1761-1834

William Carey

What is a Missionary?  One Obedient to the Command of Jesus Christ

William Carey is often called the Father of Modern Missions (1761-1834).  He was of lowly English birth but with a brilliant mind.  While still in his teens, he could read the Bible in six languages and later, as a missionary in India, translated and printed parts or all of the Bible in 36 languages and dialects.

He was a plodder by his own admission, but a very stubborn one.  He said, "If I begin a thing, I must go through with it."  Would to God more were like that.

As a teenager of 14 he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and through the faithful witness of a co-apprentice, John Warr, he was convicted of his sin.  At age 17 he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.  The young cobbler studied the Scriptures avidly in the original languages, having taught himself Greek and Hebrew.  Isaiah became a favorite of his, and particularly chapter 54 stirred his heart.  He began to expound the Word and in due time pastored several Baptist churches as well as taught in a village school. 

He frequently took his text from Isaiah 54, such as verse 5 "Thy redeemer shall be called the God of the whole earth" 

Who?  Thy Redeemer. 

Whose Redeemer?  Thy Redeemer. 

Is the promise assured?  Thy Redeemer shall be called. 

Is the promise limited?  The whole earth. 

He was exercised by the Lord's command in Mark 16:15. Without a doubt God means what He says. 

When He says "Go," He means go. 

When He says "Go ye," He means go ye. 

When He says "Into all the world," He means into all the world. 

When He says "Preach the Gospel," He means preach the Gospel. 

When he says "Go to every creature," He means to every creature. 

Surely God means what He says.

Carey felt that the missionary enterprise is the church's highest and holiest endeavor.  His vision included the whole world:

            "God so loved the world."

            "Go ye into all the world."

            "Christ, the Savior of the world."

            "God in Christ reconciling the world."

            "A propitiation for the sins of the world."

            "Thy redeemer, the God of the whole world."    

He preached his first sermon in the meeting house in Hackleton.  In the same village, he also had his first cobbler's shop.  May 24, 1791, Carey was ordained to the pastorate of the chapel in Leicester.  He published a little treatise entitled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens,, which has become the charter of modern missions.  In An Enquiry, we see repeatedly the following words: obligation, obedience, it behooves us, it is incumbent upon us, it becomes us, it is not impossible.  There was an association of Baptist pastors in that area of England of which Carey was a part, and at Nottingham on Wednesday, May 31,1792, he preached a sermon from Isaiah 54:2-3 in which his famous quotation was first pronounced:  "Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God."  After his preaching with compassion concerning missions, the congregation left unmoved.  He turned to a friend and with agony of heart said "Are we not going to do anything?  Oh, let us do something in answer to God's call." 

The next day, June 1, 1792, Carey presented his idea to a group of ministers concerning the establishment of a missionary society.  One of the group, an older man, retorted "Young man, sit down.  When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid, or mine."  The next meeting of the association was held at Kettering on October 2, 1792, where Andrew Fuller had his church.  There were 12 ministers there, all from small village churches, some with less than 25 members.  Later, there was a meeting in a small back parlor of Mrs. V. B. Wallers' house—her late husband had been a deacon in Andrew Fuller's church, and they had been a very hospitable family. 

Something was done; a mission society was formed.  The name given to it was "The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among The Heathen."  They made the following resolution:  "Humbly desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the Gospel among the heathen according to the recommendation of Carey's ‘Enquiry,' we unanimously resolve to act in society together for this purpose.  To accomplish this great end, we name this ‘The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Heathen'."  The grand sum of 13 pounds, 2 shillings, and 6 pence was subscribed.

It was also determined that India would be the first field, but who would go?  Isaiah 54:6a leaped out at Carey. Those first six words "For the Lord hath called thee..." constituted a call to Carey.  He left all to follow that call.   January 17, 1793, Carey wrote a letter to his father, a portion of which reads, "I hope, dear father, you may be enabled to surrender me up to the Lord for the most arduous, honorable, and important work that ever any of the sons of man were able to engage in.  I have many sacrifices to make.  I must part with a beloved family and a number of most affectionate friends, but I have set my hand to the plough. I remain your dutiful son, W. Carey."

The first party, along with Marshman Ward and Dr. John Thomas, arrived in Calcutta November 11, 1793.  There were many discouragements, but Isaiah 54 remained his stay.  Verses 5 "Thou shalt not be ashamed.  Thy redeemer shall be called the God of the whole earth."  The missionaries soon organized a church with William Carey as pastor.  They continued to pray for their first convert.  One promising inquirer, a Mohammedan, expressed faith, but disappeared before his baptism.  One day, a Hindu named Krishna Pal, came to the Serempore compound with a dislocated shoulder.  The missionaries immediately summoned John Thomas, who was a medical doctor, to help with the medical emergency.  Carey and others assisted by bracing and holding the injured man against a tree while Thomas relocated the shoulder without the benefit of anesthesia.  The grateful Krishna then listened to the Gospel presentation.  Eventually, he became this long-prayed-for first convert to Christianity. 

Carey had hoped that his son Felix would join him in the missionary labor, but rather he became a special agent of the British Government to Burma.  It was a keen disappointment, and at the time Carey wrote "my son has chosen to be an ambassador of the king of England when he might have risen to the status of being an ambassador of the King of kings."

As the Apostle John tells of seeing an angel who gained authority over the nations by the power of a book that was opened in his hand, so Carey saw that it would be the open book in the hands of the masses of India that would break the power of darkness; and by his efforts, he placed the open book into the hands of millions. 

Carey had a consuming concern for the souls of men.  Once while still in England, he was criticized for preaching to the neglect of his shoe business.  He replied "My real business is to preach the Gospel and win lost souls.  I cobble shoes to pay expenses."  While teaching, he would weep as he studied a map of his own making and say to his students, "The people living in these areas are pagans.  They're lost—hundreds of millions of them not knowing the Blessed Savior." 

Today there are more than six times as many people in the world than when William Carey went to India in 1793.  In sheer numbers, there are also more non-Christians than ever before.  If it was a most arduous, honorable, and important work in Carey's life, it is even more so today.  Although there are more than six times as many people on planet earth as in the year Carey went to India in 1793, the command is the same—all the world, every creature.  Would to God we had more men and women with hearts hot for souls. 

He was 40 years in India, never returning to his homeland England.  He died June 9, 1834.  At his own request, his grave marker had only his name, dates of birth and death, and two lines of an Isaac Watts' hymn: 

            A wretched, poor, and helpless worm,

            On Thy kind arm I fall.

His reward Isaiah 54:8, "In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer."

P.S.  Carey's church in Leicester, I am told, is now a Hindu temple.  What a sad travesty!

 

John A. Dreisbach  11/11/98