William Carey Missionary to India

This is the day that … William Carey was born in 1761. The place was Paulerspury, an insignificant village in the English Midlands.

His story is well known – at least, it ought to be!

Born to a family in humble circumstances, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 14. By that time he was self-confident in his convictions, whether right or wrong. He admits, “I had a share of pride sufficient for a thousand times my knowledge….the last word was assuredly mine. I also made up in my positive assertions what was wanting in argument, and generally came off with triumph.

At the age of 18, through the witness of a fellow apprentice (who was a Dissenter), young Carey was led to think earnestly concerning spiritual matters and the condition of his own soul, and was eventually converted. It has been suggested that he actually heard John Wesley, who visited the area at this time (W. Carey, by A. Clement, page 5), though he makes no account of that in his autobiographical notes.

Thus it was he joined a Baptist Church, took to preaching, and was ordained to the Baptist ministry at the age of 26.

Six years later he presented a strong case to evangelise those in distant lands. His essay, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, has been called “the first and still greatest missionary treatise in the English language” (W. Carey, by W. Davis, page 17).

Despite opposition – for missionary work was unthinkable to the theological climate of that day – Carey offered himself: “I’ll go down the mine,” he is reported as saying to his few supporters, “if you hold the rope”.

The result was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, and Carey himself went to India. Church historians often refer to him as “the father of modern missions”.

The troubles he faced are incredible to read – the destruction of his manuscripts by fire; the opposition of the East India Company; the insanity of his wife, Dorothy; the desertion of co-workers; the fire which destroyed the print shop, “inflicting most distressing loss” (W. Carey, by J. Myers, page 112); the clash with the committee back in England …

But to compensate for this is the thrilling account of the first convert, Krishna Pal, about seven years after the beginning of Carey’s missionary labours.

William Carey died after 41 years in India, without a furlough … his translation of portions or whole Scriptures into about 40 different languages and dialects, and his educational and philanthropic work, mark him as a servant of God extraordinaire!

On his deathbed we eavesdrop as he speaks to Alexander Duff: “Mr Duff … when I am gone, say nothing about Dr Carey – speak about Dr Carey’s Saviour” (W. Carey, by B. Olson, page 46). So it was, on 9 June, 1834, that “the father of modern missions” went to his eternal reward. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

His tombstone bears the words, “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

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