24 October, 2020

Pastoral Address 1792 : The Evangelical School

John Wesley preaching in a church-yard
an 18th century engraving.

Image : Wikipedia.

In Britain of the 1730s a young Church of England parson underwent a form of spiritual conversion.  This was the Reverend John Wesley.  His father had been a clergyman and he himself had been educated at Christ's College, Oxford.  Wesley, and a group of his confreres at Oxford, devised a method or a rule for living a more devout Christian life and because of this were called Methodists.  Their method subsisted in reading and praying together, the strict observance of The Book of Common Prayer (including weekly attendance at the Holy Communion service) and a disciplined approach to life. Subsequently, Wesley taught these principles whilst a missionary in the American colony of Georgia.  John Wesley and a number of others became seized with a zeal for the souls in a time when religious fervour was at a very low ebb.  Wesley travelled the length and breadth of Britain preaching this message and attracted many similarly-minded men to this Evangelisation.  Within the Church of England, they came to be known as Evangelicals

The Evangelical Revival (as it came to be known) began as a protest against two things : the frivolous and dissolute state of eighteenth century English society, and the impoverished theology and worldly state of the Church of England. They rejected the concept that the Church of England subsisted in the English social and political establishment, instead focussing their ministry on the poor and un-Churched.  Above all, the Evangelicals were earnest and single-minded. In a careless age, they stood for discipline, fervour and zeal.

The Rev'd John Newton
Evangelical Church of England 
parson and mentor of the 
Rev'd Richard Johnson.

Image : Wikipedia.
The serious-minded Evangelicals were somewhat puritanical in their disapproval of things such as theatres, card-playing, dancing and sensationalist literature.  Their attitude to the Scripture was fundamentalist, whilst more extreme elements disdained scholarship.  At first, the Evangelical clergy worked within the Church of England with no intention of going outside the system of parishes. They found, however, many of the parish clergy preaching very poor stuff and devised a new style of preaching altogether.  This became their hallmark. Man, they believed, was fallen and in need of salvation; that salvation was through Christ alone and dependent upon faith.  The acceptance, by faith, of Christ as saviour was called conversion and would lead on naturally to sanctification and growth in grace.  This the believer found through prayer, through study of the scriptures, through sermons and, to some extent, through the sacraments. But increasingly, the Evangelicals had little sense of the Church and its authority.  To them, it was the individual soul which counted above all else.  Their object was to deliver their message to as many people as possible, whether in church or out of it.  They were indeed men afire with the message of the Gospel. They had something vital to say and many of them developed almost hypnotic powers conveying it.

Of a similar persuasion within the Church of England was the first chaplain to the Colony of New South Wales, the REVEREND RICHARD JOHNSON.

Richard Johnson was born in the village of Welton in Yorkshire. He was educated at the grammar school at Kingston-upon-Hull, and engaged in farming and teaching until 1781, when he was awarded a sizar scholarship  (1)  to Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.  Obviously he studies were directed towards ministry within the Church of England, since he was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford in 1784.

In October, 1786, Mr Johnson was nominated to become the Chaplain to the intended Penal Colony in Botany Bay.  At this time, he was 31 years of age.  He owed his appointment to the influence of three men : the renowned Evangelical parson John Newton, the Reformist parliamentarian, William Wilberforce and the British Prime Minister, William Pitt ("the Younger").  This was an impressive team of supporters.  (2)  Newton had written to Mr Johnson in October 1786 :
A minister who should go to Botany Bay without a call from the Lord and without receiving from Him an apostolical spirit, the spirit of a missionary, enabling him to forsake all, to give up all, to put himself into the Lord’s hands, to sink or swim, had better run his head against a stone wall.
William Wilberforce
Parliamentarian, Social reformer,
Evangelical Christian.

Image: Wikipedia
We can only surmise that Newton and Wilberforce believed that Richard Johnson would be such a zealous missionary.  But we should be honest : it is hardly likely that Church of England clergymen were falling over each other to obtain the post of Chaplain to the new Colony.  It was not intended as a settlement of free men, but a repository - largely unknown - for felons, the outcasts of society, whom England was very pleased to be rid of.  At the time of his appointment in October 1786, Richard Johnson was taken to inspect one of the prison hulks which housed wretches at Woolwich on the Thames River.  That might have deterred any man.  He accepted his appointment, none-the-less.

John Newton wrote at this time about Mr Johnson :
He is humble and simple-hearted ... I think he would not have thought of this service had it not been proposed to him; for some time he wished to decline it, but he could not, he durst [sic] not.
Captain Arthur Philip R.N., the man chosen to be the Commander of the First Fleet and Governor of the intended New South Wales settlement, also gave his approval to the appointment of Richard Johnson, but cautioned him that his ministry was to focus on "moral subjects" rather than the personal salvation of his spiritual charges.

Some months before leaving England for Botany Bay, Richard Johnson married Mary Burton, who at that time was aged 34. The young couple departed Portsmouth on the ship Golden Grove along with the other ships of the First Fleet.  Mr Johnson took with him a large number of bibles and other books on religious subjects, which had been supplied to him by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge(3)

Two ships of the First Fleet at anchor in Portsmouth harbour, May 1787.
These were the Lady Penryhn (left) and the Charlotte.

Image : Wikipedia.

These words of introduction being concluded, we now continue with our transcription of Mr Johnson's pastoral Address of 1792, commenced in our previous post.


In the former part of this address, I have already laid before you, in the plainest manner I was able, my views of the gospel of Christ. And as an experimental knowledge of this gospel is so very important, I have endeavoured to press that importance upon your consciences. Whether you have paid that attention to the subject, which it deserves and requires, yourselves best know. I can only say, that if I did not know it to be of great weight, I should not either speak or write of it with so much earnestness. .... I ought to be very indifferent what men of depraved morals, and corrupt principles may say, or think of me, if I have the witness of a good conscience, and the approbation of the God whom I serve. My concern is for your welfare and salvation; for l am certain, as I have told you before, and now tell you again, that unless the gospel is made the power of God to your souls, you must be miserable in time, and to eternity. 

I propose now to give you some advices, to assist you in understanding the gospel for yourselves, which if you observe, I trust, you will attain to the possession of those principles, and walk by those rules, which will both afford you present peace, and secure your future happiness. For godliness has promises pertaining to the life that now is, and to that which is to come.

Let me then exhort you to attend seriously to what you are to believe and to what you are to do. These two points include the sum and substance of the gospel, the whole of the Christian life, and may be comprised in two words,  faith and practice.

You must learn from the word of God, what you are to believe.  True faith is the root and foundation of all real religion. Without this inward principle, nothing that we have done, or can do, will be acceptable to God.   ( Hebrews 11: 6 )   I have briefly informed you what you are to believe – That you are sinners, that Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient and willing Saviour and that the word of God both warrants and commands you to look to him for salvation.  This looking unto Jesus, is what we particularly mean by faith or believing.  When we cordially and entirely rely upon him, upon the invitation of the promises of God, for pardon, peace, and eternal life, then we believe. 

All who thus believe, through grace, are required and commanded to be careful of maintaining good works.   (Titus 3 : 8 ) As our moral, and what are often called, our virtuous actions, are to be tried by our religious principles; it is equally true, that our religious principles, or at least the proof that they are indeed our principles, must be evidenced by our moral conduct. These two are so inseparably connected, that you may depend upon it, where one of them is wanting, what bears the name of the other, is no better than pretended. If what we profess to believe does not make us humble, honest, chaste, patient, and thankful, and regulate our tempers and behaviour, whatever good opinion we may form of our notions or state, we are but deceiving ourselves.  The tree is known by its fruits. (James 2: 17,18;   Matthew 7 : 20).   In this way true believers are equally distinguished from profane sinners, and from specious hypocrites. The change in their hearts always produces a change in their whole deportment. Sin, which was once their delight, is now the object of their hatred. It was once necessary as their food, but now they avoid it as poison. They war, watch, and pray against it. And their delight is to study the revealed will of God. 

By these tells, you may judge of your true state before God. Surely you cannot suppose that your inward state is good, while your outward conduct is bad. Hence you may be assured that no unclean person, or profane swearer, no one who lives in direct opposition to the commands of God, can be, while he continues in this course, a true christian. ... I hope you will not mistake me. I do not mean that true Christians are without sin.  But I affirm, that no true Christian can live in an habitual course of sin. No, sin is their grief, their burden;  (1 John 3:8,9; Romans 7: 23, 24 )  and when through temptation, or unwatchfulness, they are drawn aside, like the dove sent out of the ark, they can find no rest, till by hearty repentance, and true faith, they obtain a new sense of forgiveness. 

I now proceed to offer you some directions, with which if you comply, I trust, that by the blessing of God, you will enjoy peace in your souls, and be enabled to regulate your conduct and conversation, as becometh the gospel of Christ. 

Read and study the scriptures. This was our Lord’s direction to the Jews : Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they testify of me.  (John 5: 37; Acts 17:11 )   ...  The Bible is our only sure and infallible guide. It was given by inspiration of God. All other books, however good and useful, are but of human composition, and are therefore not perfect. (2 Timothy 3 :16;  Isaiah 8 : 20 )

This sacred book, as I have already observed to you, contains all that is needful to make us wise unto salvation.  It informs us of our original, how pure and innocent  and our present condition, how guilty, polluted and miserable! and the happiness or misery which awaits us in a future state.  ...  I intreat you, therefore, to read the word of God carefully.  Many of you have had Bibles or New Testaments given to you, and others might have them, if they had but an inclination to read. 

Some of you will perhaps object, and say, as you have already said to me : We cannot read. Others : We have no time given us.  If you cannot read yourselves, you might prevail on some of your comrades to read to you.  *   As to your having no time, I much question it.  Rather you have no inclination. Too many of you can find time to jest, to talk obscenely or profanely, to read and sing idle songs; why might not some, or rather the whole of this time be employed in reading or hearing the Bible?  You might find time, if you could find a will.  But remember, that such excuses as you now make, will stand you in no stead when you appear before God in judgment.  There are few, if any of you, but might have opportunity of attending to these things, if you were but willing.

*  Two or three hours thus spent on the Lord’s day, in instructing each other to read, would be a very commendable employment. I have often expressed my longing desire that such a plan was set on foot among you. And if there could be a convenient building erected for this purpose, I should think myself happy, not only to furnish you with books, so far as I am able, but also personally to attend and assist you, as much as my immediate calls of duty would permit.

Observe and reverence the Sabbath, or Lord’s day. Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy,  is a solemn and positive command of God.  ( Exodus 20: 8 ) ... It gives me a deep and continual concern to observe how the Lord’s day is spent by many of you. What would a stranger think, who regards the Sabbath, if he visited every part of this colony on the Lord’s day ? Ah ! my brethren, I have seen and heard enough (alas! much more than enough) to form my own judgment on this subject. If my duty did not require my attendance on the public worship, and were I to visit your different places and huts, I fear I should find some of you spending the hours appointed for divine service in cultivating your gardens and grounds, others indulging themselves in mere sloth and idleness, others engaged in the most profane and unclean conversation, and others committing abominations, which it would defile my pen to describe. Now what must be the end of these courses? God says : Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. But the language, both of your hearts and actions, is “We will not keep it holy. It is a day given us for ourselves; and we wish, and we are resolved to spend it as we please. We do not choose to be confined, or compelled to hear so much preaching and praying.”  Is not this the language of your hearts? Your conduct too plainly proves it: but, my brethren, let me reason and expostulate a little with you upon this head. 

Consider, what have been the consequences to many who have thus broken God’s commands.  I have known, and you likewise have known, those who have been brought to an untimely and disgraceful end, and who have dated their ruin from this one evil, the profanation of the Lord’s day.  Instead of spending it in the manner which he has enjoined, they kept bad and profligate company.  By this practice, all serious impressions (if they formerly had any) have been driven from their minds.  Their hearts have become more and more hardened and insensible till at length, lost to all prudent reflection, they have regarded neither the tender felicitations and tears of parents, relations, and friends, the faithful warnings of ministers, nor the checks and rebukes of their own consciences.  And what has been the event ?  I need not tell you, that having given way to their own wicked wills, the advice and example of their ungodly companions, and the temptations of the devil (for, be assured, that he is always at the bottom of these mischiefs) they have, at length, committed some act of depredation and villainy, which has brought them to an untimely grave. 

A map of the settlement at Sydney Cove prepared by Captain John Hunter
in 1788.  A star marks the place of the residence of
the Rev'd Richard Johnson and his wife.

Image : State Library of NSW.

Such, brethren, have been the free and ingenuous confessions of many of those unhappy people who have suffered death. And if you were to speak the sentiments of your hearts, I doubt not, but many of you, who by the mercy of God are yet living, would make the like acknowledgment that breaking the Sabbath was the first step towards bringing you into that pitiable situation, in which you either have been, or still are suffering. And will you still persevere in the road of misery ?  Will you still prefer the chains of your own depraved inclinations, to the service of God, which is perfect freedom ? ... But such is the long-suffering of the Lord, that though others have been cut off, you are spared to this hour. May his goodness lead you to repentance! Or otherwise, light as these things may appear to you now, and though you may plead a necessity for what you do, I tell you again, as I have often told you before, that a day is coming when God will call you to a strict account. 

Besides, if you would reasonably hope for the blessing of God to succeed your labours, it is certainly your interest, as well as your duty to obey his commands. And this in particular : Keep the Sabbath day holy. If, in direct opposition to this plain precept, you will work and labour, as on other days, what ground can you have to expect that God will bless and prosper your undertakings? You have much greater cause to fear that his curse will follow you in your affairs, and blast and disappoint all your wishes and prospects. 

Let then the misconduct and fatal ends of others, and the calamities and troubles that you have brought upon yourselves; Let the gracious promises of God, on the one hand, and his awful threatenings on the other, induce you, in future, to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy! 

And let me offer you a few plain directions, as to the observance and improvement of the Sabbath: 

Begin the day with prayer ; and for this purpose seek some place of retirement, if you find it impracticable to meditate or pray, from the interruptions you are exposed to, in your dwellings,  *   from those who ridicule and scoff at every appearance of religion. Retire from them, and pray to him who seeth in secret; and praise him for the many mercies you have received. Consider with yourself, how little you have improved them. Humble yourselves before God, under a sense of your sins and imperfections, and pray for pardon and repentance. Intreat him, to enable you to watch over your hearts, words, and actions, throughout the day, and that you may not be hindered or hurt by the snares and temptations around you. Intreat God to assist your minister, and to accompany what you may hear from him, with a blessing to your soul, and to all who shall be present with you. 

Many complaints have been made to me on this head.

If you have families, you should call them together, and pray with them, and for them. There are many promises made to worshiping families, and to those who, like Abraham, endeavour to teach their children and household to know and serve the Lord.   ( Genesis 18:19;  Proverbs 3 : 33 )  And the neglect of this is one reason, why many families live uncomfortably. They live without prayer, and therefore without peace. 

Having thus endeavoured to impress your minds with serious thoughts, in secret or at home; attend constantly upon the public worship, and there pay a close attention to every part of the service. Remember that the eye of God is particularly upon you there. He has promised to be with two or three that meet together to call upon his name.  ( Matthew 18:20;  John 4 : 24 ).  He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth ; and whether they assemble in a church, or in the open air, he can give them cause to say with Jacob, “This place is surely the house of God, and the gate of Heaven”.   ( Genesis 28:17 ) Attend the public worship again in the afternoon, with your hearts lifted up to God, that you may not hear in vain; and accustom yourself in the evening to recollect what you have heard, concerning the miseries which sin has brought into the world; the love of God in sending his own Son to redeem sinners from those miseries, the sufferings, life, death, and resurrection of the Saviour; and that eternal rest, which remained for the people of God.  For you, and for me, if we are believers in Christ.

If, by the blessing of God, I can happily persuade you thus to observe and improve the Lord’s day, I am sure it will promote both your pleasure and your profit. ...  [But] I too well know the indisposition and averseness of the carnal mind to God and his ways. Hence the thought of many is, “What a weariness is it?” and, “When will the Sabbath be ended ?” Hence that open contempt and scorn, which is cast upon the Sabbath and upon public worship by many, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, old and young, men and women.  To them, the worship of God is tedious and disagreeable.  They neither find pleasure in it, nor expect benefit from it.  And therefore their attendance is not from choice, but from constraint. 

But the thoughts and the conduct of true Christians are very different. No day is so welcome to them as the Lord’s day; not merely considered as a day of rest from labour; but because, having their heads and hearts freed from the cares and encumbrances of the world, it affords them opportunities of waiting upon God. And, brethren, you must allow that these persons are best qualified to judge of the question I have proposed. Whether is best, to walk in the ways of God, or in the ways of sin ?  For they have experienced both sides of the question. They have tried the pleasures of the world, and they have also tried the pleasures of religion. And they will readily assure you, that in their deliberate judgment, one day thus spent in devotion, and the exercises of religion, is preferable to a thousand days wasted in the vain and unsatisfying pleasures, which they fought in their former wicked practices.  (Psalm 84:10 )

I have written thus largely upon the due observance of the Lord’s day, because of that shameful, open, and general neglect, that daring profanation of the Sabbath, which abounds amongst us. It is well known, and it is matter of great grief and concern to me, that numbers of you pay not the least regard to this day. Numbers of you will not come to public worship at all, others but seldom, and then with much reluctance. And when spoken to, different persons frame different excuses, all which, when examined, amount to little more than a want of inclination.

I have here a more special reference to those of you, who are called Settlers and Free People. You think, perhaps, and some of you say, that having served out your appointed term, you are now your own masters, and have therefore a right to employ your time as you please.  But, indeed, it is not so.  I must tell you, brethren, that my commission from God, and my appointment from government, extend equally and alike to all the inhabitants, without distinction. It is my duty to preach to all, to pray for all, and to admonish every one.  And it is no less the duty of all, to come to public worship, to hear the gospel, and to pray for me.  The mutual ties and obligations between you and me, are not lessened by any change in your circumstances.  And remember, that the slight you put upon the public worship, is not properly a slight of me (if that was all, it would be a matter of utter indifference) but upon the Lord himself ; for I trust it is his message, and not my own, that I deliver to you.  ( Luke 10 : 16 )   I wish, therefore, what I have said upon this subject, to be understood as addressed to all, whether of higher or lower rank, who are guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Whatever our station or calling may be, our obligations to keep holy the Sabbath-day, are precisely the same.  If any are more inexcusable than the rest, it must be those who, from their station and office, are peculiarly bound to set a good example to others.  I hope this friendly hint will be received in good part.  I mean not to offend.  But I must admonish you, that whatever be your situation in life, you will gain nothing in the end, by doing what God forbids, nor will you be a loser by yielding first obedience to his commands.

The Second Part is to be concluded ...

Felons embarking at Portsmouth for the Voyage to Botany Bay, 1787.
Image : State Library of NSW.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.


1. A Sizar scholarship was given to poorer students in return for their carrying out what amounted to domestic duties around their college.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sizar

2. The Reverend John Newton was the principal figure in a group of evangelical clergy and laymen called The Eclectic Society, which was founded in 1783.  William Wilberforce was also a member of this Society. They discussed how they could evangelise the intended Colony at Botany Bay and became interested in the choice of a Chaplain to sail with the First Fleet.  The Society used its connections to lobby the Prime Minister, William Pitt, who was also an Evangelical.

3. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge were by the 18th century long-established and orthodox missionary departments of the Church of England. 


Grocott, Allan M, Convicts, Clergymen and Churches, Sydney University Press, 1980.
Moorman, JRH, A History of the Church in England, London, 1976.
Chapman, Don, 1788 : The People of the First Fleet, Sydney, 1981

Percival Serle, "Richard Johnson, First Clergyman in Australia", Australian Dictionary of Biography : http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks15/1500721h/0-dict-biogI-K.html#johnson1

Anonymous "Richard Johnson, first Chaplain to Australia", Anglican Church League.

Marylynn Rouse "Richard Johnson, 1755-1827" The John Newton Project.


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