Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey

“Faithful Witness” written by Timothy George

            Whenever the topic of foreign missions is discussed, the name of William Carey inevitably comes up. Carey was a Baptist preacher who initiated the English mission in India. Timothy George relates the fascinating story of his life and mission in this brief, well-written biography.

Carey, an uneducated shoemaker, was brought to the faith by the influence of his fellow apprentice. Immediately, Carey felt responsible to bring this glorious gospel to all of his relatives. “Soon after he was converted Carey began to press the claims of Christ upon others.” (8) Carey never viewed evangelism as an option, but rather saw personal witnessing as a necessary requirement of the Christian: “Evangelism was never an optional add-on to the gospel; it was the motivating force of every soul delivered out of darkness into the light of grace.” (8)

During the years following his conversion, Carey became interested in the ministry and at the age of 25 he became the pastor of a small Baptist church in Moulton, England.

Carey’s zeal for missions never subsided even though he faced many disappointments and challenges. The most well-known challenge came from his colleagues in the ministry. At a meeting of ministers at Northampton, the chairman asked his fellow pastors for a subject to discuss. Carey proposed: “The duty of Christians to attempt the spread of the gospel among heathen nations.” (53) The response to Carey’s suggestion was harsh. George writes: “Ryland, Sr., was genuinely astonished and, with a rebuking frown, thundered back, ‘Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mind!’ (53) Carey was branded as a “miserable enthusiast” for having raised the issue.

This event did not smother the fire which was burning within Carey. Carey continued to read everything that he could lay his hands on and began researching for a book which he would publish in 1792 under the lengthy title: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, In Which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings are Considered, by William Carey.

After the publication of the Enquiry, Carey was asked to preach to another meeting of ministers at Northampton. He accepted the offer and took this occasion to preach a powerful sermon on Isaiah 54:2,3: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations…” Carey’s sermon was eloquent and powerful as he focused on the commands of the gospel with regard to mission work. George writes: “The ferment of his prolonged study and passion for spreading the gospel among the heathen overseas was poured into that one concentrated address.” (33) “The effect of Carey’s ‘deathless sermon,’ as it came to be called, was electric.” (32) After this moving sermon, the society adopted the proposal: “That a meeting be prepared against the next ministers’ meeting at Kettering, for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the gospel among the heathen.”(33)  Carey’s zeal had been spread to the others.

The Mission Society was established in 1792. In 1793 Carey, along with his family and a friend, left their home country, bound for India. The six month trip placed them in a new country where they immediately faced many dangers and trials. Five years later two missionaries came to join them, and together they established a colony at Serampore. This trio was able to accomplish much in the way of spreading the gospel through India. A Baptist church was organized, as well as schools for the training of the children. Carey, with the assistance of the natives, translated the New Testament into 33 different languages and distributed it throughout the region.

George concludes the story of Carey’s life with a worthwhile chapter on the relevance of Carey for modern missions. Carey based his work on the unshakable principles of God’s sovereignty, salvation in Christ alone, the authority of the Scripture, and faithfulness to his Lord and Savior. These are still the fundamental principles of mission work. The only successful mission is one which is built on these unchangeable principles. God’s glory and honor must be the focus of all of our efforts. Only then will He use the church to gather His people from every tribe and tongue.

The appendix includes pictures of Carey’s church, workshop, pulpit, and other interesting items. Worth the price of the book is a reprint of the entire body of Carey’s Enquiry. In this book, Carey traces the history of missions from the Bible times until the present and lays out his principles for missions. These principles were tested and proved on the mission field of India.

Timothy George is to be complimented for this fine biography. The book is both easy to read and historically accurate.