William Ward's first action was to 'open his mind', to Mr. Fuller, the Secretary of the Particular Baptist Missionary Society, and his letter was considered at a Committee meeting in Northampton, on 20th September 1798. They unanimously agreed to invite him to visit them and preach at their next meeting at Kettering in October. Stennett says that 'the result of this interview was so satisfactory, that they resolved to accept him as one of their missionaries, and determined, that he should go out, with two or three others who had offered themselves, in the spring of the ensuing year'.
Rev. Andrew Fuller, Secretary of the Particular Baptist Missionary Society. Courtesy 'The Centre for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey D.D. 1761-1834.'
While these negotiations were taking place Ward visited several towns in the Midlands, including Nottingham, in November 1798. He wrote from there on 8th November:
'My Dear Friend. Providence, apparently, is about to remove me into a new world, many thousands of miles away from the market place, Hull; but let the winds rise, let the waves roar; they shall not disperse or overwhelm the sacred aspirations of friendship, which I shall send to you from the shades of India, from my bamboo house at Mudnabatty, nor those you will not fail to send me from your parlour on a winter's evening... ...I hope to spend a few days at Hull before I undertake my voyage; and I trust, in the meantime, you will unite my interest with yours at the throne of grace. Every day's experience convinces me, that 'tis safety, 'tis life, 'tis heaven - to rest in the bosom of our God, and nowhere else but there. I am afraid lest my heart should deceive me; but I feel at present a resignation to the divine will, which I never felt before... ...Oh, my brother, cleave unto the Lord - make him your perpetual choice - make no reserve for ease and interest in the dedication of your soul to him. Let this dedication be your daily work, - always be anxious, that the way from earth to heaven may be open to you, and this life will be the sweetest you have ever known. - Adieu, W. Ward'
In December he was asked to fill the pulpit of Rev. Samuel Pearce, at Cannon Street, Birmingham. Rev. Pearce had been taken ill and requested in two affectionate and pressing letters that Ward should fill in for him 'for two or three sabbaths'.
Rev. Samuel Pearce. Courtesy 'The Centre for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey D.D. 1761-1834.'
The Cannon Street Meeting House. Courtesy 'The Centre for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey D.D. 1761-1834.'
'Do you want time? you shall have it here. Do you want books? you shall have them here. Do you want a friend? Be assured, the hand, that moves this pen, belongs to a heart warmly attached to you. If you love me - come and help me. Come and secure the hearts and the prayers of the hundreds of Birmingham Christians, who only want to know you, to love you too'.
How could he resist such an invitation? The two had become firm friends during Ward's visit to Northampton the previous October. Pearce was a Committee member of the Particular Baptist Missionary Society and their friendship grew while Ward was in Birmingham. From the two or three sabbaths the stay extended from December 1798 (with a few breaks) to early March 1799.
A letter of 31st December from Ward illustrates the high regard he had for his new friend:
'My dear Brother. On Wednesday the 19th I left Ewood Hall for this place, to assist brother Pearce, whose efforts for the good of his fellow-creatures have almost worn him out. Thank God he is better, and, I hope, will still be a blessing to many; he is not yet able to preach, but I hope will be in a few weeks. I cannot describe to you what pleasure I feel in communion with brethren Pearce, Fuller and the Northamptonshire ministers in general; I love them, not only because of their views of the gospel, but on account of their thoroughly being given up, in heart and soul to Jesus Christ, and to promote the eternal welfare of their fellow creatures. Oh! how does personal religion shine in brother Pearce! What a soul!... ...Instead of being all froth and fume, you see in him a mind wholly given up to God; a sacred lustre shines in his whole conversation; always tranquil, always cheerful, always bearing about this truth 'It is my meat and my drink to do the will of my heavenly father'. It is impossible to doubt the truth of experimental religion, if you are acquainted with Pearce... ...He preaches three times on the Lord's day, and two or three times in the week. He teaches the young people of his congregation the easiest parts of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy. They have a Sunday School at which 2 or 300 children are instructed; a benevolent society, from the funds of which they distribute £60 or £70 a year, or more, amongst the poor of the church and congregation; a circulating library of good books, let out to read at a shilling a quarter, and a sick society, for visiting the distressed in all parts of the town'.
Piggott-Smith Map of Birmingham, 1828, showing the Cannon Street Baptist Meeting House. Courtesy Birmingham Local Studies Library.
Samuel Pearce did not survive long after Ward's visit. Illness and exhaustion from his 'abundant labours', meant his passing was one of the first pieces of news Ward received on his arrival in India.
On 7th May, 1799, at Olney in Buckinghamshire, William Ward was joined by Mr. Brunsdon and 'set apart to the work of a Christian Missionary'. The service was accompanied by 'prayers and fasting'. In his reply to the questions put by Mr. Fuller, William Ward stated the following:
'I have received no new revelation on the subject; I did not expect any. Our Redeemer has said, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: and lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the world'. This command I consider as still binding; since the promise of Christ's presence reaches to the utmost corner of the earth, and to the utmost boundaries of time.
While I was at Ewood Hall, I received an invitation to carry the Gospel and a printing press to India, where brother Carey and others have erected the standard of the cross: I prayed to God and advised with my friends; in complying with this invitation I gave up all prospects, and devoted myself to that of attempting to bless a nation of heathens. Since that time my peace and joy in God has more and more abounded. Duty and pleasure have in my employment gone hand in hand; and sometimes I have been enabled to say, 'No joy can be compared with this, To serve and please the Lord'.
In his strength, therefore, I would go forth, borne up by your prayers; hoping that two or three stones, at least, may be laid of Christ's kingdom in India, nothing doubting, but that the fair fabric will rise from age to age, till time shall be no more.
The being and attributes of God, the total depravity of man, free and full salvation by the grace of God through a Mediator, the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, and the final salvation of all believers, are the doctrines which I believe, and consider as inclusive of all others. It is to the doctrine of the cross, that I look for success in the conversion of the heathen'.