The Faithful Witness is a book about the life and mission of William Carey, written by Timothy George in 1991. Seven years later, in 1998, a special movie edition was printed as a companion to the dramatic film, Candle in the Dark. This special edition was published by the Christian History Institute in association with Samford University and its Beeson Divinity School.
The purpose of this book is to both honor the life of William Carey and to encourage Christians to have the same vision and passion as he did for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ to the people who are lost in our world. William Carey is known universally today as the father of modern missions. He is said to have begun the Protestant missionary movement with his 40-year ministry in India, making his life a leading example for the modern day missionary. Timothy George’s central argument in this book is simply that William Carey’s life is such a powerful testimony to the life of a Christian called by God to take the gospel to the lost and therefore Christians should know the story of Carey’s life, that we might gain his vision and passion for reaching the world with the message of Christ. The content of the book is a comprehensive study of William Carey’s life covering his time as a young man growing up, his family, his struggles, his calling, his missionary journey, and many of the of things he accomplished as a missionary to India. The proof of William Carey’s fervor for reaching the heathen is found in the story of his life. It is in the story of his life that we find amazing faith and witness the Godly character of a man who faithfully set out to do the work of the savior, no matter what the cost. He remained loyal to God and to his mission, even when the cost was too high, and it was through this loyalty and faithfulness to God and this unfailing passion for the lost that God used Carey’s life to accomplish many great things and to encourage the lives of other missionaries. To understand the purpose of this book we must understand the life of William Carey. In view of this I have provided a very short summary of William Carey’s life as written in Timothy George’s book, Faithful Witness. This summery does not come close to telling the story of his life. If you want to know more, read the book.
William Carey was the son of a weaver, and was himself a village shoemaker till he was twenty-eight years old. He was born on the 17th of August in 1861, in the midland region of England. He was the oldest of the five children born to Edmund and Elisabeth Carey. Although Carey had been baptized and brought up in the Church of England as a young teenager he was addicted to swearing, lying, and unchaste conversation, and for many years he gave little attention to his eternal destiny. After an incident with counterfeit money and his theft being known to the whole village, Carey realized that nothing but an entire change of heart could remove his guilt and bring him peace with God. Soon after, and through many struggles, Carey was brought to depend on Christ for pardon and salvation and began to press these claims of Christ upon others. To Carey, evangelism was not optional; it was the motivational force of every soul delivered out of darkness into grace. Also after further study, Carey became convinced of the necessity of believer’s baptism by immersion, and acting on this new-found knowledge he applied for baptism himself and was baptized in October of 1783.
After Carey’s baptism he became a respected city pastor, and began devising a strategy for world evangelization. Even though he was preaching, he had not yet been associated with any one local church body, which was pointed out by John Sutcliff, who reminded Carey the importance of joining some respectable church. So Carey decided to unite with the church at Olney, where he sought their blessings on his labors for the Lord.
Carey was married to Dorothy Plackett, and this marked the beginning of darkness in the 26 years of their marriage. Their first born child, a daughter, died of a fever in her second year, and Carey almost died from the same fever, which left him bald the rest of his life. Then after the sickness, the husband of Dorothy’s sister died and Carey was left responsible for his wife’s sister and her four fatherless children. In order to live Carey had to open a night school for village children, and travel the dirt roads and byways of Northampton shire filling orders, selling shoes, just eking out a living the best he could. But even through all the struggles of life Carey continued to read and study and preach.
Cary had a gift for learning new languages, and was somewhat impatient with others who cited the linguistic barrier as an excuse for doing nothing about missions. He was given the opportunity to pursue Latin, Hebrew and Greek when he was offered 10 shillings a week by Gotch, so that he didn’t have to labor long hours to make shoes for others. Carey continued to study and learn, and wrote an Inquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. This was a deliberate, logical, forceful presentation of a case based on careful research and argued from deep conviction. This inquiry consists of five chapters dealing with the Great Commission, obstacles to missions, and the Christian’s duty to promote the cause of missions.
Carey himself felt called to respond to the missionary call that he himself had sounded, but two things stood in his way. One was his church, although he assumed that he could persuade his congregation to release him from his pastoral work, and the other obstacle was his wife. The thought of her and their children being transplanted to some distant land was more than she could bear. Soon enough Carey confirmed that call by agreeing to go to India with Thomas, which was a moment of surrender for him. Carey’s wife was only weeks from delivery, and could not be convinced to go, and yet Carey could not be convinced to stay. So Carey, his son Felix, and Thomas set off for India. Due to several unfortunate events, after several weeks they still had not made it to India. The creditors were after Thomas and they did not hold the proper permit to be transported to India. This led to them finally persuading Dorothy to go with them. After five months at sea, battling the storms and many struggles they arrived in India.
India was just the beginning of many more struggles for Carey. For a while they lived on the outskirts of Calcutta in a shack of a house made available to them out of pity by a native moneylender Carey had met. Unsanitary living conditions, and near-starvation had taken their toll them. Dorothy and the older boys, Felix and William, were suffering from dysentery. Felix was so sick Carey did not think he would make it. Carey had to spend most of his time scraping together what he could for the family. Carey was deprived of the blessings of public worship, and he was removed from the fellowship of his dear Christian friends. As Carey continued to move his family and continued to get settled, things proceeded to become worse before they became better. In the process Carey fell victim to a malarious fever, and just as he was beginning to recover, his 5-year-old son Peter contracted an even more dangerous fever and died. Dorothy never recovered from Peter’s death, she lost her mind, displaying only bitterness and hurt the rest of her life.
Carey then began regular Sunday preaching for the natives, drawing between 200 and 600 people a week. His skills in Bengali were improving and he began to be able to preach in their own language. This led to baptisms and finally to a church forming. At first Carey had to go forward a little at a time, through the years of struggle and doubt, of hurt and hope, and through the sorrow of a lost child. But partly fearing and partly hoping Carey kept his hand to the plow knowing God would one day give the increase.
Carey then moved again to Serampore where more help came. A printing press was soon set up, and Carey hit on the idea of publishing copies of the Gospel of Matthew and distributing them as tracts to the people. The gospel was then being read in Bengali for the first time. Carey led the way and the others followed in evangelizing, and even singing hymns in the streets. They were often chased off by flying pebbles and sticks accompanied by insults, taunts, and threats. They preached on, week after week and month after month, without a single convert. Then finally with the help of the Dr. Thomas, one Hindu came to know Christ and broke caste. This single event opened up the door not only for further witness, but for further persecution. After the first Hindu was saved and baptized many more were to follow.
Carey soon became known as the father of modern missions, with his example proving missions work was possible, even through much suffering and hardships. Carey’s Zeal convinced people that missions work was essential; and all of Carey’s work and struggle led to generations of missionaries following in his footsteps. Churches and schools were started, plus years of Indian culture was bieng changed by the efforts of one man willing to serve God no matter what.
Throughout his life Carey was a shoemaker, botanist, translator, preacher, factory manager, and had several children and even several wives. But even among all the good and bad times of his life, most importantly he was a faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, in a life of personal grief, and professional ridicule. Carey himself passed away on June 9, 1834 at the age of 73. At his request a segment of one of his favorite Watt’s hymns was inscribed on the stone slab of his grave, which said: A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.
What is amazing is the fact that with only a grammar-school education behind him, he had no credentials for missionary service except an inextinguishable conviction that God Almighty had called him to devote his life to the conversion of heathens. He went to India as an illegal alien, failing to secure the required immigration permit. He lacked financial resources and had to struggle through much torment and pain to keep his family alive. Through all of this, Carey remained faithful to God and to the work of missions, earning the title of what we now refer to as the father of modern missions.
I believe Timothy George accomplish his purpose for writing this book by simply telling the story of Carey’s life. It is through the story that the Christians heart is stirred. Carey’s life provides for us a prime example of what it means to be obedient to Christ, even in the midst of the most horrible circumstances, and helps us to see the glory that comes from following God’s purpose. It is obvious that William Carey was a humble man as well, not wishing that any would talk about him or honor him in such a way, but it was through his obedience to Christ and his undying passion for the lost that earns him such honor because it provides for Christians a standard that we can live up to. Carey was not a perfect man, by any means, however he is an excellent example of an average Christian who desired to live a life obedient to Christ, and did so no matter the cost. The story of Carey’s life should be an encouragement to all Christians.