AT THE LORD’S DISPOSAL
Rev. Dr. Selvam Robertson
AT THE LORD’S DISPOSAL
AT THE LORD’S DISPOSAL
Although the traits of prophet, priest, preceptor or a reformer can be discerned from the life of William Carey I do not know whether he was one among them in the strict sense but am sure, like them, he too was ‘at the Lord’s disposal’. The following description is to illustrate his life so that we may learn a few characteristics of people who are at the Lord’s disposal. It is also fitting that the Serampore College (William Carey established) celebrated this year (2018) its bicentenary and centenary of the Senate of Serampore College.
William Carey was born on August 17, 1761 in a little village called Paulerspury, in Northamptonshire of England. His father became a parish clerk in James Anglican church when his traditional weaving gave way. Consequently he had the additional duty as schoolmaster of the parish school. The family moved to the school house in 1767.
William was the eldest among five children. He started schooling at six in the parish school, worked as an altar boy and attended choir in the Church. While still in school he read every book he could find. He also developed interests on birds, insects, plants, seeds, etc and did things with never-give-up spirit.
In 1773, at the age of 12, William finished school and began working as a gardener. Soon he had to be stopped from this work as he became sick due to heat. His father found him another work.
Shoe Maker Cobbler at Piddington (1775-1785)
William began his apprentice work as a shoemaker (under Clarke Nicholes) in Piddington, seven miles from Paulerspury. There, he met John Warr (3 years older to him) of Potterspury who was also working under the same master. They became friends.
1n 1776 during a Christmas season William replaced a counterfeit shilling with his master’s. When the matter came to light William was afraid but his master allowed him to continue his work. This made William draw closer to God and began to pray for Clarke Nichols (married in October 1777).
William was an Anglican but John Warr, led him to become a Baptist and won the seventeen year-old William to Christ.
The prayer of William and John Warr drew Nichols closer to God before his untimely death in September 1779. Soon after his death, the widow’s cousin, Thomas Old of Hackleton told that he will take over the shop and we must do everything possible to ease the widow’s grief.
Thomas Old’s wife Elizabeth, introduced her sister Dorothy Plackett to William. William and Dorothy were married on June 10, 1781. They began a simple life, even friends collected money to help them. William’s mother seemed frailer each year. Polly, one of his sisters now fourteen, suffered a nerve disease, now parts of her body became numb. Her elder sister Ann now seventeen said ‘the tender mercies of the Lord can be cruel’. William continued to be active in the Hackleton Meeting House which became a church in May 19, 1778.
Carey and Dorothy dwelt in their cottage for six years. Their first child was born in the summer of 1782. She (child) fell sick and died in 1784. William was sick for a long time to the extent he lost his hair on the head. Dorathy feared for William’s life. But he told her, it shows you don’t trust the Lord.
Thomas Old died unexpectedly in 1783 when not even forty. Carey had to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of his wife’s widowed sister and her four orphans as well as the business.
On October 20, 1785, a second child was born to William and Dorathy and they named him Felix which means “happiness.”
Skills and Vision
William was a gifted linguist. At twelve, he memorized a Latin vocabulary book. After coming across a Greek New Testament in Nichols’ shoe shop, immediately, he bought a Greek Dictionary and a Grammar book and began to learn Greek. Thomas Gotch a shoe dealer financially helped William to concentrate on language study and ministry in the church.
After the marriage of John Warr in April of 1780, William was often in the shop alone and even he began to attend the Church of England again. Once he listened to Thomas Scott, an Anglican and was shocked to learn Scott had mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew! William began to learn Hebrew too with Scott’s help and books.
William made a large map drawn by hand on several pieces of paper/leather stuck together and marked on it information about each country as he had found them in his reading.
Anglican to Baptist
On 10th February 1779 William Carey joined the Protestant church much to the disappointment of his parents. He was baptized on 5th October, 1783. Just a few weeks later his sisters also were baptized.
Teacher at Moulton (1785-1789)
William struggled to keep food on the table all through 1784. On March 25, 1785, he moved to Moulton and started a school there. The church at Moulton invited him to be pastor. He also continued his business of shoe making. The strength as well as income of the school declined when a previous school teacher returned and restarted his school. William continued to learn different languages.
William was ordained on August 1, 1787 in the Baptist Church of Moulton, Just weeks after his mother’s funeral. His coat for the occasion was bought by collection made among friends.
When twenty and married the church at Hackleton asked the apprentice shoemaker, William, to preach.
The congregation of Baptists at Earls Barton, east of Northampton, even persuaded him to preach there every other week. Even there was a request to preach once a month at Paulerspury.
William Carey was now twenty-two, preacher, shoemaker and bald headed. To others it seemed he had a thousand problems. To himself he was enraptured by faith. His faith was blossoming, he was sure. He was now being tested by sickness, mourning, and poverty, but no longer doubt.
William recovered his health again. At the Hackleton Meeting House he joined discussions. Once a month now they discussed the churchman’s [sic] obligation to evangelize, not just within his parish but the entire world. William found himself drawn more and more to the idea that the “Great Commission” did indeed require churchmen to spread Christ to the entire world.
He also served the Baptist Church at Olney and the Harvey Lane Church in Leicester.
The birth (1790) and death of a daughter, Lucy, made the ordeal even worse. Lucy’s tender innocence reminded William he could fail too.
From his early days William was intensely interested in the people of other lands. His conviction grew that it was the duty of the Church to take seriously Christ’s command to go ‘into the entire world and preach the gospel,’ and he began to press for the formation of a society to further this aim.
He was careful about bringing up the subject in association meetings. In 1788 while raising money in Birmingham for the church building in Moulton he met Thomas Potts, a businessman who supported (offering £10 towards the cost of printing) William to publish his book: An Enquiry into the Obligations to Use Means for the conversion of the Heathens [sic], 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. It was published on May 12, 1792.
In this book, he rebutted all ideas against mission/great commission, discussed history of mission from apostle to the present, countries and their religious statistics including cruel practices, practicality of undertaking mission, responsibility of Christians and ended with a future hope.
Once in a ministers’ meeting William asked them to discuss “if the command to the disciples to teach all nations did not mean all ministers to the end of the world”. To that, Ryland, as chairman of the meeting, answered: “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to save the people of other lands, He will do it without asking you or me.”
Baptist Mission Society
In a meeting held in May 30-31, 1792 William preached a sermon (Isaiah 54: 2-3) and ended with the famous saying:
Expect great things from God
Attempt great things for God.
The same year The Baptist Mission Society was established in England. William’s father feared that he would offer himself to go as a missionary. William replied that he was at the Lord’s disposal but had little expectation of actually going to a foreign country himself. Dr. John Thomas, volunteered to be the first missionary to India. William could not contain himself any longer and offered himself as Dr. Thomas’s assistant!
The Baptist Missionary Society had agreed to send William and Thomas as missionaries to Bengal as its first field. Dorothy blindly rejected and she did not want o go. East India Company was not giving permission to missionaries to travel. But Thomas out of his previous experience suggested not getting licenses is not a problem. The ship in those days was small and uncomfortable. But Carey was not afraid of facing such hardships.
Captain White of the Earl of Oxford agreed to take them to India without the licenc. Soon a team of seven was aboard the Earl of Oxford. Finally, one day in early May the captain summoned Dr. Thomas to come immediately. It seems someone has warned the captain that the authorities in Calcutta have been put on notice that there is one passenger aboard without a license. William, his son and Thomas were de-boarded from the ship.
William took it that it happened for good. They went home and waited until they came to know that a Danish ship Krön Princess Maria was going to Bengal. Meanwhile, Thomas persuaded Dorothy to join William. Dorathy insisted that her sister Kitty should go with her. Kitty, after prayer, agreed. With that Dorothy finally agreed to go to India. Money was collected for their tickets. The ship had arrived. Two hours later they were on the ship. Soon it was sailing. They were on their way to India at last. And best of all, Carey had his whole family with him, including Jabez, less than two months old. Since he now had his family with him, William never expected to return to England.
During the voyage Carey was dangerously ill. God healed him. Then faced a storm and the tidal waves almost sank the ship. In the mornings and evenings and Sundays William led a worship service in their large cabin for their own eight and a fairly constant dozen others.
A black woman and her infant were not so fortunate. They died before the Kron Princessa Maria could reach Cape Town. The entire ship offered up their prayers as their bodies were claimed by the deep.
A few days later a ship’s carpenter died. A third body was claimed by the sea. William prayed it was their last sacrifice to the sea. And at long last the ship entered the Hooghly River. The voyage took nearly five months; eventually William Carey with family and companions arrived in Calcutta, India on 11th November, 1793.
Carey used the time (in ship) by having Thomas teach him the Bengali language. Thomas had translated the gospels of Mark and Matthew into that language. Now he and Carey worked together to translate Genesis.
Advised by the friendly Captain Christmas of the Danish vessel Maria, Carey landed at the mouth of the River Hooghly and, to avoid opposition of the British officials, reached Calcutta in a native fishing boat!
The missionaries had gone ashore at a very large market. Thomas had already made various arrangements. He had sent a messenger to the house where his wife and the three others were staying. They were to meet the new arrivals north of Calcutta in a Portuguese settlement called Bandel.
In Bandel Thomas introduced Ram Ram Basu (interpreter) to William. They traveled by boat and by foot to the small villages around.
But at Bandel, Felix, then Dorathy, became very sick with what was called the “bloody flux.” It was a form of diarrhea so severe it was accompanied by blood. It was the bane of foreigners in India.
From Badel the family moved to Monicktullo and stayed in a rented house. His wife grew unhappy. William visited some Englishmen in Calcutta during the day, only to be treated with contempt. Even a prominent clergyman to whom he had an introduction written by John Newton had refused to see him. Dorathy and her sister became more and more discontented.
Departed to Sundarbans
With the help of a money lender William found free land in Debhatta. On the evening of February 3, 1794, Carey, now thirty-two years old, Dorathy, who had just turned thirty-eight, and Kitty, thirty, stepped into a boat with the boys: Felix, eight, Willy, five, and Peter, four. Dorathy carried nine-month-old Jabez. Ram Ram Basu also went.
William and Felix walked to their land each day ad cleared it. The two laid out a garden, then William paced off the dimensions for a house. The house, built on stilts high off the ground, would be framed and floored with bamboo, then walled and roofed with mats. Until they completed the work they lived in the bungalow of Charles Short.
One day Charles Short got a letter for William from Dr. Thomas. George Udny was now an important East India Company official there, one entrusted with encouraging business enterprises. Would Dr. Thomas be interested in running an indigo processing plant near Malda? he had asked. The salary was fixed and quite substantial. The plant manager would have a nice house, even servants. So Thomas had agreed to run the indigo plant at Mahipaldighi.
Would William be interested in running a similar plant near Mudnabati? The generous salary would be the same! And William too would have a nice house and servants. Udny believed he could even pull strings to get the two men licenses, so at least they would be free from the threat of being arrested. If William was interested, he must write to Thomas at once. Then Thomas would send him the money to make the three-hundred-mile trip north.
William abandoned his bamboo house. He spent all his time learning Bengali.
And what could be more ambitious, festering in a muddy forest with a distraught wife, then to begin translating the Bible into Bengali? But that was exactly what he began to do with Ram Ram Basu’s help.
At last the money came from Thomas. It was nearly the last week in May, the traditional start of the monsoons. William hurriedly loaded a large, canopied boat he had hired in advance. Kitty decided to marry Charles Short.
On the dawn of May 23, 1794, without Kitty, the Careys headed north. They were welcomed warmly by the George Udnys. The house pleased Dorathy. William developed a garden. As steward of God’s gift, he also intended to raise ducks, chickens, cattle and sheep. Soon he hoped to even have the luxury of a horse!
William continued to labor on his translation of the Bible into Bengali. This was very important. Its by-product was to be a mastery of Bengali sufficient to actually preach to the natives. He started a school, church and a clinic to help the people.
William and his five year old son Peter fell sick- Jungle fever. On October 11 Peter died. The death and the events following the death shattered Dolly. She began losing control of her mind.
Indigo plantation further north
Due to heavy flood the indigo business suffered. Udnys wanted to shut the plant. Thus William decided to move further north to establish another plant. And make provisions for accommodating new missionaries. But the new missionaries went to Serampore. They invited William to Serampore.
Moving to Serampore
By January 1, 1800, William with all his goods headed to Serampore. There with the help of other missionaries set up a printing press. He became professor of Bengali, Sanskrit and Marathi at fort William College in Calcutta. During the free hours he concentrated in translation, preaching etc.
He translated the bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, Oriya. Marathi. There are reports that during his time the bible was translated into more than 30 languages in full or in part. From there missionaries were sent to China, Burma. During their fast moving printing activity their printing press met with a huge fire accident. William was also involved in social concerns.
Although the Serampore missionaries enormously contributed to education, journalism, etc, in 1818 the Serampore College was established, a vision William waited for so long. Subsequently the King of Denmark granted a Royal charter authorizing the college to confer degrees. [1918, Bengal Government by an act authorized the establishment of the Senate of Serampore College]
William was the one who said: Attempt great things for God
and expect great thinks from God
The emblem of the Serampore College has in it a Bible, cross and a pelican feeding the young ones from her own blood.
One day William used his meager remaining energy to admonish a visitor who had repeated praise too often, “Dr. Carey this, Dr Carey that! Cried William, ”Please, sir, after I am gone, praise nothing about Dr. Carey. Praise only Dr. Carey’s Savior!”
William instructed that the following words be written on his tomb:
A wretched, poor, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall.
William Carey died at sunrise on June 9, 1834. Funeral was attended by Hindus, Muslims, Christians…
A few insights can be underlined from the life of William Carey who was ‘at the Lord’s disposal.’ The life and journey of God’s servants go through multifaceted experiences, uncertainties and even very rugged path. God’s choice of his servants is not based on family and status but perseverance and full dedication. God’s servants attribute overcoming of failures to the grace of God. Being in God’s service does not mean being free from sorrow and pain but having strength to withstand and be focused. All loses and heavy burdens in the process of God’s service are not to abandon service but move forward in the midst of them. For servants of God poverty and hardship are not obstacles. They always look for opportunities to dedicatedly serve without being discouraged bust steadily moving forward.
Religion and Dialogue
Bibliography for further study
Beck, James R. Dorothy Carey: The Tragic and Untold Story of Mrs. William Carey.
Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
Carey, Eustace. Memoir of William Carey D.D. Hartford: Canfield and Robins, 1837; microfiche, Louisville:
Lost Cause Press, 1996.
Carey, S. Pearce. William Carey, D.D., Fellow of the Linnean Society. London: Hodder
& Stoughton, 1923. Reprint, London: WakemanTrust, 1993.
Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligations to Use Means for the Conversion of the
Heathens. Leicester:Ann Ireland, 1792, new facsimile ed. With intro by Ernest A. Payne. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1961.
Drewery, Mary. William Carey: A Biography. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
Finnie, Kellsye, William Carey: By Trade a Cobbler. London: Kingsway Publications, 1986.
Gardner, Brian. The East India Company. New York: McCall, 1971.
George, Timothy. Faithful Witness: Life and Mission of William Carey. Birmingham, Ala:
New Hope, 1991.
Marshman, John Clark. The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman and Ward, 2 vols., London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1859; microfiche.
Potts, E. Daniel. British Baptist Missionaries in India, 1793-1837: History of Serampore
and Its Missions. Cambridge: U Press, 1967.
Prabhudass, P. L. William Carey. Madras: Glad Tidings Distributors, 1993.
Smith, George. The Life of William Carey. 2nd ed. London: John Murray, 1885;
The Council of Serampore College. The Story of Serampore and its College, 4th ed.
Serampore: The Council of Serampore College, 2005.
Wellman, Sam. William Carey: Father of Modern Missions. Indian ed. Secunderabad:
OM Books, 2004.
Woodworth, Ralph. Father of Modern Missions: William Carey D.D. Hyderabad:
Authentic Books, 2012.
 Ralph Woodworth, Father of Modern Missions, (Hyderabad: Authentic Books, 2012), 8.
 L. Prabhudass, William Carey(Madras: Glad Tidings Distributors,1993),8.
 Sam Wellman, William Carey: Father of Modern Missions, Indian ed.(Secunderabad: OM Books, 2004), 38.
 L. Prabhudass, William Carey(Madras: Glad Tidings Distributors,1993),9-10.
 Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
 Sam Wellman, William Carey: Father of Modern Missions, Indian ed.(Secunderabad: OM Books, 2004), 56.
 E. L. Wenger, “The Serampore Mission and its Founders,” in The Story of Serampore and its College, 4th ed. (Serampore: The Council of Serampore College, 2005), 1.
 Ralph Woodworth, Father of Modern Missions, (Hyderabad: Authentic Books, 2012), 22.
 Ralph Woodworth, Father of Modern Missions, (Hyderabad: Authentic Books, 2012), 21.