02 December, 2020

Pastoral Address 1792 : 3

This post concludes our presentation of the Pastoral Address of the Reverend Richard Johnson which dates from October, 1792.  This long address, which took the form of a small book, has been presented here in order to give a clear illustration of the religious and moral state of the infant Colony of New South Wales, as seen by its first Christian minister.  Anglicans, Catholics and Methodists, convicts, military and government officials were all under the pastoral care of Mr. Johnson.  His address confirms that no matter the status or persuasion of the inhabitants of the Colony, Religion and Christian morality was of little significance to them.  Decades later, our Catholic pioneering clergy, Father John Joseph Therry, Father William Ullathorne OSB and Bishop John Bede Polding OSB, all complained of the same lack of interest in religion and the same pervasive immorality.  This dynamic was present from the foundation of the Sydney colony in 1788 and persisted well into the nineteenth century.  The Ministers of Religion were all faced with these same challenges and worked - with varying degrees of success - to overcome them.

The Rev'd Richard Johnson
An engraving of 1787
Image : State Library of NSW

In the first part of his Address, Mr Johnson gave a discourse on what he termed "The Great Truths" of Christianity and reminded all his readers that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life,  there being no coming to God, either in this world, or in that which is to come, but through Christ.  Much of our previous post was devoted to Mr Johnson's urging of the importance of keeping appropriately the Lord's Day.  This was an issue of particular importance to his thinking.  

This concluding part of the Address, however, now given in this post, focusses on particular moral issues which Mr Johnson was faced with on a daily basis in the Colony.  It is important to observe, however, that he did not present his address as part of the Established Order of the Colony, requiring adherence to laws for its own sake.  He wrote as a minister of the Gospel seeking to win souls to Christ.  He observed that the same lack of interest in God's message was found in the personnel of the Colony's Government as it was in the convict themselves.  Although he encourages respect for Authority, he does not dwell upon this.  He is especially scornful of foul-mouthed people and even more reproving of the practice of teaching the indigenous peoples such profanities.  We might see Mr Johnson's attitudes towards Australia's Indigenous people differently now, but he was motivated by charity and respect towards them.

Be constant and diligent in prayer to God. Intreat him to give his blessing to what you read and hear, and to all your concerns.  As we are weak and needy creatures, always dependent upon God, and always receiving mercies and favours from him, we ought to be frequent and earnest in prayer ... I hope you will be punctual in prayer, morning and evening, at least.  So long as any of you live without prayer, you live without Christ, without hope, and without God in the world.  They, who do not pray to God while upon earth, will not be admitted to praise him in heaven.  When the rich careless man who had feasted sumptuously every day, for a time, lifted up his eyes in torments, he only desired and prayed for a drop of water to cool his tongue, but it was not granted to him.  Oh! if you value your souls, pray earnestly to God.  Consider your obligations to do so.  He is your Creator, Preserver, Benefactor.  In him you live and move, and have your being.  And therefore not to acknowledge, by prayer, your dependence upon him, would manifest the greatest; ingratitude and insensibility.  Consider, likewise, the encouragement you have to pray.  Though you are by nature sinners, and by practice enemies and rebels, he gives you free and sure promises, that whoever is disposed to return to him, and seek him by earnest prayer, shall not seek him in vain.  Oh! My brethren, that there was less cursing and swearing, and more prayer among you!  

After these positive directions what you ought to do, I proceed to some necessary cautions, against what you ought to avoid.  

Profane swearing is one thing against which I am especially bound to warn you, because it is an evil which so much abounds amongst you.  God has said, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.  Our Saviour likewise has said, Swear not at all.  *  (Exodus 20:7 ; Matthew 5:34 )  But how can you reconcile these prohibitions to your conduct ; or your consciences?  When instead of not swearing at all, many of you seldom open your lips, but the first and last words which you utter, are blasphemous oaths, and horrid imprecations? Is this acting like rational or accountable creatures?  Who gave you the powers of reason and speech?  Was it not God?  And can you think that he gave them to you, that you may blaspheme his holy name, and to use the most profane, obscene, and desperately wicked language your hearts can invent; a language only fit for incarnate devils, and shocking to the ears of the ignorant heathens?  ...

... It would be well, both on their own account, and for the good of others, if magistrates would strictly discharge their duty, by enforcing the laws of our land, which are enacted against this horrid practice. And in few places, perhaps in no place, such strictness would be more needful, or more salutary, than in this colony.

Our Lord assures us, that for every idle word that men shall speak they shall give an account in the day of judgement! *   (Matthew 12:36 )   How dreadful then will be the case of those persons, who during their whole life have employed their tongues in cursing, swearing, lying, and all manner of vile and unclean conversation.  Oh! think of this in time, and tremble and repent, and learn to use your tongues to better purpose in future!  Read carefully the third chapter of James, and pray to God for his grace, and use your best endeavours to bridle your tongue, which, if you do not subdue and conquer, will surely destroy and ruin you.

Convicts of New Holland, 1793.
a watercolour by Juan Ravenet, member of a Spanish scientific expedition 
to Australia and the Pacific. 
The convicts of this early period had their owns clothes, not a form of prison uniform.
Image : The State Library of NSW.

Consider, also, what must be the consequence of that unclean and adulterous course of life, which many of you follow.  Common as this wickedness is in our colony (I believe nowhere more so) do not suppose, that the frequency will take away, or in the least abate the criminality of it.  Neither suppose that this sin is less odious in the sight of God if committed in Port Jackson, than in England.  You may frame excuses or plead necessity, for what you do, or permit to be done, but the word of God by which you must be at last judged, admits of no plea, or excuse.  The command is positive and absolute. The declaration of God, Thou shalt not commit adultery * (Exodus 20: 14 )   is equally binding upon persons of all ranks, to whom it is known, at all times, and in all places.  Think not, that the holy and just God will dispense with his law, or relax the sentence he has denounced against the breach of it, that you may with impunity indulge your corrupt desires. ... The apostle [Saint Paul] declares this warning nearly in the same words, a second and a third time. . (Hebrews 13:4;  Galatians 5:17-21; Ephesians 5: 3-5 ) ...  And therefore, however this sin may be connived at by some, and committed by others, God will severely punish offenders, unless they repent of their wickedness and forsake it.

But I need not enlarge upon this subject, I have told you my thoughts of it again and again with faithfulness.  It seems the plainness of my language has hurt the delicate feelings of some and the faithfulness I have used has excited the censure and ill-will of others. ... But whether you will hear, or whether you will forbear, I must repeat the unwelcome truth.  My conscience, my duty, and my compassion, all urge me to deal faithfully with you.  I mean and desire to be understood, and therefore I must speak plainly.  It is my intention and desire to awaken and alarm your consciences: but alas! after all I can say or do, I am too little understood or regarded. ... 

The conduct of too many of you induces me to exhort and caution you farther against theft, and all kinds of dishonesty and villainy.  I have often told you both publicly and privately, that honesty is the best policy.  None have more reason to be convinced of this, than you who come hither as convicts.  You have known by bitter experience, the unhappy consequences of dishonesty.  Have not many of you, for the sake, perhaps, of a few shillings, unjustly obtained, plunged yourselves into misery for the remainder of your lives?  Several have made this acknowledgment to me, in their dying moments.  Learn therefore, strive, and pray to be honest.  Honesty has its present advantages.  An honest man, however poor, can face this world with confidence.  But a dishonest behaviour, with its constant attendant a guilty conscience, will always fill the mind with fear and dismay. * (Job 24: 16, 17 )

I do not mean, my friends, to reflect harshly upon you for what is paid, and cannot be recalled.  I pity your past misconduct; I sympathize with you under your present sufferings.  And therefore I admonish and caution you to abstain from this course for the time to come.  Let then the troubles and afflictions you have brought upon yourselves be a warning, to regulate your future behaviour.  Learn to be thankful for what God in his providence gives you, whether it be more or less.  Attend to what our Lord says, Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.  And to his apostle’s direction, Let him that hath stolen, deal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.  * (Matthew 7:12. Ephesians 4: 24 )  Follow this advice, and you will soon experience the benefit. 

Beware of idleness. This is the forerunner of many evils. Poverty, disease, disgrace, misery, and too often an untimely death, are the consequences of sloth and indolence. Yield not to idleness; if you indulge it, you will find it grow upon you. Therefore, be diligent and industrious in your lawful callings. It is written in the Bible, and confirmed by experience and observation, The idle soul shall suffer hunger, but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat. * (Proverbs 19: 15 & 13:14 )

William Bradbury's sketch of the Governor's House at Sydney Cove, 1791.
Image : State Library of NSW.

Be careful also to pay due respect, submission, and obedience to your superiors. It is the good pleasure of God that some should be placed in more exalted, and others in amore humble station. And it is a proof of his wisdom and goodness. The present state of the world, and the general good of mankind, render such distinctions necessary. But, whether we are high or low, whether called to command, or required to obey, our duties and obligations are mutual. It is in society as in the human body. There are many members, and every member has its proper place, and its proper office. Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.*  (Romans 13:1 )

I have thus given you my best advice respecting what you ought to do, or to avoid. Permit me to invite your serious attention to what I have written.  Consider it carefully for your own sakes.  It concerns your present comfort.  For though no works of ours, or what are called, moral virtues, can possibly procure us the favour of God, (for our best services are imperfect and defiled, and need forgiveness) yet that knowledge and experience of the gospel, which I have explained to you in the first part of this Address, (and which I earnestly pray you may be made partakers) must be accompanied by a correspondent conduct, such as I have set before you in the second part.  And this knowledge and this conduct will always be attended, though not always in the same degree, with an inward settled peace, whereby the mind is reconciled to support crosses and afflictions, however great, or of long continuance, with a degree of fortitude and resignation.  Persons under this influence will say, when they meet with troubles, I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him * (Micah 7:9)   Should it please God, to answer the earnest desire of my soul, by giving you an experience of the gospel peace, you will thank and praise him, even for bringing you hither; and you will see and confess, that your heaviest afflictions have, in the event, proved to be your greatest mercies. 

Your future comfort and welfare in this world, depends upon this knowledge, for though no one knows what may befall him in this life, yet the real Christian has the comfort of knowing, that however it may go with the wicked, or whatever may happen to himself of a temporal nature, or whatever may become of his body, he is sure (because God has promised) that it shall be well with his soul at death.  Ah! my brethren, then, more especially then, believers will find the advantage of having made the word of God the foundation of their hope, and the rule of their life! 

Several of you, some to my knowledge, have left affectionate, tender, and serious friends, husbands, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, or children, in your native country, to lament your misconduct, the sufferings you have brought upon yourselves, and the disgrace in which you have involved your families.  Let me intreat you, for the sake of these, to consider your ways.  Great comfort it will afford to those who are now almost overwhelmed with grief on your account, to hear of your reformation and conversion.  These would be glad tidings, indeed, from a far country.  The hopes they might then form of seeing you again, would be truly pleasing; it would be little less than receiving you again from the dead.  Or if they never see you in this world, the prospect of meeting with you in heaven, would add comfort to their dying hours.  Oh! let not their prayers and their tears be lost upon you.  

Attend to these things, for the sake of others, who may follow you hither, in the like unhappy circumstances.  When they see your reformation, and that, in consequence of it, you are more comfortable here, than you were at home, they may be induced and encouraged to follow your examples.  Thus you will be instrumental in saving souls from death.

I would further plead with you, for the sake of the poor unenlightened savages, who daily visit us, or who reside amongst us.  If these ignorant natives, as they become more and more acquainted with our language and manners, hear you, many of you, curse, swear, lie, abound in every kind of obscene and profane conversation, and if they observe, that it is common with you to steal, to break the Sabbath, to be guilty of uncleanness, drunkenness, and other abominations, how must their minds become prejudiced and their hearts hardened against that pure and holy religion which we profess?  Oh, beware of laying stumbling-blocks in the way of these blind people lest the blood of their souls be one day required at your hands. *  (Leviticus 19:14 

An aboriginal family of New South Wales
as engraved by William Blake c. 1790.

Image : State Library of NSW

And yet I fear, yea, I well know, that they have already heard and seen too much of such language, and such practices among us.  Already some of them have been taught to speak such language as they continually hear, and though they do not yet understand the meaning of the words they use, they can utter oaths and blasphemies almost as readily as their Christian instructors.  Bystanders divert themselves with their attempts in this way, and think it is fine sport.  But, my friends, the scripture declares they are fools who make a mock at sin.  *  (Proverbs 14:9 )   But these things cause much sorrow to those who have any reverence for God, or pity for their fellow creatures.  I readily profess my own deep concern for these proceedings, and my utter abhorrence of them.  And I most earnestly intreat you, if you cannot instruct them in what is better, to have no communication at all with them.  For if you make them partakers of your sins, you must answer for it at the great day of judgement; if they then rise up against you, for misleading them, it will be much more tolerable for them than for you.

But consider, on the other hand, what may be the happy effects, were the natives to see, hear, and observe in you, and in all the Europeans here; in ministers and people, high and low, a conduct answerable to the doctrine and precepts of the Gospel. This might, by the blessing of God, be one of the most effectual means, to bring them to reflexion, and to engage them to seek an interest in the blessings of the Gospel for themselves. 

My brethren, what shall I, what can I say more. I neither know what to add, nor how to leave off: once more, I beseech you, for God’s sake, for the sake of Jesus the Saviour, who shed his precious blood to redeem sinners, and for the sake of your own souls: by the holy incarnation of the Redeemer, by his agonies, temptations, death and resurrection, by all the terrors of his frown, and by all the blessings of his love, by the joys of heaven, by the torments of hell, and by the solemnities of the approaching day of judgement; by all these considerations, I most earnestly, affectionately, and faithfully admonish and intreat you, carefully to weigh what I have now set before you. And oh! that the holy angels may carry to heaven the joyful news *  (Luke 15:10 )   of some sinners being awakened and born to God, by reading or hearing this little book.  O gracious God, do thou, by the power of thy Holy Spirit, make it thus effectual to the salvation and happiness of this people! 

And now to this gracious Lord, and to his care and blessing, I commend you.  May he enable you to examine your hearts, principles, and practice, by the standard of his holy word.  ....  Read this plain, affectionate Address seriously.  Read it a second, a third, and a fourth time, till your hearts are affected by it.   Remember, this is the advice of a friend, of one who sincerely seeks, wishes, and longs for your happiness.  It is the advice of your minister, expressly appointed to watch over your souls, and who must shortly give an account of his mission to the Great Judge of all.  Whether I shall die amongst you, or be separated from you while living, we shall, at last, meet before him.  Then I must answer for my preaching, and you for your hearing.  Oh, that this awful day of judgment may be often, yea, always, present to your thoughts, and to mine! that we may live in constant expectation of its approach!  So that when the last loud trumpet shall sound, we may stand with acceptance and boldness in his presence, and be admitted as believers in the great Saviour, into his heavenly kingdom, with a “ Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”  * (Matthew 25: 23 )

This will be my daily prayer to God for you.  I shall pray for your eternal salvation, for your present welfare, for the preservation, peace, and prosperity of this colony: and especially for the more abundant and manifest success of the Redeemer’s cause and kingdom, and for the effusion and outpouring of his Holy Spirit, not only here, but in every part of the habitable globe.  Longing, hoping, and waiting for the dawn of that happy day, when the heathen shall be given to the Lord Jesus for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession: and when all the ends of the earth shall see, believe, and rejoice in the salvation of God. * (Psalms 2: 8, & 98: 5 )

I am your affectionate Friend and Servant in the Gospel of Christ,



1.  Sub-headings in this post have been added by the editor for the ease of readers.  They were not found in the Rev'd Mr Johnson's published address.

2. A following post will conclude our study of the Reverend Richard Johnson with a description of his ministry in Sydney, 1788-1800.


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