Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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All his writings and all of his conversation, both public and private, were thoroughly imbued with this belief and principle of universal love; it ran like a golden stratum through all his life and conduct, imbuing every sentiment and every thought. His doctrine was such that a realizing sense of its character must invariably thus affect the firm and relying believer. He never held forth dark threats, nor adopted, like many preachers about him, the doleful tones of grief when he talked about religion. "If good people," says Archbishop Usher, "would make their goodness agreeable, and smile instead of frowning in their virtue, how many would they win to the good cause!" Mr. Ballou was affected, in his cheerful and happy belief of universal salvation, like Haydn, who, in answer to a query of the poet Carpani, how it happened that his church music was ever of an animating and cheerful character, answered, – "I cannot make it otherwise. I write according to the thoughts which I feel; – when I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap as it were from my pen."
How many there are among us who, the moment the subject of religion is mentioned, put on long faces, and talk as if they were mourning their own lot and that of all creation, "in hopes to merit heaven by making earth a hell!" Such people, by their example and bearing, would lead us to believe that churches are institutions reared for the purpose of encouraging long faces and dyspepsia, instead of pure altars from whence may ascend the glad incense of grateful hearts. How strongly it is impressed upon us that "God loves the cheerful giver!" and did not Christ reproach the Pharisees for disfiguring their faces with a sad countenance? To use the forcible language of another, they make of themselves "Hypocrites, who, to persuade men that angels lodge in their hearts, hang out a devil for a sign in their countenances." "It is quite deplorable," says Lady Morgan, "to see how many rational creatures, or at least who are thought so, mistake suffering for sanctity, and think a sad face and a gloomy habit of mind propitious offerings to that Deity whose works are all light and lustre, and harmony and loveliness."
Such was the philosophy of the subject of these memoirs, such his religion, such the doctrine which he taught. He found no cause for sorrow in his belief, but a never-failing fountain of joy ever welled up in his breast, pure and sparkling.
Mr. Ballou's religious belief, the faith which he promulgated with such zeal and wonderful effect, can be summed up in a few words. He held that God judges the human family in the earth; that every man must receive according to the sin he hath done, and that there is no respect of persons. That the "righteous shall be recompensed in the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner." That the future state of existence will be one of unalloyed happiness for the whole human family. That God is a being who governs the world with a parent's regard, and not with the wrath of a tyrant; that the world could be led to love him, but never driven to do it through fear.That love, not wrath, should be preached to the people. That all punishment is designed by the Divine Spirit for the reformation of the sinner, and consequently must take place where the sin is committed. That the reward of good deeds is to encourage well doing, and must come when and where the worthy acts are done. He believed in no more dreadful hell than is produced by the consequences of sin about us, with the still, bitter gnawings of conscience; and in no sweeter or more desirable reward than an approving conscience, and the natural consequences of doing good. He taught that man must be saved from his sins, not from the punishment of them, —that is impossible, – and that to be happy we must "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."
He believed that, in order to prove that misery will exist in the future or eternal state, it must first be made to appear that sin will exist in that state. But this he did not believe could be proved from any scriptural testimony; on the contrary, he was fully convinced that the Bible taught that "He that is dead is freed from sin." To quote his own words on this point: "We have shown, in order for justice to require the endless misery of any moral being, it must, of necessity, require the endless continuance of sin, than which nothing can be more absurd." Again he says: "We have sufficiently argued that man cannot be miserable in consequence of moral condemnation, any longer than he is, in a moral sense, a sinner." And we have often heard him make the remark, in regard to limited future punishment, that if any one would produce but only one passage of scripture which proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that sin or the sinner will exist, as such, in the eternal, immortal state, then I give up my doctrine of no future punishment; but until this is done, I shall hold to the doctrine that the Scriptures do not teach the principle even of a limited future punishment. Mr. Ballou would not allow analogy to take the place of scriptural proof on so important a subject as the destiny of man in the immortal state. He had nothing to do with mere assertions, which had not a "thus saith the Lord" for their support, on any doctrinal point.
This feature of his mind cannot be too strongly insisted upon. He was not content with relying on the spirit of the Scriptures, which would have fully sustained his doctrine, but he conciliated the spirit and the letter, and rested every proposition he advanced on this immutable and impregnable basis. If ever a man strictly obeyed the injunction to "search the Scriptures," it was Mr. Ballou. They were the armor from which he drew the shield that sheltered him in conflict, and all the shafts that garnished his quiver. He had the very words of Christ and his apostles for every item of his creed, and such creed alone would he accept as might be adapted to this standard. He was not one of those self-complacent and easy theorists, who readily support their favorite doctrine by a few ambiguous texts, or an arbitrary construction of a mooted passage. He was far too conscientious for this; the language of learned commentators, however elegant the phraseology and plausible the reason, never satisfied him. His standard was fixed in the Bible.
There was little of the enthusiast, – to use the term in its common acceptation, – nothing of the bigot and fanatic, in his nature. He first convinced himself of the truth of his ideas; he reflected and pondered them deeply by himself, in some of those abstracted moods peculiar to him, examining them in every light, trying them by every test, dispassionately and calmly; and then gave them to the world, armed at all points, and ready for defence against attack. And how prompt and ready he was to defend what he had satisfied himself was the truth, we need not reiterate here. The language in which he enforced his arguments was simple and clear, because his ideas were so. They needed not the tinsel garb of rhetoric, the flowers of a refined oratory, to make them presentable to the world; they needed no foreign or artificial aid; – no, they stood forth clear, simple, strong, arrayed in the garb and radiant with the light of truth and of nature. They stood the test of public scrutiny, because they had been refined in the alembic of his own severe and critical mind. This simplicity, which is fast becoming an old-fashioned virtue, commended the preacher to the earnest seekers after truth. It is a pretty fair inference to arrive at, when you hear a religion preached which requires disguise and ornament, that the truth is not in it. Where truth is there need be no such garbing; it is only error that requires to be gilded, like the covering to bitter pills, used to render them sweet. The gospel of Christ appeals to the judgment, not to the taste.
In relation to the argument of analogy, as used to prove the doctrine of punishment in a future state, we subjoin the following, in his own words: – "Another ground on which the advocates of a future state of rewards and punishments place much dependence for the support of the doctrine, they denominate analogy. We think it too hazardous to attempt anything like an accurate statement of the particular arguments, which are made to depend on this principle, in favor of this doctrine; for we might be liable to some mistakes, which would represent the views of its advocates differently from their mode of representing them. Our liability to misrepresent in such an attempt seems unavoidable, on account of the fact that there has been nothing like a system of reasoning yet exhibited on the general subject. We feel safe, however, in saying, that, as far as we have been informed, those who rely on what they call analogy to support the doctrine of future retribution, hold that, in all respects which are necessary to carry sin and its miseries into the future state, that state will be analogous to this mode of being. So that, reasoning from analogy, as moral agents sin, and thereby render themselves miserable in this world, the same moral agents may continue to do the same in the world to come. In connection with this argument it is urged, that, as it is evident to our senses that sin often escapes a just retribution in this world, it must be recompensed in another state, or divine justice must forever be deprived of its claims.
"On reasonings of such a character, we shall use the freedom to say, that they appear to have no higher authority than mere human speculations injudiciously managed. That they are nothing more than simple speculations, is evident from the fact that they are not founded on any divine authority. We presume that their own advocates never ventured to support them by scripture authority. And that they are managed injudiciously, is very apparent from the circumstances, that while they profess to be justified by the principle of analogy, they are a direct denial of the very analogy on which they depend. Theologians who endeavor to exert an influence over the minds of people by means of these speculations, are constantly urging that in this world we see sin procuring for its agents the riches and honors of the world, while it escapes judicial detection, and goes unpunished. Now, if they were consistent with their analogy and with themselves, they would see at once that in the next state of existence sin will procure for its agents the riches and honors of that world, and there, as well as here, escape judicial detection, and go unpunished. They would likewise see that as divine justice can quiet its own claims in this world, without administering a full and adequate retribution of human conduct, it may do the same in the future state. In this way we might proceed and make the future state precisely like the present; for we have no more authority for carrying sin and its miseries into a future world, than we have for carrying all other things into that state which we find in this. Reasoning from all that we know, we must believe that, so long as men sin, they will do so from the beguiling power of temptation. If, then, we believe that sin will exist in the future state, we must suppose that temptation will there act on the mind with a deceiving influence. In this world the wicked are allured with the hopes of temporal gain, and these attractions are strengthened by the belief that crime will not be detected, and that punishment will be avoided. Were it not for these hopes and allurements, no wrong-doing would be practised in this world; and to suppose that we shall transgress the law of God in the future world, without any temptation, is a speculation altogether arbitrary and capricious, as well as contrary to analogy."
"Of late, the writer of this," says Mr. Ballou, in one of his last published sermons, "has seen an inclination, in some of the professed preachers of Universalism, to adopt some of the peculiar opinions of our Unitarian fraternity. Among other things, is the opinion that men carry into the next world the imperfections of this; so that their moral condition hereafter will depend on the characters they form while here in the flesh; but that they may and will improve and progress in virtue and holiness in the spirit world. This opinion being rather newly adopted, and as it seems to ingratiate them into favor with Unitarians, it is quite natural for such preachers to devote not a small share of public labor to lead the minds of their hearers to the adoption of such views of the future state. Whenever the writer of this discourse comes in contact with these labors and opinions, he feels it to be his duty, in a friendly, brotherly, and candid manner, to endeavor to bring them to the test of some acknowledged standard. It is worthy of consideration, that the New Testament gives us but little on the subject of man's future state. There can be no doubt but Jesus was known to believe and preach a doctrine embracing the fact of the resurrection, and an immortal state for the human family. All this is clearly manifested by the question asked him by the Sadducees respecting the resurrection. In the answer which Jesus returned, we have all which gives us any account respecting the state of man hereafter which was spoken by him. In this answer, we are told the following facts: – 1st. That, in the future world, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. 2d. That, in that state, men will be the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. 3d. That they will be equal unto the angels, and that they can die no more. 4th. That the doctrine of the resurrection was shown by Moses, and that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for we all live unto him. St. Paul says more on the subject of the resurrection, and of the future state, than did Jesus. He says, 'As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' He also distinguishes man's state and condition in the future or resurrection state, from his condition here, as follows: – 'It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.' Thus we are taught that our future state will differ from the present as incorruption differs from corruption; as glory differs from dishonor; as power differs from weakness; as a spiritual body differs from a natural body. Now, if we allow ourselves to carry our speculations respecting our future state not only beyond all the Scriptures say on the subject, but so as to adopt distinctions in that state, which evidently conflict with the divine Word, do we not say, by so doing, that divine Revelation is not only incomplete, but also inaccurate?"
He believed that all those promises which give the assurance of the final holiness and happiness of the entire race of man depend solely on the will and power and goodness of God, and not on any conditions for the creature to perform. While dwelling upon this theme, which he delighted to do, he says: – "Let us pass to the prophecies of Isaiah; see Chap. 25: 6, 7, 8.
"'And in this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things. * * * And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.' No one will doubt that the provisions here spoken of are those which are provided in the gospel of salvation, – made for all people. The vail of darkness which is over all people is to be taken away. Death is to be swallowed up in victory, and tears wiped from off all faces. The rebuke of God's people shall be taken from off all the earth. And the proof is in the above passage, 'for the Lord hath spoken it.'"
Mr. Ballou says: – "I look with strong expectation for that period when all sin, and every degree of unreconciliation, will be destroyed, by the divine power of that love which is stronger than death, which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown; in which alone I put my trust, and in which my hope is anchored for all mankind; earnestly praying that the desire of the righteous may not be cut off. The fulness of times will come, and the times of the restitution of all things will be accomplished. Then shall truth be victorious, and all error flee to eternal night. Then will universal songs of honor be sung to the praise of Him who liveth for ever and ever."
In relation to the subject of his faith, Rev. A. A. Miner, in his funeral sermon delivered on the occasion, says: —
"Let me say, then, that he was a man of unswerving faith. He believed in the Bible as the treasury of divine revelation. His ministry was based upon it. Few men have confined themselves so exclusively to its themes. None have treated those themes with greater clearness and power. He studied the sacred page with a spirit equally removed from the Germanic philosophy, on the one hand, and from Calvinistic bigotry on the other. In the fulness of its promises, the riches of its grace, and the blessedness of its hopes, his soul continually delighted. It was to him the 'Book of books;' and, at the advanced age of more than fourscore years, its truths, still fresh in his memory, continually employed his understanding, and its glories enraptured his heart.
"He believed also in God; – in God as the supreme good. He believed in him as sovereign, – not simply as a candidate for sovereignty, but as already sovereign; nor alone as sovereign to create, to uphold, to rule, to condemn, and to chasten or destroy. So far had the world's faith gone. He regarded him as sovereign, not to do evil, but to do good, and to do good only. He believed God limited by his very nature to the doing of good, – that he is no more able to do evil than he is to be untrue. And, since it is admitted, on all hands, that there are moral influences by which some will be saved in perfect harmony with the exercise of their own voluntary powers, he believed that a God who is really sovereign in his moral domain can accomplish in all souls whatever is possible to be accomplished in any. Thus, from the character of God he saw freely flowing the blessed promises of his word.
"His faith, too, in Christ stood related to the affectionate Father as the sovereign cause. Christ was God's messenger to man. He came not to procure the Father's love for the world, but as a testimony of that love. He came not to open to man the door of mercy, but to strengthen man to walk in the already open door. His mission was not simply to explore the wide-spread moral waste, but to possess and cultivate it; not to make salvation possible, but actual; for God 'hath appointed him heir of all things,' – 'hath given all things into his hands, that he should give eternal life to as many as God had given him.' Thus it was his mission to accomplish a work, rather than to offer to accomplish it; and, by his ever-memorable prayer on the cross, he perfected the power by which the world will be saved; as he said, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.'"
No one who has thus far followed this unpretending but truthful biography, can fail to admit the full justice of the foregoing analysis and eulogy of Mr. Ballou's moral and mental nature. The faith of which Mr. Miner speaks was the strongest characteristic of the man. It illumined his whole life. His intellect was not clouded by doubts. In the geniality and genuineness of his faith he proceeded to the study of the book of books; every leaf he turned in the sacred volume confirmed the steadfast belief of his soul. He read it not as a verbal critic, not as a worldly philosopher, ambitious to found some system on the hints he might discover, but as a Christian seeking, where he knew he should discover it, the eternal light of truth. It was, indeed, to him a source of unsullied, uncloying, constant delight. Daily and hourly he discovered new beauties and new truths in its pages. Its story rolled before him like a wave of unbroken harmony, until his mental vision became almost microscopic in its powers of detection. Thus filled with the word, thus made conversant with its glowing truths and beauties, he constantly renewed and multiplied the means of awakening and confirming faith in others.
As we have labored to show, his reverence and love for his Maker were boundless; they absorbed his whole being – not, however, to the exclusion of earthly objects of affection, for he well knew that a true love of our Father in heaven is totally incompatible with the neglect of his creatures. Therefore, he was as unlike as possible to those ascetics of the middle ages, or the recluses of our own day, who fancy that a strict seclusion from the world, and a complete abandonment to religious exercises, is the most acceptable offering that can be made at the foot of the altar. This was an idea that found no sympathy in his bosom; he knew that there was nothing inharmonious between religious and social duties, and that to love our fellow-creatures is a proof of love towards God. His devotion was filial, but of that transcendent nature which far surpasses all the affections of this world. His boundless love of God rested on his vivid conception of his nature, as all-powerful, all-merciful, and all-good, the enthroned sovereign of the universe, the Father and Benefactor of each and all of the human race.
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