THOMAS CALHOON was born in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, May 31, 1782. His parents, Samuel and Nancy Calhoon, were members of the Presbyterian Church, and were strict and thoughtful in the government of their children. He says himself of his father's family: "The children were taught to repeat the catechism every Sabbath evening. The Sabbath was observed with great particularity. No fruit was allowed to be gathered on the Lord's day; all was gathered on Saturday evening. This religious training has been of singular service to me through life."
The grandfather and grandmother of Mr. Calhoon emigrated from Ireland, and settled in Pennsylvania. They were there converted, under the preaching of Mr. Whitefield. From Pennsylvania they moved to North Carolina, and settled in Mecklenburg county. The old man, the grandfather, having been blind for a number of years, was led by the hand, on a certain occasion, to hear Mr. McGready. Whilst the sermon was in progress he became much excited, and declared that he was hearing another Whitefield. Mr. Calhoon says: "My old grandfather would call me into his room every day, and make me read a chapter in the Bible." The old couple would sing,
"Begone, unbelief, my Saviour is near," etc.
The grandfather, who was mighty in prayer, would then pray. "These influences, says he, "threw around me many restraints." His first religious impressions, however, seem to have been produced by the agency of his mother, when he was still very young. His father was from home, and the mother conducted family prayers. From some cause, the occurrence brought unusually serious thoughts to his mind. Some time, and it seems not long, after this, a minister who had married a relative visited the neighborhood and preached. At the close of his sermon, he invited all the young relatives of his wife to meet him at a particular house in the evening. All assembled, trembling, however, with fear of the preacher. The good minister took his seat in the room, and called up the children one by one, and gave them a tender religious talk; and said he, sixty years afterward, "if there was a dry cheek in the house, it is not now recollected." Such an occurrence could hardly fail of making a salutary impression. In those days of his early boyhood, he was accustomed to retire often for secret prayer. To use his own language, he thought that "this was all that anybody could do, and that it was the way to become good." It is not strange that a child should have reasoned thus. Older people have reasoned thus, both before and since his time.
In the fall of 1800 Mr. Calhoon's father moved with his family from North Carolina to Tennessee, and stopped first at Haysboro, a small village a few miles above Nashville. Here the family were under he ministry of Rev. Thomas Craighead. Mr. Craighead was an opposer of the revival, and of course there was but little religious interest in the congregation. In the spring of 1801 Thomas Calhoon came up to Wilson county, and with the help of a negro man that he brought with him, cleared some land, and made a crop near the Big Spring. In August of 1801 a camp-meeting was held at the Old Ridge Meeting-house, in Sumner county. The family were to attend the meeting. I have before me a manuscript written, it would seem, some time before his death, in his own hand-writing, but now much mutilated, giving a very minute account of this meeting, and of his experience in it. He seems to have been with his father's family, in Davidson county, at the time. I take my sketch of the meeting, and of the religious interest excited in his mind, from this manuscript. Says the subject of the present sketch:
"My early religious training threw around me a strong moral influence. My first serious impressions relative to the importance and necessity of religion were produced by a prayer of my mother, in the family, in the absence of my father. I remember she prayed most fervently and devotedly for her children. The same year my father emigrated to Tennessee, there was a camp-meeting at what was called the Ridge Meeting-house, in Sumner county. It was usual for families, on such occasions, to go fifty miles or more in wagons, and remain on the ground four days and nights. My father took his family to that meeting. I was then in my eighteenth year. The day before we set out, there was a dancing party in the neighborhood, and my sister and myself were invited to attend. Such parties were common in that day, and it was not thought wrong to attend them. Our preacher in North Carolina was in the habit of being present at such parties, particularly when they took place at weddings. Just before we were ready to set out to the party, my mother observed to met that we were going to the camp-meeting the next day, and it would not look well to go to the ball that evening. I paused for a moment, and then replied that I agreed with her. We declined going, and I never attended a dancing party afterward.
"Our own family, with several other young people, started on Friday morning for the camp-meeting, and I suppose a company of young persons never felt more careless and playful on arriving at such a place. We stopped about a hundred yards from the pulpit, where the religious exercises were going on. Many sinners were on their knees, crying for mercy. I had never before heard such cries. A trembling at once seized my whole frame, so that it was with some difficulty I walked to the ground where they lay. Shortly after taking my seat, a sermon was delivered which seemed greatly to increase the work of my conviction. My sisters were weeping, and in much distress. There was a great shaking in the valley of dry bones. Several ministers from Kentucky were present. All seemed to partake of the excitement of the occasion. In the meantime, however, my own feelings had subsided, and my heart rose in opposition to the work. My first thought then was, to go into the congregation and bring my sisters away; but I had not courage to undertake it. I urged my mother to interfere; but when she went to them, instead of complying with my request, she began to pray for them This increased my opposition. I was furious. I would have put an end to the whole affair, if I could have done it. My corrupt nature seemed to have entire control. Some friend asked me to go into the crowd where my sisters were. I refused absolutely. I thought they had hopelessly disgraced themselves. My feelings were indescribable. In process of time, however, the evident distress of my sisters, their tears and cries and for mercy, overcame me in some degree; and a friend prevailed on me to go into the crowd where they were. William McGee and Samuel King were talking to them. Just as I took my seat, a proposition for prayer was made, but I refused to go upon my knees. Prayer was soon proposed again, and I bowed on one knee, but rose before the prayer was ended. Prayer was called for a third time, when I fell among the slain, overwhelmed with a sense of my sinfulness and rebellion against God. From that time to the close of the meeting no external object engaged my attention. The salvation of my soul was the engrossing concern. It pleased God to give me such a view of the spirituality of the divine law, of the justice and holiness of its requirement, and of the depth of my own depravity, that my heart sunk within me. I felt that there was not another sinner on earth who had sinned against so much light and knowledge. I was ready to despair, and continued in this state of mind until the meeting closed. I thought I could see in the plan of the gospel ground of hope for other sinners, but could not understand how a just and holy God could pardon and save such a rebel as myself. I was overwhelmed with a sense of my deeply rooted depravity, and the displeasure of Almighty God.
"The meeting closed on Tuesday morning. I was so overcome by my feelings, that my physical strength in a measure gave way. A sense of guilt, and of the probability of damnation, was like a mountain upon my heart. I had to be hauled home in the wagon. On reaching home, and looking at the house, I felt that I could never enter the door; that I was unworthy of a shelter or a place among Christian people. I walked to the grove, to make an undisturbed effort with God for mercy, if indeed any mercy remained for me but my heart appeared to grow harder and still harder, until it seemed that nothing short of Omnipotence could move it. I made my way back to the yard fence, and from there was conveyed into the house. A dreary night followed; my distress was indescribable. The next evening Mr. Craighead preached at my fathers's house, but the sermon afforded me no relief. Three or four weeks after this time, there was to be a camp-meeting at the Big Spring, in Wilson county-the neighborhood in which I have since lived for many years. In the intermediate time, I occasionally had some gleams of hope that God would bestow mercy at last. Still my bodily strength was very much reduced, and I was scarcely able for my customary duties on the farm. I visited Mr. Craighead, that he might instruct me in what I should do to be saved. He was very kind-encouraged me to hope; but my heart was not relieved. About this time I had a dream. I dreamed that God had pardoned my sins, and that I was a Christian. I awoke in great agitation, and for a moment could hardly realize that my experience was but a dream. During the moment I had some enjoyment; but as soon as reason resumed the throne, and reflection took place, all my fancied hopes fled. I felt myself an unpardoned sinner still.
"During the three weeks which intervened between the meetings at the Ridge and at the Big Spring, I do not recollect that there was ever a smile upon my countenance. It was a matter of great astonishment to me to see professors of religion jest and laugh, whilst I, with thousands of others around them, was on the road to hell. The time of the meeting at the Big Spring arrived, and I reached there on Friday, with a heavy heart. The word was preached, but my unbelief and hardness of heart brought me to the brink of despair. I retired for the night under a deep impression that the day of God's merciful visitation had closed upon me, that I was a sinner undone for ever. My brother, older than myself, prayed with me and for me that night, though not a professor of religion himself. I arose in the morning and retired to the grove. I felt heavily burdened with the thought that my case, if not already decided against me, was to be decided for heaven or for hell that day. I spent several hours in earnest prayer, without any results except a deeper experience of my utter helplessness, and the impossibility of salvation in any other method than through the abounding grace of God. About nine o'clock in the morning I started back to where the congregation was assembling. About three hundred yards before I reached the place, I suddenly stopped. I hardly know why, but I stopped, looked up and around me with amazement. The glory of God appeared in every thing, and the very leaves of the trees seemed to be tinged with a Saviour's blood. I did not think at first of claiming this as a religious experience, but soon found that I was involuntarily ascribing glory to God for his unbounded goodness and mercy to helpless and perishing sinners. My burden of guilt and condemnation was gone, and hope soon sprang up in my mind that I had received the blessing which I had been so long seeking. Under this impression I turned to meet my brother, who I supposed was coming behind; but the thought immediately came into my mind that I ought to be well satisfied in regard to this matter before I disclosed my feelings to any person. I turned again, and started for the congregation, with a fixed purpose of keeping these things a profound secret until the meeting would close, thinking that I would be able after such an interval to settle the question of my conversion in favor of or against myself infallibly. When I reached the congregation, I was astonished to see the people so little impressed with a sense of the awful presence of Almighty God. I took my seat, and Mr. McGready rose in the pulpit. His appearance was fearfully solemn. A profound silence prevailed. He delivered one of his most impressive and stirring sermons. It was wholly experimental. He took the sinner up in his enmity against God and his hardness of heart. He followed him through all the steps of the process of his return to God. He pointed out many of the stratagems used by Satan in so critical a time, for the purpose of misleading and destroying. He finally brought the thoroughly subjugated sinner to the foot of the cross, and to the point of accepting and trusting in Christ, as his only hope of salvation. When he came to this point, I involuntarily spoke out in the congregation and said, 'If this is religion, I have experienced it.' So unexpected an occurrence produced an extraordinary excitement in the congregation. Many sinners wept aloud; others fell to the ground and cried for mercy."
I make no apology for introducing so long and so minute an account of a very interesting religious experience. It is a specimen of what a great many of the good men felt and suffered, who afterward became the fathers and founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Somewhere about the time of his profession of religion at the Big Spring, his father moved with his family from Haysboro, and settled in that neighborhood. Shortly after his profession, his mind began to be exercised on the subject of preaching. As his religious experience presents us with a terrible spiritual struggle, in his call to the ministry we meet with much of the same kind. He was powerfully converted, and powerfully called to the great work of his life. He had been raised a Presbyterian, and with the highest degree of respect for Presbyterian usages. His education was very limited; so much so, that he thought the work of the ministry out of the question with him. He struggled against his feelings which seemed to point in that direction. I have some statements before me in manuscript; and I have often heard him express some of his early feelings on this subject. He at first thought of exhorting, but could not admit the idea of preaching. "The thought," says he, "of standing as a mouth for God, was on my mind day and night. I trembled in prospect of the responsibility. I spent nearly the third of a year in the woods. My agitation was so great that I became incapable of physical labor." At length, however, he yielded so far as to make an experiment. At the little log meeting-house near his father's, after a terrible spiritual struggle, he arose in the presence of the old people and said: "I will do what I can; and if I cannot utter a word, I will at least raise my hand on the Lord's side."
Under the influence of Mr. King, he attended the meeting of the Cumberland Presbytery, held at old Red River Meeting-house, in 1803. At the second session of this Presbytery he was licensed as an exhorter. This meeting was held at Shiloh, in 1804. It is not known at what time he was licensed to preach. He is represented, however, as a licensed preacher at the time of the meeting of the Commission of the Kentucky Synod. This meeting occurred in December of 1805. He was evidently ordained soon after the constitution of the Cumberland Presbytery as an independent organization, in 1810. There was a large number of young men who had acquired experience, and even reputation, as preachers, that had not been ordained up to that time. Some of them had not even been licensed to preach. The Council, as it was called, did not feel itself at liberty to license and ordain.
When Mr. Calhoon was licensed as an exhorter, he set off at once upon a circuit with David Foster, who was, by a year or two, his senior in the work. We have the following account from himself, of his feelings when he was leaving home:
"My oldest brother," says he, "was settling a place near my father's I went to tell him farewell, and found him splitting rails. I looked at him, and said in my heart, What an easy time you have! I felt like I would be willing to be obligated to make a hundred rails a day for life, in preference to the work in which I was then engaging. I left my father's house in tears, shuddering at the thought of what might be the consequences of an undertaking of such vast moment."
He was, however, now fairly committed to an experiment in the work. They were out about three months. Foster preached, and he followed every day with an exhortation. They had almost daily indications that the Spirit of God was with them. After preaching and dinner, their custom was to retire to the woods for reading, study, and prayer. They tolerated no levity in themselves. This is his own account. Although young men, they never allowed any thing to prevent their holding family prayers where they lodged.
After they had been out about three months, they came to the neighborhood of Franklin, Tennessee. They held meeting according to appointment, and went home with a friend. Something went wrong with him; his doubts and discouragements in regard to his course revived. He spent nearly the whole night in prayer, and in the morning determined to return home, marry, and bury himself in seclusion. The Providence and Spirit of God, however, ruled otherwise. He continued in the work.
Some time after this, Mr. Calhoon and Mr. Chapman made an excursion through what is now Rutherford county. They preached on Stewart's Creek, and went as far as Cane Ridge. There they met two Baptist ministers. One of them preached a sermon in which he took stringent ground in favor of the doctrine of predestination. His text was, "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." The division was, the gift, the purchase, and the conquest. God gave some to his Son from eternity. Christ bought these with a price. He then finding them in fetters, rescued them. The illustration was taken from the purchase of a hand-cuffed negro in South Carolina. Mr. Calhoon did not relish the theology of the sermon, and immediately took ground in conflict with it. The meeting resulted well. That evening there was a powerful movement among the people, and many professions of religion occurred. He calls this his first theological battle. About the same time he assisted Rev. William Hodge in holding three camp-meetings in succession. He lived Mr. Hodge as what he calls "a gracious old man." They lodged one night with Dr. Yandle, on Goose Creek. The Doctor remonstrated with him, and urged him to greater moderation in public speaking. He said, "If you continue your present course, you will be dead in less than three years." Mr. Calhoon remarks, in giving an account of this conversation, "He has been dead twenty-five years, and I still live."
At an early time he and James B. Porter, Finis Ewing, and Ephraim McLean visited Livingston county, in Kentucky, and held a meeting at old Mr. Wheeler's. The record is, that the meeting was interesting. He was greatly embarrassed in his feelings, in having to preach before Ewing. He preached, however, with some freedom, from a favorite text: "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." From this meeting he and Porter went to Piney Fork, and preached two or three days.
About the same time he formed a circuit extending through White and Warren counties, of his own State. The country was new, and as rough as it would well be. He had the usual adventures of an itinerant preacher of early times. One of these may be mentioned. After preaching on a certain occasion, he stayed all night with a prominent man. In the evening several gentlemen cam in on business. Their business detained them also through the night. Their hospitable host sent off and got a jug of whisky. All drank freely but the preacher. They ridiculed Saint Paul. One insisted that the apostle was drunk when he left his cloak at Troas. By bed-time they were in a poor condition for prayers. Still Mr. Calhoon proposed prayers. The old lady and four daughters cam in. Some of the men were on the floor drunk. No one kneeled with him except the old lady. The next morning the gentleman of the house proposed prayers himself. No one, however, kneeled with him, and yet, says he, "I lived to see all those young ladies members of the Church."
On the 16 of February, 1809, Mr. Calhoon was married to Miss Mary R. Johnson. He settled near his father, in the neighborhood of the Big Spring. In a short time he built the house in which he lived till he died, and which still stands, a monument of the olden time.
In the fall of 1810 he received a call to the pastorate of Cedar Creek Big Spring congregation. I have the original call before me. It is dated October 6, A.D. 1810, and signed in behalf of the congregation by Andrew Foster and John Calhoon, as trustees. The call is for one-third of his time, and the promise is, in order that he "may be measurably free from worldly cares and avocations," to pay him the "sum of forty-eight dollars and twenty-five cents, in regular yearly payments, for the one-third part of his labors, during the time of his being and continuing the regular pastor of this Church. Some of our present pastors would think this a small allowance for one-third of their ministerial and pastoral labors. They would be correct, too: God "hath ordained that they that preach the gospel, should live of the gospel." It was a small allowance for the times in which the transaction occurred; but the transaction itself is illustrative of the spirit of those times. Neither the congregations nor the preachers thought of what would now be a remunerative consideration for ministerial labor. The doctrine of the fathers was, to preach, with or without pay, and it was very easy for the congregations to imbibe the same spirit.
In the spring of 1819 he was called to the care of Smyrna congregation, in Jackson county. He engaged to give them one-fourth of his time. Smyrna was forty miles from his home, but he kept up his connection with that Church twenty-four years. It was at length dissolved on account of his advancing age and increasing infirmities. Col. Smith, a leading elder in the Church, says: "He was very punctual in meeting his appointments; there were many revivals of religion during his pastorate; many were brought into the Church; he was beloved by all who knew him." The attachment of the congregation was so great, that he made two or three applications for a dissolution of his connection with them, before they would consent. Mr. Calhoon himself says that, during his connection with Smyrna congregation, he never missed but one appointment, and on that occasion went half way, and was stopped by unusual weather.
Some time after the organization of the Church, he and Robert Donnell made a tour through East Tennessee. They were the first Cumberland Presbyterians who visited that country. They went as far as Maryville, and preached for Dr. Isaac Anderson, who, although an uncompromising Hopkinsian, received them kindly. In this excursion they became acquainted with Col. Campbell, of Campbell's Station, who afterward moved to Wilson county, and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
After this, he made a tour by himself through the more recently settled portions of East Tennessee. In this excursion he preached at Calhoon, a place named by the Indians for himself; at the house of a prominent Indian named Renfro, and at Pumpkintown, now Athens. He crossed Little Tennessee, and preached again at Campbell's Station. Thence he made his way through Kingston and the Wilderness, across Spencer's Hill, toward home. This excursion was undertaken at the urgent solicitation of John Miller, who was not then a professor of religion. Miller made the most of his appointments before him.
In 1813 Mr. Calhoon, in connection with Finis Ewing, William McGee, and Robert Donnell, was appointed by the Cumberland Synod to frame a Confession of Faith for the use of the Church. In that work he labored in conjunction with Mr. Ewing, but he himself ascribed the framing of the Confession and Book of Discipline mainly to Mr. Ewing.
In 1829 the first General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church held its sessions at Princeton, Kentucky. Mr. Calhoon was the Moderator of that Assembly.
In 1845 the Board of Missions was established at Lebanon. He was the first President of the Board, and held the position till his death.
In his latter years Mr. Calhoon's health failed by degrees. In 1855, on the 13th day of April, he closed his active and stirring life, in his quiet home. His wife had died several years before. A brother minister had visited him a short time previous to his death, and was in the act of bidding him farewell. The dying preacher supposed it would be their last meeting on earth: he aroused himself from great prostration, pointed upward to heaven, and said, "We will meet there."
Mr. Calhoon left behind him four sons. One of these, Thomas P. Calhoon, had been in the ministry several years. In the fall of 1857 he moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota, and in the course of the winter of 1859 he was thrown from a bridge, and mortally wounded. He was a young man of promise. The other sons still live, and two of them are members of the Church.
I have a great many personal recollections of Mr. Calhoon. Some of these I could not overlook in such a sketch as this. His name was a household word in my father's family when I was growing up. I heard him preach in my early boyhood. He preached upon the balm, and the physician of Gilead, on Monday evening of the camp-meeting at which I professed religion, and but a few hours before that event of so great interest to myself. He was a member of the first Presbytery that I ever attended; he afterward officiated at the licensure of Robert Baker and myself. When I was ordained, although not then a member of the Presbytery, he was present, and was one of those who laid hands upon my head. I knew him onward to his death. I never considered myself a personal favorite with him, though I claimed him as a friend. Our habits of mind were different; yet I honored him, and still honor his memory.
In the summer of 1818 occurred the first camp-meeting which was ever held at the Dry Fork. The Dry Fork congregation was an offshoot of the old Shiloh congregation, of the Presbyterian Church. This latter congregation had been greatly favored in the revival of the early part of the century. The camp-meeting which I now mention was attended by Thomas Calhoon, Alexander Chapman, David Foster, David McLin, and other ministers. McLin, Chapman, and Calhoon preached on the Sabbath. Calhoon occupied the popular hour. The congregation was very large. He preached from a text in the 111th Psalm: "His work is honorable and glorious." He frequently preached from that text in those days. His object was to vindicate the Divine administration from the charge of being concerned actively, or by connivance, in the introduction of sin into the world. The controversy with the mother Church was still fresh in the minds of men. A great many of the good people of Shiloh were present. Some complained of the sermon, but it was a powerful effort in support of the doctrines of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
At the meeting of the Nashville Presbytery in the spring of 1819, great discouragement was felt, from the fact that so few young men were coming forward into the ministry, and a day was appointed for fasting and prayer that God would call men to the work. The fast day occurred in the following May. A camp-meeting was held at Fall Creek, including the fast, which occurred on Monday of the meeting. The people fasted and prayed, and Mr. Calhoon preached from the Saviour's command to his disciples: "Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest." It was a day of great interest. Two young men, Robert Baker and Robert S. Donnell, were called out, and devoted themselves to the work. They afterward became honored and useful ministers.
In the spring of 1820 Mr. Calhoon made a tour round what was afterward called the Tennessee Circuit. That section of country had been but recently transferred from the Logan to the Nashville Presbytery, and it was thought proper to render special attention to it. Mr. Calhoon was sent, because he was considered one of the best preachers in the Presbytery. Foster had preceded him. The old counselors encouraged me to go with him as a sort of an assistant. I was then a candidate for the ministry. The first appointment was in the neighborhood of Nashville, at the house of Mr. Castleman. The next was on Harpeth; near the mouth of Dog Creek. From thence we went to old Mr. Mabin's-he lived at the head of a little branch of Yellow Creek; from thence to John Hutchison's; from thence to the neighborhood of William Clements, a man of great importance to the Church in his time-he was an educated Scotchman, and a ruling elder; from thence we went to Frank Smith's. John L. Smith was then an irreligious young man. Mr. Calhoon preached every day until we reached Reynoldsburg, on the bank of Tennessee River. His sermons were very strong, and highly popular. Several times he lectured on one of Dr. Watts' hymns, which he used in the worship:
"O, if my soul were formed for woe,
How would I vent my sighs!
Repentance should like rivers flow
From both my weeping eyes."
The object of the lecture was to show that the poet could not possibly have implied any apprehension that his soul was created for the suffering of woe or damnation. His labors were useful and honorable to the Church. I made, however, but little improvement myself. I was constantly under an oppressive and embarrassing sense of the superior greatness of my mentor.
In 1821 the first camp-meeting was held on West Harpeth. Mr. Calhoon and John L. Dillard were the preachers. Robert Baker and myself were, as licentiates, to assist. Mr. Calhoon managed the meeting. On Sabbath he preached a favorite sermon, from the passage in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from evil." In the evening he directed me to prepare to preach the next morning before breakfast. I arose early, and went off to the woods to make my preparation, but remained out rather too long. On my return, he met me with such a reproof as was characteristic of the times. It was too severe. But the boys in those days thought of nothing but unquestioning submission. From West Harpeth he, and Baker, and myself, went to Wells' Creek. The Wells' Creek meeting possesses some historical interest, from its being the occasion upon which Dr. Cossitt first became acquainted with Cumberland Presbyterians. He was brought and introduced there by Mr. Clements. Mr. Calhoon treated him with great respect, and he preached once at the meeting whilst he was still an Episcopalian. The next meeting was at Richland. Here James McKee, an obscure boy, professed religion. He afterward entered the ministry, and became very promising, but died young, at Trenton, Tennessee.
I might multiply these recollections much farther, but restrain myself. I dwell upon them with a melancholy interest. Mr. Calhoon was one of the most useful men of his time in the Church. His influence was not so extensive as that of Ewing, or King, or Robert Donnell; but where it prevailed, it was equally controlling. He was a great man, if not the great man of the country in which he lived. Personally, he was a man of expressive appearance; about six feet high. His form was athletic; his bearing that of a gentleman; his eyes were dark and piercing; his countenance, always solemn, sometimes in the pulpit was fearful. His voice was strong, but unlike any other voice that I ever heard. He was mighty in prayer. While he was yet a young man, a wicked fellow wanted to bet that he could out-pray Dr. Blackburn. This was a high encomium, as Dr. Blackburn could pray three-quarters of an hour, and be interesting throughout. Mr. Calhoon's prayers were not only interesting-they were sometimes overpowering. We have the following from a living witness: "On a certain occasion, a young man was to be set apart to the whole work of the ministry. Mr. Calhoon offered the ordaining prayer. The congregation was very large, and scattered over a large space. They were very thoughtless, and man of them engaged in conversation. As the prayer progressed, seriousness arose. Those nearest the preacher began to weep, and drop upon their knees. Others followed the example. The influence spread; and before the prayer was closed, the whole vast congregation, far and near, were on their knees, and weeping in sympathy with the good man who was leading them to the throne of grace."
His manner in the pulpit was impassioned, often powerful. On one occasion, a young man came to a meeting where he was to preach with the avowed intention of producing disturbance. He arose once while the sermon was in progress, with a view of carrying out his purpose, but the piercing eye and awful manner of the preacher were resistless. The young man fell a convicted sinner. He professed religion, and became a useful Cumberland Presbyterian minister.
Mr. Calhoon says himself, that for years after he took charge of the Big Spring congregation, he scarcely ever preached to them without indications of deep feeling on the part of the people. On almost any ordinary occasion he could have had mourners, if he had called for them. It was a sort of continued revival.
I heard him once, at a camp-meeting at the Ridge Meeting-house, preach on this text: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." He read the first part of the text, and then proceeded to tell the young men how to be worldly and wicked in good earnest. Everybody was astounded that he should have turned out to preaching, as it seemed, for the devil. After spending some time in this strain, and putting expectation on tip-toe, he paused and with a changed countenance, and an awful manner, proceeded to read the remaining part of his text; "but know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." The transition was terrible. It seemed hardly possible for a human heart to support itself. He frequently preached on that text, and usually with great effect. But few men could have sustained themselves through such an effort. There was something of the dramatic in it; but I suppose he never failed.
In the judicatures of the Church he was always in his place, unless there was a real providential hindrance. His own statement is, that he "never for any sort of circumstance omitted family religion in his whole life." He was always in earnest. I certainly never knew a more earnest man.
A word should in justice be added in regard to his secular life. We have seen that a great proportion of his time must have been given to the Church. He never traded-I mean, he never traded for purposes of gain; he never went in debt; still he educated his children well, and then left them sufficient property for an advantageous entrance upon the career of life. Altogether, he was an unusual man: he belonged to a past age. "There were giants" in that age.
[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1867, pages 76-100]
March 30, 1850
It becomes our painful duty to record the death of Mary R. Calhoun, consort of Rev. Thomas Calhoun of Wilson County Tennessee.
She died on Monday the 18th instant, about 20 minutes past 6 o'clock, P.M.-aged sixty-six years and seven days. Sister Calhoun was born in Orange Co. N. Carolina; March 11th 1784-removed with her parents to this state in 1800 was married February 16, 1809, and lived in the house in which she died, about 41 years, and became the mother of eight children, of whom four are yet living.
Altho' the dispensation which called away this amiable and useful woman, was an afflictive one; yet we sorrow not as those that have no hope. She professed a revival of the west. She very soon attached herself to the church and lived and died in its full fellowship and communion. She encamped at Big Spring every year since her marriage save one, and then she furnished her camp with the necessary provisions. She did more-she frequently camped twice a year, occupying a camp at providence, as well as one at Big Spring.
The disease of which she died was somewhat lingering and very painful, yet she bore it with becoming christian fortitude, and died as all christians may, filled with joyous hope of a glorious immortality. She desired her friends not to grieve but rather rejoice that she was thus, through grace enabled to pass the dark valley of the shadow of death.
The influence and power of vital godliness were strikingly exemplified in the life and death of our beloved sister. She was truly a mother in Israel. To say she was without fault, would be placing her above and beyond frail, erring humanity. But that she had as few faults or even fewer than most christians, might be said in truth, and would be sustained by a large circle of friends and acquaintances. The benevolent societies of the day received her contributions. She was amongst the foremost of her sex in supporting the gospel; and the needy were not sent empty away, from her dwelling. The Minister of the gospel found her house a welcome visiting place and home. The motherless infant found her bosom an asylum and place of repose. Indeed we rarely find one whose character like hers is adorned by an assemblage of the domestic social and christian virtues.
Previous to marriage she pledged herself to her now bereaved husband that she would never oppose him in his ministerial duties; which pledge she kept inviolate until the day of her death. She would rise at any hour of the night to give him an early start to his distant appointments, and was always forward in preparing for family worship. I visited her during her illness, conversed with her and desired her to give an expression of her feelings and prospects concerning her future state. I saw her sky was somewhat over-cast with clouds, but she immediately remarked that she had no trust in her-self, but rested on the pure merits of Christ. That she did not feel as she wished, but hoped to get to heaven.
This state of mind seemed to have been superinduced by a sense of her unworthiness and a want of a proper discharge of christian duty.
But these clouds soon passed away, and were succeeded by the joyous beams of righteousness. She now became the comforter of her husband, who seeing her gradually sinking, said to her on one occasion. "O Polly, how can I do without you?" She replied; "it will be but a few days until you will be with me."
On another occasion, seeing her calm & her countenance light up with a placid smile, he presented to her a bunch of flowers which he had plucked from a fruit tree in the garden, she reached out her hand and took them, saying pretty flowers, I shall bloom as a rose in immortality. At another time when he enquired as to the state of her feelings,-she answered. "I feel calm and serene. I am just viewing the glories of the heavenly world."
At one time, while her afflicted husband was bending over her couch watching the acuteness of her pain, with a heart swelling with sympathy, he said to her, "Jesus can make a dying bed feel soft as downy pillars are" Then pausing, she immediately responded, "while on his breast I lean my head, and breathe my life out sweetly there."
Thus passed, and thus ended, the life of our worthy and beloved sister. She has fought a good fight, finished her course, and is gone to receive her crown of righteousness.
"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord."
Love wrapped, she rests in the bosom of her God. What an ornamental and useful member of society.
And what a bright example worthy to be copied by every woman who is a wife of a minister of the gospel.
J. L. DILLARD
P.S. It is worth noticing, that just half her children went before her to the spirit world, of whom hope is entertained that they are gone to that rest which remains to the people of God. And of those that remain on earth, one has just entered upon the Ministry. May he be imbued with that spirit of consecration and living piety which his mother possessed to so happy an extent-and when his father shall drop his mantle to go up may it fall upon the shoulders of his son-and may he go forth smiting the waters and crying, "where is the Lord God of Elijah."
[Source: Banner of Peace, April 12, 1850, page 3]