On Richard Johnson.
Essay by Craig Schwarze, who is writing a biography of Johnson.
4 Essays in anticipation of the Cowper celebrations at St Philip's.
To an 18th century Englishman, Botany Bay was as hostile, distant and isolated a destination as could be imagined. The convicts imprisoned aboard the ships of the First Fleet were transported by force. For the marines who were guarding them, Botany Bay was an opportunity to further their careers.
But there was one man travelling on the First Fleet who was not compelled, and for whom Botany Bay gave no career advantages at all. His name was Rev. Richard Johnson, and he was the chaplain.
What motivated him to travel to Botany Bay, to Australia?
He was well aware of the difficulties he would face. He wrote:
The idea of leaving my parents, relations, friends, the dangers of the sea, the place to which we were going, to the very ends of the earth, to a country wild and uncultivated, to be exposed to savages, and perhaps to wild beasts... Those ideas so impressed my mind with fear and terror that I almost resolved to decline the offer.He did not decline the offer. Instead he traveled to Australia, spending 12 difficult years here, struggling with a brutal environment, and preaching to an indifferent audience. Why did he do it? We find the answer in a small tract he wrote to the colonists in 1792. It begins –
I Beseech you, brethren, suffer this word of exhortation. Your souls are precious. They are precious in the sight of God. They are precious to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are precious in my esteem. Oh that you yourselves were equally sensible of their value.We see here both his motivation and his message. His motivation was his belief that the souls of the marines and convicts were "precious in the sight of God". He was motivated by love and concern for their eternal well-being. His message was the gospel - that mercy and reconciliation with God can be found through a Mediator, that is, the man Jesus Christ. This is the same gospel that has been preached down through the centuries, and is still preached by Christ's faithful ministers today.
We have now been here almost five years. During this time, I trust, I have been faithful in the discharge of my duty, faithful to my God, my country, my conscience, and to your immortal souls.
I would, nay I do, humbly hope, that my labours have not been wholly in vain. Some of you, I trust, have been convinced of your folly, sin and danger; you have earnestly sought, and happily found mercy with God through a Mediator. You can now approach him as a God reconciled, a merciful Father and Friend, and are evidencing the reality of your conversion, by an upright life and conversation.
Johnson gave up everything to preach this message in Australia. It is a great tragedy that his name is largely forgotten today, even amongst Australian Christians. He was the first gospel preacher in our country, a true ministry pioneer. We ought honour his memory, but even more, we should seek to follow his example.
William Cowper Celebrations:
- SUNDAY 16TH AUGUST (10.00AM): Thanksgiving Service.
- MONDAY 17th AUGUST (5.30PM): William Cowper (1778-1858): The Indispensable Parson, by Dr. Peter Bolt will be launched at the Mitchell Library at 5.30 for 6.00 pm. Click here to RSVP.
- TUESDAY 18TH AUGUST (NOON): Civic Commemorative Service. Preacher: Archbishop Peter Jensen. (In the presence of the Governor of New South Wales.)