A Faithful Walk in the Face of Adversity
The first great principle of Carey’s ministry is a faithful walk with God in the face of adversity. Carey faced many challenging difficulties. The missionary group entered India as illegal aliens. In those days India was under the control of the East India Company which held a monopoly on all comings and goings out of India and they refused to allow anyone to go to India as a missionary. It wasn’t until 1813 when William Wilberforce and other great evangelical leaders of Parliament passed the India Bill that India was opened up in some measure to those who would actually go as bona fide missionaries.
In this earlier time, however, Carey’s party was refused a permit to enter the country. So when the ship arrived at the mouth of the Hooghly River, Carey and his little missionary party had to be led off the ship and put on little dinghies. Then they traveled under cover of night into the Port of Calcutta lest they be discovered and sent back to England.
All through the first years of Carey’s ministry, he was on a most precarious basis as an illegal alien in a country where he had no legal right to be ministering the gospel. In addition to that, there was the grinding poverty and the physical danger. Having to support his wife and growing family with basically no wherewithal to do that, after a year or so of trying to eke out a living in Calcutta, he moved them to a place called Debhatta, some thirty or forty miles to the east. It was in a place known as the Sundarbans, and this is how he described that region of the country where he moved his family in 1794:
The Sundarbans are a land of monsters dire. The rivers swarm with hideous alligators, which we often see basking on the shores, or rather imbedded in the mud, of which the banks consist; tigers of the fiercest kind pass and repass every night over the ground where the people are at work in the day; and snakes of monstrous size and deadly poison abound.
This is where he was trying to eke out a living with all the dangers of a jungle teeming with threatening animals all about him.
Carey did move north to a place called Mudnabatty where he was appointed again, through the good offices of John Thomas, as a plantation director for an indigo plant. Here things again were very, very bad.
Carey’s little son Peter caught a terrible fever and lingered until finally, he died at age five. This was a severe blow to Carey and particularly to Dorothy Carey. They themselves had to dress the body of their son for burial because no native would touch a dead body. It was a violation of the caste system.
In a sense, Dorothy Carey herself never recovered from the death of their son Peter. They had another son, Jonathan, a year or so later, but from the time of Peter’s death, she continued steadily to decline and deteriorate until she lost whatever sanity she had when she left England. She began to make wild accusations against her husband, false accusations of having affairs with other women, and things that were so far from the truth that they were preposterous to those who heard them. Finally, she began to threaten not only her life, but the lives of others. She tried to kill Carey on at least one occasion. She had to be bound to a chair and often held against her will until finally, she died in 1807, thus ending the sad, sad story of Dorothy Carey. All the while Carey was faithful in his support of her. He could have put her in what was known in those days as an insane asylum, but it was a terrible place and he knew it. So he himself provided care for her until her death in 1807.
Other trials included the rupture with the Baptist Missionary Society and the desertion of John Thomas. On one day Thomas would want to go out and win the world and on another day he had taken a job 25 miles down the river and spent all their money. It was up and down, and a great frustration for Carey.
What sustained him during this time? Well, during these days he confided in his diary the emotional strain of his spiritual struggles: “In this wilderness, O how my soul wanders! I thirst, but find nothing to drink. O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul!… Feel very much degenerated in my soul; scarcely any heart for God.”
What sustained him during those days? The Sabbaths were especially difficult. He had been a pastor of a loving, affirming, growing church back in Leicester. Now he was on the edge of a jungle, thousands of miles away. Sometimes it required two years to get a letter from home. There was no contact with fellow believers, his wife was depressed and deteriorating, his children were often sick and one of them dead, and there was no steady way to make an income. He said one March 16 day, “Such another Sabbath I hope I should never pass. What a hell it would be to be always with those who fear not God.”
What sustained him during those days? The Word of God sustained him. The Scriptures he would read in the various languages he was learning until they soaked into his very soul. Prayer also sustained him during those days. Every Sabbath day he would mark the time on the calendar when he knew that back in England the believers in the little church where he had pastored and those of like mind were praying for him. Whenever that was, whatever time of the day it was in India, when they were praying back in England, Carey would stop and spend that time in meditation and prayer. He felt great sustenance in knowing that at that very moment the throne of heaven was being besought by those who loved him and had sent him forth in the name of Christ.
Godly readings sustained him. Outside of the Scriptures, the book which meant the most to Carey in the difficult days was the Diary of David Brainerd, which had been edited by Jonathan Edwards. It was Edwards’ edited version of Brainerd’s Diary that Carey read and reread and reread again, because, of course, Brainerd too, experienced some of those same travails in his soul that Carey knew in India. If William Carey was the Father of Modern Missions, Andrew Fuller was the Stepfather, and Jonathan Edwards the Grandfather.
Through it all, Carey had a faithful walk in the face of adversity. Why should we think it will be any different for us? Charles Haddon Spurgeon, near the end of his life, looked back over his own great difficulties, the depression that he experienced from time to time, the controversies in which he was engaged, and the attacks which he sustained, and he said,
All the way to heaven we shall only get there by the skin of our teeth. We shall not go to heaven sailing along with sails swelling to the breeze like seabirds with their fair white wings, but we shall proceed full often with sails rent to ribbons, with masts creaking, and the ship’s pump at work both by night and day. We shall reach the City at the shutting of the gate, but not an hour before.
We need to hear those words and we need to tell them to young ministers when we send them forth into the battle. We need to remind ourselves that God did not call us to a luxury liner, but to a battleship. That’s not salvation by works. There’s not anybody in the history of the Christian church who believed more in the sovereignty of God and the grace of God than Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It’s the grace of God, however, that puts us in the thick of the fight. But the grace of God also sustains us for every battle that we must encounter. William Carey experienced that in his life again and again. He said in his diary, “I feel that it is good to commit my soul, my body, and my all into the hands of God. Then the world appears little, the promises great, and God an all-sufficient portion.” A faithful walk in the face of adversity.
Timothy George, “The Life and Mission of William Carey—Part 2,” in Reclaiming the Gospel and Reforming Churches: Twenty Years of the Southern Baptist Founders Conference 1982–2002, ed. Thomas K. Ascol (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 1992), 603–606.