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William Carey
A Short History of the Baptists
By Henry C. Vedder, 1907

     The man destined to do more than any other toward the regeneration of English Baptists, and to be an inspiration to all other Christians, was some years younger than Andrew Fuller. This was William Carey. He was born in 1761, not of Baptist parentage; on the contrary, his father was an old-school Churchman, and bred his son in holy horror of all "Dissenters." But Carey heard the gospel preached, he was convicted of sin, and converted, and like most young converts, took to reading his Bible with new zest. The New Testament speaks for itself to any one who will honestly read it to learn what it teaches, and Carey soon learned what a Christian church ought to be and what a converted man ought to do. He not only saw his duty, but did it, though it required him to join himself to certain of the despised Dissenters. He was baptized on profession of faith, in the river Neu, on October 5, 1783, by Dr. John Ryland. Little did Doctor Ryland know that he was performing the most important act of his life, and as little did he guess that this humble youth was to become a great man. "This day baptized a poor journeyman shoemaker" is the curt entry in the good doctor's diary.

     It was evident, however, from the beginning that Carey was a young man of promise. He became a member of the Baptist church at Olney, of which Rev. John Sutcliffe

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was pastor. He showed gifts in exhortation that warranted his pastor and friends in urging him to preach, and he was not long in making his fitness for the ministry evident. In 1787 he was called to the pastorate of a little Baptist church at Moulton, and ordained. He already had a wife and two children, and the Moulton church was so poor that he could be paid only seventy-five dollars a year. He was obliged, therefore, during the week to work as a cobbler for the support of his family. At the same time he had a thirst for learning, and as he worked his custom was to keep by him a book for study. In this way he is said in seven years to have learned to read five languages, including Greek and Hebrew. If young men and women whose educational advantages have been limited would but take a tithe of the pains to utilize their odd minutes that Carey took, they might do anything they chose. It is true Carey had a remarkable gift for acquiring languages, but even more remarkable than this was his determination to learn, in spite of difficulties. It is that determination which is lacking in most, more than ability to learn.

     Carey not only studied text-books, but read all good books that he could borrow, and among these was a copy of Captain Cook's voyages. He also kept a school after a time, and of course had to teach the children geography. In these ways his mind was turned toward the destitute condition of the heathen and their need of the gospel. But when he began to talk to others about it, he met with little encouragement, and it is said that once when he began in a Baptist gathering to speak of a mission to the heathen, Doctor Ryland exclaimed: "Sit down, young man; when the Lord gets ready to convert the heathen he will do it without your help or mine!" It riot recorded whether Carey sat down or not, but he certainly did not give up advocating missions to the

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heathen. Apart from the hyper-Calvinism disclosed by Doctor Ryland's remark, it is not wonderful that Carey received so little encouragement at first. English Baptists were poor, and so great an enterprise might well have seemed to them beset with unsurmountable difficulties. But Carey wisely declined to consider the matter of possibilities; he looked only at the question of duty. The Duke of Wellington replied to a young clergyman who asked if it were not useless to preach the gospel to the Hindus: "With that you have nothing to do. Look to your marching orders, 'Go, preach the gospel to every creature.'" The soldier was right and the preacher stood justly rebuked.

     With difficulty Carey got together money to print and circulate a tract called "An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens." Not long after this came from the press his great opportunity arrived - he was appointed to preach the sermon at the meeting of his Association at Nottingham. May 30, 1792. He chose as his text Isaiah 44:2, 3, and announced as the "heads" of his discourse: "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." It was one of the days on which the fate of denominations and even of nations turns. It roused those who listened to a new idea of their responsibility for the fulfilment of Christ's commission. Even then, nothing might have come of it but for an impassioned personal appeal of Carey's to Andrew Fuller, not to let the meeting break up without doing something. A resolution was passed, through Fuller's influence, that a plan be prepared for establishing a missionary society, to be presented at the next ministers' meeting.

     That meeting was held in Andrew Fuller's study, at Kettering, October 2, and then and there "The English Baptist Missionary Society" was organized. Its constituent

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members were twelve, and out of their poverty they contributed to its treasury the sum of thirteen pounds two shillings and six pence. What a sum with which to begin the evangelization of the world! The history of this society is an instructive commentary on the Scripture, "For who hath despised the day of small things." The London churches, the richer churches among Baptists, stood aloof from this movement. It was the poorer country churches that finally raised enough money to send out in June, 1793, Carey and a Baptist surgeon named Thomas, who had previously been in India and, as he had opportunity, had preached the gospel as a layman and a physician.

     The British East India Company was bitterly opposed to the preaching of the gospel in India, fearing that the natives might be provoked to rise against the government. It is not exaggerating to say that Christianity has done more than any other thing, more than strong battalions, to maintain England's rule in India. But the directors could not foresee this. One said he would see a band of devils let loose in India rather than a band of missionaries. Englishmen who survived the Sepoy rebellion were rather less anxious to see devils let loose in India, and much more favorably disposed toward missionaries. For a time Carey, and the next missionaries sent - Marshman and Ward - established themselves at Serampore, a Danish settlement not far from Calcutta. Here a missionary press was set up, and Doctor Carey did the great work of his life in translating and printing the Scriptures in the various Indian languages. He had, as we have seen, a special aptitude for the acquisition of languages. He had shown this before leaving England, but he demonstrated it more clearly after he reached India. The rapidity and ease with which he acquired the various languages spoken there have never been surpassed,

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and he became in a short time one of the world's greatest Oriental scholars.

     To every man his gifts. Others could preach the gospel to the heathen as well as Carey, or better, for he never seems to have developed special power as a preacher. But no one could equal him as scholar, translator, writer. He wisely spent his time and strength in translating the Scriptures and other Christian literature into the Indian languages and dialects, in making grammars, and the like. Thus he not only did a great work for his own generation, but one that will last for all time, or so long as these languages shall be spoken. Before his death, there had been issued under his supervision, he himself doing a large part of the work, versions of the Scriptures in forty different languages or dialects, spoken by a third of the people on the globe; and of these Scriptures two hundred and twelve thousand copies had been issued.

     In his later years, men like Sydney Smith ceased to sneer at the "consecrated cobbler," and Carey was honorded as a man of his learning, piety, and exalted character deserved. In 1801 he was made professor of Bengali in Lord Wellesley's new College of Fort William, at Calcutta; and titles and honors were showered upon him toward the close of his life. The learned societies of Europe recognized him as one of the greatest scholars of his age. But he was to the last a humble missionary of the religion of Christ. He is justly regarded as the father of modern missions, for though Baptists were not the first in modern times to engage in this work, it was Carey and his work that drew the attention of all Christians to it, that quickened the Christian conscience, and that gave the missionary cause a great forward impulse which it has never since lost.


[From Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists, 1907. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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