THE BIRTH OF ENGLAND’S FOREIGN MISSIONS
Moulton the Mission’s birthplace–Carey’s fever and poverty–His Moulton school–Fired with the missionary idea–His very large missionary map–Fuller’s confession of the aged and respectable ministers’ opposition–Old Mr. Ryland’s rebuke–Driven to publish his Enquiry–Its literary character–Carey’s survey of the world in 1788–His motives, difficulties, and plans–Projects the first Missionary Society–Contrasted with his predecessors from Erasmus–Prayer concert begun in Scotland in 1742–Jonathan Edwards–The Northamptonshire Baptist movement in 1784–Andrew Fuller–The Baptists, Particular and General–Antinomian and Socinian extremes opposed to Missions–Met by Fuller’s writings and Clipstone sermon–Carey’s agony at continued delay–His work in Leicester–His sermon at Nottingham–Foundation of Baptist Missionary Society at last–Kettering and Jerusalem.
THE north road, which runs for twelve miles from Northampton to Kettering, passes through a country known last century for the doings of the Pytchley Hunt. Stories, by no means exaggerated, of the deep drinking and deeper play of the club, whose gatehouse now stands at the entrance of Overstone Park, were rife, when on Lady Day 1785 William Carey became Baptist preacher of Moulton village, on the other side of the road. Moulton was to become the birthplace of the modern missionary idea; Kettering, of evangelical missionary action
No man in England had apparently a more wretched lot or more miserable prospects than he. He had started in life as a journeyman shoemaker at eighteen, burdened with a payment to his first master’s widow which his own kind heart had led him to offer, and with the price of his second master’s stock and business. Trade was good for the moment, and he had married, before he was twenty, one who brought him the most terrible sorrow a man can bear. He had no sooner completed a large order for which his predecessor had contracted than it was returned on his hands. From place to place he wearily trudged, trying to sell the shoes. Fever carried off his first child and brought himself so near to the grave that he sent for his mother to help in the nursing. At Piddington he worked early and late at his garden, but ague, caused by a neighbouring marsh, returned and left him so bald that he wore a wig thereafter until his voyage to India. During his preaching for more than three years at Barton, which involved a walk of sixteen miles, he did not receive from the poor folks enough to pay for the clothes he wore out in their service. His younger brother delicately came to his help, and he received the gift with a pathetic tenderness. But a calling which at once starved him, in spite of all his method and perseverance, and cramped the ardour of his soul for service to the Master who had revealed Himself in him, became distasteful. He gladly accepted an invitation from the somewhat disorganised church at Moulton to preach to them. They could offer him only about £10 a year, supplemented by £5 from a London fund. But the schoolmaster had just left, and Carey saw in that fact a new hope. For a time he and his family managed to live on an income which is estimated as never exceeding £36 a year. We find this passage in a printed appeal made by the “very poor congregation” for funds to repair and enlarge the chapel to which the new pastor’s preaching had attracted a crowd:–“The peculiar situation of our minister, Mr. Carey, renders it impossible for us to send him far abroad to collect the Contributions of the Charitable; as we are able to raise him but about Ten Pounds per Annum, so that he is obliged to keep a School for his Support: And as there are other two Schools in the Town, if he was to leave Home to collect for the Building, he must probably quit his Station on his Return, for Want of a Maintenance.”
His genial loving-kindness and his fast increasing learning little fitted him to drill peasant children in the alphabet. “When I kept school the boys kept me,” he used to confess with a merry twinkle. In all that our Lord meant by it William Carey was a child from first to last. The former teacher returned, and the poor preacher again took to shoemaking for the village clowns and the shops in Kettering and Northampton. His house still stands, one of a row of six cottages of the dear old English type, with the indispensable garden behind, and the glad sunshine pouring in through the open window embowered in roses and honeysuckle.
There, and chiefly in the school-hours as he tried to teach the children geography and the Bible and was all the while teaching himself, the missionary idea arose in his mind, and his soul became fired with the self-consecration, unknown to Wyclif and Hus, Luther and Calvin, Knox and even Bunyan, for theirs was other work. All his past knowledge of nature and of books, all his favourite reading of voyages and of travels which had led his school-fellows to dub him Columbus, all his painful study of the Word, his experience of the love of Christ and expoundings of the meaning of His message to men for six years, were gathered up, were intensified, and were directed with a concentrated power to the thought that Christ died, as for him, so for these millions of dark savages whom Cook was revealing to Christendom, and who had never heard the glad tidings of great joy.
Carey had ceased to keep school when the Moulton Baptists, who could subscribe no more than twopence a month each for their own poor, formally called the preacher to become their ordained pastor, and Ryland, Sutcliff, and Fuller were asked to ordain him on the 10th August 1786. Fuller had discovered the value of a man who had passed through spiritual experience, and possessed a native common sense like his own, when Carey had been suddenly called to preach in Northampton to supply the place of another. Since that day he had often visited Moulton, and he thus tells us what he had seen:–
“The congregation being few and poor, he followed his business in order to assist in supporting his family. His mind, however, was much occupied in acquiring the learned languages, and almost every other branch of useful knowledge. I remember, on going into the room where he employed himself at his business, I saw hanging up against the wall a very large map, consisting of several sheets of paper pasted together by himself, on which he had drawn, with a pen, a place for every nation in the known world, and entered into it whatever he met with in reading, relative to its population, religion, etc. The substance of this was afterwards published in his Enquiry. These researches, on which his mind was naturally bent, hindered him, of course, from doing much of his business; and the people, as was said, being few and poor, he was at this time exposed to great hardships. I have been assured that he and his family have lived for a great while together without tasting animal food, and with but a scanty pittance of other provision.”
“He would also be frequently conversing with his brethren in the ministry on the practicability and importance of a mission to the heathen, and of his willingness to engage in it. At several ministers’ meetings, between the year 1787 and 1790, this was the topic of his conversation. Some of our most aged and respectable ministers thought, I believe, at that time, that it was a wild and impracticable scheme that he had got in his mind, and therefore gave him no encouragement. Yet he would not give it up; but would converse with us, one by one, till he had made some impression upon us.”
The picture is completed by his sister:–
“He was always, from his first being thoughtful, remarkably impressed about heathen lands and the slave-trade. I never remember his engaging in prayer, in his family or in public, without praying for those poor creatures. The first time I ever recollect my feeling for the heathen world, was from a discourse I heard my brother preach at Moulton, the first summer after I was thoughtful. It was from these words:–‘For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake will I give him no rest.’ It was a day to be remembered by me; a day set apart for prayer and fasting by the church. What hath God wrought since that time!”
Old Mr. Ryland always failed to recall the story, but we have it on the testimony of Carey’s personal friend, Morris of Clipstone, who was present at the meeting of ministers held in 1786 at Northampton, at which the incident occurred. Ryland invited the younger brethren to propose a subject for discussion. There was no reply, till at last the Moulton preacher suggested, doubtless with an ill-restrained excitement, “whether the command given to the Apostles, to teach all nations, was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent.” Neither Fuller nor Carey himself had yet delivered the Particular Baptists from the yoke of hyper-calvinism which had to that hour shut the heathen out of a dead Christendom, and the aged chairman shouted out the rebuke–“You are a miserable enthusiast for asking such a question. Certainly nothing can be done before another Pentecost, when an effusion of miraculous gifts, including the gift of tongues, will give effect to the commission of Christ as at first.” Carey had never before mentioned the subject openly, and he was for the moment greatly mortified. But, says Morris, he still pondered these things in his heart. That incident marks the wide gulf which Carey had to bridge. Silenced by his brethren, he had recourse to the press. It was then that he wrote his own contribution to the discussion he would have raised on a duty which was more than seventeen centuries old, and had been for fourteen of these neglected: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, are considered by WILLIAM CAREY. Then follows the great conclusion of Paul in his letter to the Romans (x. 12-15): “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek…How shall they preach except they be sent?” He happened to be in Birmingham in 1786 collecting subscriptions for the rebuilding of the chapel in Moulton, when Mr. Thomas Potts, who had made a fortune in trade with America, discovering that he had prepared the manuscript, gave him £10 to publish it. And it appeared at Leicester in 1792, “price one shilling and sixpence,” the profits to go to the proposed mission. The pamphlet form doubtless accounts for its disappearance now; only four copies of the original edition4 are known to be in existence.
This Enquiry has a literary interest of its own, as a contribution to the statistics and geography of the world, written in a cultured and almost finished style, such as few, if any, University men of that day could have produced, for none were impelled by such a motive as Carey had. In an obscure village, toiling save when he slept, and finding rest on Sunday only by a change of toil, far from libraries and the society of men with more advantages than his own, this shoemaker, still under thirty, surveys the whole world, continent by continent, island by island, race by race, faith by faith, kingdom by kingdom, tabulating his results with an accuracy, and following them up with a logical power of generalisation which would extort the admiration of the learned even of the present day.
Having proved that the commission given by our Lord to His disciples is still binding on us, having reviewed former undertakings for the conversion of the heathen from the Ascension to the Moravians and “the late Mr. Wesley” in the West Indies, and having thus surveyed in detail the state of the world in 1786, he removes the five impediments in the way of carrying the Gospel among the heathen, which his contemporaries advanced–their distance from us, their barbarism, the danger of being killed by them, the difficulty of procuring the necessaries of life, the unintelligibleness of their languages. These his loving heart and Bible knowledge enable him skilfully to turn in favour of the cause he pleads. The whole section is essential to an appreciation of Carey’s motives, difficulties, and plans:–
“FIRST, As to their distance from us, whatever objections might have been made on that account before the invention of the mariner’s compass, nothing can be alleged for it with any colour of plausibility in the present age. Men can now sail with as much certainty through the Great South Sea as they can through the Mediterranean or any lesser sea. Yea, and providence seems in a manner to invite us to the trial, as there are to our knowledge trading companies, whose commerce lies in many of the places where these barbarians dwell. At one time or other ships are sent to visit places of more recent discovery, and to explore parts the most unknown; and every fresh account of their ignorance or cruelty should call forth our pity, and excite us to concur with providence in seeking their eternal good. Scripture likewise seems to point out this method, ‘Surely the Isles shall wait for me; the ships of Tarshish first, to bring my sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord, thy God.’–Isai. lx. 9. This seems to imply that in the time of the glorious increase of the church, in the latter days (of which the whole chapter is undoubtedly a prophecy), commerce shall subserve the spread of the gospel. The ships of Tarshish were trading vessels, which made voyages for traffic to various parts; thus much therefore must be meant by it, that navigation, especially that which is commercial, shall be one great mean of carrying on the work of God; and perhaps it may imply that there shall be a very considerable appropriation of wealth to that purpose.
“SECONDLY, As to their uncivilised and barbarous way of living, this can be no objection to any, except those whose love of ease renders them unwilling to expose themselves to inconveniences for the good of others. It was no objection to the apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries to be civilised before they could be christianised, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross; and Tertullian could boast that ‘those parts of Britain which were proof against the Roman armies, were conquered by the gospel of Christ.’ It was no objection to an Eliot or a Brainerd, in later times. They went forth, and encountered every difficulty of the kind, and found that a cordial reception of the gospel produced those happy effects which the longest intercourse with Europeans without it could never accomplish. It is no objection to commercial men. It only requires that we should have as much love to the souls of our fellow-creatures, and fellow-sinners, as they have for the profits arising from a few otter-skins, and all these difficulties would be easily surmounted.
“After all, the uncivilised state of the heathen, instead of affording an objection against preaching the gospel to them, ought to furnish an argument for it. Can we as men, or as Christians, hear that a great part of our fellow-creatures, whose souls are as immortal as ours, and who are as capable as ourselves of adorning the gospel and contributing by their preachings, writings, or practices to the glory of our Redeemer’s name and the good of his church, are enveloped in ignorance and barbarism? Can we hear that they are without the gospel, without government, without laws, and without arts, and sciences; and not exert ourselves to introduce among them the sentiments of men, and of Christians? Would not the spread of the gospel be the most effectual mean of their civilisation? Would not that make them useful members of society? We know that such effects did in a measure follow the afore-mentioned efforts of Eliot, Brainerd, and others amongst the American Indians; and if similar attempts were made in other parts of the world, and succeeded with a divine blessing (which we have every reason to think they would), might we not expect to see able divines, or read well-conducted treatises in defence of the truth, even amongst those who at present seem to be scarcely human?
“THIRDLY, In respect to the danger of being killed by them, it is true that whoever does go must put his life in his hand, and not consult with flesh and blood; but do not the goodness of the cause, the duties incumbent on us as the creatures of God and Christians, and the perishing state of our fellow-men, loudly call upon us to venture all, and use every warrantable exertion for their benefit? Paul and Barnabas, who hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, were not blamed as being rash, but commended for so doing; while John Mark, who through timidity of mind deserted them in their perilous undertaking, was branded with censure. After all, as has been already observed, I greatly question whether most of the barbarities practised by the savages upon those who have visited them, have not originated in some real or supposed affront, and were therefore, more properly, acts of self-defence, than proofs of ferocious dispositions. No wonder if the imprudence of sailors should prompt them to offend the simple savage, and the offence be resented; but Eliot, Brainerd, and the Moravian missionaries have been very seldom molested. Nay, in general the heathen have showed a willingness to hear the word; and have principally expressed their hatred of Christianity on account of the vices of nominal Christians.
“FOURTHLY, As to the difficulty of procuring the necessaries of life, this would not be so great as may appear at first sight; for, though we could not procure European food, yet we might procure such as the natives of those countries which we visit, subsist upon themselves. And this would only be passing through what we have virtually engaged in by entering on the ministerial office. A Christian minister is a person who in a peculiar sense is not his own; he is the servant of God, and therefore ought to be wholly devoted to him. By entering on that sacred office he solemnly undertakes to be always engaged, as much as possible, in the Lord’s work, and not to choose his own pleasure, or employment, or pursue the ministry as a something that is to subserve his own ends, or interests, or as a kind of bye-work. He engages to go where God pleases, and to do or endure what he sees fit to command, or call him to, in the exercise of his function. He virtually bids farewell to friends, pleasures, and comforts, and stands in readiness to endure the greatest sufferings in the work of his Lord, and Master. It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of a numerous auditory, cordial friends, a civilised country, legal protection, affluence, splendour, or even a competency. The slights, and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians of uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger, and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and painfulness, hard work, and but little worldly encouragement, should rather be the objects of their expectation. Thus the apostles acted, in the primitive times, and endured hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and though we, living in a civilised country where Christianity is protected by law, are not called to suffer these things while we continue here, yet I question whether all are justified in staying here, while so many are perishing without means of grace in other lands. Sure I am that it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the gospel for its ministers to enter upon it from interested motives, or with great worldly expectations. On the contrary, the commission is a sufficient call to them to venture all, and, like the primitive Christians, go everywhere preaching the gospel.
“It might be necessary, however, for two, at least, to go together, and in general I should think it best that they should be married men, and to prevent their time from being employed in procuring necessaries, two, or more, other persons, with their wives and families, might also accompany them, who should be wholly employed in providing for them. In most countries it would be necessary for them to cultivate a little spot of ground just for their support, which would be a resource to them, whenever their supplies failed. Not to mention the advantages they would reap from each other’s company, it would take off the enormous expense which has always attended undertakings of this kind, the first expense being the whole; for though a large colony needs support for a considerable time, yet so small a number would, upon receiving the first crop, maintain themselves. They would have the advantage of choosing their situation, their wants would be few; the women, and even the children, would be necessary for domestic purposes: and a few articles of stock, as a cow or two, and a bull, and a few other cattle of both sexes, a very few utensils of husbandry, and some corn to sow their land, would be sufficient. Those who attend the missionaries should understand husbandry, fishing, fowling, etc., and be provided with the necessary implements for these purposes. Indeed, a variety of methods may be thought of, and when once the work is undertaken, many things will suggest themselves to us, of which we at present can form no idea.
“FIFTHLY, As to learning their languages, the same means would be found necessary here as in trade between different nations. In some cases interpreters might be obtained, who might be employed for a time; and where these were not to be found, the missionaries must have patience, and mingle with the people, till they have learned so much of their language as to be able to communicate their ideas to them in it. It is well known to require no very extraordinary talents to learn, in the space of a year, or two at most, the language of any people upon earth, so much of it at least as to be able to convey any sentiments we wish to their understandings.
“The Missionaries must be men of great piety, prudence, courage, and forbearance; of undoubted orthodoxy in their sentiments, and must enter with all their hearts into the spirit of their mission; they must be willing to leave all the comforts of life behind them, and to encounter all the hardships of a torrid or a frigid climate, an uncomfortable manner of living, and every other inconvenience that can attend this undertaking. Clothing, a few knives, powder and shot, fishing-tackle, and the articles of husbandry above mentioned, must be provided for them; and when arrived at the place of their destination, their first business must be to gain some acquaintance with the language of the natives (for which purpose two would be better than one), and by all lawful means to endeavour to cultivate a friendship with them, and as soon as possible let them know the errand for which they were sent. They must endeavour to convince them that it was their good alone which induced them to forsake their friends, and all the comforts of their native country. They must be very careful not to resent injuries which may be offered to them, nor to think highly of themselves, so as to despise the poor heathens, and by those means lay a foundation for their resentment or rejection of the gospel. They must take every opportunity of doing them good, and labouring and travelling night and day, they must instruct, exhort, and rebuke, with all long suffering and anxious desire for them, and, above all, must be instant in prayer for the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the people of their charge. Let but missionaries of the above description engage in the work, and we shall see that it is not impracticable.
“It might likewise be of importance, if God should bless their labours, for them to encourage any appearances of gifts amongst the people of their charge; if such should be raised up many advantages would be derived from their knowledge of the language and customs of their countrymen; and their change of conduct would give great weight to their ministrations.”
This first and still greatest missionary treatise in the English language closes with the practical suggestion of these means–fervent and united prayer, the formation of a catholic or, failing that, a Particular Baptist Society of “persons whose hearts are in the work, men of serious religion and possessing a spirit of perseverance,” with an executive committee, and subscriptions from rich and poor of a tenth of their income for both village preaching and foreign missions, or, at least, an average of one penny or more per week from all members of congregations. He thus concludes:–“It is true all the reward is of mere grace, but it is nevertheless encouraging; what a treasure, what an harvest must await such characters as Paul, and Eliot, and Brainerd, and others, who have given themselves wholly to the work of the Lord. What a heaven will it be to see the many myriads of poor heathens, of Britons amongst the rest, who by their labours have been brought to the knowledge of God. Surely a crown of rejoicing like this is worth aspiring to. Surely it is worth while to lay ourselves out with all our might, in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ.”
So Carey projected the first organisation which England had seen for missions to all the human race outside of Christendom; and his project, while necessarily requiring a Society to carry it out, as coming from an “independent” Church, provided that every member of every congregation should take a part to the extent of fervent and united prayer, and of an average subscription of a penny a week. He came as near to the New Testament ideal of all Christians acting in an aggressive missionary church as was possible in an age when the Established Churches of England, Scotland, and Germany scouted foreign missions, and the Free Churches were chiefly congregational in their ecclesiastical action. While asserting the other ideal of the voluntary tenth or tithe as both a Scriptural principle and Puritan practice, his common sense was satisfied to suggest an average penny a week, all over, for every Christian. At this hour, more than a century since Carey wrote, and after a remarkable missionary revival in consequence of what he wrote and did, all Christendom, Evangelical, Greek, and Latin, does not give more than five millions sterling a year to Christianise the majority of the race still outside its pale. It is not too much to say that were Carey’s penny a week from every Christian a fact, and the prayer which would sooner or later accompany it, the five millions would be fifty, and Christendom would become a term nearly synonymous with humanity. The Churches, whether by themselves or by societies, have yet to pray and organise up to the level of Carey’s penny a week.
The absolute originality as well as grandeur of the unconscious action of the peasant shoemaker who, from 1779, prayed daily for all the heathen and slaves, and organised his society accordingly, will be seen in the dim light or darkness visible of all who had preceded him. They were before the set time; he was ready in the fulness of the missionary preparation. They belonged not only to periods, but to nations, to churches, to communities which were failing in the struggle for fruitfulness and expansion in new worlds and fresh lands; he was a son of England, which had come or was about to come out of the struggle a victor, charged with the terrible responsibility of the special servant of the Lord, as no people had ever before been charged in all history, sacred or secular. William Carey, indeed, reaped the little that the few brave toilers of the wintry time had sown; with a humility that is pathetic he acknowledges their toll, while ever ignorant to the last of his own merit. But he reaped only as each generation garners such fruits of its predecessor as may have been worthy to survive. He was the first of the true Anastatosantes of the modern world, as only an English-speaking man could be–of the most thorough, permanent, and everlasting of all Reformers, the men who turn the world upside down, because they make it rise up and depart from deadly beliefs and practices, from the fear and the fate of death, into the life and light of Christ and the Father.
Who were his predecessors, reckoning from the Renascence of Europe, the discovery of America, and the opening up of India and Africa? Erasmus comes first, the bright scholar of compromise who in 1516 gave the New Testament again to Europe, as three centuries after Carey gave it to all Southern Asia, and whose missionary treatise, Ecclesiasties, in 1535 anticipated, theoretically at least, Carey’s Enquiry by two centuries and a half. The missionary dream of this escaped monk of Rotterdam and Basel, who taught women and weavers and cobblers to read the Scriptures, and prayed that the Book might be translated into all languages, was realised in the scandalous iniquities and frauds of Portuguese and Spanish and Jesuit missions in West and East. Luther had enough to do with his papal antichrist and his German translation of the Greek of the Testament of Erasmus. The Lutheran church drove missions into the hands of the Pietists and Moravians–Wiclif’s offspring–who nobly but ineffectually strove to do a work meant for the whole Christian community. The Church of England thrust forth the Puritans first to Holland and then to New England, where Eliot, the Brainerds, and the Mayhews sought to evangelise tribes which did not long survive themselves.
It was from Courteenhall, a Northamptonshire village near Paulerspury, that in 1644 there went forth the appeal for the propagation of the Gospel which comes nearest to Carey’s cry from the same midland region. Cromwell was in power, and had himself planned a Protestant Propaganda, so to the Long Parliament William Castell, “parson of Courteenhall,” sent a petition which, with the “Eliot Tracts,” resulted in an ordinance creating the Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England. Seventy English ministers had backed the petition, and six of the Church of Scotland, first of whom was Alexander Henderson. The corporation, which, in a restored form, Robert Boyle governed for thirty years, familiarised the nation with the duty of caring for the dark races then coming more and more under our sway alike in America and in India. It still exists, as well as Boyle’s Society for advancing the Faith in the West Indies. The Friends also, and then the Moravians, taught the Wesleys and Whitefield to care for the negroes. The English and Scottish Propagation Societies sought also to provide spiritual aids for the colonists and the highlanders.
The two great thinkers of the eighteenth century, who flourished as philosopher and moralist when Carey was a youth, taught the principles which he of all others was to apply on their spiritual and most effective side. Adam Smith put his finger on the crime which had darkened and continued till 1834 to shadow the brightness of geographical enterprise in both hemispheres–the treatment of the natives by Europeans whose superiority of force enabled them to commit every sort of injustice in the new lands. He sought a remedy in establishing an equality of force by the mutual communication of knowledge and of all sorts of improvements by an extensive commerce.5 Samuel Johnson rose to a higher level alike of wisdom and righteousness, when he expressed the indignation of a Christian mind that the propagation of truth had never been seriously pursued by any European nation, and the hope “that the light of the Gospel will at last illuminate the sands of Africa and the deserts of America, though its progress cannot but be slow when it is so much obstructed by the lives of Christians.”
The early movement which is connected most directly with Carey’s and the Northamptonshire Baptists’ began in Scotland. Its Kirk, emasculated by the Revolution settlement and statute of Queen Anne, had put down the evangelical teaching of Boston and the “marrow” men, and had cast out the fathers of the Secession in 1733. In 1742 the quickening spread over the west country. In October 1744 several ministers in Scotland united, for the two years next following, in what they called, and what has since become familiar in America as, a “Concert to promote more abundant application to a duty that is perpetually binding–prayer that our God’s kingdom may come, joined with praises;” to be offered weekly on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, and more solemnly on the first Tuesday of every quarter. Such was the result, and so did the prayer concert spread in the United Kingdom that in August 1746 a memorial was sent to Boston inviting all Christians in North America to enter into it for the next seven years. It was on this that Jonathan Edwards wrote his Humble Attempt to promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.
This work of Edwards, republished at Olney, came into the hands of Carey, and powerfully influenced the Northamptonshire Association of Baptist ministers and messengers. At their meeting in Nottingham in 1784 Sutcliff of Olney suggested and Ryland of Northampton drafted an invitation to the people to join them, for one hour on the first Monday of every month, in prayer for the effusion of the Holy Spirit of God. “Let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered,” wrote these catholic men, and to give emphasis to their œcumenical missionary desires they added in italics–“Let the spread of the Gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denominations will join with us, and we do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.” To this Carey prominently referred in his Enquiry, tracing to even the unimportunate and feeble prayers of these eight years the increase of the churches, the clearing of controversies, the opening of lands to missions, the spread of civil and religious liberty, the noble effort made to abolish the inhuman slave-trade, and the establishment of the free settlement of Sierra Leone. And then he hits the other blots in the movement, besides the want of importunity and earnestness–“We must not be contented with praying without exerting ourselves in the use of means…Were the children of light but as wise in their generation as the children of this world, they would stretch every nerve to gain so glorious a prize, nor ever imagine that it was to be obtained in any other way.” A trading company obtain a charter and go to its utmost limits. The charter, the encouragements of Christians are exceeding great, and the returns promised infinitely superior. “Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society.”
The man was ready who had been specially fitted, by character and training, to form the home organisation of the society, while Carey created its foreign mission. For the next quarter of a century William Carey and Andrew Fuller worked lovingly, fruitfully together, with the breadth of half the world between them. The one showed how, by Bible and church and school, by physical and spiritual truth, India and all Asia could be brought to Christ; the other taught England, Scotland, and America to begin at last to play their part in an enterprise as old as Abraham; as divine in its warrant, its charge, its promise, as Christ Himself. Seven years older than Carey, his friend was born a farmer’s son and labourer in the fen country of Cromwell whom he resembled, was self-educated under conditions precisely similar, and passed through spiritual experiences almost exactly the same. The two, unknown to each other, found themselves when called to preach at eighteen unable to reconcile the grim dead theology of their church with the new life and liberty which had come to them direct from the Spirit of Christ and from His Word. Carey had left his ancestral church at a time when the biographer of Romaine could declare with truth that that preacher was the only evangelical in the established churches of all London, and that of twenty thousand clergymen in England, the number who preached the truth as it is in Jesus had risen from not twenty in 1749 to three hundred in 1789. The methodism of the Wesleys was beginning to tell, but the Baptists were as lifeless as the Established Church. In both the Church and Dissent there were individuals only, like Newton and Scott, the elder Robert Hall and Ryland, whose spiritual fervour made them marked men.
The Baptists, who had stood alone as the advocates of toleration, religious and civil, in an age of intolerance which made them the victims, had subsided like Puritan and Covenanter when the Revolution of 1688 brought persecution to an end. The section who held the doctrine of “general” redemption, and are now honourably known as General Baptists, preached ordinary Arminianism, and even Socinianism. The more earnest and educated among them clung to Calvinism, but, by adopting the unhappy term of “particular” Baptists, gradually fell under a fatalistic and antinomian spell. This false Calvinism, which the French theologian of Geneva would have been the first to denounce, proved all the more hostile to the preaching of the Gospel of salvation to the heathen abroad, as well as the sinner at home, that it professed to be an orthodox evangel while either emasculating the Gospel or turning the grace of God into licentiousness. From such “particular” preachers as young Fuller and Carey listened to, at first with bewilderment, then impatience, and then denunciation, missions of no kind could come. Fuller exposed and pursued the delusion with a native shrewdness, a masculine sagacity, and a fine English style, which have won for him the apt name of the Franklin of Theology. For more than twenty years Fullerism, as it was called, raised a controversy like that of the Marrow of Divinity in Scotland, and cleared the ground sufficiently at least to allow of the foundation of foreign missions in both countries. It now seems incredible that the only class who a century ago represented evangelicalism should have opposed missions to the heathen on the ground that the Gospel is meant only for the elect, whether at home or abroad; that nothing spiritually good is the duty of the unregenerate, therefore “nothing must be addressed to them in a way of exhortation excepting what relates to external obedience.”
The same year, 1784, in which the Baptist concert for prayer was begun, saw the publication of Fuller’s Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation. Seven years later he preached at Clipstone a famous sermon, in which he applied the dealing of the Lord of Hosts (in Haggai) to the Jewish apathy–“The time is not come that the Lord’s house should be built”–with a power and directness which nevertheless failed practically to convince himself. The men who listened to him had been praying for seven years, yet had opposed Carey’s pleas for a foreign mission, had treated him as a visionary or a madman. When Fuller had published his treatise, Carey had drawn the practical deduction–“If it be the duty of all men, when the Gospel comes, to believe unto salvation, then it is the duty of those who are entrusted with the Gospel to endeavour to make it known among all nations for the obedience of faith.” Now, after seven more years of waiting, and remembering the manuscript Enquiry, Carey thought action cannot be longer delayed. Hardly was the usual discussion that followed the meeting over when, as the story is told by the son of Ryland who had silenced him in a former ministers’ meeting, Carey appealed to his brethren to put their preaching into practice and begin a missionary society that very day. Fuller’s sermon bore the title of The Evil Nature and the Dangerous Tendency of Delay in the Concerns of Religion, and it had been preceded by one on being very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts, in which Sutcliff cried for the divine passion, the celestial fire that burned in the bosom and blazed in the life of Elijah. The Elijah of their own church and day was among them, burning and blazing for years, and all that he could induce them to promise was vaguely that, “something should be done,” and to throw to his importunity the easy request that he would publish his manuscript and preach next year’s sermon.
Meanwhile, in 1789, Carey had left Moulton6 for Leicester, whither he was summoned to build up a congregation, ruined by antinomianism, in the mean brick chapel of the obscure quarter of Harvey Lane. This chapel his genius and Robert Hall’s eloquence made so famous in time that the Baptists sent off a vigorous hive to the fine new church. In an equally humble house opposite the chapel the poverty of the pastor compelled him to keep a school from nine in the morning till four in winter and five in summer. Between this and the hours for sleep and food he had little leisure; but that he spent, as he had done all his life before and did all his life after, with a method and zeal which doubled his working days. “I have seen him at work,” writes Gardiner in his Music and Friends, “his books beside him, and his beautiful flowers in the windows.” In a letter to his father we have this division of his leisure–Monday, “the learned languages;” Tuesday, “the study of science, history, composition, etc;” Wednesday, “I preach a lecture, and have been for more than twelve months on the Book of Revelation;” Thursday, “I visit my friends;” Friday and Saturday, “preparing for the Lord’s Day.” He preached three times every Sunday in his own chapel or the surrounding villages, with such results that in one case he added hundreds to its Wesleyan congregation. He was secretary to the local committee of dissenters. “Add to this occasional journeys, ministers’ meetings, etc., and you will rather wonder that I have any time, than that I have so little. I am not my own, nor would I choose for myself. Let God employ me where he thinks fit, and give me patience and discretion to fill up my station to his honour and glory.”
“After I had been probationer in this place a year and ten months, on the 24th of May 1791 I was solemnly set apart to the office of pastor. About twenty ministers of different denominations were witnesses to the transactions of the day. After prayer Brother Hopper of Nottingham addressed the congregation upon the nature of an ordination, after which he proposed the usual questions to the church, and required my Confession of Faith; which being delivered, Brother Ryland prayed the ordination prayer, with laying on of hands. Brother Sutcliff delivered a very solemn charge from Acts vi. 4–‘But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And Brother Fuller delivered an excellent address to the people from Eph. v. 2–‘Walk in love.’ In the evening Brother Pearce of Birmingham preached from Gal. vi. 14–‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.’ The day was a day of pleasure, and I hope of profit to the greatest part of the Assembly.”
Carey became the friend of his neighbour, Thomas Robinson, evangelical rector of St. Mary’s, to whom he said on one occasion when indirectly charged in humorous fashion with “sheep-stealing:” “Mr. Robinson, I am a dissenter, and you are a churchman; we must each endeavour to do good according to our light. At the same time, you may be assured that I had rather be the instrument of converting a scavenger that sweeps the streets than of merely proselyting the richest and best characters in your congregation.” Dr. Arnold and Mr. R. Brewin, a botanist, opened to him their libraries, and all good men in Leicester soon learned to be proud of the new Baptist minister. In the two chapels, as in that of Moulton, enlarged since his time, memorial tablets tell succeeding generations of the virtues and the deeds of “the illustrious W. Carey, D.D.”
The ministers’ meeting of 1792 came round, and on 31st May Carey seized his opportunity. The place was Nottingham, from which the 1784 invitation to prayer had gone forth. Was the answer to come just there after nine years’ waiting? His Enquiry had been published; had it prepared the brethren? Ryland had been always loyal to the journeyman shoemaker he had baptised in the river, and he gives us this record:–“If all the people had lifted up their voices and wept, as the children of Israel did at Bochim, I should not have wondered at the effect. It would only have seemed proportionate to the cause, so clearly did he prove the criminality of our supineness in the cause of God.” The text was Isaiah’s (liv. 2, 3) vision of the widowed church’s tent stretching forth till her children inherited the nations and peopled the desolate cities, and the application to the reluctant brethren was couched in these two great maxims written ever since on the banners of the missionary host of the kingdom–
EXPECT GREAT THINGS FROM GOD.
ATTEMPT GREAT THINGS FOR GOD.
The service was over; even Fuller was afraid, even Ryland made no sign, and the ministers were leaving the meeting. Seizing Fuller’s arm with an imploring look, the preacher, whom despair emboldened to act alone for his Master, exclaimed: “And are you, after all, going again to do nothing?” What Fuller describes as the “much fear and trembling” of these inexperienced, poor, and ignorant village preachers gave way to the appeal of one who had gained both knowledge and courage, and who, as to funds and men, was ready to give himself. They entered on their minutes this much:–“That a plan be prepared against the next ministers’ meeting at Kettering for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.” There was more delay, but only for four months. The first purely English Missionary Society, which sent forth its own English founder, was thus constituted as described in the minutes of the Northampton ministers’ meeting.
“At the ministers’ meeting at Kettering, October 2, 1792, after the public services of the day were ended, the ministers retired to consult further on the matter, and to lay a foundation at least for a society, when the following resolutions were proposed, and unanimously agreed to:–
“1. Desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen, agreeably to what is recommended in brother Carey’s late publication on that subject, we, whose names appear to the subsequent subscription, do solemnly agree to act in society together for that purpose
“2. As in the present divided state of Christendom, it seems that each denomination, by exerting itself separately, is most likely to accomplish the great ends of a mission, it is agreed that this society be called The Particular [Calvinistic] Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.
“3. As such an undertaking must needs be attended with expense, we agree immediately to open a subscription for the above purpose, and to recommend it to others.
“4. Every person who shall subscribe ten pounds at once, or ten shillings and sixpence annually, shall be considered a member of the society.
“5. That the Rev. John Ryland, Reynold Hogg, William Carey, John Sutcliff, and Andrew Fuller, be appointed a committee, three of whom shall be empowered to act in carrying into effect the purposes of this society.
“6. That the Rev. Reynold Hogg be appointed treasurer, and the Rev. Andrew Fuller secretary.
“7. That the subscriptions be paid in at the Northampton ministers’ meeting, October 31, 1792, at which time the subject shall be considered more particularly by the committee, and other subscribers who may be present.
“Signed, John Ryland, Reynold Hogg, John Sutcliff, Andrew Fuller, Abraham Greenwood, Edward Sherman, Joshua Burton, Samuel Pearce, Thomas Blundel, William Heighton, John Eayres, Joseph Timms; whose subscriptions in all amounted to £13:2:6.”
The procedure suggested in “brother Carey’s late publication” was strictly followed–a society of subscribers, 2d. a week, or 10s. 6d. a year as a compromise between the tithes and the penny a week of the Enquiry. The secretary was the courageous Fuller, who once said to Ryland and Sutcliff: “You excel me in wisdom, especially in foreseeing difficulties. I therefore want to advise with you both, but to execute without you.” The frequent chairman was Ryland, who was soon to train missionaries for the work at Bristol College. The treasurer was the only rich man of the twelve, who soon resigned his office into a layman’s hands, as was right. Of the others we need now point only to Samuel Pearce, the seraphic preacher of Birmingham, who went home and sent £70 to the collection, and who, since he desired to give himself like Carey, became to him dearer than even Fuller was. The place was a low-roofed parlour in the house of Widow Wallis, looking on to a back garden, which many a pilgrim still visits, and around which there gathered thousands in 1842 to hold the first jubilee of modern missions, when commemorative medals were struck. There in 1892 the centenary witnessed a still vaster assemblage.
Can any good come out of Kettering? was the conclusion of the Baptist ministers of London with the one exception of Booth, when they met formally to decide whether, like those of Birmingham and other places, they should join the primary society. Benjamin Beddome, a venerable scholar whom Robert Hall declared to be chief among his brethren, replied to Fuller in language which is far from unusual even at the present day, but showing the position which the Leicester minister had won for himself even then:–
“I think your scheme, considering the paucity of well-qualified ministers, hath a very unfavourable aspect with respect to destitute churches at home, where charity ought to begin. I had the pleasure once to see and hear Mr. Carey; it struck me he was the most suitable person in the kingdom, at least whom I knew, to supply my place, and make up my great deficiencies when either disabled or removed. A different plan is formed and pursued, and I fear that the great and good man, though influenced by the most excellent motives, will meet with a disappointment. However, God hath his ends, and whoever is disappointed He cannot be so. My unbelieving heart is ready to suggest that the time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”
The other Congregationalists made no sign. The Presbyterians, with a few noble exceptions like Dr. Erskine, whose Dutch volume Carey had translated, denounced such movements as revolutionary in a General Assembly of Socinianised “moderates.” The Church of England kept haughtily or timidly aloof, though king and archbishop were pressed to send a mission. “Those who in that day sneered that England had sent a cobbler to convert the world were the direct lineal descendants of those who sneered in Palestine 2000 years ago, ‘Is not this the carpenter?’” said Archdeacon Farrar in Westminster Abbey on 6th March 1887. Hence Fuller’s reference to this time:–“When we began in 1792 there was little or no respectability among us, not so much as a squire to sit in the chair or an orator to address him with speeches. Hence good Dr. Stennett advised the London ministers to stand aloof and not commit themselves.”
One man in India had striven to rouse the Church to its duty as Carey had done at home. Charles Grant had in 1787 written from Malda to Charles Simeon and Wilberforce for eight missionaries, but not one Church of England clergyman could be found to go. Thirty years after, when chairman of the Court of Directors and father of Lord Glenelg and Sir Robert Grant, he wrote:–“I had formed the design of a mission to Bengal: Providence reserved that honour for the Baptists.” After all, the twelve village pastors in the back parlour of Kettering were the more really the successors of the twelve apostles in the upper room of Jerusalem