Despite the negative response of his fellow ministers to foreign missions, Carey refused to give up. In early 1792, he published his 87-page masterpiece on missions, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. Not long after, on 31st May 1792, Carey was given an opportunity to address an association meeting in Nottingham. Taking his text from Isaiah 54: 2-3, he preached his famous sermon. The message can be summed up in two striking statements:
1) “Expect great things from God”
2) “Attempt great things for God”
Carey poured into his sermon his heart’s yearnings over the past eight years. Though the address was simple and short, it brought the desired conviction upon its hearers “with the impact of an explosion. They were jolted out of their lethargy as the Holy Spirit moved among them” (Finnie Kellsye M, William Carey by trade a cobbler).
When Carey sat down after delivering his sermon, there was silence. Then began a buzz of talk among the ministers. Speaking favourably of the preacher and his message, they agreed to seriously consider the work of missions. But when the time came to make a decision, their old feelings of doubt returned and Carey’s pleas once again went unheeded.
Dismayed by his contemporaries’ lack of faith, Carey turned to his good friend, Andrew Fuller. Gripping Fuller’s arm, Carey demanded that something be done immediately. Moved by his friend’s heart-breaking entreaty, Fuller joined Carey in demanding action. From that moment, Fuller became a convert and loyal supporter of Carey’s cause.
Before they dispersed that eventful afternoon, the meeting resolved: “That a plan be prepared against the next ministers' meeting at Kettering, for the establishment of a society for propagating the Gospel among the heathen.”
o The birth of the modern missionary movement
On 2nd October 1792, twelve Baptist ministers met in the parlour of Mrs Wallis, a widow, to form the first English mission society, “The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Heathen” (subsequently known as the Baptist Missionary Society). Among the committee members were Andrew Fuller, John Ryland, John Sutcliff and William Carey.
“The society was relatively small and poor, but they were united. They were a band of brothers now convinced of the need to advance missions around the world. They started with a meager sum of 13 British sterling pounds – the equivalent of about $1,120 in today’s US currency. Outside observers laughed at the start of a missionary society with such a measly amount. But these men never looked back” (www.tms.edu/blog/william-carey-morning-star-modern-missions/).
At around this time, the new mission society came into contact with a Dr John Thomas, a medical missionary. Having served several years in India, Thomas was in England to raise funds and to enroll a co-labourer for his outreach work there. Thomas spoke of the many Gospel opportunities in that heathen land. To support his testimony, he produced a letter he received from three Brahmans (educated Hindus). It read: “Have compassion on us and send us preachers, and such as will forward translations of the Bible.”
Thomas’ representations so impressed the committee that Andrew Fuller remarked that there was a gold-mine in India waiting to be explored. In response to Fuller’s question, “Who will venture to explore it?”, Carey answered immediately that he would go. Addressing the members of the committee, Carey reminded them that they “must hold the ropes”. Fuller said afterward: “This, we solemnly engaged to do, pledging ourselves never to desert him as long as we should live.” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey3.html).
Carey was thus commissioned as the society’s first missionary. Plans were made for him to accompany Thomas to India.
However, the missionary duo met with many obstacles. Carey’s wife, Dorothy, who was heavily pregnant with her fourth child, refused to accompany him. His own father called him a mad man. But Carey would not be swayed from his divine mission. God had called him to India and he must obey. With a heavy heart, Carey made arrangements for the support of his family, and preached a farewell message to his sorrowing congregation. Together with Thomas, Carey set out to raise funds and to secure a passage to India.
However, after boarding the ship for India, Carey, accompanied by his eldest son, Felix, Thomas and his family, was forced to turn back because “the East India Company refused to give them permission to enter India” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey6.html). Back on shore, Carey again pleaded with his wife to go with him. This time, she relented and agreed to join her husband on condition that her sister accompanied them.
(… to be continued)