Enlist with us as an honorable soldier of Jesus Christ in this battle-hardened legion. No one fighting in a battle gives any consideration to civilian things; but strives to fulfill the commands of the one who has ordered him into battle.
-- 2 Timothy 2.3-4
The preacher stood in his full military dress uniform, unforgettable in the green patch over one eye-socket. He dramatically laid his sword across the pulpit and announced to the small congregation that he was a soldier of the cross and a true spiritual descendant of John Wesley. Thomas Webb was his name.
Born in 1724 the west of England, Webb planned on a career as an officer in the British Army. He was commissioned a Quartermaster in the 48th Regiment of Foot. One year later he was promoted to Lieutenant. In 1758 he was transferred with his regiment to North America where the French forces were winning in what was called the Seven Years' War in Europe – the French and Indian War in America. In July of that year Webb participated in the Battle of Louisburg, Nova Scotia where he lost an eye to musket-fire. In 1759 at the Battle of Quebec he was again wounded.
Webb was somewhat of a military scholar as well as a battle-experienced officer. In the summer of 1759 he published A Military Treatise on the Appointments of the Army – his reflections on the science of waging war. In the book he indicated how warfare in America differed from warfare in Europe. He stressed mobility, flexibility, light equipment, and lightning tactics. George Washington himself, fifteen years later was reading Webb’s book and absorbing its lessons.
Webb was selected for promotion to Captain, but he declined the promotion, planning on remaining in America with his new wife. When his wife suddenly died, however, Webb returned to England shaken and doubting – uncertain of the direction of his life.
The winter of 1764 found Webb depressed. He was convinced that he was a sinner, that his sin was unforgiveable, and that his life was hopeless. On Sunday, March 24, 1765, he went to hear a Moravian preacher whose sermon persuaded the forty year-old Army officer that Jesus Christ had taken on his guilt and shame and had removed his sin. His hopelessness disappeared, and Webb found the assurance of his salvation swelling as he began to testify to his certainty of seeing his Lord in glory.
The Moravian preacher introduced Webb to John Wesley, the founder and leader of the Methodist Revival. Immediately Webb found a spiritual home among the Methodists.
Webb began worshipping at the small Methodist Chapel in his home of Bath. One Sunday, when the scheduled preacher failed to appear, Webb was asked to speak in his place. Knowing nothing of sermon techniques and lacking formal training in theology, he could only relate simply and unselfconsciously, the unvarnished account of his own conversion. The Holy Spirit went to work in the story-telling preaching of the battle-scarred veteran. His neighbors and friends responded to his message.
Webb was ordered back to America in 1767 where he was the barracks master for British troops in Albany, New York. He conducted worship services in his home.
He was allowed to retire as a Captain with pension, and he went to New York as a civilian and preached regularly at the Methodist chapel there – always wearing the regimental uniform of an officer of the 48th, and with his sword on the pulpit.
He put his military experience to the work of the Lord, and he was soon to prove hugely fruitful in consolidating the diffuse personnel and resources of early American Methodism. In addition, his public utterances now included not only the retelling of his own awakening but also his aggressive, unapologetic, and unashamed emphasis on the doctrine of sanctification.
He possessed an immense amount of patience. Six months of intense evangelistic work around greater New York City found him not complaining but rejoicing as twenty-four people newly declared their faith in Jesus Christ – half of them black and half white. A tireless worker on behalf of the church, he didn't consider it beneath himself to sell tracts and books in the city in order to raise funds to purchase a lot for the construction of a chapel. Always keen to announce the good news of Jesus Christ, he initiated works in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
In August, 1772 Captain Webb was back in England. Recognizing his administrative talents, John Wesley, sent him to Ireland to fix problems in the Methodist Societies in Limerick and Dublin.
In April, 1773 Webb returned to America, accompanied by his new wife, Grace. In 1775 he was accused of being a spy for the British. He was arrested, and confined to a prisoner-of-war camp in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He became the camp’s evangelist and led worship services for the prisoners. Eventually, his wife pleaded with General George Washington and Captain and Mrs. Webb were finally allowed to return to England in 1778.
Back in England, Webb went to work preaching and raising money for chapels to house the growing crowds. Charles Wesley, the brother of John, did not know quite what to do with Captain Thomas Webb, but John Wesley did. Charles wrote his brother from Bristol, "Webb has much life and zeal, though far from being a clear or good preacher."
John replied from London, "He has been long enough with you; send him to me."
What the old soldier lacked in theological education and social sophistication, he more than compensated in focus. He lived the exhortation of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2: Enlist with us as an honorable soldier of Jesus Christ in this battle-hardened legion. No one fighting in a battle gives any consideration to civilian things; but strives to fulfill the commands of the one who has ordered him into battle.
He spent the last years of his life at Bristol, preaching in his home congregation, visiting Winchester during the war, where he preached to the French prisoners in their own language, and addressing large congregations of soldiers and sailors at Portsmouth.
Captain Thomas Webb was buried in Portland Heights Methodist Chapel in Bristol, England, on Christmas Eve 1796. In 1972 his remains were disinterred, he was found in full dress uniform, and green eye patch in place. He and his wife were reburied together at the New Room Chapel in Bristol.
Veterans, my message is not bout you. It shall be an invitation to you – not from me, though. I believe that we are called to follow Jesus Christ in the tradition of Captain Thomas Webb. We have something unique that the Church needs in this time and place.
There are many military characters and images in the New Testament and the early Church. Jesus points to a soldier as an example of faith. Soldiers were witnesses to the suffering Christ and the empty tomb. Paul encourages Christians to prepare for spiritual warfare. The early Christian faith spread rapidly in the Roman Army.
Veterans, the Church needs your experience in executing the mission Christ has given to us. Veterans, no matter in what decade you served, in peacetime or war, at home or overseas, active or reserve, Jesus Christ needs your experiences in His loving service of others.
Now don’t get me wrong. Congregations need to be organized and administered. We need to meet together to make decisions. I know Methodists do that necessary stuff very well. Sometimes I think our motto should be: “Methodists – saving the world one meeting at a time.”
Early in my ministry I came home after a meeting of the trustees of our little church. Lillian could tell something was wrong. “What happened?” she asked.
“You remember we were talking about building a handicapped ramp?” I sighed.
“Well, after some discussion the trustees approved building the ramp; but then they talked for an hour on what size nails to use. The conversation got so heated, that three of the trustees almost resigned.”
Veterans, you know how to get things done. When I was a twenty-two year-old lieutenant I knew how to build a ramp. I would call my platoon sergeant over. “Gunny, I want a handicapped ramp from there to there by 0800 tomorrow.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
No committee meeting. Decision and action.
Enlist an honorable soldier of Jesus Christ in this battle-hardened band of brothers and sisters. Jesus needs your veteran spirit – your endurance, your commitment, your dignity, your mission-focus, your ability to lead and follow, your discipline, your initiative, your judgment. You are invited to enlist. It is your choice.
I need to confess something. I enjoy reading Jane Austen novels and watching movies based on them – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and so on. I think in my old age I am becoming a middle school girl.
In one scene in Mansfield Park, a father is recalling his now grown son as a young boy. He remembers his son coming to him, “Father, give me a mission.” The father remembers how he would give his son something small, just to keep him busy; and the son would say, “No father, give me a worthy mission.”
Veterans, God invites you to a mission worthy of Jesus Christ Himself. God invites you to join Jesus in His work. Do you know what your mission is as a follower of Jesus? Several years ago I wrote my understanding of the mission I was assigned:
Introducing others to Jesus;
Helping others to mature in faith;
Relieving suffering in my community;
Encouraging healthy families and relationships.
If you choose to enlist, do not fear. You shall not be alone and you shall not be left behind. When you are wounded, others will carry you until you are ready to return to the fight. And as you accept the worthy mission, as you live it, you will discover that you shall have life that is abundant and eternal.
Veterans you are ordered into battle. Where is the battle? It is where Jesus is already at work.
We’ve all had times when we have felt like we have lost Jesus or lost our faith. If you can’t find Jesus in your life, you will find Him where He always is. Jesus is always where He is needed.
Where is Jesus needed in our community? He is needed in the schools, malls, neighborhoods, homes, families, and lives around us. Jesus is where the battle is.
“Run to the sound of the guns.” These instructions are originally attributed to Napoleon. This simple adage conveys some subtle and complex nuances. It implies boldness, aggressiveness, audacity, and decisiveness in the midst of the fog of war.
Don’t be misled. It is a battle – it is a battle for the souls of individual men and women, boys and girls. It is a battle for this community, for your neighborhood, for your family and friends, and for yourself.
A battle is never won by staying at home or in the barracks or by waiting or by running away from the sound of the guns. A battle is won by taking the fight to the enemy – advancing into the enemy lines.
At the time of Jesus, the Roman Army dominated the Mediterranean world. There was a tradition in that army. Every legion had a standard that was carried by a chosen soldier – the best of the legion – the standard bearer. Usually, in battle the standard bearer would stay next to the commander of the legion to mark his presence for the general.
If the battle was ever in doubt – if it appeared that the legion would be driven back – the commander would give the order: “Advance the Standard.” With that command, the standard bearer would move forward into the front line of his legion. He would shoulder his way through the swords, spears, and shields of his comrades, and into the ranks of the enemy.
The standard bearer would push his way as far as he could into the enemy’s lines. Soon, however, he would succumb to the numerous blows, and with his last bit of strength he would set the legion’s standard.
If we were there we would see a change in the legion. A single soldier would move forward, grasp the standard, and advance with it as far as he could, until he would be cut down. Then another would go forward, then another, and soon the entire legion was moving forward again.
The Church needs standard bearers who will advance the standard of Christ. If you choose to enlist in this band of brothers and sisters, if you will advance the standard of Christ, you shall be given a worthy mission.
Veterans, you have proven yourself with a hard mission once before. Here is your invitation:
You have a worthy mission to join Jesus in His work.
Ride to the sound of the guns; that is where you will find Jesus already at work; and that is where He wants you to be.
Advance the standard of Christ.
If not you and I, then who shall do it?
If not here, then where is Jesus at work?
If not now, then when is the time?
Thanks for visiting. Come back soon! Yours in Christ, John