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.PRAYER
After these positive directions what you ought to do, I proceed to some necessary cautions, against what you ought to avoid.PROFANITIES
... 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.
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. ...THEFT &c
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.IDLENESS
William Bradbury's sketch of the Governor's House at Sydney Cove, 1791.
Image : State Library of NSW.
RESPECT TOWARDS SUPERIORS
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.GOOD EXAMPLE TO THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLE
|An aboriginal family of New South Wales|
as engraved by William Blake c. 1790.
Image : State Library of NSW
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.CONCLUSION
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,RICHARD JOHNSON.