The famous sermon by William Carey
William Carey’s famous sermon of May 1792, preached on Isaiah 54:2–3, is not extant. What we do know of the sermon, traditionally known as “the deathless sermon,” is that it consisted of two parts. The tradition is that the two parts were summed up by two phrases in this order: “Expect great things from God” and “Attempt great things for God.” A number of years ago, however, Dr. Christopher Smith showed that the original summary of these phrases was “Expect great things” and “Attempt great things.” The traditional summary with its suffixes referring to God was a later interpretation of the meaning of this shorter two-phrase summary.
Proof of Smith’s excellent study can be found in a number of places. Here is one: William Staughton’s editorial work entitled The Baptist Mission in India (Philadelphia, 1811). Staughton was one of the founders of the missionary society that sent Carey to India in 1793 and became an
ardent advocate for missions when he moved to America. In the narrative that Staughton compiled Carey’s famous sermon is summarily mentioned as consisting of two exhortations, “Expect great things—Attempt great things” (page 15).
This six-word watchword was a challenge to many in Carey’s day and is an ongoing challenge to the present-day Church. Human strength and human schemes will fail in the expansion of God’s kingdom. It must be God’s work. Thus, the need to pray and “expect great things” from him.
But to sit blithely by and wait for God to act without us is equally wrong-headed. We must pray, and then, trusting in God completely, get going and “attempt great things.”
Born in England of Irish and Kurdish parents, Michael A.G. Haykin serves as professor of church history & biblical spirituality. Haykin has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto (1974), a Master of Religion from Wycliffe College, the University of Toronto (1977), and a Th.D. in Church History from Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto (1982). Haykin and his wife, Alison, have two grown children: Victoria and Nigel.
He is the author of a number of books, including The Spirit of God: The Exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians in the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the Fourth Century (E. J. Brill, 1994); One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends, and his times (Evangelical Press, 1994); Kiffin, Knollys and Keach: Rediscovering Our English Baptist Heritage (Reformation Today Trust, 1996); ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Paternoster Press, 2004); Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival (Evangelical Press, 2005); The God who draws near: An introduction to biblical spirituality (Evangelical Press, 2007).
Course taught for CBTS: Biblical Spirituality.