Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou

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While Mr. Ballou was yet but twenty years of age, he made one or two unsuccessful attempts to preach a regular discourse. That is, he delivered sermons once or twice at the period referred to, before small assemblies of his personal friends and relations. But so far from satisfying himself in relation to his ability for public speaking, he was quite disheartened by the result that attended these his first efforts. Yet, by the constant solicitations of those who were curious to hear him discourse upon the topic of his peculiar views, he continued to speak, despite of the advice of his immediate friends and relations, until he not only soon satisfied himself as to his abilities, but also received the cordial approval of a large number of those who would, at the outset, have discouraged him entirely.

In relation to this period of his life, Mr. Ballou gives us his own words, and to the point. But the reader will please to mark that when he speaks at this period of Universalists, he refers to those who thus called themselves, but who would, in these days, be more properly denominated Restorationists. The correctness of this statement will at once be seen from the fact of his saying that he met John Murray, etc., at the first Universalist convention which he ever attended, while those who are acquainted with that honored teacher's tenets of faith are aware, as we have already stated in these pages, that he lived and died solemnly believing in a state of future suffering or punishment; and more latterly during his life he sustained many controversies with Mr. Ballou on this very subject.

"In September of the year preceding my beginning to preach," says Mr. Ballou, "I went to Oxford with my brother David, to attend the first Universalist convention I had ever met with. Here I saw John Murray for the first time, and George Richards, and some other public preachers. The next summer after I was twenty years old, I labored with my brother on his farm, and late in the fall made my first attempt to preach. This was on an evening, and at the house of Deacon Thayer, in Richmond. Mr. Thayer had been a deacon in the Baptist church, but had become a Universalist, and still retained his office with the last-named denomination. My brother and Rev. Caleb Rich were present to hear my first attempt to preach; and, according to what I could learn, they had their doubts whether I had a talent for such labor, but were not without some hope. The second time I attempted to preach was in the town of Brattleboro', Vt., where my brother preached in the daytime, and I undertook to speak in the evening, being overpersuaded to do so; but this attempt was a failure, and I was greatly mortified, and thought, for a time, that I would not engage in a work for which I was not competent. However, it was not long before I became encouraged to try again, after which I met with no remarkable failure to produce discouragement."

The comparative failure of Mr.

Ballou's earliest attempts at public speaking, although soon afterwards followed by complete success, is not at all surprising. It is exceedingly rare to find the first efforts of orators satisfactory to themselves and to their friends. The first attempt of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the most brilliant orator of his time, – if, perhaps, we except Burke, who was, however, more distinguished by the eloquence of his diction, – was a complete and decided failure. But, knowing himself, he declared emphatically that "it was in him, and must come out." When General, then Colonel, Washington rose to respond to a complimentary address of the legislature of his native colony, he found it impossible to express himself; and the first efforts of the illustrious and lamented Henry Clay gave no promise of his future eminence. It would be easy to multiply illustrations of the fact that it is only step by step that fame and honor are attained. No one springs at a bound to the summit of his reputation and usefulness. It is only shallow pretenders who sometimes shine with a false lustre at the outset of their career, soon to sink into utter insignificance. But the true man, the man of sterling genius and worth, conscious of a high mission, and confiding in Providence for the energy and inspiration necessary to fulfil it, is not daunted with the obstacles that present themselves at the outset of his career. They are regarded as trials and tests as to his adaptedness to the purpose for which he is created. From every rebuff he acquires new strength; he puts forth redoubled energy, until at last he triumphs over every impediment, and stands forth in the full energy of his being.

Had not Mr. Ballou been prompted by such a spirit as this, had he not been possessed of an extraordinary vigor of character, for which he was ever remarkable, he would hardly have persevered in his attempts to preach under these discouraging circumstances. It will be remembered that he did not sit down and compose a discourse which he afterwards read to his audience; this is comparatively an easy task. He spoke extemporaneously then, as he ever did afterwards. In subsequent years he was frequently called upon for manuscript copies of his discourses for publication. But the sermons were not written until after they had been delivered; and it was not his practice to put on paper even the heads of his discourse to take into the desk with him for reference in delivery. Trusting entirely to his powerfully retentive memory, the arrangement of his sermons was as methodical and correct as though penned in the seclusion of his study. We have heard some persons, more nice than wise, speak of his extemporaneous delivery as an objection, and find fault because he did not write his discourses, and thus deliver them from his notes in the pulpit. We have a word to say in relation to this subject, since it has been thus referred to.

To speak extempore and at the same time to speak well and to the purpose, to arrange certain points and arguments mentally with nice precision, so as to deliver them with fluency and effect, must require a strong and healthy intellect, a powerful and original mind. But a man with an ordinary degree of mental cultivation, who cannot write a discourse and read it afterward, must be singularly deficient in his intellectual capacity. It is impossible for an audience to feel so deep an interest in the service as that which is felt in listening to the spontaneous outbreakings of a warm and ardent mind while it is engaged upon the holy theme. The speaker must invariably grow enthusiastic in so glorious a cause as he advocates, and his audience necessarily partake of his feelings. But when there is any particular degree of spirit or animation evinced by one who is reading his discourse verbatim et literatim, it is of necessity a preconcerted exhibition, and as such must fail of its effect with the majority. It may be said that no man can lay out so well his matter, nor give so good and sound an argument, spontaneously, as when he commits his ideas to paper. This, as a general thing, must be conceded, for there are comparatively few intellects sufficiently powerful to adopt the opposite course.

The advantages of extemporaneous speaking are doubtless many. It enables the individual to place himself in closer contact with the feelings of his audience, giving him the power to take advantage of any bright thought that unexpected impulse may impart. An experienced commander arranges the general plan of an engagement before going into battle, but he can do no more, for circumstances must guide him in the conflict. He must improve the opportunity to throw forward his forces just at the right moment, not too soon nor too late, as such an indiscretion might change the fortunes of the day, and lose the battle to him who would else have won it. So with the preacher; he must watch the inner man of his hearers, and, as he gains ground in the heart, follow up his influence by well-sustained argument, and strengthen his position by proper means made available at the appropriate moment, – neither too lightly nor yet with too much force, but be guided safely by the strength of the position he already holds in the minds of his audience.

Such things cannot be correctly anticipated, and laid down beforehand, by comma and period, in the study. Mr. Ballou's arguments were arranged with the utmost precision, his reasoning followed in the most logical array, and all the while he was talking to the people in the most unconcerned and familiar manner, as though each respective member of his congregation was sitting by his own fireside and the preacher had happened in. This is the mode of preaching which is effectual, and all the flowers of rhetoric may seek in vain to attain a like influence over the hearts and sympathies of an auditory. The latter mode of preaching may please, but the former will convince; the first will make worshippers, the last admirers. Thinks the reader that the simple fishermen of Galilee – yet the chosen of God – sought by the vain and gaudy ornaments of elegant delivery and studied eloquence to please the people? No! They preached the holy word in all meekness, striving to exalt not themselves, but rather the name of him who had sent them.

Mr. Ballou says, relative to the period when he commenced to preach: – "Mr. Logan, the preceptor, gave me a certificate when I left the Chesterfield Academy, which was sufficient to enable me to get a school in Bellingham, Mass. Here I taught school during the other days of the week, and preached on the Sabbath. When I first engaged in preaching, it was not with the most distant expectation that I should support myself by the ministry; but I thought I could keep school some, and labor some with my hands, and live with but a little income. From Bellingham I went to the town of Foster, R. I., where my father formerly lived, and there my father taught a large school and had good compensation; and here also on the Sabbath I preached in the school-house where I taught. From this place I went to Scituate, in R. I., where I preached and taught school. My meetings grew very large, and I was called on to go to different places, – to Smithfield, Providence, Pawtucket, etc. After I had spent about two years in keeping school and preaching, I found that I had used up all my earnings, had laid up nothing, except that I had more costly clothing than when I first began. And now, at the age of twenty-four, I was so much called on to preach that I gave up keeping school, and devoted my time to the ministry, receiving now and then some compensation for my services."

Mr. Ballou's life as a public minister may be said to have commenced at the age of twenty. From that time, as it became known that he preached the doctrine which was deemed by nearly all to be such a heresy, there were numerous invitations, as he shows us above, pouring in upon him from all quarters, to come and address the people concerning the faith he had espoused. His labors were by no means confined to Rhode Island, but he preached in the neighborhood of Richmond, and in various parts of Vermont and Massachusetts, improving every moment of leisure time in the most careful study of the Scriptures. He no longer preached on the Sabbath only, but also on nearly every consecutive evening of the week. It was easy to gather an audience, anxious and ready to listen to the new and most happy doctrine that the preacher taught, and even at this early period of his ministerial career he began to address those spontaneous mass assemblies that in after years always gathered from all directions to listen to him whenever he appeared. Entirely forgetting himself, and with but one great object in view, that of preaching God's impartial grace, and of convincing all who would listen to him of the glorious truths of Universalism, he counted not the hours of mental labor which now increased upon him, but labored hard and willingly with his hands to clothe himself, receiving but a mere trifle for his professional labors. Pay, at this period, he never demanded, and very rarely expected; he was fully contented with the inward recompense which he realized.

"At this period of my life," says Mr. Ballou, "my health was very indifferent. I had most of the time a severe pain in the pit of my stomach, and my appetite was far from being good, and so debilitated was I in strength that I have even been obliged to sit while I preached. It became necessary for me to procure a vehicle to journey in, being too weak to ride on horseback; however, by care and good advice, I gradually recruited. My travelling for that period was extensive, from Cape Ann east, to the Connecticut River west, to Richmond north, and New London and Hartford south. All my Sabbaths were employed, and many lectures were attended during each week. I preached in meeting-houses when they could be obtained, sometimes in school-houses, sometimes in barns, and not very seldom in groves and orchards, and often in private houses.

"To the people, the doctrine I preached was new, and the opposition lacked not for bitterness; and such was my condition that I was constantly in conflict, and never allowed to put off my armor to rest, day or night. All manner of evil reports concerning me were invented, and the worst of slander circulated, all tending to make me regardless of what my enemies said. My answer to all this slander was, while they speak thus falsely of me, I am in no danger; if I am injured I shall do that myself."

Theology was a subject of most sombre hue at this period in New England. Calvinism had twined its choking fibres so closely about the sacred tree, that its branches drooped, and its leaves withered in the sunshine of truth. The doctrines taught from the pulpit, while they were listened to as a duty, were yet repulsive to the heart of the hearer, and abhorrent to his very soul. The principle of divine love was clouded wholly from sight by the dark mass of murky error that enshrouded all scripture teachings. The duties of man to his Maker and to himself were held forth under fearful threats, as a penalty for disobedience, but the idea that in the performance of our duty real happiness is alone to be found, while sin most surely brings its own punishment, was never publicly advanced. Sinfulness, aside from the liabilities of eternity, was not held up to be avoided, but rather acknowledged to be pleasant and desirable, while those who trod the paths of righteousness were taught to consider themselves as self-sacrificing martyrs, and told to look for their reward in eternity. It was these obvious inconsistencies that at first challenged the attention of the subject of this memoir. And when he stood up and boldly exposed these palpable errors, when he preached love while others preached wrath to the people, it is not singular that those who were so diametrically opposed to him in faith should be ready to believe and propagate any stories that might reflect upon his character, and thus detract from his influence as exercised upon those who so eagerly listened to him, and in whose hearts, in the very nature of things, he was sure of an answering and approving sentiment.

It is a matter of regret that Mr. Ballou has left no record of his journeyings and labors during this important period of his clerical career, as such a narrative would have been most deeply interesting to his family and friends. The amount of labor he performed must have been prodigious, and fully accounts for the enfeebled bodily condition to which he alludes. Every fibre of his intellectual frame must have been constantly in a state of extreme tension; for his was not the easy task of preaching on the Sabbath a written discourse which he had taken a whole week to prepare, but, as we have said, he was called upon almost daily to address large audiences and promiscuous assemblies. Nor was his the pleasant duty of the navigator who follows the course of the stream and the tide. He was a pioneer; he preached a new doctrine; and, as he says, "the opposition lacked not for bitterness." It is not surely an exaggeration to declare that Universalism in those days was popularly regarded with as much hostility as Infidelity itself is now. Hence, in addition to the severe fatigue of travel, the necessity of finding constantly new arguments and new illustrations, to sway the minds of constantly changing auditors, he had to battle valiantly, like a soldier of Christ, against the most vigorous and determined opposition.

In this condition, how mentally and physically trying must have been his incessant labors in his Master's vineyard! Neither by night nor by day could he for a moment lay aside his armor. Standing alone, there was no respite to his exertions. Later in life he beheld a host of able followers ready to relieve him of a portion of his duties. His doctrine was no longer the theme of obloquy and outrage. He outlived calumny and detraction. But it will be seen that even in extreme old age he did not spare himself; he did not suffer sloth to creep upon his spirit, nor rust to gather on his armor. He was still the favored champion of his cause, and ever ready to minister to the spiritual wants of his brethren in the faith.

With the close of his itinerant labors, we now come to another important and interesting epoch in his life.


The first place in which Mr. Ballou engaged permanently as a settled minister was in the town of Dana, Mass., in 1794-5. The society here, not feeling able to pay for an engagement which should occupy him the whole time, engaged him for a portion, leaving him to supply the societies in Oxford and Charlton, Mass., also, a portion of the time. Having now become located, and his residence known, large numbers of people from a distance gathered to hear him, not only on the Sabbath, but frequently for several consecutive days of the week besides. Many there were who held his doctrine to be such damning heresy that they counted it a sin even to listen to it; while others of his religious opponents, holding that "there is no error so crooked but it hath in it some lines of truth," came and listened, and the seed not unfrequently fell into good soil, bringing forth a hundred fold.

"Often was I greeted at this time," says Mr. Ballou, "by people who would say, 'Sir, I heard you preach a sermon, a few weeks since, from such a text,' naming it, 'and I have been uneasy and anxious in my mind ever since. If your doctrine is true, I must understand and believe it. But, alas! I fear it is too good to be true; it is so different from what I have been brought up to believe that I cannot divest my mind of early prejudices sufficiently to receive it, though Heaven knows how gladly I could do so.' Then the individual would quote some passages of scripture which seemed to him to be insuperable objections to the doctrine I professed, and I would do all in my power to explain these passages to his mind, in the way I had myself already learned to interpret them. Usually, with the blessing of Divine Providence, I was successful, at least in a large degree, and on the following Sabbath I was pretty sure to find the honest seeker after truth among my congregation, and the following Sabbath he would be there again, attentively listening to the word, until, finally, he came forth and openly espoused the blessed doctrine of God's impartial grace. Thus encouraged with the growth of the seed that I strewed by the way-side, my task was a grateful one to my soul, and I was constantly gladdened by the visible fruits of my efforts in disenthralling men's minds of the dogmas and blind creeds that early prejudice and the schools had inculcated."

Let it be borne in mind that at this period he was preaching Universalism on the principle of the final restoration of the whole human family, not having satisfied himself yet that there would be no punishment in a future state of existence, or, indeed, ever thought upon this subject to any great extent. Owing to the very trifling amount of his remuneration from the society in Dana, while he resided there, besides tilling a small portion of land, he was obliged to keep school during the week, and this engagement was often broken into for lecture purposes. His keeping and teaching school was a benefit to him beyond the pecuniary consideration he received, inasmuch as it familiarized him with many branches of an English education which he would perhaps otherwise never have acquired, or at least not nearly so thoroughly as he did by this means.

Uninfluenced by the sneers of his opposers, and the poor remuneration he received for the preaching of his belief, he never for one moment wavered in a steadfast purpose, even at this early period, to preach Christ and him crucified, and the unsearchable riches of God's goodness. In this connection we are reminded of the remarks of the editor of the New Covenant, Chicago, Ill., who, in his obituary notice of the decease of Mr. Ballou, says: —

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