In advance of my upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand, I’ve been studying all I can find on the early history of Christianity in those two nations. Australia was settled by the British first, of course, and served as a kind of staging point for missionaries to reach New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Australian Christianity begins with Richard Johnson, the chaplain of the very first fleet to reach her shores. He had been hand-selected for the task by William Wilberforce and his associates, and immediately got to work preaching the gospel and carrying out the duties of a pastor. He did so with the blessings and prayers of many in his home country, including John Newton, (author of “Amazing Grace”), who wrote this little poem in his honor. It holds up very well as a challenge and encouragement.
The Lord who sends thee hence, will be thine aid:
In vain at thee the lion, Danger, roars;
His arm and love shall keep thee undismayed
On tempest-tossèd seas, and savage shores.
Go, bear the Saviour’s name to lands unknown,
Tell to the southern world his wondrous grace;
An energy Divine thy words shall own,
And draw their untaught hearts to seek His face.
Many in quest of gold or empty fame
Would compass earth, or venture near the poles:
But how much nobler thy reward and aim—
To spread His praise, and win immortal souls.
As much as British politicians had their eye on the expansion of Empire, and as much as British merchants had their eye on the expansion of commerce, British Christians were determined to bear the name of Jesus Christ to lands unknown. And they did so faithfully.