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Alexander Carson

Alexander Carson (c. 1776-1849), Baptist minister, exercised a fruitful ministry in his native Ireland for half a century. An affectionate and faithful pastor who devoted his entire ministry to his congregation in the little village of Tobermore, Co. Londonderry, Carson also possessed a keen intellect and great logical power, as is evidenced in his writings.

Carson was born in Annahone near Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone, about 1776. His parents were Scottish Presbyterians, settled in Ireland, who consecrated their son to the ministry at an early age. He was sent to a classical school run by a Mr Peebles in the village of Tullyhogue near Cookstown, and afterwards to the University of Glasgow, where, through disciplined study he became a good Greek scholar — ‘the first scholar of his time’, according to Robert Haldane (with whom he was to co-operate on the latter’s Commentary on Romans). He proceeded B.A. and M.A.

In 1798 at the age of twenty-two, he was ordained pastor of the Presbyterian congregation at Tubbermore (Tobermore) in Co. Londonderry. His evangelical Calvinism caused a disagreement with not a few of his hearers who inclined to the Arian heresy that had become so widespread among the Presbyterians in Ireland. A few years later Carson resigned the pastorate, shook off the shackles of Presbyterianism, and published his ‘Reasons for Separating from the Synod of Ulster’ in 1804. Part of his congregation followed him. For some years he preached in barns and in the open air. In 1814 a small meeting-house was built in which he devotedly laboured for thirty years.

In the intervals of his ministry he employed his pen in contending earnestly for the faith, and published books on such disputed subjects as the Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture, Transubstantiation, The Trinity, etc. In 1827 he had a sharp controversy with Samuel Lee, Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, and published a book entitled The Incompetency of Prof. Lee for translating the Holy Scriptures, followed by a reply to Lee’s answer. In attempting to refute Haldane’s New Views of Baptism he was himself converted to Baptist principles, and afterwards published (1831) his best-known book, Baptism, Its Mode and Subjects. Of this he printed an enlarged edition in 1844; it was subscribed for by four hundred Baptist ministers. The whole impression was rapidly disposed of, and a new edition of ten thousand copies called for.

By his writings and the publication of his books Carson became widely known; and so much were they esteemed in America that two universities simultaneously bestowed upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. He also became well known nearer home by travelling through most of the English counties, preaching as he went on behalf of Baptist missions. Returning from his last tour in 1844, while waiting at Liverpool for the steamer to Belfast, he fell over the edge of the quay, dislocated his shoulder, and was nearly drowned. He was rescued and taken to the steamer; but on his arrival at Belfast he was unable to proceed further, and after eight days he died, on August 24, 1844, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. His remains were removed to ‘Solitude’, his house near Tubbermore, and buried near the meeting-house where he had preached, and where six months before he had buried his wife.

A collection of Carson’s works was posthumously published in Dublin in six stout volumes. At the end of the sixth volume there is a copious collection of extracts from sixteen different notices of Carson and his writings, in which he is said to be a second Jonathan Edwards, and the first biblical critic of the nineteenth century.