Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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CHAPTER IV.
BECOMES A PROFESSOR OF RELIGION

At the age of nineteen, there being what was termed a reformation in the town of Richmond, Mr. Ballou was induced, believing it to be his duty, to become a professor of religion, and accordingly at that time he joined the Baptist church, of which his father was pastor, in the month of January, 1789. It is very evident that he was partly induced to this circumstance by the bearing of external circumstances and the immediate associations about him, such as observing the conduct of others of his own age, who at that time made a formal and public profession of faith, and also by what he knew very well to be his father's earnest desire. It seems, therefore, that these matters, rather than any earnest mental conviction of faith, were instrumental in leading him to join the church as he did, – inasmuch as none of those objections which he had often made to his father's belief, had yet been cleared up to his mind.

But this joining of the church was plainly of immediate advantage to him, as it led him to think still more seriously and earnestly upon the subject of religion; but, owing to early prejudices, and his limited means of acquiring information, or of possessing himself of any books upon such subjects as would have been useful to him, his progress towards the light of truth was but slow. Mr. Ballou says, in relation to this conversion: – "I was much troubled in my mind because I thought I did not stand in such fear of the divine wrath as I ought to do, or as others had done before they found acceptance with God. I well remember that as I was returning home from a conference meeting, one evening, when about a quarter of a mile from home, being alone, I stopped under a large tree, and, falling on my knees, prayed as well as I could for the favor I sought." His connection with his father's church, though it continued but a short period comparatively, seems to have made no slight impression upon his mind and feelings, for he says: – "I have always felt towards this people (the Baptist denomination) as one feels towards his family, and though the religion of Christ consists in love to all men, I have a peculiar feeling for the Baptists."

In his researches and reading concerning the creed that he had now publicly professed, he found it impossible to bring his heart to conform to the doctrine of eternal reprobation, and this in itself, as he afterwards remarked, was an evidence of no inconsiderable importance, to his mind, that it could not be true; for why should his Heavenly Father have implanted in his heart an earnest desire for the salvation of all mankind, unless that desire was susceptible of gratification, as is every appetite, mental or physical, with which we are endowed by nature? Such thoughts caused him much and incessant anxiety of mind, because the very fact of his entertaining them, if the doctrine he had professed was true, endangered his eternal salvation; while, on the other hand, if this creed was not that taught by God's revealed word, then he was needlessly suffering, to a degree that greatly depressed him.

No wonder that this double incentive led him to search the Scriptures with the utmost care and attention, and to weigh and decide in his own mind the relation that one portion bears to another, and finally, with the help of Heaven, to make up his mind as to the true spirit and doctrine of the whole.

The reader can easily imagine the fervent prayers he uttered, the sleepless nights he passed, and the arduous study he performed, in his search for the light of truth. After all this anxious solicitude, this solitary mental struggle, this prayerful communication with Heaven, he at length declared himself a believer in the final salvation of the whole human family.

Great was the surprise, disappointment, and chagrin of his father and friends generally. Being looked up to by the young men of his own age as a sort of leader in their secular plans and games, the influence of his example was greatly feared as operating upon the younger portion of the church; and as his joining it had been the occasion of much rejoicing at the time, so his declaration of unbelief in its faith was the cause of a proportionate degree of sorrow. His new declaration was at once pronounced to be downright heresy, and he was accordingly excommunicated from his father's church, the document with which he was honored on the occasion carefully stating that nothing was found against him, but that he believed in the doctrine that God would finally save all men.

In relation to this subject, Mr. Ballou says: – "Above all else, my theological bias of mind predominated, and engrossed most of my attention. As I had formerly been in the habit, while with the Baptists, of speaking in their meetings, and of offering up prayer at conference meetings, I now sometimes spoke my sentiments at meetings in my brother's house. The church of which I was still a member thought it a duty to call me to answer for the course I had taken, and I was called upon to meet the accusation of believing in the salvation of all men. I attended, but did not feel it my duty to deny the charge, or to renounce my belief. I was therefore excommunicated from the church, my letter of excommunication carefully stating that no fault was found in me, my belief in the salvation of all men excepted. I shall ever remember the tears which I shed on this solemn occasion."

It was about this period that Mr. Ballou, ever in search of improvement, possessed himself of some book of a liberal religious character as to the sentiments it inculcated, when his father, chancing to see him reading it, told him decidedly that he would not have Universalist books in his house. Promptly acquiescing, as he always did, in his father's directions, a few days subsequent, the parent, on returning home, found Hosea reading a book beside the wood-pile, out of doors. "What book are you reading there?" he asked. "A Universalist book," replied the son, respectfully. An expression of dissatisfaction escaped the father, as he turned away and entered the house. Watching until his son had placed the book in the wood-pile, and left the spot, the parent resolved to possess himself of it, and perhaps even destroy it. But, lo! when he opened it, he found it was the Bible.

In an article written many years subsequent, relative to his conversion to the faith of God's impartial grace, Mr. Ballou says: – "I found, when conversing upon the subject, that my Calvinistic tenets could be made either to result in universal salvation, or to compel me to acknowledge the partiality of the divine favor. This gave me no small inquietude of mind, as I was unable to derive satisfaction from sentiments which I could not defend. That which more than anything else contributed to turn my thoughts seriously towards the belief of Universalism, was the ardent desire with which I found myself exercised that sinners might be brought to repentance and salvation. I found it utterly impossible to bring my feelings to consent to the doctrine of eternal reprobation, and I was compelled either to allow that such feelings were sinful, or that my Heavenly Father, in giving them to me, had implanted an evidence in favor of the salvation of all men, the force of which I found no means to resist."

As to Mr. Ballou's having been brought up in the faith of Calvinism, it was not without its benefits upon his after life, for it gave to him a most unlimited and perfect knowledge of the various items of faith professed by that sect, as well as the common tenets of all those who believe in the partial salvation only of the great human family. Owing to an early desire to understand the doctrine of Christianity aright, while yet of tender age he became familiar with the arguments used in support of predestination, election, reprobation, the fall of man, the penal suffering of Christ for the elect, and many other items of creed relating to the moral agency of man. Concerning this subject, Mr. Ballou says: – "As to the doctrine of Calvinism, in which my honored father was a believer, and which doctrine he preached until nearly the end of his public labors, my acquaintance with its various tenets, while quite a youth, was by no means very limited, owing to the pious endeavors of a parent whose affection for his children rendered him extremely anxious for their spiritual welfare, and to an early desire of my own to understand the doctrine of Christianity correctly." It was necessary that he should understand these matters as he did, and as he could only do, by serving an apprenticeship to them, so to speak, in order the better to enable him to refute them in after years, when he should be arrayed in a moral conflict against them. Thus the pious and well-meant endeavors of his parent to inculcate the principles of his own faith in the mind of his child were but a part of the well ordained purpose of the Almighty, in raising up an able champion for the gospel of truth.

Mr. Ballou says, referring to the period just previous to his declaration of faith and consequent excommunication: – "In the spring after I joined the church in Richmond, I went, with my brother Stephen and our cousin Jeremiah Harris, to the town of Westfield, in New York. This town is now called Harford. Here we labored together during that season, attending Elder Brown's meeting. He was of the Baptist order. Even before I left home my mind had become somewhat shaken in regard to the doctrine of endless punishment. I found it utterly out of my power to reconcile it with what all Christians professed of love to the unconverted; nor could I reconcile it with many plain declarations of Scripture; but I was by no means persuaded that salvation was for all men. My brother, knowing that I had trials of mind on this great subject, expressed a desire that I should have a conversation with Elder Brown relative to it, hoping thereby that my doubts would be removed. A conference was therefore appointed, at the house of one of the elder's deacons. There were a number present, and the elder requested me to name some passage of Scripture which to my mind favored universal salvation; expressing at the same time perfect confidence that he should be able to show me that the passage did by no means favor such doctrine. I opened to the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and read the eighteenth verse, as follows: – 'Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.' The elder did not appear to be at all acquainted with the text, for, instead of directing his remarks to it, he seemed to wander far off, and to talk very loud, and nothing to the subject. When he paused, I again read the text, and asked the elder if the same all men mentioned in the first part of the text, were not mentioned in the last? This simple question seemed to embarrass his mind; he was evidently out of humor, and manifested a bitter spirit, which being discovered by my brother, caused him to desire that the conversation should close, and it did. This circumstance tended rather to strengthen my mind in favor of universal and impartial grace, and to induce a more thorough examination of the Scriptures and the subject. I had no other book than the Bible, and all my early education lay like a broad sheet to cover that book from my vision. But one or two passages were found, and from them I found my way to others which seemed to agree with the first, and it was not long before I was astonished at my ignorance of the Scriptures. The Bible was no longer the book it had been to me. I became entirely convinced of the truth of the doctrine of Universalism."

It was therefore in the town of Westfield, N. Y., that Mr. Ballou came fully to believe in the final salvation of all mankind. We do not mean to be understood that he came at once to the full belief of the doctrine that he afterwards taught, but that he made at this time the earliest and most important advance towards the belief which he subsequently declared, and which has since become the creed of nine-tenths of the Universalist denomination. At this period he believed the doctrine, as he says he preached it not many months afterwards, being the fall before he was twenty-one, "when I began to speak in public," he says, "believing and preaching universal salvation, on the Calvinistic principles of atonement and imputed righteousness." The few Universalists that then existed, having obtained proof, to their satisfaction, that none of the human family would suffer endless punishment, thought they had sufficient cause for rejoicing, and seemed to be content to rest their discoveries there. Further progress upon this subject was left for Mr. Ballou to make and promulgate, as by careful and unaided research he should come more fully to understand this most important subject.

"At this time," he writes in his manuscript before us, "fully realizing that the basis of all spiritual knowledge was the Bible, that blessed book was ever with me, and not one moment in which I was freed from necessary labor was occupied save in its perusal. I learned to love it, to consult its pages with reverence, and prayerfully, that I might rightly interpret its true meaning. I became very familiar with the various important passages, which frequently gave me great advantage in controversy, at that time, on points of faith; for it was the practice of those days to blindly give credence to such faith as was taught from the pulpit, and, leaving the minister to reason for the whole congregation, they themselves rarely consulted the holy text, in a spirit of inquiry, though they deemed themselves most devout and reasonable Christians. By individual and careful explorations, I found my Bible was able to teach me all I desired to know, and that, at the outset, I had been miserably deceived in my early impressions of God's word, by not examining and weighing the subject matter of divine revelation for myself. But such is the force of habit that those early impressions were at first constantly recurring to my mind, and acting as stumbling blocks in the way of my onward progress."

It is often said that Rev. John Murray was an earlier preacher than the subject of this biography; that he is called the father of Universalism in America; and that Mr. Ballou received his opinions direct from him. But those persons who say thus, or entertain themselves such an idea, are mistaken; indeed, as often as this remark is made, it must always be by those who have thought little, and known less, of the history of Universalism. No one venerates the memory of Rev. John Murray more than the author of this memoir, who, indeed, out of respect for his Christian virtues and excellence, bears his name; but these records must be faithful in all respects. So far from Mr. Ballou's having obtained the opinions which formed the great and distinctive features of his doctrine from Murray, that venerated minister did not believe the creed of Universalists as taught by the subject of this biography, namely: that the Bible affords no evidence of punishment after death. Even at the time of Murray's death he held most tenaciously to his early belief; and he even preached the doctrine on the old Calvinistic principles, between which and the doctrine promulgated by Mr. Ballou there is a wide difference.

While in the town of Westfield, a serious accident occurred to Mr. Ballou, by which he nearly lost his life, being, by some accident, most fearfully scalded. After much suffering from the injury thus received, he perfectly recovered, and soon after returned once more to Richmond, being not yet twenty-one years of age. He now first commenced the study of the English grammar, and attended for a period a school kept in the Quaker meeting-house in his native town.

Mr. Ballou says of this first attendance at school: – "It was a private school, the first one ever opened in the town, and was supported by a few young people with whom I united; and here I obtained the first instruction in English grammar. I now set myself to work in earnest to obtain learning. I studied night and day, slept little, and ate little."

At the close of this school, being actuated by an earnest desire to obtain knowledge, and realizing more than ever the immense advantage it bestowed, he determined, for a period, to devote his entire earnings to this end; and, in pursuance of this purpose, he immediately entered the Chesterfield (N. H.) Academy, where, by industry and incessant application, allowing himself but a brief period of time out of the twenty-four hours each day for sleep, in a very short space of time he acquired a good knowledge of the ordinary branches of an English education of those days. The tuition received by Mr. Ballou at this academy was the first worthy of mention that he had ever enjoyed, and was of vastly more importance to him than all he had been taught before, or had himself acquired, as it regarded the rudiments of his native language. Fortunately, the instructors employed were men of sound ability, and consequently from his studies here he realized most important and lasting benefit.

It was not alone the additional theoretical knowledge that he acquired here that we refer to as being of so much advantage to him; it was also that which he saw and realized while at this school. It was the spirit of emulation that was imparted to his disposition by observing others in their progress, as it regarded mental culture, and the acquirement of useful knowledge. His early associations had been among that class who had paid but little attention to mental cultivation. He had enjoyed but a limited opportunity thus far to judge of the incomparable power and importance of education; but now he realized it at a glance, and, determining to let no means within his power remain unexercised in the great purpose of obtaining knowledge and of cultivating intelligence, he gathered his golden harvest from every available source, and stored it in the cells of his brain.

We have heard him refer particularly to this period, as having devoted the hours of the night, as well as those of the day, to enable him to keep pace with more experienced minds and better cultivated intellects, and how apparently gratified the preceptor was to see him able and thorough in his recitations, knowing the strong disadvantages under which he labored. It was his good fortune to make the acquaintance of the teachers on good terms. They seemed prepossessed in his favor, and were exceedingly kind, and even assiduous, in rendering him every needed assistance in his studies. This was of unquestionable advantage to him, and made him, if possible, more attentive than he would otherwise have been as to studies and recitations, that those who had been so kind to him might see that their labor was not thrown away. "I well remember," says Mr. Ballou, "the kindness and consideration exercised towards me by Professor Logan, the principal of the academy, who seemed resolved that my tuition should be of real benefit to me." And thus, indeed, it really proved, forming a foundation on which to rear a structure of useful knowledge, and the better to enable him to arrange and discipline his mind.

On leaving the academy, he obtained a certificate testifying to his sound moral character and ability, which document proved of considerable benefit to him afterwards in obtaining various situations as a teacher. Schools for the young were then kept but a short period at a time in New England, and thus the teacher had often occasion to change the field of his operations. Though thus engaged in the calling of a school-master, his mind, he has frequently told us, was at all times, when not immediately engaged with his pupils, occupied with the one great subject that had already taken such root in his heart, – that of religion. His Bible was ever in his hands or about his person for frequent reference, and his earnest and constant prayer to Heaven was that he might be able rightly to comprehend and analyze its doctrinal teachings.

He found his daily increasing knowledge of the Bible to be of great advantage to him, as he says himself, in argument with others, and also as it regarded properly weighing and arranging in his own mind its various parts, and the bearing each sustained to the other. The early knowledge thus obtained of the holy text never left him, and was retained with most miraculous power and correctness through his entire life.



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