The Methodist Chieftain: Rev. Dr. Carman
J. T. Stirrett
EDITOR'S NOTE:&EMDASH;ONE of the great men of Canada is the chief of the Methodist Church in this country. His figure was very prominent in the recent Ecumenical Conference in Toronto. He has many friends and some enemies—a sign of his very greatness. He is the autocrat of the Methodist Church and yet a benevolent autocrat. He believes utterly and absolutely in himself, in the goodness of his motives, and the rightness of his views. He will admit of no gainsaying.
He is a welcome relief from the vacillating type of man, the man of petty distinctions, fine hair-splitting, and delicate posing. Reverend Dr. Carman is a stranger to that sort of thing. In his positiveness, his directness, power of will and tenacity of purpose he is a match for the greatest bankers, merchants and railroad builders of the day. # .
The world at large may know only his more rugged side. The stories of his brusqueness and his scathing wit circulate more easily than do the instances of his tenderer nature. That he has this side, too, all those who know him can testify. A thousand secret kindnesses are every year recorded somewhere to the credit of old Dr. Carman. A smaller man might trade upon them: Dr. Carman prefers to win his way by fighting.
"COME in!” The invitation was issued in such stentorian tones, that I entered the office of Dr. Carman, General Superintendent of the Methodist Church of Canada, expecting to see a man of stature, a man still in the prime of life.
In front of a desk, placed near a window, sat a very little and very old man,
bolt upright. His clerical hat was jammed tightly on his head. He was alone in the room and appeared to be doing nothing. No correspondence was spread before him, no ponderous volumes were open for perusal, no busy typewriters were clicking off letters. He turned his head squarely around, in a quick bird-like manner, without moving his body, and peered.
through a pair of thick-lensed glasses at the intruder, waiting in morbid anticipation of the unexpected.
In a silence pregnant with possibilities, the writer stated the nature of his errand. The eyes of the General Superintendent did not relax their stare into futurity— which must have been many miles behind the journalist and beyond the approaches to the door. But if you can imagine a frozen gargoyle coming to life and being transformed into a sprightly old gentleman, you can appreciate the change which came over him when he learned that the visitor wanted information in regard to the welfare of the Methodist Church. He went into action with both hands. One dropped into a drawer and emerged with some strange looking slips of paper, covered with hieroglyphics and bound together with an elastic band. Another opened a book, filled with figures, underlined. After twenty feverish minutes, the visitor departed, convinced that there was nothing about the Methodist Church that was unknown to the General Superintendent; yet a backward glance showed the little man again sitting like a human ramrod, with his hat on more firmly, if that were possible, staring at his desk, smiling to himself arid apparently doing nothing whatever.
Like all able and prominent men, Dr. Carman has loyal friends and bitter enemies. The former eulogize him as “The Grand Old Man of Methodism,” “the defender of the faith,” “the bulwark of Wesleyism” and “the foe of those who would mutilate the scriptures.” The latter denounce him as “the Methodist Pope,” “the modern heresy hunter,” “the narrowminded ecclesiastical tyrant,” and “the decadent survivor of a past age.”
Nothing has advertised him so much as his famous attack upon the Rev. George Jackson, who, in 1909, delivered a lecture to an unsophisticated audience of Y. M. C. A. men in Toronto, containing what the General Superintendent believed was an atheistic attack upon the book of Genesis. Jackson was a Scotch minister who was attached to Victoria Colloge, Toronto, and had a high reputation as a Biblical student and critic. It was not long before Methodism and the public were divided into Jacksonites and Carmanites, or ecclesiastical liberals and Conservatives;
and the newspapers, religious periodicals and pulpits flamed with the controversy over Genesis until the combatants were silenced by exhaustion.
Without making any attempt to choose between these extremes, the consideration of Dr. Carman’s life may perhaps do something to quench the raging fires of religious discord with the healing waters of understanding and appreciation.
He was born in 1833 on a farm in Dundas County where the village of Iroquois now stands. “Not on a farm,” he objects, —“a swamp! The first thing I remember was hopping about the logs in it.” If any one has a right to assume the title “Canadian” he has that right. His parents, and his maternal and paternal grandparents were of United Empire Loyalist descent and marched to Canada with Sir John Johnson’s army. Little wonder that he is militant. Consider his ancestry. His maternal grandfather was Colonel Peter Shaver, Tory and Loyalist. His paternal grandfather was Captain Michael Carman, likewise Tory and Loyalist. Both these men, staunch friends; and bitter enemies of the American Republic, settled upon the land given them by the British Government in the County of Dundas. The land of Colonel Shaver was about three miles from the present village of Iroquois and that of Captain Carman was part of the municipal site.
When Albert Carman’s father became engaged in the lumber business at Trenton, Ontario, his son’s occupation of loghopping was changed to conflicting with the rudiments of education. Later when one of his uncles founded a grammar school at Iroquois, young Carman returned to continue his studies. Having absorbed all the knowledge this institution could give him, he went to Victoria University, which was then situated at Cobourg. It is interesting to learn that he entered with the intention of studying law, for which his mind is peculiarly adapted. “However,” he says, “in that day, Victoria had religion, not shaky theology, and I was converted and decided to enter the church.” His decision was unfortunate for the bar, which was deprived of a remarkable legal brain, and fortunate for Methodism, which enlisted bis ability, energy and enthusiasm.
Rumor, with one of her many tongues, declares that in those days at Victoria, when his aspirations were legal rather than ecclesiastical, the present General Superintendent of the Methodist Church was the leader in several of the maddest pranks perpetrated by students in the history of the institution. Questioned on this point, Dr. Carman replied: “Nonsense! I was the meekest child on earth.” This statement is good proof that he was not. Had ho attempted, after the fashion of most graduates, to create the impression that as a student he had been particularly devilish, one would have been more ready to believe him, but his humility breeds suspicion.
After graduating from Victoria in 1854, he became a school master and conducted the Iroquois Grammar School till 1856, when he was ordained a travelling preacher of the Methodist Church. For just one year he was a circuit rider, making up his sermons as he rode through the woods, expounding the vivid gospel of John Wesley. Then he exchanged the saddle for the professional chair, and joined the staff of Albert College in 1857. At the end of one year he had demonstrated his inability to remain long in a subordinate position and was elected principal. Not content with his own array of military ancestors, Dr. Carman, in i860, married a soldier’s daughter, Miss Mary Jane Sisk, whose father was Captain James Sisk, of Belleville. He did not come into special prominence until 1874, when he was elected Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church by the General Conference of that denomination. The year 1883 saw the union of the three Canadian
branches of Methodism and Dr. Carman was the presiding. offiecr of the committee which considered its feasibility. Tic was appointed the first General Superintendent of the amalgamated bodies and lias maintained his position in that office up to date, a period of twenty-seven years.
How has he done it? There are three principal reasons: First, he is a fighter, by reason -of the proclivities of his forefathers; secondly, there is no branch of that highly developed science, ecclesiastical politics, which is hidden from him ; thirdly, he is one of the ablest men Canada has produced in the last twenty years
The soldier’s instinct tells him that there is a time when the controversies of committees must be stilled and the army of the church placed in fighting formation. Then he says to it: “Attention !” “Line up !” “Silence in the ranks!” He is strong on silence. His attitude is that a successful, many-headed organization, like the hydra-headed monster of antiquity, exists only in fables, and that progress along any line requires the stern hand of a dictator. Not long ago he was presiding at a missionary conference at Ottawa, At a tense moment in the proceedings, a score of men persisted in speaking, though out of order, and the meeting threatened to get beyond control. The General Superintendent suddenly brought down his gavel on the desk with such force that it left a mark in the wood.
“I want you to know that I am chairman of this meeting,” he thundered, “and that I must be obeyed.”
There was immediate silence. They had forgotten, but they did not forget again.
If a man wants to carry things with a high hand he must have two personal qualities: a rugged sense of humor with which to veil, in times of stress, the harshness of his actions; and a dash of romance in his composition. Rollo, the Norse hero, overwhelmed the western coast of France and forced an audience with the French King. It follows in the story that Rollo must bow his head to the ground. He strides forward and bends his giant body, while his followers growl at his humility. But Rollo’s hand goes under the French King’s temporary throne and grasps its foundations. A tug and a strain and over it topples backwards, treating the assembled thousands to a view of kingly soles, uplifted. How the Norsemen roared with delight at the mighty jest of Rollo the Dauntless! Human nature seems to demand that if you kill a mtin you must do it with a pleasing display of sprightliness. So with Dr. Carman. Ile is a Rollo. He goes out before lunch and cracks the skull of an ecclesiastical opponent but he contrives to accomplish the feat in such a lusty manner, and accompanies it with so much of the rough hard hitting humor of the soldier, that his violence almost becomes a virtue. Meanwhile, the thousands of good
people who never think at all, but who are anxious to be entertained, merely listen to the whacks of his cane on the head of the unfortunate victim, and say, “Well, the old man is at it again. He’ll keep the wicked in the straight and narrow way or put them out of the way altogether.”
Before they have time to consider, he furnishes the element so necessary to leadership, by undertaking a spectacular journey, or presiding over an especially stormy conference, or preaching a sermon of more than usual brilliance. He is always breaking out in a new place. He recuperated from his strenuous combat with the Jacksonites in 1909 by going on a 6,000 mile journey to visit conferences at Edmonton, Regina, and all over Nova Scotia.
“Isn’t that a strenuous itinerary for one of your age?” he was asked as he was leaving.
“Why?” he demanded. “I’m only seventy-six! There was a man died in Nova Scotia the other day at the age of a hundred and seven. What’s the use of talking about being old?”
Dr. Carman does not turn a monkish eye upon vigorous amusements.
“Baseball was my favorite game when I was young,” he will tell you. “I was catcher for our team, but I was not as good as another fellow we had. When the pitcher delivered the ball, this chap could snatch it from in front of the batter before he could swing his bat on it.”
‘Then,” he continues, “I was very fond of fishing, and threw many a line into the St. Lawrence. I also indulged in hunting, but I never bagged such game as Roosevelt.”
It has always been a matter of debate whether the State or the church has produced the greatest politicians. Dr Carman is a statesman. He loves the game, with all its strategy, and deep, quiet planning. When one thinks of it, he is just a bit like “Uncle Joe” Cannon. He has the same astute sense of the value of appearing to be one of the people. His homely sayings, his pithy, biting, rugged wit, are natural, no doubt, but no one is better aware than he how they smooth out knots in the skein of life and keep the ordinary man from thinking too deeply upon the manner in which he is governed. Shortly after the Union of 1883, he presided over the new Conference. Among those who had not
been Methodist Episcopals there was opposition to him and a vigorous attempt was made to oust him from the saddle. While this conspiracy was gathering supporters, Dr. Carman arrived and took the chair. Inside the first few minutes, there was a stormy scene. The conspirators tried to tangle him in the rules of order and hoped by displaying his supposed incompetency, to secure his defeat. He grasped the situation and put his back to the wall. Three times during the morning session, the revolutionists made their attack, and three times they were voted down bv the hastily but skillfully mobilized forces of the General Superintendent. At lunch the rebels acknowledged defeat and congratulated the victor.
Dr. Carman prefers information which he secures himself. When he was principal of Albert College, the authorities were unable to discover how several of the students in residence were able to appear on the streets at hours when they were supposed to be in their rooms. Dr. Carman thought over the matter and proceeded to investigate on his own account. One dark night he took his position behind some trees near a certain wing of the college building. Presently, several students came quietly along the path and gave a signal. A window on the upper storey opened and a basket, secured by a long rope, descended. One by one the students mounted heavenwards. The basket came down for the last, but Dr. Carman stepped forward and the waiting student disappeared at great speed. The principal stepped into the basket, and was hauled aloft, and caught the truants redhanded. If he had been an ordinary man. students possessing spirit would have let go the rope as soon as his head appeared above the sill. But they did not drop Carman. If they had his ecclesiastical denunciations would have withered ten acres of grass.
An example of his political sagacity and diplomatic skill occurred at the General Conference at Victoria in 1910. Sir Wilfrid Laurier happened to enter the Conference Room, informally. Dr. Carman greeted him warmly, but managed to remind his audience of Sir Wilfrid’s' remark that one of his predecessors had been “the Great Sir John A. Macdonald.” Perhaps it was diplomacy, and again, it
might have been the Carman blood, Tory to the last corpuscle.
In the Conference chair this remarkable man combines the icy mind of the judge with the courage, discipline and strategy of the general. He knows no difference in rank when he rules a conference with his rod of iron. The pulpit sees him a living jet of spiritual flame, preaching the supernatural gospel of early Methodism—a second Hildebrand, ablaze with the certainty that the church must govern the temporal powers of the earth. Yet as General Superintendent, he must be a competent business man. He has under his jurisdiction 340,000 church members, 377,499 Sabbath School children, 3,672 churches, 3,590 Sabbath Schools, publications with a total circulation of 363,000, 12 colleges, and real estate valued at $28,389,115. He is a pursuer of mysteries, a prober into secrets, an intellectual prowler in search of things concealed, and nothing relaten to Methodism escapes his candid eye. Whatever faults men may allege, he has not the great one of Hypocrisy. w ritme? in the Methodist magazine, he savs! “It is natural and it is right that we should be most easily and most intensely interested in what immediately concerns ourselves.” He was intensely interesteu in his own personal advancement. The highest office in the gift of the church became his. What he has he will hold till Death bids him let go. Fortunately, the Methodist Church seems willing to leave him undisturbed. At the General Conference, held in Victoria last year, he was re-elected for a term of eight years, on the first ballot, and by a vote, out of 173 out of 284. In these days, when the modern young men not only push old men out of the way, but jump on them and kick them when they are down, it is refreshing to see this very old man whom no one can push aside or jump on, and who can, if necessary, perform these operations himself with great celerity and despatch. Latter day Biblical students and ecclesiastical dilletantes. stand out of the wav of the Doctor, or he will blast you with his favorite Quotation from John Weslev: “Philosophers, always the pests of religion.”
Go into his home, after seeing him on the platform or hearing him in the pulnit, and you may he surprised to find no dic-
tator, no Hildebrand, no Fiery Cross of Methodism, but a nice old man, who will chat about ordinary things in a hardheaded, worldly fashion, without any “side,” or assertiveness, or odor of sanctity, but with tolerance, and swift flashes of humor, and little touches of keen sympathy and understanding.
And yet, howT severely he will flay an opponent ! How wantonly he will hold him up, shivering and naked, to the scorn of the world. How unscrupulously he will bring to play the steam hammer of church machinery to crack the smallest rebel nut. Is there a latent streak of cruelty in him, or is he merely the crudest of all things—a zealot convinced of the righteousness of his cause. Or is he the soldier, sacrificing tolerance to the iron law that discipline must be maintained at all costs? Read from his denunciation of Professor Jackson if you wish to estimate the relentlessness of his will, the vigor of his mind, and the chastity and elegance of his diction:
“What does he (Jackson) make of the Christian faith? A thing of a moment, a bursting bubble on a rolling tide, thin and dark at the top, just ready to break before our eyes? Or is it a well and logically compacted system of the being of the Eternal God and His attributes as revealed to us? His Purposes and His acts?
“When a man affirms that the opening chapters of the Bible are mythical, legendary, I am inclined to ask what does the man mean? Does he mean that the solid positions and sublime acts solemnly recorded are mythical and legendary, or does he mean that the literary garb is mythical, legendary, or that the rhetoricis more exuberant than his historic sense would justify? The record of sure and certain facts is not a myth, a fancy, a legend, no matter how gorgeous or how simple the rhetoric. Surely it cannot be that we are sent to teach truth from a book filled with vain chimeras, misconceptions and lies. The old, solid, ‘reductio ad absurdem’ hems in this flighty higher criticism, so called, at every point. If the trouble is with the dress, the rhetoric after Oriental style, thinlv veiling what is better veiled than emblazoned, it is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when an adventurous man of prurient desire gets tangled up in the drapery. But if he
means the origin of the universe, the creation and origin of the human race, man’s clearly implied relationships as moral and spiritual being to his Father God, the origin of sin, the most clearly self-evident fact with which we have to deal with this hour, in man’s voluntary transgression and alienation from God, he surely is not dealing with myths and legends, but with
the absolute certainties that are with us in our moral and spiritual constitution and relationships this very day.”
Call this the vicious cry of the heresy hunter or the inspired creed of a defender of the Christian faith, according as your religious sympathies are liberal or conservative, but it has this pre-eminent merit— it is Carman!