History of Missions Lecture 11: Decisions



Lecture 9 will focus mainly on early English Missions, looking at William Carey, and Scottish Missions, specifically the St Andrews Seven. We will be looking at the debates and decisions they made pre-missions, and how hard it was to leave people behind.

So we have talked about the difficulties of being a missionary, the dangers, the fear, and with a lot of the stories we’ve looked at it’s not surprisingly that being a missionary generally meant going to your death. People did not expect to see their relatives or friends ever again once they had gone on mission. It was “Goodbye forever”, not “See you in a couple of weeks”.

So how does someone make that decision? When they feel called to go across the world to tell people about Jesus, what things do they think about? The people we are talking about today show us in great detail what they were thinking about and why they felt mission was important – even if it meant losing their life. We will be discussing both the positives and negatives of the arguments made, and what inspired these people to go.

We are now in the 19th century and at this point, although Missions were increasing in the Protestant churches, there were still those who honestly believed that God didn’t need us to go anymore. A common argument was that “charity starts at home” and so particularly in Britain people suggested that the poor, heretics, non-Christians, etc still needed to be told about Jesus and so preachers should stay and deal with what was right infront of them, rather than wandering across the world to someone else. Help people at home before helping people abroad.

There was also the duty to family and friends. Post-Reformation missionaries were not always churchmen, but more obviously were not monks, single men, solitary. Missionaries were often people with children, wives, families. Therefore, surely these men shouldn’t be going to look after other people when they had wives needing care at home? If the wife and children went with him then was it fair for them? Wouldn’t it be dangerous? Is it good to put your family in danger as well as yourself?

Do you have any answers for these questions? (Short discussion)

The first person we will be looking at is William Carey, preacher and missionary. He has been known in history as the “father of modern missions” and we will be looking at hime more next week. This week is more about the actual decisions he made. As one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society he was extremely passionate and enquired into missions with a number of other people. But like other men at this time he realised that talking about missions wasn’t enough; he desperately wanted to be the first of the society’s missionaries and so he grabbed the chance to go to Bengal, India.

However, his wife was a massive concern. She was about to have another baby, and had never travelled more than a few miles from her home. The idea terrified her, and Carey didn’t know how she would do by herself as a new mother if he left without her.

There was also the issue of language: they would have to learn Bengali, but Carey wife hadn’t even been able to read or write english until after she was married, so again – how would she cope?

Carey didn’t know quite what to do – he was incredibly loyal to his family but felt God calling him to India as a missionary. He also had to tell his church, which he was very close to and had pastored them into a passionate group of people.

When he told them they were extremely upset that he might be leaving them. Both his church and his wife resisted and rebelled against the idea.

It wasn’t until one voice in the church reminded them that Carey had taught them to care for Christ’s kingdom. He said that God was asking them to make the sacrifice, and they should rise to His call and show themselves worthy. From this point it was not just “let him go” but instead, “let us send him”.

His wife agreed to stay with her sister until she had given birth, and then would follow afterward. Carey left for Bengal, India, with his eldest son Felix (8 years old) with the promise that she and the children would follow him, with her sister, to India.

This heart-rending decision is just an example of what missionaries so often had to face: the pull between family and God, sometimes even church and God is always a hard one, but ultimately God’s call must win out in order to follow His command and be used by Him to do great things.

We will be looking more about what happened in India next week.

The next group are those commonly known as the St Andrews Seven: 6 students and 1 Professor. This group is of particular significance to me because they inspired my generation of students in St Andrews to start continuous prayer in the hope that God might lead us into mission, which He did a number of times.

The St Andrews Seven included: Thomas Chalmers (a professor/lecturer), Alexander Duff, John Urquhart, John Adam, Robert Nesbit, William Sinclair Mackay and John Ewart.

Thomas Chalmers was a lecturer who inspired his students. Starting every lecture with prayer, he barely changed his speech and it would often seem more like a preach than lecture. 6 students specifically were going to make a huge impact through prayer and mission. The most brilliant student was John Urquhart.

John became in part a motivation for the others. He had decided to become a missionary, but the pain of it for his parents really made it difficult. He had lost his eldest brother already, and did not know if he younger brother was a Christian, so leaving his mother, probably never to return was hard. But the great commission pushed him forward, and his mother accepted that. There were still many people who didn’t agree that missions were required though, or if they were required, there were plenty who needed the Gospel in Great Britain. He used a clever idea to prove that this was stupid:
He asked them to imagine that the Great Commission was only meant for Great Britain. He then asked whether it would be OK if all the ministers, all the missionaries, all those who knew the gospel, hundled in one corner, one county in Britain and refused to move any further into Great Britain.

Still people argued that it wasn’t the right time, or that previous evangelists had been unwise in how they did mission. It was like they were using these excuses to get away with not obeying God’s call. By showing that these reasons were illogical, John pointed out where people were not simply being patriotic, but simply not caring about other countries.

He made a passionate speech to those in the Missionary society in St Andrews. It has been described as “thoughts that breathe, and words that burn”. If only all preaches were like this!

Here is how he finished his speech:
Do not think I wish to press you into this service. It is a maxim, which much experience has taught the Moravians, never to persuade any man to become a missionary. I have laid the matter before you, and I leave it with your own conscience, as you soon must answer before God.

I have the happiness to mention to you, that your respected secretary, of last year, has given himself to the work; and I know that there are some present who have felt the urgency of the call.

I am not without the hope, that even from this unnoticed association, a little band of devoted labourers may be raised up, who shall carry the name of their Saviour to the ends of the earth, and shall meet in another world, to receive that high reward, which is reserved for those who have left father, and mother, and sister, and brother, and houses, and lands for Christ’s sake, and the gospel’s.”

He influenced a number of people that night and they all seemed to know only one thing mattered: to discover God’s will and do it.

Sadly, John fell ill shortly after making this speech. He had been accepted as a missionary  for service in India by the Scottish Missionary Society and he was about to be ordained. His health worsened and he became seriously ill, and died shortly after his Father came to him.

After his death, Duff went in his place as a missionary, and the other five in the group went shortly after, all changing the face of missions. We will be looking a little more about what they did next week.

I wanted to tell you all this, not just for the history, but to show you some of the struggles men went through BEFORE they started missions. The decision to put God above not only yourself, but above your family, friends, home and church is a big one and takes a huge amount of courage.

But, these men were students, they were about 18 years old when they went to India and William’s son was 8 years old when he joined his father. However hard you think missions is, God led these people to do great things. I hope this inspires you to pray, and seek what God wants from your life.


Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions (Penguins Books, Great Britain, 1964).

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