William Carey’s An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

William Carey’s Enquiry is rightly considered the manifesto of the modern missions movement, of which Carey is considered the father.  It is a relatively brief and utterly fascinating work in which Carey sought to convince the Particular Baptists of England that the Great Commission applied as much to the modern church as it did to the original disciples who first received it from our Lord.  It is readily available online and will likely serve the modern reader as much, if not more, than it served the original readers of the 19th century.  I do regret not having read this entire work until now.  In addition to being a seminal missiological text, it is compelling, articular, insightful, and convicting.

Carey argued in the Enquiry that the missionary imperative of the Great Commission is as binding today as its calls for baptism and the making of disciples is.  Furthermore, he found in Christ’s words “lo, I am with you always” an implicit akcnowledgment that the Commission is transgenerational in its calling (i.e., it applies until “the end of the age”).

Parts of the Enquiry will seem almost quaint to the modern evangelical, accustomed to large missions boards as we are.  For instance, Carey argued that missionaries would simply have to commit to learning languages, something, he said, that could be fairly easily done in the space of a year or two.  Furthermore, missionaries on the field would need only a small plot of land on which to grow a garden sufficient to sustain them.  Most of all, Carey argued, these missionaries would need to be men of courage and resolve, unafraid of hardship or death.

I was struck by the earnestness of Carey’s tone and the simple logic of his argument.  He pointed out that when a trading company is granted a charter, it wastes no time in pressing to the outer regions of its territory in order to establish relationships and open profitable avenues of trade.  The church’s charter, he argues, includes the whole world and eternity itself is at stake.  Thus, should we not be equally zealous in reaching the world?

Carey’s time was, in some ways, different from our own.  Even so, the same subtle (and not so subtle) arguments he heard against the missionary enterprise are prevalent today as well.  As such, William Carey’s Enquiry remains, and will remain, timely and needed.

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