Little is Much when God is in it - William Carey
On October 2, 1792 a group of Baptist pastors gathered for a conference in Kettering, England. During the conference, twelve of them met one evening in a small room in the home of a humble widow, Mrs. Wallis to consider a proposal to form a missionary society for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen. The proposal had been authorized at the closing moments of an earlier conference held in Nottingham where a young pastor had delivered an impassioned appeal that such an endeavor not only could be undertaken with success; it must be undertaken. That young preacher was William Carey and the sermon he preached that day became one of the most famous missionary messages of all time. “He packed his message into two brief urgings – ‘two plain, practical, pungent, quotable watchwords’ – Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” His message stirred the heart of another preacher present, Andrew Fuller, who joined cause with Carey and persuaded the assembly to authorize the following statement: “Resolved, that a plan be prepared against the next ministers’ meeting at Kettering, for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the Gospel among the Heathens.” Six months later at the Kettering meeting, twelve men met together to discuss The Plan. However, the excitement had long worn away and these men, pastors of small rural churches whose congregations were largely “illiterate and poor” had lost heart. Until Carey stood and recounted the record of missionary endeavor among other Christian groups, especially the Moravian efforts. ‘See,’ said he, ‘what Moravians are daring, and some of them British like ourselves, and many only artisan and poor! Cannot we Baptists at least attempt something in fealty to the same Lord?’
These words stirred some in the group and four other men joined Carey in establishing a society for missionary endeavors among like minded Baptist churches. Out of this simple meeting and from these humble beginnings was birthed the modern missionary movement.
The story of William Carey, like the story of the society which he was instrumental in founding, is a glorious reminder that God often uses humble and obscure people to do His greatest work. Carey’s story has been recorded in numbers of books but perhaps one of the best was written by the great grandson of the man who became known as the “father of modern missions.” S. Pearce Carey first published his biography entitled William Carey in 1923 and revised it in 1934. My copy is an updated edition edited by Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle and published in 1993 by the Wakeman Trust.
Carey was born and raised in the heart of England in the county of Northamptonshire. His father was a local weaver as well as the village schoolmaster and Carey inherited his love for learning. Realizing the weaver’s trade would be profoundly impacted because of the industrial revolution taking place, Carey’s father apprenticed him to a master cobbler from a nearby township. This craft would play a big role in awakening his heart for missions. At seventeen, Carey came to know Christ and had a passion to share Him with others. His other passion was reading. From his early days he had been fascinated by reading the accounts of the legendary Captain Cook’s travels in to the South Pacific Islands. He first passion combined with his burden to share Christ produced a missionary zeal in his heart that would eventually leave a legacy unmatched in the annals of missionary history. For forty years Carey labored to reach the heathen in India for Christ. His service to Christ came at great cost to his family and his body. By the end of his ministry he had buried several loved ones, including his first and second wives. But his sacrifice yielded a great harvest. Over 600 converts were baptized in the first twenty years of ministry. By thirty years of ministry, over 200,000 items had been printed and translated into over 40 different languages. One writer, Sir William Hunter, recounting Carey’s efforts said this in an address delivered in 1888:
The record of the work done by the Serampore missionaries reads like and Eastern romance. They created a prose vernacular literature for Bengal; they established the modern method of popular education; they founded the present Protestant North Indian Church. They gave the first impulse to the native press. They set up the first steam-engine in India: with its help they introduced the modern manufacture of paper on a large scale. They translated and printed the Bible, or parts thereof into thirty-one languages, earning the main part of their funds with their own hands. They built a college, which still ranks amongst the most splendid educational edifices in India. As one contemplates . . . one is lost in admiration of the faith of the three men who dared to build on such a scale.
Perhaps his greatest contribution lay in his pioneering work in translating the Scriptures. He translated the Bible into so many languages that some who doubted the ability of such a feat accused him of inventing languages and then claiming to have translated the Bible into that language. The truth was his translation came at great labor and personal diligence. He once observed, “If I could learn languages faster, the work of translation would be more rapid. But some of the languages are very difficult, and differ so widely from others as to occasion me much hard labor. Every translation goes through my hands, except the Burmese and the Chinese.”
In June of 1834, Carey would finish his earthly labor and enter into His eternal rest. However, he would not go empty handed. Nor would his labors die with him. Multiplied thousands have found Christ by reading a copy of the Scriptures translated by him into their language. Thousands more from all over the world, stirred by his life and example, have followed him into missionary service for Christ. And perchance by reading his story yourself, the Lord may stir your heart to attempt great things for God because you expect great things from God!