WILLIAM CAREY (1761-1834)
On October 2, 1792, a group of Baptist ministers meeting in Kettering, England, united in the following resolution,
‘Humbly desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the gospel amongst the Heathen, according to the recommendations of Carey’s Enquiry, we unanimously resolve to act in Society together ‘or this purpose; and, as in the divided state of Christendom each denomination, by exerting itself separately, seems likeliest to accomplish the great end, we name this the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Heathen.’
They then gathered the princely sum of Â£13.2.6. (Thirteen pounds, twelve and one half pence in present English currency), which formed the initial income of a Society which was the forerunner of modem missionary organizations throughout the world!
At the heart of this small but deeply significant beginning was a young man named William Carey, minister of the Baptist Church in Harvey Lane, Leicester. In his heart was the deep conviction that the Lord’s commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, really did mean every creature.
The standard work on the life of William Carey, by S. Pearce Carey, originally published by Hodder and Stoughton, is soon to be reprinted in an edited form by the Wakeman Trust, and anyone who wishes to follow the details of this remarkable man’s life must surely turn to this reprint, or to the original.
All that can be done in this short bi-centenary commemoration of the beginning of this Missionary Society is to give a few details of the life of a most godly and devoted servant of the Lord who committed himself to spreading the gospel of God’s grace throughout the Indian sub-continent.
His origin was humble in the extreme. He was born on August 17, 1761, in Paulerspury near Towcester, Northamptonshire. He was evidently a very intelligent boy with a most determined character who showed great interest in natural history and many branches of human learning. He became an apprentice shoemaker and it was whilst he was earning scarcely enough to live on that God began to work powerfully in his soul.
The following extracts, which give a very inadequate survey of his spiritual concerns and experiences, are taken from a book by J. B. Myers, WILLIAM CAREY. The Shoemaker who became ‘the Father and Founder of Modern Missions’. This was first published in 1887.
After being found out in a deception he later wrote,
“I then sought the Lord, perhaps much more earnestly than ever; but with shame and fear I was quite ashamed to go out, and never till I was assured that my conduct was not spread over the town did I attend a place of worship.”
He worked with another apprentice who was the son of a Dissenter.
“The two young men and their master frequently argued whilst seated at their benches, as is common with shoemakers, upon the subject of religion. William being the son and grandson of a parish clerk, was, as might have been expected, a staunch churchman. He had read Jeremy Taylor’s sermons, and Spinker’s Sick Man Visited, and to use his own words, ‘he had always looked upon Dissenters with contempt, and had, moreover, a share of pride sufficient for a thousand times his knowledge.’ In the village there was a small meeting-house; but he would not deign to enter it. Nay, ‘he rather had enmity enough in his heart to destroy it’; but the apprentice, the son of the Dissenter, becoming the subject of deep religious concern, showed much anxiety not alone for himself, but also on behalf of his fellow-workman. In his solicitude he lent him good books, as well as most tenderly and earnestly conversing with him. The result was that William Carey’s mind underwent a great change, but the light by which he should see himself a helpless sinner and Christ an all-sufficient Saviour had not yet shone into his heart. He endeavoured to quiet his conscience by a diligent observance of the forms of worship. He became exceedingly zealous, going about to establish a righteousness of his own. He resolved to go regularly to three churches in the day, and to a prayer-meeting at he meeting-house in the evening. He read and meditated much, trying to form a satisfactory creed. Whilst he was thus encouraging his self-righteousness, he made the acquaintance, as before mentioned, of a follower of the Rev. William Law, in conversation with whom he was affected ‘in a manner which was new to him.’ He felt himself ruined and helpless. ‘The conversation,’ he says, ‘filled me with anxiety, and when I was alone this anxiety increased. I was, by these means, I trust, brought to depend on a crucified Saviour for pardon and .salvation, and to seek a system of doctrines in the Word of God.’
In his desire to inform his mind upon the truths of religion, he attended, as far as he was able, the preaching of surrounding ministers. Of these no preacher seems to have been so helpful as the Rev. Thomas Scott, the commentator, who succeeded the equally well known John Newton in the living of Olney. It is not unlikely that William Carey was induced to go and hear Scott because of the acquaintance he had already made with him. When passing through Hackleton that minister had rested at his master’s house. A short time before Scott’s death Carey wrote thus to Dr. Ryland: ‘Pray, give my best thanks to dear Mr. Scott for his translation of the History, &c., of the Synod of Dort. I .would write to him if I could command time. If there be anything of the work of God in my soul, I owe much of it to his preaching when I first set out in the ways of the Lord.’
About this time a small church was being formed in the humble meeting-house at Hackleton, and Carey, with his fellow-workman, helped to compose this little Christian community. At some of the services, which took the form of a kind of conference, Carey would speak, and evidently with the approbation of his fellow-members. It is interesting to note how he refers to this approval, ‘Being ignorant, they sometimes applauded, to my great injury.’
Among the books coming into his hands was a work, the identical copy of which may now be seen in the library of the Baptist College at Bristol. Its title is, Help to Zion’s Travellers; it was written with the object of removing various stumbling-blocks but of the way relating to doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion; the author being the elder Robert Hall. This volume was given to him by a Mr. Skinner of Towcester, ‘in which,’ says Carey, ‘I found all that arranged and illustrated which I had so long been picking up by scraps. I do not remember ever to have read any book with such rapture as I did that.’
Domestic and business troubles soon arose. Fever entered his home. His little daughter in her second year was taken from him; he himself was smitten down, and though he recovered, ague followed, from which he suffered for more than a year and a-half. His trade was carried on with much difficulty. In his straits he was compelled to part with such things as he could spare to provide for daily wants. Starvation staring him in the face, his brother, who was only a youth, with some friends in his native village, came to his relief. By their timely aid he was enabled to take a little cottage in Piddington, a place close by, where, besides continuing his shoemaking, he opened an evening school.
However, before this removal to his new home, he attended the meetings of the Association held at Olney, though so poor was he, that he had to fast all day, having no means to procure a dinner. The occasion was eventful, for one of the preachers was none other than the future Secretary of the Missionary Society- Andrew Fuller-who was fulfilling his ministry with so much promise at Soham. As far as is known, this was the first time the two men met, and then without any personal acquaintance. The day was further of importance, because as the result of what took place, Carey from that date began to exercise his own gifts as a preacher with greater regularity. In the evening the Independent minister, Mr. Chater, knowing him slightly, invited him with some friends from Earls Barton to come to his house and partake of refreshment. In course of conversation, Mr. Chater urged these Barton friends to ask William Carey to preach at their chapel. Shortly after they did so. Carey complied; why he could not tell. He thought it was because he had not a sufficient degree of confidence to refuse. Thus began an occasional ministry which extended over a period of three years and a-half.
The Christian people in his native village, hearing of his preaching, desired him to come to them also, which he agreed to do once a month. His mother went to hear him, and formed no mean idea of her son’s ability, declaring that if spared he would one day become a great preacher. His father, the parish clerk, not wishing to be seen in the congregation, contrived on one occasion to hear him clandestinely, and though a reserved man, expressed himself as highly gratified.
The friends at Earls Barton, being desirous to form themselves into a Christian Church, invited Mr. Sutcliff, the Baptist minister at Olney, to advise them upon the matter. He not only gave them the benefit of his wise counsels but very affectionately recommended Carey to connect himself with ‘some respectable church,’ and to be appointed to the ministry ‘in a more regular way.’ Acting upon this advice, he united himself with the church at Olney, and was by that body of Christians formally set apart for the work of the ministry. Two extracts from the Olney Church book summarise this period in his life.
‘June 14, 1785. Church Meeting. W. Carey (see June 17) appeared before the Church, and having given a satisfactory account of the work of God upon his soul, he was admitted a member. He had been formerly baptised by the Rev. Mr. Ryland jun. of Northampton. He was invited by the Church to preach in public once next Lord’s Day.’
‘Aug. 10. Church Meeting. This evening our brother William Carey was called to the work of the ministry, and sent out by the church to preach the Gospel wherever God in His providence might call him.'”
In 1787 he became the pastor of the church in Moulton.
“His settlement at Moulton brought Carey into frequent contact with the ministers of the association with which his Church was connected. He of course attended their periodic meetings. His life-long friendship with Mr. Fuller began on one of these occasions; though he had previously heard him preach at Olney. The appointed preacher failing to appear, Carey was requested to take his place. This he did with such acceptance, that on his descending from the pulpit, Fuller seized him by the hand, expressing the pleasure he felt at their agreement in sentiment, and also the hope that they might know each other more intimately.
At these meetings of the ministers, Carey lost no opportunity that arose in private conversation to urge upon his brethren the great question with which his own thoughts were ever absorbed. He did not, however, meet with the sympathy he desired; but whether they would hear or forbear to hear, he could not but continue his importunity. An ever memorable scene must now be narrated. We give the story in the words of Mr. Morris, the minister at Clipston:- ‘Before the end of 1786, Mr. Carey, accompanied by another minister of the same age and standing with himself, went to a ministers’ meeting at Northampton. Towards the close of the evening, when the public services were ended, and the company engaged in a desultory conversation, Mr. Ryland senior entered the room, and, with his accustomed freedom, demanded that the two junior ministers, Mr. Carey and his friend, should each propose a question for general discussion. Mr. Carey pleaded several excuses, but a question was imperiously demanded. At length he submitted, ‘Whether the command given to the apostles to “teach all nations,” was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent?’
‘The querist was soon told by his interrogator, without waiting for the judgment of the company, that certainly nothing could be done before another Pentecost, when an effusion of miraculous gifts, including the gift of tongues, would give effect to the commission of Christ as at first; and that he was a most miserable enthusiast for asking such a question! This was the first time Mr. Carey had mentioned the subject openly, and he was greatly abashed and mortified; but he still pondered these things in his heart. Mr. Fuller at the same time sympathised with him, offered several encouraging remarks, and recommended him to pursue his inquiries.’
In the April of 1789, Carey made the important communication to his Moulton friends that he had received an invitation to the pastorate of Harvey Lane Church, in Leicester, the church which hereafter was favoured with the ministrations of the pre-eminently gifted Robert Hall. The entry in the church- book will be read with interest: ‘April 2nd-Our beloved pastor, who had been in considerable straits for want of maintenance, informed us that the church at Leicester had given him an invitation to make trial with them, on which account we appointed to meet every Monday evening for prayer on that affair.’ The call was accepted; his brethren. Fuller, Sutcliff, and Ryland again, with Pearce of Birmingham, in due course, coming to his formal induction.
The course of events was now rapidly moving towards the formation of the Missionary Society. At the association meetings in 1791, held at Clipston, the preachers were Mr. Sutcliff and Mr. Fuller; the former taking as his subject, ‘Jealousy for the Lord of Hosts;’ the latter, ‘The pernicious influence of delay in matters of religion.’ A most solemn feeling pervaded the assembly. Carey, deeply moved, and hoping that his hour had come, urged the brethren no longer to delay in the matter of the evangelisation of the heathen. Such was the effect of his earnestness that had it not been for Sutcliff’s counsels, recommending further consideration, a Society had then and there been started. The brethren separated with the request that Carey should publish what it was known he had written upon the subject.
When the annual meetings of the association came round again-this year to be held at Nottingham-Carey was one of the preachers. He chose for his text Isaiah 54. 2 and 3. The two divisions, hereafter to be the motto of the Society, being, ‘Expect great things from God,’ ‘Attempt great things for God.’ The impression made by the discourse was so decided, that the following resolution was arrived at:-‘That against the next meeting of ministers at Kettering, a plan should be prepared for the purpose of forming a society for propagating the Gospel among the heathen.’ The meeting was duly held on the 2nd of October, 1792; and, in Mrs. Beeby Wallis’s back parlour, when the public services of the day were ended the ministers having retired for prayer, plans were submitted and approved, solemn vows were uttered, a collection of Â£13. 2s. 6d. was made; and so the great missionary enterprise was duly inaugurated. Mr. Fuller was appointed Secretary, and Mr. Hogg of Thrapston, Treasurer. Before separating, Carey promised that whatever profits might result from the publication of his manuscript should be added to the fund which the collection had started. As soon as possible it was printed, bearing the title of ‘An Inquiry into the obligations of Christians, to use means for the conversion of the heathens. In which the religious state of the different nations of the world, the success of former undertakings, and the practicability of further undertakings, are considered. By William Carey.’ A more accurate and complete treatise could scarcely have been written. It is too long to reproduce in these pages. We must content ourselves with simply saying that every word is worthy of consideration at the present day, being by no means out of date, though published nearly a century ago.”
So began this remarkable work of God. After offering himself as the first missionary and in spite of the initial strong opposition of his wife, who suffered increasingly from mental illness, they both set sail for India in 1793. Thence followed a life of ceaseless activity and abundant trials including the ultimate and complete mental breakdown of his first wife and the death of his second.
He translated the Bible or parts of it into thirty-four of the languages of India. These languages cover almost the whole of India apart from a few areas in the south and it is impossible to over-estimate the vast influence of his translation work throughout the whole land. During this time he was also instrumental in the establishment of a Christian college at Serampore mainly with the intention of fitting native missionaries for their work amongst their own people.
On June 9,1834, he passed into the presence of his Lord and it is typical of the man that he required in his will that this be done, “Seventhly-I direct that, before every other thing, all my lawful debts may be paid; that my funeral be as plain as possible; that I may be buried by the side of my second wife, Charlotte Emilia Carey; and that the following inscription, and nothing more, may be cut on the stone which commemorates her, either above or below, as there may be room-viz.:- ‘WILLIAM CAREY, born August 17th, 1761; died–.
‘A wretched, poor, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall.'”