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Reading Biographies: William Carey

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

In the text above I believe we have a biblical mandate to read Christian biographies. Remember that Hebrews Chapter 11 gives the example of heroes of the faith, which is meant to encourage us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb.12:1). It behooves us, therefore, to remember past leaders who still speak God’s word to us as we consider the course of their whole lives. In the pages of a biography we can consider their lives and doctrine and we can see the power of Christ working through weak men and women like ourselves. This Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8). Their God is our God, and their lives should inspire us to imitate their faith in him. So, for the next month I’ll be writing to encourage us all to read Christian biographies.

I begin with John Appleby’s “I Can Plod”, a book about William Carey, the great missionary to India. Carey lived from 1761-1834 and was known as the “father of modern missions” and the founder of the First Baptist Missionary Society. Appleby is well suited to write this book. He served the Lord in India for many years. Also, like Carey, Appleby embraces a “sensible biblical Calvinism” (9). Finally, he was supported by his wife Eileen throughout his own ministry in India and can well empathize with the cost of discipleship for Carey and his wife Dorothy when they left the shores of England in 1793, never to return home.

Two key lessons for us emerge from the book: 1. Carey thought hard, and 2. He believed hard.

Hard thought

Carey thought hard and he solidified enduring missiological principles in two pieces of key documentation. First, he wrote his famous Enquiry in which he answered the arguments raised against mission, examined former missionary efforts, provided the first ever statistical global survey of world Christianity ever published, laid out the obstacles, and set forth the obligations of Christians to pray and to go. It was remarkable biblical thinking! The second piece of documentation that was important was the Form of Agreement of 1805, which sets out the biblical principles that had shaped the work of his successful mission in India. In other words, the Enquiry was written before he went and the Form was written in light of the experience of the mission itself. Carey thought rigorously and used means.

Hard belief

But above all he believed hard. Carey was a man of great faith in the power of a great God to save souls and reform society. He was a man who could “plod”. To put it another way, he could persevere because he continued to trust in the strength that God supplied. He needed it because in the course of his ministry he suffered trial after trial. It marked Carey’s life. It was over six years before he saw the first indigenous convert (186). He lost his son, Peter, to dysentery, his wife to instability of mind, and he lost an able translator, whom he had to dismiss because of lack of integrity (164). Still Carey continued to persevere and hope in the “promise power and faithfulness of God”[1] (166). Suffering was God’s means to display his power through Carey’s ministry. It made Carey a man of fervent, persistent, believing prayer, which underpinned his mantra, “Expect great things; attempt great things.”

So whether you are married or single, working in the home or the marketplace, Carey should inspire you to greater thought, greater faith, greater expectation, and greater faithfulness to the Great Commission.

I Can Plod: William Carey and The Early Years of the First Baptist Missionary Society, J. Appleby, (Grace Publications, 2007).

[1] This is from a letter to Andrew Fuller, ‘We can only desert the work with our lives. We are determined to hold on, though our discouragements be a thousand times greater. We have the same ground of hope as you in England- the promise power and faithfulness of God’