When we left Joshua Marshman (1768–1837) in the last blog post, it was noted that he had a great facility with languages—a facility that God would use to direct Marshman to India as a pioneer missionary. Now, in the late 1790s, Marshman met and shared his faith with William Grant (1774–1799), a young man who would play a key role in his life.
The unbelief of William Grant
When Grant was sixteen, he had become friends with a Deist. The latter was part of an eighteenth-century intellectual movement that regarded nature and scientific study of nature as the surest way to learn about God. Deists, and this one was no exception, had only contempt for the Bible. Grant and this friend read the works of the infamous French infidel Voltaire together, and Grant came to pursue a pathway of atheism and blasphemy and viewed Christians as utter fanatics bereft of rational grounds for their beliefs.
Through reflection on the nature of the created realm and the constitution of the human body, however, Grant was led to the conviction that the universe and humanity are the work of intelligent design. And so he became a Unitarian, a believer in God, or, what was called a Socinian in that day.
Marshman’s friendship with Grant
In God’s providence, Grant met Marshman in a bookshop. He noticed Marshman was perusing a Latin dictionary and he asked him whether he could read Latin. When Marshman indicated he could, Grant asked the Baptist whether he would be able to help him learn the language. They began to meet so as to study Latin together, but when Grant found out that Marshman was a Calvinist, he sneered at his belief in the atonement of Christ and his reverence for the Scriptures. Marshman refused to back down from his convictions, but at the same time persevered in befriending Grant.
Finally, Grant agreed to attend worship at Broadmead where he heard John Ryland, Jr. (1753–1825), whom we met in the last blog post, preach a sermon on Psalm 14:1 (“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” [KJV]), which was ideally suited to bring home deep conviction to Grant’s heart. Grant and Marshman continued to meet and converse about human depravity and the consequent necessity of the cross.
And so it was, Grant was led step by step by divine grace to “acknowledge the divinity of the Scriptures, … and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his soul.” Grant’s conversion has been well described by the Australian historian Stuart Piggin as one of the most distinctly “intellectual” conversions experienced by an evangelical missionary during the first seventy years of “the modern missionary movement.”
Grant was soon baptized at Broadmead, joined the church, and in a short space of time became imbued with the idea of missionary service, an idea that he communicated to his friend Marshman, and that would have massive consequences for Marshman’s life and that of his family, and indeed the lives of multitudes in India.
Michael A. G. Haykin ©2018