WILLIAM CAREY

Born AUGUST 17, 1761

He’s the missionary known for saying, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” While serving 40 years in India, William Carey never stopped expecting great things and never ceased attempting great things. Along the way, he earned the title “The Father of Modern Missions.”

William Carey  [PD- USA]

William Carey [PD- USA]

FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION

William’s formal education ended at age 12. While seeking work as a young teenager, his poor health suggested William was better suited for something indoors. He became a shoemaker’s apprentice.

When discussing religion at work, William defended the Church of England, in which he was raised. At the same time, he wasn’t following the Bible’s moral standards.

But, one day God used the Revolutionary War in America to get 17-year-old William’s attention. The battles were leaning in favor of the colonies. England called for a national day of prayer. At the service William attended, he heard a sermon text that turned his thoughts to his need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Shortly thereafter, he responded to his need.

William’s informal education began. He not only started reading the New Testament, but he also began studying Greek. He later added Hebrew and Latin. Another reading interest that strongly shaped William’s future was Captain Cook’s Voyages. What he read about people in foreign lands opened his eyes to life beyond his homeland of England. He felt compelled to help the people in other countries know God.

A SLOW START

Photo by Steve Evans.

Photo by Steve Evans.

William began preaching in 1785. The small, struggling church he pastored couldn’t pay much, so he continued cobbling shoes on the side. His lack of preaching skills didn’t help his congregation grow. His financial restrictions increased further when William and Dorothy, whom he’d married in 1781, began having a family.

When William applied for ordination, all went well until he preached. The committee pointed out that he failed to include sufficient illustrations in his sermon. Two years later, after improving his preaching, he received his ordination.

One day at a ministers’ meeting, William brought up the need to follow Jesus’ command to “teach all nations.” One of his peers who didn’t share his growing concern said, “Young man, sit down, sit down!” He told William, “When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without consulting you or me.”

WILLIAM’S GREATEST GIFT

William’s future did not look bright. Financially, occupationally, and in regard to fulfilling his deepest religious convictions, the odds appeared against him. Then again, William’s determination and endurance were qualities God could use.

In 1792, two of William’s strongest efforts turned the tide in his favor. His Bible-based vision was published in book form. Its short title is An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for Conversion of the Heathens. Secondly, William preached a sermon based on Isaiah 54:2-3 titled “Enlarge the place of thy tent.”

Later that year, William Carey’s fellow ministers reluctantly formed a missionary society. They appointed William and a former surgeon named John Thomas to represent them in India.

Plaque in front of William Carey Mission House. It says, "In this house on October 2nd 1792, a meeting was held to form a society for propagating the Gospel among the heathen and £13.2s.6d was contributed for that purpose. Andrew Fuller was elected Secretary and Reynold Hogg Treasurer. William Carey to whose sermon at Nottingham in May of the same year, the movement was due, embarked for India on June 13th 1793.  This meeting marks the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society and the inauguration of modern foreign missions. 'Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.' "  Image copyright by Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence .

Plaque in front of William Carey Mission House. It says, “In this house on October 2nd 1792, a meeting was held to form a society for propagating the Gospel among the heathen and £13.2s.6d was contributed for that purpose. Andrew Fuller was elected Secretary and Reynold Hogg Treasurer. William Carey to whose sermon at Nottingham in May of the same year, the movement was due, embarked for India on June 13th 1793.
This meeting marks the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society and the inauguration of modern foreign missions. ‘Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.’ “
Image copyright by Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence .

DARKNESS

In India the Carey family faced a much harder life than they had expected. Financial set-backs, family illness, and the lack of converts became disturbing problems. A year after arriving, William concluded, “When I left England, my hope of the conversion of the heathen was very strong; but among so many obstacles, it would entirely die away unless upheld by God.”

More darkness prevailed before the daylight. Dysentery took the life of he and Dorothy’s   5-year-old son. Dorothy became mentally unstable. Their four other sons grew unruly.

A NEW DAWN

In the fall of the final year of the 18th century, sunlight began cutting through the darkness. New missionary families arrived. Together, they and the Careys relocated to the town of Serampore. The things they accomplished there for God gained William Carey, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman the distinction of “The Serampore Trio.”

William Carey’s new ministry partners took responsibilities he couldn’t cover alone. They shared the administrative duties and helped watch after Dorothy and the boys. Great things for God followed. In 1800, William baptized his first convert. The next year, he saw the first results of his efforts to publish the Bible in an Indian language when they ran copies of the Bengali New Testament on William Ward’s printing press.

A fire destroyed the printing house.  [PD-USA]

A fire destroyed the printing house. [PD-USA]

In the years that followed, William endured additional emotional and physical setbacks. Dorothy died in 1807. He remarried and his second wife died within 15 years. A warehouse fire destroyed the printing facilities. They eventually severed relations with the missionary society that had sent them to India. However, they saw many more converts and set up other mission stations. In the twenty years since the baptism of their first convert, they had baptized a total of 1,000 new converts. They translated and published the New Testament in other Indian languages.

MODERN MISSIONS LEGACY

William Carey is called “The Father of Modern Missions” for good reason. His accomplish-ments are applaudible especially in light of his lacking a high school and a college education. Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, he almost single-handedly launched what is called the Great Missions Century (the 1800s). He advanced missions in the United States by encouraging the first foreign missionaries sent from the colonies, Adoniram and Ann Judson.

He emphasized translating the Bible into the native languages. To do so, William became an expert linguist. By the time of his death, in part or in whole, he’d led the translations of over 40 languages and dialects.

Serampore College [PD-1923]

Serampore College [PD-1923]

He established mission schools within the Indian culture. Serampore College and the other educational institutions the Serampore trio started taught liberal arts courses as well as Bible.

He also promoted establishing an indigenous church and advocated the ministry of female missionaries (see Lottie Moon and Gladys Aylward).

Since William Carey’s death in June of 1834, his life of determined endurance may be his greatest contribution to the missionary cause. During his first six years on the field, William’s vision survived poverty, illness, family difficulties, and the lack of a single convert. But he remained true to the spirit of the Apostle Paul who could say,  “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).

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LET ME KNOW:  How has William’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography—————————————————————————————————————

  • Hanks, Geoffrey. 70 Great Christians. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.
  • Larsen, Timothy, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
  • Woodbridge, John D., ed. Great Leaders of the Christian Church. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1988.
  • “William Carey.” Christian History. Issue 36, 1992.

Books about William Carey-

Web sites-

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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