Preaching To The Enemy.
     By Rev. Joshua Thomas
Preaching To The Enemy.
By Rev. Joshua Thomas.
VOL. 3 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 2001

The Rev. Joshua Thomas during the War of 1812 Taken from The Parson of the Islands, by Adam Wallace.

A little background is in order. During the War of 1812, the British had command of the Chesapeake Bay. Tangier Island, being a central island of that Bay, became their base of operations. A Methodist pastor on Tangier, the Rev. Joshua Thomas, took no little risk in preaching the Gospel to these enemy soldiers. Because he had shown himself a true soldier of the Cross, he was allowed to address the British soldiers before they sailed north to attack Baltimore. Something to keep in mind was that the British had been totally triumphant over the Americans thus far in the war. Washington, D.C. had been burned. There was certainly no reason for optimism as Britain's finest moved again to attack America's feeble forces. -The Editor One Methodist.


"Towards the close of summer, in the year 1814, we were made aware of some important movement among the forces encamped on the island. Preparations began both on shore and through the fleet in the harbor. Signals were exchanged, orders given, and all became bustle and activity.

"Some of the officers told me the cause of all this; they were going to take Baltimore. I told them they had better let it alone; they might be mistaken in their calculations; for the Baltimoreans would resist them, and would fight hard for their city and their homes.

"'Oh!' said they, 'we can take it easily.' I told them it was a dangerous undertaking, in my opinion, for I believed God would fight for the good people in that city, and aid them in defeating their enemies.

"Before they left Tangier, they sent me word to be ready to hold a public meeting, and exhort the soldiers, on the camp ground. I did not like to refuse, and yet I was very unwilling to perform this duty. I thought and prayed over the matter, and it came to me that I must stand up for Jesus as a good soldier, in the fight of faith; and as some of these men might be killed in the battle, and never have another opportunity of worship, that it was my duty and privilege to obey their order, and hold the meeting. It was arranged to be on the last Sunday they were in camp. Early that morning, the flags were hoisted, the drums beat, and every preparation was made for a full turn out.

"Boats were plying from the ships to the shore, and bands of music were playing on board.

"At the hour appointed, the soldiers were all drawn up in solid columns, about twelve thousand men, under the pines in the old camp ground, which formed the open space in the centre of their tents.

"I stood on a little platform erected at the end of the camp nearest the shore, all the men facing me with their hats off, and held by the right hand under the left arm. An officer stood on my right and one on my left, and sentries were stationed a little distance to the rear.

"As I looked around on my congregation, I never had such feelings in my life; but I felt determined to give them a faithful warning, even if those officers with their keen glittering swords, would cut me in pieces for speaking the truth.

"After singing and prayer, I began to feel better in mind, and more at liberty. Soon all fear and embarrassment were taken away from me, and I proceeded in my exhortation as freely as ever I did, in any place, or before any people.

"I told them in the commencement what caused war, and fighting among nations and men; what made this once good, happy world, so full of evil and misery as it now is; and what brings ruin on men, soul and body. Sin, I said, done all this; but 'It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.'

"I told them what kind of a sinner I was, and how He saved me from sin; also, many of my neighbors, and that He was 'able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by him.' I described some of the seasons of refreshing we had enjoyed in that spot, 'from the presence of the Lord,' and thanked them and their Admiral for the kindness they manifested to us; but I could not bid them God speed, in what I understood they were going to do.

"I warned them of the danger and distress they would bring upon themselves and others by going to Baltimore with the object they had in view. I told them of the great wickedness of war, and that God said, 'Thou shalt not kill!' If you do, he will judge you at the last day; or, before then, he will cause you to 'perish by the sword.'

"I told them it was given me from the Almighty that they could not take Baltimore, and would not succeed in their expedition.

"I exhorted them to prepare for death, for many of them would in all likelihood die soon, and I should see them no more till we met at the sound of the great trumpet before our final Judge."

The service concluded, many stepped up to the intrepid parson, and thanked him for his faithful warnings, and said they hoped it would not go so hard with them as he had foretold. He shook his head, and said he felt that many that day had received their last call.

In the bare outline of his exhortation which we have been enabled to lay before the reader, it will be discovered that he touched on many points of fundamental truth: the doctrine of the fall of man, the effects of sin, and the only name given under heaven among men whereby the consequences of this condition can be averted, and the sinner saved. At that period in his discourse, he took occasion, as usual with him, to tell his own experience, which we may well suppose was a simple and living illustration of the power and preciousness of saving faith.

Delicately he acknowledged their consideration and generosity to him and his people, and with unflinching fortitude held up before them the wickedness of that career in which they were all engaged. God's absolute command on the "mount that burned with fire," is hurled in among the ranks, and we can imagine the interesting exposition that was founded on the words: his description of scenery, as the "thunderings and lightnings" attested the dread presence, and fearfully indicated the majesty and might of the God of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob; whose word endureth for ever.

He appeals to the last judgement too, and draws a startling contrast between the "righteous saved, and wicked damned," and closes with a prayer that his strangely interested auditory may be dissuaded from sin, and find mercy at the cross.

The most remarkable thing about his address, however, was the steady persistence with which he predicted the defeat of their intended expedition to Baltimore. The army had hitherto met with but feeble resistance at any point up or down the Bay. Bladensburg had proved the weakness of our defence, Washington was a heap of smoking ruins, Alexandria capitulated without resistance, and now with concentrated force, the whole squadron pours its flushed and confident thousands on Baltimore.

Under these circumstances it might well be supposed that this city was doomed to destruction; yet in the face of all the probabilities of the case, Joshua Thomas expressed a conviction "that came to him" of the result, which subsequent events proved to be correct. Was this on his part a mere wish,---a whim, or peradventure? "You cannot take it!" he reiterated that day. Perhaps he remembered that thousands in that city were on their knees, morning, noon, and night, interceding with God! That some of his acquaintances from "Light Lane Meeting house," who had, by their success in prayer and labor at camp meeting there on that beach, displayed "power with God," were in the city, and formed its rampart and defence, in unseen agency with the Lord Jehovah! That Divine being was his strength and son, at all events, and had become his "salvation."

The proud fleet weighed anchor, and with pennants streaming, and decks bristling with the machinery of war, stood up the Bay, and left the anxious islanders awaiting the issue.

The booming of heavy ordnance was wafted o'er the waters day after day, and night after night--gun answering to gun, until silence told the people of Tangier that the fight was over. But was it gained or lost by the assailants? For tidings that might settle this question they waited with sleepless eagerness. Brother Thomas showed no concern, except for the slain in battle, of which he expected to hear. He says:

"When the battle was over, we saw them coming, and I went down to meet the first that landed. I felt great distress, for fear many of those I knew had been killed, and also lest some of our own people, (the citizens of Baltimore,) had met their death. My worst fears were far short of the reality!

"The first officers I met, I asked them if they had taken Baltimore? They looked at me and said, 'No, but hundreds of our brave men have been slain, and our best General is killed. It turned out just as you told us the Sunday before we left: we have had a bloody battle, and all the time we were fighting we thought of you, and what you told us. You seemed to be standing right before us, still warning us against our attempt to take Baltimore.'"

A few messages were conveyed to him, of a deeply affecting character. One sought him out, and informed him of a comrade who was mortally wounded at North Point, and who, before he breathed his last, said, "God bless Parson Thomas. He showed me the way to Christ and now, though I die, I hope for mercy and salvation through the name of Jesus, and expect to meet that good man in heaven."

A poor wounded grenadier returned, and in a conversation with the "Parson," said; "I never felt my sinfulness before god until that Sunday you preached to us; and while the bullets were flying, and my comrades falling on every hand, the other day, I cast myself on the merits of the Lamb of God, and now feel at peace."

Another told him he should carry the recollection of that exhortation home with him to England, and not forget it while he lived.

Thus was "bread cast upon the waters," and saving truth scattered over the wide seas, by a man whose only boast, was, that which we find marked and emphasized, in his well-thumbed hymn book, as the great motto of his religious life:

"Nothing less will I require,
Nothing more can I desire,
None but Christ to me be given,
None but Christ in earth or heaven.

O that I might now decrease!
O that al I am might cease!
Let me into nothing fall!
Let my Lord be all in all!"

After their protracted imprisonment, (for the island people were all this time prisoners of war,) the news of peace was joyful to them beyond all expression. They were among the very first on the continent to receive the welcome tidings. "In the month of January, 1815," says Brother Thomas, "we perceived a mighty stir in the camp one day; and witnessed signals flying, and great commotion on ships and shore. We could not tell what it meant for some time. By and by, one of the officers came riding up to my house as hard as he could gallop, crying out, 'Oh! Parson Thomas! Parson Thomas! there's peace! There's Peace!!' I inquired, 'How do you know?' 'Oh!' said he, 'yonder is the ship,' pointing down the bay to where a large vessel was seen coming up, 'and she has a white flag at her mast head. That signal means peace, and now we know the war is over!' I became as joyful as he appeared to be when I saw the white emblem, and heard the salutes fired, my heart leaped within me as the noble ship steered on to Washington, where the treaty of peace was soon after agreed to, and ratified by our President.

"The news flew, like lightning, over the United States, and everywhere there was great rejoicing."


The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, and heaven without hell. --Gen William Booth (1829-1912), Salvation Army founder

The editor, while agreeing with the content presented in this newsletter, does not necessarily endorse all of a writer's works, doctrines, etc. The editor is solely responsible for all mistakes.