Daniel Webber’s Recent Book on Carey

Among the books that I read on my trip to the UK last week was Daniel Webber, William Carey and the Missionary Vision (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), xii+116 pages. I have about sixty biographies of Carey and this is among the better. What follows is an initial reflection on the book. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Francis Wayland, the American Baptist theologian and educator, noted that the “names of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, in India, and of Fuller, Ryland, and Sutcliff” are as “familiar to us as household words.” [A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853), I, 121.] He was speaking for the Baptists of that day, on both sides of the Atlantic. But that was then, and the situation is quite different today.

Only Carey’s name is really well-known to the general Christian public today. This new study by Daniel Webber, the present Director of the European Missionary Fellowship (EMF), based at Welwyn, Herts., England, capitalizes on this fact, but seeks to present a side of Carey that is not that well-known, namely his time in England before he went to India in 1793 (p.ix). Webber especially wishes to lay before his readers “Carey’s passionate advocacy of world mission” and encourage them to reflect on how this passion of the eighteenth-century Baptist can inform the church’s ongoing responsibility (p.ix-x, 4).

The slim study contains just over fifty pages of textual introduction to Carey’s An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, originally published in Leicester in 1792 (p.53-100) and Andrew Fuller’s The Instances, the Evil Nature, and the Dangerous Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion, a sermon that Fuller preached in 1791 (p.101-116). As a study it has its origins in a 1993 lecture and subsequent publication that has long since been out of print. Webber has “fully revised” this earlier publication.

It is great to have the entire text of Carey’s Enquiry reproduced in a newly typeset format, since Parts II and III, Carey’s mini-history of missions and his “Operation World”-like survey of the world known to him, are usually omitted. Webber rightly identifies Fuller’s sermon as being central in the chain of events that convinced his and Carey’s fellow Baptists of the rightness of Carey’s vision.

Webber’s stated goal in the book is to detail Carey’s passion for world mission as displayed in his Enquiry. He only enters into biographical matters to further this end. As far as this goal is concerned, Webber does an excellent job. Carey’s biblical reasons for engaging in cross-cultural missions are delineated, his response to objections set forth and his practical recommendations for engaging in such mission discussed (p.13-35).

And yet, I was a little disappointed. Having long pondered and read about the story of Carey, I feel that the area of Carey’s story that is not well-known at all is the time in India. Given Webber’s goal in the book, this part of the story occupies only a small portion of the book (p.37-42). Yet, this is the truly unknown Carey. There is so much about Carey’s time in India that is not well-known, especially from 1812 onwards. Also I wish Webber had taken some time in examining Carey’s Calvinism (which he mentions on p.4). His theology totally undergirded his missionary thought and it strikes this reader that the latter cannot really be understood apart from it.

These quibbles aside, Webber well depicts the passion that burned in Carey’s heart and often he is able to aptly sum up Carey’s thinking and that of his closest friends with an apposite quote. For example, when many in England were clamouring for a portrait of Carey—for which Andrew Fuller told his friend in India that “eight hundred guineas” had been offered—Fuller rightly commented that such adulation posed a grave spiritual danger. But, he added, “if we be kept humble and near to God, we have nothing to fear” (p.41). It is noteworthy that the first clause is in the passive. Fuller’s prayer to God for himself and Carey was: “Lord, keep us humble and near to Thee.” Though we must use the means of grace to stay in the place of humility and use those same means to cleave to our God, ultimately this is his great work. If we are kept humble and near to him—then truly we have nothing to fear. And Webber is surely right to comment that in this statement we get “some insight into the spirit that prevailed both with Carey and his friend, Andrew Fuller” (p.42).

I noted one historical error: Samuel Pearce died in 1799, not 1792 (p.20). For details on ordering this book, its ISBN is 0-85151-921-0 and see William Carey.