre?minence in original talent, wonderful reasoning faculties, and unblemished moral excellence.

As illustrating this fact, we will let one of these brethren's remarks upon this subject speak for us here, by again quoting from the eulogy of Rev. Otis A. Skinner, delivered before his society in this city.

"But he was not merely our leader to the promised land; he entered it with us, and for more than half a century he continued with us, standing first in our esteem and affection, honored and beloved, with no effort to obtain authority, and no ambition to be a leader. The place which he occupied was voluntarily assigned to him; it was given in consequence of his true heart, his profound judgment, his undeviating attachment to principle, his entire freedom from art and management. Envy hurled at him its arrows, but they fell harmless at his feet; ambition sought to rise above him, but it sought in vain. There he stood like a father at the head of his family, content to exercise the sway which he obtained by his superior judgment, his commanding talents, and his devoted services. He never dictated; he was never impatient when opposed; he was never unkind to those who differed from him; he comprehended fully the true idea of religious liberty, and in no instance exhibited a desire to act the Pope. We doubt whether, in all the history of the church, an instance can be found in which a minister has had so high a rank in his sect, and yet manifested a less desire to bear rule.

"Nothing is more natural than for old men to oppose departures from their measures. All sects have had those who bitterly denounced every step taken beyond what they themselves had gone; but our honored father, when he saw movements for progress, when he saw new men proposing new plans of operation, placed himself on a level with the humblest, freely discussed the plan, and yielded with cheerfulness when convinced.

Not only did he yield, but held his mind open to conviction, and on, several points he came in and worked faithfully for what at first he hesitated to sanction. He was not like some advanced in years, ever looking to the past, and talking as though all wisdom was concentrated in it; he believed that new discoveries were yet to be made; that progress was a law of the true church, and that measures must be suited to the times. Hence the most radical, those most desirous for reform, never felt that he stood in the way: for there was not a reform which engaged the heart of the philanthropist that did not have his sanction. He was a modern man, and lived in the present time, as much, almost, as the youngest in our ministry. Let us go forward, was his motto."

Such was the universal meed of honor that was accorded to him by his brethren in the ministry.

CHAPTER XII.
MR. BALLOU AS A CONTROVERSIALIST

As passage after passage of scripture, which had heretofore been misapplied, was satisfactorily explained by his clear and far-seeing mind, thousands, who had before believed in a partial faith, were brought to a knowledge of Christ and the gospel. Mysteries were made plain, and dark ways were lighted, and the veil was thus removed from the eyes of the prejudiced, or those upon whom the force of education and early association had exercised supreme sway in matters of religion. "I have often been led to wonder," says Mr. Ballou, "forcible as is my own realizing sense of the evidence of impartial grace, that brethren, brought up and educated in a religion so diametrically opposite, should yield so readily, as they often do, to the arguments which we present to them, and not unfrequently being won to our belief and service with the least exertion on our own part. The reason of this is, that there are some independent minds, that boldly think for themselves; that acknowledge no blind obedience to the dogmas of the church, when those tenets of faith desecrate the rules of reason and justice. The very fact that it seems to be a part of the faith of partialists to give blind credence to the declarations of the church, and to consider it an actual sin to question the assertions of the minister relative to the signification of the Bible, has done much to keep the minds of men in darkness. My own youthful condition was an humble example of this fact. It was only by thinking for myself, – by receiving nothing without evidence, – that I at last came to that knowledge of Christ and the gospel which has since been to my life such a sustaining and precious legacy."

But he was called upon to encounter much opposition in the advancements which he made, and in latter years, perhaps, quite as often from professed Universalists as from those who openly opposed the doctrine he taught. There are many, even at this day, who seem to avoid the subject of future punishment, and who will not speak out openly whether they believe or disbelieve it. Such talk vaguely of policy, and the propriety of preaching moral sermons instead of doctrinal ones, which argument is, in itself, a most inexcusable aspersion upon the gospel. What kind of a faith must that be which will not bear to be preached? This singular idea seems to have extended, in some degree, to the preachers themselves, who have, in many instances, acquiesced in the caprice of their hearers upon the subject, or, at least, that portion of them who reason in this way upon doctrinal matters.

The true reason that doctrinal sermons are decried by some of the ministers is, that they afford no opportunity for them to introduce, perhaps, some style or course of reading that inclination may have led them to adopt. True scriptural teaching calls for sound argument, and substantial treatises upon the word, and is a strong test of mental capacity; whereas such sermons as are too often delivered to the people run upon miscellaneous themes, that were more properly left for newspaper or magazine articles, and are of a school of composition that a shallow brain may become a proficient in. We are most forcibly reminded in this connection of the words of a certain English bishop, who was travelling in this country a few years since, and who made the remark, that ministers here take a text from the Bible and preach about railroads, astronomy, statuary and painting; but that in his country they not only select their texts from the Bible, but they make its doctrines and principles the subject of their discourses. That wise old divine, Jeremy Taylor, found it necessary in his day to chide these fashionable preachers. "They entertain their hearers," said he, "with gaudy tulips and useless daffodils, and not with the bread of life and medicinal plants, growing on the margin of the fountains of salvation."

The true doctrine of the Scriptures is the very fountain-head of all morality, and those who talk so much about preaching moral sermons and avoiding doctrinal ones, should pause and consider well their own inconsistency. Mr. Ballou's sermons were strictly doctrinal ones, ay, emphatically so; but they were none the less moral also. The principles are synonymous, as must be evident to any thoughtful mind. That was excellent advice given to a pious son by Rowland Hill, to preach nothing down but the devil, and nothing up but Jesus Christ.

The pulpit in these modern times has been sadly perverted by some in all denominations; its legitimate and holy purpose has been lost sight of by many; and any predominating hobby of its occupant is rode rough-shod over the heads of the congregation, to the almost entire detriment of his usefulness as a religious teacher. They dress up the tenets of faith in modern livery to please the popular taste, and, perhaps, their own vanity, forgetting that "religion helmeted is religion no more." The minister seems, too, often thoughtless of the fact, that while he preaches, Almighty God is one of his hearers; the various isms of the times are made to take the place of holy writ, and sermons are overcharged with abstruse questions and transcendental ideas; or perhaps so labored with rhetorical flourishes and ornaments, that the hearer, who seeks to be led by the straight and narrow way, finds himself losing sight of the grand purpose and end of wisdom, while he tarries by the way-side to admire the gaudy-colored flowers that line the road.

"Eloquence, to be profitable, must come from the heart," says Mr. Ballou; "none other will prove effectual. I have heard men speak in public, yea, in the sacred pulpit, with an apparent effect that was evinced in every hearer; but when I turned away from the temple whither we had come up to worship the living God, and was led to review the word as spoken to that people, I could only recall the minister's excellent oratory, his faultless gesticulation, his admirable performance. Alas! what great truth had he illustrated, whom had he glorified save himself, whom enlightened as to the unbounded grace and goodness of God? And then I have prayed that Heaven would turn the noble endowments with which it had blessed that brother to a more worthy use, and fill his heart with that meekness and self-sacrificing spirit that is as a sweet and acceptable incense before the throne of Jehovah."

Ministers who follow this style of rhetorical and flowery preaching are not unfrequently pronounced very eloquent, and indeed are able to fix the attention, and much to interest an audience. But it is unprofitable eloquence; like the cypress, which is great and tall, yet bears no fruit. Pope has truthfully said, – "Flowers of rhetoric in serious discourses are like the blue and red flowers in corn, pleasing to the eye, but prejudicial to the harvest!" Keeping at the greatest distance from such errors, Mr. Ballou looked upon man as an intellectual and responsible being; believing that truth is the food for that intellect to thrive upon, and keeping the whole range of man's natural duties before him, his discourses were weighty, not in decorations for the fancy, but in sound reasoning upon the holy text, and in impressive and useful practical sentiment. This was his principle of theology, and, moved by such feelings, he never wasted time

 
"In sorting flowers to suit a fickle taste."
 

Or, as the editor of the Christian Freeman says, relative to this trait of his character: – "It was not so much his concern to be a man-pleaser, as to be a teacher and benefactor of men. Hence he would grapple with the errors of men, and take them out of the way; he would explain and elucidate the Scriptures; he would appeal to the reason and the moral sense of the people; and all in the most kind and magnanimous spirit. Thus he excited the active opposition of the conservative and creed-bound, elicited the earnest inquiry of multitudes of the people, and 'filled the world with his doctrine.'"

"He lived faithful to his own convictions of truth," says Rev. W. A. Drew, of the Gospel Banner, "never sacrificed a principle to the love of popularity, stood by his integrity as resolutely as ever martyr stood at the stake, brought no reproach upon his cause, but lived in the adornment of his profession, and died consistently with his life."

We have felt disposed to dwell somewhat upon this point, and to speak the more feelingly upon it, for the reason that this was one of the most frequent objections brought against Mr. Ballou's style of preaching, by those who found fault at all; and here we are fortunate in being able to give his own words and views upon the subject. It is true, the extract which we give does not contemplate the subject in precisely the same phase as that in which we have considered it, yet it has its bearing. The objection was brought, of course, mainly by those who, although they believed, or partially believed, the doctrine of universal salvation, were yet too timid to acknowledge it. The argument is brought home at once to our understanding and earnest conviction by the simplicity and force of the illustration.

"We have often been asked why we preach the doctrine we profess, as this doctrine maintains that our Creator has made the eternal state secure to all men, and that the happiness of that state rests on the divine favor, and not on any influence which we may exercise in this life. No doubt it seems unaccountable to our opposers that we should argue so much, preach so much, and write and publish so much, when, after all, we do not pretend that our eternal state of happiness depends on these exertions. They do not see why, allowing our doctrine true, it would not be good policy to say nothing about it. Then we might enjoy the esteem of the pious of all denominations, and be regarded by the religious community, avoid all the censure that is now put upon us, and still enjoy our opinion in silence. Now that our conduct in this respect is not so unaccountable as our opposers seem to think, a few remarks will serve to show.

"Suppose my acquaintance with my earthly father to be such as to give me the most favorable opinion of his whole character, so that I view him as one of the best husbands, one of the most provident and kind fathers, and a man of uprightness in all his conduct, against whom nothing in truth can be spoken. Suppose, under these circumstances, being full of love and reverence for my father, I hear him evilly spoken of, and that too by those who profess to be acquainted with him, – yea, by those to whom people in general look for information, and in whose testimony the most of people are disposed to place confidence. They go so far in this evil speaking as to represent the parent, whom I love, as guilty of acts of injustice and cruelty which deny him the smallest share of humanity.

"What am I to do in this case? I have proof in my hands to stop the mouths of these evil reporters, and I can do it effectually. To be sure, I must exert myself in the use of the means which are at my disposal, and I shall no doubt incur the displeasure of my father's traducers. All this is, of course, to be expected. But here I am told that almost all the people composing the community at large, are really of the opinion of those who thus speak evil of my father; and that, even if I knew these reports to be false, I had better say nothing about the matter, as it will only bring me into discredit. Suppose I should be weak enough to hesitate, and even shrink from the defence of my venerable father's character, should I not feel justly ashamed of myself? What could be more base in me than silence and inaction?

"Look again, and see how such a case would be aggravated by circumstances. My father told me that these traducers would speak evil of him, and on this very account put into my possession every kind of evidence which is necessary to refute all these evil reports, and charged me, by the dear relation in which we stood to each other, and the love which we have reciprocated, to be faithful in the defence of his character. Shall I be silent? Shall I be afraid that those who despise my father will also despise me? Shall I purchase their smiles at the expense of a character which is dearer to me than my life? What would it avail to urge in this case, that almost every one in the community would be against me? Is not this circumstance my justification? Surely; for, if people did not believe the false reports before mentioned, there would be no use of disproving them.

"But the subject admits of argument still more forcible. Suppose those who speak evil of my father are my brethren, and his own beloved children; and suppose, furthermore, that all who are deceived by this evil speaking are so likewise. We now have the whole difficulty in our family. My brethren are deceived concerning my father's character and conduct; he has never done those base things which they think he has. But they really believe these errors, and are tormented day and night with fear that they and their children will fall under the dreadful scourge of our father's wrath! Now, as I know that all their notions are false, and that it is a fact that the whole family are abundantly provided for, day by day, by the kindness and love of our father, can I, under these circumstances, be justified in not making even an effort to convince them of their errors? Here we see the honor of our father, the cause of truth and justice, all unite in calling upon me to open the evidence which our father has put within my hands for this purpose, – to give the knowledge of the truth to those who need it. With all these matters forcibly impressed upon my heart, which I have given to you in this simple form, how can I justify myself in doing otherwise than I do, humbly endeavoring at all times to dispel the cloud of error that partialists have contrived to throw about the received idea of our Father in heaven, – how can I reconcile it to my own heart to avoid doctrine, and preach aught else to the people while they starve for truth?"

Mr. Ballou was declared to be aggressive, in his spiritual warfare, as well as defensive; and so he was. Every great reformer must be so; every one that has left a worthy title to that name has done likewise. With a great truth to promulgate, with new light to diffuse, with a subtle enemy to encounter, it would not have been enough for him to take a position and hold it; the war must be carried into the enemy's country, and the white cross of truth must be made to surmount the loftiest points in the castles of error, and to float over the banners of infidelity and partialism. And this was his mode of warfare against bigotry. He spared neither himself nor the common enemy; his standard was reared everywhere, even in the very citadel of his religious opponents; and, strong in the gospel truths he advocated and trusted in, their arrows of wrath, steeped in the poison of superstition, found no unguarded point in his armor of gospel mail, but fell harmless to the earth, or more frequently rebounded to the harm of those who had sent them. His warfare against error was indeed aggressive; he seized upon every weak point, and never failed to thrust home. "I call God to witness," he says, "I feel no enmity towards any name, denomination or sect, under heaven; but I have a certain object in view which comes in contact with their errors."

Again he says: —

"In all the statements which I have made of the doctrinal ideas of others, I have been careful to state no more than what I have read in authors, or heard contended for in preaching and conversation; and if I have, in any instance, done those ideas any injustice, it was not intended.

"The reason," he continues, "why I have not quoted any author, or spoken of any denomination, is, I have not felt it to be my duty nor inclination to write against any name or denomination in the world; but my object has been, what I pray it ever may be, to contend against error, wherever I find it, and to receive truth and support it, let it come from what quarter it may. For the sake of ease, however, in writing, I have reasoned with my opponent, opposer or objector, meaning no one in particular, but any one who uses the arguments and states the objections which I have endeavored to answer.

"It is very probable that some may think me too ironical, and in many instances too severe on what I call error. But I find it very difficult to expose error, so as to be understood by all, without carrying, in many instances, my arguments in such a form as may not be agreeable to those who believe in what I wish to correct. I confess I should have been glad to have written, on all my inquiries, so as not to have displeased any, but to have pleased all, could I have done it and accomplished my main design; but this, I was persuaded, would be difficult. I have, therefore, paid particular attention to nothing but my main object, depending on the goodness of my reader to pardon what may be disagreeable, in manner or form, as inadvertencies." But all he did and said was in the spirit of the true Christian. He fought against error, – not against those who walked in the ways of error; it was a creed he decried, not his fellow-men; – and the battles he won were far more glorious than the blood-stained fields that follow in the train of mortal warfare.



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