The Spirit of a Missionary

Craig Schwarze

My biography of Richard Johnson, Australia’s first preacher, has been slowly progressing, and there are only a few chapters to go. One of the delightful discoveries I’ve made is of the close friendship between Johnson and John Newton, the famous writer of “Amazing Grace”. I’ve read quite a few of Newton’s letters, and it’s clear that he was a true evangelical, one that we would recognise as a kindred spirit. He had a real heart for the gospel, and this was the primary reason he encouraged Johnson to join the First Fleet.

Not everyone shared his enthusiasm. One concerned minister wrote to Newton, to express his doubt about Johnson’s mission -

How is Mr. Johnson’s Botany Bay scheme likely to end? I have seen a copy of his feelings on the occasion, and seemed to feel them all myself. It filled me with a thousand thanks that the Lord did not call me to that cross. If Johnson goes, I pray the Lord to go with him, and fit his mind for everything that lies before him.

Newton's reply was typically elegant, but also cutting -

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… had better [to] run his head against a stone wall. I am strongly inclined to hope Mr. Johnson is thus called, and will be thus gratified.

I shall not advise him to consult with you upon this point. Your appointment is to smoke your pipe quietly at home, to preach, and to lecture to your pupils; you are not cut out for a missionary. I, too, must have my tea, my regular hours, and twenty little things which I can have when my post is fixed. I should shrink at the thought of living upon seals and train oil.

Oh! if Johnson is the man whom the Lord appoints to the honour of being the first to carry the glad tidings into the Southern Hemisphere, he will be a great and honoured man indeed.

Those in ministry should weigh yourselves against Newton’s words. Are you the sort who is willing to lose all for the sake of Christ’s gospel? Or do you need your tea, your regular hours, and your “twenty little things”? Many, most, will be of the latter kind, I know. But pray with me that God would raise up a few of the former sort - we desperately need them.