Remembering a Legend |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES
One of the most powerful and moving evangelistic sermons I’ve ever heard was preached by Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr. Reflecting depth and breath, the sermon appealed to my head as well as to my heart. Had I not been a Seventh-day Adventist, I would have given my heart to Jesus that Sabbath morning. I went home not just enthralled but transformed as a result of the Christ-centered, Spirit-drenched exposition of the biblical message by Dr. Willis.
A legend is someone known for doing something reasonably, if not extremely well, and a legacy is something handed down from one generation to another. Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr. is a legend whose legacy will be enshrined in our hearts for years to come. And what is the legacy of this gallant warrior and soldier of the cross? His is a legacy of sacrifice, soul winning, stewardship, and solidarity. His is a legacy of unswerving commitment to Christ and selfless service to His church.
Like the Philip of the Early Christian Church, Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr. was an evangelist who was blessed with four prophesying daughters—and a preaching son for good measure. His wife was his lifelong partner in the home and in the church, in mission as well as in ministry. Indeed, their marriage was a ministry that instructed and inspired. Dr. Willis and his devoted wife Edith were the quintessential and consummate ministerial couple, a dynamic duo that God used to prove that marriages in this day and age may not just survive, but thrive.
In a time of ambivalence and uncertainty about the future of public evangelism, his was a clear, compelling voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Isa. 40:3; Mark 1:3). Uncompromising and unbending, Dr. Willis preached the everlasting gospel in the context of Rev. 14:6-12 with power and conviction, calling men and women to repentance and to Jesus Christ. Part of a vanishing genre of evangelists who apologetically proclaim the distinctive truths of Adventism, he preached as one who really believed that Jesus would come before he died. The tone of his voice reflected his passion and his energy in the pulpit was palpable.
For 27 years he battled the condition that ultimately felled him, the soldier in him refusing to succumb without a fight. He kept coming back, each time more determined to slog on. A man of prayer and devotion, he never failed to look to the hills, from whence his strength and help emanated (Psalm 121). He was sustained by a litany of miracles that provided convincing proof that God was on his side.
That one day soon he will hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” is beyond dispute (Matt. 25:23). He was a Christian soldier who died with his proverbial boots on. He successfully and admirably fleshed out several important roles with aplomb—husband, father, grandfather, preacher, pastor, evangelist, brother, and friend. He was a servant of God and a friend to humankind, a gentleman of decency and integrity who spoke his mind, and even when he disagreed with you he was never, ever disagreeable.
The Lake Region Conference joins me in honoring the memory and legacy of Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr., who served with devotion and distinction. He sleeps in Jesus, awaiting the call of the life giver. Paul affirms that “the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
R. Clifford Jones