Category Archives: alexander carson

Baptist Origins in Ireland

Crawford Gribben of Trinity College Dublin has posted a two-part article on Baptist origins in Ireland at his blog here and here. He argues that the Baptists there, although existent in small numbers, did not experience any revitalisation until men like Samuel Pearce and Andrew Fuller went on preaching expeditions there. The result of their efforts was what Gribben calls a “mini-revival.”

Of course, my interests are with the Baptist from Northern Ireland, Alexander Carson. Gribben says that in the beginning of the nineteenth-century, when Carson was pastoring in Tobermore, there were few churches in the North. By the end of the century, however, there was growth. Is this the result of the Pearce-Fuller excursions? Or is it Carson? Maybe it’s both? I’m interested to find out.

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Notes on Carson’s “Style of Scripture” – Part 1

The following are point-form notes that I’ve taken on Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) work The Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of its Inspiration that can be found in the third volume of his collected Works.

Preface (ix-x)

  • Carson expresses the pain he feels in having to critique fellow Christians on such a key doctrine as the inspiration of Scriptures
  • He believes that this is a doctrine that all Christians should be united on: “Might it not be expected that all would unite in exalting the perfection of our common standard?” (ix)
  • However, in spite of this pain, he is constrained to take up the task of defending truth
  • Those Christians that he critiques he loves: “my love to these in error is not abated” (ix)
  • He recognizes this doctrine, and the defense of it, as something that transcends denominational distinctions
  • He makes the startling affirmation that “though a Christian should reject everything which I hold, but the way of salvation through faith, in the righteousness of the Son of God, I will receive him, as I trust God, for Christ’s sake, has received me” (ix)
  • It is a serious matter to theologize and theologians have a great responsibility to not misrepresent truth or sway others into error
  • “Nothing but the conviction that I am pleading the cause of God and truth could console me in opposing so many distinguished writers on the nature and inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (x)
  • He again affirms that this question is “not a party question” (x)
  • The doctrine of Scripture is something that all Christians should unite on: “Let us all celebrate the perfections of our common standard—the Bible” (x)

 

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Carson on Scripture

Here is a succinct quote by Alexander Carson (1776-1844) that well expresses his doctrine of Scripture: “I lay it down as an acknowledged truth, that the Bible is the word of God, or that the Scriptures were delivered by men inspired by God.”

Alexander Carson, “The Doctrine of the Atonement, set forth in an Address to the Public” in Works (London/Edinburgh: Hamilton, Adams/Wm. White, 1847), 1:7.

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Carson’s Strong Words

As I’ve been working my way slowly through Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) work on scripture, I’ve noticed that he uses very strong language against his opponents. To such a degree that I find it distracting. Here are some examples from chapter seven of Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation of Ernesti, Ammon, Stuart, and Other Philologists (1863), entitled “Scripture Cannot Contradict Itself”:

The Neologists are bad interpreters as well as erroneous theologians. Does [Christoph Friedrich von] Ammon show any mark of a sound philologist? His principles of interpretation are false; and a greater number of blunders no man ever made in the same compass. What is it that entitles those men to the exalted seat to which common opinion has raised them? They are learned men, I admit; but they are not critics. They are universally acquainted with books, but not with the philosophy of language. Their interpretation is as destitute of science as their theology is of truth, and their audacious freedom with the Word of God is intolerable. This imperious man insults both the Scriptures and those who have dared to defend them from the imputation of contradiction…Ought such insolence to pass unchastised? Ought such infidelity  to be recognised as a dictator in the science of interpretation? Should a man be suffered with impunity to charge the Word of the Most High with innumerable contradictions, when in the very charge he discovers that he does not know what a contradiction is? Must the vindicators of the inspiration of Scripture be charged with offending against truth that they may defend and sustain a fiction?

Alexander Carson, “Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation of Ernesti, Ammon, Stuart, and Other Philologists” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1863), 5:324.

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Carson’s Common Sense

Historian David Bebbington has said, “A specific inheritance from the Enlightenment was commonsense philosopohy” (Bebbington, “The Dominance of Evangelicalism,” 123). Commonsense realism, as it is often referred to, owes its popularity to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid who taught ethics at Glasgow University from 1764-1796. Incidentally, this is the same university that Irish Baptist Alexander Carson attended as an undergraduate. Indeed, Carson calls Reid “the first name in moral science” (p. 402).

Common sense philosophy was the principle opponent of the skepticism of David Hume, but as Bebbington observes, it was also used to defend against German  rationalism and the philosophy of Mill. As an apologist Carson wrote much against higher criticism, or Neologism, that came out of Germany and used the categories of common sense in his defense.

Here is a quote from Carson that situates him well within this tradition:

Philosophers have laboured much to rest all their knowledge on the foundations, not only of self-evident, but of necessary truth. They have esteemed it an affront to their art, not to be able to deduce all their doctrines from the intuitive light of their own reasoning faculty. Evidence has been supposed to consist in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas; and, consequently, to believe anything which is not the result of the operation of reason, is to believe without authority.

For this purpose, some of our greatest philosophers have renounced the empire of common sense, and commenced their career with universal scepticism (sic). Even their own existence, and the existence of the world, cannot be taken for granted. These truths must be proved by reason, or they must want a foundation. But they have laboured in vain. After all the exertions of the greatest human faculties, it cannot be proved even that there is a world, unless implicit credence is given to the testimony of the senses. Not only do men in general, but even philosophers themselves, continue to believe in their own existence, and in the existence of the world, not from the arguments alleged by Des Cartes (sic), Malebranche, Arnauld, and Locke, but from the testimony of consciousness and the senses.

The theologian who loves to strut in the philosopher’s steps, and to ape his sentiments and language, has, also, talked much of subjecting the contents of the Word of God to the control and determinations of reason. What cannot be comprehended or accounted for by the reasoning faculty, it is supposed irrational to believe. With this standard in his hands, he goes through the Scriptures, pruning, and retrenching, and refining, and supplying, that the dictates of the Spirit may be modelled (sic), so as to pass the review of human reason.

Alexander Carson, “Faith the Foundation of the Greater Part of Human Knowledge,” in Works (London/Edinburgh: Hamilton, Adams/Wm. White, 1847) 1:401-402.

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Affecting Figures of Speech

That the Holy Spirit sanctions the efforts of genuine eloquence is obvious, from his employing figures whose sole purpose is to affect the heart and the imagination, when the thing on which the figure bears needs no proof, but is clearer than demonstration itself. “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Of the truth here asserted no man needs proof. But how deeply is the mind affected with this beautiful figure! The impression is much stronger than would have been made by the naked assertion.

Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of Its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:86. Scripture quote from Psalm 103:15 (KJV).

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The Genuine Poet

“The genuine poet who makes a few verses to elevate the conceptions and excite the devotion of God’s people, does more than many a theologian who has written a folio” (Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture,” 55).

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Carson, Ehrman and Forgeries

I’m sure that when Bart Ehrman’s new book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, is released next month there will be a spate of responses. How about one from the nineteenth-century?

Alexander Carson (1776-1844), in a discussion on the simplicity of Scripture, makes a comment about forgery. He argues that the Bible’s simplicity is such that it would render forgeries of it impossible. He quotes a passage from Cesar Vichard (1639-1692), Abbe de Saint Real’s Vie du Jesus Christ (1638) and compares it with the original text from Luke 2:8-14. While the Abbe’s language is eloquent, due to its lack of simplicity, it does not compare with the inspired quotation. In Carson’s words, “The greatest of human writers cannot, in a few sentences, imitate the noble simplicity of Scripture” (Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture,” 29).

A quote that has special relevance to Erhman’s forthcoming book, Carson says, “Forge the Bible! As well might it be supposed that some idiot forged the Iliad, and fathered it on Homer” (Ibid.).

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Carson a “Van Tilian”?

I know the title of this blogpost is anachronistic when one considers that Alexander Carson lived in the nineteenth-century. However, a couple of quotes caught my attention that have affinity to some of Cornelius Van Til’s thought, in particular his distinction between true knowledge and exhaustive knowledge as well as his affirmation of “apparent contradictions.” Here is what Carson has to say:

“A man may know the meaning of the word chemistry, as accurately as it was known by Sir Humphrey Davy, who may yet know almost nothing on the subject of chemistry” (Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of Its Inspirationin Works 3:16). While of course this is not a discussion of man’s knowledge in relation to God’s, as Van Til’s was, it does however speak to the difference between true knowledge and quantity of knowledge. I can know something truly without having to know everything about it.

Speaking of the perspicuity of Scripture, Carson says, “Indeed, the peculiarity in the employment of this attribute of style in Scripture is a most satisfactory evidence of inspiration. The phenomena of Scripture in this respect are curious and apparently contradictory. It is only as they are the production of inspiration that they can be reconciled or accounted for” (ibid). Van Til often used the language of “apparent contradiction” when he spoke of two propositions that, from the human vantage, appeared to be mutually exclusive, but from a divine vantage were perfectly compatible. Here, Carson appeals to the doctrine of inspiration to reconcile what appears to be contradictory phenomena in Scripture.

***UPDATE (Feb. 21, 2011)***

“The things in Scripture that are most offensive to human wisdom are the most easily defended, if Christians would use only Scripture weapons, and refuse to go beyond the bounds of Scripture” (Works 5:326).

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Breakdown of Carson’s “Style of Scripture”

Alexander Carson (1776-1844) breaks down the style of scripture to highlight its evidential use for the doctrine of inspiration. He does so in the following manner:

Purity (8-16)

Perspicuity (16-25)

Simplicity (25-29)

Sublimity (29-63)

Moral Sublimity (63-68)

Hebraism (68-70)

Vivacity or Energy (70-74)

Use of Epithets (74-76)

Vivacity as Depending on Fewness of Words (76-81)

Pathos (81-83)

Elegance (83-85)

Figurative Language (85-88)

Stamp of Truth Everywhere Impressed on Scripture (88-90)

Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of Its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:3-90.

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Carson on the “Historic Canon”

In Biblical Interpretation (1836), Alexander Carson (1776-1844) engages the work of the German critic Johann August Ernesti (1707-1781) and his English translator, Charles Hughes Terrot (1790-1872). In the fourth chapter, entitled “The Historic Canon,” Carson deals with how to determine the meaning of a word or term in an ancient text. The term “historic canon” that Carson refers to is slightly misleading–he is not referring to the sixty-six canonical books of the bible. Rather, the nomenclature refers to the method of interpretation that determines the meaning of a word or phrase from Scripture based only on historical usage. This method, developed in Germany amongst the “higher critics” and later carried into Britain, Carson also refers to as the “neological canon.” He summarises the view thusly,

It teaches that the interpretation of the doctrine of Christ and his Apostles is to be regulated by the history of the opinions generally current in the times in which they lived. The substance of this canon is, that if Christ and his Apostles used certain words, as applied to their doctrine, which were applied at the time to the doctrine of other sects, the doctrine of the former must coincide with that of the latter. The business, then, of the interpreter is, to find out the theology of the Jewish sects (Carson, Biblical Interpretation, 310; emphasis his).

In his critique, Carson affirms that accommodation is an integral part of the doctrine of inspiration. He readily admits that the inspired speakers/writers used language that was understood by the culture they were addressing. His concern, however, is that this hermeneutical approach confounds two things that differ: “It confounds the meaning of a term with the nature of the doctrine to which that term refers. A word may be intelligible as a term, while the doctrine to which it refers may not be understood” (Carson, Biblical Interpretation, 310). For Carson, “Agreement in the meaning of the term is no evidence of agreement in the nature of the doctrine” (Carson, Biblical Interpretation, 311).

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Carson on Two Kingdoms

In light of the so-called “Two-Kingdoms” debate going on in some Reformed circles, this quote from the preface of Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) Reasons for Separating from the General Synod of Ulster caught my eye:

Every Christian is a member of two kingdoms perfectly distinct, but perfectly compatible in their interests. In each of these he has peculiar duties, in the discharge of which he is to pursue a very different conduct. As a subject of civil government, he is called to unreserved, unequivocal obedience, without waiting to inquire into its nature and quality, or even the legitimacy of the title of those in power. If he understands his Bible, he knows that the ‘powers that be, are ordained of God,’ and that he must ‘submit to every ordinance of man, not merely for wrath, but also for conscience sake.’ In Britain he will submit to monarchy; in America to a republic; and in France he will obey, without puzzling himself in determining whether Buonaparte be a legal governor or usurper. But it is not so in the kingdom of Christ. Here is is his duty in everything to judge for himself, and in no instance to be the disciple of man. He is commanded to examine, not blindly adopt the dogmas of his spiritual guides. He is nowhere required to conform and submit to that form of church government, under which he has been educated, or to which he may at any time have thought it his duty to attach himself. He is enjoined to ‘prove all things, and to hold fast only that which is good.’ He is Christ’s freedman, and should not suffer himself to become the servant of man, nor to be fettered by human systems. (Emphasis his)

Alexander Carson, “Reasons for Separating from the General Synod of Ulster” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1856), 4:xi-xii.

I chuckle a little to myself at the thought that Carson is using the two kingdoms model as a justification for criticizing the Ulster synod of the Presbyterian church in Ireland. The debate as it rages today largely involves Presbyterians.

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The Responsibility of Doing Good Theology

The following is from the preface of Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) book Characteristics of the Style of Scripture Evidential of its Inspiration. It serves as a good reminder to any of us who embark upon any theological endeavour, that what we are doing is no mere abstract trifle:

In reasoning from Scripture on the subject of inspiration, and on every other, it is of great importance that we never lose sight of the tremendous responsibility which we incur. It is no light matter to attempt to influence the belief of the people of God, with respect to subjects on which he has expressed his mind. It is a fearful thing to labour to misrepresent the divine testimony on any matter. It is bad to err, but it is worse to exert ourselves to pervert others. On the other hand, it is a delightful idea to be in any measure instrumental in leading forward the minds of the Lord’s people to a more full understanding of his word. Nothing but the conviction that I am pleading the cause of God and truth could console me in opposing so many distinguished writers on the nature of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture Evidential of its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:x.

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Canadian Baptist Historical Society 2011

Saturday
5 March 2011

at

Tyndale Seminary
25 Ballyconnor Ct.
Toronto, ON
M2M4B3

The Canadian Baptist Historical Society (CBHS) traces its origins back to the nineteenth century when Baptists passionate about their heritage began a process of preserving critical documents and studying the Baptist presence in Ontario and Quebec. Its primary focus is on the history of all Baptists in the Canadian context, but the study of Baptists around the globe is also a part of its mandate. Scholars, pastors, students and those interested in Baptist history are all warmly invited to attend meetings of the society. The CBHS is always interested in paper proposals for its meetings, and if you have a proposal for next year’s meeting please send it to Gord Heath.

The CBHS has also recently started to publish a series of books on Baptist history. Volume one is Baptists and Public Life in Canada (anticipated publication 2011). Volume Two is Baptists and War (anticipated publication 2012). Other volumes are expected in subsequent years.

This year’s annual meeting is at Tyndale Seminary.

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Alexander Carson on Baptism

The recent issue of The Gospel Witness has kindly published an article of mine entitled “‘Defending Truth at Every Expense’: Alexander Carson (1776-1844) on Baptism.” I’ve uploaded a PDF of it: Alexander Carson on Baptism.

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Andrew Fuller Conference Audio

The Andrew Fuller Center has posted the audio from last week’s conference “Baptist Spirituality – Historical Perspectives.” As I’ve said in an earlier post, it was a great conference and I was glad to be a part of it. Now you can hear what it was like by downloading the mp3’s!

I hope that the audio for the sessions by Stephen Yuille and Aaron Menikoff will get posted soon – I missed both of them unfortunately (I was trying to catch my breath before I had to speak!). As well, Greg Thornbury’s isn’t posted and I assume that it wasn’t recorded because it was in the Broadus Chapel.

Lemme know what you think!

Monday, August 24

9:00 am Plenary Session 1: Crawford Gribben
“Irish Baptist Piety in the 17th Century” (MP3)

10:25 am Plenary Session 2: Robert Strivens
“Evangelical Spiritualities in Early 18th Century English Dissent: Philip Doddridge and John Gill” (MP3)

11:45 am Plenary Session 3: Gerald Priest
“A. C. Dixon: Exemplar of Fundamentalist Spirituality” (MP3)

2:30-5:00 pm Parallel Sessions
1. English Baptist Piety in the 17th and 18th Centuries (Chair: Paul Brewster)

2. Baptist Piety in 19th Century Great Britain (Chair: Michael Haykin)

3. Baptist Piety in 19th Century North America (Chair: Jeff Robinson)

8:15 pm Plenary Session 4: Greg Thornbury
“Baptist Spirituality and Theological Education” (Audio Not Available)

Tuesday, August 25

10:00 am SBTS Convocation:  R. Albert Mohler
“‘The Time is Near’ – The Emphatically Eschatological Essence of the Christian Ministry” (MP3)

11:40 am Plenary Session 5: Tom Nettles
“The Piety of James Petigru Boyce” (MP3)

2:30-3:30 pm Plenary Session 6: Greg Wills
“Relevance, Severity, and Spiritual Power in Baptist Piety” (MP3)

3:40-4:50 pm Plenary Session 7: Kevin Smith
“A Distracted Piety: African-American Baptists” (MP3)

“Amsterdam 400”: A Quatercentennial Celebration of Baptist Witness

6:45 pm “Spirituality of Historic Baptist Hymnody: A Hymn Sing” (MP3)

7:45 pm Plenary Session 8: Malcolm Yarnell
“ ‘We Believe with the Heart and with the Mouth Confess’: The Engaging Piety of John Smyth and the Early General Baptists” (MP3)

9:00 pm “Reformed and Anabaptist: Strengths and Shortcomings of Two Traditions” A Late Night Discussion between Drs. Yarnell and Haykin (MP3)

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Galleton Book Distribution Agency

For all of you book lovers out there, check out the Galleton Book Distribution Agency for your rare book needs. You know the Irish and their love of books! Surely you will find someting that piques your interest!
I was thankful that they searched me out and put me in contact with a fan of Alexander Carson. The benefits of the Internet age (and vices I might add) are astounding!
This link, on how to care for your books, is especially helpful.

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What about the Irish??

As I was using the Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals ed. Timothy Larsen (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003) today, I realised that two significant Irish theologians were absent. There were no entries for either James Ussher, the 17th century Irish Puritan, or Alexander Carson, the 19th century Irish Particular Baptist.
The Irish are always neglected. Sad.

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irish-reformation: Irish Christians: Alexander Carson

Many thanks to my friend (and one day supervisor, DV) Crawford Gribben for asking me to write a piece on Alexander Carson (1776-1844), a man who is fast becoming one of my heroes. Writing it has been a helpful exercise allowing me to become familiarised with Carson’s works. My hope is to do a master’s thesis on an aspect of Carson’s thought, which aspect I haven’t figured out yet! He wrote on numerous subjects that would be good to discuss. I should also give thanks to Dr. Haykin for a) taking me to Carson’s gravesite (pictured above); b) getting me unread copies of Carson’s Works from McMaster and b) encouraging me to study Carson.

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The Works of Alexander Carson (1776-1844) Vol. 6

Alexander Carson, Works Volume 6 (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1864).

Volume 6
Providence: Considered with Reference to, and as Manifested In, the Word of God

The God of Providence the God of the Bible
17-72

History of Providence as Unfolded in the Book of Esther
73-156

History of Providence as Manifested in Scripture
157-445

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