A Vision like William Carey


The Man

Yesterday I was reading in my church history textbook, Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley, as I attempted to plow through the 150 pages I have to read by next week, and I landed on the chapter about Protestant missions in the 19th century.  One individual who had a passion for the gospel and evangelizing the lost was William Carey (1761-1834), an English shoemaker and preacher.  Carey was a pretty remarkable guy.  While practicing shoemaking as a primary means of living, Carey pursued learning in other areas, especially his interest in distant peoples and nations.  He studied Greek and Latin at night and would often go without food so he could buy books! (my kind of guy; I should try this more often!).

Carey was converted to Christianity in 1779, was baptized in 1783, and after preaching for a while became the pastor of Moulton Baptist Chapel.  He worked closely with fellow Christian Andrew Fuller, who believed the churches in England has become complacent in reaching the unconverted with the gospel.  Due to Fuller’s influence, Carey came to the conviction that just how it was the responsibility of all men to repent and believe the gospel, so it was the duty of those who have been entrusted with the gospel to bring it to all men so they could believe.

Carey’s greatest published work was An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, published in 1792.  In this little work (only 30 pages), Carey addressed the five major objections people had to world missions: 1) the distance involved; 2) barbarism; 3) the dangers missions posed; 4) trouble in raising support; 5) mastering new languages.  Carey drew analogies from colonial mercantilism that engaged in trade with distant countries to argue that if merchants could overcome all the above obstacles, then Christians concerned to evangelize could as well.

Carey and Fuller eventually founded the Baptist Missionary Society (1792) and Carey became a missionary to India.  He worked at an indigo factory in Bengal for three months of the year and the rest of the time devoted himself to study, specifically of the indigenous languages.  He was joined by fellow Baptists missionaries Joshua Marshman and William Ward in 1799.  Carey was a linguistic genius.  Unafraid of the intricacies of the Hindu language and thought world, Carey was determined to learn it all.  In fact, he considered language study to be an integral part of his missionary work.  He believed he needed to master Hindu not only to preach the gospel lucidly to the natives, but because he believed that the gospel is about holistic redemption: body, soul, and mind.  By 1824 Carey had overseen the complete translation of six Bibles and the partial translation of 24 Bibles.  In addition, he produced a number of grammars, dictionaries, and translations of English books. [1]


I was impressed by what I read about Carey.  I had of course heard of the man before and knew that he was a missionary to India.  What struck me as remarkable was Carey’s desire for knowledge and to help other people.  The guy would skip meals to buy books!  How many people do that today in America where we prize food and comfort above all else?  I’m always scrounging money for books, but I’ve never forgone groceries in order to buy the next Thomas Sowell or N.T. Wright or Paul Johnson or William Lane Craig.

I was also impressed by Carey’s vision for the gospel.  He understood the gospel and in terms of evangelizing foreign peoples and the techniques he used, he paved the way for so many who would follow him.  In fact, he is known as “The Father of Modern Missions.”   How many of us have a passion for evangelizing the lost so that the truth of Philippians 2:9-11 will become reality?  “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (ESV).  I am convicted that I don’t know the gospel better, both in creed and in personal experience.  I don’t have a vision of reaching unbelievers like Carey did, and I should.  I seem to have left that up to others.

So after reading about Carey I prayed and asked God to give me a vision.  I have a voracious apetite for knowledge like Carey did and I want to teach truth, but I don’t have a vision.  I’m not sure what I am suppose to do with my life.  I don’t know where God is going to call me or what he wants me to teach, where, or in what capacity (professor, missionary, ?).  I have a lot of different academic interests and I can see myself doing any number of things.  I know that I have a general call to education and teaching, but the “what” and “who” and “when” is what I don’t know yet.  I think having a vision of what you want to do that has been put in your heart by the Holy Spirit is very important, especially if such a vision is biblically rooted, serving of others, and aligns with your passions and talents.  In the days when you are discouraged, overwhelmed with work or personal strife, exhausted, or down for other reasons, you need a vision and hope for the future and for your life to help pull you through (of course the ultimate vision is the new heavens, earth, and Jerusalem).  I don’t really have that right now and so in those moments of discouragement I find it hard to keep going and motivate myself beyond self interest.  So I am praying that God will give me a vision of what he wants me to do to help me narrow my field of study.

[1] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 3rd ed., (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 373-376.


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