Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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Here let us pause for a moment, and ask the reader to consider what a powerful and godly influence the life of such a man must have exerted upon community, and those persons with whom he was brought into frequent contact. There was such perfect harmony, such a beautiful consistency, between his pure Christian life and the religion he taught, that the most thoughtless could not but observe and note it. We heard an old man say, but a few days ago, – "Before I knew your father I heard that he was one of the vilest of men; that he was intemperate, profane, vulgar, and, in short, everything that was bad. But when I saw him, meek, unostentatious, gentle, reverential, and preaching such glorious truths, I said to myself, so was his Divine Master reviled and persecuted!" This was the false report that was raised against him thirty and forty years since. The subject of this biography did not answer these calumnies; he lived them down, and manifested as strong an argument in favor of his doctrine by his every-day life, as by his oral communications from the pulpit. His writings, too, evincing the same spirit as his personal career, manifesting so much sincerity, and logical force of argument, garbed in such simple language, and yet conveying such sublime truths, and these so largely enforced by a personal knowledge of their author, – at least throughout a large portion of the eastern states, – must have exerted, and will continue to exert, an influence of almost incalculable extent.
It is in perfect unison with the analogy of nature that the sunset of life should be more cheerful and joyous than the meridian. The sweetest notes of the nightingale are heard at evening, the woods put on their most cheerful aspect in the autumn of the year, and the sun is the brightest when about to sink beneath the horizon. It was at this period of life that Mr. Ballou seemed to have arrived at the goal of his ambition, actuated only by
The principles which he had so long and so strenuously advocated prevailing beyond all precedence, his family happily settled in life about him, and himself respected and beloved by an entire denomination as a faithful disciple of Christ and a true Christian. In a conversation with him upon the comforts and troubles of old age, we asked him, one day, about this period, what was his greatest trouble. He facetiously referred us to the reply of Fontenelle, who was asked, in extreme old age, what inconvenience he experienced, when he replied, "None, but that of existence," signifying by this answer how really happy and contented he was.
For the last twenty years of Mr. Ballou's life, it was not an uncommon occurrence for strangers from a distance to call on him and introduce themselves, as desirous of looking upon him and making his acquaintance. "I have read your works, and it has seemed as though I knew you well already, for they are like familiar conversations." This would be the purport of their language."Your books," they would say, "have made me a Universalist; and I could not feel satisfied until I had seen personally one to whom I am so much indebted, and whom I so highly respect." This was the case in more than one instance, at different periods, when Englishmen declared that it was the great purpose that had influenced them in visiting the Union. In such cases they met with a cordial and hospitable welcome at his house and table, and hours of pleasant discussion would ensue upon the doctrines of the Scriptures, and congenial themes. Many were the visitors from various parts of the country with the same avowed purpose, and similarly influenced.
In the latter part of 1848, owing to some unfortunate exposure to the weather, he was most violently attacked with ague in the face, so severe as to cause the whole face to swell so much as to close one of the eyes entirely. The attack lasted in its effects for several days, and was exceedingly painful. Though moved with the keenest regret at the pain we knew he must suffer, still we could not but admire the strength of mind and calm philosophy with which he endured it. Not a murmur escaped his lips, and intervals occurring between the most severe moments of his suffering were devoted to writing or study, while the constant kind offices of those about him, and more particularly those of his dearly-beloved partner and children, were ever received with grateful words, and tokens of a full appreciation of the warm love that prompted them.
In the summer of 1847, the School-street Society requested of Mr. Ballou, through its standing committee, that he would sit for a full-length portrait, to be the property of the society, and to be hung in Murray Hall, adjoining the church. Mr. Ballou agreed to their proposition, and granted the requisite sittings, and a magnificent portrait was produced. The picture is as large as life. The preacher is represented standing in the pulpit of the School-street church, the fingers of the right hand inserted in the Bible, the left slightly extended. The likeness and expression are perfectly life-like, and true to the original. From this excellent painting several copies have been taken for his family and friends.
This painting was the source of a great degree of satisfaction to the society and Mr. Ballou's friends generally, for, in common with many others left of him, it is excellent as a likeness, and therefore is a pregnant page in his history; for, of the three principal channels of judging and arriving at the knowledge of character, namely, looks, words and actions, the former is the most faithful. Professions pass for nothing, actions may be counterfeited, but a man's looks he cannot hide. A modern writer, in language perhaps too forcible, says: – "A man's whole life may be a lie to himself and others, and yet a picture painted of him by a great artist would probably stamp his true character on the canvas, and betray the secret to posterity." Subscribing in a large degree to this principle, we consider that the paintings, busts, medallions, and likenesses generally, of Mr. Ballou, may be highly valued as speaking his true character in the expression, and telling a faithful story of the original.
As it regards the likeness which the publisher has placed in the commencement of this biography, to those who have not seen the subject of the picture within the last few years, it may look perhaps a little too aged; but in this respect it is the most truthful of any likeness of him extant. He has been often represented, as the reader is aware, at almost every period of his life since his thirtieth year; and with more or less correctness, in each instance, as it regarded his expression and formation of features at that time; but it strikes us that those who have been familiar with Mr. Ballou's face to the last of his career will esteem this engraving, aside from its superior artistic excellence, as transcribing for us the last looks of his dearly-loved face.
In a notice of the large painting now hanging in Murray Hall, which appeared in the Trumpet of Sept. 4th, 1847, the editor says: —
"He (Mr. Ballou) is now in excellent health, firm, erect, and preaches vigorously; his mind is unimpaired; he is strong in the faith to which the labors of his life have been given, and we do not see why he will not be able to preach for ten years to come, should his life be spared. He can preach three sermons with but little fatigue, while some of the middle-aged can hardly find strength to preach twice of a Sunday."
In the fall of 1847, Mr. Ballou, then in his seventy-seventh year, attended the Universalist convention in New York city, where he delivered a sermon before the brethren assembled there, which created no small degree of notice, and was pronounced by those who heard it to be one of extraordinary power and force. Some of the brethren at once called upon him for a copy for publication; but when he told them that he had no copy himself, and that it was entirely extemporaneous, their surprise was great. That one of his advanced age could deliver a discourse of so remarkable a character, with every point arranged in the most exact order, abounding in powerful and well-sustained argument and varied phases, unless assisted by notes, seemed almost impossible.
So much sensation did this discourse create, that Mr. Ballou acceded to the earnest solicitations that besieged him, and wrote it out for the press, and it was published in pamphlet form. He remarked to us, concerning the matter, that it was much harder for him to write it than it would have been to have written two sermons from a given text, since he had to recall what he had spoken extempore weeks before. But this was done so exactly as to create surprise in those who had listened to it from the pulpit, for its correctness and likeness to the oral delivery.
We subjoin a short sketch from this sermon, because it is so characteristic of the spirit that actuated Mr. Ballou at all times; a spirit of the utmost simplicity, – one of the striking peculiarities of real genius, – both in his public teachings and private life, and also as a specimen of his purity and force of style at this period of life. The contrast drawn between the gospel of Christ and the polished creed of the schools is striking and obvious.
"With all the pomp, with all the glory, with all the wealth, and all the learning of the schools, among both Jews and Gentiles, let us, for a moment, compare the simplicity that was in Christ. Born in a family which was supported by mechanical labor, brought up in laborious habits, destitute of wealth and the honors of the schools, he commenced his public labors. To assist him in the ministry of his doctrine, a few fishermen, and others of useful occupation, were chosen. The doctrine which Jesus taught was as simple and easy to understand as the common affairs of life. His sermon on the mount, containing the sublimest beatitudes, and all the duties of life, requires but ordinary talents to understand. His manner of teaching by the use of parables communicated truth in the most simple manner. When he justified his favor to publicans and sinners, of which he was accused by the Pharisees and Scribes, how simple was his method! 'What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? and when he hath found it he layeth it on his shoulder, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.' And how sublimely simple, if I may so say, was his application of his parable! 'I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.' On foot, see him travel from city to city! Fatigued and weary of his journey, see him resting himself by Jacob's well at Sichar; and mark the simplicity of his conversation with the woman of Samaria! To set his disciples an example of humility, behold him who gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healing to the sick, soundness to the maimed, and life to the dead, gird himself with a towel, and wash their feet!
"How poorly has the simplicity which is in Christ been maintained by the Christian church! Read its history, in which we learn its conformity to such worldly institutions and customs as are pleasing to human ambition, and all the vain pride and corruption which characterized pagan idolatry. That subtilty with which the serpent beguiled Eve is constantly at work, persuading us to seek to render religion popular in the eyes of the world. That spiritual wickedness may be maintained in high places, high places must be established and supported. So deeply is the love of popular esteem rooted in the heart, that it is to be feared many are inclined to concede to opinions and customs inconsistent with their better judgment, for the sake of that shining phantom."
We remember an incident which occurred to Mr. Ballou in January of 1848, which he related to us at the time. He had occasion to enter an omnibus to proceed from one extreme of the city to another, when, having scarcely become seated, an elderly woman, who was occupying a seat immediately opposite, said to him, – "Mr. Ballou, do you not constantly preach to your congregation, 'O ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell?'" Mr. Ballou turned his keen, piercing eye upon her, and seeing that some bigoted and fanatical individual had recognized him, and desired to commence an argument, replied, – "No, madam; that class do not attend my church!" The woman had not anticipated so decided an answer, and, shading her eyes with her hands, contemplated the floor of the coach the remainder of the passage.
So little self-pride had Mr. Ballou, and so little comparatively did he think or care about having any biographical sketch appear of him after his death, that it was with the utmost difficulty that we persuaded him to attempt a manuscript of even a few pages, that a more authentic record might be preserved for the aid of the subject when it should be taken in hand. But all that we were able to procure from him the reader will find duly credited in these pages. Mr. Ballou had an ambition, however, that his written works should be preserved after him; for in them he had labored for the good of mankind, and he hoped those labors might not prove unavailable. His wish was highly gratified, in this respect, during his life, by the very wide circulation they attained, and the numerous editions of them which were published, showing that they were largely read and valued by the Christian world.
Having partially yielded to our reiterated solicitations for some few pages of manuscript, if only relating to the simplest affairs, he sat down, and commenced a sheet of paper in the same humorous vein in which he was always sure to treat the idea of writing of himself. This commencement was as follows:
"I have never learned that there were, before my birth, any prophecies delivered by any one, or that any one had dreamed anything concerning myself. If there happened, at the time of my birth, an earthquake, or the appearance of a comet, or any other phenomenon of nature which indicated anything relative to me, or signified what manner of person I should become, in what employment my life should be spent, whether I should become useful to society or a nuisance, the fact has never come to my knowledge."
The life of Mr. Ballou is so intimately woven with the annals of Universalism that the account of the one must be an almost complete life of the other. He nursed the first dawn of belief in impartial and free grace to all mankind, and lived to see the blessed doctrine grow and spread over the land, like the day, from its breaking to the meridian. He was the pioneer, the leader, the propagator, of Universalism.
During April, 1848, he visited and preached in Philadelphia, New York, &c., and on his return expressed himself as he always did of the brethren in those cities, and that he had been made most happy in his communion with them.
About this period, an infatuated preacher of future punishment, somewhere in the northern part of New York State, while in a high state of excitement, declared to his audience that Universalists and Infidels always renounced their belief before they died, and absolutely instanced old Hosea Ballou, as he termed him, who had lately died, penitent and fully repentant for his evil life, entirely refuting all his former belief, and praying to be saved from the wrath to come. Equally ridiculous allusions were made to his wife, who was said to have showed more consistency, and to have died stubbornly adhering to her old principles. This ridiculous assertion was reported in a paper published in the vicinity, and a copy marked and sent to Mr. Ballou.
We asked him if he had not better address a brief letter to the editor, just to confound the propagator of the falsehood. "No," said he; "I have learned, by experience, that libels, if neglected, are forgotten; if resented, they too frequently pass for merited satire."
In the month of June, 1849, Mr. Ballou visited Troy, N. Y., for a few weeks, and preached there and in the neighborhood, with his accustomed vigor and mental power. His clear, musical tones of voice were as perfectly modulated as ever, and his mental and physical vigor was the occasion of remark by all who listened to him.
One of Mr. Ballou's latest impromptu efforts at versification was elicited by a request for his autograph, by a young lady, who presented her album for this purpose, and in which he wrote the following lines:
THE MAID I PRIZE
As late as December, 1851, and January, 1852, Mr. Ballou passed five weeks in the city of New York, preaching to the societies there frequently three times of a Sabbath, and at conference meetings during other days of the week. He was often called upon for lengthy remarks, which he most cheerfully and heartily gave. He was never so happy, never so well, as when engaged about his Master's business; and though, at this age, – eighty-one, – his form was a little bent, and his step less firm than of yore, yet in the pulpit he stood as erect as at fifty. His whole soul seemed to dilate, and his firmness of voice and body to be like iron; so much so, indeed, that it was usual to hear remarks to this effect, from all quarters, wherever he appeared.
During this his last visit to New York, he wrote to us as follows:
"After the singing of another anthem," says the correspondent of the Trumpet, in a letter from Newark relative to the dedication referred to, "came the sermon, by our venerable and beloved Father Ballou, from the fitting words recorded in 1 Chron. 16: 29. The audience was not large, but respectable in number; and from the first moments when the gray-haired speaker stood up before the people till he sat down again, the most marked and almost breathless attention was given. The speaker believed that 'the name of the Lord' expressed all the attributes of His adorable character. He proceeded to notice some of those attributes, with wonderful power and simplicity, enforcing the truth that goodness must be co?xtensive with wisdom in the Divine character. He illustrated the workings of the law of love, as opposed to the law of fear, by the examples of the grateful offerings of our people to the beloved Washington and Lafayette. The people honored them, not because a terrible penalty was threatened should they refuse to yield the tribute, but because they loved them. Worship, true worship, cannot be bought; it must be free. It can be offered only to a God infinite in goodness and mercy. Father Ballou affectionately exhorted the people to give unto the Lord, in the neat temple they had reared, the glory so justly due for all his revelations of good will to the children of men. As children, filled with gratitude, should they come into his courts. A severe, yet kind-spirited rebuke, was administered to those who go to church simply to display fine apparel, or because it is fashionable. In doing our duty, we are happy, we offer unto the Lord; while they who serve fashion and popularity have just their reward, and no more.
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