Your City is Probably Surprisingly like 19th Century London

Artist's depiction of a 19th Century London Pawnbroker's shop front.

Artist’s depiction of a 19th Century London Pawnbroker’s shop front. Booth was an apprentice pawnbroker in London.

At 19 William Booth moved to London. It was 1849. Like many others from the rural areas, he needed to find work.

His sister and her family lived in London, but her drunken husband would not allow Booth to stay with them for any length of time.

‘He arrived in London as a seeker of work, the son of a poor and struggling mother in the provinces, with no influence, with no money, and with no friends.’ [i]

He was alone in a very crowded city, where poverty and sickness were on every side. As had been the case in Nottingham, his own experiences of personal need combined with his compassionate observation of the needs of others, would shape his future ministry.

Booth’s biographer, Harold Begbie gives us a description of London that is both vivid and powerful.

And before we press on too much further with the story of The Salvation Army and how they began to actually sought to solve some of these problems, let’s read Begbie’s account with our own cities in mind.

While there clearly are differences, aren’t his descriptions of mid-nineteenth century London unnervingly familiar to those of us living in the great cities of the world today?

And don’t we need some present-day William and Catherine Booths to rise up? Don’t we need many more modern-day Salvation Armys to get to work and engage with the pressing issues of the major cities of the world?

London in 1849
‘It is difficult for the modern mind to conceive truly of the England of that period. Humanitarianism, which has become with us, if not a passion and a religion, at least good manners, was then regarded as the misguided hobby of a few fussy and mischief-making philanthropists…

Little concern was shown by the churches or the chapels for the bodies of men. No shame was felt for such a term as ‘Ragged Schools.’ There was no system of national education, factory legislation permitted children to work for ten hours a day, there was no real inspection of these insanitary places, no idea of housing reform, no provision for poverty but the execrable Poor-House.

Few agencies existed for ministering to the physical needs of the poor, the mental needs of the uneducated, the spiritual needs of the sunken masses, the most elemental needs of perishing children…

The phrase ‘social conscience’ had not been invented; men were satisfied with, accepted as a God ordained system of human government, a state of individualism which trod millions underfoot for the enrichment of tens.’ [ii]

Booth’s response began with the somewhat awkward method of simply standing up and preaching to crowds, if he could gather them. Although our specific methodology may differ according to our context, as followers of Christ, the passionate proclamation of the gospel of Christ must also be central – as central as it was for Booth and the early Salvation Army.

But I jump ahead. For now, take a closer look at your city, your town. How can you reach the majority of the residents there with the gospel?

What initiatives are in place in your city to tackle poverty, vice, greed, homelessness, violence?

Let us know!

More next time…

For the first post in the Salvation Army series click here

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:77

[ii]  HB 1:74

© 2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Zeal and Determination in the Life of Young William Booth

London in the 1870s

London in the 1870s

William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, was first and foremost an Evangelist; a preacher of the gospel.

He was famous for his untiring zeal. He described himself as red-hot and he wanted to reproduce red-hot evangelists, preaching the gospel and winning thousands to Christ. And it was this passion for evangelism that sustained his mission to serve the poor effectively (but more of that later).

Saved to Save!
Sarah Osborne (nee Butler), a close friend of the Booth family, gives this amazing description of him:

‘He was the most earnest and enthusiastic man I ever knew – he was really burning, really on fire to save souls. He used to say that we were saved to save. He could not stand people who said their souls were saved and who did nothing to save other people.’[i]

As a relatively new convert, he was determined to reach others with the good news he had found and began preaching in the streets and at small ‘cottage meetings’ in peoples homes.

Not Satisfied with a Few Responses and Positive Feedback
These early efforts did get some fruit but he was not satisfied.

He writes,

‘Oh, the stagnation into which I had settled down, the contentment of my mind with the love offered me at every turn by the people! I still aimed at the Salvation of the unconverted and the spiritual advance of my people, and still fought for these results. Indeed, I never fell below that.

And yet if the After-Meeting was well attended, and if one or two Penitents responded, I was content, and satisfied myself with that hackneyed excuse for so much unfruitful work, that I had ‘sown the seed.’ Having cast my bread on the waters, I persuaded myself that I must hope for its being found by and by.

But I heard of a Rev. Richard Poole who was moving about the country, and the stories told me of the results attending his services had aroused in me memories of the years gone by, when I thought little and cared less about the acceptability of my own performances, so long as I could drag the people from the jaws of Hell.

I resolved to go and hear him…When I had heard him preach from the text, ‘Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the salvation of God,’ and had observed the blessed results, I went to my own chamber – I remember that it was over a baker’s shop – and resolved that, regardless of man’s opinions, and my own gain or position, I would ever seek the one thing.

Whilst kneeling in that room, there came into my soul a fresh realisation of the greatness of the opportunity before me of leading men and women out of their miseries and their sin, and of my responsibility to go in for that with all my might.

In obedience to the heavenly vision, I made a consecration of the present and future, of all I had, and hoped to have, to the fulfilment of this mission, and I believe God accepted the offering.’[ii]

More next time…

For the first post in the Booth/Salvation Army series click here

© 2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

 

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:49

[ii] Quoted by George S Railton, General Booth, (St Albans: The Salvation Army Printing Works, 1912) p.39-40

The thing about Gandhi…a review

Gandhi, the controversial biography

Gandhi, the controversial biography

A Review, with quotes, of Jad Adams’ biography of the much-loved Mohandas Gandhi.

This biography of one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century is impossible to put down. It’s a fresh look at the man through his own writings and the testimony of those closest to him.

One aspect of the book, unsurprisingly, dominated the reviews: Gandhi’s risqué experiments in testing his own commitment to Brahmacharya (celibacy).  The claim is that the presence of the two young women who regularly slept in his bed was necessary in order to test that commitment and thus help preserve his spiritual power for the benefit of others.

Astonishing as that may sound, there’s much more to the book than that…

To read the review click here

© 2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Evangelism with William Booth, in his own words

Clothing for the poor, circa 1849

An illustration of clothes distribution to England’s poor, circa 1849


Although William Booth’s conversion experience was relatively undramatic the results were not.

During a message to young Salvation Army officers Booth stirred them to action by describing his own early adventures in evangelism:

Surprising Success
‘God…led me out to work for Him, after a fashion which, considering my youth and inexperience, must be pronounced remarkable. While recovering from [an] illness, which left me far from strong, I received a note from a companion, Will Sansom, asking me to make haste and get well again, and help him in a Mission he had started in a slum part of the town. No sooner was I able to get about than I gladly joined him.

The Meetings we held were very remarkable for those days. We used to take out a chair into the street, and one of us mounting it would give out a hymn, which we then sang with the help of, at the most, three or four people. Then I would talk to the people, and invite them to come with us to a Meeting in one of the houses.

Hard Work as a Volunteer
How I worked in those days! Remember that I was only an apprentice lad of fifteen or sixteen. I used to leave [work] at 7 o’clock, or soon after, and go visiting the sick, then these street Meetings, and afterwards to some Meeting in a cottage, where we would often get some one saved.

After the Meeting I would often go to see some dying person, arriving home about midnight to rest all I could before rising next morning in time to reach my place of business at 7 A.M. That was sharp exercise!

Mobile devotionals
How I can remember rushing along the streets during my forty minutes’ dinner-time, reading the Bible or C. G. Finney’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion as I went, careful, too, not to be a minute late.

And at this time I was far from strong physically; but full of difficulties as those days were, they were nevertheless wonderful seasons of blessing, and left pleasant memories that endure to this hour.

‘Slow down, young man!’
The leading men of the church to which I belonged were afraid I was going too fast, and gave me plenty of cautions, quaking and fearing at my every new departure; but none gave me a word of encouragement.

And yet the Society of which for those six apprentice years I was a faithful member, was literally my heaven on earth. Truly, I thought then there was one God, that John Wesley was His prophet, and that the Methodists were His special people.

The church was at the time, I believe, one thousand members strong. Much as I loved them, however, I mingled but little with them, and had time for but few of their great gatherings, having chosen the Meadow Platts as my parish, because my heart then as now went out after the poorest of the poor.

My conversion made me into a Preacher of the Gospel
Thus my conversion made me, in a moment, a preacher of the Gospel. The idea never dawned on me that any line was to be drawn between one who had nothing else to do but preach and a saved apprentice lad who only wanted ‘to spread through all the earth abroad,’…the fame of our Saviour.

No professionals – we are all soldiers in Christ’s mission
I have lived, thank God, to witness the separation between layman and cleric become more and more obscured, and to see Jesus Christ’s idea of changing in a moment ignorant fishermen into fishers of men nearer and nearer realisation.

But I had to battle for ten of the best years of my youth against the barriers the Churches set up to prevent this natural following of the Lamb wherever He leads.

Resisting clerical pretence
At that time they all but compelled those who wished to minister to the souls of men to speak in unnatural language and tones, and adopt habits of mind and life which so completely separated them from the crowd as to make them into a sort of princely caste, whom the masses of every clime outwardly reverenced and inwardly despised.

Lad though I was, a group of new Converts and other earnest souls soon gathered around me, and greater things seemed to be ahead…’[i]

For the next post, on William Booth’s amazing zeal click here

For the first post in the Booth series click here

©2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Quoted by George S Railton, General Booth, (St Albans: The Salvation Army Printing Works, 1912) p.16-18

William Booth’s Conversion and the Church’s resistance to the Poor

William Booth’s Conversion and the Church’s resistance to the Poor

Mother and Children, 1849

Mother and Children, 1849

While Booth was working in the ‘bondage of slavery’ as a pawnbroker’s apprentice in Nottingham, he gave his life to Christ.

Although many very dramatic conversions followed his preaching, Booth’s own conversion was fairly straightforward: sudden conviction of sin, repentance and faith in Christ, all in the space of an evening.

He had begun attending some Methodist meetings and, at about 11pm, walking home, he suddenly realised that he must surrender to the Christ the Methodists had been preaching so earnestly about.

The first evidence of his conversion was a confrontation with his stingy employer, Francis Eames. Eames, who sounds like a character right out of a Dickens novel, continued working his apprentices after midnight on Saturday into the early hours of Sunday morning (they were supposed to close at midnight).

The new convert immediately felt this was breaking the Sabbath and refused to work. He was sacked. However, Eames relented and soon restored his most reliable employee. But it was pitiable work.

First attempts at preaching
Booth now began to emulate his new-found hero, John Wesley. ‘There is one God’, he was later to say, tongue in cheek, ‘and John Wesley is His prophet!’ He knew instinctively that the gospel must be communicated urgently with those around him. He and a friend began preaching in the open air. He would stand on a barrel and preach to the two or three people who might listen, urging them to attend a nearby meeting.

Seeing a gang of men on their way to the pub, Booth called out to them, urging them to repent and stop wasting money on drink while their wives were waiting at home for them to bring food.

But he wasn’t merely scolding people for irresponsible behaviour, he was preaching Christ too. And when he began to get some converts from amongst the poor he found it difficult to convince them to come to church.

Finally, one Sunday, he would be resisted no longer and ushered a reluctant group of ragged-trousered followers into Broad Street Methodist Church. The effect was…well, awkward. The pastors may have had a commitment to evangelistic preaching, but they clearly weren’t ready to cross any cultural bridges to reach those around them who were poor.

Booth was called to a Deacon’s meeting at which he was told not to do that again. This probably wasn’t a huge surprise to him. He knew what Wesley could never have imagined: that the once revivalistic Methodist church in Nottingham had become respectable.[i]

For the next post in this series, on William Booth’s own early experiences in evangelism, click here

To read the first post in this series on The Salvation Army click here


[i] Much of the material here is found in Richard Collier’s excellent book, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana, 1968)

The Making of a Social Reformer

Nottingham in the 1800s

Nottingham in the 1800s

William Booth’s Rough Start

It could have gone so well. His father, Samuel Booth, had made some money, quite a lot of money, and then lost some money, quite a lot of money.

His business ventures and investments (as a nail manufacturer and then builder) rose and fell and then, early into his second marriage, they crashed beyond recovery.

Samuel and his first wife, Sarah, had enjoyed some prosperity, living in a large house in a village outside Nottingham. But it didn’t last. After Sarah’s death, and the death of their only child five years later, Booth Sr. had to scale down.

But first he remarried. It doesn’t appear to have been a happy match. He was already sliding steadily downhill towards hardship. William describes his father as obsessed with making money. His mother, Mary, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, was 16 years younger than Samuel and was 33 when they married.

The inevitable happened. They left the big house and moved to a relatively poor suburb of Nottingham, where William was born in April 1829.

William Booth was the only (surviving) boy of the family with one older sister and two younger sisters.

Their situation went from downsizing to considerable losses to outright ruin. Booth wrote, ‘bad times set in, heavy losses followed one on the heels of the other, making the early days a season of mortification and misery.’[i]

It would seem that both parents were somewhat ashamed of their situation, with few friends and few visitors to the family home.

There were brief moments of relief but Samuel was never able to lift his family to financial stability.

The exploitation of the poor - Behind a Pawnbroker's Counter

The vulnerability of the poor – Behind a Pawnbroker’s Counter

Out to work at 13

Although William had attended a good school, at the age of thirteen his father was no longer able to afford the school fees and he was sent to work as an apprentice to a pawnbroker. This experience of badly paid work, and particularly of seeing his employer profiting from the vulnerability of the poor had a profound effect on Booth.

He writes,

‘I had scarcely any income as an apprentice, and was so hard up when my father died, that I could do next to nothing to assist my dear mother and sisters, which was the cause of no little humiliation and grief.’

‘The system of apprenticeship in those days generally bound a lad for six or seven years. During this time he received little or no wages, and was required to slave from early morning to late evening upon the supposition that he was ‘being taught’ the business, which, if he had a good master, was probably true.

It was a severe but useful time of learning. My master was a Unitiarian – that is, he did not believe Christ was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, but only the best of teachers; yet so little had he learned of Him that his heaven consisted in making money, strutting around with his gay wife, and regaling himself with worldly amusements.

At nineteen, the weary years of my apprenticeship came to an end. I had done my six years’ service, and was heartily glad to be free from the humiliating bondage they had proved.

I tried hard to find some kind of labour that would give me more liberty to carry out the aggressive ideas which I had by this time come to entertain as to saving the lost; but I failed. For twelve months I waited. Those months were among the most desolate of my life. No one took the slightest interest in me.

Failing to find employment in Nottingham, I had to move away.’[ii]

For the next post, on Booth’s conversion and the church’s resistance to his early converts click here

For the first part in this series on The Salvation Army click here

© 2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:26

[ii] Quoted in George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1912) p.5-6

Introducing the Salvation Army

Introducing the Salvation Army

Salvation Army Fundraising

The Salvation Army fundraising for good causes

Today we see them, usually around Christmas, ringing a bell and calling for cash donations into red buckets.

In the US they’re a not-for-profit we trust. They’re doing good. Serving those in need.
In the UK they’re held in affection as a kind of mix between the St. John’s Ambulance men and a village fete brass band playing the kind of tunes we imagine were popular in the 1940s. They’re faithful, and part of us.

Kindly people all. They don’t seem to be at war.

It’s amazing how words can lose their meaning through familiarity. Because those two words Salvation and Army were a perfect description for one of the most committed and self-sacrificing forces of evangelisation in the late 19th century. And their influence continues.

In this upcoming series of posts your faith is going to be stirred, your compassion aroused and your desire to do something about poverty in your city will resolve itself, I hope, into action.

The Salvation Army Crest

The Salvation Army Crest

We’ll see:

-  how the passion of the leading Evangelist of the Methodist churches in Britain led to thousands of conversions

-  how a commitment to evangelism led to the formation of a church planting movement

-  how the power of the Holy Spirit lifted people from poverty to leadership in their communities

-  how those who were largely unreached by the established churches were gathered and mobilized for global mission

-  how unemployment, starvation and disease were tackled head-on by Christians refusing to accept the status quo

-  how the latest technologies and musical innovations were harnessed for gospel proclamation

-  how tough, unbelieving communities were reached through creative, sometimes downright crazy, attention-getting gospel initiatives

-  how persecution from both rich and poor that led to violence and even martyrdom couldn’t stop the relentless love of a genuinely missional community

-  how a movement that began among a few drunks and no-hopers who mocked the message and threw rotten eggs at the messenger spread right across the globe

This is the story of Christ amongst the poor. This is the story of mercy triumphing over judgement. This is the story of blood and fire.

This is the story of The Salvation Army.

© 2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog