Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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FEAR NOT DEATH
 
"Why call we death to man a foe?
Why should we fear to die?
Does heavenly wisdom teach us so?
Let us the question try.
 
 
Is he of independent might?
Does he himself sustain?
These questions if we answer right,
Will make our subject plain.
 
 
See ye his scythe, his dart, his spear?
Who placed them in his hand?
Know this, and give the winds your fear;
Dauntless before him stand.
 
 
Death is a messenger of God,
And God is love, we know;
Nothing can come from him but good, —
No enmity can flow.
 
 
Death only comes when he is sent,
Commissioned from on high;
And all his weapons, too, are lent, —
Why fear we, then, to die?
 
 
Death comes, a friend to mortal man,
To set his spirit free;
Nor he, nor any creature, can
Reverse the blest decree.
 
 
Had death on us an evil eye,
Would he our pains remove,
And set our spirits free to fly
To peaceful realms above?
 
 
Teach not your children, parents dear,
To dread what God may send;
Nor fill their tender hearts with fear
Of Him who is their friend."
 

There is a lesson here that it would be well for us to remember, a principle that should be planted and nurtured in our breasts. Death has been too long looked upon as "the great enemy of our race," while it is in truth but the calling home of the spirit by the Great Shepherd. 'Tis but the wedding of the soul with Paradise, the starting post for heaven. These were the sentiments entertained by Mr. Ballou, and which governed his mind even to the last.

He says, relative to this deeply interesting and important subject to us all: – "We are as pilgrims and strangers on earth, as were all our fathers. The places which now know us will shortly know us no more. How reasonable, then, is it, that we should often bring this great truth under serious consideration! If duly considered, it will exert a favorable influence in relation to the estimates we may make of all temporal things, and give a favorable direction to our purposes and determinations. Our fleshly bodies, like the grass of the earth, are composed of the elements of nature; these elements support both the grass and our fleshly bodies; and as the grass finally withers and returns back from whence it came, is decomposed and joined with the elements of which it was composed, so do our bodies return to the earth from whence they came. Dust we are, and unto dust we must return. The certainty of our mortality is as apparent to us all as it can possibly be made. However seldom we may think on the subject, however we may endeavor to put it out of our minds and thoughts, however we may endeavor to drown the subject by devoting our attention to worldly objects and worldly pursuits, we know that in a short time we must be called to leave all this bustle of life, close our eyes on all earthly things, and return to the bosom of our common mother, the earth, from whence we came.

"As the question whether man should exist or not was not submitted to him, no more is it left to him to say whether he will continue in this state forever, or depart out of it.

'All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass; the grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.' So hath the Creator appointed and ordained; and it is not in the power of man to prevent this withering of the grass, and this falling of the flower of grass. However endearing are the ties of consanguinity, however tender and affectionate are kindred hearts towards each other, with whatever longings and fond desires fathers and mothers may look on their sons and daughters, and with whatever devotion they may nourish these flowers and watch over them, they are altogether like the grass and the flower of grass. They are perishable. It is not in the power of children, however affectionately they may love their fathers and mothers, and however they may desire the continuance of such kind friends, to prevent that waste of constitution and strength which time and disease are sure to bring. The whitened locks, the wrinkled face, the tottering frame, the palsied limbs and faltering voice, are sure indications that the time of departure is at hand.

"How wonderfully beautiful is the full-grown grass, with its blushing and fragrant flowers! We cast our eyes over the luxuriant meadow; with pleasure we behold its beautiful flowers, seeming to vie with each other in glory; and though we may fancy a preference for this or for that, no person ever beheld a blossom that was not beautiful to the eye. So we behold the society of man in health and in the prime of strength; and how pleasing is the sight! Look at these sweet babes! we may fancy a preference for the beauty of this or that, but no one can help admiring every such endearing object. Look around and behold the sparkling eye and blushing cheek of youth and beauty; but remember these are flowers gathered for the tomb! Whether we see them or not, Time has wings; whether we realize it or not, his flight is rapid. What is time when it is past? Nothing!"

 
"He taught us how to live, and O! too high
The price for knowledge! taught us how to die!"
 

Touching the matter of death-bed scenes as they refer to religious belief, and the influence that such scenes and circumstances exerted over his own mind, he says:

"It has often been said, by the enemies of the doctrine for which I have contended, that it would do to live by, but not to die by; meaning that it would not give the mind satisfaction when sensible it was about to leave a mortal for an immortal state. As to the truth of the assertion I cannot positively say; that moment has not yet been experienced by me: and as those who make the remark have never believed the doctrine, I cannot see how they should know any better than I do. Thus much I can say: I believe I have seen, and often heard, of persons rejoicing in the doctrine in the last hours of their lives; but I do not build my faith on such grounds.

"The sorrows or the joys of persons, in their last moments, prove nothing to me of the truth of their general belief. A Jew, who despises the name of Christ from the force of his education, may be filled with comfortable hopes, in his last moments, from the force of the same education. I have no doubt but a person may believe, or pretend to believe, in the doctrine of universal salvation, when he knows of no solid reason for his belief, but has rather rested the matter on the judgment of those in whom he has placed more confidence than he has, in reality, on the Saviour of the world; and I think it very possible that such Universalists may have strange and unexpected fears, when the near approach of death, or any other circumstance, should cause them to think more seriously on so weighty a subject.

"What my feelings might be concerning the doctrine which I believe, was I called to contemplate on a death-bed, I am as unable to say, as I am what I may think of it a year hence, should I live and be in health. But I am satisfied, beyond a doubt, that if I live a year longer, and then find cause to give up my present belief, I shall not feel a consciousness of having professed what I did not sincerely believe; and was I called to leave the world and my writings in it, and at the last hour of my life should find I had erred, yet I am satisfied that I should possess the approbation of a good conscience in all I have written."

That Mr. Ballou felt fully prepared to die, there can be not the least doubt, though he did not say so in the exact words that would express this state of mind. He frequently, during the last two or three months of his life, made use of expressions, as relating to current events, in a way that led those about him to see that he was striving, particularly, to have every matter of business, or family arrangement, so completed as not in any way to be contingent upon himself. Then his frequent observations relative to the idea that he was nearly worn out; and in his sermons, too, his often repeating at this time how near he was to the brink of the grave, and that those who heard him might realize the honesty of his reasoning and the sincerity of his doctrine, since, with so short a span of existence left to him, he could not in any instance bring himself to support what he did not most solemnly and religiously believe to be the gospel of Christ, and in full accordance with the word of God; the caution already referred to as given to his wife, and various other simple but expressive tokens that he evinced during the few weeks previous to his decease, – all go fully to show that his mind was made up to die, and that he foresaw, as it were, the approach of his demise, with almost prophetic vision. The philosophy, or sophistry, therefore, as to looking upon death as the inevitable visitant to others, but as something which must miraculously pass him by, did not exist in his mind. He looked upon death as "the messenger of God, commissioned from on high;" and he held himself calmly ready to answer the blessed decree of Heaven.

Though almost constantly engaged at his study of the holy text, or in other reading and writing, still, so domestic was Mr. Ballou in his disposition and feelings, that he always took a lively interest in all the arrangements of the family, and in each one's well-being, seeking to cause as little unnecessary labor as possible on his own account. No motives other than those of the kindest character could possibly have induced this thoughtfulness, on his part; for all those about him, even the servants, always deemed it a pleasure to serve him in his slightest expressed desire, while his children ever sought to anticipate his wishes. In his directions to those called upon to attend him, there was none of the austerity or sternness of a master evinced in his manner of speech. The order direct we never heard from his lips, but, in giving directions, it was ever in the form of permission, – "You may do this, or you may hand me that;" and the appropriateness of this mode of speech was most apparent, since it was a privilege to us all to fulfil his desires.

With profane history, ancient and modern, he was well acquainted; and at the age of seventy-four, five and six, he devoted some considerable time to the reviewal of both, and particularly to the history of our own country. With Rollin, Plutarch, Smollet, Hume, Prescott, Bancroft, etc., he was perfectly familiar. At this period he was engaged, as we have said, in re-perusing the works of his library, treating mainly upon profane history. As may be supposed, to one of his disposition, home was very dear, and he was always happiest with his family.

 
"To them his heart, his love, his griefs, were given;
But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven."
 

During the whole of his public ministrations and professional career, he never labored with more evident effect and general influence than at this time. The ripened harvest of his experience was poured forth in the most simple and touching truthfulness, and his discourses were redolent of holy manna to the souls of his hearers; the sober arguments of conviction obtained even more fully than in former years, when the vigor of ripened manhood added its physical powers to the balance. Persons who had sat under his preaching for many years would listen with the most absorbed attention, as well as with surprise, to hear the easy flow of eloquence that seemed to come from an inspired heart, bearing witness to his quick, sure discernment, and boundless fertility of invention, – the truth and exemplifications of divine goodness were ever so fresh and abundant in the feast he spread, the arguments so logical and convincing. He was endowed in many respects with the great requisites for a lawyer, possessing a mind exceedingly active, capable of constantly commanding its own resources, and a faculty of tenaciously pursuing his argument with exceeding force and power.

It really seemed, latterly, that, realizing how brief must be his labors, and how near he was to the end of his earthly mission, he labored with increased zeal, and consequent success. His eyes, when in the desk, seemed to kindle with superhuman fire, his thoughts to flow with inspired eloquence; and those who heard him must have entered most thoroughly into his own spirit, for we have heard, from all directions where he preached, very earnest remarks of the striking effect produced by his discourses. And this effect was by no means confined to the laity; many of his ministering brethren have told us that they had never heard him discourse with more power, nor ever with such decided effect, as was the case within the last two years of his life. It was impossible for him to answer all of the demands upon him, but neither ordinary inconveniences nor distance ever caused him to decline to respond to those who, at this late period of his life, sought his counsel. In vain did we beseech him to consider his bodily comfort, and not risk his health and try his strength so much, at his advanced age, by these constant travels. "I am vain enough," he said, "to believe that I still do some good, and I am never so happy as when exercised by such a realizing sense; but, whether at home or abroad, I am still in my Maker's hands, and he will do with me as to him seemeth good."

Mr. Ballou's manuscript was always remarkably plain and correct, being, in many respects, very characteristic of himself. It was regular, exceedingly neat, and well executed, yet unostentatious, and in no degree ornamental. For our own part, we would give more for a scrap of the hand-writing of one whom we had never met, or even of him whom we had casually seen, to enable us to judge of the general characteristics of the individual's disposition, than for the testimony of many an intimate friend. It is, of necessity, in a very great degree, a sample of the man; and when we look upon it, and think that it was the work of his hand, the emanation of his brain, mechanically and mentally his, it possesses peculiar interest.

Mr. Ballou was sometimes addressed, by letter, from a distance, from those who were strangers to him, and sometimes by brethren in the ministry, who would request him to reply to certain queries which they proposed, that they might reap the advantage of his wisdom. These letters were various in their character; some related to religious questions, some to his own history, and some as to its bearing upon his belief in the tenets of faith. One who professed to have read his numerous works, and who was also an ardent believer in the doctrine of universal salvation, converted through his writings, sent the following queries to him in a letter some time in 1847, during his seventy-sixth year. Having the letter and reply, we subjoin the spirit of the former, and give the latter to the reader entire.

"Queries.– With what feelings do you look back upon your past life, its influence and results, its commencement and its end? As it regards your published works and writings, has experience strengthened the opinions and points laid down in them, or have you after years of study and reflection found cause for change? What is the present end and aim of your life, and how does it differ from the morning of your existence?

"Reply to Query 1st.– When I survey the course of my past life, as I often do, I am filled with wonder; and a clear conviction that, as a whole, it has been appointed and directed by Infinite Wisdom, all but reduces me to nothing. True, I can simply realize that I exist; and can compare myself to a drop of water in the midst of the ocean, dependent, as I always have been, on that Being who holds the unmeasured deep in the hollow of his hand. I am fully satisfied that none of the eventful incidents of my life would have been what they were, had not an overruling Providence disappointed my own plans and purposes in many instances. Pursuant to these considerations, in viewing the apparent 'influences and results' of my labors, I should be quite at variance with the conviction of my own understanding, should I indulge a feeling to credit them to myself. With such views of the past and present, I feel satisfied, and even thankful.

"My childhood and youth were, like most of others, full of vanity. My public life commenced with no extensive prospects. I do not know that the thought ever entered my mind that my public labors would ever procure me a livelihood… My main desire now is that it may please Him whose I am and whom I serve, so to direct that what remains of my fleeting days may in no way dishonor, but promote, the cause of his truth, to which I have so long been devoted.

"Reply to Query 2nd.– All the important doctrinal points contained in the several works which I have published are still my honest convictions; and as they were widely different from the views generally entertained by theologians, I examined them with all possible care, and have never seen cause to rescind them. And I can add, that I have never, in my public labors, allowed myself to present to my hearers any sentiment, or to expound any portion of scripture, but in accordance with the sober convictions of my understanding.

"Reply to Query 3d.– The main object by which I was actuated at the commencement of my public labors was to understand the true doctrine of the Scriptures, and by all possible means to convey conviction of its truth to the understanding of all who had ears to hear; and my present aim is to finish, in the best manner I can, these labors, by persuading people, not only to understand the true nature of the gospel, but to cherish its blessed hopes, and to faithfully practise its precepts."

During a visit of the author of this biography to the Southern and Western States of the Union, in the summer of 1846, he had an opportunity to witness the most evident token of the popularity of Mr. Ballou in these sections, and the high esteem in which his writings are held. This was particularly the case in the State of Ohio, the most distant point from his home that Mr. Ballou ever visited. Here, in passing through the state, we had frequent occasion to register our name and place of residence, which often led to our being asked whether we were a connection of Hosea Ballou's; and when the existing relationship was made known, there were no bounds to the hospitality that was urged upon us. In Cincinnati, it so happened that an original lithographic print of Mr. Ballou was being struck off just as we left the city, and we were kindly furnished with the first dozen impressions taken from the stone. This lithograph is from a crayon drawing taken from life, at Akron, Ohio, during the visit of Mr. Ballou to that town in 1844, by an artist sent up from Cincinnati for the purpose. The likeness is a good one in many respects, but much inferior to several taken in Boston, both as it regards likeness and as a work of art.

During the summer of 1847, Mr. Ballou visited his eldest son, Rev. Hosea F. Ballou, at his residence and farm in Whitingham, Vt., where for several days he applied himself to labor on the land; reaping, mowing, and the various departments of farming, during the week, and to public services in that and the neighboring towns on the Sabbath. These few weeks of healthy toil invigorated him to a most surprising degree, and, though more than seventy-five years of age, I was assured by those who were on the spot that he did the work of a day-laborer with ease, and that his hand wielded the scythe with the steadiness and effect of early years. He told us afterwards himself how sweet his food tasted, how refreshing his bed felt, and how clear and invigorated his brain was, by this homely labor, and the sweat of the brow. He would sometimes sigh at the constraint of his town life, and eulogize the green fields and verdant hill-sides. He says: "All of us have our prescribed duties, and the economy of nature requires certain tastes and temperaments that will apply themselves to the various concerns of life. We find the mechanic, the farmer, the minister, the artisan, the lawyer, all endowed with some prominent qualities, which particularly fit them for the proper discharge of their peculiar calling; and this is necessary, that all things may be done well and harmoniously. But, of all the business occupations of life, it has always seemed to me that the farmer's employment must be the most agreeable. The country is real, the city is artificial; one is nature, the other is art. In the earlier portions of my life, I gathered some experience in tilling the soil; in boyhood and early youth, it was almost my sole occupation. Even as late as my residence in Salem, I was accustomed to plant and cultivate a portion of ground. The great charm of the farmer's element is that it brings him in such close contact with nature; his labor, so healthful and invigorating, being performed to the soft hymns and sacred melodies that creation ever chants in open fields and woodlands."

During this season Mr. Ballou travelled considerably in the New England States and New York, in accordance with letters of invitation sent to him from every direction. During the month of August he preached at numerous places in the vicinity of Montpelier, Vt., and the route thither from Boston. This journey was peculiarly gratifying to his feelings; everywhere he was received with that warmth of heart and real sincerity that invigorate the soul. Meeting-houses were abandoned as too small, and temporary pulpits were erected in the open air, from whence he addressed the thousands who came from far and near to listen to his words. His name was so well known, and his character so beloved, throughout the order, that the simple announcement of his presence drew multitudes together, who listened with the utmost avidity to his words, which carried with them the "clear running wine of conviction."



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