William Carey was born in Purey, Northampton, England, August 17, 1761. In his boyhood he was an extreme Episcopalian, regarding dissenters with sovereign contempt. His father and grandfather officiated as clerks in the Episcopal Church, and young Carey from childhood loved the house in which they held this humble position.
Mr. Carey was baptized by Dr. Ryland, Oct. 5, 1783, in the river Nen, just above Dr. Doddridge’s church, Northhampton. For three years and a half he preached to a little community in Boston, walking six miles each way to render the service.
He was ordained pastor of the church of Moulton Aug. 1, 1787; the sermon on the occasion was preached by the Rev. Andrew Fuller. His salary at Moulton was just $75.00 a year, and when he entered upon his labors in that field he had a wife and two children to support.
Mr. Carey had probably the greatest facility for acquiring foreign languages ever possess by any human being. At any rate, no one ever possess a larger measure of this extraordinary talent. In seven years he learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Dutch, and in acquiring these languages he had scarcely and assistance.
In reading the voyages of the celebrated Captain Cook he first had his attention directed to the heath world, and especially to its doomed condition; the topic soon filled his mind and engrossed his heart. And though the subject was beset by innumerable and apparently insurmountable difficulties, and though the work was novel to him and to everyone of his friends, yet he felt impelled by an unseen power to go and preach the gospel to the heathen. His first selected field of labor was Tahiti.
He issued a pamphlet entitled “An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.” This publication made a deep impression upon Mr. Carey’s friends, and it had an extensive influence in turning their minds and hearts to the idolaters of distant lands. Mr. Carey became pastor of the church in Leicester in 1789, and there he labored with untiring faithfulness among his flock, and formed plans with unquenchable zeal for the salvation of the heathen. From this church he went for to India to give God’s Word to its vast population.
At the meeting of his Association, which was held at Nottingham, May 30, 1792, he preached on Isaiah liv. 2,3, announcing the two memorable divisions of his disclosure: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” The sermon stirred up the hearts of his hearers as they had never been before; every one felt the guilt of keeping the gospel from perishing myriads, and the need of making an effort to win his ignorant enemies to their Master. At Kettering, the church of Andrew Fuller, the Baptist Missionary Society was organized Oct. 2, 1792. The society was formally instituted in the house of the widow of Deacon Beeby Wallis. The little parlor which witnessed the birth of this society was the most honored room in the British Islands, or in any part of Christendom; in it was formed the first society of modern times for spreading the gospel among the heathen, the parent of all great Protestant missionary societies in existence.
The British East India Company had the government of India at this period. No white men could settle in that country without their permission, nor remain in it longer than they pleased. No ship could trade with it except one of their vessels. The Company was intensely hostile to missionaries, and to please the people of India they were ready to show the greatest respect for their gods. In 1801 a deputation from the government went in procession to the Kalee ghaut, the most opulent and popular shrine of the metropolis, and presented 5000 rupees to the idol in the name of the Company for the success which had attended the British arms.
A Baptist surgeon in India, named Thomas, had preached Christ occasionally to the natives, and in 1793 he was in England to secure some fellow-workers to go back with him to that dark land. Carey and he were appointed missionaries by the new society. They engaged passage on the “Earl of Oxford” to sail for the East, and they went on board to leave their native land; but Mr. Carey had no license to go to India from the Company, and both the missionaries were put ashore; Carey was greatly distressed by this unexpected blow, and felt as if hopes were permanently crushed, but soon the Danish East Indiaman, the “Kron Princessa Maria,” was found, and in her they sailed June 13, 1793. The voyage was a prosperous one, and the missionaries landed in health. For a few years Mr. Carey had charge of an indigo-factory, from which he received L240 per annum; and at the same time he labored unobtrusively as a missionary. He could not stay in British India as an avowed missionary, and when, on their landing in Calcutta, Marshaman and Ward were ordered back to England, because the captain of their vessel returned them to the authorities as missionaries, Carey determined to make his abode at Serampore for the future, and to take Marshaman and Ward with him, where they could stay in defiance of the British East India Company. Serampore was a Danish settlement on the river Hoogly, 15 miles from Calcutta. The kinds of Denmark had sent out missionaries to convert the natives, and their government was in hearty sympathy with missions. Col. Bie, the representative of the Danish sovereign at Serampore, received Cary and his brethren with generous hospitality, and he protected them for years against the powerful governors of British India. The providence of God evidently kept this little spot under the rule of Denmark as a refuge for the missionaries until the pious people of Great Britian should abolish the heathenish law which excluded missionaries from India. Even the king of Denmark himself, as he learned from the governor of Serampore the character and worth of the missionaries, became their firm friend. In 1821, Frederick VI., king of Denmark, sent the missionaries a gold medal, as an expression of his appreciation of their labors, and endowed the college which they had founded with the rent of a house worth about $5000. And when in 1845 the successor of Frederick ceded the Serampore settlement to the British government, he had an article inserted in the treaty confirming the Danish charter of the Serampore Baptist College.
At Seramore the missionaries set up printing-presses and a large boarding-school, and in process of the time founded a college. They preached incessantly, and Carey particularly studied the languages of the country with a measure of success never equaled before or since by any other settle in India. He soon became the most learned man in the country. When Lord Wellesley founded the College of Fort Williams, In Calcutta, in 1801, to teach the language of Bengal to young Englishmen in the civil service of the Company in India, Dr. Carey was the only man in the East or in Great Britain qualified to teach the language correctly, and he received and accepted the appointment of professor in Fort Williams. In December 1829, an act, for which he had long labored, was passed by the Council in India, abolishing the practice of burning widows with the bodies of their dead husbands. It was determined to publish the English and Bengali copied of the act simultaneously, and Dr. Carey was selected to make the version for the people of Bengal. Every day cost the lives of two widows, and instead of going into the pulpit on the morning of the Lord’s day, when he received the order from Henry Shakespeare, the secretary of the government, he commenced his translation, and completed it before night, and that glorious act of Lord William Bentinek, so dear to William Carey’s heart, went forth to the nations of India in the polished Bengali of the great Baptist missionary.
Carey was the author of a Mahratta grammar, and of a Sanscrit grammar, extending over more than a thousand quarto pages, a Punjabi grammar, a Telinga grammar, and of a Mahratta dictionary, a Bengali dictionary, a Bhotanta dictionary, and a Sanscrit dictionary, the manuscript of which was burned before it was printed. He was also the author of several other secular works.
“The versions of the Sacred Scriptures, in the preparations of which he took an active and laborious part, include the Sanscrit, Hindu, Brijbbhassa, Mahratta, Bengali, Oriya, Telinga, Karnata, Maldivian, Guarjattee, Bulooshe, Pushtoo, Punjabi, Kashmeer, Assam, Burman, Pali, or Magudha, Tamul, Cingalese, Armenian, Malay, Hindostani, and Persian. In six of these tongues the whole Scriptures have been translated and circulated; the New Testament has appeared in 23 languages, besides various dialects in which smaller portions of the sacred text have been printed. In thirty years Carey and his brethren rendered the Word of God accessible to one-third of the world.” And even this is not all: before Carey’s death 212,000 copies of the Scriptures were issued from Serampore in 40 different languages, the tongue of 330,000,000 of the human family. Dr. Carey was the greatest tool-maker for missionaries that ever labored for God. His versions are used to-day by all denominations of Christians throughout India.
Most of his income was given away in Bible distribution. The missionaries at Serampore placed their gains in a common fund, from which they drew a scanty support; Marshman’s successful school and Carey’s professorship furnished a large surplus for the printing and circulation of the Scriptures. Carey, Marshman, and Ward gave during their stay in India nearly $400,000 to the spread of revealed light in that country cursed by miserable gods.
The first Hindoo convert baptized by Dr. Carey in India was the celebrated Krishna Pal. Dr. Carey founded churches and mission stations in many parts of India, and planted seed from which he gathered precious harvests, and from which his successors have reaped abundantly.
A visitor in 1821 describes Dr. Cary as short in stature, with white hair, and a countenance equally bland and benevolent in feature and expression.
He had three wives, one of who reluctantly accompanied him from his native land, and the second and third he married in India.
The last sickness of Dr. Carey found him with perfect peace of mind; he was ready and anxious to go to his blessed Saviour. Lady Bentinck, the wife of the governor, frequently visited him, and Bishop Wilson, of Calcutta, came and besought his blessing. He died June 9, 1834, in his seventy-third year.
Dr. Carey had great decision of character. After he had thoroughly weighed a subject his resolution about it was taken, and nothing could make him change the purpose he had formed. His perseverance to accomplish a proper end knew no bounds; he would labor through discouragements for twenty years or more to carry out a Christian purpose. When he had a clear conviction of duty he could not disobey his conscience; to keep it without offense was one of the great aims of his life. He never doubted the help of God in his own time to aid him in carrying out the plan of love when he had formed. He carefully husbanded every moment, and in that way he was able to perform more labor than any man in Europe or Asia in his day. He had as unselfish a heart as ever beat with love to Jesus.
In denouncing contemptuous sneers poured on Carey, Marshman, Ward, the celebrated Dr. Southey says, “These low-born, low-bred mechanics have done more to spread the knowledge of the Scriptures among the heathen than has been accomplished, or even attempted, by all the world beside.” In the British House of Commons the celebrated William Wilberforce said of Dr. Carey, “He had the genius as well as the benevolence to devise the plan of a society for communication the blessings of Christian light to the natives of India. To qualify himself for this truly noble enterprise he had resolutely applied himself to the study of the learned languages; and after making considerable proficiency in them, applied himself to several of the Oriental tongues, and more especially to the Sanscript, in which his proficiency is acknowledged to be greater than that of Sir Williams Jones, or any other European.” At his death resolutions expressive of admiration for the great benevolence and vast learning of Dr. Carey were passed by many societies in Europe and Asia. Nor is there any doubt that had Carey been a Catholic he would have been canonized immediately after death, and help up as worthy of more exalted veneration than St. Francis Xavier himself. The Protestant world, however, unites in honoring him as the father or modern missions.
source: Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopedia
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