Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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Let us add that the triumphs of truth are the more glorious for being bloodless, deriving their brightest lustre from the number of the saved, instead of the slain. Personally he could have no enemy, – he would not have recognized any human being as such; but against error he waged a most open and resolute warfare, throughout the entire course of his life.

In May, 1841, the society over which Mr. Ballou had so long held sole ministration voted to engage a colleague to assist him in the duties of pastor, and the Rev. T. C. Adam was engaged by them in this capacity. It was understood between Mr. Ballou and his assistant that each should preach on certain Sabbaths; so that when Mr. Ballou did not preach in his own desk, he might be able to answer some of the constant and increasing demands upon his services from the neighboring towns. Although at this time seventy-three years of age, he preached every Sabbath, frequently delivering three discourses during the day and evening. Mr. Adam was not long attached to the society; but other ministering brethren, at the desire of the society, assisted from time to time in the pulpit. From May, 1842, to May, 1844, Rev. H. B. Soule, a pure-minded and eloquent brother in the ministry, was the junior pastor, exercising a most godly influence by his teachings, and making in this period a host of sincere friends. In January, 1846, Rev. E. H. Chapin was installed as junior pastor, which situation he filled to universal satisfaction and continued usefulness for some two years; when, having resigned his connection with the society, Rev. A. A. Miner was unanimously invited to become the colleague of Mr. Ballou, and was duly installed May 31, 1848; retaining his situation until the decease of the pastor, Mr. Ballou, whose desk he now fills.

The connection of these several brethren with Mr. Ballou personally was of the most agreeable character, friendly, and profitable to their mutual spiritual interests. But, without appearing to reflect in the least upon the other associates in this connection, concerning this latter brother's union with the subject of this biography, we should be unfaithful did we not refer to it in the terms it merits, and should fail to do that which Mr. Ballou himself would have desired. For more than four years the most uninterrupted and delightful intercourse continued between them. No son could have been more considerate, kind, and assiduous, no father more affectionate and grateful, than in this case. Mr. Ballou has often declared, in our hearing and in his family circle, the earnest friendship he realized, – nay, the affection which entirely filled his heart towards one in whom he found no guile, and who seemed sent by a kind Providence to smooth the declining steps of his professional career. It is hardly necessary to add here, that this feeling was shared in by every member of Mr. Ballou's extensive family.

Rev. Henry Bacon says, relative to the period when associate pastors were connected with him: – "Mr.

Ballou was out of his element in inactivity, and therefore he travelled extensively in many of the states, especially the New England, 'preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of God.' Many feared that he was thus perilling his fame, going forth after the threescore years and ten were passed; but he wisely used the labors of his years of full strength, and seemed to renew his youth as he entered into the expositions of the Divine Word. I never heard more enthusiastic encomiums on his preaching than within the few last years; and there was power in the very aspect of the old man's form, as he stood in the sacred desk, in an old age that was indeed 'frosty but kindly,' – with a winning and impressive venerableness, full of the raptures of early years, and casting a beautiful shadow in the way of those who needed such a guidance to the realms of immortality and glory."

Not unfrequently, when some of his old friends were called home to their God in advance of him, – men who had perhaps been converted in their youth by his teachings, and felt thus strongly endeared to him by the ties of friendship and spiritual interest, – they would in their last moments express an earnest desire to have him perform the last ceremony over their mortal remains. When this was the case, notwithstanding his advanced age, and even at times in the depth of winter, he always complied with their desires.

When he had finally made up his mind to the performance of anything, and was satisfied that it was his duty to do it, nothing in the shape of ordinary impediments could possibly prevent him from carrying out his purpose. A case of this kind occurred, for instance, in the winter of 1845, during one of the most severe storms that had been experienced in this region for years. Mr. Ballou, with the snow of seventy-six winters upon his head, persevered in accomplishing and performing one of these Christian deeds of kindness on the occasion of the death of Col. Pierce, of Gloucester, Mass., a man widely known for his goodness of heart, and as a warm believer and advocate of universal salvation.

He seemed to have no dread or fear of the elements at all, or of personal exposure to them; and let the storm rage as severely as it might, he always kept his appointment, and to the very last was never in the habit of riding to the place of worship, but walked, in all weather, in sunshine or in rain. He retained his physical faculties in the same remarkable degree of preservation as was the case with his mental endowments. His hearing, up to the last week of his life, never perceptibly declined; and in his funeral discourse Mr. Miner says: – "Though the weight of more than fourscore years was upon him, his vigor was scarcely abated, and his unassisted sight enabled him to read a Bible of fine print with ease." His step was firm, and his strength permitted him to walk from one extreme of the city to another, even to the last time he left his house. The simple deduction from these facts is, that he was never guilty of excess, or of the abuse of those faculties which a kind Providence had bestowed upon him in such perfection.

It was his practice to pray most earnestly with the sick, to whose bedside he was constantly being called. We would that every reader of these pages might once have seen him on such a mission of holy consolation. His step was so quiet and noiseless in the sick room, his expression of countenance so peaceful and hope-inspiring, his words so gentle and so redolent of heavenly assurance, that a spell of silence and peace seemed to surround all things. In prayer with him, "that key which opes the gates of heaven," did the sick and dying seek for confidence and consolation in their trying moments.

 
" – In his duty prompt at every call,
He watched and wept, he prayed and felt, for all."
 

We have been present when, "beside the bed where parting life was laid," with his voice pitched to a low, soft cadence, and the sick one's hand held gently within his own, he has breathed such heaven-inspired language of peace, held forth the cherished promises of Christ, and shown the divine character of our Heavenly Father in its true light so clearly, yet so mildly and persuasively, that a smile of contentment would light up the pallid features of the sufferer, giving token of the same light of hope shining within his soul, and leaving an impression on the hearts of those who knelt with him in that presence never to be effaced. O! it is a glorious mission thus to be the herald of peace and good will to the struggling soul at its last moments, – thus to pass it over, as it were, in confidence to God who gave it!

Often have we heard it said, "I had rather hear Father Ballou pray than any other person; it seems almost impossible not to follow him in every thought and expression." The truth is, his whole heart was in the prayer; he felt what he said; he humbled himself in sincerity before the throne of Jehovah; while the easy and spontaneous flow of devotional language that fell from his lips was calculated to charm the ear of the listener, and lead him to nearer communion with the omnipotent Being whom he heard so sincerely addressed. His prayers were void of that unpleasant hesitancy of speech which unfortunately too often characterizes the delivery of ministers in this exercise. His effort proved one smooth and liquid flow of devotional thoughts, from a soul fully baptized in the love of God. On such occasions, the altar of his heart seemed lighted, and it burned pure and bright before the throne of his Father in heaven. The immense power of prayer can hardly be overrated, or its real influence upon our minds properly conceived of, when uttered in such a manner as we have described. It then becomes the peace of our struggling spirit, the rest of our care, the calm of our tempest.

It was thus with all his religious exercises. He never failed to impress the hearer with his own sincerity, and to imbue his spirit with a devotional feeling that brought with it refreshing influence and vivifying hope.

His devotedness to his profession, his untiring zeal in the cause which he advocated, his frequent self-sacrificing exertions in its behalf, were the constant theme of his brethren in the ministry. His never-varying and earnest pursuit of his grand object, – that of convincing the world of God's impartial love to all mankind, – his perfect reliance on an overruling Providence, his perfect faith in the omnipotence of truth and virtue, were all so ardently realized and manifested in his heart and dealings with his fellow-men, as to be the remark of all who knew him. His own experience had taught him to place the fullest reliance upon the Divine goodness, for it had strangely supported him through adversity, and had carried him through many dark trials, triumphantly supporting him amidst discouragements which must otherwise have inevitably overwhelmed a less confiding spirit.

It was a most extraordinary circumstance for him to miss a single Sabbath from church; and we do not think this occurred a score of times up to his seventy-ninth year. The weather, however violent, either in town or country, as we have before remarked, never prevented him from attending to his professional appointments. Even in physical illness he never faltered, and has more than once fainted in the desk from bodily weakness, caused by attending to his services at church when physically unable to do so. We are forcibly reminded here of a portion of a letter from Rev. H. B. Soule, then colleague with Mr. Ballou, to Rev. Stephen R. Smith. Both of these brethren, whose light burned so bright and lovely at that time, were called home by their Maker before this elder servant in their Master's vineyard.

"You will want to hear a word of our Father in Israel. He continues in good health for a man seventy-three years old; he preaches yet as strong as most men at forty. Nothing but death will ever bring rest to his labors. Most men, at his age, would sit down, and in dreamy idleness or mere social converse wait their call. Not so with him; his God-given mission will not be finished till his lips are sealed forever. He will preach as long as he can stand; and as long as he does preach his preaching will be reverenced. Preach as long as he can stand! yes, and longer! When that aged frame, pangless and cold, sleeps in the grave; when that voice, eloquent so long with 'good tidings of great joy,' shall be hushed on earth, then will Father Ballou preach as he never did before. His life, with its sainted virtues, its noble toil, its Christian zeal, will be a sermon, – how thrilling, how divine, they will know who read it. May it be long ere it is written! God bless him in his old days, and sanctify his example to the young servant who stands beside him!"

The young brother who thus wrote spoke most truly. He studied well the character of him with whom he was associated; he realized the present effect of his words, and the future influence they must inevitably exercise. "His life," says the junior pastor, "when that voice shall be hushed upon earth, will preach as he never did before." That time has now come; we now realize this period referred to. "Though dead, he yet speaketh." Full of honors and of years, he has lain him down to sleep his last sleep; but he will still preach to us as eloquently as ever, perhaps with increased influence, through the memory of his pure and godly life, and the power of the works he has left behind. "By the world he will be remembered as the apostle of Universalism," says T. A. Goddard, the superintendent of his Sabbath-school, in his address to the school, "the advocate of the paternal character of God; and he will speak to men as of old, when he charged them to cast away their creeds and superstitions, and to search the Scriptures for themselves. To his people he will speak whenever they enter this temple, reminding them of the many years he dwelt with them in peace, and of the glorious truths that have dropped from his lips. To us he will speak, with his benignant eye, as often as we enter this room, telling us, in the language of the apostle, 'Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God.' This theme – the love of God – was, indeed, one which he delighted to dwell upon; and with what unction would he treat it in all its length and breadth!" Yea, though his personal work be ended, yet the influence of his life-long labors will be perpetuated for centuries.

Mr. Ballou was particularly remarkable for his punctuality, and always took precaution that no matter, of whatever description, should be delayed by him. This was a point upon which he was always exceedingly tenacious. Often have we heard him say that punctuality is not merely a duty that we owe to others, but absolutely a duty to ourselves, and one of the most important principles that can be adopted and observed in every and all relations of life; and upon this belief he ever acted. If he had an engagement to proceed to any of the neighboring towns to preach, or was about to commence a journey of any considerable length, which was very often the case, he always allowed a reasonable period of time to spare at the place of starting, and took good precaution that he should never find it necessary to hurry in any emergency. In short, he made it a strict and abiding principle to be punctual in every case, important or comparatively otherwise. This was one reason why he was enabled to accomplish so much, – the proper division of time, and adherence to the appointed period for each specific purpose, giving him great command of his resources. Thus it has been said of him that he seemed completely independent of time and place, and so it would almost appear.

Burning with a constant desire to be about his Master's business, he could not remain idle for a moment when he realized that he might be profitably employed to the end of promulgating and enforcing the religion he taught. As we have before said, personal convenience or comfort were not taken into consideration at all; he was ever ready, ever willing, to respond promptly at each call; but so numerous were these, that he was obliged to adopt the principle of supplying the society first who came to him first, and those persons who read our denominational papers will have noticed that his appointments were frequently announced, up to the very last, for weeks in advance. The good that he undoubtedly accomplished in these itinerant missions must have been incalculable. Realizing that he could occupy but an hour or so in a place, he usually took up some prominent point of theology, and, by his masterly handling of the subject, cleared its questionable character entirely from the hearer's mind; and thus having gained one step before them which would impart a degree of confidence in his faith and general mode of explanation, he would then go over a most extensive field of faith, pointing out features here and there, and the props that should be raised to sustain this portion and that, and leaving the minds of the people, at last, strongly impressed with a system of theology that they might themselves understandingly pursue and reason upon, taking for a groundwork or platform that which he had clearly elucidated to their minds as the true fundamental basis of the gospel of Christ.

In reference to his frequent travels about the country, we would that it were possible to obtain more of the numerous incidents, so illustrative and characteristic, that used so constantly to occur to him. One anecdote strikes us at this moment, which is not without its bearing, as it relates to his power for repartee, or rather, we should say, his ability to turn the most familiar subjects into argumentative use and advantage.

When it is remembered that Mr. Ballou's belief was that salvation is the process of making people happy, the point of the following anecdote will be appreciated. It happened, on one of his short excursions in the neighboring country, that he stopped at a public house, where he had occasion to pass through a room which a woman was about to engage in cleaning. She had heard that he was at the house, and, being of a different faith, she determined to ask him, if an opportunity offered, just one single question, which, in her simplicity, she conceived to be perfectly unanswerable by those who believed in the doctrine Mr. Ballou advocated. As he came in, she began: – "Your name is Ballou, I believe, sir?" – "Yes, madam," said he, "my name is Ballou." – "I'm told that you preach," said the woman, "that all mankind are going to be saved." – "Yes," replied he, "I do." – "Well, Mr. Ballou," continued she, "do you believe they will be saved without first becoming perfectly holy? Do you believe they will be saved just as they are?" He looked at her mop. "What are you going to do with that mop?" he asked. – "Why, sir," replied she, "I'm going to mop up the floor." – "Are you going to mop up the floor," he asked, "before it becomes perfectly clean? Are you going to mop it up just as it is?"

Could a more happily conceived answer have been given to the woman, if hours had been consumed in its preparation? We opine not; and herein the reader will observe the instantaneous and lightning-like operation of Mr. Ballou's mind.

His conversational powers were most remarkable, – remarkable because ever tempered with such a fund of logical clear-sightedness, such profound acumen, and such convincing argument upon the topic under discussion; then we have to add to this the effect of his speech, so distinct and impressive. Hazlitt's remark of Coleridge, that he was an "excellent talker, – very, – if you let him start from no premises and come to no conclusion," would in no way apply to the subject of these memoirs; for, at the outset of Mr. Ballou's conversation, you would at once divine the end he aimed at, and would only be surprised at the velocity with which you found him leading you to the desired result, always established in his own mind, though he addressed you with the calm and collected expression that was a second nature to him. No mountain of error seemed too lofty for him to surmount, with giant strides and unbroken strength; and you would find his white flag of truth waving from its summit, and yourself breathing freer and deeper at the consummation of the rough ascent, before you had fairly found time to realize the power of reason necessary to surmount the rugged obstacles of the path. And once elevated above the murky haze of error, his descent with you again to the lowlands and plains of every-day life was as easy and graceful as his ascent had been majestic and lofty.

Often, in private conversation with those who had come to his own fireside to meet him, he was most efficacious. In the grandeur of his conception, the glory of his theme, and the unequalled sincerity with which he advocated it, his soul would seem to expand, his eyes to kindle in the expression to a surprising brilliancy, his lips and countenance seemed like those of one inspired, while you would have been almost awed at the man, had not his theme so much more power over your heart. But, having uttered such language as few could frame, having challenged your admiration and wonder by the adaptedness of every word, and the conviction that he forced upon you, he relapsed again into the quiet, peaceable, domestic soul that he was, and you would seem to look around instinctively to behold the spirit which had so entranced your faculties but a moment before, it seeming impossible that it was he who sat so quietly beside you.

Mr. Ballou's reading was confined almost entirely to sacred history, and, comparatively speaking, he consulted little else, though he was well versed on all general subjects, and he carefully perused at least one daily newspaper regularly. We remember to have asked him, at a late period of his life, why he did not vary his reading somewhat from the great theme of divinity, arguing that it might afford some relief to his mind, and be of both mental and physical benefit to him, by somewhat relaxing the constant exercise of his brain. He answered us in the words of Milton, – "The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love him, and to venerate him;" adding, that this was the great actuating purpose of his labors and study; in short, the being, end and aim, of his existence. "That which seems to you to be labor," said he, "is to me as refreshing recreation. No course of reading could afford me the pleasure and delight that I find in that which has engaged me, heart and soul, for more than half a century."



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