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)

Demonstrations of the Spirit’s Power – Charles Finney

Antwerp, Jefferson County, NY in the 1800s

The result of Charles Finney’s encounters with the Holy Spirit are well documented: when he preached multitudes came to Christ.

The Apostle Paul talked about preaching with the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor 2:4). While we may be convinced that such demonstrations may differ from culture to culture, the following can certainly be understood as an example of a 19th Century American revivalism.

These events took place three years after Finney received his ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in 1824 in a packed school hall in Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York, and are recounted by him.

An ‘ungodly people’
‘While I was [preaching] I observed the people looked as if they were angry.  Many of the men were in their shirt sleeves and they looked at each other and at me, as if they were ready to pitch into me and chastise me for something on the spot…their anger arose higher and higher.

As soon as I had finished the narrative I turned upon them and said, that I understood that they had never had a religious meeting in that place; and that therefore I had a right to take it for granted, and was compelled to take it for granted, that they were an ungodly people.  I pressed that home upon them with more and more energy, with my heart full to bursting.’

‘The congregation began to fall from their seats’
‘I had not spoken to them in this strain of direct application, I should think more than a quarter of an hour, when all at once and awful solemnity seemed to settle down upon them; and a some thing flashed over the congregation – a kind of shimmering – as if there was some agitation in the atmosphere itself.

The congregation began to fall from their seats; and they fell in every direction, and cried for mercy.  If I had had a sword in each hand I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell.  Indeed nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate, I should think, in less than two minutes from this first shock that fell upon them.  Every one prayed for himself who was able to speak at all.  I, of course was obliged to stop preaching, for they no longer paid any attention.

I saw the old man who had invited me there to preach sitting about in the middle of the house, and looking around with utter amazement. I raised my voice almost to a scream to make him hear, and pointing to him said, ‘Can’t you pray?’…

‘You are not in Hell yet!’
I then spake as loud as I could, and tried to make them attend to me.  I said to them, “You are not in hell yet; and now let me direct you to Christ.”  For a few moments I tried to hold forth the Gospel to them; but scarcely any of them paid any attention.

My heart was so overflowing with joy at such a scene that I could hardly contain myself.  A little way from where I stood was an open fire-place. I recollect very well that my joy was so great, that I could not help laughing in a most spasmodic manner.

I knelt down and stuck my head into that fire-place and hung my pocket handkerchief over my head, lest they should see me laugh; for I was aware that they would not understand that it was irrepressible, holy joy that made me laugh. It was with much difficulty that I refrained from shouting, and giving glory to God.’

One by one Finney spoke to individuals, leading them to Christ. Years later he had the joy of receiving funding for his ministry from some of those converted in that very meeting.

More next time…

For the first part of the Finney story click here

From The Memoirs of Charles Finney—The Complete Restored Text Edited by G.M. Rosell and R.A.G. Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989) p.101-102

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Baptism in the Spirit part 1

Agostino Cerasi’s ‘Gamba Player’ (The Gamba was an earlier version of the Bass Viol Charles Finney would have played)

Spiritual Tranquillity
When the precocious legal apprentice Charles Finney was converted to Christianity in 1821 it was the fulfilment of a fairly rigourous intellectual inquiry. He was, therefore, surprised by the depth of emotion he experienced in its aftermath.

The initial feeling was one of a deep and steady peace. ‘The repose of my mind was unspeakably great…The thought of God was sweet to my mind, and the most profound spiritual tranquillity had taken full possession of me.’[i]

After returning from the woods, where he had finally surrendered his life to Christ, he went to the law office which was empty and began playing his Bass Viol. ‘But as soon as I began to play and sing those sacred words, I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid…I wondered at this and tried to suppress my tears, but could not.

I wondered what ailed me that I felt such a disposition to weep. After trying in vain to suppress my tears, I put up my instrument and stopped singing.’[ii]

Soon Finney’s boss arrived and they spent the afternoon moving books into another office.

‘After dinner we were engaged in removing our books and furniture to another office. We were very busy in this, and had but little conversation all the afternoon. There was a great sweetness and tenderness in my thoughts and feelings. Everything appeared to be going right, and nothing seemed to ruffle or disturb me in the least.

A desire to pray
Just before evening the thought took possession of my mind, that as soon as I was left alone in the new office, I would try to pray again…

Just at evening we got the books and furniture adjusted; and I made up, in an open fireplace, a good large fire, hoping to spend the evening alone. Just as it was dark Esq. Wright, seeing that everything was adjusted, bade me goodnight and went home.

I had accompanied him to the door; and as I closed the door and turned around, my heart seemed to be liquid within me. All my inward feelings seemed to rise and pour themselves out; and the impression on my mind was, “I want to pour my whole soul out to God.”

The rising of my soul was so great that I rushed into the room behind the front office, to pray. There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light.

Meeting Jesus, face to face
As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for sometime afterward, that it was wholly a mental state.

On the contrary it seemed to me that I met Him face to face, and saw him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet.

I have always since regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind; for it seemed that he stood before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance…

I must have continued in this state for a good while; but my mind was too much absorbed with the interview to recollect scarcely anything that I said.

But I know, as soon as my mind became calm enough to break off from the interview, I returned to the front office, and found that the fire that I had just made of large wood was nearly burned out.

The Holy Spirit descended upon me
But as I returned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without expecting it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, at a moment entirely unexpected by me, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul.’[iii]

Next time we’ll examine Finney’s detailed description of God’s power ‘pouring’ into him. You can read it here

For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] The Memoirs of Charles Finney, Ed. Rosell and Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989), p.22

[ii] ibid, p.22

[iii] ibid p.23

JC Ryle’s Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening, Part 3

JC Ryle, the 19th century Pastor, wrote extensively about the great heroes of the 18th century awakening in England.

We’ve been enjoying his frank observations on both the source of the problems and the means of revival that God used.

Ryle specifically lifts up the role and gift of the Evangelist as being the key to the breakthroughs that took place, and we will continue to be challenged by his analysis in this post.

1. The opposition experienced by the Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘At first people in high places affected to despise them. The men of letters sneered at them as fanatics…

‘The Church shut her doors on them…the ignorant mob persecuted them. But the movement of these few evangelists went on, and made itself felt in every part of the land.’ (p.23)

2. The Primary method for changing the cultural landscape of England was Preaching
‘The instrumentality by which the spiritual reformers of the last century carried on their operations was of the simplest description.

‘It was neither more nor less that the old apostolic weapon of preaching.

‘Beyond doubt, preaching was their favourite weapon. They wisely went back to first principles.’

3. The Evangelists preached everywhere.
‘If the pulpit was open to them they gladly availed themselves of it [but] they were equally ready to preach in a barn.

‘No place came amiss to them. In the field or by the road side, on the village green, or in a market place, in lanes, or in alleys, in cellars or in garrets, on a tub or on a table, on a bench or on a horse block, wherever hearers could be gathered [they] were ready to speak…They were instant in season and out of season…’ (p.24)

4. They preached simply
‘They rightly concluded that the very first qualification to be aimed at in a sermon is to be understood!

‘They saw clearly that thousands of able and well composed sermons are utterly useless because they are above the heads of the hearers.’

Ryle says they preached in a way that could be clearly and immediately understood: ‘To attain this they were not ashamed to crucify their style and sacrifice their reputation for learning.’  (p.24-25)

We’ll continue next time, to hear about the style of preaching which God used to turn England upside down in the 18th Century.

All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle’s Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening, Part 2

JC Ryle...with beard

Last time we took a brief look at Ryle’s analysis of the problem. Today we’re going to enjoy his description of how God turned things around.

What makes Ryle’s commentary so appealing is the fact that we can apply the same lessons to ourselves and trust God for major breakthrough in our various cities and nations.

1. Everyone was aware of a major change
Says Ryle: ‘That a great change for the better has come over England in the last hundred years is a fact which I suppose no well informed person would ever attempt to deny. You might as well attempt to deny that there was a Protestant Reformation in the days of Luther…’ (p.21)

2. Where the change didn’t come from
Not the Government: ‘The government of the country can lay no claim to the credit of the change.’
Not the Church of England: ‘Nor…from the Church of England as a body. The leaders of that venerable communion were utterly unequal to the times. Left to herself, the Church of England would probably have died of dignity…’
Not the ‘Free’ churches: ‘Nor…from the Dissenters. Content with their hard-won triumphs, that worthy body of men seemed to rest upon their oars.’ (p.22)

3. The change came through Evangelists
‘The men who wrought deliverance for us…were a few individuals…whose hearts God touched about the same time in various parts of the country.

‘They were not wealthy or highly connected. They were simply men whom God stirred up and brought out to do His work.

‘They did His work in the old apostolic way, by becoming the evangelists of their day.’(p.22)

4. The demeanour of these Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘They taught one set of truths. They taught them in the same way, with fire, reality, earnestness, as men fully convinced of what they taught.

‘They taught them in the same spirit, always loving, compassionate…even weeping, but always bold, unflinching and not fearing the face of man.

‘And they taught them on the same plan, always acting on the aggressive; not waiting for sinners to come to them, but going after, and seeking sinners; not sitting idle till sinners offered to repent, but assaulting the high places of ungodliness like men storming a breach…

‘The movement of these gallant evangelists shook England from one end to another.’ (p.23)

We’ll continue with Ryle’s observations next time…

All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website

To read the first post in this series go here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Piercing Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening p.1

JC Ryle on the 18th Century Awakening

JC Ryle

I am reluctant to pull away from the 18th century! Much more can be said and I need to get on to William Carey and the explosion of missionary activity in the 19th century.

So perhaps you will forgive me for rounding up a few thoughts and insights from British Pastor and popular 19th century author, JC Ryle. These insights can speak to us today and stir us to pray and work for the good of those around us.

All quotes are from Ryle’s excellent book, Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century, originally published as ‘The Christian Leaders of the Last Century, or England a Hundred Years Ago’ (references are to the Banner of Truth edition of 1978).

1. The Christian Faith was not influential
‘Christianity seemed to lie as on dead…There was darkness in high places and darkness in low places…a gross, thick, religious and moral darkness – a darkness that might be felt.’ (p.14)

2. The Church was ineffective
Describing both the Anglican Churches and the Free Churches he writes, ‘They existed, but they could hardly be said to have lived. They did nothing; they were sound asleep.’

‘Cold morality, or barren orthodoxy, formed the staple teaching both in church and chapel. Sermons everywhere were little better than miserable moral essays, utterly devoid of anything likely to awaken, convert or save souls.’ (p.14)

3. Church Leaders were distracted
Speaking of the Anglican clergy, Ryle doesn’t hold back: ‘The vast majority of them were sunk in worldliness, and neither knew nor cared anything about their profession…They hunted, they shot, they farmed, they swore, they drank, they gambled. They seemed determined to know everything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’

‘And when they did preach, their sermons were so unspeakable and indescribably bad, that it is comforting to reflect they were generally preached to empty benches.’ (p.17)

4. The People were sceptical of true Christian faith

‘The land was deluged with infidelity and scepticism. The prince of this world made good use of his opportunity.’ (p.15)

‘It may suffice it to say that duelling, adultery, fornication, gambling, swearing, Sabbath-breaking and drunkenness were hardly regarded as vices at all. They were the fashionable practices of people in the highest ranks of society, and no one was thought the worse of for indulging them.’ (p.18)

Told you he didn’t hold back! Next time we’ll hear Ryle on how things got turned around.

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Evangelistic Depression

18th Century Cartoon Mocking Evangelist George Whitefield

A broad overview of church history does give us a picture of the Church gaining ever-increasing strength and global relevance. Church History is encouraging!

But there are still major gaps in our knowledge of certain periods where it seems the gospel wasn’t having the kind of impact we’d desire or expect.

The Mission isn’t easy
And as you move in closer to specific periods, even periods marked with revivals, you soon see the challenges, the failures and the difficulties.

Great Evangelists like George Whitefield and John Wesley, who must rank as amongst the hardest working of Christian leaders, also had times of discouragement.

Whitefield is often quoted as saying that some of the converts ‘were like a rope of sand’. This statement, made at a time of disappointment with the numbers who had joined the Wesleyan societies, is usually taken out of context and used against Whitefield’s gospel message.

But he wasn’t saying that his gospel was ineffective, or that his Reformed theological position was evangelistically irrelevant. He was merely breathing out his disappointment at a particular time and place.

John Wesley also said much the same thing. Having spent so much time and effort in Newgate amongst the prisoners, he laments the lack of result and says, ‘I see no fruit of our labour!’ (Journal, Vol 2, p.89, Baker Edition)

Don’t give up!
Every believer who has sought to share the gospel with someone they care about knows the disappointment of non-response or negative response. This is part of the struggle we are in together.

Rather than become less evangelistic we should take courage that even the greatest Evangelists don’t see breakthrough all the time.

There’s work to be done. And if we truly believe we will reap what we sow, then we should be sowing much, much more than we are, and not give up prematurely.

Don’t give up. In the gospel of Jesus Christ you’ve got the greatest message ever given to humankind. Keep going.

‘Do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV)

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides