Rev. Simeon H. Calhoun

Mr. Calhoun was born in Boston, of Scotch-Irish parents, August 15, 1804, and graduated at Williams College in 1829. While in college he was a skeptic and indifferent to religion, but the prayers of a godly mother who had consecrated him to Christ and to the missionary work at his birth, followed him, and in 1831 he was converted. While engaged as tutor in college he was noted for the peculiar simplicity and ardour of his piety, and for the great influence he exerted on the students. "His delight in the Scriptures was exceptional, and his remarks on the truths therein revealed were uncommonly suggestive and stimulating." He did not enter a regular theological seminary, but studied theology with those two giants, Drs. Griffin and Mark Hopkins, who constituted a theological faculty rarely equalled. In 1836 he was ordained, and left the United States in November as an agent of the American Bible Society for the Levant. In 1843 he was appointed a missionary of the American Board, During the eight years of his work in Smyrna, Constantinople, Asia Minor, the Greek Islands and Greece, he cooperated with the missionary bodies, preaching in English and modern Greek and was indefatigable in teaching, touring, and distributing the Word of God.

On reaching Syria, in 1844, although forty years old and having passed the age when men can readily master a foreign language his familiarity with the modern Greek aided him in studying the difficult Arabic language; difficult on account of its guttural sounds and peculiar idioms. Dr. Van Dyck, in his "Reminiscences," states that, "When the American Board deputation (Dr. R. Anderson and Dr. Joel Hawes) reached Smyrna, they found Mr. Calhoun quite ready to relinquish the work of Bible agent, and persuaded him to join the Syria Mission He came to Syria with them on a tour of inspection. They recommended the opening of a seminary to be managed by Mr. Calhoun when he should join the mission, and after he had learned the Arabic. Mr. Calhoun took up his residence in Bhamdoun and so steadfastly and perseveringly applied himself to the study of Arabic, that although somewhat advanced, he was, in a little over two years, able to teach and preach in Arabic." His teacher was Abu Selim, Yusef el Haddad of Tripoli, who knew nothing of Arabic grammar, but was a fine penman and full of anecdote and a great talker. If the deputation did nothing more than secure Mr. Calhoun for Syria it was worth all the expense involved.

During the civil war of 1845 between the Druses and Maronites, Mr. Calhoun summered in Bhamdoun, and used to ascend the high mountain ridge above the village and from under a walnut tree count the villages in flames. That jowz tree became known as "Jowz Calhoun," just as a conical marl hill, cast of the village, where Mr. Beadle discovered a famous locality of fossil Ammonites, was known as Bustan Beadle, or "Beadle's Garden."

In 1846, he visited the United States, and at Braintree, Massachusetts, was married to Miss Emily Reynolds, a niece of Dr. Storrs. This estimable lady was the worthy companion of so noble, godly and consecrated a man, and made his home in Abeih a fountain of blessed influence for thirty years. She recently, November 4, 19oS, died, in Natal, South Africa, where, with her daughter, Mrs. Ransom, she was labouring to lead souls to Christ.

In 1849, he was called to succeed Dr. Van Dyck as principal of the high school or seminary in Abeih. To this work he gave the best years of his life. In the summer of 1864 he visited England, but did not return to the United States until June 10, 1875. His lecture-room in Abeih was the centre of a mighty influence, which is still felt all through Syria and the East. He was clear in statement, gentle in manner, dignified, yet in sympathy with the poorest and most ignorant lad, patient and persevering. He was a scholar. His attainments were high as a classical scholar and as a mathematician.

He was a theologian. He was a "Doctor in Divinity," whether made thus by the universities or no. When this degree was conferred on him, he hesitated about receiving it, and finally wrote declining it, stating as a reason that it was at variance with the parity of the Christian ministry. His letter declining it was published, but by a typographical error, he was made to say that it "was at variance with the 'purity' of the Christian ministry." This error caused him great distress, and he said to me, "Brother Jessup, perhaps I had better have kept silence than to seem to make such a charge as that against my bretheren."

His depth and breadth of views on the great doctrines of Christian theology have been attained by few, and can be attained only by those who, like him, draw from the fountain-head of the sacred Scriptures, and are taught by the illuminating Spirit. He often startled us with his fresh thoughts on old familiar subjects. Yet he had nothing about him of the dogmatic theologian. His own wide views of the many phases of truth kept him far from any approach to bigotry. On essentials he was firm as a rock and uncompromising; in non-essentials his was the largest charity and the full liberty of the New Testament.

He was an effective preacher. His commanding presence, his pleasant voice and his earnestness of manner, were all calculated to give force to his words: but there was something in his preaching beyond presence, or voice, or earnestness. The simplest truths, enunciated in the simplest way, seemed to fall from his lips with power.

The same things said by another would have made little if any impression, This has been remarked by comparative strangers, as well as by those who knew wherein lay the secret of his great strength. Christ seemed to be in him and to be seen through him.

He was a great teacher. In America or England be would have been a Mark Hopkins or Dr. Arnold. Whether the subject was algebra or astronomy or Greek or the Bible, he taught his pupils. They grew under his teaching. His object in teaching was, first, to make wise unto salvation, and then fit for usefulness. And he succeeded, as is proved by the large number of native labourers now in the field.

He was a loving, sympathizing friend and brother, and the sorrowing and troubled, whether foreign missionaries or native Christians looked to him for comfort in the day of trouble.

He was a wise and prudent counsellor in our mission affairs. With excellent business capacities, executive power and natural shrewdness, He could foresee with acuteness, advise with wisdom and conduct with decision. He was mission treasurer for many years and used to say that he was not aware that there had ever been a discrepancy of five paras (half a cent) it, his annual accounts.

After the massacres of 1860, when Colonel Frazier was British commissioner in settling the new regime of government in Lebanon, he made Mr. Calhoun literally the man of his counsel. And when Daood Pasha, the first Christian governor of Lebanon, entered on his duties, he often visited Mr. Calhoun in his house, to consult him on questions pertaining to the Druse nation.

And the Druses, that brave, hardy, warlike, courteous yet mysterious people, trusted Mr. Calhoun implicitly, asked his advice, and sent their sons to him for education. During the summer of 1871, when I was in Abeih teaching in the theological class with Dr. Eddy and Mr. Calhoun, a young Druse sheikh was killed by falling from a roof. A stately funeral was given him. Hundreds of white turbaned Druse sheikhs from villages miles away came to condole with the family. I went with Mr. Calhoun to express our sympathy. That great multitude were seated in concentric circles under a great oak tree. As we approached, they all arose and stood until we were seated. Then they all saluted us over and over again, "Allah grant us your life instead of the deceased." "Allah spare to you your children." "The will of Allah be done," etc.

No people can be more effusive in courteous and elaborate salutation than the Druses. When they were all seated there was a great silence and all eyes turned to Mr. Calhoun. At length he spoke, "Whenever I see the dead body of a brother man, I am filled with indignation, yes, I may say hatred." All seemed startled at this unusual remark from a man noted for calmness and self-control. "Yes," he continued, "with hatred of sin, which brought death into the world and is the cause of all our sorrows, troubles and woes. Why should we not hate sin, and love Him who knew no sin, but tasted death for every man?"

Then there was silence. At length a venerable sheikh began to discourse on the duty of patience and resignation, and the duty of entire submission to the will of Allah, in eloquent and beautiful Arabic, reminding one of Job or Moses or Abraham.

When the war of 1860 began, I was a guest in Mr. Calhoun's house in Abeih and the Greek Catholic, Maronite and Protestant men all fled to Beirut. The women and children remained and brought all their valuables, money, jewelry and silks tied in bundles and threw them at the feet of Mr. and Mrs. Calhoun. They asked no receipt and did not even seal the packages and we took them and piled them in a closet. Two months later when the French army came up into Lebanon the Druses fell into a panic and brought all their treasures to Mr. and Mrs. Calhoun in the same confiding way, until all the treasures of Abeih were in "safe deposit" in their humble, unprotected house. During all those days of war and pillage, burning and desolation, I never, up to the time of my leaving for Beirut, saw Mr. Calhoun perturbed or anxious. His placid face showed no sign of fear. The very peace of God filled his soul and the light of God shone in his face though "be wist not that his face shone."

On one occasion later on, his face did betray real agony. Twenty-two hundred men had just been massacred through Turkish treachery, by the Druse army at Deir el Komr The only men left alive were thirty Protestants of Ain Zehalteh who bad taken refuge in Rev. William Bird's house. Mr. Bird, much against his will, had been compelled by the United States consul to come away to Abeih with his family. The next day, Thursday June 21st, was the massacre. That night the Druse begs in Abeih came to Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Bird and said, "Deir el Komr is gone - the men all slain. None remain but those in Mr. Bird's house, You must go at once and bring them away. We will go with you, and hasten, lest the Hauran Druses, knowing that Mr. Bird's house is full of Christian treasure, should break in and kill your Protestants." Long before light they set out. It was an agonizing three hours' ride to both these brethren, and more agonizing when they entered the town and rode over the corpses of Mr. Bird's old neighbours and friends. They arrived just in time. Those wild Druses of the Leja had brought a huge beam and were ramming the door. But the Druse commander, Bushir Beg, and his men drove them off, and Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Bird entered and found the thirty men alive. The Druses then took all of Mr. Bird's furniture and all the deposits and carried them to the Druse Khulweh or assembly house and guarded them securely. Then the two missionaries headed the procession and with a Druse guard, conducted these rescued men over to Abeih. The next day, Saturday, Mr. Calhoun alone, with a Druse guard, took these thirty brethren to Beirut. He came to my house, and as he opened the-door, with a look of weariness and pain such as I never before saw in his face, exclaimed, "Brother Jessup, what does all this mean? Truly God is speaking to us." He returned at once to Abeih and with Mr. Bird made daily trips to Deir el Komr bringing away on mules Mr. Bird's furniture and library and such women and children as had not been conveyed by the Druses to the seashore whence English gunboats carried them to Beirut. On the 26th, Mr. Calhoun wrote me, "I am weary."

Years afterwards, Ali Beg Hamady, one of the leaders of the Druse attack on Deir el Komr, told me why Mr. Bird's house was spared on that dreadful day of wrath. Ali Beg was a haughty warrior. He led a regiment of rough-riders to the Crimean War and had the rank of colonel in the Turkish army. Twenty-five years after the massacre of Deir el Komr, in 1885, I called on Ali Beg in Baklin, his home He was a tall, stately man, with a white turban, a long beard, flowing robes, and received us with that beautiful courtesy for which the Druses are so famous. A young man of the family was then in the college in Beirut. He asked me, " Do you know why Mr. Bird's house was not attacked during the massacre of 1860? It was because of the character of Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Bird. I saved that house and set guards to protect it."

Years afterwards in Beirut, a Druse called at my house one day before sunset, and said he brought a message from Ali Beg who was ill and wished to see me. The messenger said, "Bring your New Testament (Injeel) with you." I hastened to the house with my Arabic Testament. He was lying on a bed on the floor, bolstered up with cushions. Fixing his piercing eagle eye on me he said, "I am a dying man. I honoured and loved Mr. Calhoun, and he loved the Injeel. Read to me the passages he loved." I read to him the sweetest of the gospel invitations and promises. He listened like one hungering and thirsting. "Read more," said he, "Read more. Is there pardon for a great sinner like me?" I was deeply affected, and pointed him to the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. I led in prayer, asking God for Christ's sake to forgive him, and be repeated the words after me. After a long interview, at his request, I left the New Testament with him, promising to call in the morning, and earnestly praying that the Saviour would reveal Himself to this dying warrior. The next day I went down to call on him, and met a long procession in the street. "What is this?" I asked. "The funeral of Ali Beg." Mr. Calhoun had been dead for nearly fifteen years, but I doubt not he welcomed to glory this aged man of war and blood, ransomed through their common Saviour Jesus Christ.

Mr. Calhoun went to the United States in 1875 on furlough. He spoke with great power at the General Assembly in Brooklyn, May, 1876. He had always expressed the hope that he might rest on Mount Lebanon, but he fell asleep in Buffalo, December 14, 1876. A return to Syria was fully expected but disease developed, and his fond desire of sleeping his long last sleep beneath the shade of the Lebanon cypresses was not granted. The return in the culminating years of his life to his native land and the Christian Church of America was not, we are sure, without meaning in the plan of an unerring Providence. Mr. Calhoun was able, before his health seriously failed, to travel to a considerable degree in the United States, to make many visits, and to address a number of the large and important assemblies of the Church of Christ at home. He thus gave the rich garnerings of his long and fruitful experience and the benefit of his profound wisdom to the Christian public in his native land, and cast the impress of his Christlike personality upon multitudes who listened to his words and looked upon his benign countenance. It has seemed to us that the sphere of his life's usefulness was widened in this summing up of his career by his personal presence in the homeland at its close.

Had he died in Lebanon the Druses and perhaps others would have made his tomb a shrine of pilgrimage, so greatly was he revered.

He was called "The Saint of Lebanon" and, "The Cedar of Lebanon." From his holy life and noble, commanding figure, God called him to bear the cross and labour in the earthly Canaan, and then called him to wear the crown in the heavenly

  • Hits: 9804