A slightly lesser light among towering figures of early Southern Baptists like James P. Boyce stands the magnificent Texan, Benajah Harvey Carroll (1843-1914). While Carroll died a Texan he was born in Mississippi. And his greatest contribution to Baptist life was his assistance in founding the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1908.
When we read Carroll alongside Boyce, the difference remains stunning. Boyce was a trained systematician who undeniably bore and gladly wore the brand-marks of his Princetonian mentors, Warfield and Hodge. A well-ordered theological system fills Boyce’s literary tank.
Contrarily, to read Carroll is to read what can only be called by many today a hopelessly addicted biblicist. System or no system, good system or bad system could not latch on to either Carroll’s mind or heart. He wed himself solely to what the Bible reveals rather than what a man could reason. Now this is not to imply Boyce possessed neither biblical conviction nor commitment. Rather for Boyce, it seems his theological method focused more on systematizing and reasoning while Carroll’s methodical center was biblical exegesis.
Below is a commentary Carroll wrote on a brief section in Boyce’s theology textbook which illustrates nicely the distinction just made between these two Baptist giants.. Carroll’s remarks are found amidst his general comments on Ephesians 1:15-21 in his popular An Interpretation of the English Bible: Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews (emphasis original):
I hold James P. Boyce to be the greatest all-around Baptist ever produced by the South. While in his Systematic Theology he teaches that expiation of the sins of all men must mean universal salvation, yet before he closes his discussion he uses these remarkable words, which I cite:
(1) While for the elect he made an actual atonement, by which they are actually reconciled to God, and because of which are made the subjects of the special divine grace by which they became believers in Christ, and are justified through him.
(2) Christ at the same time and in the same work, wrought out a means of reconciliation for all men, which removed every legal obstacle to their salvation, upon their acceptance of the same conditions upon which the salvation is given to the elect. Abstract of Theology, revised by F. H. Kerfoot, p. 296.
(3) On page 297 he says, The atoning work of Christ was not sufficient for the salvation of man. That work was only Godward, and only removed all the obstacles in the way of God’s pardon of the sinner. But the sinner is also at enmity with God, and must be brought to accept salvation, and must learn to love and serve God. It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to bring this about. The first step here is to make known to man the gospel, which contains the glad tidings of salvation, under such influences as ought to lead to its acceptance.
For the purpose of comment I mark these paragraphs (1), (2), and (3). It seems difficult to reconcile (1) with (3) but (2) and (3) are in perfect harmony. In (1) he says that “for the elect he made actual atonement” … “they were actually reconciled to God.” But in (3) he says that “the atoning work was not sufficient for the salvation of man, that work was only Godward, and only removed all the obstacles in the way of God’s pardon for the sinner.” This language applies of course to the elect. But in (2) he says, “Christ wrought out a means of reconciliation for all men which removed every legal obstacle to their salvation.” Then for the elect the atonement “was not sufficient for the salvation of man” and “only removed all the obstacles in the way of God’s pardon for the sinner,” and if for the nonelect the atonement wrought out a means of reconciliation,” “removing every legal obstacle to their salvation,” what is the difference Godward? What is the difference so far as Christ’s work is concerned? Does not the difference come in the Spirit’s work in connection with the application of the atonement and the ministry of reconciliation? Do election and foreordination become operative toward atonement or toward acceptance of the atonement? These questions are submitted for consideration in the realm of the study of systematic theology. The author does not dogmatize on them.
Carroll goes on to offer his reservations in dealing with subjects which he felt only philosophy could answer, or more true to Carroll, only subjects about which philosophy could speculate. He ends with an exhortation to commit ourselves in taking all the Scripture says and nothing more. In other words, Carroll desired biblical exegesis to precede and ground all theological conclusions. For him, systematic theology intentionally took second string to textual fidelity.
Hear Carroll’s desperately needed words in a day and age when far too many of us search for texts to backup our already preconceived theology:
Let us do with this or any other philosophy what we will, but let us not hesitate to accept all that the Scriptures teach on this matter. When we read John 10:14-16; 11:26-29; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:28-29; Ephesians 5:25-32, let us not abate one jot of their clear teaching of Christ’s death for the elect and their certain salvation. And when we read John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2; Ezekiel 33: 11; Matthew 28:19; 1 Timothy 2:4, let us beware lest our theory, or philosophy, of the atonement constrain us to question God’s sincerity, and disobey his commands. There are many true things in and out of the Bible beyond our satisfactory explanation. Let faith apprehend even where the finite mind cannot comprehend.