William Carey

William Carey's 11 Commandments of Missions

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

Listed in Christian History, Issue 36, page 34. HT: Ray Ortlund.

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“I think God ought to repent for not sending the gospel sooner to us.”

Have you ever wondered why the gospel reaches some people and not others, or why it sometimes takes so long for the gospel to reach some?  In 1797 William Carey, British missionary to India, had a very interesting conversation with a Brahman in which that very question is addressed.  Tom Wells, in his excellent little book, A Vision for Missions (pp. 12-13), tells the story:

The Brahman was defending the worship of idols.  Carey cited Acts 14:16 and 17:30:

God formerly ‘suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,’ said Carey, ‘but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.’

‘Indeed,’ said the native, ‘I think God ought to repent for not sending the gospel sooner to us.’

This was the Brahman’s direct way of saying that he did not believe Carey’s message…. Here, however, the story takes a new turn.  William Carey was at no loss for words.  Nor did he back down.  Instead he launched a counter-attack.  He assured the Brahman that God is never guilty of an injustice:

“To this I added, suppose a kingdom had been long overrun by the enemies of its true king, and he, though possessed of sufficient power to conquer them, should yet suffer them to prevail and establish themselves as much as they could desire, would not the valor and wisdom of that king be far more conspicuous in exterminating them, than it would have been if he had opposed them at first, and prevented their entering the country? Thus by diffusion of gospel light, the wisdom, power, and grace of God will be more conspicuous in overcoming such deep-rooted idolatries, and in destroying all that darkness and vice which have so universally prevailed in this country, than they would have been if all had not been suffered to walk in their own ways for so many ages past.”

Carey’s wise words betray the following convictions:

  1. God is sovereign not only in man’s individual salvation but also in the course and progress of the gospel throughout history.
  2. God’s goal in missions is ultimately to make his glory–his wisdom, power, and grace–conspicuous.
  3. God sometimes sovereignly withholds the gospel from going to certain people in order to accomplish his own God-glorifying purposes (cf. Matthew 10:5-6).
  4. Sometimes that glory is manifest in God’s eventually (justly) “exterminating them” (Carey’s words) for their abundance of evil.
  5. And sometimes God’s glory is manifest in sending them the gospel so that “the wisdom, power, and grace of God will be all the more conspicuous” when he finally does choose to allow the gospel to reach that people who had “been suffered to walk in their own ways for so many ages past.”
  6. At any moment that he sovereignly chooses to do so, God is perfectly capable of “overcoming…deep-rooted idolatries” and “destroying all that darkness and vice which have so universally prevailed” in a given country.
  7. God accomplishes this through “the diffusion of gospel light” which requires that gospel-bearing messengers participate in his mission (cf. Rom 10:14-15).

If Carey’s answer is difficult for you to swallow, consider the Apostle Paul’s answer to a similar question in Romans 9:18-24:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Humbling truths!  However, I might add, this should never be taken to mean that we have no responsibility in taking the gospel to the heathen.  William Carey certainly didn’t take it to mean that!  Nor did Paul.  And neither should we.  These twin truths abound in scripture and must be accepted by us, regardless of our inability to reconcile them in our finite mind:  (1) God is absolutely sovereign in salvation, and (2) God has sovereignly chosen to use means–missionaries–to carry his message to the lost.  He has sovereignly commissioned us to do so (Matt 28:18-20).