As an apprentice, young Carey worked hard and learnt much about the shoemaking business. But thoughts of God were far from his mind. Though he was brought up in a godly home, and had read the Bible from young, he did not know the Lord personally. Moreover, the testimony of Mr Clarke Nichols, his Christian employer, was far from wholesome. “The young apprentice was actually driven away from Christ and the Church by his association with Clarke Nichols, chiefly because of his fiery temper, his profane tongue and his Saturday night drinking sprees.”
Despite the negative influence, God was graciously directing Carey’s steps. He had a fellow apprentice, John Warr, who shared the same workbench. Warr, a devout Christian from a non-conformist church, was deeply concerned for his friend’s soul.
One day, Carey picked up a Greek commentary belonging to his master and wondered at its strange looking letters. Determined to decipher them, he visited a poor weaver who knew Greek, and from him received his first Greek lesson. In the months that followed, the Greek book became Carey’s constant companion at the workbench. Earnestly, he would pore over the book and repeat the words and conjugations to himself as he went on mending shoes. Watching quietly, Warr prayed fervently that God would open his young friend’s heart to His grace.
Carey noted Warr’s earnest efforts to reach him with the Gospel: “He became importunate with me, lending me books and engaging in conversation with me whenever possible.” Gifted with greater intellect, Carey often had the last word in their debates on doctrinal and church issues. Though Carey could easily disarm his less scholarly workmate with his mastery of words, his triumphs brought him little satisfaction. There was something about the faith of his workmate that impressed him – “something personal and real … that went far beyond mere head knowledge” (Finnie Kellsye M, William Carey by trade a cobbler).
Troubled and restless, Carey longed for the peace that eluded him: “I had pride sufficient for a thousand times my knowledge. I always scorned to have the worst in a discussion and the last word was assuredly mine. But I was often afterward convinced that my fellow-apprentice had the better of the argument, and I felt a growing uneasiness, but had no idea that nothing but a complete change of heart could do me any good”. Yet the young apprentice remained unconverted.
On 10 February 1779, when Carey was 17, he accompanied John Warr to a Dissenter Prayer meeting where he was soundly converted. One member read a verse from Hebrew 13: “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (v. 13). Carey felt that the words were addressed directly to him. That night, the convicted young man sought God’s forgiveness and yielded his life to Christ.
“This was not a blinding flash on a Damascus Road, but a slow and gradual reaching out after weeks of earnest seeking, realising at last that it was Christ who had found him, granting him the peace that passes understanding” (Finnie).
“Like Pilgrim, he entered the wicket Gate and set out for the Heavenly City. When John Warr led this lad to Christ, he had no idea that he was winning one who would sound the call of God to a sleeping church and add the jewel of India to the diadem of Christ.”
Eager to know the Scriptures, Carey began to earnestly study the original languages – Hebrew and Greek. His zeal soon became known and he was invited to preach in a little chapel which he attended. “His hearers were humble people and were well pleased with his efforts. He said afterward, ‘Being ignorant, they sometimes applauded, to my great injury’” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey6).
On 10 June 1781, William married Dorothy Plackett, his employer’s sister-in-law. But their marital life was beset by trials from the start. Dorothy was predisposed to mental illness. The couple struggled with domestic and financial troubles. Ann, their daughter died when she was two years old. Carey himself was stricken with a serious fever and the family lived in abject poverty.
Carey’s brother and some friends helped to secure a little cottage in Piddington where Carey operated an evening school alongside his shoemaking business. With his earnings as a teacher and a cobbler, Carey was able to carry on his preaching ministry although the family continued to struggle financially. (… to be continued)
(Unless otherwise stated, all other quotations are from www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/biocarey2)