William Carey

The English Baptist preacher William Carey (1761-1834), known as the father of modern Protestant missions, was a pioneer of new-style evangelism in India.

William Carey was born on Aug. 17, 1761, in a village in Northamptonshire, where he spent his childhood in poverty. He first was a shoemaker's apprentice. Although without formal education, Carey was an avid reader and a precocious linguist. He became a Baptist preacher and worked as a schoolmaster and was already on his way to becoming the leader who, in spite of the general reluctance of the Protestant churches of his day, devised new ways to obey the great commission "to go and evangelize the nations."

In one of the most surprising publications of missionary history, Carey expounded some practical guidelines "to use means for the conversions of the Heathens" (Enquiry, 1788). In a sermon to his colleagues (1791) he first used the words which would become the creed of modern missions: "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." In 1792 the first modern-style missionary society was founded: The Baptist Missionary Society. It was a model for the hundreds of societies to follow in the 19th century.

In 1793 Carey arrived in India, where he was confronted with the antimissionary attitude of the British colonial government. He settled in the Danish colony of Serampore, near Calcutta, where he inspired the teamwork of the "Serampore Trio" (Carey, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman). This "commune" attempted to translate the universality of the Christian faith into terms of practical involvement in all aspects of Indian life.

The basic principle of communal life was that every member should be, as far as possible, self-supporting. Carey paid for his missionary work (among other things) by acting as a director of an indigo factory and as a professor of languages in a secular institution. The objective of the community was to disseminate the gospel in all possible ways: by preaching, by teaching (in schools), and by literature (translating the Bible into more than 30 languages). Carey's translation service was noteworthy. He also made available some of the Indian classics and was instrumental in the renaissance of Hindu culture in the 19th century.

Carey believed that Indians could be authentically evangelized only by their own countrymen. He set out, therefore, to prepare converts for this task and broadened the scope of education in the mission schools. Serampore College was conceived not as a seminary but as a liberal arts college for Christians and non-Christians.

Carey died in Serampore on June 9, 1834, an internationally honored figure.


Further Reading on William Carey

Carey's An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians (1792) was republished in a new facsimile edition, edited by Ernest A. Payne (1961). The most complete biography is still S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (1923; 8th ed. 1934). A popular biography with an extensive bibliography is Walter B. Davis, William Carey: Father of Modern Missions (1963).

Additional Biography Sources

Drewery, Mary, William Carey: a biography, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1979, 1978.

Drewery, Mary, William Carey: shoemaker and missionary, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.

George, Timothy., Faithful witness: the life and mission of William Carey, Birmingham, Ala.: New Hope, 1991.

Mangalwadi, Ruth., William Carey: a tribute by a Indian woman, New Delhi: Nivedit Good Books Distributors Pvt., 1993.