Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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CHAPTER XVI.
CONCLUSION

A modern writer says, after a visit to the splendid tomb of David Hume, at Edinburgh, "When I looked upon the spot, I could not forget that his best powers had been deliberately exerted to load the minds of men with doubts of their God."

 
"To poison at the fountain's source
The stream of life throughout its course."
 

Let us contrast the feelings thus naturally arising in the mind, as it contemplates the life of the English historian, with those that will spring up spontaneously in the heart of him who looks upon the last resting-place of the subject of this biography. His whole life was a practical plea for the glorious character of his Heavenly Father, and every power of his nature, both mental and physical, was entirely devoted to and expended in bearing witness of God's love and impartial grace. Who covets the world-wide fame of the infidel historian? Who would not leave behind him the glorious memory of the true Christian? Greatness may build the tomb, but goodness must write the epitaph.

 
"Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust."
 

We have thus brought the narrative of Mr. Ballou's life down from its commencement to its close. In the execution of the task, it is feared that many imperfections and deficiencies will be detected; but we have the consolation of reflecting that, at least, we have not been guilty of exaggeration, and throughout have sought only to present the truth in the clearest light, and with the same simplicity that the subject of these pages would have commended. We have most ardently endeavored to make manifest the pure character, consistent conduct, the high intellectual ability, the unaffected piety, and laborious and unremitted services of the deceased to the great cause he espoused in early life. Had he placed a higher estimate upon his own labors, he would have left behind him a complete record of his toils, that would have interested the most careless and worldly reader. But, while he never spared himself, he appears to have seen no unusual merit in his unexampled labors; he was simply discharging his duty to his Maker and his fellow-men. The thought of challenging admiration for his sacrifices of comfort, for his exposures and trials, seems never to have occurred to him; and hence the minutes of his personal adventures are brief and imperfect. He has only given us enough to enable us to guess at the extent of his toil. For the result of his labors and travels, we have only to look around, – to behold the multiplied churches springing up where he first preached in school-houses, dwelling-houses, or even beneath the fruit-trees, to numerous congregations that have found faith and hope through his ministrations, who fondly regard him as the father of their order, and who rise up to bless his name. Though his lips are now sealed forever, yet his doctrine, a precious legacy, is left for us still, in his own language; and, with the example and influence of his pure life, we may find the surest guide to the understanding of the gospel as it is in Christ.

It is true that the bow is broken; but the arrow is sped on its message, and will pierce the heart of error.

The subject of these pages was not a man for his own time alone; he has lived for all time. We find in the pages of history actors upon the stage of life peculiarly fitted for the immediate period in which they lived; men active, bold, successful, and ever ready for any emergency; men governed by principles and incentives peculiarly adapted to the day and hour, without whom it would have been difficult to realize the seeming destiny of man, and the results and history of the times. Yet those persons, if they were to exist now, would be out of their element; there would not occur the same exigencies to call forth their particular endowments of courage and endurance. They illustrated tangible matter, and performed deeds of personal prowess; but Mr. Ballou enunciated, defined, elucidated and illumined, a great principle, a fundamental truth, something that will live through all eternity, – not the ephemeral act of an hour, which, however timely and important at the moment, is forgotten with the casualty that gives it birth. No! Mr. Ballou was not for his own time alone, – he was for all time.

His advent in the religious world was the commencement of a new era in the church; and from that day and that hour the little glimmering of the light of truth which was seen as afar off grew daily larger, and brighter, and clearer, as, in the onward journey of his years and his understanding, he came to behold the gospel as it is in Christ, and to preach it to the world. Nature about him had taught this impartial grace and goodness of God for ages and ages, but the tongues of men had been fabricating and declaring another creed. It was no new truth that he illustrated and believed; but he gave it oral form, and depicted it before men's eyes.

Our task draws now to its close; we have recorded the closing incidents of that life on whose eventful record we have reverentially dwelt, and we must soon resign the pen with which we have feebly depicted the story of departed worth. It remains for us to give a rapid retrospective glance at the career we have traced, with a brief recapitulatory view of the subject. The author has made no attempt at fine writing, and has sought only to present a "plain, unvarnished tale," in keeping with the unostentatious simplicity of the subject of his pages. In these busy and stirring days, most readers crave an exciting book of thrilling incident. In preparing the life of a distinguished warrior, or a bold adventurer, startling incidents and scenes crowd upon the writer, till the task of condensation becomes both imperative and difficult. The turbulent stream, rushing from its mountain home, tumbling amidst rocks and dashing over precipices, affords a picture at every point of its progress; while the course of a river, that rises in some placid lake, and pursues its pathway noiselessly and tranquilly, till lost in the world of waters that swallows up its individuality, however pleasing an object of contemplation, is little fitted to figure in an elaborate personal record, or to minister to the restless eye of the lover of the bold and startling in nature.

The life of the subject of these pages may be compared to that of a quiet streamlet, making itself felt by the verdure and freshness it diffuses around it, but not startling the ear by the tumult of motion. Hence, those who merely take up a book for amusement or excitement, will find themselves disappointed with this biography. It was not, however, for such tastes that the book was designed. It is rather a medium of communication between filial affection, and that scarcely colder feeling of friendship and respect, shared by a large and increasing denomination of Christians, whose common love for the subject of these pages will secure indulgence towards the author.

They will rather follow the delightful traits of Christian character he evinced, will admire the truth and genuineness of his nature, the sweet simplicity of his soul, and the magnitude and glory of his doctrine, than pause to criticize the simple garb that has clothed these special and important matters. It will be the kernel, not the shell, that our readers will discuss; and if we have, in our humble way, succeeded in so portraying the life of our parent as to place it any more clearly and faithfully before men's eyes, then we have done a good work, and our labor has not been in vain. If, by the exhibition of his happy faith, and the application of his own arguments, we shall have succeeded in confirming even one soul in the sacred and cheering faith he advocated, we shall have sufficient reward in our own heart for the toil of this work. He would have labored continually and unceasingly to lead a soul in the straight and narrow way; no fatigue, no disappointment, was ever any hindrance in his path, when duty held the lamp. His eyes were turned onward and upward; they overlooked the rugged way, strewn with rocks and quicksands, over which he strode towards the great goal of his life, the promulgation of God's fatherly love to man.

More fortunate than many whose works have enriched the world, we have seen that Mr. Ballou lived long enough to enjoy an honorable fame. Long before he died the voice of calumny was hushed. He had accomplished what Burke had advised for the refutation of slander, – he had "lived it down." The shafts of malice fell harmless from the shield of his unspotted conscience. He had achieved a greater triumph yet than the surviving of the assaults aimed against his reputation as a man; he lived to behold the truth he had so advocated, in which and for which he lived, adopted by hundreds of thousands as the staff of their lives and the rock of their salvation. It would be difficult to find, in any age, the record of a greater victory of intellectual power.

As we have fully shown, Mr. Ballou started in life with no aids for the development of his mental energies. His circumstances were such as would have completely crushed a majority of gifted minds. Isolation, privation, the want of mental stimulus, surrounded him. The example and aid of elder scholarship was wanting. The steps to the temple of knowledge were hewn by his own hands out of the rugged and unyielding rock. He had no strong hand to grasp his own, and bear him up, and stay his tottering footsteps. Yet, with an iron grasp, he seized upon the rudiments of knowledge, and made them his own. And, while satisfying the cravings of his nature, he neglected no duty of life. Those who had claims upon his industry suffered no injury or loss from this source, for the hours devoted to his early studies were heroically subtracted from hours of repose. When others rested from bodily toil, he was wakeful and toiling mentally.

The energy displayed in his pursuit of knowledge, under such extraordinary difficulties, prepares us for the yet greater energy exhibited in his subsequent course. Accustomed to accomplish his purpose by severe labor, we find him continually proposing to himself questions of difficulties to be solved only by severe intellectual exertion. He cultivates his moral intellectual nature so rigidly, that he is not lightly satisfied on any subject. But we are most impressed with the beauty of his spiritual nature. Most energetic minds are, we think, prone to scepticism. They doubt, resolve their doubts, and then cling firmly and forever to the truths they have established.

It is said, "A resolved doubt is the strongest proof." Paul began by opposing religion, and ended as one of its champions. But with Mr. Ballou there was no necessity of going through with this usual process. His existence and his belief were identical. He recognized his Maker in his words and in his works; faith was his earliest companion, and she was with him to the last. Her light illumined his earliest and his last step; as it beamed upon him with its morning radiance, and cheered his noon-tide with its glow, so it was the broad, unshadowed sunset of his life.

We have seen how early his inquiring and steadfast mind began to pierce the shadows and darkness with which dogmatism had obscured the true nature of God, and the spirit of his law. The clouds were not dispelled all at once. By degrees they rolled away, as his vision strengthened, until, at length, his eyes beheld the full glory of God in its effulgent splendor. The moment when the last veil was withdrawn, and he beheld the glorious form of Truth embodied in the creed which he ever afterwards professed, was the crown and summit of his existence. Then he found and grasped a treasure which the world could not take away. Years might pass before the many would embrace his doctrine; but he knew that it must eventually make its way to men's hearts and understanding, and that it would be universally recognized and triumph in the end.

From the moment of his discovery, his mission was decided, his calling confirmed, his path through life traced out as clear as daylight. He felt called upon and inspired to preach the gospel of love to all mankind; and he went forth upon his mission, resolved to fulfil it to the utmost of his strength and talent. Surely no man ever more faithfully performed his allotted task. In the discharge of his duty, we behold him fearing no toil, sparing no exertion, shrinking from no obstacle. A man loving peace and quiet, yet he hesitated not to assume the weapons of controversy when his doctrines were assailed. With him, indeed, the truth was everything, – himself nothing. Hence, we are left no record of his many journeyings, his lonely wayfarings, his midnight labors. He accounted these things as nothing, as dust in the balance, weighed against the service he espoused, and the gospel interests which he strove to advocate.

The following letter addressed to us from Manchester, N. H., a few years since, now lies open before us, and will serve to show the reader the indomitable perseverance that the subject of these memoirs brought to bear upon his professional duties; – how little he spared himself in the prosecution of his great mission; how totally he disregarded bodily ease or comfort, when brought in opposition to the prosecution of his sacred mission on earth. It is also another of those brief, meaning and affectionate epistles such as he ever wrote, exhibiting the same reliance upon Divine Providence that ever exercised his bosom: —

"Maturin: Last Sabbath was to me a day of severe trial. Early in the morning I was attacked with a sudden illness, which so weakened me by meeting-time that, although I made two determined efforts to go on with my discourse, the last was as unsuccessful as the first, and I was finally compelled to yield to my bodily weakness, giving the people to expect my services in the afternoon. Dr. Colburn kindly conveyed me to his house, and he and his good lady so nursed me that, by meeting-time in the afternoon, I walked to church and went through with my usual services, sparing myself the labor of reading the hymns. Through the goodness of an all-ruling Providence, that has ever sustained and supported me in every trial, I am now recovering, and am quite as well as before this attack, save that I am very weak.

"The reason I have written you particularly is, that your mother and the family generally may not be alarmed by the report which will very naturally reach you before I can return home. Please send me a few current newspapers. Affectionately,

"Hosea Ballou."

He neglected no means for the advancement of truth; discourses from the pulpit, colloquial discussions, written essays, poetical effusions, all were brought to sustain the one great idea he advocated. Though his oral instructions were poured forth on every occasion, he well knew the mighty power of the press over the minds of community, and he wielded this agent with vigor and effect. As his example in the pulpit was followed by a host of disciples, so did his essays in the press give birth to a race of vigorous literary champions of the gospel. But, above all, was the "daily beauty of his life" the strongest evidence of the sincerity of his convictions, and the truth of his doctrine. The example that teaches better than precept was manifested in his social existence. His cheerful deportment, his resignation under trials, were proofs of a "peace which the world cannot give."

His principles forbade him to teach or to show that this beautiful world was created as a gloomy prison-house to the sons of men. Late and copious extracts from his own pen, in these pages, will abundantly show this. He delighted to point out the radiance of the raiment with which our Heavenly Father has gladdened our temporary abiding-place. He loved to trace the "smile of the Great Spirit," in the gushing water-courses, the verdant meadows, the bright skies, the murmuring woodlands, the flower-enamelled fields, and the blue arch that bends over all, enclosing it within a crystal sphere. He was no enemy to social enjoyment; no frown of his ever checked the joyous laugh bursting from young lips, or dimmed the brightness of the domestic fireside. In the relations of husband, father, friend, he was loved and revered, – how dearly and deeply, let the sorrow that has fallen on our hearts at parting speak!

He has gone from our midst! His stately form will no more gladden our eyes, the music of his voice will no more warm our hearts, the pressure of his hand will no more answer responsively to ours. But he has departed, full of years and fame, to that bright world above, whose glory was the theme of his existence. Emulating the virtues which his well-ordered and beautiful life exhibited, cherishing the gospel truths in all their purity, simplicity and attractiveness, as he taught them, may we improve our own lives by the recollection of his, and open our hearts to the still yet eloquent sermon he now preaches to us from the silent tomb! And let that sacred belief, which he taught us to rely upon and to hold as most dear to our hearts, fill us with a hope and assurance of a final and happy reunion with him in heaven! In his own family he fully succeeded in implanting a spirit of belief in and entire reliance upon God's love to his children; and, could the reader behold the influence that this belief now exercises over the heart of his aged widow, what a tower of strength and calm resignation she realizes from the faith he impressed upon her, he would find fresh reason for Christian fortitude, and new hope and faith in the gospel.

And now, ere the reader closes these pages, permit the author to ask for the book a kind consideration, and to solicit the lenient judgment of the public for these records of a parent's life, written and compiled amid the arduous duties attendant upon his editorial calling. The work has little else to recommend it, save the homely truthfulness of its record, and the sincerity that has dictated its composition.

To the many friends of Mr. Ballou, and more particularly to the denomination, clergymen and laity, with whom he has so long held fellowship, the author trusts this book may prove an acceptable memento of one whom they delighted to honor.

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