The Nature and Encouragements of the Missionary Work

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In 1792, a group of Particular Baptist pastors, mostly from the Northamptonshire Association, founded the Baptist Missionary Society. The key leaders in the formation of the new missions society were Andrew Fuller and William Carey. Fuller, a widely respected pastor-theologian, served as secretary (president) of the BMS from its inception until his death in 1815. Carey, of course, became one of the society’s first two missionaries. He is frequently called the father of the modern missions movement in the English-speaking world because of his four-decade ministry in India.

On March 26, 1793 a farewell service was held at Carey’s church at Harvey Lane, Leicester. Fuller preached the main sermon for the occasion from John 20:21. The sermon’s title was “The Nature and Encouragements of the Missionary Work.” Carey would periodically read over the text of Fuller’s sermon to encourage him during times when he was dejected on the mission field. I’ve included the recorded text of the sermon below. You can also download a PDF of Fuller’s sermon.

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THE NATURE AND ENCOURAGEMENTS OF THE MISSIONARY WORK

Substance of the Charge delivered to the first Missionaries of the Baptist Society at the parting Meeting at Leicester, 1793.

“Peace be unto you ; as my Father sent me, so tend I you!”—John xx.21.

MY very dear brethren, every part of the solemnities of this day must needs be affecting; but, if there be one part which is more so than the rest, it is that which is allotted to me, delivering to you a solemn parting address. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that the hope of your undertaking being crowned with success swallows up all my sorrow. I could myself go without a tear, so at least I think, and leave all my friends and connections, in such a glorious cause. Impressed, therefore, with these sentiments, I can the more readily and cheerfully part with you.

My dear brethren, let me address you in the words of our Lord Jesus to his disciples, “Peace be unto you; as my Father sent me, so send I you!” The whole of this language was sweet, especially considering the troubles of their hearts to whom it was primarily addressed,—The preface is sweet: “Peace be unto you”—as if he had said, All is well as to the past, and all shall be well as to the future.—The commission itself is sweet. Nothing could well be more grateful to those who loved Christ than to be employed by him on such an errand, and to have such an example to imitate.

There is to be sure a great disparity between your mission and that of Christ. He came to offer himself a sacrifice for sin, and by his blood to obtain eternal salvation for poor lost sinners. Yet, notwithstanding this disparity, there are various points of likeness between your undertaking and that of your Lord and Master. I shall single out three or four, which I would wish to impress upon your minds. These are—the objects you must keep in view—the directions you must observe—the difficulties you must encounter—and the reward you may expect.

First: There is an analogy between the OBJECTS of Christ’s mission and those of yours. The great objects of his mission were to glorify God, and to seek and to save lost souls; and yours are the same. Men and devils have dishonored God; they had virtually called him a hard master; had thrown off his yoke, and represented him, in the punishment of sin, as a Being whose ways were not equal. But Christ by his obedience and death rolled away these reproaches. By the former, that is, by making it his meat and drink to do the will of his Father, he proved in the face of a rebellious world that his yoke was easy and his burden light. By the latter, that is, by enduring the full penalty of the divine law without a murmuring thought, he manifested its equity, declaring in effect that God was in the right, and that man deserved to fall a sacrifice to his justice. You also, my brethren, have to glorify God, and that both by your cheerful obedience to his will and by patiently enduring affliction. The heathen will judge of the character of your God, and of your religion, by what they see of your own character. Beware that you do not misrepresent your blessed Lord and his glorious gospel. It is a great encouragement to be engaged in the same cause with Christ himself. Does he ride forth as on a white horse, in righteousness judging and making war? —Rev. xix. You are called, like the rest of the armies of heaven, to follow him on white horses, pursuing the same glorious object, that India may be conquered by his truth. May you be able at the close of your lives to say, after the example of your Lord, “I have glorified thee on earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Christ was sent of the Father, not only to glorify his name, but to seek and to save that which was lost; and such, my brethren, is your errand. Go then, after your Saviour’s example, go in pursuit of the lost sheep; follow after them, search and find them out, that they may be brought home to his fold, from the dark mountains whither they have wandered, and gathered from the dreary deserts whither they have been scattered in the dark and cloudy day; that they may be delivered from the errors and abominations of the heathen, and be brought to the knowledge and enjoyment of God.

Secondly: Christ, in the execution of his mission, was UNDER THE DIRECTION OF HIM THAT SENT HIM, and you must be the same. As mediator, he always acted as the Father’s servant Though a Son, and as such equal with God, yet in his official capacity he learned obedience. It is emphatically said of him, he both did and taught; and in both he inflexibly adhered to the directions of him that sent him. “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him who sent me.”—“I have not spoken of myself, but the Father who sent me; he gave me commandment what I should say, and what I should speak.”

Christ acted as the Father’s servant; and you are the servants of Christ. There is a woe upon any minister if he preach not the Gospel of Christ, but especially upon those whose business it is to preach the Gospel among the heathen. Among us, if you do not preach the gospel of Christ, others will; but there all, under God, will depend upon you. When the Lord first planted the Israelites in Canaan, he planted them wholly a right seed. Be exceedingly careful to follow this example. See that the doctrines you teach, and the duties you inculcate, be not yours, but His who sent you. A right seed is necessary to a profitable harvest. You must likewise do the will of Christ as well as teach it, and that after his example. He pleased not himself. Perhaps no men must expect to have their wills so often crossed, or to meet with so frequent calls for self-denial, as those who embark in such an undertaking as yours. This leads me to observe,

Thirdly: Christ, in the execution of his mission, had GREAT DIFFICULTIES AND TRIALS to encounter, and you must expect the same. The trials of your Lord were partly from pain, and partly from contempt. Great were the hardships he had to undergo. Foxes had holes, and birds had nests, but he had not where to lay his head. And, notwithstanding all that your brethren can do to make you comfortable, you may expect to taste of the same cup. Your Lord was also exposed to contempt. He is mad, said they, why hear ye him? If these things were done to the green tree, what may be expected of the dry? But Jesus “endured the cross, and despised the shame.” May you be enabled to follow his example. He met with trials, not only from open enemies, but from pretended friends. Those who ate of his bread lifted up the heel against him. Betrayed, denied, and forsaken, he yet persevered; nor did he desist till he could declare “it is finished.” Then, when he could appeal to him who sent him, saying, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,” then he bowed his head and gave up the ghost! What an example for you to follow!

Fourthly: Christ was not sent forth in his undertaking without a PROMISE OF SUPPORT IN IT AND A GLORIOUS REWARD FOR IT. It was predicted of him, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have brought forth judgment unto victory.” This implied that he would meet with much to discourage him. If many waters could have quenched his love, it had been quenched: but divine Omnipotence supported him. And, as his Father sent him, so sends he you. Faithfully has he promised to be with you always to the end of the world. The divine Father promised him souls for his hire; that he should see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. And herein, as the Father sent him, so sends he you. You also shall have your reward. The joy set before him encouraged him to endure the cross; you also shall enter into the joy of the Lord. Keep that joy in your view. For “it is a faithful saying, If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.” Hearken to the promise of your Lord and Master, for his sayings are very true, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with me in my throne, as I also have overcome and am set down with my Father in his throne.”

Go then, my dear brethren, stimulated by these prospects. We shall meet again. Crowns of glory await you and us. Each, I trust, will be addressed at the last day, by our great Redeemer, “Come ye blessed of my Father;—these were hungry, and you fed them; athirst, and you gave them drink; in prison, and you visited them;—Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” Amen.

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Andrew Fuller, “The Nature and Encouragements of the Missionary Work,” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, With a Memoir of His Life by Andrew Gunton Fuller, vol. 2 (Boston: Lincoln, Edmands, & Co., 1833), pp. 416–417

The Prayer Call of 1784

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We Baptists love to talk about the role that the English Particular Baptists of the 18th century, especially Andrew Fuller and William Carey, played in launching the modern missions movement in the English-speaking world. That movement is often said to begin in 1792 with the formation of the Particular Baptist Missionary Society, which sent Carey and John Thomas to India the following year. But that’s not the full story. Before there was a “Great Commission Resurgence” among the English Particular Baptists, there was prayer.

In 1784 a Particular Baptist pastor named John Sutcliff was given a copy of Jonathan Edwards’ treatise An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. In that book, Edwards promoted the idea of conducting “Concerts of Prayer” for the conversion of the heathen, worldwide revival, and the dawn of the millennium.

After reading An Humble Attempt, Sutcliff immediately began to circulate the work among friends like Fuller and John Ryland Jr. In 1784 Sutcliff issued a call for the pastors of the Northamptonshire Association to set apart the first Monday evening of every month for prayer for the heathen and the coming kingdom. In 1789 Sutcliff actually published a British edition of An Humble Attempt and wrote an introduction to the treatise. The prayer meetings became very popular among the younger pastors in the Northamptonshire Association, including Fuller and Carey, and continued into the 1790s. It is unlikely there would have ever been a BMS had there not been nearly a decade of prayer for spiritual renewal and the conversion of the nations.

The text of the “Prayer Call” is as follows:

Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottingham, respecting meetings for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion, and earnestly implore a revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer, and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of his Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously RESOLVED, to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday in every calendar month.

We hereby solemnly exhort all the churches in our connection, to engage heartily and perseveringly in the prosecution of this plan. And as it may be well to endeavour to keep the same hour, as a token of our unity herein, it is supposed the following scheme may suit many congregations, viz. to meet on the first Monday evening in May, June, and July, from 8 to 9. In Aug. from 7 to 8. Sept. and Oct. from 6 to 7. Nov. Dec. Jan. and Feb. from 5 to 6. March, from 6 to 7; and April, from 7 to 8. Nevertheless if this hour, or even the particular evening, should not suit in particular places, we wish our brethren to fix on one more convenient to themselves.

We hope also, that as many of our brethren who live at a distance from our places of worship may not be able to attend there, that as many as are conveniently situated in a village or neighbourhood, will unite in small societies at the same time. And if any single individual should be so situated as not to be able to attend to this duty in society with others, let him retire at the appointed hour, to unite the breath of prayer in private with those who are thus engaged in a more public manner.

The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time, remember, we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies [i.e. churches]; or to your own immediate connection [i.e. denomination]; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denominations will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequences of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His Word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, “I will yet for this be enquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock.” Ezek. xxxvi.37. Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare.

As found in John Ryland, Jr.,The Nature, Evidences, and Advantages, of Humility” (Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association, 1784), 12.

Through the influence of Fuller, Carey, and their friends, the crippling influence of hyper-Calvinism waned among the Particular Baptists as they became partners in the Great Commission. Then the General Baptists became interested and also became partners in the Great Commission. Then non-Baptist British evangelicals became partners in the Great Commission. Then the New England Congregationalists–Jonathan Edwards’ denomination–became partners in the Great Commission. Then American Baptists became partners in the Great Commission. What started in Northamptonshire with prayer in the 1780s had become what my colleague Alvin Reid like to call a movement–and many people were joining the movement.

If Southern Baptists want to see a Great Commission Resurgence like the one witnessed by our English Baptist cousins in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, we better be a people whose missionary zeal and evangelistic initiative is bathed in prayer. Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, has issued a modern prayer call to Southern Baptists. The time is short. The need is great. Will we answer the call to pray for a Great Commission Resurgence? And will we, by God’s grace, experience a Great Commission Resurgence among the people, churches, and related ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention? This is my prayer, and I hope it is yours as well.

William Carey’s View of History

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One of the complaints I sometimes hear from students is that their church history and Baptist history classes are not “practical” enough. Instead of asking, with Tertullian, “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem,” many of them want to know what any of it has to do with Burnt Hickory Baptist Church. Many of these same students complain similarly about their theology, ethics, biblical languages, and philosophy classes. My response is always to try and convince my more pragmatically minded students that history actually has a unique role to play in their theological education and can lend practical help to any number of contemporary concerns.

As Timothy George likes to say, there is a whole lot that happened in church history between Jesus and your grandma. Because we have two thousand years of Christian history behind us (as well as 400 years of uniquely Baptist history), we do not have to repeat the same mistakes that have already been made. We do not have to commit the same theological errors. We do not have to get trapped in some of the same practical quandaries. Our 21st century ministries can be informed by our forefathers from previous centuries. We can learn from their mistakes, and we can benefit from their successes. Your ministry should not occur in an historical vacuum.

William Carey understood this well. The second section of Carey’s famous An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens was devoted to historical precursors in foreign mission. Carey discussed New Testament mission, medieval Catholic mission, Reformation mission, New England mission, and especially Moravian mission. Though he is often known as the “father of the modern missions movement,” Carey was keenly aware that he stood in continuity with a long tradition of Christian cross-cultural evangelism. And he applied his knowledge of history to both his personal piety and his ministry.

History influenced the missiology of Carey and his associates. Scholars argue that the Moravians, David Brainerd, and John Eliot were all taken into consideration when Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward drew up their famous Serampore Form of Agreement. In other words, Carey and friends understood that there was nothing new under the sun and they wanted to learn from the successes and failures of missionaries who had gone before them. History was used in the service of cross-cultural evangelism and church-planting.

In at least one case, history also served as an aid to Carey in his personal piety. Carey tells us in his journal and correspondence that he read regularly from David Brainerd’s famed diary. Like thousands of missionaries who have come after him, Carey found Brainerd a source of spiritual strength and missional inspiration. History was used in the service of personal piety.

My own desire is that we would use history in the same ways as Carey. As with Carey, ministry examples from the past have much to offer 21st century Baptists. We have much to learn from the preaching of John Chrysostom, Ulrich Zwingli, and B. H. Carroll. We have much to learn from the evangelistic zeal of Francis of Assisi, Pilgram Marpeck, and Daniel Taylor. We have much to learn from the pastoral theology of Martin Luther, Richard Baxter, and Andrew Fuller. And we have much to learn from the missionary zeal of St. Patrick, Adoniram Judson, and Samuel Zwemer.

Past saints also have much to contribute to our present pursuit of godliness. We need the devotional theology of Athansius, John Owen, and John Dagg. We need the fire of Savonarola, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon. We need the gospel-driven piety of John Bunyan, David Brainerd, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne. We need the same God-centered commitment to Christian scholarship as Jonathan Edwards, John Gill, and J. Gresham Machen.

William Carey resolutely believed that the sovereign Lord of all creation was moving history toward a glorious denouement when He will make all things new. Those who preceded Carey in the faith were a part of that history, even as he himself was a participant in all that God was doing to make His name great among the nations. You and I are also a part of that history, and it is my prayer that each of us will own Carey’s God-centered view of history as we seek to live rightly before God in our own time “between the times.”