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to the present I have been a constant student of the science of divinity. But owing to the strongly rooted prejudices which had so early taken possession of my mind, and to circumstances which necessarily limited my means, in youth, of acquiring knowledge, my progress has been but small.
At the time I joined the Baptist church, there were in in Richmond and Warwick, a few individuals, who called themselves Universalists, and who occasionally heard Br. Caleb Rich hold forth that doctrine. There was an elderly gentleman by the name of Ballou, a distant relation of my father, who also occasionally preached the same doctrine. These individuals frequently attended the Baptist meetings, and being of my acquaintance, we often conversed on the question, whether all mankind would alike be made partakers of the salvation of God. In those conversations I frequently found that my Calvinistic tenets could be managed 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 always unable to derive satisfaction from sentiments which I could not defend. That which more than any thing else contributed to turn my thoughts seriously towards the belief of Universal Salvation, was the ardent desires, with which I found myself exercised, that sinners might be brought to repentance and salvation. I found it utterly impossible to bring the feelings of my heart to conform to the doctrine of eternal reprobation; and I was compelled to allow, either that such feelings were sinful, or that my heavenly Father, in giving them to me, had imparted an evidence in favor of the Salvation of all men, the force of which I found no means to resist. As yet I was, like young converts in general, very little acquainted with the scriptures. But the trials which I was then undergoing led me to examine the written word to satisfy myself on the great question which had such weight on my mind. On reading the Bible, there would now and then, here and there,
a passage appear to favor the doctrine of universal, and impartial grace. But all the prejudices of my early education, in these things were arrayed against my making any ad
But in the spring following my union with the Baptist Church, I left Richmond, my native place, and went with my brother Stephen, next older to myself, who joined the church a short time after me, to Hartford in N. Y. then called Westfield, were we spent the Suminer. In this town there was a Baptist church and congregation, enjoying the pastoral labors of Elder Brown, on whose ministry we attended. My brother was apprehensive that my mind was inclined to Universalism; and told me that he had a desire that I should converse with Elder Brown on the subject, by which means he hoped I should become fully convinced that the doctrine was false, and be more settled in the belief in which I made my profession. It must here be understood that I was, by no means at that time settled in my faith. There was, at my brother's request, a conference appointed, after public service, on the Sabbath, for Elder Brown to convince me that I ought to give no heed to the doctrine which labored in my mind. Accordingly we met. The elder requested me to turn to some passage of scripture which appeared to me favorable to Universalism; promising to do his endeavors to show me the error of applying it in favor of such a doctrine. I well remember the apparent confidence which this man manifested when he took his seat, and called on me to find some scripture, that in the least favored so dangerous an error. I opened to the 5th chapter of Romans. I had read this chapter with much attention, and was tolerably acquainted with its several parts and their relation to each other. I directed him to the 18th verse; and told him that I was unable to understand the passage, if it agreed with the doctrine of the eternal reprobation of any of the human family. He immediately began, in his way, to speak very loudly, and nothing to the subject. When he would
stop, I had only to inform him that what he had offered had had no relation to the text I had produced; and by showing him that the same all men who were under condemnation in the first member of the text, were under justification in the last, evidently confused his mind and immediately turned it He was no longer able to converse, with a right spirit, and prudence dictated a discontinuance. My brother now grew more uneasy, and told me that he was sorry I had conversed with Elder Brown. For, said he, "as he could by no means answer you, and as he manifested anger, you will think you had the best of the argument, and will indulge favorable thoughts of Universalism." You cannot suppose that I now use the very words which we used in conversation so long ago; I am careful only to give you the subject. As to this Elder Brown, I am far from wishing to represent him in an unfavorable light. I believe he was a worthy man. But it is a fact, that he was extremely ignorant of the subject, having had, as I presume, no acquaintance with the views of Universalists, or with their manner of arguing. I continued my researches with no small solicitude; and by reading the scriptures, and by conversing with those who opposed the doctrine, before I returned the next fall to Richmond, my mind was quite settled in the consoling belief that God will finally have mercy on all men. On my return I found that my brother David Ballou, whose age is some over twelve years advanced of mine, had not only openly professed Universal Salvation, but had commenced preaching the doctrine. I spent most of my time with him until the fall before I was twenty-one, when I began to speak in public, believing and preaching Universal Salvation, on the Calvinistic principles of atonement, and imputed righteousness.*
I never read any thing on the doctrine of Universal Salvation before I believed it, the Bible excepted; nor did I know,
*Soon after it was known that I believed in the doctrine, I was excommunicated from the Church, and was honored with a copy of the document, carefully stating that no fault was found in me, excepting that I believed that God would finally save all men.
that I now recollect that there was any thing published in its vindication in the world. Nor had I ever heard a sermon on the subject, except when in boyhood I heard Br. Rich, but concerning the sermon I realized nothing.
It was sometime after I was a preacher of the doctrine, before I was at all acquainted with Relly's peculiar system; and if my memory serves me correctly, I had left the principles of Calvinism entirely, in relation to atonement, before I learned from Br. Murray the tenets which he received from Mr. Relly.
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 mak ing these advances, as I am disposed to call them, I had the assistance of no author or writer. As fast as those old doctrines were, by any means, rendered the subjects of inquiry in my mind, they became cxploded. But it would be difficult for me now to recall the particular incidents which suggested queries in my mind respecting them. It may be proper for me here to state one circumstance, which, no doubt, had no small tendency to bring me on to the ground where I have for many years since felt established. It was my 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 creatures? You cannot suppose that I was long in finding that so far ftom teaching such absurdities, the scriptures teach that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." The question respecting the trinity was, by the same means, as speedily settled. But I cannot say, for certainty, what year I became a Unitarian, but it was long before I wrote my Treatise on Atonement.
Respecting the doctrine of a future state of retribution, there was, in my youth, but little said. Universalists having obtained satisfaction that none of the human race would suffer endless punishment, thought they had sufficient reason to rejoice with exceeding joy, and to glory in the mercy of God. I never made the question a subject of close investigation until lately. When I wrote my Notes on the Parables, and my Treatise on Atonement, I had travelled, in my mind, away from penal sufferings, so entirely, that I was satisfied that if any suffered in the future state, it would be because they were sinful in that state. But I cannot say that I was fully satisfied, that the Bible taught no punishment in the future world, until I'obtained this satisfaction by attending to the subject with Br. Edward Turner, then of Charlestown. For the purpose of satisfying ourselves, respecting the doctrine of the scriptures, on this question, we agreed to do the best we could; he in favor of future punishment, and I 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 no other sentient state but that which is called by the blessed name of life and immortality.
When I sat down to reply to Br. Turner, who urged the passage in Peter, respecting the spirits in prison, I knew not by what means I could explain the text without allowing it to favor the doctrine of future sufferings. I had, at that time, no knowledge of any translation of tho text, but the one in the common version. But on reading the whole subject, in connexion, the light broke in on my mind, and I was satisfied that Peter alluded to the Gentiles, by spirits in prison, which made the passage agree with Isaiah 42d.