William Carey: Chapter 2: Boyhood and Youth

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“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." (Eccles. 12:11Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; (Ecclesiastes 12:1))CC 12:1{
“COLUMBUS," as William Carey was in sport called by his schoolfellows, gave early proof of genius, and if the villagers among whom he lived did not understand, they soon learned to respect him. His school-mates would often say, "Now, Columbus, if you won't play, preach us a sermon." Mounting an old dwarf-elm about seven feet high, on whose forked branches several could sit, he would hold forth for a considerable time, and they seldom failed to listen well. The same old tree was also his favorite spot for reading.
Many years after, when he was a missionary in India, he wrote of his schoolboy days: "I had not many books, but borrowed from friends and neighbors far and near. Books of history, science, travels and voyages were, whenever I could get them, my choice. Novels and plays disgusted me, so I avoided them. 'The Pilgrim's Progress' I read several times, but to no purpose, as I did not understand it.”
The old parish church, part of which was built in the time of the Normans, was, with its quaint carvings and curious monuments, another source of interest to the thoughtful boy, but its cold and formal services left little, if any, impression upon his mind. Still his home training was good, and the habit of reading the scriptures was early formed.
In that quiet country village there were but few openings for the boys when their school-days ended. There was not much room for choice. Farm-laborer, weaver, or shoemaker seemed the only ways of earning a living open to young Carey or his school-fellows, and at that time wages were so low that it was impossible to make any provision for sickness or old age, very many being, after a life of hard work, obliged to go into the workhouse.
For two years after leaving school Carey tried field-work, but whenever exposed to the sun he suffered so greatly from a painful disease that attacked his face and hands, that it was decided that indoor employment would be more suited to him, and at the age of sixteen his father made up his mind, as soon as an opening could be found, to bind him apprentice to the shoemaking.
A master shoemaker, Charles Nichols by name, who lived at a place called Hackleton, about nine miles from his native village, agreed to receive the youth as apprentice to his trade. He appears to have been a moral man, and one who, though destitute of any saving knowledge of Christ, prided himself upon being a regular church-goer. Carey also considered himself a strict churchman. The elder apprentice, who was in God's hand to be the means of leading the boy to the Savior, attended chapel, and their talk over their work often took a serious turn.
For twelve years, from the age of sixteen to twenty-eight, William Carey was a shoemaker; and perhaps none who saw him at his work or met him in his weekly walks to Northampton or Kettering, carrying a bag of shoes to the warehouse, even guessed that his name would one day be honored and known as one of the most learned scholars of his day, and the most able translator of the Bible into some of the many languages of India. God, whose ways are not as our ways, saw it was best for the future missionary to keep him so long at his humble occupation, for He was Himself fitting and molding him for the great work that lay before him.
I do not think that shoemaking was exactly the kind of work young Carey would have chosen had his health at that time permitted a more active outdoor life, for he was a great lover of flowers and gardening. From the time when a boy of fourteen he took the entire charge of his father's garden at the schoolhouse, to his death, wherever he was, at home or abroad, poor or in comfortable circumstances, he always had a garden, well-stocked and neatly kept. The beautiful Botanical Park and Gardens at Serampur, which for more than fifty years held their own as the finest in South India, were the fruit of his skill and industry.
Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, worked, as we know, with his own hands at his trade as a tentmaker, not only for his own support, but that he might help others; and William Carey was not the only shoemaker who, in the wisdom of God, has been called to higher service. Hans Sachs, a shoemaker of Nuremberg, was also a poet. He was warmly attached to Martin Luther, from whom it is not unlikely he learned the truth as it is in Jesus. He has been called "the master-singer of the Reformation," and his hymns and songs on sacred subjects were quickly learned and sung throughout Germany.
When Carey left home and entered upon his apprenticeship, he was not only thought well of by others, but he thought well of himself. Was he not moral, upright and respectable? He would, he thought, have scorned to do anything mean or dishonorable. But an incident that occurred before he had been very long in his new situation was use by God to strip him of his self-righteousness, and led him to see that as a sinner needing salvation he must take it as the free gift of God, that he could not earn or buy it by any fancied goodness of his own.
It was usual in those days for the apprentices to be allowed to collect Christmas boxes (small sums of money from the tradesmen with whom their master dealt, or customers they had waited upon during the year). Among those Carey called upon in the hope of receiving some small coin in exchange for his good wishes was an ironmonger, who asked the youth which he would have, a sixpence or a shilling? He chose the shilling, and on his way home made some purchase, when, to his surprise and disappointment, he found that his supposed shilling was not a coin of the realm, but only a brass medal silvered over, and so of no value at all. He had not money enough to pay for the things he had bought, so changed a shilling belonging to his master.
Finding he required a few pence to make up the sum needed for repayment, he yielded to the temptation to try to cover one sin by another, and on his return told an untruth about the money he had received. Strange to say, he prayed about it, and promised God that if he was not found out, he would never be dishonest or untruthful again. He was, however, "found out," and besides severe reproofs from his master, he was so filled with shame and sorrow, that for weeks he did not care to go out, as he thought every person he met would be looking at him and talking about what he had done. His good opinion of himself was gone, and gone forever, and for the first time in his life the prayer "God be merciful to me a sinner" was the cry of his heart.