Charles M. Wingard
The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey, by Michael A.G. Haykin. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2018, 161 pages, $16.00.
Michael A.G. Haykin gives a concise and inspirational account of the life and work of William Carey, English missionary to India and often called “The Father of Modern Missions.” Reformed theology was the solid foundation of Carey’s ministry. Haykin explains:
In his theology, Carey married a deep-seated conviction regarding God’s sovereignty in salvation to an equally profound belief that in converting sinners God uses means.… Without understanding Carey’s consistent delight in Calvinism throughout his life, we cannot understand the man, his motivation, or eventually the shape of his mission. (43–44)
One example of Carey’s firm grasp of the doctrines of grace appears when he writes that one “may well expect to see fire and water agree, as persons with sinful hearts and desires cordially approve of the character of God” (47). Nothing but the sovereign and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit can surmount man’s hostility to God.
This deep, Calvinistic theology did not come from his parents. Born in 1761 to a modest family, Carey’s father served as parish clerk and village schoolmaster in Paulerspury in the county of Northhamptonshire. A child of the Church of England, he grew up with the liturgical rhythms of Psalter readings and Scripture lessons that shape Anglican worship. Although the congregation lacked evangelical piety, Carey recalled that the church “tended to furnish my mind with a general Scripture knowledge” (14).
The young Carey was curious about the world beyond Britain’s borders. An uncle’s stories of serving in Canada during the French and Indian Wars piqued his interest in foreign lands—an interest that only grew as he read of the exploits of British naval captain and explorer James Cook.
At sixteen, he worked as a shoemaker’s apprentice, and his friendship with a co-worker (a member of the Congregational church) led to his conversion. This experience left him with an emerging appreciation for the spiritual vitality of England’s religious dissenters. He would soon leave the Church of England and become a founding member of a Congregational church that would later become the Baptist church at Hackleton. His study of the Scriptures and his conversations with John Sutcliff and Andrew Fuller, members of the Northhamptonshire Baptist Association, resulted in his acceptance of the doctrine of believer’s baptism. Carey approached John Ryland of Northampton for baptism, and was immersed by his son, John Ryland Jr. in 1783.
Fuller, Sutcliff, and the younger Ryland forged deep and lasting friendships. Through these men, Carey was introduced to the books of towering figures of the Christian faith, and especially, those of Jonathan Edwards, whose sermons he took with him to India (48).
The importance of these lifelong friendships is the major theme of Haykin’s book. Their influence upon like-minded believers in the Baptist Missionary Society made Carey’s mission to India possible. Without this network’s support, and the gathering of the necessary resources, the undertaking would not have succeeded.
Carey’s friends supported him through intense debates over the right use of means in doing the Lord’s work, and especially the sending of missionaries, evangelism, and fervent prayer. When properly understood, the doctrines of grace never enervate but motivate God’s church to missions. In An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792), Carey pointed to the example of the eighteenth-century Moravian Brethren. Small in number, by 1760 they sent more than two hundred missionaries to gospel-neglected (such as the West Indies, Georgia, and Surinam) and remote (such as Greenland and Lapland) places in the world. In the Moravians, Carey found a fierce commitment to the right use of means in global missions (66–68).
One additional close friend must be mentioned—Samuel Pearce (1766–99). His correspondence with Carey during Carey’s early years in India became an invaluable source of much-needed encouragement. Corresponding by letter required great patience; mail could take six months or more to reach its destination (94). Not without reason did Carey prize the friendship of Pearce, a man whose character won widespread admiration. Of him, William Jay wrote: “When I have endeavored to form an image of our Lord as a preacher, Pearce has oftener presented himself to my mind than any other I have been acquainted with.… What a savour does communion with such a man leave upon the spirit” (82).
In lesser detail, the author describes Carey’s friendship with William Ward and Joshua Marshman at the famed Serampore Mission.
Carey said of himself, “I am a plodder, it is true. I have no genius, but I can plod” (3). And so he did. He overcame obstacles of procrastinating Christians who errantly applied the doctrines of grace and undercut missionary resolve. He persevered in the midst of painful family trials. He stayed the course through many years of preaching and Bible translation in dangerous outposts of the Lord’s kingdom. We need plodders today. Plodders who, persuaded of the Lord’s will and their duty, persevere in their gospel work.
But as critical as plodding is, it takes more than individual initiative to undertake ambitious works like Carey’s missionary voyage to India. Supportive friends and networks are absolutely necessary.
I hope this fine book finds its way into many ministers’ libraries. Missions fueled by doctrine, committed to the right use of means, and undergirded by deep friendships and broader networks of relationships are as essential now as in Carey’s day.
Charles Malcolm Wingard is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi (PCA), and associate professor of practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Ordained Servant, May 2019.