A Circle of Friends: Reflections on a Letter from Fuller to Carey

By Steve Weaver

I love a letter from Andrew Fuller to William Carey contained in Andrew Gunton Fuller's 1882 biography of his father.[1] It illustrates beautifully the love and collegiality of the circle of friends among whom the modern missionary movement was birthed. In the letter, Fuller indicates that he had been visiting with John Sutcliff, Baptist pastor in Olney, "on missionary concerns" when a letter from Carey (dated October 10, 1798) had arrived, or as he put it, "while I was there, in bolted Carey!" Fuller’s response to the missionary includes updates on all the major characters associated with the early days of the Baptist Missionary Society. Carey, the Society's first missionary, was the recipient of the letter and Fuller, the secretary of the Society from its beginning until his death in 1815, was the author. Fuller knew that Carey would want to know about the welfare of their mutual friends—John Ryland, Jr. (1753–1825), John Sutcliff (1752–1814), and Samuel Pearce (1766–1799).

The fruits of Brother Ryland's labours at Bristol appear to good purpose, not only in a number of spiritual young men in the Academy, but in so charming a group of missionaries as are now going. Brother Sutcliffe has baptized nine lately. He is appointed to supply you with books, and I doubt not but he will magnify his office. Pearce is a wonderful Christian; he preached here last autumn like an apostle, from Psalm xc. 16, 17. Hall, who preached after him, was dismayed at the thought of following him; not so much at an idea of inequality of talents, but of spirit and unction. But whether we shall ever hear him again, God only knows.

There is also a reference to Robert Hall, the younger (1764-1831), the esteemed preacher and son of Robert Hall, the elder (1728–1791). The reference to Hall, who was well-known as a great orator, is striking. When scheduled to preach after Pearce, who Fuller calls simply "a wonderful Christian," Hall feared to follow Pearce due to the latter's "spirit and unction." This letter was likely written in late 1798 or early 1799. Pearce would die within the year on October 10, 1799. His obvious declining health was the reason Fuller added, "But whether we shall ever hear him again, God only knows."

[1]Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller. Men Worth Remembering (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882), 150-151.


Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 15. You can read more from Steve at his personal website: Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian.

“The Best Sermon Upon Baptism That I Have Ever Heard”

By Evan D. Burns

On September 6, 1812, at Lal Bazaar Church in Calcutta, Adoniram and Ann Judson were baptized by William Ward.  They departed the States as paedo-baptists, and through much Scriptural searching on their voyage, they arrived in India as convinced credo-baptists.  In a sermon at Lal Bazaar Baptist church, Adoniram contended for believer’s baptism.  His argument was so theologically articulate and textually faithful that the great missionary-theologian and linguist, William Carey, said it was the best sermon on believer’s baptism that he had ever heard.  In this portion of a letter written by Carey to Dr. Staughton on October 20, 1812, Carey recounts the Judson’s baptism in India:

 Since their arrival in Bengal, brother and sister Judson have been baptized.  Judson has since that preached the best sermon upon baptism that I have ever heard on the subject, which we intend to print.  I yesterday heard that brother Rice had also fully made up his mind upon baptism.

As none of us had conversed with brother Judson before he showed strong symptoms of a tendency towards believers’ baptism, I inquired of him what had occasioned the change.  He told me, that on the voyage, he had thought much about the circumstance that he was coming to Serampore, where all were Baptists; that he should, in all probability, have occasion to defend infant sprinkling among us; and that, in consequence, he set himself to examine into the grounds of Pedobaptism.  This ended in a conviction, that it has no foundation in the word of God, and occasioned a revolution in his sentiments, which was nearly complete before he arrived in India.[1]

What made Judson’s sermon on baptism the best that Carey had ever heard?  What made it worthy of publishing numerous editions on the Baptist press in India?  Moreover, what made the Judson’s risk losing their missionary support from the Congregationalists and risk joining the Baptists?

Adoniram Judson’s theological acumen and willingness to risk demonstrates his unswerving allegiance to the Word of God and his commitment to obey every command of God.  Ann records her thoughts on the transition from paedo-baptist convictions to credo-baptist convictions.  Her record demonstrates Adoniram’s dogged commitment to biblical exegesis over against denominational tradition.

Mr. Judson resolved to examine it candidly and prayerfully, let the result be what it would.  No one in the mission family knew the state of his mind, as they never conversed with any of us on this subject.  It was very fearful he would become a Baptist, and frequently suggested the unhappy consequences if he should.  He always answered, that his duty compelled him to examine the subject, and he hoped he should have a disposition to embrace the truth, though he paid dear for it.  I always took the Pedobaptists’ side in reasoning with him, although I was as doubtful of the truth of their system as he.[2]  After we came to Calcutta, he devoted his whole time to reading on this subject, having obtained the best authors on both sides.  After having examined and re-examined the subject, in every way possible, and comparing the sentiments of both Baptists and Pedobaptists with the Scriptures, he was compelled, from a conviction of the truth, to embrace those of the former.  I confined my attention almost entirely to the Scriptures, comparing the Old with the New Testament, and tried to find something to favor infant baptism, but was convinced it had no foundation there.  I examined the covenant of circumcision, and could see no reason for concluding that baptism was to be administered to children because circumcision was.  Thus, my dear parents and sisters, we are both confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be.  A renunciation of our former sentiments has caused us more pain than any thing which ever happened to us through our lives.[3]

 [1]James D. Knowles, The Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Wife of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burmah, Including a History of the American Baptist Mission in the Burman Empire,  2nd ed. (London: Wightman and Cramp, 1829), 66.

[2]Original spelling: “Pedobaptism”

[3]Robert T. Middleditch, Burmah’s Great Missionary:  Records of the Life, Character, and Achievements of Adoniram Judson (New York:  E.H. Fletcher, 1854), 52-53;  James D. Knowles, The Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Wife of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burmah, Including a History of the American Baptist Mission in the Burman Empire,  2nd ed. (London: Wightman and Cramp, 1829), 62-63;  Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Samson, and Company, 1853), 1:108.


Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

William Carey and William Ward, and being indebted to the Moravians

At time it appears that the debate about whether or not William Carey is rightly called the Father of the modern missionary movement is a seemingly endless palaver: of course, anybody who has read anything about the eighteenth-century awakening knows the Moravians were there first. But it was Carey’s name that was remembered through the long century that followed. Yet, it should never be forgot—though one fears many of the Victorian admirers of the English Baptist did forget—that Carey and his colleagues knew the extent of their debt to the Moravians. As William Ward exclaimed in 1801, after reading some Moravian missionary journals: “Thank you, Moravians! Ye have done me good. If I am ever a missionary worth a straw, I shall owe it to you, under our Saviour.” (Periodical Accounts, 2 [Clipstone, 1801], no.VII, 5).

John Clark Marshman's two-volume life of Carey, Marshman, and Ward reprinted

I just received today three volumes from India through the kindness of Pastor Jack Chen, of Carey Baptist Church, Kolkata (see here for a picture) and Pastor John Mahaffey of West Highland Baptist Church, Hamilton, Ontario who was just there teaching. My brother-in-law, Graham Lowe, is a member of West Highland and he dropped off this morning some books that Pastor Mahaffey brought back for me from Jack Chen: a small volume of Carey’s letters that I shall post on later and a two-volume reprint in hardback of John Clark Marshman’s The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward (London 1859 ed.; repr. Serampore: Council of Serampore College, 2005). Needless to say I was thrilled to get these and am very thankful to Pastor Chen for remembering me in this regard—and my love for “Careyana.” J.C. Marshman (1794-1877) was born in England to Joshua and Hannah Marshman, Carey’s beloved co-workers. He came out to India with his parents in 1799 on an American ship. In short order he became a fluent Bengali speaker, and in his adult years was a tremendous aid to the ministry of his parents and Carey. When they all died he continued to be deeply involved in Serampore College, spending a small fortune of his own to keep the school solvent. He returned to England in 1855. Four years later he published what is still the major life of his father and the other member of the Serampore Trio, William Ward.

It was Marshman who recorded the famous outburst of the senior Ryland when Carey first broached the idea of missions as “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine” (I:10) The questions surrounding the historicity of these very words and of the event itself are still being asked—and cannot be solved here. Suffice it to say that the reprinting of these two volumes by the Council of Serampore College is a great help to the recovery of the tremendous ministries of Marshman and Ward, a work that still awaits an author or authors.

Thinking about Carey's love of Bengali literature

When William Carey went to India, he began a lifelong program of learning about the culture and history of India. So enamoured did he become of Indian literature that he eventually engaged in a systematic re-printing of much of their classical literature. And today he is partly remembered in eastern India as one of the figures responsible for a renaissance of Bengali litertaure. Not surprisingly, some of his close friends in England, like Andrew Fuller, under whose patronymic I serve in part, were surprised and somewhat nonplussed. They had sent Carey out to be a witness to the Christ among the millions of the Indian subcontinent and here he was wasting time on literature. But Carey was wiser than they. He realized that for the gospel to make any headway in his adopted Indian culture, there had to be some understanding of that culture, and the best way to do that was to systematically study the world of India.

I personally do not think Carey's strategy mistaken. A careful examination of the history of mission would show that this strategy was usually far more successful than any alternatives. One of the reasons for the ongoing strength of the Patristic witness, for example, was the amazing ability of the Fathers to transplant the gospel into the soil of Hellenism, a transplant that by and large was accomplished without major compromise of the Faith, though there were many temptations to so compromise.

Samuel Pearce on how to conduct oneself as a missionary

When Samuel Pearce was dying in 1799, momentous things were afoot with the Baptist Missionary Society, to which he had given so much energy. They were preparing to send a number of missionaries, among them William Ward and Joshua Marshman, to India. Once Ward and Marshman arrived they would link up with Carey and form the Serampore Trio, that fruitful band of brothers in the Church of that era. Pearce wrote a deeply-moving letter to Andrew Fuller, the Secretary of the Society, from Tamerton, Devon, on May 2, 1799.[1] The following are his three recommendations regarding missionary policy. They are still wise advice today.

First, as this Society is dependent for its support on the pious public, whose least compensation should be an acquaintance with the success of those for whom their benevolence is exerted, it is highly proper that each missionary under the patronage of this Society should communicate direct and personal information concerning his own efforts, and their various fruits, at least twice in every year; to which end the Society do request that each of their missionaries would keep a regular journal of his proceedings and send it, or a copy of it, to the secretary by the spring and fall ships.

Secondly, since that kingdom which we as the disciples of Jesus wish to establish is not of this world, we affectionately and seriously enjoin on each missionary under our patronage that he do cautiously and constantly abstain from every interference with the political concerns of the country were he may be called to labour, whether by words or deeds; that he be obedient to the laws in all civil affairs; that he respect magistrates, supreme and subordinates; and teach the same things to others. In fine, that he apply himself wholly to the all-important concerns of that evangelical service to which he has so solemnly dedicated himself.

Thirdly, however gross may be the idolatries and heathenish superstitions that may fall beneath a missionary’s notice, the Society are nevertheless persuaded that both the mutual respect due from man to man, together with the interests of the true religion, demand that every missionary should sedulously avoid all rudeness, insult, or interruption during the observance of the said superstitions; recommending no methods but those adopted by Christ and his apostles, namely, the persevering use of Scripture, reason, prayer, meekness, and love.

[1] From Periodical Accounts relative to the Baptist Missionary Society I (Clipstone: J.W. Morris, 1800), 516-519.

William Carey’s “Sweet Pleasure”

Again, John Appleby and his biography of Carey: ‘I Can Plod…’ William Carey and the early years of the first Baptist missionary Society (London: Grace Publications Trust, 2007). This time I was impressed by a partial sentence from one of Appleby's quotes from Carey. The Baptist missionary is writing back to England in January, 1795, and comments about his friendship with Andrew Fuller, John Ryland, Jr., John Sutcliff, and Samuel Pearce: "I am fully satisfied of the firmness of their friendship that I feel a sweet pleasure in writing to them…” (cited p.109).

Does this not lie at the heart of most successful Gospel ministries? The bonds of friendship that unite co-workers in great ventures for God are markedly present in so many great turning points in Church History. So it was with Paul and his apostolic band, the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine and his band of brothers at Hippo Regius, Columbanus and his fellow Celts tramping through Merovingian Gaul, and Calvin and his friends during the Reformation.

From one perspective, these bonds uniting co-workers in the Gospel are a pale imitation of the ontological and social bonds uniting the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. And so we should not be surprised that friendships in God and for God are common to great advances of Gospel truth.

Radical Christianity: William Carey and a New Biography by John Appleby

I never tire of reading about William Carey (1761-1834) and his circle of friends. So it was with a sense of excitement that I bought the latest biography of Carey by John Appleby, who, like Carey, has served in India: ‘I Can Plod…’ William Carey and the early years of the first Baptist missionary Society (London: Grace Publications Trust, 2007). It is a study I would definitely recommend as a reliable introduction to Carey’s life by one who shares not only his ecclesial convictions but also his soteriological beliefs—both biographer and subject are Calvinists. I was struck afresh by some of the things that Appleby pointed out, including this note in the minute book of the Particular Baptist Church at Leicester that Carey served before going out to India—this is dated March 24, 1793:

“Mr. Carey, our minister, left Leicester to on a mission to the East Indies, to take and propagate the gospel among those idolatrous and superstitious heathens. This is inserted to show his love to his poor miserable fellow creatures. In this we concurred with him, though it is at the expense of losing one whom we love as our own souls.” (cited page 99).

Wow, what a text! Here is radical Christianity at work, both in Carey who went and in his church that stayed at home. His love for fellow sinners took him half-way around the world. Their love for sinners sent him out with their blessing. Some might say, their love was hardly as radical as Carey’s. Really? No, think again: here is one they loved as their own souls—the sort of love that marked Jonathan and David—whose love for one another knit them together like thread in a garment. And then to let go of the beloved. No, this is an expression of radical Christianity.

And why did he go and why did they send him? It was love: love for sinners who, like him and they, were “poor” and “miserable” without Christ. Creatures who were worshipping the creature rather than the Creator: the people of India, like the godless in Great Britain at the time, were “idolatrous.” The difference was that in the UK the Scriptures were available in English, there were gospel-preaching churches and there were faithful ministers of the Word. But India had little or none of this.

We live in a day when some are calling for new radical expressions of Christianity, in which Christ is wholeheartedly served as Lord. This is needed, but what should form should it take? Well, one good model is Carey and his Leicester Church.

More on William Carey

The series that is appearing periodically on this blog entitled “Eminent Christians” began with William Carey. Here is another brief take on his life. When Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815) went out to India in 1796 as an Anglican missionary, he was reluctant at first to have anything to do with William Carey (1761-1834) and the other Baptist missionaries who were already there. But John Newton, upon hearing of his attitude, promptly wrote to Buchanan, who had been converted under his ministry, a gentle letter of reproof in which he stated:

“It is easy for you... to look down upon men who have given themselves to the Lord, and are bearing the burden and heat of the day. I do not look for miracles; but if God were to work one in our day, I should not wonder if it were in favour of Dr. Carey.”

Carey’s early years

The man of whom Newton spoke with such admiration had been born in very humble circumstances in 1761 in a tiny village called Paulerspury in Northamptonshire. His father, Edmund, was the schoolmaster of Paulerspury and the parish clerk of the local Anglican church. As such, Carey was regularly in church week by week and gained what he later described as a “considerable acquaintance” with the Scriptures. But, as he also noted, he knew next to nothing of “real experimental religion” till he was fourteen.

Also living in Paulerspury was William’s uncle, Peter Carey. Peter Carey had served with General James Wolfe in Canada, and, after the capture of Quebec in 1759, had returned to Paulerspury to take up the occupation of gardener. His tales of Canada instilled in William an interest for far-off lands. Moreover, Peter implanted in the young boy a love of gardening. Years later, when Carey was established in India, he was continually asking his friends and correspondents for seeds and roots to plant in his garden at Serampore. For instance, in a letter to his friend John Sutcliff he gently chided his friend for not taking his request for seeds seriously:

“I have written for some works of science, which I hope you will send. I think your best way is to send my list of roots, seeds, etc., to some nurseryman of note in London, with orders to ship them on the Providence, directed to me. Were you to give a penny a day to a boy to gather seeds of cowslips, violets, daisies, crowfoots, etc., and to dig up the roots of bluebells, etc., after they have done flowering, you might fill me a box every quarter of a year; and surely some neighbours would send a few snowdrops, crocuses, etc., and other trifles. All your weeks, even your nettles and thistles, are taken the greatest care of by me here. The American friends are twenty times more communicative than the English in this respect; indeed, though you cannot buy a little cabbage seed here under about £2.2s., yet I have never been able to extort an ounce, or a quart of kidney beans, from all the friends in England. Do try to mend a little.”

As a young boy, Carey eagerly wanted to emulate his uncle and become a gardener. But a painful shin disease prevented him from spending any length of time in the full sun. So his father apprenticed him to a shoemaker in Piddington, a nearby village. This apprenticeship was to have truly significant consequences for William’s future. One of his fellow-apprentices, John Warr, was a Christian. Warr was a Congregationalist and Carey’s upbringing had given him a contempt for Dissenters, but in time, as Warr persistently shared his faith with Carey, Carey was won for Christ.

Becoming Baptist and mission-minded

Carey’s subsequent study of the Scriptures convinced him of the Baptist position, and in 1783 he was baptized by John Ryland, Jr. in the river Nene at Northampton, after the two had walked down from the vestry of Castle hill church, the church which Philip Doddridge had once pastored.

Around the time of his baptism, Carey came across recently published accounts of Captain James Cook’s voyages of discovery in the south Pacific. Many years later, Carey said of his reading of this volume:

“Reading Cook’s Voyages was the first thing that engaged my mind to think of missions.

Through the account of Cook’s Voyages, Carey’s eyes were opened to wider horizons than the fields of Northamptonshire. But it was the Scriptures which taught him of the deep spiritual needs of those who lived far beyond those fields.

Preaching and pastoring

A year or so before his baptism Carey had been preaching regularly at the Congregational Church in Hackleton. In the years immediately following his baptism, Carey also began to preach in other neighbouring villages such as Earls Barton, Moulton, and his own home village, Paulerspury. The Moulton Church eventually called Carey to be their pastor in 1786, and in August of 1787, he was ordained. The three pastors officiating at his ordination were Ryland Jr., Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliff, who, in the years to come, would become his closest friends.

After two years of pastoring at Moulton, Carey moved to Harvey Lane Baptist Church in Leicester, where he served up until he left for India in 1793. Carey’s pastorates at Moulton and Leicester brought him into close contact with the pastors and churches of the Northamptonshire Association. In this ambit Carey first voiced his convictions regarding the commission given by Christ to the Church in Matthew 28:19-20. Despite some hesitation, and even opposition, on the part of his pastoral colleagues, Carey’s convictions eventually won the day.

The result was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, with Carey as its first missionary. Carey’s convictions were crystallized in An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, which was published in 1792. This treatise is divided into five sections. Section I discusses the implication of Matthew 28:19-20, and convincingly demonstrates that the commission to “make disciples of all nations” was binding on the Church for all time. Section II outlines the history of missions since the Apostolic era, while the third section of the treatise surveys the state of the world in Carey’s own day. Section IV answers objections to sending out of missionaries, and in the fifth and final section Carey indicates some immediate practical steps which could be taken. It is important to note that heading the list of these steps is fervent, united prayer. The book played a key role in the inception of the modern missionary era, and, as Ernest A. Payne has observed, “may rightly be regarded as a landmark in Christian history.” Moreover, Payne goes on to note, the Enquiry has a message for today, for “it presents in terse and unadorned fashion the gist of the unanswerable argument that there still rests upon Christians the obligation to use all the means at their disposal for the conversion of unbelievers, wherever they may be.”


Carey left for India in June of 1793; he never returned to his native England. The first six years, largely spent in northern Bengal, were years of both frustration and preparation. There were no genuine conversions among the Indians, and because financial resources were sometimes so meagre, Carey was forced to take the post of a manager of an indigo factory. Furthermore, Carey’s missionary colleague, John Thomas (1757-1801), fell into debt and proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. And on top of all this, Carey’s wife, Dorothy (1756-1807), became wholly insane.

Yet, despite these potentially debilitating events, Carey put his initial years in India to good use, acquiring a substantial grasp of Bengali, learning how to preach to Hindus and Muslims, and making the name of Christ known throughout much of Bengal.

In 1799, Carey was joined by Joshua Marshman (1768-1837) and William Ward (1769-1823). Locating their mission centre at Serampore in southern Bengal, “the Serampore Trio” evangelized, established churches, and in particular, translated the Scriptures. Carey was thoroughly convinced that effective evangelism in India necessitated the translation of the Scriptures into the many languages and dialects of the Indian sub-continent. By the time of Carey’s death in 1834, the Serampore fraternity had been responsible for the translation of the entire Bible and portions of it into thirty-four languages. While the translations were far from perfect, the work done by Carey and his colleagues was, as Stephen Neill has judged, “an astounding achievement.”

Before Carey’s death, he left instructions that there be inscribed on his tombstone the following couplet from Isaac Watts in addition to his name and the dates of his birth and death:

“A wretched, poor and helpless worm, On thy kind arms I fall.”