12 Principles of Carey’s Covenant

A.T. Pierson, in his book, The Divine Enterprise of Missions, shares the following 12 principles and explanation about a covenant that missionaries Carey, Marshman, and Ward drew up to guide their work in India in a spiritual fashion. The idea of the covenant was to encourage holy living so as to see the Lord bless and prosper their work. It is a challenge to us to seek to live holy lives through God’s Spirit so that we too may experience God’s blessing on our work of world evangelism.

And therefore do we steadfastly maintain that no great power can attend Christian missions, while in the Church Christian life sinks to a low level. Such a life can beget no life of a higher sort, and our missionaries will, in their work, represent our uncertain convictions and our divided affections, and their unbelief and worldliness will make God’s many mighty works impossible on the foreign field.

It was October 7, 1805, thirteen years almost to a day from the day when that mission compact was signed at Kettering, that Carey, Marshman, and Ward, at Serampore, drew up their famous spiritual “Covenant.” It covered twelve printed pages octavo, and was read publicly at every station at least once a year.

If any one would see what sort of men God chose to lead the van of His modern missionary post, let him study that “Form of agreement respecting the great principles upon which the brethren of the mission thought it their duty to act in the work of instructing the heathen.” Dr. George Smith calls it a Preparatio Evangelica, and well adds that it “embodies the divine principles of all Protestant scriptural missions, and is still a manual to be daily pondered by every missionary, and every church and society which may send a missionary forth.”*

We give here its most important parts, for personal reflection:

“IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY:
1. “That we set an infinite value upon immortal souls.
2. “That we gain all information of the snares and delusions in which these heathen are held.
3. “That we abstain from all those things which would increase their prejudices against the Gospel.
4. “That we watch all opportunities for doing good.
5. “That we keep to the example of Paul, and make the great subject of our preaching, Christ the Crucified.
6. “That the natives should have an entire confidence in us and feel quite at home in our company.
7. “That we build up and watch over the souls that may be gathered.
8. “That we form our native brethren to usefulness, fostering every kind of genius and cherishing every gift and grace in them, especially advising the native churches to choose their own pastors and deacons from amongst their own countrymen.
9. “That we labor with all our might in forwarding translations of the Sacred Scriptures in the languages of India.
10. “That we establish native free-schools and recommend these establishments to other Europeans.
11. “That we be constant in prayer and the cultivation of personal religion, to fit us for the discharge of these laborious and unutterably important labors. Let us often look at Brainerd in the woods of America, pouring out his very soul before God for the perishing heathen, without whose salvation nothing could make him happy.
12. “That we give ourselves unreservedly to this glorious cause. Let us never think that our time, our gifts, our strength, our families, or even the clothes we wear, are our own. Let us sanctify them all to God and His cause. O, that He may sanctify us for His work! No private family ever enjoyed a greater portion of happiness than we have done since we resolved to have all things in common. If we are enabled to persevere, we may hope that multitudes of converted souls will have reason to bless God to all eternity for sending His Gospel into this country.”

In this solemn compact, which sounds like an apostolic document, twelve cardinal principles are carefully set forth.

1. Valuing human souls at an infinite worth.
2. Informing themselves as to their actual needs.
3. Avoiding all putting of stumbling blocks in their way.
4. Watching opportunity to do good unto all.
5. Preaching Christ Crucified as their one theme.
6. Inspiring confidence by a Christlike life.
7. Establishing schools for Christian education.
8. Watching over and training native converts.
9. Raising up a native ministry for service.
10. Translating the Holy Scriptures into the vernacular.
11. Cultivating prayer and self-culture in piety.
12. Surrendering self unreservedly to God and service.

To this nothing remains to be added to give completeness and symmetry. It reads like an inspired paper. The marks of the Holy Ghost are upon it. And we commend it to all friends of missions, and especially to all who have in view or in thought the field of missions. It need be no matter of wonder that, although the first Hindu convert, Krishna Chundra Pal, was not baptized as a Protestant believer until 1800, fifty years after Carey’s death, the native Protestant community, in 1884, numbered half a million, with ordained native pastors outnumbering the missionaries, and every decade witnessing an increase at the rate of eighty-six per cent.!

Let this covenant be to the Church of Christ, as we start on a new century of missions, a trumpet peal of God for a new advance. A higher type of piety is the great demand of our day. Spiritual power depends upon spiritual life. Never will the Holy Spirit set a premium upon low spiritual attainment by resting, in Shekinah glory, upon a Church in whose courts are the idols of this world. While the Word of God is neglected, prayer degenerates into a form, and worship into ritual; while the line of separation is obliterated between the Church and the world, and the whole life of the Church is on the lowest level, we shall look in vain for the anointing from above.

* Short History of Missions, p. 165.

Pierson, A. T. (1891). The Divine Enterprise of Missions (pp. 219–223). New York: Baker & Taylor Co.

About the author

Travis has been a church planter to the United Kingdom since 2002 and also serves as the Europe Field Director for Vision Baptist Missions.

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