William Carey’s (1761-1834) heart broke for India.
Yet he also yearned for spiritual renewal in Europe, writing that Europe’s example was “a thousand times worse” than the superstitions of Hinduism (Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, 1971, 140). Part of Carey’s motive in going to the subcontinent may have been, according to one unverified quote, “to save England from spiritual collapse.”
We too know the sorrow that comes with seeing spiritual decay in our midst. One tempting response would be to get our own house in order first before turning our focus toward global missions. Yet why did Carey, assuming the accounts are true, think he could leave his home country to save it? This strategic retreat commends itself to us in three ways.
1. To Stir Jealousy
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, longed above all for the salvation of his Jewish kinsmen—such that he would have even cut himself off from Christ to somehow save them (Romans 9:3). Yet he knew that God had closed their hearts and opened the Gentiles’ (Acts 18:6, 28:25-28). His solution was to draw attention to his Gentile ministry, provoking the Jews to holy jealousy and thereby winning them (Romans 11:13-14). Likewise, our neighbors might not grasp the gravity of our gospel until we put shoe leather to it. When we go out for the sake of Christ’s name among the nations, we magnify the surpassing worth of Christ to our watching countrymen. Perhaps the Lord would use our act of going to turn hearts toward him.
Of course, God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11)—and sometimes that purpose is to witness not to salvation but judgment. When Jesus sent his disciples out on short-term mission to the Jewish nation, he told them to shake the dust from their feet as a sign against towns that rejected them (Matthew 10:14). Jesus too was rejected by his hometown (Matthew 13:57).
Whether our witness sparks jealousy or portends judgment, our consolation is that God is glorified. Paul tells us that God desires to make known the full range of his attributes—both mercy and justice (Romans 9:22-24). And when God is glorified, his people rejoice, and his lost sheep may yet be drawn to him.
2. To Catalyze Revival
David Livingstone (1813-1873), the famed missionary physician, remarked, “The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.” History and Scripture both attest that the healthiest churches are sending churches. Like spouses who quickly discover the depths of their selfishness when they become first-time parents, churches who send their sons and daughters on mission will find themselves growing in sincerity, self-sacrifice, and boldness in witness. A church that thinks globally is also a church equipped to act locally—and, should the Lord deem fit, see revival as the fruit of its gospel preaching.
3. To Save Senders
When Jewish Christians from Cyprus fled to Antioch from the wave of persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom, the church they planted in Antioch became the first to send missionaries back to Cyprus (Acts 11:19-21; 13:4). In essence, God’s plan to reach Cyprus had meant leaving Cyprus first.
What if winning the nations today is part of God’s plan to reach our own nation in future generations? Already we hear reports of churches in Africa and Asia sending missionaries to North America. What if we said to these brothers, like the man from Macedonia, “Come over and help us”? When the flood of God’s judgment eventually subsides in the West, should we not be ready with an ark full of gospel preachers ready to be fruitful and multiply?
In sum: following Carey’s lead, we need not pit our love for our nation against God’s heart for all the nations. Perhaps, if we are willing to pour out our lives for the ends of the earth, the Lord may pour out blessings back on our land.