Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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"I first saw Father Ballou a short time before the commencement of his public ministry. It was in the town of Vernon, then called Hinsdale, in the State of Vermont. At that time there was but one open and decided Universalist in the place. This solitary champion of the common salvation had long been impressed with a desire to have the gospel of the grace of God, in the fulness of its universality, preached to those of his neighbors who might feel disposed to give it a hearing. An arrangement was at length made with the Rev. David Ballou, an elder brother, to deliver a lecture in the place.

"The day was designated, and due notice of the meeting given. At the appointed time the preacher came, and Hosea came with him. He was then a tall, slim young man, with an aspect, however, which indicated profound thought, and a deep solemnity of feeling. In his general appearance there was a marked peculiarity, a certain something which arrested and fixed the attention, and which impressed the beholder with the conviction that no ordinary individual was before him, – that the germs of eminence, the genuine elements of intellectual greatness, were embodied within him.

"Such, at any rate, was the impression among the more inquisitive and discriminating who attended that meeting. At the close of the sermon, Hosea gave an exhortation, and offered the concluding prayer; and this effort was spoken of, especially by the less conservative and bigoted, as one of rare spirituality and power. It became the topic of general remark, and of high encomium.

"The next day, if I mistake not, he made his first attempt as a preacher of the everlasting gospel, as a public advocate of the sublime doctrine of the salvation of all men 'by the blood of the cross.' It was, as I have often heard him say, a partial failure. The exordium went off very well; but, as he proceeded with the discussion, he often hesitated, now and then came to a pause, and was finally obliged to sit down before he had reached the original design of the discourse.

"He was deeply mortified. He was discouraged. He resolved to abandon all thoughts of the ministry. He felt himself utterly incompetent to the efficient discharge of its high and momentous duties. His friends, however, interfered in the premises. They succeeded in changing his purpose. They persuaded him to persevere in the work of a Christian minister, and it was not long before he made his second attempt at sermonizing. The effort succeeded. It was a complete triumph. The manner in which he acquitted himself was a matter of deep astonishment to his friends, and to all who heard him. In that meeting his lofty and invaluable career finds its legitimate date. It was followed by no faltering, no irresolution, no shrinking from toil, however laborious, or however wearing to the physical frame or to the mental powers.

"He soon became immensely popular. His fame went forth as on the wings of every wind.

From all quarters, far and near, the Macedonian cry, 'Come over and help us,' poured in upon him. These calls, so far as it was possibly practicable, were promptly and cheerfully honored. His labors, of course, became exceedingly abundant, – almost, indeed, without intermission. By day and by night he was found at his post, and zealously doing his great work.

"He frequently held meetings in the town where he was born and brought up, and in nearly all the towns in that region. His circuits often embraced some hundreds of miles, and in making them he preached almost every day, and not unfrequently several times in a day; and wherever it was generally known that he was to hold forth, immense crowds rarely failed to be present, that they might listen to his testimony. Though a mere youngster, I myself once walked, or rather ran, eight miles and back, to hear him. The news of the meeting did not reach me till somewhat late on Sabbath morning, and no mode of conveyance to the place could be obtained. I was, of course, reduced to the necessity of either losing that rare spiritual treat, or of making my way to it on what Mr. Murray used to call 'apostolical horses;' in other words, on foot. And so great was my anxiety not to lose a word that might fall from his lips, that I forgot to take with me a crumb of anything for a lunch, and so I lost my dinner; or, rather, I had to make it on the sermon and the prayers which I had heard, and it was truly one of the most luscious meals which it has ever been my good fortune to eat. It was devoured with a high relish.

"The subject of these remarks was the youngest of five brothers, three of whom were preachers; and I once had the privilege of attending a meeting at which four of them, with the venerable father, were present. Hosea was the preacher. He seemed to have made special preparation to meet the peculiarities of the occasion. Contrary to his usual custom, the sermon was written. At the proper time he commenced its delivery. The old father – himself a Baptist clergyman of considerable note – and the elder brothers, were seated around him.

"He was not familiar with the use of a manuscript, and, of course, to read from one he found to be a new and somewhat awkward business. For a little time, however, he persevered in the effort. The experiment was far from being satisfactory either to himself or to the congregation. In spite of him, the eye would quit its hold upon the contents of the paper, and wander about among the dense masses who filled the seats below. These excursions caused him to lose his place. He often found it again with no little difficulty, and sometimes not without a most vexatious delay.

"At length his patience gave out. Its power of endurance was completely exhausted, and, taking up the manuscript and rolling it between his hands, he deliberately put it in his pocket. 'Brethren,' said he, 'I shall weary your patience with these notes.' This was the end of all hesitancy. He proceeded in the discussion of his subject with his accustomed fluency, and everything flowed onward with the smoothness of oil. It was a season of deep and thrilling interest.

"The venerable father, though not a Universalist, and with no disposition to become one, listened to the arguments and illustrations of this youngest of his sons with the profoundest attention. I carefully watched the muscles of his face, and plainly saw that mighty emotions were stirring within him. Every now and then a large tear would start out from the eye, and course down the furrows in his time-worn and manly cheek. It is not strange that such should have been the case, for the discourse was one of peculiar tenderness, and of uncommon pathos and power. Probably it was rarely, if ever surpassed, even by the speaker himself, in the palmiest days of his ministry.

"Indeed, Father Ballou's pulpit powers were of an exceedingly high order. Taken as a whole, my impression is that I have never known his equal. Never have I seen a man who could hold his hearers so perfectly under his own control. They were entirely at his command. He clothed them in smiles, or melted them to tears, and these things he seemed to do at pleasure. This power embodies the chief component in true eloquence. We often refer, and with profound admiration, to the pulpit talents of Griffin and Beecher, of Channing, and Dewey, and Chapin. And to these men the meed of rare eloquence unquestionably belongs; but still, taken all in all, they fall far below the standard of Father Ballou. Theirs is an eloquence of another and a humbler type. They deal chiefly with the intellect, – with the demands of a literary and refined taste; he dealt more especially with the latent chords of the heart, – moved and controlled the deeper sympathies and more refined affections of the human soul. Relying but little upon books, he went principally upon the profundity and strength of his own resources. The structure of his mind approached very near to an actual intuition. He grasped the whole of a subject at a glance. His powers of analysis were prodigious, and singularly accurate. He stopped not to inquire what others had thought or done. He examined every subject for himself. Like the diver for pearls, he plunged to the depths of divine truth; and, when he had found a precious gem, he rose with it to the surface, held it up before the eyes of the people, and said to them, This belongs to you, and there are more of the same sort where I found it, – enough for you all, and for the millions of the race to which you belong.

"But it was not in the office of a Christian minister, merely, that Father Ballou excelled. He was admirable in every sphere of life. As a husband and a father, the head of a numerous family, he was truly a model man. He knew how to rule his own household. His word was law, and obedience to it was prompt and cheerful by all around him. There were no family jars in that well-ordered and happy home. The idea, perhaps, is an extravagant one, but I have often thought that his house was the nearest fac-simile of the great mansion of the Infinite Father on High of which I could form a conception.

"And then as a brother and a friend he had no superior. With the exception, perhaps, of some members of his own family, there is no one living who enjoyed so long and so intimate an acquaintance with him as myself; and it is one of the happiest reflections of my life, that, in all our intercourse, not a single unkind word or emotion ever passed between us.

"Indeed, I never knew his kindly regards mastered but once, and that was after the endurance of many gross and most cruel provocations. But on one occasion his philosophy and his religion failed him, and then his brow was mantled with the very majesty of wrath, the frowning aspect of a deep and withering indignation. The roll of a moment or two, however, and it was all over. The old saint was himself again, and never, from that time to the day of his death, did I ever hear him utter an unfriendly word in relation to the individual by whom he had been so grossly and wickedly abused. But I must not enlarge. I have no wish to deal in flattery; but, injustice to my own feelings, and to the memory of our departed father, I must say that he was one of the very best men with whom it has been my happiness to associate. Indeed, I doubt whether he had a solitary failing, – so far, I mean, as the convictions and purposes of his own mind were concerned.

"S. S."

CHAPTER XIV.
SENTIMENTS RELATIVE TO DEATH

Mr. Ballou was ever governed by a calm resignation to the decrees of Providence, and as it regarded the subject of his own death, – that thought which is said to make cowards of us all, that theme upon which we are too much inclined to dwell with feelings of dread and fear.

Notwithstanding we are taught by Christian philosophers that life should be a preparation for death, there are very few of us who regard this inevitable event in its proper light. Dr. Young uttered a most profound truth when he said: —

 
"Each man thinks all men mortal but himself."
 

A man recognizes the certainty of this event's taking place with regard to his neighbor, his friend, and the members of his own family. He feels that the hour of separation from his aged and beloved parents must come; that the brother or sister, whose infant joys and sorrows are his own, whose sympathy has cheered his manhood, must one day be taken from him; that the wife of big bosom must close her eyes in death; that the stern messenger may at any time smite the darlings of their little flock, gathered around his knee in play or prayer; and while they are yet in life he prepares for them the last resting-place in some sheltered spot, some woodland cemetery, where the brightest smile of nature may gild the place of their repose. But he cannot realize that he himself, in the pride of his manhood, the blood coursing cheerily through his veins, a sense of vitality giving an elasticity to every movement, will be called upon to lay down this glorious panoply of life, to feel the bounding blood curdle and become as ice within his veins, and the bright vision of the world fade into nothingness before his glazing eyes. He himself, by some miracle, must be snatched from the universal doom. Thus death finds almost every man unprepared. The very criminal, upon whose ears fall the deep tones of the funeral knell, hopes for a reprieve even at the foot of the scaffold. The soldier cannot think of death as he mounts the "imminent deadly breach;" – his comrades may fall, but he must escape. Thus, in our strange, delusive sophistry, even if we think of death, we seek to alienate the idea from ourselves.

As it regarded the death of any member of his extensive family circle, what a tower of strength and consolation he ever was to the mourning hearts of his children! How calm and serene he would appear when called, in the providence of God, to sympathize with them at the loss of their little ones, near and dear to their parental hearts! However deep the distress of soul which exercised the breast of any member of his family by the solemn visitation of death, his venerable presence would always restore peace to the almost broken heart, and make the sunshine radiate once more in the mourner's bosom. He had several trials, and keen ones, too, through which he passed, of this character. His third daughter, Mrs. Whittemore, wife of Rev. Benjamin Whittemore, was called upon to lay one and another of her tender offspring in the grave, until, at last, when the third was placed there, she exclaimed, in the agony of her heart, that she could not leave the tomb where half her loved ones lay in death. But for his presence even reason might have deserted her throne; but his calm and sainted expression, his holy balm of religion, his simple words of hope, were as oil upon troubled waters. So again was he similarly exercised, through visitations of death, in the family of his eldest son, Rev. Hosea F. Ballou, and Rev. Massena B. Ballou; in the family circle of his third daughter, Cassendana, wife of Joseph Wing; and again in the home of his fourth daughter, Elmina, wife of Rev. J. C. Waldo; and also in the circle of the sixth daughter, Fiducia, wife of Abijah W. Farrar.

But more particularly was this power of consolation evinced as exercised in his own family, when the eldest daughter, Fanny, widow of Leonard Holmes, was taken from life. It was the first death that we had known in our immediate circle of brothers and sisters, and the stroke had all the power and force of a first great sorrow. Then his spirit shone forth in all the Christian beauty and loveliness of its influence. Then the majesty and holy power of his religion was evinced in letters of light. And while referring to this family, – for there were six orphan children left behind, – we might appropriately refer to the munificent bounty of his hand towards them; of a home purchased and given to them; and of much fatherly kindness and generosity towards those orphan children. This spirit of resignation he infused largely into his children, who in turn offered to his own spirit that strength of hope and divine reliance which in periods of trial he had imparted to them. This might be said to be particularly the case with Clementina, his fifth daughter, wife of Isaac H. Wright, who, without the domestic care of a family, was enabled to be much and often at home, – especially if any physical illness affected either father or mother, – and who, with others of the children, was with him night and day, constantly, during his last illness, and the closing hours of his life.

We have before referred to the grateful influence his presence exerted in the sick room, and when called upon to lift up his voice with the dying; but so prominent a trait of character, as evinced in his home relations, should not be omitted here. It may be interesting to remark, in these domestic notes, that Mr. Ballou resided, for over thirty years, with his second daughter, Cassendana, and her family, in Boston. A more cheerful and happy home it would be difficult for fancy to paint. There was no contention there, – no jealousies, no jarring of interests; everything seemed to take its hue from him; and calm domestic joy and serene contentment reigned over all. He seemed to exhale the atmosphere of peace, and no contending elements could withstand the soothing character of his presence.

Mr. Ballou's idea of death, as being but the portal to blissful immortality, may be gathered by the following, from his own pen:

"The idea of immortality makes everything in life valuable. Here we may lay up all our treasures, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. Here God's bright favor will never grow dim, nor will our love and gratitude ever decay. Do you see Hope's celestial form, leaning on her anchor, and, while the raging waves of a restless sea dash against her, she remains unmoved? Do you observe her aspect firm, and her eyes turned towards heaven? And would you wish to cast her down, and wreck her on the quicksands of dismal doubt? Go, brother, to the chamber of sickness, where life's waning embers can no longer warm the dying heart; there hear from cold and quivering lips this hope expressed: 'I long to be with Christ, – I long to be at rest!' Would you blast this amaranthine flower? Would you plant in its stead the nightshade of despair? Listen no longer to the wild suggestions of fancy and wandering imaginations, under the specious pretence of searching after truth. For Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

 
'Give me the light of this bright sun to see;
All other lights like meteors are to me.'"
 

"I think one thing is certain," says Mr. Ballou, in one of his last published articles, "and that is, that the opinion that we immediately enter on that state into which the resurrection introduces mankind is far more desirable, to all people, than the opinion that ages of unconscious sleep succeed our brief existence here in the flesh. * * * In conclusion, I will say that I am sensible that there are passages of scripture which seem to favor the opinion of a general, simultaneous resurrection, which appear difficult to reconcile with such as I have above noticed; but that they outweigh them I have no sufficient reason to allow. The supposition that all who have died have until now remained in an unconscious state, seems more like annihilation than well accords with our glorious hope."

Mr. Ballou's mind was ever made up to meet death at any moment; and, with implicit reliance on the goodness and fatherly care of Him in whose hand we all are, and who does not permit even a sparrow to fall to the ground without his knowledge, he left all to the wise decree of Heaven, and loaded not his soul with fear of the result. He conversed but little upon the subject; but when he did so, it was with a cheerful spirit and contented mind.

His profession was such as to make him familiar with death in all its forms. It was no strange subject to him; but, on the contrary, one which had engaged much of his thought and earnest consideration. With so full and implicit a reliance in the complete sovereignty of the Almighty as his religious belief imparted, he could have no fear or doubt as to the perfectness of the decrees of Providence. He literally argued everything for good, and that nothing transpired without a purpose of the Director of all things; and in that purpose he recognized but one principle, which was the good of the children of men. These premises once established in his mind, what fear could he possibly entertain of death? It is a part of the Divine economy, – that was enough for him. Applied to any dispensation of Providence, or to tenets of faith, this same reliance will be found evinced in all his ministrations and life. He says: – "We have ever this pleasing reflection, – this sublime, this instructive lesson, – that the wisdom which constitutes the vast frame of the universe, and which organized all nature, – the power that raised this glorious superstructure upon its basis, – has ever been directed, and ever will be directed, towards the good and benefit of mankind. That there can be no such thing as partiality, or anything like cruelty, in all the system of God, as the moral governor of the world, is as plain a proposition as can possibly be stated. There is not in the bosom of our Father in Heaven any principle but goodness to his children. There is not in the bosom of our Heavenly Father, nor can there be, anything like cruelty or partiality; but his eternal wisdom is ever working for the benefit of his creatures."

He held the grave to be a calm, safe anchorage for the shattered hulls of men, – the portal through which the spirit passes to God who gave it. Concerning this subject there are a few lines from his pen so applicable in this connection, that we cannot refrain from transcribing them here. In common with those pieces which we have already given the reader, there is no effort at grandeur in the piece; the beauty and propriety of the poem is undisguised by metaphor, being put down in the tender and persuasive language of a Christian heart, pleading for the good of man, and the honor of its Maker. Mr. Ballou's poetical productions are such an index of his soul, his real character, that we are induced again to refer to the fact. They are ever like himself, simple, yet forcible, and never without a purpose, and most incontrovertible argument, expressed or implied. The following poem was written in his seventy-third year, and is entitled



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