This book alongside the life of John G. Paton ranks as my favourite on the topic of missions. I think it is difficult to conceive of how difficult it was for William Carey to become the famous missionary to India when he was a simple Northampton shoemaker in the late 18th century. In one of the early chapters in recounts a young British Officer sitting near Carey, in India, at the Governor General’s table, who disdainfully asked him whether he had not been a shoemaker. Carey’s reply was ‘not even a shoemaker, sir: only a cobbler’.
Ryland senior is reported to have told Carey when he brought up the topic of a missions, ‘Young man sit down, sit down. You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen. He’ll do it without consulting you or me.’ In the 1790s, Carey was burning with a passion to see the masses of the heathen brought to the Lord Jesus Christ. He could look at the maps of the world and see millions from Kamtschatka to Kaffraria, from Nove Zembla to New Zealand that were in need of true religion. In the face of those who comment about the dangers, his attitude was that no barbarism of the people had deterred the apostles nor their successors; not the wildness of Germany and Gaul, nor of ‘more barbarous Britain’!’ The watchword of the apostles was not civilisation then Christianity but ‘Christianity the royal road to a worthy civilisation!’
In Kettering, on 2 October 1792, Carey, Fuller, Pearce, Ryland and Sutcliff started a new missionary society. It was the first society for missions that has such a humble background, Cromwell had planned them from the Commonwealth service, Wesley had gone to Georgia with the backing of the colony’s trustees. The Kettering five were the pastors of obscure little village causes and those gathered around them began to pledge money. They raised £13,2s,6d – these were pastors so poor that they were pledging a few months salary, and in one case it took one a year to pay. This was a real sacrifice for the sake of others. Kettering might not have realised it but it will ever be remembered for that night – when that small band met to promote the cause whose line was to go out though all the earth and its influence to the end of the world.
The book is a remarkable tale of fortitude and endurance in the face of difficulty. A tale of Christian happiness and fortitude that eventually sees him overcome. Perhaps, for me the most touching anecdote is from 12 March 1812 when the print works housing 60,000 to 70,000 rupees worth of property, and twelve months of his translation work catches fire and it is all lost. In the face of this catastrophe the scripture that he turns to is ‘Every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit’.
By the close he had translated the whole Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit and Assamese. He had a Panjabi New Testament and most of the Old Testament. Pashto and Kashmiri New Testaments and Old Testaments up to 2 Kings. Telugu and Konkani New Testaments and Pentateuchs. With 19 other New Testaments and 5 gospels.
If you want an uplifting biography to start the year, and you have not yet read this book – then look no further!