I’m delighted to announce my next big biography project, a comprehensive work on the life and ministry of William Carey, the eminent pioneer missionary to India. In stating this intended undertaking, I immediately and appropriately add the important qualification, Lord willing!

I am deeply grateful to God and Christian Focus Publications for the splendid opportunity to research and write Carey’s life story. Here are four key reasons I’m looking forward to studying and sharing about this outstanding servant of Christ:

1. William Carey (1761-1834) is commonly designated as “the father of modern missions.” He was not the first person of his generation to go out as a foreign missionary. But he was the primary individual used of God to awaken the broader English-speaking Church of that day to its biblical responsibility to actively send out missionaries to carry the gospel of salvation to the many unreached countries of the world.

Carey was a humble, determined young pastor who played a primary role in leading his ministerial brethren in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to establish England’s first-ever Baptist Missionary Society. He volunteered to go to India as that Society’s first missionary, and served there the remainder of his life, for forty years.

Wall hanging depicting Carey's service in India, at Carey Baptist Church, Moulton, England
Wall hanging depicting Carey’s service in India, at Carey Baptist Church, Moulton, England

He eventually became the world’s premier missionary of his day and easily ranks as one of the most influential missionaries in the history of the Christian Church. Partly as a result of Carey’s influence and example (and ultimately because of God’s sovereign work) a missionary movement developed that saw several missionary societies spring up and send out gospel messengers to various parts of the formerly-unevangelized world.

2. Carey and his ministry associates endured innumerable difficulties and discouragements, but also experienced remarkable successes. The record of their overcoming such marked trials and having such tremendous accomplishments, all by God’s grace, is worthy of being remembered and rehearsed. Their trials and triumphs remind contemporary Christians of the truth of Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Carey and his fellow missionaries sometimes endured seasons of great material need in their service for the Lord. Several of Carey’s family members and colleagues died of various types of sickness and disease. Their ministry efforts were often stringently opposed by British officials who did not want the activities of missionaries to stir up trouble among the Indian people, thus potentially threatening the British East India Company’s ability to turn a handsome profit. The Indians won to Christ faced strong opposition and sometimes even persecution from their fellow countrymen.

The missionaries’ printing press and supplies as well as numerous Scripture translation projects were once destroyed in a cataclysmic fire. On a later occasion some of their houses and lands were devastated by flooding. Carey’s first wife, Dorothy, descended into insanity in the closing years of her life and more than once violently attacked him as he sought to continue his loving care of her. In the latter years of Carey’s ministry, irreconcilable differences arose between the Baptist Missionary Society’s founding missionaries and its second generation of missionaries and board members back in England, leading to an amicable but sorrowful parting of the ways.

But despite all those and other difficulties, Carey and his ministry associates experienced many notable blessings and successes. Thousands of Indians were led to faith in Jesus and baptized. Missionaries and indigenous evangelists established scores of schools that ministered to thousands of students. Eighteen mission stations were founded that stretched from northern India to western Burma.

William Carey with his pundit
William Carey with his Pundit

Carey himself was a brilliant, self-trained linguist. Aided by a number of Indian pundits, he oversaw the translation of God’s Word, in part or in its entirety, into thirty-five Oriental languages. He produced the extensive grammars and dictionaries that enabled Indians and others to systematically study and learn the six chief languages of that country. For three decades he served as the professor of Bengali, Sanskrit and Marathi at Calcutta’s Fort William College, which trained men for responsible positions of civil service. He and his missionary colleagues also established Serampore College where Indians of all classes were educated then went out to serve as preachers, schoolmasters, journalists, lawyers, and in other influential positions. For decades Carey spoke out forcefully against certain troubling customs in India such as widow-burning and infanticide; in the end he lived to see those tragic practices abolished.

3. Carey is a great example of how God can and does use humble, consecrated, faith-filled servants of Christ to accomplish exceptional good. Carey received only an elementary education in the village school where he grew up. Beyond that, his education was almost entirely self-taught. For several years he struggled to provide for the material needs of his family as a hardworking but poorly compensated shoemaker and village schoolteacher. While he was continually encouraged by other Christians to minister first as a lay preacher then as an officially recognized pastor, Carey lacked the formal training of many of his fellow ministers and was originally viewed as having less standing than many of them.

But each step along the way, he continued to faithfully serve in the capacities where the Lord placed him. He carefully followed the leading he received from God’s Word, the Bible—whether that involved putting service of Christ’s kingdom before material gain or acting on the blazing conviction within his heart to do all he could to promote the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Carey was also a man of outstanding faith. His ministry motto was: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” His example reminds us that God loves to use humble, devoted, faith-filled Christians in significant ways. When God does, it’s clear that He rather than the servants He uses gets the glory for His mighty work and accomplishments through them.

William Carey's motto

4. Like so many once-prominent Christians of the past, Carey is little-known to most modern believers. While some fifty biographies have been written on his life (a clear indication of his greatness), most of those have long been out of print. A few youth biographies on Carey are still in print and provide a partial portrayal of his life. Other helpful works have been published on various aspects of Carey’s ministry. But it has been about thirty years since any sort of more-comprehensive biography has been published on his life and ministry. After three decades, the time seems right for a major new Carey biography to acquaint or reacquaint the present generation of Christians with him.

As I proceed with this project, I’ll plan to provide a progress report now and again to let you know how things are coming. Any prayers for the Lord’s guidance, enablement and blessing in the process are greatly appreciated.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

Shoemaker and apprentice pix 1William Carey (1761-1834) is commonly credited with being “the father of modern missions.” He grew up in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire County, England. Carey was a spiritually indifferent boy, despite the fact that his devout parents taught him to read the Bible from a very early age and religiously took him to the village’s Anglican Church. As a young teenager Carey was apprenticed to a shoemaker named Clarke Nichols in the neighboring village of Piddington. There Carey gravitated toward irreligious companions and became addicted to “lying, swearing and other sins.”

However, a fellow apprentice, John Warr, regularly talked with Carey about religious and spiritual matters. Warr attended the worship services of a nearby group of Dissenters, who were also known as Nonconformists. Like most Englanders in that day, Carey despised Dissenters for not adhering to the Church of England. Though Carey arrogantly argued against Warr’s views on Christianity, the latter’s earnest verbal witness and consistent Christian lifestyle began to have a positive influence. Carey started attending church more frequently in hopes of finding relief from the growing burden he had come to have on his soul. He also determined to set aside his habitual sins and sometimes sought to pray when alone.

Paulerspury Anglican Church as where Carey attended as a boy.

Paulerspury Anglican Church as where Carey attended as a boy.

God used an incident that occurred just at that time to show Carey the badness of his own heart and his need for a complete spiritual transformation. It was customary in that part of the country for apprentices to collect “Christmas boxes”—small cash gifts, sometimes collected in earthenware boxes—from the tradesmen with whom their masters had dealings. (These gifts were considered a token of Christmastime goodwill toward the apprentices for their service of the tradesmen throughout the year.) That Christmas season Clarke Nichols sent Carey to Northampton, six miles northwest of Piddington, having given him money with which to purchase some supplies for his master. Nichols also gave Carey permission to collect “Christmas boxes” for himself from the Northampton tradesmen whom they serviced.

From Mr. Hall, an ironmonger, Carey received a shilling, worth twelve pence. After collecting a few more shillings from other tradesmen, Carey went to purchase “some little articles” for himself. Only then did he discover that the shilling he had received from Hall was counterfeit, made of brass. He substituted one of Nichols’ shillings for the artificial one in order to complete the purchase. Too late he realized that his personal items had cost “a few pence” more than the gift money he had just collected. Expecting to be severely reproached by his master for his careless mishandling of money, Carey resolved “to declare strenuously” that Nichols himself had inadvertently given him the counterfeit coin when he entrusted funds to him with which to buy supplies for his master.

Carey afterward related: “I well remember the struggles of mind which I had on this occasion, and that I made this deliberate sin a matter of prayer to God as I passed over the fields [walking] home. I there promised that if God would but get me clearly over this, or in other words, help me through with the theft, I would certainly for the future leave off all evil practices. But this theft and consequent lying appeared to me so necessary that they could not be dispensed with. A Gracious God did not get me safe through.”

William Carey in middle age.

William Carey in middle age.

Nichols was suspicious and sent Warr to investigate the matter. Hall, the ironmonger, admitted having given Carey the bogus coin. Carey’s own attempted deception of his master was thus discovered and as a result: “I was therefore exposed to shame, reproach, and inward remorse, which increased and preyed upon my mind for a considerable time. I at this time sought the Lord perhaps much more earnestly than ever; but with shame and fear.”

The Lord graciously used that painful and humiliating event to help Carey realize his need to believe in and receive Christ Jesus as his Savior from sin. Not long after, when Carey was seventeen years old, he was born again spiritually through personal faith in Jesus.

This Christmas season as we celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus into the world, may we also be deeply grateful to God for showing us our own need for the Savior and for drawing us to saving faith in Him.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie