William Carey, the “Father of Modern Missions,” has influenced me greatly. As a Particular Baptist in the same theological line as Carey, and as a missionary, I have learned much from his life and writings. I desire below to concisely list some of these lessons learned from William Carey concerning world evangelization.
William Carey taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance despite hardship.
“I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
William Carey was “God’s Plodder.” Raised in poverty, lacking any of the advantages that wealth and social status often bring, Carey persevered despite hardship. He knew that he was invested in eternal business, and this sustained him through crushing failures, agonizing hindrances, lack of support, opposition at home and local situations fraught with disease and discomfort.
William Carey taught me the centrality of the sovereignty of God to missions.
Despite the charge that Calvinism leads to the death of missions, Carey was a five-point Calvinist, and his Serampore Compact of 1805 reflects this, as does this letter of advice to a young missionary:
"Remember three things. First, that it is your duty to preach the Gospel to every creature; second, remember that God has declared that His word shall accomplish that for which it was sent; third, that He can easily remove the present seemingly formidable obstacles as we can move the smallest particles of dust."
William Carey taught me that God’s sovereignty motivates us to action.
Carey grieves for this fallen world. He writes that even the “Christian lands” present “a dreadful scene of ignorance, hypocrisy, and profligacy” and that “every method that the enemy can invent is employed to undermine the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And yet, this dire state of affairs is not an excuse to cower on the defensive. Rather, Carey, in the face of adversity, urges even more vigorous Gospel endeavors. In “Section Three” of his famous tome (with the very long title), An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathens, Carey calls us to vigorous action despite hardship and obstacles: “All these things are loud calls to Christians, and especially to ministers, to exert themselves to the utmost.”
Carey’s writing throbs with urgency. One can feel the beat of his great heart. Examine, for instance, the Serampore Compact of 1805, which fixed the principles of action for Carey’s small missionary band:
"We are firmly persuaded that Paul might plant and Apollos water, in vain, in any part of the world, did not God give the increase. We are sure that only those ordained to eternal life will believe, and that God alone can add to the church such as shall be saved. Nevertheless we cannot but observe with admiration that Paul, the great champion for the glorious doctrine of free and sovereign grace, was the most conspicuous for his personal zeal in the word of persuading men to be reconciled to God. In this respect he is a noble example for our imitation. Our Lord intimated to those of His apostles who were fishermen, that he would make them fishers of men, intimating that in all weathers, and amidst every disappointment they were to aim at drawing men to the shores of eternal life. Solomon says: "He that winneth souls is wise," implying, no doubt, that the work of gaining over men to the side of God, was to be done by winning methods, and that it required the greatest wisdom to do it with success."
Carey pours out his soul. Even while trusting in a sovereign God who foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, Carey begs for action! And these two things are not in the least bit contradictory.
Here is a great reminder for us - the evangelization of the world is not a cause for detached stoicism. A trust in God’s sovereignty is no excuse for a detached coldness of heart concerning the state of those who do not know Christ. The Apostle Paul wept for his kinsman. The Lord Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Are we too sophisticated and refined to be driven to tears by the desperate peril of the unsaved? If we truly ponder the state of the world and the condition of poor souls, and if these concerns were ever-present and heavy on our minds such that we would give up our former lives and go to them, not only out of compassion for the lost but out of love for the Saviour, is this then a mark of fanaticism, or rather a mark of sane and logical priorities? William Carey has taught me the sober sanity of that strange compulsion called the missionary call.
William Carey taught me that I should have a vigorous theology regarding the use of means.
In Carey’s “Introduction” to his Enquiry, he urges readers to “use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his Name.” Carey was no pragmatist, but he was a practical innovator within the limits of Scripture. Carey was not merely academic but activistic. He did not merely theorize and defend missions with his pen, he initiated new efforts. He urged “fervent and united prayer” and encouraged the continuation of the Concert of Prayer. He tabulated all the known people-groups of the world and their state of existence in “Section Three” of his Enquiry, so that he could both pray for them, and so that others might become aware of these teeming masses of unevangelized humanity and efforts could be made to reach them. This extraordinary effort in “people-group mapping” predated modern missiological efforts like the Joshua Project and Operation World by 200 years. He wrote extensively in an effort to promote missions and also advocated “penny subscriptions” to fund the work of mission societies.
In “Section Five” of his Enquiry, Carey proposes that Christians band together into voluntary associations for the advancement of the Gospel:
"Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, &c.&c. This society must consist of persons whose hearts are in the work, men of serious religion, and possessing a spirit of perseverance; there must be a determination not to admit any person who is not of this description, or to retain him longer than he answers to it.
"From such a society a committee might be appointed, whose business it should be to procure all the information they could upon the subject, to receive contributions, to enquire into the characters, tempers, abilities and religious views of the missionaries, and also to provide them with necessaries for their undertakings."
And then he concludes:
"I would therefore propose that such a society and committee should be formed amongst the particular baptist [sic] denomination."
In 1792, The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen was formed, and within the lifetime of Carey, dozens of missionary societies sprang into being, giving legs to local churches. If trading companies could organize travel to far flung shores, surely our charter is much greater. An explosion of missionary sending resulted.
William Carey taught me to exult in Gospel success – no matter by whose hand the Lord grants it.
The chief mark of Christian maturity is seen in one’s degree of love and charity towards others, especially to fellow Christians. William Carey was a Particular Baptist, and yet his close identification with this branch of Christianity in no way marred his happiness over the Gospel success of other Christians. From “Section Five” of the Enquiry, we see Carey’s generous spirit:
"I wish with all my heart, that everyone who loves our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, would in some way or other engage in it [his proposed missions endeavors]…There is room enough for us all, without interfering with each other; and if no unfriendly interference took place, each denomination would bear good will to the other, and wish, and pray for its success, considering it as upon the whole friendly to the great cause of true religion…"
Carey was a well-wisher to all true Christians who were engaged in world missions.
William Carey taught me that needs at home should never become an excuse for the neglect of needs overseas.
In "Section One" of his Enquiry, Carey deals with this very common hindrance to missions:
"It has been objected that there are multitudes in our own nation, and within our immediate spheres of action, who are as ignorant as the South-Sea savages, and that therefore we have work enough at home, without going into other countries."
Carey answers deftly:
"That there are thousands in our own land as far from God as possible, I readily grant, and that this ought to excite us to ten-fold diligence in our work, And in attempts to spread divine knowledge amongst them is a certain fact; but that it ought to supersede all attempts to spread the gospel in foreign parts seems to want proof. Our own countrymen have the means of grace, and may attend on the word preached if they choose it. They have the means of knowing the truth, and faithful ministers are placed in almost every part of the land, whose spheres of action might be much extended if their congregations were but more hearty and active in the cause: but with them the case is widely different, who have no Bible, no written language (which many of them have not), no ministers, no good civil government, nor any of those advantages which we have. Pity therefore, humanity, and much more Christianity, call loudly for every possible exertion to introduce the gospel amongst them."
Oh, how I wish with William Carey that we could gain a “ten-fold diligence” both at home and abroad!
William Carey taught me that we are never to separate good words from good works.
For Carey there was no dichotomy between preaching and humanitarian labors. Fear of the Social Gospel has led many Christians to falsely dichotomize preaching the Gospel versus doing good works. Yet the example of Christ was that he went to all the villages, teaching and healing the people (Matthew 9). This pattern of Christ was reflected in the life of William Carey, a missionary, linguist, humanitarian, moral reformer, and educator. He not only preached and translated the Scriptures, but he also helped to outlaw infanticide in 1802 and then end the horrible practice of sati, widow burning, after twenty five long years of struggle in 1829. Even before he reached the mission field, Carey also strongly supported the efforts of Wilberforce to end the evil slave trade, and once he reached India he helped establish schools for females. True religion entails proclaiming the Gospel, but also caring for the widow and orphan, opening your mouth for the helpless, and practicing justice and mercy. Carey had a large heart and sought the best, not only for all persons but also for all aspects of that person, body and soul.
William Carey taught me to evaluate culture in light of Scripture, and to be free from racial prejudice.
Carey was compelled to reach distant shores because of the overwhelmingly good news of the free grace of God, the only thing on earth which makes men to differ. Some of his countrymen, motivated by colonial gain, had a dim view regarding the innate intelligence and morality of indigenous peoples. Because they were more cunning in their pursuit of filthy lucre and trade, they often assessed the Indians as their inferiors. Because of Scripture, Carey escaped the trap of merely judging one culture by the standards of another fallible culture. The Word of God stands above all cultures, and judges all cultures. Again, from his Enquiry:
"Barbarous as these poor heathens are, they appear to be as capable of knowledge as we are; and in many places, at least, have discovered uncommon genius and tractableness; and I greatly question whether most of the barbarities practised by them, have not originated in some real or supposed affront, and are therefore, more properly, acts of self-defence, than proofs of inhuman and blood-thirsty dispositions."
Carey sympathized with local populations and bemoaned the evils caused to locals by his own countrymen:
"It is also a melancholy fact, that the vices of Europeans have been communicated wherever they themselves have been; so that the religious state of even heathens has been rendered worse by intercourse with them!"
Carey was clearly not an agent of cultural oppression, nor a mere purveyor of Victorian values. He sought to elevate the dignity of all people. He bemoaned the sins of all, especially the sins of those who would hinder the salvation of Indian souls by living a life in contradiction to their profession:
"Nay, in general the heathen have showed a willingness to hear the word; and have principally expressed their hatred of Christianity on account of the vices of nominal Christians."
As we engage foreign cultures with the Gospel, we must be ever mindful of Carey’s words. Foreign sins can seem much more hideous, while our all-too-familiar local sins, seem tame due to familiarity. We must remember that we carry no national banners. Rather, we are emissaries of a heavenly kingdom. We are to judge all cultures by the light of our King’s decrees.
William Carey taught me to be intellectually curious about even non-theological matters.
Carey was a never-tiring hunter of information about the world in which he lived. He was not afraid of science or the cultures around him. I was captivated as a boy by reports of indigenous cultures and exotic landscapes; I love National Geographic. William Carey’s heart, likewise, thrilled at the accounts of Captain Cook’s voyage, just as my own heart thrilled reading of remote Indonesian villages. Carey immersed himself in botany, languages, and local Indian culture. He was a demographer, producing one of the first tables of statistics regarding world population, contained in “Section Three” of his Enquiry. He established lending libraries in India, wrote articles on forestry, and introduced modern printing to India. His interests were wide-ranging. When Carey’s son Jabez visited the East Indies, Carey begged him by letter, “Send me…live birds…small quadrupeds, monkeys, etc. beetles, lizards, frogs, serpents…" Here is a man to whom I can relate!
God has given us two books: Nature and Scripture. We should delight in both, never being too heavenly to consider the heavens, nor thinking it too earthy to delight in the creatures that God has created here below - the excellencies of God being manifest in that He would create such a world as ours and in that it is so wonderful even in its fallen state. The renewal of all things will be glorious. The Creation can finally cease from its groaning (Romans 8:22)!
William Carey taught me to be spiritually ambitious.
“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
Carey was ambitious for the Lord. Though some ridiculed him as an “enthusiast,” Carey would not be outdone by the zeal of the Papists, the greedy energies of the traders, or even the good example of the Moravians. His enthusiasm was godly and can be seen even in the first section of his Enquiry.
"Natural impossibility can never be pleaded so long as facts exist to prove the contrary. Have not the popish missionaries surmounted all those difficulties which we have generally thought to be insuperable? Have not the missionaries of the Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Brethren, encountered the scorching heat of Abyssinia, and the frozen climes of Greenland, and Labrador, their difficult languages, and savage manners? Or have not English traders, for the sake of gain, surmounted all those things which have generally been counted insurmountable obstacles in the way of preaching the gospel? Witness the trade to Persia, the East-Indies, China, and Greenland, yea even the accursed Slave-Trade on the coasts of Africa. Men can insinuate themselves into the favour of the most barbarous clans, and uncultivated tribes, for the sake of gain; and how different soever the circumstances of trading and preaching are, yet this will prove the possibility of ministers being introduced there; and if this is but thought a sufficient reason to make the experiment, my point is gained."
Carey pointed to these exploits above and pleaded for action, “Why not us?” If traders can do all of this for greedy gain and the Papists for a lie, why can’t our group of Particular Baptist Churches do the same? As a Sovereign Grace Baptist who follows in the theological tradition of Carey, I ask the same question, “Why not us! Why can’t we send even more than these?”
William Carey taught me that optimism is the correct attitude towards our missionary task.
“The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
The Harvest is plenteous! When people ask whether I am amillennial, postmillennial or premillennial, I usually respond that my eschatological position is one of “optimism.” I heartily endorse Carey’s hopefulness when he writes, in “Section One” of the Enquiry, “God has promised the most glorious things to the heathen world by sending his gospel to them.”
Let us hear Carey’s enthusiasm one more time as we close:
“Though the superstitions of the heathen were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of the Europeans a thousand times worse; though I were deserted by all and persecuted by all, yet my faith, fixed on that sure Word, would rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God’s cause will triumph!”