Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou

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Concerning the period of his early settlement in Boston, Rev. Sylvanus Cobb says: – "When Mr. Ballou entered upon his labors here, benignantly warring upon the hurtful errors which enslaved and paralyzed the common mind, and elucidating those prominent gospel truths which are the bread of life to the soul, there was an extensive movement of mind in the city, and in the region round about, far and near. When the Twenty-six Lectures, published by Henry Bowen, were in the process of delivery, the church was usually filled an hour before the set time of beginning, and multitudes would be going away who could not find entrance. He had done much before this, by his ministry in other places, and the publication of his Notes on the Parables, Treatise on Atonement, and controversy with Robinson, to advance the cause of truth; but he was now providentially placed at a commanding stand-point, a central position, the commercial emporium of New England, whence his influence went out through all the land. Business men, from different parts, who had occasion to be in Boston over the Sabbath, would go in at School-street church, become convinced by the able expounder's arguments, go home, taking with them some of his publications, and commence a work in their respective neighborhoods, which, in many cases, resulted in the formation of societies."

As a sample of the spirit he was forced to encounter, and the animosity felt against Universalists generally, and their teachings, by the clergy of other persuasions, we relate the following anecdote. Being in the town of Mattapoisett, Mass., during one of his short journeys into the neighboring country to fulfil professional engagements, Mr. Ballou found that he must stop there for the night. It was soon known in the village that he was to remain for this period, and he was at once waited upon by a committee chosen for the purpose, and informed that the town's people were exceedingly anxious to hear him preach, and that permission had been obtained for him to hold forth in the Orthodox meeting-house, if agreeable to himself. Mr. Ballou cheerfully consented to their wishes, and the people were notified accordingly. It is proper to state, that several among those who invited Mr. Ballou to preach here, were themselves large share-holders in the meeting-house, and in two instances members of the church. Notwithstanding all this, when Mr. Ballou came to the meeting-house, not anticipating the least opposition to his purpose, he was met at the door by the Orthodox clergyman then officiating here, and who positively forbade his entrance. In vain did Mr. Ballou attempt calmly to reason with him; still the excited pastor insisted most vociferously that he should not enter, although fully informed of all the circumstances. Nor would he yield until at length he was absolutely dragged away forcibly by his own friends.

Erasmus, the reformer of the fifteenth century, "who stemmed the wild torrent of a barbarous age," was not more strongly opposed by the bigoted Catholics of his day, who charged him with having "laid the egg that Luther hatched," than was Hosea Ballou by the partialists of his times.

Particularly was this the case during the early and middle period of his public labors. The reformation begun by Luther has been well termed "an insurrection of the human mind against the absolute power of spiritual order." Its earliest fruit was the vigorous but narrow belief of Puritanism; then followed the more liberal creeds of the subsequent period; but it seemed to be left for Mr. Ballou to strike out and illustrate the doctrine of perfect freedom through Christ, of entire impartiality and free grace, which the doctrine of universal salvation inculcates.

Relative to the bigotry and unreasonable spirit often evinced towards the subject of this biography, and the cause he advocated, we are reminded in this connection of another anecdote, which is authentic, and which the subject of these memoirs related to his family.

Not long after Mr. Ballou's settlement in Boston, he received a pressing invitation to visit the island of Nantucket. The inconvenience of communication between the island and the main land was considerable, but he consented, and passed some ten days there, preaching every successive day and evening to large and interested audiences, creating a very earnest movement in the matter of religion. On his return, arriving at New Bedford, he took the stage coach for Boston, and in it found but one other person. Scarcely had the journey commenced, when his fellow-passenger opened the conversation by saying, —

"You are just from the island, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir," was the reply.

"Well, they say old Ballou is over there, preaching his heresy. Did you see him?"

"Yes, I saw him," was the calm reply.

"Well, he's a rough old fellow. I don't like him."

"Why not?" asked Mr. Ballou.

"Because he preaches that all men will be saved and go to heaven in their sins, and no man in his senses can believe that."

"But, sir, did you ever hear him preach?"

"No; I hope not," said the man.

"Then you may be misinformed as to what he does preach," said Mr. Ballou, mildly. "Now I think he would say, if he were here, that he did not believe nor preach as you have represented."

"But what does he believe, then?" said the stranger, somewhat earnestly.

"I think he would say that sinners are to be saved from their sins, not in their sins. Christ came to save the world from sin, not in sin; and furthermore we are told in the Scriptures that 'he that is dead is free from sin,' and he that is freed from sin must surely be holy, and consequently happy."

"Sir, if I may be so bold," said the stranger, after looking for a moment somewhat critically, "where do you live when at home?"

"I live in Boston, sir."

"Whose church do you attend?"

"Mr. Ballou's church, sir."

"What is your name?"

"My name is Ballou," he replied, pleasantly.

The man was of course confounded. He stammered forth some excuse; but though he listened to Mr. Ballou's kindly-meant remarks with the utmost attention, yet he was evidently very ill at ease, and, watching his opportunity, left the stage at the next stopping-place.

By careful study, aided by his natural quickness of conception and vigorous powers of mind, he had, without other assistance than that of books, acquired a practical knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages, which greatly assisted him in his profession, by enabling him to translate the most important passages from the original Scriptures, and thus to throw light upon many points that had heretofore been in some degree shrouded in mystery, by the one-sided and partial translation given in our own version of the Bible. At the present day it is well known that our common translation of the Scriptures is deficient in several instances, and this too at the most important and most critical passages. This being the case, Mr. Ballou found the power of translating for himself to be of the utmost importance as an aid to repel false argument, as well as being a matter of much personal satisfaction and enjoyment.

"At different times, and for several years," says Mr. Ballou, in reference to this subject, "I have attempted to solve peculiar passages of Scripture, which were so difficult to understand as to lead me to question the correctness of their reading from the original. In order to do this, I have studied Greek, and have had some aid from Greek scholars and Greek lexicons, and have consulted various commentators; possessed myself of the Septuagint, or Greek Testament, and other Greek works. With all these helps and efforts, I have been enabled to satisfy myself relative to any particular passage. I have found but little benefit from these means in regard to the Old Testament; in respect to the New, I have often been assisted, and found that my little knowledge of Greek has been more useful. For similar ends and purposes I obtained a Hebrew Bible, lexicon, grammar, etc.; but, though I have bestowed not a little labor on the Hebrew, my other avocations and cares have prevented any great degree of proficiency, though I have experienced much aid and assistance in elucidating many points. I might say about as much of my Latin Bible, lexicon, grammar, and reader. I have made some considerable use of all these books, and have given many of my leisure hours to the Hebrew, Greek and Latin languages, but I profess to know so little of them that it is hardly worth naming; though I must acknowledge I have found them of considerable use when some arrogant disputant should think to silence me by an appeal to the original. But it is a fact that I have never met with many college-learned ministers who appeared to have retained much of their Greek, if indeed they ever had much. I think it would require no little study and observation to determine the question, which amounts to the most, the benefit which the public gain by the extra learning of their clergy, or the imposition they suffer by estimating that learning above its value."

This last reference should not be misconstrued by the reader, as conveying the idea that the subject of this biography was opposed in any way to education, or educational movements. Those who knew him best will bear ready testimony to the contrary. Indeed, his own struggles in obtaining knowledge had given him a just estimate of the true value of such conveniences as should facilitate the dissemination of intelligence far and wide. "When I look about me," he says, "and contrast the great improvements in the means for gaining knowledge, – when I behold the youth of to-day and remember the youth of my own boyhood, – I am struck with the contrast that facts present relative to education. I am also rendered thankful to a Divine Providence, which has been pleased to advance the improvement in mental culture and the facilities for learning, in an equal degree with the surprising advancements which have been accomplished in the arts and sciences. Few are so poor or lowly now that they may not enjoy the advantages of schools and able teachers, and I may add that few there are who do not avail themselves of the rich opportunity which is offered them for storing their minds with knowledge, and thus preparing themselves for useful members of society. Half a century since, the case was very different; schools were little thought of among the poor, and children in the country could seldom be spared from home to attend those that were occasionally opened. Yet I am satisfied that the advantages which were offered at that time were even more assiduously improved than they are at this period. This, however, was but natural, under the circumstances." No man put a higher estimate upon knowledge than he did, but it was useful, practical knowledge that he valued. He had no respect for mere titles and college honors. He had seen the eclat of a college diploma go further with many simple people than a sound argument or the possession of sterling wisdom would have done, and it is not surprising that the observation of such weakness should have led him to speak out, as we have seen him do in this connection. He may have felt the remark, too, which his opponents sometimes sneeringly made of him, that he never enjoyed a classical or collegiate education.

We have a few words to say relative to this reflection. Now, we solemnly believe, and are prepared to argue, that a collegiate education would have materially detracted from his usefulness. A scholastic or classic course of study seems to unfit men in a great degree for active life. The practical too often becomes merged in the ideal, and the mind grows effeminate. A theoretical knowledge of human nature is imbibed, and we are led to contemplate our fellow-men through a false medium; for essayists write of men as they should be, but rarely as they are. Mr. Ballou was acknowledged by all who knew him, to possess a remarkable degree of knowledge concerning human nature, but it was gathered from men, not books, from experience, – Time's free school, – not from theory. No other kind of knowledge would have fitted him for the peculiar path he was born to pursue. A pioneer should be what he was; a follower, the roads once cleared, and the track made smooth, might, perhaps, without danger, be less practical and more imaginative. Education, to be truly useful, should be unequalled in its ability to instruct us in the things about us, and to strengthen us for the duties that lie in our path of life. The true being, end, and aim of all study should be, "to improve men in the best reason of living," while any learning that aims above the practical interests of life is comparatively unimportant. Even in the ministry,

"Church ladders are not always mounted best
By learned clerks and Latinists professed."

"That learning which makes us acquainted with ourselves," says Mr. Ballou, "with the powers and faculties of the human mind, with divine truth, which is plainly revealed, with its power on the mind and heart, with the concatenations of cause and effect, and to understand our every-day duty, which grows out of our wants and the wants of those about us, is learning of a better quality than that which only enables us to call things by different names, without giving us a knowledge of their natural qualities either for good or evil."

The main characteristic of Mr. Ballou's habit of mind was that of looking at all things in a practical point of view. The importance and real value he attached to things were deduced from his estimate of their use. He regarded life as made up of constantly recurring duties, and his appreciation of principles, of religion or philosophy, was carefully regulated by this standard, as to the application they bore to every-day matters.

The great end of all acquirements should be the ability to discharge more effectually our duties as men and citizens. "He who is not a better neighbor, brother, friend, and citizen," says an eminent writer, "because of his superior knowledge, may very well doubt whether his knowledge is really superior to the ignorance of the unlettered many around him." Or, to state this great truth more in brief, a man knows no more to any purpose than he practises.


On the third of July, 1819, Mr. Ballou commenced the publication of the Universalist Magazine, in connection with a practical printer, – Mr. Henry Bowen. As usual in every enterprise wherein he embarked, he entered into the purpose and plan of the paper with all his heart, its avowed object being the more extended dissemination of the gospel of truth, and the elucidation of Christ and his mission on earth. It will be observed that in whatever new position we find the subject of these memoirs, it is secondary to, or rather in furtherance of, his Master's business; he could have entered into no other pursuit, could have been contented and happy in no other occupation. It was meat and drink to him, it was the very breath he drew, and the only great object and purpose of his life-long career.

The object of the Magazine, as stated in the editor's salutatory article, was to discuss the principles of doctrine, religion, and morality, and all articles calculated to promote improvement in these essential matters would be freely admitted into its columns. "The Universalist Magazine invites the sentiments of different denominations," says the editor, "to evince themselves to the best advantage, clothed in their most simple light, and shining in their purest lustre, that the mind of the reader may be able to know where to bestow a justifiable preference." Those persons laboring in their minds under difficulties and doubts concerning any passage of Scripture, were urged to communicate the same to the Magazine, where they would be publicly answered, and thus many might reap the advantage of the queries and the answer. "All articles calculated to elevate the mind to the contemplation of divine things, to reduce haughtiness, to humble pride, to exalt the Divine Being, to endear the Saviour, to cultivate piety, to admonish, to warn, or to justly rebuke, to administer comfort and consolation, will be gratefully received, and as speedily as convenient communicated to the public." These were the main objects, and this the plan of the paper, and to which the editor strictly adhered. Some of the strongest arguments in favor of universal salvation, which ever emanated from the pen of Mr. Ballou, were first printed in this paper, and the influence it exerted was too evident not to challenge the attention of both friends and foes at that period.

The Universalist Magazine was destined to attain to the most extended popularity, and proved to be of eminent service to the cause which was so ably treated upon in its columns, each number for a series of years containing an essay upon some important passage of the holy text, with the original construction as put upon it by Mr. Ballou, besides the elaborate reviewal of numerous discourses and articles which appeared in other religious magazines, opposed to Universalism. The paper was issued weekly, and drew very largely upon his time and pen. In his editorial capacity, even as early as this period, when a systematic effort in the cause of temperance had scarcely been thought of, and the subject was seldom if ever referred to in public, we find some forcible articles from him upon this subject.

This spirit was strictly in accordance with his private life and habits. Living at a period when it was universally customary to offer a guest or caller a glass of wine, let him come at what hour of the day he might, and when the decanters and glasses always stood invitingly upon the side-board, yet he never used ardent spirit as a beverage, never partook of it at all, even in after years, when perhaps a partial stimulant might have been of physical benefit to him, because of a fixed principle in his own mind concerning its pernicious effects. But, as we have before intimated, this temperate habit was by no means confined to ardent spirit alone; the same abstemiousness characterized his daily meal. He partook only of the simplest food, and of that sparingly. This excellent habit grew to be a second nature to him, and in all places and under all circumstances was always exercised.

In connection with essays, leading articles, reviews and sermons, which he furnished for the Magazine, he also contributed many fugitive poems to fill the poet's corner. It should be remembered that they were generally written at a few moments' warning in his sanctum, and in answer to the printer's call. All of them are, however, indicative and characteristic of the spirit and state of mind which possessed his heart. The following piece, taken at random, is a sample.

"That orient beam which cheers the morn,
And drives the murky gloom away,
Through trackless ether swiftly borne,
To welcome in the infant day,
Reminds me of the heavenly light,
Whose rays, dispersing error's gloom,
Open to man a glory bright,
In a fair world beyond the tomb.
Those varying scenes of beauty fair,
Which welcome in the youthful spring;
The blooming fields, the fragrant air,
The leafy groves and birds that sing,
Remind me of that promised day,
When from the dead mankind shall rise,
As pure as light, and wing their way
To spring eternal in the skies."

For some years Mr. Ballou continued as sole editor of the Magazine, in addition to his other writings, and the ever pressing duties of his profession. After gaining a firm footing, this publication passed into the hands of Rev. Thomas Whittemore, an able and zealous man, who is still the editor and proprietor. Mr. Ballou continued to write for its columns regularly for more than thirty years. Mr. Whittemore has changed or added to its original title, so that it is now known as the Trumpet and Universalist Magazine, one of the most largely circulated and popular publications in the whole denomination.

During the year 1819 and the year preceding it, Mr. Ballou had occasion to make several replies, in pamphlet form, to reviews of his sermons which he was at that time delivering before the Second Universalist Society, and which he was induced to write out and publish, by their request. The reviews here referred to were written by the Rev. Timothy Merrit, a Methodist minister of this city. In the year 1820, Mr. Ballou published a pamphlet of some length, entitled "Strictures on a published Sermon, by Dr. Channing." During this year he also compiled a collection of hymns, for the use of the denomination generally, but more especially for the convenience of the School-street Society, with which he was connected. This collection contained about fifty original hymns from his own pen, and is the second book of the kind he published, the first being issued while he resided in Barnard, Vt.

It was about this period that the following incident occurred, and which we give herewith in Mr. Ballou's own words: —

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