And from the east a star arose,
Day-star for the uttermost lands,
And shone upon the parts that froze,
Made them one with sundered lands.
And from the east a star arose,
Day-star for the uttermost lands,
And shone upon the parts that froze,
Made them one with sundered lands.
The series that is appearing periodically on this blog entitled “Eminent Christians” began with William Carey. Here is another brief take on his life.
When Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815) went out to India in 1796 as an Anglican missionary, he was reluctant at first to have anything to do with William Carey (1761-1834) and the other Baptist missionaries who were already there. But John Newton, upon hearing of his attitude, promptly wrote to Buchanan, who had been converted under his ministry, a gentle letter of reproof in which he stated:
“It is easy for you… to look down upon men who have given themselves to the Lord, and are bearing the burden and heat of the day. I do not look for miracles; but if God were to work one in our day, I should not wonder if it were in favour of Dr. Carey.”
Carey’s early years
The man of whom Newton spoke with such admiration had been born in very humble circumstances in 1761 in a tiny village called Paulerspury in Northamptonshire. His father, Edmund, was the schoolmaster of Paulerspury and the parish clerk of the local Anglican church. As such, Carey was regularly in church week by week and gained what he later described as a “considerable acquaintance” with the Scriptures. But, as he also noted, he knew next to nothing of “real experimental religion” till he was fourteen.
Also living in Paulerspury was William’s uncle, Peter Carey. Peter Carey had served with General James Wolfe in Canada, and, after the capture of Quebec in 1759, had returned to Paulerspury to take up the occupation of gardener. His tales of Canada instilled in William an interest for far-off lands. Moreover, Peter implanted in the young boy a love of gardening. Years later, when Carey was established in India, he was continually asking his friends and correspondents for seeds and roots to plant in his garden at Serampore. For instance, in a letter to his friend John Sutcliff he gently chided his friend for not taking his request for seeds seriously:
“I have written for some works of science, which I hope you will send. I think your best way is to send my list of roots, seeds, etc., to some nurseryman of note in London, with orders to ship them on the Providence, directed to me. Were you to give a penny a day to a boy to gather seeds of cowslips, violets, daisies, crowfoots, etc., and to dig up the roots of bluebells, etc., after they have done flowering, you might fill me a box every quarter of a year; and surely some neighbours would send a few snowdrops, crocuses, etc., and other trifles. All your weeks, even your nettles and thistles, are taken the greatest care of by me here. The American friends are twenty times more communicative than the English in this respect; indeed, though you cannot buy a little cabbage seed here under about £2.2s., yet I have never been able to extort an ounce, or a quart of kidney beans, from all the friends in England. Do try to mend a little.”
As a young boy, Carey eagerly wanted to emulate his uncle and become a gardener. But a painful shin disease prevented him from spending any length of time in the full sun. So his father apprenticed him to a shoemaker in Piddington, a nearby village. This apprenticeship was to have truly significant consequences for William’s future. One of his fellow-apprentices, John Warr, was a Christian. Warr was a Congregationalist and Carey’s upbringing had given him a contempt for Dissenters, but in time, as Warr persistently shared his faith with Carey, Carey was won for Christ.
Becoming Baptist and mission-minded
Carey’s subsequent study of the Scriptures convinced him of the Baptist position, and in 1783 he was baptized by John Ryland, Jr. in the river Nene at Northampton, after the two had walked down from the vestry of Castle hill church, the church which Philip Doddridge had once pastored.
Around the time of his baptism, Carey came across recently published accounts of Captain James Cook’s voyages of discovery in the south Pacific. Many years later, Carey said of his reading of this volume:
“Reading Cook’s Voyages was the first thing that engaged my mind to think of missions.
Through the account of Cook’s Voyages, Carey’s eyes were opened to wider horizons than the fields of Northamptonshire. But it was the Scriptures which taught him of the deep spiritual needs of those who lived far beyond those fields.
Preaching and pastoring
A year or so before his baptism Carey had been preaching regularly at the Congregational Church in Hackleton. In the years immediately following his baptism, Carey also began to preach in other neighbouring villages such as Earls Barton, Moulton, and his own home village, Paulerspury. The Moulton Church eventually called Carey to be their pastor in 1786, and in August of 1787, he was ordained. The three pastors officiating at his ordination were Ryland Jr., Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliff, who, in the years to come, would become his closest friends.
After two years of pastoring at Moulton, Carey moved to Harvey Lane Baptist Church in Leicester, where he served up until he left for India in 1793. Carey’s pastorates at Moulton and Leicester brought him into close contact with the pastors and churches of the Northamptonshire Association. In this ambit Carey first voiced his convictions regarding the commission given by Christ to the Church in Matthew 28:19-20. Despite some hesitation, and even opposition, on the part of his pastoral colleagues, Carey’s convictions eventually won the day.
The result was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, with Carey as its first missionary. Carey’s convictions were crystallized in An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, which was published in 1792. This treatise is divided into five sections. Section I discusses the implication of Matthew 28:19-20, and convincingly demonstrates that the commission to “make disciples of all nations” was binding on the Church for all time. Section II outlines the history of missions since the Apostolic era, while the third section of the treatise surveys the state of the world in Carey’s own day. Section IV answers objections to sending out of missionaries, and in the fifth and final section Carey indicates some immediate practical steps which could be taken. It is important to note that heading the list of these steps is fervent, united prayer. The book played a key role in the inception of the modern missionary era, and, as Ernest A. Payne has observed, “may rightly be regarded as a landmark in Christian history.” Moreover, Payne goes on to note, the Enquiry has a message for today, for “it presents in terse and unadorned fashion the gist of the unanswerable argument that there still rests upon Christians the obligation to use all the means at their disposal for the conversion of unbelievers, wherever they may be.”
Carey left for India in June of 1793; he never returned to his native England. The first six years, largely spent in northern Bengal, were years of both frustration and preparation. There were no genuine conversions among the Indians, and because financial resources were sometimes so meagre, Carey was forced to take the post of a manager of an indigo factory. Furthermore, Carey’s missionary colleague, John Thomas (1757-1801), fell into debt and proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. And on top of all this, Carey’s wife, Dorothy (1756-1807), became wholly insane.
Yet, despite these potentially debilitating events, Carey put his initial years in India to good use, acquiring a substantial grasp of Bengali, learning how to preach to Hindus and Muslims, and making the name of Christ known throughout much of Bengal.
In 1799, Carey was joined by Joshua Marshman (1768-1837) and William Ward (1769-1823). Locating their mission centre at Serampore in southern Bengal, “the Serampore Trio” evangelized, established churches, and in particular, translated the Scriptures. Carey was thoroughly convinced that effective evangelism in India necessitated the translation of the Scriptures into the many languages and dialects of the Indian sub-continent. By the time of Carey’s death in 1834, the Serampore fraternity had been responsible for the translation of the entire Bible and portions of it into thirty-four languages. While the translations were far from perfect, the work done by Carey and his colleagues was, as Stephen Neill has judged, “an astounding achievement.”
Before Carey’s death, he left instructions that there be inscribed on his tombstone the following couplet from Isaac Watts in addition to his name and the dates of his birth and death:
“A wretched, poor and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall.”
Recently at the 2006 Desiring God National Conference, which was on The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, John Piper commented about his biographical study for the 2007 Desiring God Pastors’ Conference.
In A Conversation with the Pastors (September 29, 2006), he said this: “I am working on Andrew Fuller for the Pastors’ Conference . Andrew Fuller was the major ropeholder for William Carey and a very shrewd “understander” of Calvinism in his eighteenth-century day.”
This is exciting and I am looking forward to hearing what Dr Piper will say about Fuller and his ministry.
Here is the document referred to in the previous blog, John Sutcliff’s “The Prayer Call of 1784.” It is an important text in that it was central to revival coming to the Calvinistic Baptist Churches in the UK during the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.
Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottingham, respecting meetings for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion, and earnestly implore a revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer, and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of his Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously RESOLVED, to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday in every calendar month.
We hereby solemnly exhort all the churches in our connection, to engage heartily and perseveringly in the prosecution of this plan. And as it may be well to endeavour to keep the same hour, as a token of our unity herein, it is supposed the following scheme may suit many congregations, viz. to meet on the first Monday evening in May, June, and July, from 8 to 9. In Aug. from 7 to 8. Sept. and Oct. from 6 to 7. Nov. Dec. Jan. and Feb. from 5 to 6. March, from 6 to 7; and April, from 7 to 8. Nevertheless if this hour, or even the particular evening, should not suit in particular places, we wish our brethren to fix on one more convenient to themselves.
We hope also, that as many of our brethren who live at a distance from our places of worship may not be able to attend there, that as many as are conveniently situated in a village or neighbourhood, will unite in small societies at the same time. And if any single individual should be so situated as not to be able to attend to this duty in society with others, let him retire at the appointed hour, to unite the breath of prayer in private with those who are thus engaged in a more public manner.
The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time, remember, we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies [i.e. churches]; or to your own immediate connection [i.e. denomination]; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and 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 unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.
Who can tell what the consequences of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His Word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, “I will yet for this be enquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock.” Ezek. xxxvi.37. Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare.
Attached to John Ryland, Jr., The Nature, Evidences, and Advantages, of Humility (Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association, 1784), 12.
In 1842, on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society, the Baptist pastor and writer, F.A. Cox, reflecting on the origins of the Society, stated:
“The primary cause of the missionary excitement in [William] Carey’s mind, and its diffusion among the Northamptonshire ministers [was] … the meeting of the Association in 1784, at Nottingham, [when] it was resolved to set apart an hour on the first Monday evening of every month, “for extraordinary prayer for revival of religion, and for the extending of Christ’s kingdom in the world.” This suggestion proceeded from the venerable [John] Sutcliff. Its simplicity and appropriateness have since recommended it to universal adoption; and copious showers of blessing from on high have been poured forth upon the churches.” [History of the Baptist Missionary Society, From 1792 to 1842 (London: T. Ward & Co./G. & J. Dyer, 1842), 1:10-11].
From the vantage point of the early 1840s, Cox saw the Prayer Call of 1784—proposed by John Sutcliff for adoption by the Northamptonshire Baptist Association and centred on the need to seek revival through prayer—as pivotal in that it focused the prayers of Calvinistic Baptist churches in the Association on the nations of the world. It thus prepared the way for the emergence of the Baptist Missionary Society and the sending of Carey to India.
Yet he also notes that the “universal adoption” of the concert of prayer by churches beyond the ranks of the Calvinistic Baptist denomination had led to rich times of revival, when God poured forth upon these churches “copious showers of blessing.” Later historians would describe this period of blessing as the Second Evangelical Awakening (1790-1830).
Some of them, like J. Edwin Orr and Paul E.G. Cook, would concur with Cox and rightly trace the human origins of this time of revival and spiritual awakening to the adoption of the concert of prayer by the Calvinistic Baptists in 1784 [J. Edwin Orr, The Eager Feet: Evangelical Awakenings 1790-1830 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 95, 191-92, 199; Paul E. G. Cook, “The Forgotten Revival” in Preaching and Revival (London: The Westminster Conference, 1984), 92].
However, in one area Cox’s statement in somewhat misleading. In describing John Sutcliff as “the venerable Sutcliff” he leaves the reader with an idyllic impression of the Baptist pastor. How sobering to find that this man, who was at the heart of a prayer movement that God used to bring so much spiritual blessing to His church, also struggled when it came to prayer.
When Sutcliff lay dying in 1814 he said to Fuller: “I wish I had prayed more.” For some time Fuller ruminated on this statement by his dying friend. Eventually he came to the conviction that Sutcliff did not mean that he “wished he had prayed more frequently, but more spiritually.”
Then Fuller elaborated on this interpretation by applying Sutcliff’s statement to his own life:
“I wish I had prayer more for the influence of the Holy Spirit; I might have enjoyed more of the power of vital godliness. I wish I had prayed more for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, in studying and preaching my sermons; I might have seen more of the blessing of God attending my ministry. I wish I had prayed more for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to attend the labours of our friends in India; I might have witnessed more of the effects of their efforts in the conversion of the heathen. [cited J. W. Morris, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (London, 1816), 443].
A friend recently passed on to me this fabulous quote from Simon Winchester’s life of James Murray [The Meaning of Everything, p.135, from Peter Sutcliffe, The Oxford University Press, An Informal History (1978), no page given], who was one of the editors of the standard of our beloved English language, The Oxford English Dictionary. Here is the quote:
“Murray was sustained for the rest of his life by an illusion that time, however quickly it ran out, was on his side. For a moment in history the language had paused and come to a rest. It could be seized and captured forever.”
This statement was made in light of the following extract from a letter that Murray wrote to Lord Bryce on December 15, 1903. Murray was sixty-six at the time:
“I think it was God’s will. In times of faith, I am sure of it. I look back & see that every step of my life has been as it were imposed upon me—not a thing of choice; and that the whole training of my life with its multifarious & irregular incursions into nearly every science & many arts, seems to have had the express purpose of fitting me to do this Dictionary …So I work on with a firm belief (at most times) that I am doing what God has fitted me for, & so made my duty; & I hope that He will strengthen me to see the end of it …But I am only an instrument, only the means that He has provided, & there is no credit due to me, except that of trying to do my duty; Deo soli Gloria.”
A mainstream philosophical perspective has long been that the government of any given society should promote moral health and virtue, or at least, legislate in such a way that society’s fabric is not undermined. In this regard, the new anti-gambling bill in the U.S. is indeed welcome news. For as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told reporters, gambling is “a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society.”
Will Canadian lawmakers follow suit? We wait and see—and pray!
For the story, see “U.S. bans Internet gambling.”
Like many other Evangelicals who encountered John Owen’s writings through the Banner of Truth reprint of the nineteenth-century standard edition, it was for me a literally life-changing experience. I have been intrigued by his life and erudition, as well as his friendship with Oliver Cromwell and John Bunyan (Bunyan drew upon his character for one of his heroes in The Holy War), and taught by his passionate interest in the work of the Holy Spirit that was fully biblical and balanced.
Owen on sanctification
But what especially impacted me was his view of sanctification, which I first met in the treatises The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers (1667), Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), which were sermons he delivered in the university of Oxford; and Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, first published in 1658, which also consists of sermon material preached during the 1650s.
Though our technological and historical circumstances are very different from those of Puritan era, the hearts of men and women have not changed. Indwelling sin, now as then, is an ever-present reality, as Owen details in The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers. Basing his discussion on Romans 7:21, Owen shows how sin lies at the heart of even believers’ lives, and, if not resisted by prayer and meditation, will slowly but surely eat away zeal for and delight in the things of God.
Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, essentially an exposition of Matthew 26:41, further analyzes the way in which believers fall into sin. Owen enumerates four seasons in which believers must exercise special care that temptation not lead them away into sin: times of outward prosperity, times of spiritual coldness and formality, times when one has enjoyed rich fellowship with God, and times of self-confidence, as in Peter’s affirmation to Christ, “I will not deny thee.” The remedy that Owen emphasizes is prayer. Typical of Puritan pithiness is his remark in this regard: “If we do not abide in prayer, we shall abide in cursed temptations.”
The final work, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, is in some ways the richest of the three. Based on Romans 8:13, it details how to fight indwelling sin and ward off temptation. Owen emphasizes that in the fight against sin the Holy Spirit employs all of our human powers. In sanctifying us, Owen insists, the Spirit works “in us and with us, not against us or without us.” Owen would rightly regard those today who talk about “letting go and letting God” take care of the believer’s sins as unbiblical. Yet, he is very much aware that sanctification is also a gift. This duty, he rightly emphasizes, is only accomplished through the Holy Spirit. Not without reason does Owen lovingly describe the Spirit as “the great beautifier of souls.”
In a day when significant sectors of evangelicalism are characterized by spiritual superficiality and shallowness, and holiness is rarely a major topic of interest or discussion, these books are like a draught of water in a dry and thirsty land. They remind us of the great spiritual heritage that we possess as evangelicals. Even more significantly, they challenge us to recover the biblical priority of holiness.
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
Now, in the just-about-to be-released Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway Books, 2006), Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor have produced “an unabridged but updated edition” of these three classic works of Owen “that preserves all of Owen’s original content but seeks to make it a bit more accessible” (p.17). Reader, buy this book and read it meditatively. It will change your life!
John Piper on why to read John Owen
John Piper has a Foreword to the work in which he writes this about Owen—and his favourite theologian Jonathan Edwards (also one of my favourites!):
“The two dead pastor-theologians of the English-speaking world who have nourished and taught me most are Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. Some will say Edwards is unsurpassed. Some say Owen was the greater. We don’t need to decide. We have the privilege of knowing them both as our friends and teachers. What an amazing gift of God’s providence that these brothers were raised up and that hundreds of years after they have died we may sit at their feet. We cannot properly estimate the blessing of soaking our minds in the Bible-saturated thinking of the likes of John Owen. What he was able to see in the Bible and preserve for us in writing is simply magnificent. It is so sad—a travesty, I want to say—how many Christian leaders of our day do not strive to penetrate the wisdom of John Owen, but instead read books and magazines that are superficial in their grasp of the Bible.
“We act as though there was nothing extraordinary about John Owen’s vision of biblical truth—that he was not a rare gift to the church. But he was rare. There are very few people like this whom God raises up in the history of the church. Why does God do this? Why does he give an Owen or an Edwards to the church and then ordain that what they saw of God should be preserved in books? Is it not because he loves us? Is it not because he would share Owen’s vision with his church? Great trees that are covered with the richest life-giving fruit are not for museums. God preserves them and their fruit for the health of his church.
“I know that all Christians cannot read all such giants. Even one mountain is too high to climb for most of us. But we can pick one or two, and then ask God to teach us what he taught them. The really great writers are not valuable for their cleverness but for their straightforward and astonishing insight into what the Bible really says about great realities. This is what we need.” (p.12).
Here is the link to the book on the Crossway site: http://www.gnpcb.org/product/1581346492