William Carey- Father of Modern Missions


It is no overstatement to call William Carey- ” The Father of Modern Missions.”  This paper was delivered in India on November 11, 2008 on the 215th anniversary of Carey’s arrival in India. At the William Carey Day Celebration we looked at Carey’s influence on Modern mission.

William Carey was born, August 17, 1761. He was baptized in 1783 at the age 22.

Dr. John Ryland wrote in his diary, “This day baptized a poor young shoe-maker.” That young shoe-maker in Northampton, England was William Carey. 1

John Ryland not only Baptized Carey in the River Nen, he encouraged Carey in the ministry, sold him theology books and became his associate in forming the Baptist Missionary Society.

It was John Ryland Sr. the father of the man who baptized Carey that became the catalyst that launched Carey in becoming the father of modern missions.

He was the one who thundered with a frown at the Baptist association meeting, according to the account of John Marshman son of the Joshua Marshman of the Serampore trio, Young Man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.” This is what led Carey to write his thoughts down.

William Carey did sit down. He sat for three years making mission maps in his cobbler shop and writing one of the most influential mission treatise of all time published in 1792: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

Carey was 26 years old when Dr. Ryland told him to sit down. Now at age 29 he stood up in a meeting of the same association where he was told to sit down.

This time he preached his now famous missions sermon (the so-called Deathless Sermon), using Isaiah 54:2-3 as his text, in which he repeatedly used the phrase which has become his most famous quotation: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” This sermon is considered the foundation of Baptist Mission.

But the Baptist Missionary Society still did not come together after Carey wrote his Enquiry and preached this sermon. One more step was necessary.

“But when the assembled ministers came to discuss forming a mission society, the old feelings of doubt and hesitation predominated. They were about to separate without any decisive result.

Carey seized Andrew Fuller by the hand in an agony of distress, and inquired whether “they were again going away without doing anything? There was a resolution for a plan at next meeting for forming “A Society for propagating the Gospel among heathen.” 2: Marshman Page 15

Carey launched The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (now BMS World Mission) in October 1792 with himself, Andrew Fuller, John Ryland, and John Sutcliff as charter members.

The formation of the society was a three pronged effort by Carey;
1. Writing and publishing of his Enquiry.
2. Preaching the Deathless Sermon and
3. Pressing Andrew Fuller into action when no action was imminent.

But beyond all this, Carey took great risks and despite tremendous obstacles Carey himself became the first missionary appointed by the newly formed BMS. He and his family landed in Calcutta November 11, 1793. At Serampore, near Calcutta, Carey set up his mission station and translated the Bible, composed grammars and dictionaries, set up a printing press, and opened a training college. The BMS developed a support system, dispatched more missionaries to India, and expanded its work into other nations.

The news of Carey’s accomplishments and his missionary appointment spread. A group of students at Andover College in the USA known as the Brethren were greatly influenced by Carey. This group of aspiring missionaries met after classes. They would pray, sing, and often times read aloud from the Serampore Circular about the work of William Carey which was published by the English Baptist Mission.

Two of the Brethren would be inspired to become missionaries they were; Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice. They hungrily read the marvelous accounts of William Carey, Dr. Thomas, and the other missionaries who left England to spend their lives in India.

Luther Rice sailed on a separate ship than Judson and his wife. After studying the Scriptures for several weeks alone on the ship Luther Rice came to a decision that believers baptism by immersion was the biblical pattern of scripture.

Finally the two ships arrived in India. William Carey was there to meet Luther Rice and Adoniram Judson. Small and balding, Carey wasn’t impressive in his physical appearance but the power of God exuded from him.

Also, Adoniram Judson studied the scriptures on baptism in preparation for a meeting with Carey. Adoniram and Anne Judson became convinced over the weeks of study and prayer that believer’s baptism was the New Testament mandate and determined to be baptized by immersion when they arrived in India. In God’s providence, Luther Rice would come to the same conclusion separately from them.

To their amazement both men found that the other had engaged in a similar investigation into baptism during the voyage as they traveled on the other ship. Knowing they would have to face William Carey and his Baptist ideals, they had studied their Greek New Testaments during the trip. While they were looking for arguments to refute Carey what they found was undeniable evidence from God’s Word that the Baptists were right on this issue. Now the Judsons announced their intention to be baptized by Carey.

Judson’s studies led him to become a Baptist. At Carey’s urging of American Baptists to take over support for Judson’s mission, led to the foundation in 1814 of the first American Baptist Mission board, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions, later commonly known as the Triennial Convention. Most American Baptist denominations of today are directly or indirectly descended from this convention.

So at the encouragement of Carey on October 23 of 1812, Luther Rice wrote home to the Congregationalist mission board that had sent him. He told them that his study of baptism had brought to him the “conviction that those persons only, who give credible evidence of piety, are proper subjects; and that immersion is the only proper mode of Christian baptism.” So Judson was baptized by William Ward in Calcutta India in September and Luther Rice on November 1st.

Luther Rice went home to organize Baptists in supporting missions. By the end of 1813 there were seventeen mission societies through the work of Luther Rice stretching from Boston to Georgia. The Triennial Convention in 1835, 21 years since its first meeting in Philadelphia membership had grown from 8,000 to 600,000. The Convention supported 25 missions and 112 missionaries

William Carey died June 9, 1834 at the age of 72, but his influence continued. In 1836 Missionaries of the Triennial Convention (USA) began to work in Andhra Pradesh with its Telugu-speaking people in 1836, and today the Samavesam of Telugu Baptist Churches has 475,000 members.

Also in 1836, missionaries of the Triennial Convention started a mission in Assam in the northeast and soon expanded into Nagaland and Manipur. Baptists became very numerous in these states. In 1950, the Council of Baptist Churches of North East India was formed, but today about 550,000 Baptists are to be found in the northeast.

William Carey met and influenced Henry Martin who translated the Urdu Bible and worked among Urdu speaking Muslims. Carey inspired John Mott and the Student volunteer movement.

The simple gravestone of Carey reads:

                        William Carey D.D., Born 17 August 1761.
                                            Died: 9 June 1834.

                        A wretched poor and helpless worm.
                                     On thy kind arms I fall.

We remember Carey the Father of Modern Missions and his Great influence. The Dying words remember were, remember not Carey, remember Carey’s Lord. We may not honor his first request. We simply must remember Carey. But we should honor the second request. Remember Carey’s Lord.

Prayer:  Jesus died for India and the people Carey served and loved.


1. A Baptist Page Portrait Luther Rice http://www.siteone.com/religion/baptist/baptistpage/portraits/rice.htm

2. The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward Embracing the History of the Serampore Mission. John Clark Marshman. 2 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1859. : http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/jcmarshman/lifetimes.htm

3. Adonirum Judson

4. Luther Rice

5. Henry Martin
Glimpses of Christian History
Glimpses #96: Henry Martyn: Forsaking All for Christ

6. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, article; Four Men, Three Eras, Ralph Winter

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2 Responses to William Carey- Father of Modern Missions

  1. Pingback: “God Doesn’t Need You” and why I don’t believe it. | ...to the least of these...

  2. Pingback: Going Deeper: The Contributions of B.D.B Moses – Chase the River

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