Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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This was by no means a solitary instance or evidence of the warm patriotic fire that ever burned brightly in his bosom. He was ardently attached to the republican principles of our government, and never failed, on every suitable occasion, to evince the most earnest attachment for his country. Though a constant and untiring student of divinity, yet he was by no means a novice in political economy; the basis of our institutions, and their true spirit as set forth by the constitution, the influences and natural results of our style of government, and the political soundness of the nation, were themes on which he was more than well informed, but yet he always carefully avoided mingling in party politics.
He removed to Salem in the month of June, 1815, where he found many cordial and true friends, whose memory and companionship he cherished to the close of life. While resident here he wrote a pamphlet in reply to one by John Kelley, A. M., entitled "Solemn and Important Reasons against becoming a Universalist." This review was comprised in a pamphlet of eighty pages, and is a strong and powerful argument in favor of the principles which the author believed, and which he advocated with such successful zeal. These minor publications of Mr. Ballou's, when now referred to, convey but a faint idea of the interest which they then produced. Their extended and immediate influence was evident. Vast numbers were sold; some zealous people, rejoicing at the joy unspeakable to which they had themselves attained through the author's writings and public communications from the pulpit, purchased them by wholesale, and distributed them gratis, far and near. His hearers, too, largely increased in numbers, and he was rewarded for his labors by witnessing the rich harvest that he was reaping in his Master's vineyard, and the number of souls he was leading in the paths of truth.
While resident in Salem, he also wrote a series of letters in reply to a series addressed to him by Abner Kneeland, inquiring into the authenticity of the Scriptures. The book formed of the letters referred to makes a volume of two hundred and fifty pages. The first edition was published in Salem, in 1816, the second in Boston, in 1820. The origin of these letters, which created no small degree of attention, at that period especially, was as follows: Rev. Mr. Kneeland having at various times expressed serious doubts and fears relative to the genuineness of the holy Scriptures, and the system of Divine revelation therein contained, solicited Mr. Ballou to enter into a correspondence with him upon the subject, in which Mr. Kneeland agreed to do his utmost to disprove the truth and authenticity of the Bible, while Mr. Ballou should take the opposite ground, and as strenuously defend it.
It was thought that this mode of discussion would be of mutual benefit to them, and at the time of its commencement was designed solely for their private use. But they were finally published, at the solicitation of friends, and with the hope that they might be productive of more extended good.These letters, which are somewhat lengthy, and indeed necessarily so on the part of Mr. Ballou, who assumed the laboring oar, were always written, as he has told us, at a single sitting. They are highly valuable, and were more particularly so at that period, as forming a powerful chain of evidence in favor of Christianity, and are characterized, on Mr. Ballou's part, by a vigorous accuracy and earnest desire after truth, which prepossesses the reader in their favor.
Mr. Ballou knew very well the misgivings as to the truth of the Divine revelations by which Mr. Kneeland's mind was exercised, and, notwithstanding other pressing duties and regular engagements, he consented to a discussion which must needs cost him many hours of study and labor, hoping thereby to lead one soul, at least, to a full and clear belief in the gospel of Christ. These letters reached the number of ten on either side before the correspondence was brought to a close, when Mr. Kneeland was compelled by the force of evidence frankly to acknowledge his entire satisfaction and conversion; and having found such joy in believing, such relief at being released from the iron thraldom of doubt and fear, he was exceedingly anxious to publish the entire series of letters.
It should be remembered that at the present day, when we have so many excellent books to consult, and can avail ourselves of the experience and research of so many able minds, – men who have fought the good fight of faith, – it is a very easy matter to sit down and defend the gospel against the arguments of the sceptic, the ground being already thoroughly canvassed for us pro and con, and weapons keen and bright placed in our very hands. But Mr. Ballou enjoyed none of these advantages; his tools were wrought from the native ore, and skilled after the fashion of his own mind. Every line he wrote, every opinion he advanced, was the result of deep and careful study, without the assistance of any other book save the Bible itself.
"As 1815 was the year after the war closed," says Mr. Ballou, "all kinds of provisions were extremely dear, and my salary was so poorly paid, that I could not get money enough from my friends to meet my expenses; and during the two years and four months I tarried here, I was compelled to spend about three hundred dollars more than I received, of money which I had by me when I came to Salem."
While resident in Salem, he applied himself with unremitting industry and diligence to his studies, devoting his time wholly to writing upon the subject of his faith, and the exercise of his professional duties as a minister. His labors here were particularly blessed with success, and the converts to his church were many. The Salem society under his charge vastly increased in influence and numbers, and Mr. Ballou had reason to rejoice at the very evident success of his labors with this people. When he first came to Salem, his doctrine, even by professed Universalists, was thought to be too radical, too universal, in short too good; but ere he left them, they had fallen almost unconsciously into his mode of belief, gradually, step by step, though the passage had been so easy that they had not realized the change until they found themselves already convinced.
It was not his practice to assail the unbeliever at once with blunt, open refutation of his principles, nor to stagger him by an array of unanswerable arguments, but realizing that a casual analogy often convinceth when the mind will not bear argument, he adopted an easy and soothing course of reasoning, and thus gradually and easily sought his object. Thus was many an otherwise hopeless spirit turned from the darkness of error to the light of truth. Endeared to all his acquaintances by his unostentatious character, and by his mild, patient, and prudent habits, the separation from his society in Salem was mutually a hard task.
As soon as it was understood that Mr. Ballou had been talked of as pastor of the Second Universalist Society in Boston, Rev. Paul Dean, of respectable and influential standing in the order, and settled in Boston, strove by every manner of means to defeat this purpose. He feared the bold, unflinching, and manly style of preaching, for which Mr. Ballou had already become widely celebrated. Himself a man who avoided all sectional controversy in his preaching, he foresaw that the advent of Mr. Ballou in Boston would compel him to come out openly and acknowledge either that he was a Universalist or that he was not. He was not willing to risk his popularity in the matter, and therefore strove, by letters and orally, to dissuade Mr. Ballou from coming to Boston, and finally he declared to him that if he came hither he should consider it a breach of fellowship, and should ever after treat him accordingly.
Mr. Ballou was not one to be intimidated by threats; personal fear was a quality that he never realized. He came to Boston, and the sequel shows a result that is perfectly satisfactory to his friends. Mr. Dean was not prepared to make any great sacrifice for the sake of truth; it was not at that time popular for him to preach downright Universalism. The opinions of most men are governed by circumstances, quite as much as by truthful evidence; but Mr. Ballou, with a single eye to truth, never catered for the popular taste, never asked whether the promulgation of this or that great principle of truth would be acceptable and popular; he had no such policy in his composition, but dealt only in wholesome truths, and such as his own heart had baptized in the clear, welling waters of conviction.
The editor of the Christian Freeman, Rev. Sylvanus Cobb, not long since published an account of his first interview with Mr. Ballou, which we subjoin in this connection, as being applicable in placing the subject of the controversy, which is well known to have existed, between Mr. Ballou and Mr. Dean, in a proper light. In speaking of his first visit to the city of Boston, from his home in Maine, the writer says: —
"At this time the scheme was in vogue with a few brethren, among whom Brs. Turner and Dean were conspicuous, for a division of the denomination, and the erection of a new order, which it was calculated would be the leading order, nearly swallowing up the other, to be entitled 'Restorationists.' We impute no evil motive to any one; but those on whom we called before reaching Bro. Ballou, felt it to be their privilege to make the projected scheme the chief subject of conversation, and to express much of the feeling of dissatisfaction towards Bro. Ballou. We were made to feel quite unhappy; and as we had heard of Bro. Ballou as a stern and severe man, we expected to be even more harassed with a talk of 'troubles and difficulties' when in company with him. At length we were introduced to his presence, and took his friendly hand. He sat down by us, and with much interest and affection he inquired into our labors and prospects, and into the interests of the cause in Maine. We waited to hear him introduce the subject of the 'difficulties' but we waited in vain. At length we attempted to draw him out, by asking him of the nature of the 'difficulties' among the brethren here. 'I am ignorant,' said he, 'of any real difficulties. Certain brethren are believers in a limited future punishment; but I cannot see that that is any occasion for difficulty. Certainly I know of no reason why I should have any trouble with these brethren, or esteem them any the less for their seeing cause to believe as they do. But if they require me to believe it as essential to the Christian faith, I feel that it is proper for me to call on them for the proof of the doctrine. We cannot see with each other's eyes; we must be willing to allow each other to judge for himself. I love those brethren, and wish them prosperity and happiness.' And tears started from his eyes when he spoke. We felt that he spoke from the heart. There was no envy, no scheming, no party spirit about him. He sought a knowledge of God's word, and would 'speak God's word faithfully,' and accord the same right to others.
"And such we have ever found him. We have lived in neighborhood with him twenty-four years, and have found him one of the most modest, unassuming, liberal-minded and true-hearted men we ever knew. He was always pained to see one crowding upon another. He would see all working and prospering, and rejoicing in each other's prosperity and happiness. May his spirit be with us all."
We might dilate upon the subject of this controversy, but it is not a congenial theme. Suffice it to say, then, that the shafts of envy and ambition launched forth against Mr. Ballou, were as innocent and harmless, as it regarded him, as the summer winds. It is true that they caused him anxiety of mind, and not a little annoyance, in disproving the malignant charges brought against him; but, in the end, these tests only caused his purity of character to shine out with more surpassing brilliancy.