THE LIFE AND ENQUIRY OF WILLIAM CAREY
The famous London Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon said in 1873: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”1 Was he saying that every believer must move overseas and preach the gospel? This would be unlikely and unreasonable because there would be no believers remaining in his or her homeland if this were to occur and some are not physically able. It is more likely that he was saying that the heart of every believer in Christ Jesus must be aligned with the mission of God. All Christians are to be involved in missions: some will go overseas, and some will send others through financial support and continual prayer. In some way, all believers are involved in missions or they are an imposter.2
On February 10, 1779 William Carey was converted to Christ at a Congregationalist worship service in Hackleton. Prior to his conversion, Carey did not have much of an acquaintance with ministers; therefore, after his conversion he began drawing all of his theology from Scripture alone. This led to Carey’s realization that infant baptism practiced by the Anglican church and the Congregationalist churches had no true biblical foundation. William Carey became convinced that he should receive believer’s baptism; therefore, in 1783 Carey approached John Ryland Sr., pastor of College Land Baptist Church in Northampton for baptism. However, it was John Ryland Jr. who baptized William Carey in the River Nene in North Hampton on October 5, 1785. William Carey and John Ryland Jr. would become friends and co-laborers for Christ.3
William Carey received a village pastorate in Moulton, March 25, 1785-1789. This pastorate gave Carey admission into the fraternity of the North Hampton pastors association. John Ryland Sr., whom Carey originally approached about believer’s baptism presided over the fraternity of Baptist pastors in North Hampton. The pastors would get together to talk over issues. Ryland Sr. encouraged Carey and the other young pastors to submit themes for discussion. Therefore, being pressed to submit a theme, Carey proposed what he had been studying, and what was on his heart, and did so using careful terms because Carey new that it contradicted the assumptions of the day.4
Carey desired to be true to the word of God, but he needed to approach the subject of the Great Commission with careful terms because he was dependent on the Particular Baptist Fund to help support his household expenses. Carey’s pastoral salary was 12 pounds per year, but he also received an annual supplement from the Particular Baptist Fund of 5 pounds per year,5 nearly 1/3 of his annual salary.
Carey had been meditating on Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Therefore, when pressed by John Ryland Sr., Carey posed the question that had been on his heart and mind for some time: “Whether the command given to the apostles to teach all nations was not binding on all succeeding ministers, to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent.”6 Here was Carey’s reasoning in the question that he proposed to the Northampton Baptist Association pastors: If Christ promised his presence with His people for all time, then His command to teach all nations was a requirement for the church until the end of time.7 It was reported by another young pastor, John Webster Morris that John Ryland Sr. reacted to Carey’s proposal with strong feeling and passion saying to Carey:
You are a miserable enthusiast for asking such a question. Certainly nothing can be done before another Pentecost, when an effusion of miraculous gifts, including the gift of tongues, will give effect to the commission of Christ as at first. What, Sir! Can you preach in Arabic, in Persic, in Hindustani, in Bengali, that you think it your duty to send the gospel to the heathens?8
It was reported by another, John C. Marshman who became Carey’s co-laborer in India that John Ryland Sr. who had prompted Carey to give the group a topic of discussion dismissed the proposed topic and said to Carey: “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine!”9
Reformation, Reasoning and Missions
The terms esse and bene esse were terms adopted by Martin Luther and early protestants regarding what are essential practices that constitute the essence of what it means to be a church and non-essential practice though still beneficial to the church are unnecessary. The reformers and protestants relegated missions to bene esse, beneficial but unnecessary.10 This line of reasoning prevailed in protestant circles for over two centuries; therefore, the majority of missions done between 1517 and 1792 were by Roman Catholics. The Spanish followed the pattern of the crusades in there take over and conversion of the peoples in Central and South America which they did by authority of Papal bulls from Popes Alexander VI and Julius II. The Spaniards concurred the Indians of Central and South America, then the Franciscan, Dominican, and Jesuits began living among the people converting them.11
For the Protestant Reformers and Protestants who followed the Reformation, the time period between 1517-1792 can be apply named the “Great Omission,” with regard to their neglect of the Great Commission. What are the reasons for the “Great Omission? Firstly, faulty hermeneutics led to the belief the Great Commission had been fulfilled by the apostles. Secondly, the Reformers were in a life and death struggle and were surrounded by enemies on all sides. Thirdly, the idea of territorial churches instituted by the Reformers also led to an omission of missions. Lastly, divisiveness also led to a lack of missionary zeal. However, the period was not 100% devoid of Protestant missions. The work of John Eliot and David Brainerd among the American Indians in New England is the exception. It was reading about these two men and the Moravian missionaries that helped inspire William Carey. German “Pietism” was the first step towards Protestant missionary seal, first seen in Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf and the Moravian missionaries.12 “The Pietist efforts became forerunners of the Wesleyan revival and William Carey’s Baptist Missionary Society.”13
Given the history of Protestant missions theology, it is no wonder that John Ryland Sr. reacted with vehemence towards Carey’s question. One could call Ryland’s thinking Hyper-Calvinistic. “Hyper-Calvinist in this period maintained that because the unsaved could not respond to the call of Christ in the preaching of the gospel without the enablement of God, then it was not their responsibility to repent and believe; consequently, pastors had no duty to exhort the lost to come to Christ.”14 C. H. Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) said in one of his many books, “Soulwinning is the chief business of the Christian; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer.”15 How did such a change occur in Particular Baptist missions theology? If C. H. Spurgeon had spoken these words a century earlier at the Northampton Baptists Association John Ryland Sr. would have said to him, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine!”
In 1785 when John Ryland Sr. told Carey to sit down after proposing that the church should be about the business of carrying out the Great Commission until the end of time. Carey’s enquiry did not end there, and his study of the subject came to fulfillment in 1792 when Carey published: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen 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. Carey began his inquiry with the words of the apostle Paul from his epistle to the Romans 10:12-15.
For there is no Difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all, is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a Preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? PAUL MDCCXCII.16
The Enquiry is a mere 63-page treatise on the subject of the Great Commission but its impact on Protestant missions since 1792 is amazing. This very important historical work contains an introduction and five sections or chapters.
I cannot express how powerful it is that a man’s mind is changed from reading Scripture alone and no more evident when the beliefs of the time are contrary to a simple understanding of the timeless universal principles taught in Scripture. The introduction to William Carey’s Enquiry is a brilliant summary of the redemptive history of the Bible and the spread of the Gospel in the book of Acts. Carey concludes the introduction by laying out in brief the purpose for which he undertakes his enquiry.
An Enquiry Whether the Commission Given by Or Lord to His Disciples Be Not Still Binding on Us.
In this section William Carey begins to put into question the Hyper-Calvinism of the Particular Baptist of the day in light of the evidence of Scripture. Some of which was the result of a kick back in the reformation regarding Papist apostolic succession. Carey makes his argument using three premises: First, if the command to teach all nations is restricted to the apostles, so is baptism. This should have been eye opening for all Christians and especially the Baptist whom Carey associated with. Secondly, if the command to teach all nations was restricted to the apostles then everyone who did so throughout church history did so without warrant. Thirdly, if the command of Christ to teach all nations was limited to His apostles then His promised divine presence is limited to the apostles only.17
Containing a Short Review of Former Undertakings for the Conversion of the Heathen.
In this section Carey gives a history of missions since the apostolic age. He also included the few protestants who undertook the mission of God to the heathen: John Eliot who in 1632 preached to the Indians in New England. David Brainerd who worked as a missionary to the Indians in New England. The Moravian Brethren who sent missionaries to Greenland, Labrador, the West-Indian Islands and Abyssinia in Africa.18
Containing a Survey of the Present State of the World.
In this section Carey divides the world into four parts: Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Carey also divides the people of the world into four religions: Christian, Jewish, Mahometan (Muslim) and Pagan. Carey then names the countries of the world in each divided part, each countries land mass, population and religion(s).19 Carey said:
The inhabitants of the world, according to this calculation, amount to about 731 millions: 420 millions of whom are still in Pagan darkness; 130 millions the followers of Mahomet; 100 millions Catholics; 44 millions Protestants; 30 millions of the Greek and Armenian churches, and perhaps 7 millions of Jews. It must undoubtedly strike every considerable mind what a vast proportion of the sons of Adam there are who yet remain in the most deplorable state of heathen darkness…utterly destitute of the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, or of any means of obtaining it.20
The Practicability of something being done, more than what is done, for the Conversion of the Heathen.
In this section Carey points out that travel is not nor should not be an issue because men travel the earth for the purpose of commerce; therefore, should Christians not travel the earth for the purpose of propagating the gospel?21
An Enquiry into the Duty of Christians in General, and What Means Ought to be Used, in Order to Promote the Work.
This is the how to section of the book. In this section Carey lays out a strategy for bringing the Gospel to the heathen of the world and how one might also sustain himself and his family while doing the work of missions. Reading between the lines, Carey had really thought this through, and was himself committed to going into the mission field at the right time.22
From England to India
As a result of the Enquiry, the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel Amongst the Heathen was formed in Kettering, England on October 2, 1792 in the home of Martha Wallis who was a widow of a deacon of Kettering Baptist Church. 14 men were present for that first meeting which included Carey, and Ryland Jr. The Baptist Missionary Societies first missionary appointees were Carey and John Thomas, a doctor who received his training at Westminster Hospital in London. In 1793 Carey, Thomas, their wives and children set sail on a ship bound for India. The voyage took six months.23
One of the many challenges for Carey was that his wife Dorothy did not want to go to India and after one of their sons (Peter) died, Dorothy lost her mind. William Ward said of her in his diary, “Mrs. Carey is stark mad.”24 Carey spent the first five years in the village of Mudnabati and had to learn Bengali as a means for survival. Once Carey had mastered Bengali he began to translate the New Testament into the language of the people. Over the life of Carey’s mission to India he would translate the Scriptures into five languages used in India.25
Carey’s main work in India was that of a translator although there were many converts. The first to convert was Krishna Pal in December 1800, seven years after Carey and Thomas made the voyage to India. Pal was the first, but hundreds would come to faith in Christ through the witness of the Serampore Mission just 12 miles from Calcutta, India.26
When Carey wrote the Enquiry and received his missionary appointment from the Baptist Missionary Society he was 31 years old. Carey died at the age of 73 at the Serampore Mission at 5:30 A.M. on June 9, 1834.27The Life and Mission of William Carey is astounding. I have given only a brief treatment of William Carey’s life from his conversion to death and a very brief treatment of Carey’s Missionary work in India. Though they were great, and every soul saved as a result of his work in India can attest to that in the presence of our Lord. Much more so, I believe that the effects of William Carey’s Enquiry on Protestant missions is amazing. All Protestant missionaries, whether they are willing to admit it or not can trace their roots back to William Carey and his Enquiry.
1 M. David Sills, “Missionary Call and Service,” in Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies if World Missions, ed. John Mark Terry (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), 301.
3Michael A. G. Haykin, “The Significance of William Carey’s Life, Thought, and Ministry,” in Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary, ed. Jason G. Duesing (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2012), 14.
4S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (London: Wakeman Trust, 1993), 41-49.
5Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Worcester: Christian History Institute, 1998), 18.
6Michael A. G. Haykin, “The Significance of William Carey’s Life, Thought, and Ministry,” in Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary, ed. Jason G. Duesing (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2012), 17-18
7 Ibid, 18.
10Michael McDaniel, “Missions in the Local Church,” in Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions, ed. John Mark Terry (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015) 555.
11Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 449-451.
12Justice Anderson, “Medieval and Renaissance Missions,” in Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions, ed. John Mark Terry (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), 167-170.
14 Michael A. G. Haykin, “The Significance of William Carey’s Life, Thought, and Ministry,” in Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary, ed. Jason G. Duesing (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2012), 17.
15C. H. Spurgeon, The Soulwinner (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1995), 7.
16 William Carey, An Enquiry 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 (Leicester: William Carey, 1792), 1.
20 S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (London: Wakeman Trust, 1993), 62.
21William Carey, An Enquiry 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 (Leicester: William Carey, 1792), 49-55.
23Michael A. G. Haykin, “The Significance of William Carey’s Life, Thought, and Ministry,” in Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary, ed. Jason G. Duesing (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2012), 22-23.
27Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Worcester: Christian History Institute, 1998), 168.