Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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His whole library did not exceed three hundred volumes, but these were of a character that particularly indicated the nature of his mind and pursuits, being well worn by constant use, and relating to such subjects as might be supposed to occupy and interest him. His thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures was almost unprecedented, and he was never at fault as to any passage or quotation from its wealth of knowledge. It was the book he had studied more than all others put together; nor was there any passage, in the whole of the sacred record, which had been made the theme of controversy or misunderstanding, that he had not also made the subject of careful study and exposition.

Every unoccupied moment was given to mental exercise upon the subject nearest to his heart. We have seen him thus occupied often in the street, when all the turmoil and bustle of life passed him by unheeded. On this peculiarity, Mr. Bacon says, in the eulogy before referred to: – "He wasted no power in frivolity, but as he walked the streets he seemed to be unaffected by the crowd about him, meditating some new utterance of the truth. I remember being amused, and yet impressed, by beholding him, in my youth, walking along with his head bent, and his lips moving as in speech, heeding not the passers-by or the shows in the street, appearing as quiet amid the noise and bustle as in the solitude of his own study. Yet should any one greet him by name, he would instantly pause, fix his sharp, keen eye upon the face before him, and, as he recognized the friend, one of the sweetest smiles that ever illumined a human face would spread over his countenance, deepening till that countenance was youthful indeed; then, with ready utterance of kind feeling and warm interest in the happiness of others, he made his affectionate regards known."

CHAPTER XIII.
SPIRIT OF HIS DOCTRINE

Mr. Ballou ever strove to make the word and the principles which he taught appear attractive, by representing them in their appropriate dress, the livery of joy and peace, and from the principles of fatherly love and kindness he gathered the strongest motives for humility, gratitude and obedience. He would tell you that God has written upon the fragrant flowers of the field, on the breezes that rock them, and the refreshing sun that nurtures them, indelible tokens of his fatherly affection, and would refer you to the blooming clover, and the falling rain, as blessings not to be misconstrued, in God's own hand-writing, a "way-side sacrament," free to all. He would never tire of depicting the Almighty through the spirit of the most beautiful emblems in nature, and ever deducing from them the most amiable and glorious traits of Deity.

The employment he made of the familiar images of nature will remind the reader of what we have already said touching the influences of his birth-place. The blue skies, the green pastures, the gushing rivulets, the everlasting hills that rear their giant summits to the glorious effulgence of the noon-tide sun, or the cold kiss of the midnight moon, spoke to his heart a language that his intellect faithfully interpreted.

The constant contemplation of beautiful natural scenery almost invariably inspires devotional feeling. In the wonderful solitudes of nature the sneer of the infidel is hushed upon his lips, and the worldly man forgets the passions, the jealousies, the intrigues, the heart-burnings and frivolities, of his daily artificial life. But the heart of the true, thoughtful, right-minded man does something more than mirror the images presented to his eye. It is not like

 
" – a sleeping lake,
That takes the hue of cloud and sky,
And only feels its surface break
As birds of passage wander by,
That dip their wing and upward soar,
Leaving it quiet as before."
 

Before the mind's eye of such a man, the beauties of nature do not glide away like the figures of a painted panorama, serving only to amuse, charming the eye for a moment with grace of form and beauty of manner, and then passing away like an idle dream, the "baseless fabric of a vision." In the true man, the child of God, the inner, the spiritual sense is awakened in sympathy with the material organs of vision. For him each lineament of nature is a revelation, each feature a symbol. The flowers are to him, as some one has beautifully remarked, the "alphabet of angels."

We have labored somewhat in these pages, even at the risk of repetition, to inculcate the idea that Mr. Ballou was one of these students of nature; and this was the case in a most eminent degree: the teachings that he received at her feet in youth he garnered up in his heart, to be repeated, to be illustrated, and illumined with new light from the brightness of his intellect, to be poured forth again to thousands who required so eloquent an interpreter. He had learned a lesson he could never forget, from the beautiful creations of God, of his fatherly affection. The fierce midnight storm, with its thunder-peals and lightning-flashes, had no terror for him; he knew better than to interpret it as a manifestation of the wrath and vengeful fury of the Deity; for he knew that it was to be followed by a purer and healthier atmosphere, by the glowing bow of promise, and by brighter smiles from the unshadowed sun.

In none of the varied phenomena of nature did he behold the God of wrath, the God of vengeance, the pitiless Deity of the dark theology, whose horrors he was destined to dissipate and overcome. Far from this. He deduced from every phase of nature the great truth of the all-prevailing and inexhaustible love of the Almighty for the children of his creation. Thus, by the simple symbols and tokens he had discovered, strewn like flowers along the pathway of life, he sought to awaken the torpid sense of those "who, having eyes, saw not, and having ears, heard not," the wonders of the glad tidings the angel-messengers of the Deity were commissioned to communicate to man.

Mr. Ballou's examples and illustrations of God's unbounded grace and goodness, as drawn from visible nature, were very frequent. God's word first, and then God's works, were his strength and shield. Let the following show his mode of reasoning in this particular. He says: – "If our Creator has so bountifully provided for our existence here, which is but momentary, and for our temporal wants, which will all soon be forgotten, what has he not done for the security of our immortal state, and for our enjoyment in the everlasting world? Pause, and behold what boundless scenes of riches and glory are opening to our view in Jesus, by whom life and immortality are brought to light! We have seen the brightness of the morning sun, have known the renovating majesty of his noon-tide rays, have seen a fair creation blest with his universal light and heat! But this is only a symbol of the Sun of Righteousness; his brightness is above that of the morning sun, his heat is more renovating than the rays of the noon. In him our Heavenly Father hath given unto us eternal life. As the life of the natural is in the sun, so the life of the moral creation is in Jesus, the light of the world, the life of man. If the earth be full of the goodness of the Lord, have we not in this a fair specimen of the rest of his vast creation? Have we any reason to believe that the earth is more favored with the divine goodness than any other part or parts of creation? No, surely we have not. All those worlds which sparkle in the wide expanse of heaven are full of the goodness of the Lord; and if time be all full of divine goodness, so is eternity; and if God be universally good temporally speaking, so is he in relation to spiritual things. What infinite reason have we to exercise our hearts in gratitude to God, and our affections in love to him, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy! With what propriety may we say, 'Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!'"

Observe how vastly different was the effect produced by the tenets of faith preached by many around him! How far from lovable was the portraiture drawn of God and Heaven by those who held forth the creed of the old school!

How many preachers of this school have won their ephemeral reputations solely by awakening the terrors of their auditors, and have been esteemed great in proportion to their ability to produce fainting, convulsions, tears and groans, among women and children! The perverted vision of such men rests on no image of nature, except such as they can distort to symbolize some imaginary dreadful attribute in the God of their theology. He is clothed by them in storms and clouds, as the heathen Jove was depicted grasping in his hand a sheaf of thunderbolts. From their portraiture every gleam of light is excluded, – it is a murky and repulsive mass of shadows. The gentle and fragrant flowers, the sweet perfumes and rainbow colors with which the face of nature is so prodigally decked, claim no word or thought of theirs; they cannot employ these images in their illustrations, they cannot reconcile them with their gloomy theories, – their very existence is unaccountable to their perverse vision.

"That gloomy, heart-dejecting something," says Mr. Ballou, "which has been maintained in our world at an incalculable expense of treasure, of comfort, peace and joy, – at the expense, also, of the tender charities of the heart, and the benevolent sentiments of the soul, – though called religion, is all counterfeit. It has drawn a sable curtain over the mildly radiant countenance of our Father in heaven, and in room of leading the mind to contemplate the Divine Being with pleasure and delight, it has attached a horror to the sacred name, which gives a stupefying chill to the heart, repels the mind, and forces it to seek relief in the contemplation of visible and sensible objects; and after becoming the author of this horror and disgust in the soul, it artfully takes the advantage of the deception, to inculcate a belief that the reason of these feelings is the natural depravity of the human heart! Such are the views which youth are led to entertain of religion, that they contemplate it as something calculated to deprive them of their present comforts, and only useful as it relates to a state of existence hereafter, where, as a recompense for sacrifices which they make of happiness in this world, they are to receive extensive and lasting blessings. With such reflections, it is natural to delay the concerns of religion as long as possible, with an intention to submit to its unpleasant requirements in season to win the prize. This is evidently the reason why youth are so little inclined to employ their thoughts on divine things, and to prefer amusements and trifling vanities to the acquisition of Christian knowledge.

"But true religion presents the Father of our spirits as the most lovely character of which the mind can possibly conceive. It directs to the contemplation of that almighty power which controls a universe, and to view all its elements in harmony with the unchangeable love of God to his creatures. In youth, while the heart is tender, and sensibility quick and lively, what an exquisite delight the mind is capable of enjoying, by penetrating through visible objects and the beauty of temporal things, to the contemplation of that wisdom, power and goodness, which are manifest through the medium of these outward forms! If the fragrance of the rose can so gratefully delight the sense, how much greater is the pleasure to the rational mind which flows from the consideration of that wisdom and goodness which gave this power to the rose, and this capacity to sense! From this single item let the mind glance through all creation, and freely indulge the reflection that the universe is as full of the divine goodness as the rose or the lily of the valley. Freed from superstition, what heart would not be charmed with the character which the Saviour gives of our Heavenly Father? 'Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.'"

These mute, but beautiful and eloquent testimonials of their Maker's love and gentleness, would rebuke the dogmatism of the schools; and hence they naturally avoid to mention the graceful, refined and touching features of nature. They prefer rather to revel in their own dark and unwarrantable conceptions of a future state, to gloat over the prospective agony of their brethren, to conjure up horrid pictures of future suffering and woe, and madly to pronounce all as being necessary to the full glory of God, and the exemplification of his almighty power. What wonder, then, that thousands, turning with loathing and shuddering from the image of a deity clothed with all the repugnant attributes of the most debased humanity, plunge into hopeless unbelief, refusing all credence in such a being, and in any future state whatever? Was it not a Herculean task to combat the immemorial and prescriptive dogmas of powerful and learned preachers, armed with all the rhetorical imagery of the schools for working terror and despair in the hearts of their listeners?

Again Mr. Ballou says: —

"The preacher of the old school exhorts his hearers, above all things, to the practice of the most rigid self-denial; and assures them that God will be highly pleased with their abstaining from those pleasures which he has placed within their reach. The most innocent amusements, the most harmless recreations, he declaims against with the utmost vehemence, as damning sins. He considers religion essentially to consist in a perpetual effort to suppress and eradicate that propensity to acquire temporal happiness which the God of nature has made to be the spring of our actions. But on no subject does he delight to dwell so much as on the future punishment of the wicked and impenitent. He dresses up the Father of the universe in the awful robes of eternal wrath and unbounded indignation, filled with incessant anger at the crimes of the wicked, exerting infinite wisdom in devising the modes and augmenting the severity of their punishment.

"The eternal din of future punishment soon loses all effect in frightening the people, and has no influence but to impress a melancholy gloom on their minds. Mankind are to be animated to strive to enter the gates of heaven by the love of God and of goodness. He who attempts it through fear of damnation exhibits no evidence of holiness of heart. As well may we call a man honest who, having an inclination to steal, refrains for fear of the whip, as we may a man religious, who, having vicious inclinations, restrains them, and conforms to the exteriors of religion, for the purpose of escaping the flames of hell. It is matter of much regret that the amiable religion of Christianity should be so disfigured and misrepresented as to deprive many people of the happiness of enjoying it. Jesus Christ has in the clearest manner inculcated those duties which are productive of the highest moral felicity, and consistent with all the innocent enjoyments to which we are impelled by the dictates of nature. Religion, when fairly considered in its genuine simplicity and uncorrupted state, is the source of endless rapture and delight. But, when corrupted with denials, mortifications, and a punctilious observance of external rites, it assumes a form disgusting to men of taste, and a relish for social happiness, and is productive of the most destructive consequences. It drives one part of mankind into the practice of superstition, hypocrisy and bigotry; and, by exciting a distaste and aversion in the minds of the other part, it excludes them from the rational pleasure arising from the practice of genuine religion. The road to heaven is pleasant and delightful, if mankind will go the right way; and certainly God will bid the saint as sincere a welcome to the realms of immortal felicity who has in the journey of life tasted the temporal delights of innocence, as he will him who has abstained from them. Why, then, should we leave the path that is strewed with flowers and roses, for the purpose of going in another through a wilderness beset with thorns and briars, when both parts will terminate in the same happy country?"

People listen to the dogmas of the schools, and are filled with awful forebodings; terror is the predominating principle in their bosoms, and sorrow takes possession of their hearts, speaking out from their faithful countenances in sadness. How far is the true influence of the gospel from inducing such results as this! Mr. Ballou believed, with Fenelon, that "true piety hath in it nothing weak, nothing sad, nothing constrained. It enlarges the heart; it is simple, free, and attractive." If this were not the true nature of the gospel, how could there be "peace and joy in believing"?

He held that the true way to cleanse the hardened and rebellious heart is to inundate it with a deluge of love, the only weapon of Omnipotence. Reason with the sinner, he will meet you with subtle argument; threaten him, and he will meet you blow for blow; against future interest he will adroitly balance present pleasure. The human heart rises against severity or oppression, while it is soothed by gentleness, as the waves of the ocean rise in proportion to the violence of the winds, and sink with the breeze, until it becomes a gentle zephyr, into mildness and serenity. Love, the warm sunshine of our existence, subdues the sinner at once; there is not one in a thousand whose heart is so hardened that its genial warmth will not melt it. True it is that force can subdue numbers, cunning conquers force, intellect can master cunning, but love conquers all. There is a vast difference between a wounded heart and a contrite spirit. You may break ice by force into a thousand pieces, – it is ice still; but expose it to the warm sun, and behold! how quickly it will melt!

We have enlarged somewhat upon this doctrine of divine love, and trust that our readers will bear with us in our desultory career, since this principle is the fundamental basis of Universalism, – the starting-point and the goal, the Alpha and the Omega, of Mr. Ballou's spiritual experience and teaching. By it he reconciled the impulses of his heart and the promptings of his intellect. The principle of God's perfect, unchanging and eternal love of man, was the great discovery of his earliest manhood, the object of his self-imposed mission, the inspiration and solace of his labors, the spirit and joy of his existence. His adamantine belief in this great idea, daily strengthening by the study of God's works and word, was his shield and spear. It touched his lips with living fire, as he stood in the pulpit, or beneath the blue canopy of heaven, where he often preached; in the solitude of his study, in the busy haunts of men, it fed the flickering lamp of life when it waned with severe exertion, and it shone like the brightest star of heaven on his dying bed. It was no solitary joy; the treasure he had found he journeyed through the land to share with others. From his lips the glad tidings rang through every nook and corner; and he lived, as we have seen, long enough to hear the accents caught up by the willing and faithful watchmen of the gospel, and the cry of "All's well!" echo from port to port, from battlement to battlement, on the castles of Zion, through the vast circumference of his native land. He saw his denominational congregation swollen from a little band of eager listeners to an auditory numbering hundreds of thousands. He saw the shadows of unbelief flying from the face of truth, as the mist of morning disappears before the rising sun. And he felt joyful, but not proud or elated, in the consciousness that his sacred mission had been crowned with such complete success, and that multitudes recognized the truth which he first enunciated, that the law of God was the law of love.

But let us give place here to his own words, beautifully expressed, and illustrating his belief, and the spirit of his doctrine, as appears in a poem he wrote upon this theme, some years since. It is entitled

GOD IS LOVE
 
"When lovely Spring, with flowery wreaths,
Comes on young Zephyr's wing,
And every bird soft music breathes,
'Tis love that makes them sing.
 
 
Love blossoms on the forest trees,
And paints each garden flower,
Gives honey to the laboring bees
In every sylvan bower.
 
 
Love breathes in every wind that blows,
And fragrance fills the air;
Meanders in each stream that flows,
Inviting pleasures there.
 
 
Love brings the golden harvest in,
And fills her stores with food;
It moves ten thousand tongues to sing
Of universal good."
 

"If we believe that God so loved us that he sent his Son to die for us, we ought to love one another," he says. "Shall I not love those objects whom my God loves? Shall I not love all those for whose sins he sent his Son to be a propitiation? Most assuredly. This is a consequence naturally to be expected from our belief. I do not say that all who profess the doctrine do love one another as they ought; but I have the confidence to say that no one who possesses the real sentiment, the real principle, in his heart, can do otherwise than love all mankind. And here you will easily perceive that all the commandments of the gospel are to be obeyed. For when we love one another and love God, what duty is there that will be neglected? If this will not lead us to our duty, what will? Will terror make us do our duty? No; for, referring once more to the similitude, what drove your children away? It was believing the story they were told of your character. What brought them back? Knowing you were good. And know you not that it is the goodness of God that leadeth to repentance? Why, then, should not his goodness be preached to sinners? Why should we be told such awful stories with regard to eternity? Why should we be told that there is an everlasting state of burning, in order to induce us to love our Father in heaven? O! incongruous doctrine! Let it be banished from the world, and let the angel of the covenant proclaim the love of God to mankind; and may the world be converted. Man will then love his fellow-man; we shall all see that we are the children of God, that we are all the objects of God's love, and all the objects of our Saviour's grace. Believe this truth, treasure it up in your hearts, let your affections move with assent, love God and love one another, and the God of love and peace shall be with you."



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