Who was William Carey?
William Carey (17 August 1761 – 9 June 1834) was an English Baptist missionary and a Particular Baptist minister, known as the "father of modern missions." Carey was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society. As a missionary in the Danish colony, Serampore, India, he translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects.
Carey, the oldest of five children, was born to Edmund and Elizabeth Carey, who were weavers by trade in the village of Paulerspury in Northamptonshire. William was raised in the Church of England; when he was six, his father was appointed the parish clerk and village schoolmaster. As a child he was naturally inquisitive and keenly interested in the natural sciences, particularly botany. He possessed a natural gift for language, teaching himself Latin.
At the age of 14, Carey’s father apprenticed him to a cobbler in the nearby village of Piddington, Northamptonshire. His master, Clarke Nichols, was a churchman like himself, but another apprentice, John Warr, was a Dissenter. Through his influence Carey would eventually leave the Church of England and join with other Dissenters to form a small Congregational church in nearby Hackleton. While apprenticed to Nichols, he also taught himself Greek with the help of a local villager who had a college education.
When Nichols died in 1779, Carey went to work for the local shoemaker, Thomas Old; he married Old’s sister-in-law Dorothy Plackett in 1781 in the Church of St John the Baptist, Piddington. Unlike William, Dorothy was illiterate; her signature in the marriage register is a crude cross. William and Dorothy Carey had seven children, five sons and two daughters; both girls died in infancy, as well as their son Peter, who died at the age of 5. Old himself died soon afterward, and Carey took over his business, during which time he taught himself Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French, often reading while working on his shoes.
Carey admitted he was a cobbler, one who repairs shoes, but people referred to him as a shoemaker. Though John Brown Myers entitled his biography of Carey, William Carey the Shoemaker Who Became the Father and Founder of Modern Missions, Carey is also quoted by a primary source to have said in response to it being said of him that he was a shoemaker that he was no more than a simple cobbler who only repaired shoes in order to underscore his humble beginning.
Founding of the Baptist Missionary Society
Carey became involved with a local association of Particular Baptists that had recently formed, where he became acquainted with men such as John Ryland, John Sutcliff, and Andrew Fuller, who would become his close friends in later years. They invited him to preach in their church in the nearby village of Earls Barton every other Sunday. On 5 October 1783, William Carey was baptized by Ryland and committed himself to the Baptist denomination.
In 1785, Carey was appointed the schoolmaster for the village of Moulton. He was also invited to serve as pastor to the local Baptist church. During this time he read Jonathan Edwards' Account of the Life of the Late Rev. David Brainerd and the journals of the explorer James Cook, and became deeply concerned with propagating the Christian Gospel throughout the world. John Eliot (c. 1604 – 21 May 1690), Puritan missionary in New England, along with David Brainerd (1718-47) and the Apostle Paul himself, became the "canonized heroes" and "enkindlers" of Carey.
Carey's friend Andrew Fuller had previously written an influential pamphlet in 1781 titled "The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation", answering the hyper-Calvinist belief then prevalent in the Baptist churches, that all men were not responsible to believe the Gospel. At a ministers' meeting in 1786, Carey raised the question of whether it was the duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world. J. R. Ryland, the father of John Ryland, is said to have retorted: "Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine." However, Ryland's son, John Ryland Jr., disputed that his father made this statement.
In 1789 Carey became the full-time pastor of a small Baptist church in Leicester. Three years later in 1792 he published his groundbreaking missionary manifesto, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. This short book consists of five parts. The first part is a theological justification for missionary activity, arguing that the command of Jesus to make disciples of all the world (Matthew 28:18-20) remains binding on Christians. The second part outlines a history of missionary activity, beginning with the early Church and ending with David Brainerd and John Wesley. Part 3 comprises 26 pages of tables, listing area, population, and religion statistics for every country in the world. Carey had compiled these figures during his years as a schoolteacher.
The fourth part answers objections to sending missionaries, such as difficulty learning the language or danger to life. Finally, the fifth part calls for the formation by the Baptist denomination of a missionary society and describes the practical means by which it could be supported. Carey's seminal pamphlet outlines his basis for missions: Christian obligation, wise use of available resources, and accurate information. Carey later preached a pro-missionary sermon (the so-called Deathless Sermon), using Isaiah 54:2-3 as his text, in which he repeatedly used the epigram which has become his most famous quotation: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
Carey finally overcame the resistance to missionary effort, and the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen (subsequently known as the Baptist Missionary Society and since 2000 as BMS World Mission) was founded in October 1792, including Carey, Andrew Fuller, John Ryland, and John Sutcliff as charter members. They then concerned themselves with practical matters such as raising funds, as well as deciding where they would direct their efforts. A medical missionary, Dr. John Thomas, had been in Calcutta and was currently in England raising funds; they agreed to support him and that Carey would accompany him to India.
Early Indian period
Carey, his eldest son Felix, Thomas and his wife and daughter sailed from London aboard an English ship in April 1793. Dorothy Carey had refused to leave England, being pregnant with their fourth son and having never been more than a few miles from home; but before they left they asked her again to come with them and she gave consent, with the knowledge that her sister Kitty would help her give birth.
En route they were delayed at the Isle of Wight, at which time the captain of the ship received word that he endangered his command if he conveyed the missionaries to Calcutta, as their unauthorized journey violated the trade monopoly of the British East India Company. He decided to sail without them, and they were delayed until June when Thomas found a Danish captain willing to offer them passage.
In the meantime, Carey's wife, who had by now given birth, agreed to accompany him provided her sister came as well. They landed at Calcutta in November. During the first year in Calcutta, the missionaries sought means to support themselves and a place to establish their mission. They also began to learn the Bengali language to communicate with the natives. A friend of Thomas owned two indigo factories and needed managers, so Carey moved with his family north to Midnapore.
During the six years that Carey managed the indigo plant, he completed the first revision of his Bengali New Testament and began formulating the principles upon which his missionary community would be formed, including communal living, financial self-reliance, and the training of indigenous ministers. His son Peter died of dysentery, which, along with other causes of stress, resulted in Dorothy suffering a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.
Meanwhile, the missionary society had begun sending more missionaries to India. The first to arrive was John Fountain, who arrived in Midnapore and began teaching school. He was followed by William Ward, a printer; Joshua Marshman, a schoolteacher; David Brunsdon, one of Marshman's students; and William Grant, who died three weeks after his arrival. Because the East India Company was still hostile to missionaries, they settled in the Danish colony at Serampore and were joined there by Carey on 10 January 1800.
Late Indian period
Once settled in Serampore, the mission bought a house large enough to accommodate all of their families and a school, which was to be their principal means of support. Ward set up a print shop with a secondhand press Carey had acquired and began the task of printing the Bible in Bengali. In August 1800 Fountain died of dysentery. By the end of that year, the mission had their first convert, a Hindu named Krishna Pal. They had also earned the goodwill of the local Danish government and Richard Wellesley, then Governor-General of India.
The conversion of Hindus to Christianity posed a new question for the missionaries concerning whether it was appropriate for converts to retain their caste. In 1802, the daughter of Krishna Pal, a Sudra, married a Brahmin. This wedding was a public demonstration that the church repudiated the caste distinctions. Brunsdon and Thomas died in 1801. The same year, the Governor-General founded Fort William, a college intended to educate civil servants. He offered Carey the position of professor of Bengali. Carey's colleagues at the college included pundits, whom he could consult to correct his Bengali testament. He also wrote grammars of Bengali and Sanskrit, and began a translation of the Bible into Sanskrit. He also used his influence with the Governor-General to help put a stop to the practices of infant sacrifice and suttee, after consulting with the pundits and determining that they had no basis in the Hindu sacred writings (although the latter would not be abolished until 1829).
Dorothy Carey died in 1807. Due to her debilitating mental breakdown, she had long since ceased to be an able member of the mission, and her condition was an additional burden to it. John Marshman wrote how Carey worked away on his studies and translations, "…while an insane wife, frequently wrought up to a state of most distressing excitement, was in the next room…". Later that same year Carey made the following entry in his diary: “Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1807. This evening Mrs. Carey died of the fever under which she has languished some time. Her death was a very easy one; but there was no appearance of returning reason, nor any thing that could cast a dawn of hope or light on her state.”
Several friends and colleagues had urged William to commit Dorothy to an asylum. But he recoiled at the thought of the treatment she might receive in such a place and took the responsibility to keep her within the family home, even though the children were exposed to her rages. In 1808 Carey re-married; his new wife Charlotte Rhumohr, a Danish member of his church was, unlike Dorothy, Carey's intellectual equal. They were married for 13 years until her death. From the printing press at the mission came translations of the Bible in Bengali, Sanskrit, and other major languages and dialects.
Many of these languages had never been printed before; William Ward had to create punches for the type by hand. Carey had begun translating literature and sacred writings from the original Sanskrit into English to make them accessible to his own countryman. On 11 March 1812, a fire in the print shop caused £10,000 in damages and lost work. Amongst the losses were many irreplaceable manuscripts, including much of Carey's translation of Sanskrit literature and a polyglot dictionary of Sanskrit and related languages, which would have been a seminal philological work had it been completed. However, the press itself and the punches were saved, and the mission was able to continue printing in six months. In Carey's lifetime, the mission printed and distributed the Bible in whole or part in 44 languages and dialects.
Also, in 1812, Adoniram Judson an American Congregational missionary enroute to India studied the scriptures on baptism in preparation for a meeting with Carey. His studies led him to become a Baptist. Carey's urging of American Baptists to take over support for Judson's mission, led to the foundation in 1814 of the first American Baptist Mission board, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions, later commonly known as the Triennial Convention. Most American Baptist denominations of today are directly or indirectly descended from this convention.
Legacy and influence
William Carey has been referred to as the "father of modern missions" and was a significant influence to the Protestant missionary movement of the 19th century.
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