Godly Saints From The Past: A Look Into The Lives Of Forgotten Saints In Christian History (William Carey 1761-1834)

“The Father Of Modern Missions”

William Carey was born on August 17, 1761 in the small village of Paulerspury in Northampton, England, and was the eldest of five children born to his parents Edmund and Elizabeth Carey. His parents were weavers by trade and when William was 6 his father was appointed as the village schoolteacher. As a child he was always inquisitive and loved to explore and would often wonder off into the woods on regular basis studying various plants and wildlife. When William was nearly 17 years old his father set him up with an apprenticeship with a shoemaker named Clarke Nichols in the nearby village of Hackleton. Clarke was supposedly known as a churchman and well respected. However although William learned a lot about the shoemaking business, Clarke turned out not to be a positive influence for William. Clarke had a fiery temper, a profane tongue and would often go on drinking sprees, which in turned turn William away from the church instead of closer to it. However, there was another apprentice that worked alongside of William named John Warr, who was a devout Christian Dissenter who had dissented from and refused to conform to the Church of England. John began to share the gospel with William as they began to work together to which William himself said of him, “He became importunate with me, lending me books and engaging in conversation with me whenever possible.” William went on to say, “I had pride sufficient for a thousand times my knowledge. I always scorned to have the worst in discussion and the last word was assuredly mine. But I was often afterward convinced that my fellow apprentice had the better of the argument, and I felt a growing uneasiness, but had no idea that nothing but a complete change of heart could do me any good.” Eventually through John Warr’s persistency, William agreed to go to church with him. At age 17 while attending one of the church services with Warr, God brought him under deep conviction and repentance of his sin. John Warr could have never known the impact that his conversations with this young cobbler would have and how God would use William to become of the greatest missionaries since the Apostle Paul.

After his conversion William became concerned for his shoe master Clarke Nichols and conversed with him over spiritual things and his spiritual condition. Initially Clarke was hardhearted and resistant towards that which William discussed with him. However, Clarke became critically ill to the point of death, into which put Clarke into a humbler disposition and ready to listen as they spoke the Word of God to him. William said of this situation that, “His death-chamber was changed into a soul’s birthplace.” As a result, William had the privilege of seeing Clarke surrender himself unto Christ before his death. After Clarke’s death in 1779, William went to work for another shoemaker named Thomas Old, and a couple years later after Thomas died, William took over the business. During that time of running a shoemaking business, he also taught himself, Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French, and often doing his reading and studying while working on shoes. William became involved with a local group of particular Baptists and became close with men like John Ryland and Andrew Fuller. On October 5, 1783 he was baptized by John Ryland and jointed the Baptist denomination. A neighbor one times rebuked him for spending so much time on preaching, that he was neglecting his shoe business, to which replied, “My real business is to preach the gospel and win lost souls. I cobble shoes to pay expenses.”

While working for Thomas Old, he met Dorothy Plackett, who was Thomas Old’s sister-in-law, and he married her on June 10, 1781. Dorothy was 5 years old that William, but she was illiterate, in fact she had to sign their marriage registrar by putting an x on the line. William would go on to have six children with Dorothy that included four sins and two daughters, however both girls died in infancy. In 1785 William was appointed to the position of schoolmaster in the town of Moulton and was also extended the invitation to become the pastor at the local Baptist church. This was a challenging time for Carey as he lost his daughter Ann. William and his wife were poor and he worked three jobs support his family as a pastor, cobbler, and school master. It was at this time that he began to read The Last Voyage of Captain Cook. This book was the journals of Captain Cook on his journeys between Asia and America from 1776-1779. This book intrigued Carey as Cook wrote about his journeys and that which he saw and experienced. It would be through this book that it would inspire William Carey’s thoughts of the unconverted overseas. In 1768 at a minister’s meeting William Carey proposed unto them “whether the command given to the Apostles to evangelize all nations is not binding on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing the accompanying promise is of equal extent.” There was one minster there that day named J R Ryland who in response to William’s proposition, “Young man, sit down and be still! When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”
His passion or mission began to grow and in his cobbler’s workshop he made a homemade map and began to collect data on the world’s population. All this information would be compiled into his 87-page book ‘An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of 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.’ The book was first published in the early part of 1792. Later, that year on May 31, 1792 was asked to speak to a group of pastors from an association of 24 churches, and he preached from Isaiah 54:2-3. It was during this sermon that he pleaded with the churches about evangelism among unconverted heathens both locally and across the seas. So powerful was his message that his friend John Ryland said “If all the people had lifted up their voices and wept, as the Children of Israel did at Bochim, I should not have wondered at the effect; it would only have seemed proportionate to the cause, so clearly did Mr. Carey prove the criminality of our supineness in the cause of God!” It was during this sermon that made his famous statement “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

The following day the association of churches was about to dismiss without having done anything in response to the plea that William made in regards to evangelism. William saw the complacent and unmoved churchmen begin to leave and he grabbed the hand of his friend Andrew Fuller stating, “Are we not going to do anything? Oh, Fuller, call them back and let’s do something in answer to God’s call.” Before everyone left it was resolved that there would be a plan prepared at the next minister’s meeting at Kettering to for a Baptist Missionary Society to take the gospel among the heathens. After several months the Missionary Society was formed, and they began to look for missionaries to be sent out. Their attention became quickly directed towards India by coming into contact with a man named Mr. Thomas who had returned to England after spending several years in India as a surgeon. He spent much time in India sharing the gospel and told of the many missionary opportunities in India. It was decided that the Missionary Society would direct their focus to India, but were left asking the question as to who would go? It was then that William Carey felt the call of God to go to India stating to the Missionary Society, “I will venture to go down, but remember that you who remain at home must hold the ropes.” By this he means to support him with their prayers and money, and his offer was agreed upon by the Society.

However, as much as William Carey was passionate and enthused to make the trip to India, it was not met with the same desires from his wife Dorothy. She was pregnant with their fourth son and had never been more than a few miles from their home, and her children were age 9 and under. Eventually she consented to go with him and their son Thomas to India, pending that her sister, Kitty, was allowed to go with them as well, as a companion and helper. As a result, in June of 1793 William along with his wife and children set sail for India. It would be the last time that they would ever see England as they all of the would end up dying in India. There were any difficult and tough times for Carey and his first years did not bid well for him. They faced hard financial times and his son Thomas decided to leave the mission, leaving William to have to move his family quite often to find employment to provide for the family. His 5 year old son Peter died of dysentery, and he himself contracted Malaria. To add to all of this his wife Dorothy, was overwhelmed and her mental health began to deteriorate often suffering from delusions and accusing Carey of adultery. Many times, she was confined to a room and she had to be physically restrained. William Carey wrote of these times saying, “I am in a strange land, no Christian friend, a large family, and nothing to supply their wants. Well I have God, and his word is sure. This indeed is the valley of the shadow of death to me, but I rejoice that I am here withstanding; and God is here.”

In 1799 after 7 years of hard labor and difficult trials, things began to turn around for William, and he moved to Calcutta and became under the protection of the Danes, who permitted him to preach legally. Previously in the British occupied territories in which William was ministering in it was illegal to preach. William was joined at this time by a man named William Ward, a printer, and Joshua and Hanna Marshman who were teachers. As William Ward began to secure government printing contracts it provided income for the mission, and he Marshman opened schools for children, and William began to teach at the Fort William College in Calcutta. In December of 1800 after 7 years, William baptized his first convert named Krishna Pal and then two months later he published his first Bengali New Testament in their own language. Over the next 28 years William and his helpers translated the Bible into the India languages of: Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese, and Sanskrit and parts of 209 other Indian languages and dialects. In 1807 William’s wife, Dorothy, died and a year later he remarried to Charlotte Rhumohr who was a member of his church and were married for 13 years until she died in 1821. This was followed by the death of his oldest son Felix and in 1823 he married for a third time to Grace Hughes.

God used William Carey to help transform India with the gospel and pioneered the mission’s movement in the world. William Carey would spend 41 years in India without a furlough and although he only saw 700 converts in 41 years among mission, he did much to pave the way for missions in the future and turn the tide in India in things such as Bible translation, social reforms, and education. Along with the translation of the Bible to the Indian language, he also established the Serampore College, which provided the Indians with a theological education. This college still exists today with nearly 2,500 students. He was the first to campaign for humane treatment of the lepers of India, that were often burned or buried alive and that their violent death purified the body so that they could be reincarnated. William Carey urged for love and mercy to be showed for those that God cared for. He began dozens of Indian children of all different classes to develop the mind from darkness and superstition to liberation in Christ. He stood against rampant murders and oppression of women along with polygamy, child marriage, widow burning and female infanticide. His persistent 25 year battle against widow burning proved successful as it was eventually banned. Not to mention that he translated the Bible into over 40 different Indian languages and in particular the Bengali language, which had been previously considered “fit for demons and women” into one of the foremost languages of India. By the time of his death in 1834 there were 50 missionaries serving in 18 different mission stations in India.

William Carey exhausted himself to bring the gospel to the people of India and God called him home, when he died on June 9, 1834 at the age of 72. It was recorded that Dr. Duff a preacher working with William in India that was looking after him near his last days spent time talking with William about his missionary life, till finally William told him to just pray. Dr. Duff knelt and prayed and then said goodbye, and as he was about to leave the room, William called out to Dr. Duff in a feeble voice. Turning around he stepped back closer to William and William Carey, the great missionary, said to his friend Reverend Alexander Duff, “Mr. Duff, you have been speaking about Dr. Carey, when I gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey, speak about Dr. Carey’s Savior.” Upon his tombstone at William’s request are found the words from on his favorite hymns from Isaac Watts ‘A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.’ For a man that only had the equivalent of an elementary education God worked mightily through this man to display his glory to the people of India. AT Pierson said, “With little teaching, be became learned. Poor himself, he made millions rich. By birth obscure, he rose to unsought eminence. And seeking only to follow the Lord’s leading, he led forward the Lord’s hosts.” JD Freeman said of William Carey, “The Christian Church owes more to William Cary and his mission than to any other man or movement since the days of Paul. He gave her a new horizon, kindled within her a new life and soul. Upon the trellis of the Mission Enterprise, the Church’s vine has run over the wall. It has given her a southern exposure, through which she has felt at her heart the thrill of a new vitality, while bearing on her outmost branches a burden of precious fruit for the vintage of the skies.”
Another writer said of William Carey, “Taking his life as a whole, is it not too much to say that he was the greatest and most versatile Christian missionary sent out in modern times.”
In light of William’s life, we need to check our heart’s desire for the lost both locally and abroad. Then we must ask what we are doing to seek to evangelize those that are lost and setting in darkness around us. May God break our hearts for them and move us into action to bring the gospel light into their dark souls. William Carey said, “Multitudes sit as ease and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry.” May God give us his heart for the lost as he did for William Carey.


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