Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou

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"The labors of Hosea Ballou, of this city," says the author, "may be regarded as one of the principal means of the change. In the 'Treatise on Atonement,' he has treated the subject at length, maintaining the subordination of the Son to the Father, the eternal and impartial love of God to all creatures, and holding forth the death of Christ not as the cause, but as the effect of this eternal principle of the divine nature. The very wide circulation of this work evinces the high estimation in which it has been held by the American Universalists."

We subjoin also the following notice of the "Treatise," because we think it a most truthful critique relative to the book, which we desire to have the readers of this biography to understand. In this review, which appeared not long since in the Evangelical Magazine, the editor says: —

"The decided manner in which the doctrine of vicarious atonement is rejected, the prominence given to the belief that Jesus was a dependent being, dependent like ourselves on a common Father and God, and that he was sent to preach the truth and illustrate its requirements, and by his exclusive influence to reconcile man to his Maker, were subjects so new, so startling, that for a time the work appears not to have been very well received. But the important object was attained. The public attention, and especially that of Universalists, was drawn to the consideration of these fundamental and momentous doctrines. The author's views were very generally adopted by the order, and the book obtained unbounded popularity. It deserves this distinction, for it doubtless wrought the great revolution that transformed Universalism from the Unitarian hypothesis, with all its concomitants, into the simple and intelligible system formed in the doctrine of the indivisible oneness of God. It is, perhaps, impossible to estimate the influence which this work has had upon the so-called Unitarian controversy in New England. But this much is quite certain, the 'Treatise' was one of the earliest publications that openly and distinctly rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and manfully met the prevailing prejudices respecting that subject. But aside from these matters, there is not another book in the country, on the same subject, that has been read by half the number of persons, or wrought conviction of the truth of the doctrine of the Divine unity in one half so many minds, as this 'Treatise on Atonement.'"

These notices, as we have just intimated, are introduced here to give the reader, who may not be otherwise acquainted with the "Treatise," a correct and clear idea of the work. Though among the earliest of Mr. Ballou's publications, this book is far from being deficient in any point, either as to sound logical reasoning, or in force and earnestness of style. Simple, yet profound, it is within the capacity of the humblest to comprehend and fully understand, while it cannot fail to challenge the admiration of the scholar and philosopher.

It is written in the plain, straightforward manner which so distinguished his after productions, and which never failed to carry conviction with it. "The 'Treatise' has been pronounced by one of the strongest minds of the age," says the publisher of the sixth edition, "to be one of the soundest arguments in the English language." Were the author's reputation to rest solely upon this work, we should feel satisfied at the manner in which his memory must be handed down to posterity.

In his preface to the first edition of the book, he says: – "Many circumstances might be mentioned, which, in their associations, have induced me to write and publish the following treatise; but I can say with propriety, that the principal object was that in which I always find the greatest happiness, namely, to do what I find most necessary in order to render myself useful to mankind."

At the time of the publication of this "Treatise," Mr. Ballou had by no means arrived at such a degree of understanding and belief upon the subject of the Scriptures as was the case in after years, and, with wise fore-thought, he thus speaks his mind in the preface to the first edition: —

"I have often been solicited to write and publish my general views on the gospel, but have commonly observed to my friends that it might be attended with disagreeable consequences, as it is impossible to determine whether the ideas we entertain at the present time are agreeable to those which we shall be under the necessity of adopting after we have had more experience; and knowing, to my satisfaction, that authors are very apt to feel such an attachment to sentiments which have been openly avowed to the world, that their prejudice frequently obstructs their further acquisition in the knowledge of the truth, and even in cases of conviction their own self-importance will keep them from acknowledging their mistake."

Though he was thus cautious (and what judgment, prudence, and cool reasoning are evinced in this paragraph), the only change that experience did bring about, in the author's mind, was, that he became even more fully convinced, as the experience of years ripened the harvest of his wisdom, of the truths of his former belief, and made still further progress (a word that he loved and lived up to), in addition to certain points that are but lightly touched upon in the work.

The following letter, relating to this and other works, was elicited by the presentation to Mr. Ballou of a set, in a new and uniform edition with some of his subsequent publications; the constant call for these books, even after several large editions had been exhausted, and a long period of years had elapsed since their first being issued, requiring this fresh publication of them. Mr. Ballou having parted with the copyright at the time of publication, they were of course in the hands of the trade. This letter is introduced here as illustrative of the humble estimate he put upon his own important labors and discoveries, and is also in style very like him. It bears date 1844, and was written, consequently, when he was seventy-three years of age. It was addressed to the editor of the Trumpet, and appeared in the editorial columns of that paper.

"Br. Whittemore: Please permit me to acknowledge with gratitude a favor I have received from Br. Abel Tompkins, consisting of four volumes of my writings: my Notes on the Parables of the New Testament; my Treatise on Atonement; my course of Lecture Sermons, and my Select Sermons. It gives me much pleasure to learn that these works have been so favorably regarded by the denomination with which I have had the happiness to hold an unbroken and uninterrupted connection for more than half a century, as to warrant this new edition. The improved style in which these volumes now appear cannot fail to give entire satisfaction to all who have a good taste, and will doubtless facilitate their sale.

"When, more than forty years ago, I wrote my 'Notes' and 'Treatise,' I had never seen any work in defence of the doctrine of the Divine unity, and the dependency of the Son upon the Father. When this circumstance is duly considered, the reader will be satisfied that the writer must have exerted the limited powers of his mind to their utmost capacity. This is all the credit he claims.

"Hosea Ballou."

Mr. Ballou has long been allowed the credit, which is also most justly due to him, of having been the first Unitarian writer in this country; for, as he says above, he had never seen any book in defence of the doctrine of the Divine unity when he wrote in favor of those principles in the works referred to. Another evidence of the fact is, that Mr. Ballou's sentiments at that time were considered most strange and novel by all.

"In this Treatise," says Rev. Thomas Whittemore, "Mr. Ballou took the ground that God was never unreconciled to man; that man was the party who needed reconciliation, for God is love from eternity to eternity, and that God's love to sinners was the cause of Christ's being sent by the Father to redeem them. He held that Christ was not God himself, but the Son of God; a distinct being from the Father, – a created being; – a doctrine which he had believed and preached for ten years, having commenced to preach it as early as 1795. He must therefore be regarded as the earliest defender of Unitarianism the country has produced."

Mr. Ballou says, relative to the doctrine of the Trinity: – "I had preached but a short time before my mind was entirely freed from all the perplexities of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the common notion of atonement. But in making these advances, as I am disposed to call them, I had the assistance of no author or writer. As fast as these old doctrines were, by any means, rendered the subject of inquiry in my mind, they became exploded. But it would be difficult for me now to recall the particular incidents which suggested queries in my mind respecting them."

The reader will at once be prepared to admit that Mr. Ballou must have expended much time and labor in the research and study of the Scriptures, necessary to enable him to write and publish these works, in a cause, and upon a theme, wherein he was a pioneer. He steered his barque into new waters, and was obliged himself to stand ever with the "lead" in his hand, to ascertain the true soundings, and keep thus in the narrow channel of truth. Concerning this matter, he has said, in an article furnished for a work entitled "Modern History of Universalism: " —

"I never read anything on the doctrine of universal salvation before I believed it, the Bible excepted; nor did I know, that I can now recollect, that there was anything published in its vindication in the world. Nor had I ever heard a sermon on the subject, except in boyhood I once heard Brother Rich, but concerning that sermon I realized nothing."

In speaking of his advance towards the knowledge of the truth, after his conversion, he says, in a published article: —

"It may be proper for me to state one circumstance which had no small tendency to bring me over to the ground on which I have for so many years felt established. It was by reading some deistical writings. By this means I was led to see that it was utterly impossible to maintain Christianity as it had been generally believed in the church. This led me of course to examine the Scriptures, that I might determine the question, whether they did really teach that Jesus Christ died to reconcile an unchangeable God to his own children. You cannot suppose I was long in finding that, so far from teaching such absurdities, the Scriptures teach that 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.' The question concerning the Trinity was by the same means as speedily settled."

It is an interesting and curious fact that he should have been aided, as it were, by the darkness of error to find the light of truth. The obvious inconsistency in his former belief, made evident by the deist, did not win him to the faith of the latter, but rather led him to investigate for himself, and to find a religion more congenial with the native promptings of his own heart and the evidences of the Bible. His was an exploring mind; he was not content to receive this faith, or that position, because others believed it, or because it had remained so long the unchallenged and unquestioned creed of the church. He must look into the matter and understand for himself, and make all parts of a doctrine to harmonize with each other, before he could reconcile it with his own reason and convictions.

This was a trait of character not alone observable in him as it related to the subject of religion; he applied the same rule to the affairs of every-day life, to political economy and business arrangements. He was always open to conviction, to reason and evidence, but could never embrace blindly any proposition whatever. Because the political party which the nearest assimilated to his views of the proper mode of government adopted this or that policy, he did not by any means consider it his duty to coincide with them, against his sober conviction, and he never did so; on the contrary, as often criticising the measures of one political party as another, and frequently finding much excellence, and principles worthy of commendation in the national policy of both. For this reason he could not be a politician, had he experienced an inclination that way. He was too honest.


After the expiration of a period of six years from the time of his first settlement in Barnard, Vt., and during which season he enjoyed an uninterrupted flow of kindness and good fellowship with the societies of his charge, he accepted the invitation of the society of Portsmouth, N. H., to become their pastor, and to devote his whole time to the good of the cause in that place. He had formed within the circle of his professional labors in Vermont a host of kind and warm-hearted friends, and it was a considerable period after the proposition had been made to him, before he could make up his mind to accept it. He did so, at last, however, influenced by several reasons.

First, the large field over which he was obliged to travel, while settled in Barnard, involved not only much physical labor and expense, but also the loss of a large amount of time, that might be devoted to more profitable pursuit. Then the pecuniary emolument offered him at Portsmouth was considerably larger than he had yet received, and his now growing family rendered such a fact to be a necessary consideration. And yet, let it not be supposed that there was any mercenary trait in his character; such was as foreign to his nature as was deceit, or guile of any sort, as the progress of this biography will show. He realized, also, that, while such a change would diminish his physical labors, it would doubtless enlarge the sphere of his usefulness, bringing him in contact with larger audiences and more miscellaneous assemblages than usually gathered to listen to his public communications in a less thickly settled district.

He says, in this connection: – "I have found throughout my life, that whatever place I have long tarried in, I have become greatly attached to, and to the people with whom I associated. This was peculiarly the case in Barnard, and among the neighboring societies, with whom I was, for a period of six years, most agreeably, and I trust profitably associated. I long weighed the proposal from my friends in Portsmouth in my mind, before I could consent to break up a connection which had afforded me so much real satisfaction. But might I not render myself more useful by accepting this call? Was it not the design of my Master to enlarge my sphere of usefulness in his service? These things I weighed carefully in my mind, and prayed for counsel and power to enable me to judge of my duty aright; until, finally, believing it to be my duty, I accepted the call of my brethren in New Hampshire, and accordingly removed to Portsmouth."

Duly weighing these matters, he deemed it his duty, as he says, to bid his brethren in Vermont farewell, and he removed to Portsmouth in the year 1807, being in the thirty-sixth year of his age. Here he was installed, Nov. 8, the sermon on the occasion being preached by Rev. Edward Turner, then of Salem. Though the pecuniary emolument, before referred to, was somewhat more than he had formerly received, yet it required an exercise of the utmost frugality and prudence to enable him to support his family comfortably. Indeed, this could not be done upon his salary as pastor of the Universalist Society alone, and therefore, in addition to his other numerous and arduous duties, he again taught school for a considerable period, while resident in this place, assisted by Hosea Ballou, 2d, now Dr. H. Ballou, of Medford. If it be true, as Lord Bacon has said, that reading makes a full man, conversation a ready man, and writing an exact man, then teaching certainly embraces the advantages to be derived from all three; and this Mr. Ballou found to be the case, as he has often said.

While resident in Portsmouth, notwithstanding the labors of the week, the necessary preparation for the Sabbath, and the earnest efforts that were required of him upon that sacred day, still he pursued a course of religious investigations into the subject of the holy text, that we are at a loss to know when he found time to consummate. It was at this period that he wrote his "Candid Review," in reply to a work by Rev. Isaac Robinson, A. M., upon some important doctrinal points. It is contained in one volume of two hundred pages, and adduces some of the strongest arguments in favor of impartial and universal grace that have ever been published, either by himself or others. This book was exceedingly popular at the time of its first appearance, and created not a little excitement among religious controversialists in New Hampshire, and, indeed, throughout the New England States.

He also wrote, while resident in Portsmouth, a series of letters addressed to the Rev. Joseph Buckminster, upon important doctrinal subjects, which was published in one volume. A Controversy with Rev. Mr. Walton was written and published here, besides one or two minor works, including a school catechism, for a long period of years in general use among the denomination. In addition to the labor necessary to produce these in connection with his regular professional duties, he was also associate editor of a religious quarterly, entitled the "Gospel Visitant," in which, however, he had no further interest than his editorial connection. His contributions to this work were copious, and marked by the same profound reasoning capacity and lucid style that have characterized every work he has produced. It was while engaged in editing this publication that he came to the full belief that there was no punishment after death, and ever after, he preached the doctrine of universal salvation in this spirit, and labored strenuously in its defence and support.

Relative to this subject Mr. Ballou has written: – "I cannot say that I was fully satisfied that the Bible taught no punishment after death, until I obtained this satisfaction by attending to the subject with Bro. Edward Turner, respecting the doctrine of the Scriptures upon this question. We agreed to do the best we could, he in favor of future punishment, and I on the contrary. Our investigations were published in a periodical called the 'Gospel Visitant.' While attending to this correspondence, I became entirely satisfied that the Scriptures begin and end the history of sin in flesh and blood, and that beyond this mortal existence the Bible teaches us no other sentient state but that which is called by the blessed name of life and immortality."

In another article relative to the same subject he says: – "The doctrine of punishment after death has, by many able writers, been contended for; some of whom have argued such punishment to be endless, and others limited. But it appears to me that they have taken wrong ground who have endeavored to support the latter, as well as those who have labored to prove the former. They have both put great dependence upon certain figurative and parabolical expressions, or passages of Scripture, which they explain so as to cause them to allude to such an event. It appears to me that they have not sufficiently attended to the nature of sin, so as to learn its punishment to be produced from a law of necessity, and not a law of penalty. Had they seen this, they would also have seen that a perpetuity of punishment must be connected with an equal continuance of sin, on the same principle that an effect is dependent upon its cause."

This brief paragraph will show the reader how Mr. Ballou was accustomed to argue upon this subject, of such vital importance to all, and which is a question still in the minds of many of our Universalist brethren, both ministry and laity.

At the expiration of six years from the date of his settlement in Portsmouth, and during which time his association with the people of his charge, and others in that place, had been not only of the most pleasant and agreeable character, but also highly profitable as it regarded their mutual spiritual advancement, up to the period of the war with Great Britain, he made his arrangements to leave Portsmouth, having received an invitation from the Universalist Society in Salem, Mass., to settle in that town, and to devote his professional services to their especial good. Mr. Ballou says of his connection with the society in Portsmouth: —

"My connection with the people of Portsmouth was very cordial and happy, until that gloomy war-cloud which brought on a conflict with England came over the land. The anti-war party was numerous, and very influential; and, as I could not consent that my country was in the wrong, a bitter spirit became manifested towards me, which so operated towards the close of the war, that I became satisfied it was my duty to stay in that place no longer; and as the society in Salem was without a pastor, I received an invitation, which I accepted, to remove to that delightful place."

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