Studying church history this way allows the reader to see that the barometer of faithfulness in Christian ministry is judged not by what one may bring as an individual to the work of the kingdom, but rather what one contributes as a servant in the churches of the kingdom, whether known or in obscurity. If the study of church history does anything, it should lead one joyfully to see the churches of God as more important than himself (Philippians 2:3).
“He keeps the grand end in view.”
After arriving in India in September 1796, John Fountain used these words to describe his first impressions of William Carey (1761-1834). A missionary pioneer, organizer, catalyst, survivor, and inspiration, Carey lived 73 full years and changed the modern world. J. H. Kane argues that Carey’s missions tract, An Enquiry, was “a landmark in Christian history and deserves a place alongside Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses.” Carey would not agree with this assessment. In his words, if one were to “give me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod.”
Born in a small village to a devout Anglican family, Carey regularly attended church but experienced no major life transformation. By his teens he apprenticed as a shoemaker in a neighboring town and through the persistent witness of his co-worker, John Warr, Carey saw his need for a Savior. Soon after his conversion, he left the Church of England and attended a Congregationalist church while intently reading and studying the Scriptures. When faced with the quandary of defending from the Bible his own infant baptism, Carey sought aid from John Ryland Sr., the pastor of College Lane Baptist Church in Northampton. In October 1783, Carey received believer’s baptism from the pastor’s son, John Ryland Jr. Shortly thereafter, another pastor encouraged Carey to preach for a small congregation while maintaining his shoemaking trade. By 1785, Carey accepted a vocational pastorate in Moulton. There he established a friendship with Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller of neighboring Kettering.
During this time, Carey’s regular reading of the voyages of Captain James Cook opened his eyes to the world. In addition, Robert Hall Sr.’s Help to Zion’s Travellers, a doctrinal primer molded from the evangelical theology of Jonathan Edwards and distinct from the hyper-Calvinist climate in England among Baptists, helped shape Carey’s theological thinking more than any other book outside the Bible. With a theology that held the sovereignty of God in balance with the responsibility of man and a growing zeal to see the saving message of the Lord Jesus taken to the ends of the earth, Carey set out to organize his thoughts for accomplishing this task. After wrestling with the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Carey raised the notion of global evangelism at a minister’s meeting in 1785, but was told he “was a most miserable enthusiast for asking such a question.” Despite the discouragement, Carey continued to plod.
In 1789, Carey went to pastor the Harvey Lane Church in Leicester. By May 1792 he published An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, an argument that the Great Commission remained as a mandate for all churches. This was novel in Carey’s day for the accepted understanding was that the Great Commission was fulfilled by the Apostles and no longer applicable to believers. Carey, instead, read the text plainly and applied what he first learned from Robert Hall’s doctrinal primer to foreign missions. In the Enquiry, Carey answered common objections to the idea of cross-cultural evangelism as well as documenting, in detail, the vast numbers of people outside of Christ.