William Carey, at the age of 33, was commissioned as one of the society’s first missionaries. On June 13, 1793, Carey and his young family left the shores of Great Britain to embark on the five-month trip to India. He would never see his homeland again. Carey’s commitment to the centrality of the word of God resulted in the drive to learn the language of the people who needed this word.
Most Christians today would agree—at least in principle—that obedience to Christ entails some degree of involvement in global missions. Whether going, enabling, or praying, Christians must recognize the Great Commission of Jesus as prescriptive for them. Such an understanding, however, has not always been widely held.
William Carey was the man whom God used almost single-handedly to bring the Great Commission back to the forefront of the thinking of the church. Commonly recognized today as “the father of modern missions,” Carey came on the scene during a period of evangelical lethargy. Paralyzed by hyper-Calvinism and a general apathy towards the lost, most churches in England believed that if God wanted to save sinners, he did not need the participation of men.
Carey ascended to such an important historical status from the lowliest of ranks. He was a commoner, born into a poor family in an obscure town in England. He received only a mediocre grade school education and, for the most part, was self-taught. He never attended a seminary, nor did he take one class of post-secondary education. In fact, for the first half of his missionary life he was ridiculed by the leaders of his denomination. So when God used Carey to ignite the fire of the modern missions movement, He equally used him to humble the wise.
His Early Years
Carey was born on August 17, 1761 in Paulerspury, England. His family was poor but hard-working. The village school he attended was adequate for instilling the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but any advancement in knowledge came as a result of his own curiosity.
He loved reading the journals of explorers who were at that time charting the western and southern regions of the world. He was also fascinated with language. But his capacity to absorb information, his deeply engrained self-discipline, and his cold upbringing produced in young Carey a strong sense of self-sufficiency.
Early in life, he learned the trade of shoemaking. It was not a glamorous vocation, but there were few other options. Yet as God would have it, it was through his tenure as an apprentice that another young cobbler, John Warr, presented the gospel to him. In 1779, when Carey was 17 years old, he cast himself into the arms of a merciful God and had his wretched self-righteousness exchanged for the glorious righteousness of Jesus Christ.
After His Conversion
As many new Christians do, he struggled for some time after his conversion with assurance of salvation. This struggle, which was quite pronounced, served him well for it drove him to the Bible. He resolved early on to make himself “a man of the Book.” As he studied it, he became increasingly enthralled with its beauty. The Bible soon came to have preeminence in his life, to the point where he could not even imagine existence without it. For the rest of his life he would be driven by the conviction that the Bible in its entirety is the authoritative, necessary, sufficient, and infallible word of God.
It is this conviction that propelled him for the rest of his life. He desperately wanted others to see the glorious things that he found in the Bible.