Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou

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"I have never listened to this aged servant of God with greater delight and profit than on that occasion. It hardly seemed possible that so clear, and forcible, and eloquent a production, could come from the mouth of one who has borne the brunt of eighty-one years."

At the age of four score, Mr. Ballou preached before the New York Convention of Universalists, at Boston, in September, 1851. Concerning this occasion, Rev. A. C. Thomas, in the autobiography before quoted from, says: "He (Mr. Ballou) is an exception to the 'labor and sorrow' affirmed of those who, by reason of strength, attain that period of life. He was, indeed, feeble in body; but 'his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.' He saw as clearly as ever into the 'root of the matter,' and largely exemplified his peculiar force of argumentation. Was there ever a clearer or more forcible illustration than the one he presented regarding a mother and her child? – 'Your child has fallen into the mire, and its body and its garments are defiled. You cleanse it, and array it in clean robes. The query is, Do you love your child because you have washed it, or did you wash it because you loved it?'"

Mr. Ballou's contributions to the press largely increased during the latter years of his life, and the articles he wrote, at various times, during this period, will bear the most critical examination, as it regards the soundness of their doctrinal points, the excellence and purity of their style, and the Christian spirit they invariably show forth in every line. These contributions to the press have appeared mainly in the "Trumpet and Universalist Magazine," the "Universalist Quarterly," and the "Christian Freeman."

In 1851, at the solicitation of Rev. Mr. Usher, book publisher, Mr. Ballou edited a collection of his sermons, and wrote some original articles, which were published under the title of "A Voice to Universalists." This book also contained a collection of Mr. Ballou's fugitive verses, published many years since, and written for the poet's corner of his paper. We can, perhaps, give no better review or reference to this book, than by copying Rev. Thomas Whittemore's published review of it, which we subjoin.

"The 'General Epistle to Universalists' is itself worth the price of the book. Tell us not that this might have been published in tract, or any cheap form. It would never have served its mission thus to be read and thrown away. It should have been where it is, in a large, splendid book, to grace our centre-tables, and to be taken thence and read as often as once a month.

"The same remarks may be made in relation to the 'Advice to Young Men who design to enter the Ministry.'

"The 'Short Essay on Universalism,' 'The Doctrine of Universal Salvation shown to be included in the Divine Commands,' and 'The Utility of Evil,' are likewise valuable mementos of their author; and so are the two Convention Sermons.

"And then, in respect to the metrical compositions, we could not spare them from this book.

True, the author, as he modestly says in a note to the reader, makes no pretensions to being a poet; yet his poetry is to us exceedingly precious. It is in this we discover more clearly the moral likeness of the man. In the frontispiece we have a satisfactory likeness of the outer man; and how should we consent to tear from the book this no less accurate likeness of the soul? In these hymns we see the author in his characteristic meekness of spirit, self-abasement, pure and ardent devotion, and all-sustaining faith in the wise and perfect government of God. Here, too, in these hymns and poems, are specimens of the author's clearness and precision of intellectual discernment, and his argumentative acumen. The work shall go down to posterity as a memento of Father Ballou."

The article in this book entitled the "Utility of Evil" is one of great power and force. Mr. Ballou's theory is, that what we call evil does not exist without the wise permission and appointment of the infinitely good and gracious God. In the article on this subject he says:

"Reader, do not be offended at the title of this short article, and call it impious. Will you say you never before heard that evil is useful? Will you say the suggestion is wicked, and could be made by no other than one who is wicked? Well, suppose all which you imagine be true, may it not be well to be calm, and deliberately consider that, though you have never before heard of this thing, it may, notwithstanding, be a divine truth? If you will be candid, and bring your mind into a suitable condition to be reasoned with, we will call you to the consideration of questions which, if properly answered, will lead us into the true light of our subject. 1st. Is evil self-existent? If no one will allow this, there is no need of argument to disprove it. It follows, of course, that evil had a cause which produced it; this is self-evident. 2d. Is it not equally self-evident that the cause which produced evil is good? If we say that the cause which produced evil was evil, we thereby say that evil existed before it existed! When these several points are understood, we are prepared to state the following axioms:

"1st. That which had no beginning had no cause to produce it. 2d. If we should say that good had an origin or a cause, We should be compelled to say that that cause was evil! 3d. If we allow that evil had an origin or cause, we must allow that the origin of evil is good." pp. 115, 116.

From the commencement of 1852 until within a week of his death, we find him constantly active, with the weight of fourscore years and more; yet he never for a moment faltered in his mission. During the last year of his life he preached in seven different states, and in about forty different places. His pen was still as busy as ever. One Sunday found him in Maine, the next in New Hampshire, the third in Vermont; now he is in New York, New Jersey, or Rhode Island, preaching the word with unabated zeal and surprising effect in all directions. The copy of the Trumpet that announces his death contains two articles from his pen, commending to the order two lately published biographies, showing forth as illustrations of what a true and noble aim will empower the soul to do amid the humblest circumstances, one of the strongest illustrations of which is his own life. His last paragraph reads thus: "We need not look forward to the good time, for it is now come, when ministers are esteemed for their knowledge of divine truth, and their ardent love for the same, together with their faithfulness in dispensing it to the people, and their living and walking in the precepts of Jesus." At the time of his death he had two appointments already arranged, one in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire, besides several under consideration.

"Verily, he was at his post to the last," says Rev. T. B. Thayer, in his eulogy upon Mr. Ballou; "and when the messenger came, he was ready. He fell in the full armor of God, with the helmet of salvation on his head, his spotless heart covered with the breastplate of righteousness, his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. In one hand he held the shield of faith, and in the other the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God, – the sword which he had for sixty years wielded with such success in his multiplied battles with error and sin, and by which at last he was, through Jesus Christ, made conqueror, and more than conqueror, over death and the grave. Verily, the old man died, as he had lived, faithful, courageous, serene, victorious, to the last."

It was in these ripened days of his experience that his counsel was eagerly sought by all, laity and clergy, in private and in public. His activity and anxiety to be about his Master's business carried him constantly into the midst of all important denominational assemblies; and here he was ever received, both his presence and his counsel, with profound respect. If there was contention, misunderstanding, or difficulty of any sort, all eyes were turned upon him who sat so quietly and thoughtfully in their midst; he was their peace-maker, his calm voice stilled the tempest, his finger pointed the way towards the right. As Mr. Thayer says in the eulogy just quoted from:

"It will be a long time before we shall get accustomed, in our associations and conventions, to the absence of that venerable form, those gray hairs, and that voice of wisdom, and gentleness, and love, which came like oil on the troubled waters of debate, and drew out the entangled threads of thought, and by quaint queries, by questions which answered themselves, questions plainer than most men's answers, penetrated to the heart of every subject, and showed us, as by a flash of light, the exact point where the truth lay. We shall often desire in our councils his presence, his clear thought, his persuasive language, his gentleness of manner, and his conclusive logic."

Mr. Ballou had a most remarkable faculty of seeing through any abstruse question or subject that came up for discussion before any body with which he was sitting in fellowship, and could at once seem to set all right in their midst, by a few shrewdly-uttered words. Another brother has said of him in this respect:

"It was wonderful how he would put the needle in amid the tangled skein of reasonings, in a debate, and untie the knot just where the whole might be wound off without any difficulty; and how he would hold to the essential point in an important discussion, and dissipate every obscuration that threatened to darken and eclipse it, was astonishing, and showed where his power as a master reasoner lay. Such was the man."

We must now turn from these desultory remarks and references, to describe the end of his earthly mission.


How shall we speak of the close of that life which we have so feebly succeeded in portraying, – how depict the sunset of his soul upon earth, – how describe the unfeigned and unbounded sympathy and mourning of a whole denomination, – how refer to the appropriate ceremonies – the funeral obsequies – that were so beautifully and tenderly performed by the society over whom he had so long held such heart-sway, and whom he loved better than all else on earth, save his family? How shall our feeble pen portray these striking and long to be remembered scenes? Throughout this entire subject we have written tremblingly, and with a full realizing sense of the magnitude of the theme, and the humble ability of our pen. But here we feel our hand indeed too feeble, our sensibilities too acute, and shall call to our aid stronger minds and abler pens.

In no more appropriate place than here can we refer to his parting with the loved companion of his bosom. His wife had been confined to her chamber for some weeks, by severe indisposition, just previous to his own last illness, nor was she able to leave it until some time after the last obsequies in honor to his memory. On the morning that Mr. Ballou was taken ill, he came to her from his own dressing-room, kissed her tenderly, and bade her adieu, with all the gentle and affectionate solicitude with which a young husband might have left his bride; and, passing down stairs to the parlor, was preparing to depart for the scene of the convention at Plymouth, when he was suddenly taken in a fainting fit. A couch was immediately removed to the room where he was taken so suddenly ill, and he was not removed from it until he fell quietly asleep in death. Little did the fond wife and companion of his bosom think, when he bade her thus farewell, that it was for the last time; – that it was the last time she should ever behold, on this earth, that countenance that had never been turned upon her save in love and tenderness, – that noble brow that had been her pride and glory in its sublime truthfulness and purity of expression, – those eloquent lips that had been such a well-spring of heavenly truths! But such it was. Herself too ill to be removed from her chamber, she never saw him afterwards; and she still cherishes his memory as associated with that fond and endearing look that accompanied his last kiss and farewell!

In relation to the manner in which he had prepared the mind of his wife for the event which he seemed so clearly to foresee, Rev. Mr. Miner, in his farewell sermon, said: —

"He had often exhorted his companion to hold herself in readiness for his departure, forewarning her that every separation from her might be the last. But a few days previous to his death, he had renewedly impressed this upon her mind. What a sublime spectacle was this! At more than fourscore years of age, braving the rigors of mid-winter and the extreme heat of summer, and regardless of the dangers that attend the rapid conveyances of our time, this veteran preacher 'takes his life in his hand,' and goes forth continually to promulgate the everlasting gospel!"

We must not omit to give the reader a brief article which Mr. Ballou left among his papers, relating to the close of his earthly career. It was folded in with his accounts, will, and other important papers, and was written in his usual legible hand. It was in the spirit of a preface to the will which followed, and in which every matter had been plainly arranged, with that regard for impartiality, strict justice and completeness, that was in accordance with his nature, and all that he did or said in relation to any subject in which he engaged.

"In view of that solemn event, which must unavoidably take place, which will end my mortal days and close my labors on earth, I make this serious and important declaration: I humbly and earnestly pray that the Father of the spirits of all flesh may, in that mercy which he has revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive all that in my whole life he sees amiss in me. This prayer is offered in that faith for which I adore him who hath given it to me.

"I heartily regret that I have not been a better husband, a better father, and especially a better and more useful minister of the gospel of divine grace. For my faults in these particulars I ask the forgiveness of the kind and faithful wife of my bosom, of my dearly-beloved and dutiful children, and of the discerner of my heart and thoughts, to whom I offer devout and unfeigned gratitude, that, by his favor, I have been enabled to do as well as I have in the relation of a husband, and father, and minister of the gospel of Christ. I sincerely return thanks to all my brethren in the common faith, for all their kindness to me. I sincerely thank the great fraternity of Christians, united with me in the precious faith in which we believe, and especially the church and society with whom, for more than thirty years, I have lived in love, and with whom I have labored in word and doctrine, for all their numerous favors.

"Hosea Ballou."

"A great man has fallen," says the editor of the Trumpet. "There have been but few such men as Father Ballou. We can truly say that those who knew him best loved him most. Those who had heard him preach the oftenest, and who had read the most thoroughly what he had written, felt more than others the power of his mind, and were more deeply convinced than others that he was intellectually, as well as religiously and morally, a great man. His life was protracted beyond fourscore years; he enjoyed a very large share of health and strength through that whole time. He was never idle; he worked, up to the last week of his life, in the harvest-field, and actually died with the sickle in his hand. He was taken sick at his own house; and, after six days of comparatively light suffering, he gently fell asleep in death, quietly as an infant falls into slumber, and at the moment when he seemed to be putting his body in the posture for the coffin.

"It is in vain for us to attempt to give, in this brief sketch, an account of the travels of Father Ballou; the small but interesting and instructive incidents of his life, – his sermons, his controversies, the different books he wrote, the judgment of impartial men concerning him, – all these things must be left to be described at a time and under circumstances when full justice can be done to the illustrious man. His character, too, must be drawn. For ourself, we say, most unreservedly, we never knew a better man. We say this, after having lived in his family under his immediate tuition, and since that time spent more than thirty years side by side with him, 'in journeyings often,' in mutual consultations, and in very frequent interviews. If we ever saw a person equally amiable, kind, upright, gentle and true, it is the aged widow who survives him. If he was more than a father to us, she was more than a mother. She can never be honored too much for her goodness. To her must be attributed much of the ease and quietness he enjoyed in life, and without which he could not have accomplished the full measure of the good for which he is now beloved and reverenced. So much for the moral qualities of this venerable man and woman. There remain yet to be described (but it cannot be done here) the child-like simplicity of the man; his benevolence; his blindness to the faults of others; his open eye to their virtues; his strong sense of rectitude; his remarkable and long-continued habits of justice; his wonderful mind, so clear, so strong, to the last; his eagle-eyed sagacity; his strong faith in God and his word, – a faith like a mountain for its towering height and firmness; his devotion to the truth; his love of the work of the ministry; his truly religious character; his susceptibility to deep devotional feeling; his love of conventions and associations for the seasons of public worship they gave him so many opportunities to enjoy; his love of conference meetings; his power over the people; his closing sermons at conventions; his prayers at the separation, when all, old and young, male and female, clergy and laity, would be melted into tears; – ah! who shall attempt to describe all these things?"

"For myself (for I will throw off the editorial style), I acknowledge that I feel most deeply the loss of this steadfast friend. I mourn, not for him, but for myself. To me he had been a father. He found me in my early manhood, and drew me out from seclusion. He taught my lips to pray. He turned my attention to the ministry; and he sought and obtained the means to support me, when I had not a cent with which to help myself. He was in the desk with me when I stood up tremblingly (in the town-house in Roxbury) to preach my first sermon. He introduced me to the society in Milford, Mass., where I had my first pastoral charge, and where I formed the tenderest relations of human life; and he was the cause of my being invited, in the year 1822, to settle at Cambridgeport, where I ever since have lived. For six years thereafter, I was associated with him in conducting the 'Universalist Magazine;' and from that time to his death he has been a constant contributor to the columns of the 'Trumpet,' refusing for the last ten years all pecuniary compensation, although repeatedly pressed upon him. He has been the earnest, steadfast friend of my wife and children; my earthly guide and counsellor, who has reproved me, but not too often; my teacher to the end of his life; a man of whom I have learned more concerning God and the divine word, and the relation between God and man, than I have learned from any other human source. How can the event of such a man's death transpire, without exciting in me extraordinary sensations? And yet I am not inconsolable. When I reflect upon what he was, upon the length of his life, upon the great measure of good he accomplished, upon the fact that he was permitted (although so much away) to die at home, surrounded by his most exemplary and loving children, after a very brief sickness, and to die so gently, almost in the act of binding sheaves in the harvest-field, – I cease to mourn. I thank God for what he was; and if I could call him back to earth, I should not dare to do so. I thank God that I saw him within an hour of his death, and that he knew me, and extended his hand, and that I was permitted to take it and kiss it. And now, although there never will be, for there never can be, another man to me like Father Ballou, I will be reconciled. And I will close this brief sketch with the words of Job, – 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'"

Passing over the feelings of sorrow, yet of calm resignation, that exercised the aged widow and mother, and the large circle of devoted and loving children, who have so fully realized the solemn character of this bereavement, we wish to give here the series of resolutions presented to the mourning family by the second Universalist society, over which Mr. Ballou had presided for a period of so many years. They were communicated to the family in the same delicate and feeling manner in which all else relating to the melancholy event had been performed by those engaged in it. They are as follows:

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