Was William Carey Being Biblical When He Said "Expect Great Things from God"?

William Carey is well known for saying “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” Is that biblical?

Yes. Here’s one passage that gives the foundations for Carey’s words:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us [the same power that raised Christ from the dead — Eph 1:19], to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

There are two noteworthy things about this passage in regard to Carey’s statement: who said it, and what it says.

First, what does this passage say? It says that God can do far more than we can ask or think of. And he can do this abundantly. So God is able to do great things.

But is he willing to do them? That seems to be Paul’s reason for pointing out that God is able to do this “according to the power at work within us.” Note also the connection here to prayer. God is able to do “more abundantly than all that we ask.” His point is: Pray and ask for God to work — and he will do far more than what you ask!

So it seems biblical that we should indeed expect great things from God, just like Carey said. But should we therefore also attempt great things for God?

This takes us to a second observation about this — namely, who said it.

The one who penned this passage, of course, was the apostle Paul. And Paul accomplished far-reaching and incredible things for the gospel — to the point where he was even able to say that “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illlyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19). In other words, he attempted great things for God (and accomplished them!).

So, Paul’s words and example demonstrate the truth of William Carey’s statement. His words affirm that we should indeed expect great things from God, because God is “able to do far more abundantly than we ask or imagine.” And his example affirms that, from this expectation, we should indeed attempt great things for God.

The most important thing is to get the order right. Notice that Carey did not say: “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.” He said the reverse. So, attempt great things for God — grounding all of your efforts and labor and dreams in God’s grace, supported by prayer, just like Ephesians 3:20 says.

  • David Reimer

    Thanks for this helpful reflection — tracing out these resonances is a real encouragement!

    I’m guessing you know Carey’s own biblical source for these “maxims”, but just in case anyone else is interested: they came from Isaiah 54:2-3.

    For a snippet on the narrative setting of the sermon from which Carey preached this, have a peek at this extract from the fine George Smith biography:


    The biography itself is on Archive.org:


  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    What a great reminder about the sufficiency and power of the God that gives us godly ambitions. It was interesting as I was reading “Rescuing Ambition” recently – and saw your name as one of the reviewers. God is really growing me in this area of life, and I’m thankful for great brothers like you to help show me the way!