By J. Ryan West
As shown yesterday, Ward was concerned deeply to see significant changes regarding social issues in India. Successful social action would not, however, come without the power of Christ’s gospel according to Ward. When reading this book, it is highly important to note Ward’s evolution concerning how he addressed injustices. Otherwise, readers easily misunderstand his position. In his earlier years, Ward proved to be a radical activist that nearly escaped imprisonment twice. Political upheaval modeled on the French Revolution was his ideal during the 1790’s. His conversion and subsequent development over several decades of ministry in India brought about a much different approach to such concerns by the time he preached these sermons. For the seasoned Ward, lasting social change would only occur if the gospel permeated a society: “Let the females of the United Kingdom speak, and they must be heard…By such an interposition, so worthy of the sex in these countries, the females in India will be blessed with all that profusion of privileges which women in Christian countries enjoy; and, being thus blessed, will become the light, the shade, and the ornament of India” (83-84). As one can see, he never expected significant change apart from the gospel taking root in India. Ward had thus transformed from a political activist to a ‘gospel activist’ by the end of his career.
For Ward, addressing social concerns was a given. Biblical Christians could not be concerned with their neighbors’ eternal condition without caring for their immediate needs. Biblical Christians had no choice but to pursue biblical justice through the means of social action coupled with anchoring a society in biblical beliefs. As contemporary Baptists think about the relationship of addressing the physical, social, and mental needs evident in the surrounding culture, it would be helpful to look to our Baptist predecessors. Baptists should concern themselves with rescuing women from sex trafficking, loving—and possibly adopting—children abandoned to foster care or absentee parents, and speak out against the horrors of abortion and systemic oppression. To ignore these matters is irresponsible and unloving. Such responses would prove equally irresponsible and unloving, however, if Baptists do not seek to establish gospel wisdom in these conversations. Lasting social change will only come through individuals who experience the grace and peace of Jesus Christ. The gospel activist William Ward certainly thought so.
J. Ryan West (PhD Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the LoveLoud National Coordinator at the North American Mission Board. He assists Southern Baptist churches and educational institutions throughout the United States and Canada in establishing and conducting gospel-centered ministries of mercy to proclaim Christ while meeting human needs in significant and sustainable ways. Also, he was tasked recently as an Assistant Editor for The Andrew Fuller Works Project, a fifteen-volume series to be published by Walter de Gruyter.