Salvation Army Scraps (part one)
I’m surrounded by odds and ends. Details too important to leave out. I’m not so keen on very short posts (as you, dear reader, already know), and don’t want to split all this into bits. So here are some riveting, powerful, juicy scraps fallen from the table of the Salvation Army’s early history. Enjoy!
Was William Booth’s multi-site church the largest church in Victorian London?
Richard Collier writes, ‘One week-night London survey of this era  tallied almost 17000 worshipping in Army barracks, as against 11000 in ordinary churches.’ It’s certainly true that no-one gathered a larger crowd than CH Spurgeon with his dynamic evangelistic and Calvinistic preaching. He was seeing 5000 in each Sunday meeting, and much larger crowds at special events. But the Salvation Army were organised much like the multi-site churches of today, with a distinct leadership over the whole, but individual leaders breaking through into new territory across the city. If we consider a multi-site church as being the largest church in a town or city we may, perhaps, have to review our opinion that Spurgeon had the world’s largest church of the day. [i]
Booth on the Russian Revolution
‘The news of the Russian Revolutionary Upheaval, with its scenes of bloodshed and disorder, has upset me terribly…To what will it lead and where will it end? O my God, my God, what an awful suffering state this world has come to, notwithstanding all that has been done for it during the 2,000 years that have passed since Jesus Christ shed His Blood on its behalf! How feeble and powerless all our efforts have been. I was awfully depressed yesterday – but there is no alternative but to push on. If we cannot remove the mountains of misery we can move some of the little hills.’ [ii]
William Booth to Churchill: ‘You’re not converted!’
On meeting with Winston Churchill (then, Home Secretary) in 1910 where Booth had outlined the Salvation Army’s strategy for helping those in British prisons: ‘We parted in the most genial manner – Mr Chruchill saying with a smile, “Am I converted?” We had talked much about conversion from our standpoint.
“No,” I said, “I am afraid you are not converted, but I think you are convicted.”
He added something about my seeing what was in him. To which I replied, “What I am most concerned about it not what is in you at the present, but what I can see of the possibilities of the future.” [iii]
More next time!
[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.90
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2:213
[iii] ibid 2:299
As we bring our series of posts on the Salvation Army to a close (there may be one or two more), let’s hear from William Booth himself. This is a short clip where with great skill he brings the needs of those most disadvantaged to those most powerful in order to resource his mission. (3.02)
The following video includes footage of a Salvation Army ‘Open Air’ in 1904. (2.26)
The Salvation Army were committed to evangelism, but also developed ministries and even companies to help address social problems. Here’s s short clip about the Salvation Army’s Match Factory. (0.34)
Even towards the end of his life Booth continued personally evangelising and incorporating the most recent technologies to get the attention of those outside the churches. For many in Great Britain the first time they saw a car come through their town or village there was an old, bearded Moses-like figure standing in the back of it, preaching about Jesus Christ and how to get right with God. Here’s some footage. (2.26)
By the time Booth died the Salvation Army was one of the world’s most respected movements of social engagement. Below is a news reel showing how London came to a standstill for Booth’s funeral. (4.28)
Finally, a superb trailer for a new documentary about Booth. (1.10)
When Christianity begins to actually take hold – to decisively win the hearts of ordinary men and women – there is usually a violent backlash. Persecution is not something sensible Christians seek, but even the briefest glimpse of those times when the church has been very successful evangelistically will reveal the presence of a cultural kick-back.
The violent persecutions of the church by Diocletian in the early 4th Century, the martyrs before, during and after the Reformation period, the mobs that attacked Whitefield and Wesley, the persecution today of churches forced ‘underground’, are all examples of this phenomena. When the main body of a population begin to embrace Christianity in significant numbers there’s a reaction.
The same is true in the history of the Salvation Army. At first there were a few individuals throwing eggs and disrupting open air meetings, but soon there was an organised effort against the evangelists. The dreaded Skeleton Army, so called, violently attacked the Salvationists in order to stop them preaching the gospel. The assaults were persistent and extremely violent as the following accounts illustrate:
Arnold Begbie: ‘Perhaps the worst of the riots was that which occurred at Sheffield…when a Procession led by General and Mrs Booth was attacked by a numerous and savage multitude armed with sticks and stones. The procession arrived at its destination with bruised and bleeding faces, with ton and mud-bespattered garments, cheering the General who had passed unscathed through the rabble.
‘Now’s the time,’ he said, regarding his ragged, wounded and excited followers, ‘to get your photographs taken.’
Riots occurred at Bath, Guildford, Arbroath, Forfar, and many other places. In twelve months, it is recorded, 669 Salvationists, of whom 251 were women, were ‘knocked down, kicked, or brutally assaulted.’ Fifty-six buildings of The Army were stormed and partially wrecked. Eighty-six Salvationists, fifteen of them women, were thrown into prison. From one end of the kingdom to the other, this effort to break up The Army was carried on in a most shameless fashion under the very eyes of the law, the mob attacking the Salvationists, the police arresting the Salvationists, the magistrates sentencing the Salvationists.’[i]
Richard Collier: ‘But molestation wasn’t confined to the streets…At Plymouth, Devon, forty men armed with brimming chamber pots stormed the hall to drench James Dowdle, “The Saved Railway Guard,” with urine. Time and again meetings were closed down in wild confusion…Even 1,500 police doing extra duty every Sunday seemed powerless to protect Booth’s troops.
Neither age nor sex proved a barrier, for the mobs were out for blood. In Northampton, one blackguard tried to knife a passing lassie; Wolverhampton thugs flung lime in a Salvationist child’s eyes. At Hastings, Mrs. Susannah Beaty, one of Booth’s first converts on Mile End Waste, became The Army’s first martyr…Reeling under a fire of rocks and putrid fish, she was kicked deliberately in the womb and left for dead in a dark alley of the Old Town. [ii]
Humphrey Wallis: ‘No Salvationist defended himself or herself by physical force. Knocked down, kicked, struck, reviled, reported guilty of bestial behaviour, accused of blasphemy and unprintable acts in their Meetings, they took refuge in the reply, ‘God bless you,’ and in prayer for their assailants. Elijah [Cadman], who had been so ‘handy with the gloves,’ and experienced such rough handling that a few of his brother-Officers hinted he liked persecution, had never raised a finger for himself or Army protection. More than his share of mud, stones, dead rats, and cats found their billets on or around him. He led a march in the slums waving a stik with one hand, and carrying a dead rat by its tail in the other; he had caught the rat as it flew to its aim…A live cat was thrown at him. ‘The live one was worse than all the dead ones; for the live one, poor thing, hung on. People wondered why we carried those dead rats and cats with us. It did seem silly. But, don’t you see, if we had left ‘em where they fell the mob would have had ‘em again, and thrown ‘em at us again, and one swat in the eye per one dead rat is enough,’ said he.’ [iii]
Roy Hattersley: ‘Throughout England opposition to the Salvation Army was growing fast. The Skeleton Armies – founded in Exeter and Weston-super-Mare for the specific purpose of breaking up Salvation Army meetings – began to set up branches throughout the south of England. Although the Armies had no formal structure or high command, the groups that came together had four common features – the backing of the breweries, the sympathy of the magistrates, the conservative attitude of the local population and the relatively small size of the towns in which the ‘skeletons’ operated.
Without the breweries the Skeleton Armies would have been nothing. In one of his many angry memoranda to the Home Secretary, William Booth wrote:
In nearly every town where there has been any opposition we have been able to trace it more or less to the direct instigation and often the open leadership of either Brewers or Publicans or their EMPLOYEES. The plan adopted is by treating or otherwise inciting gangs of roughs.’ [iv]
[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2:2
[ii] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.94
[iii] Humphrey Wallis, The Happy Warrior (London: Salvationist Publishing, 1928), p.90
[iv] Roy Hattersley, Blood and Fire (London: Abacus, 2000), p.273
On the 22nd Nov 1891 Allister Smith and four Salvation Army volunteers arrived at the Amatikulu River in Natal. After several days of visiting peoples’ homes they organised a series of evangelistic meetings.
On the first night Smith preached the gospel and although they had decided not to make an appeal for responses after the first sermon, he couldn’t help himself, and asked, ‘Are there any here who will give themselves today to this God who gave His only Son to die for us?’
Immediately, a young Zulu warrior stood to his feet and declared, ‘I am willing!’ After he prayed with Smith and gave his life to the Lord he went back into the crowd and urged his best friend to do the same.
His name was Mbambo Matunjwa. In a relatively short time he became a respected young preacher of the gospel. Within a few years he was winning hundreds to Christ and was gradually promoted through the ranks of the Salvation Army until he became a Major.
Suffering in service and in war Matunjwa’s story is a deeply challenging one. His father was the chef to Prince Sitegu, and experienced both the favour and the dangers of serving in the royal court. After a sickness had swept through the royal family a sangoma was called in to determine if any foul play had taken place. The cause was determined to be malicious and four of Matunjwa’s family were slaughtered as a result of the sangoma’s finding. He wrote, ‘This is my earliest recollection – seeing my relatives lying on the ground, clubbed and pierced to death, their gaping wounds crying for vengeance.’ Later, his parents, both spared, became sangomas, and Mbambo became a skilled warrior, part of a resistance that almost wiped out the British 24th Regiment in 1879. During the civil war that followed, Matunjwa was wounded in battle, being speared through with an assegai. He said it felt like a fire passing through his body.
Matunjwa survived the wound, married, and at the first evangelistic gathering of the Salvation Army described above, he responded and gave his life to Christ.
A tragic blow He was so successful at planting churches that he was moved to a region further north. However, soon after the move he and his wife encountered the shocking loss of both their sons in quick succession. The younger boy died from natural causes and the elder son from what was strongly suspected to be food poisoning.
They were heartbroken. After their initial successes in evangelism this was an almost insurmountable blow. Nevertheless Matunjwa continued preaching and continued to see fellow Zulus responding to the gospel.
Forgiveness, pure, perfect, radical forgiveness On one occasion after he’d finished his message, he made an appeal for those who wanted to repent to do so by coming forward. A young man came forward and asked to speak with him privately. He confessed that he was a sinner and needed forgiveness and asked Christ into his life. Matunjwa urged upon him the truth that God does indeed forgive sin.
But then, to his horror, the young man confessed that he had been the one who had deliberately poisoned the preacher’s son. He begged to be forgiven. Matunjwa turned away in agony. With a heart aching with sorrow, yet knowing the reality of God’s grace, he turned to face the young man and offered to forgive him.
It didn’t end there. With a maturity that challenges all our impulses toward revenge, Matunjwa decided to begin a discipling relationship with the young man, teaching him the basics of living the Christian life.
Matunjwa’s wife, Nomalanga, also had to face the reality of both the discovery of her child’s murderer and the forgiveness her husband had offered him. And – astonishing though this may sound – this godly couple invited the young man to live with them in their home, effectively adopting him as their own son.
He went on to become an effective gospel preacher, and, like his adoptive parents, also served in the Salvation Army.
I have no more words.
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
‘While we have been standing upon our dignity, whole generations have gone to hell.’ Catherine Booth (1880)
These words penned by Catherine Booth over a hundred and thirty years ago, echo through the halls of time and rock our sense of complacency and self-satisfaction.
The co-founder of The Salvation Army, a slight woman of 5.6” with fiery eyes and dark hair, might have appeared weak and inferior to the untrained eye, but within her beat a heart of passionate love for the lost that forged her life’s choices from childhood until her untimely death at the age of sixty-one.
Her children knew her as mother and warrior: one who darned socks at the fireplace while, at the same time, preparing a sermon that she was to preach later that week. Her husband William cherished her as both wife and teammate in the daily war waged for the souls of men and women. In a world where women were considered more ornament than orator, this Woman-Warrior stood firm on the spiritual battleground representing both the ‘fairer sex’ and the ‘fighting soldier’.
Perhaps some of her seminal writings can be found in Aggressive Christianity.[i] This compilation of The Army Mother’s sermons became the missional pulse that propelled the early Salvation Army into the dark streets and dirty alleys of the East End of London and across the seas into countries around the world.
The writings of Catherine Booth should come with a warning to all would be readers: CAUTION: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
With the focused logic of a lawyer, Mrs. Booth laid out the foundations for Christian ‘warfare’.
Our warfare must be Aggressive Booth describes a burning building. A family is asleep within the consuming flames and their death is imminent. How would we go about rescuing them? Would we quietly invite them to exit the burning building? Would we give them a choice and if they do not respond, say ‘Oh well, I’ve done my duty’? Or would we rush through the flames, forcibly wake them from slumber and pull them out of the fire? This, she asserts, is ‘aggressive warfare’.
Too often Christians have allowed themselves to become compromised. The world has convinced us that not all sin is sin; that being inclusive is more important than being holy. Others begin to set the standard of Christlikeness and very soon God’s standards are forgotten.
Similarly, she asserts, Christians allow themselves to become complacent. Our love for the lost gradually diminishes while our expectation of personal comfort increases. We begin to believe that the desire for salvation is the responsibility of the sinner and excuse ourselves of the responsibility to speak up.
Compromise and complacency are the silent killers of aggressive warfare.
‘Don’t let your relatives, and friends, and acquaintances die, and their blood be found on your skirts!!!!’
Our warfare must be Adaptive ‘There is no improving the future, without disturbing the present, and the difficulty is to get people to be willing to be disturbed.’
Here the analogy Booth uses is a cup, representing the methods we often engage to share the gospel. The water poured into the cup represents the pure gospel, the life-giving refreshment from God.
She contends that too often we are more concerned with the shape, colour and size of the cup than we are the purity of the water being poured. We can become rigidly committed to ‘form and ceremony’ while being oblivious to the fact that, in our determination to stay in the rut of ‘we have always done it this way’, we may be compromising the purity of the gospel.
Again Booth calls us out of our routines, our personal preferences, and comfort zones with these words: ‘Here is the principle laid down, that you are to adapt your measures to the necessity of the people to whom you minister; you are to take the Gospel to them in such modes and habitudes of thought and expression and circumstances, as will gain for it from them a hearing.’
Our warfare must be Anointed The third analogy that the Army Mother employs is that of a witness in a courtroom. She reminds her readers that God needs witnesses who will stand up for Him – people who can honestly say: ‘Look at me: – the way I live and act – what I am – this is the religion of Jesus Christ.’
She goes on to state that there are four qualifications of a consistent witness for Jesus:
– The witness must be good – someone whose character matches their words.
– The witness must be faithful – someone who personally knows the truth and is willing to tell the whole truth; the convicting and healing truth of the gospel.
– The witness must be reliable – someone who is willing personally to go to those who need to hear the message; someone who accepts personal responsibility rather than merely sponsoring others to go.
– The witness must be courageous – like Daniel who was not ashamed or afraid of the consequences for his devotion to the Lord. A good witness must be willing to speak out for God whatever the cost.
Catherine sums up her thoughts with this rhetorical and yet profound question:
‘What is [the world] dying for? – downright, straightforward, honest, loving, earnest testimony about what God can do for souls. That is what it wants.’
The challenge issued by Catherine Booth to her generation is as relevant and challenging today as it was then. Such a challenge is seldom easy to swallow.
PURITY of heart is required as we seek to set aside complacency and root out compromise in our lives.
PASSION is needed to courageously disturb the present and improve the future.
Holy Spirit POWER must be sought after if believers are to be consistent and effective witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Is this PURITY, POWER and PASSION evident in your life?
Co-Director of Salvation Factory
The Salvation Army, USA Eastern Territory
[i] All quotes in this post are from Catherine Booth, Aggressive Christianity, (1986 edition, USA: The Salvation Army, ISBN: 0-86544-031-X)
There were many outstanding features of the Salvation Army that challenge every church-planter and church-planting movement:
Firstly, they were unashamedly committed to preaching the gospel, as raw, as clear, as directly as possible. They preached for conversion. They preached repentance and faith in Christ in language that was easily understood.
Secondly, they were obsessively active in each of their locations. They wouldn’t accept a place as being ‘hard’ or ‘resistant’. They developed techniques that attracted people to the gospel message; whether musical or theatrical, even gimmicky. They were determined to get a hearing amongst those in their respective mission fields.
Thirdly, they were not afraid of reaching the poorest, and those who might be considered ‘forsaken’ by society at large. This evangelistic impulse led to an incredible number of social ministries for which the Salvation Army today is largely known.
Fourthly, they trained huge numbers of very young leaders and sent them into new areas to open Salvation Army ‘Corps’.
Fifthly, their prayer meetings, and even their Sunday meetings were marked by spiritual power. They were dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit and didn’t shy away from what may appear to outsiders as overt displays of emotion.
Phenomenal Growth As a result of these (and other) factors, the Salvation Army grew at a phenomenal rate.
Norris Magnuson writes,
William Booth commanded fewer than 100 British Isles stations in 1878, but two decades later his world-wide organization numbered about 3500 posts, and by 1904 there were more than 7000. Though the founder died in 1912, rapid growth continued; 4600 new corps came into being during the thirteen years immediately following his death. This long-term expansion drew repeated praise from such leaders of American social Christianity as Josiah Strong and Charles Stetzle. The former, writing in the early 1890s, declared that the Army’s ‘amazing success,’ which would have been ‘phenomenal in any class of society,’ was in fact more amazing because it had occurred among those whom the churches had ‘conspicuously failed to reach.’
Throughout the era before World War I, neither William Booth nor his Army lost the fervor for evangelism that had driven the founder into the slums of East London. If anything, it increased across the years. ‘Souls! Souls! Souls!’ was the headline in one issue of the War Cry, and those words and spirit were everywhere in evidence. George Railton, in an article written during his brief foray in America, declared that ‘this willingness to sever ourselves, if needs be, from the whole world, in order to save somebody,’ to ‘plunge down to the very depths of human contempt,’ was ‘the essence of the life of Jesus Christ.’ [i]
As I read such reports from the Christianity of yesterday, I am convinced I should be, by the grace of God, doing more to serve others today.
How about you?
To read the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
The Secret History of the Salvation Army (part three)
It is well known that John Wesley and George Whitefield attended an all-night prayer meeting during which the Holy Spirit was poured out in such power that several men fell to the ground. They were overwhelmed by the power of God. They were filled with the Spirit. And then 1739 happened.
It’s not as well known that the early Salvation Army experienced very similar outpourings of the Spirit.
Sanctifying Power The Salvationists were taken with the theology of the Wesleyans, that a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit after conversion imparts a degree of spiritual holiness. Different views exist on that point. Nevertheless, what is undeniable is that they were indeed receiving power to witness, and that their witness for Christ spread rapidly throughout Great Britain, and before long, the world.
One all-night prayer meeting is described in The Happy Warrior, Humphrey Wallis’s biography of Elijah Cadman:
At one o’clock in the morning the Holy Sprit came upon us, and suddenly thirty fell down and cried out to God for the Blessing of a Clean Heart. Some lay as though they were dead for a time. Oh, may God give us more and more of His Sanctifying Power, the complete armour for the people of The Salvation Army.’[i]
Glory Fits Obviously during the Victorian period, as in all others, people had distressing seizures which were popularly referred to as ‘fits’. Medical professionals were called upon to diagnose and treat the patients. These were, of course, distressing. When the primarily working class Salvationists began to be overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit in their meetings, they, rather endearingly and humorously, referred to these spiritual experiences as ‘glory fits’.
A gathering characterised by such experiences was also sometimes referred to as a ‘Hallelujah Wind-up’ because the atmosphere became so intense until release came through shouting, loud praying, singing, or by people running or jumping up and down (If you’re not sure about the phrase ‘wind-up’, which is still in use today, it refers to the tension created by winding up a watch or clock until almost at breaking point. Nowadays, it tends to refer to something that is increasingly irritating).
This was the hour when the phenomena characterizing the…first years of The Salvation Army – phenomena that has never wholly vanished – reappeared in a more extensive manner.
The course of the regular Meetings bean to be interrupted by Salvationists falling into ‘Glory Fits.’ In one of Elijah’s Meetings at Bradford ‘about a hundred persons were in ‘Glory Fits.’ Soldiers came up to Officers to say, “I don’t believe in this,” and while speaking fell under the strange manifestation of the Divine Presence.’
The ‘Glory Fits’ were ecstasies during which the individuals affected were insensible, usually silent, and remained thus for one, or many hours. All ages and both sexes were included in the cases. The prostrations were commoner in Holiness services and nights of prayer. Medical and other means devised to control or restrict the symptoms were useless. The condition was not contagious or always recurrent. Those beside or near a Salvationist experiencing the ecstasy were not similarly moved or sympathetic, and those who had been once in the state were often immune from a repetition.
People fell suddenly where they stood or sat, many crying out, as with a last breath, ‘Glory to God!’ On returning to consciousness, no coherent account was given of what had taken place. A few described their withdrawal from material sense as ‘bliss’, ‘great happiness’, ‘like Paradise’, ‘walking into Heaven in a rainbow’, ‘joy the body was unable to bear’, and a ‘sense of the love and glory of Christ’.
Said Elijah: ‘I have seen them lying about all over the platform and Hall, but never once in an unseemly posture. Their bodies were, as a rule, quite stiff. We had our own people carry them out of the Meeting – that was the strict regulation – and take every precaution for them. Men carried men and women carried women. They were placed in different ante-rooms adjoining the Halls, and several elderly, trusted Soldiers of the same sex left in charge till they recovered. Frequently doctors attended them. None ever became indisposed, ill, or died. It was often the most peaceful and composed of our people who were affected. There were never, in my experience of the “Glory Fits” any warning signs. A Meeting might be ‘hard’, that is, very difficult to pray in and to get others to pray; a lot of sinners making trouble, perhaps, and then, in an instant, the Power of God would descend on us, sinners be hushed into awe, and be overcome by the sense of His Majesty and His Love, through His Son, to us all, and all the world.
Sometimes we leaders would beseech Him to withhold His gift, that the people might not be alarmed, and that those in ignorance of Him might be prevented from sinning by spreading false reports.
I have led Meetings where the Holy Spirit was manifest in such power that half the soldiers present were in “Glory Fits” and I had to cling, nearly helpless, to the platform rail, lifting my heart and crying inwardly all the time to God to shepherd my people. Conversions always took place in such Meetings.’[ii]
Knowing history can help us evaluate contemporary experience
I recently heard a pastor ridiculing similar experiences of the Holy Spirit because he observed it merely left believers feeling loved and not empowered for fruitful mission. Love is important, of course, but let’s not rubbish outpourings of the Spirit because some (and even some leaders) fail to emphasise the missional purpose of such outpourings. The evidence of the early Methodists and the early Salvationists suggests such outpourings were the dynamic cause of their missional work.
More next time…
For the first post in the Salvation Army Series click here To see part one of the ‘secret history’ click here
I’m currently busy writing a Good Friday service for a Christian congregation in Cape Town’s central business district. The service will include a string quartet playing five short but beautiful classical pieces (including Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Massenet’s Meditation from Thais), and a selection of poetry by Eliot, Phillis Wheatley, Gerard Manley Hopkins and others.
As part of my preparation I’ve been reading Harold Bloom and Jesse Zuba’s American Religious Poems (a title my wife struggled to believe was real. ‘Didn’t they want to sell any?’ etc).
Still very much in the early section of the anthology, where the quality isn’t consistently high, I came across a little gem that struck me as very clever and remarkably disciplined.
John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams? Now, was he a President or a leader in the Revolutionary War? I couldn’t quite recall (the American revolution never having been a substantive part of a British education). It was his dad, John Adams, the first vice-President (to Washington) and the second President of the US, who was the philosophical revolutionary. Both father and son were intellectuals, both Harvard graduates, and both men of prayer. In fact, when John Adams took up residence in the White House, writing to his wife, he says, ‘Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.’[i]
Son was to follow father to the White House several years later, but John Quincy did not enjoy his four-year term. He was something of an eccentric, known for bathing naked in the Potomac River[ii], highly disciplined, a bit grumpy, but he began every day by reading his Bible. And he wrote many poems and hymns.
This poem is his adaptation of Psalm 139.
O Lord, thy all-discerning eyes O Lord, thy all-discerning eyes
My inmost purpose see;
My deeds, my words, my thoughts, arise
Alike disclosed to thee:
My sitting down, my rising up,
Broad noon, and deepest night,
My path, my pillow, and my cup,
Are open to Thy sight.
Before, behind, I meet thine eye,
And feel thy heavy hand:
Such knowledge is for me too high,
To reach or understand:
What of thy wonders can I know?
What of thy purpose see?
Where from thy Spirit shall I go?
Where from thy presence flee?
If I ascend to heaven on high,
Or make my bed in hell;
Or take the morning’s wings, and fly
O’er ocean’s bounds to dwell;
Or seek, from thee, a hiding place
Amid the gloom of night—
Alike to thee are time and space,
The darkness and the light.
When Adams’ wife heard that their pastor was preparing a hymn-book for use in the congregation she showed him Adams’ adaptations of the psalms and, to his delight, some were included.
The former president couldn’t hide his joy and wrote, ‘Mr. Lunt preached this morning, Eccles. III, 1. For everything there is a season. He had given out as the first hymn to be sung [from] the Christian Psalter, his compilation and the hymn-book now used in our church. It was my version of the 65th Psalm; and no words can express the sensations with which I heard it sung. Were it possible to compress into one pulsation of the heart the pleasure which, in the whole period of my life, I have enjoyed in praise from the lips of mortal man, it would not weigh a straw to balance the ecstasy of delight which streamed from my eyes as the organ pealed and the choir of voices sung the praise of Almighty God from the soul of David, adapted to my native tongue by me.’[iii]
I’m not sure why I am surprised to discover that those who are, or who have been, in public office should spend quality time creating verse, but it is a practice worth commending.
An adventure in the world’s most beautiful city.[i] In November 1875 three individuals met for prayer in Long Street, Cape Town. They wanted to start a church.
After getting some advice they wrote to CH Spurgeon in London, who had begun a Pastor’s training college, and asked if he could send someone to lead the church-planting initiative. Spurgeon responded warmly and selected William Hamilton.
Hamilton was clearly a leader amongst his peers and committed to evangelism. It was said of him, a ‘harmony between Calvinistic theology, evangelical activism, and Christian piety was a characteristic feature of Mr Hamilton’s ministry.’
On the basis of this faith-filled request from just three Christians, Hamilton got organised and set sail from London.
The first Baptists had arrived in 1820 and had begun congregations in Grahamstown and other places. William Hamilton’s arrival represented a possible breakthrough in Cape Town itself.
Three months at sea After a three-month voyage, he arrived in Cape Town in November 1876 (a full year after Spurgeon received the letter of request). It’s difficult to imagine what a three-month journey by ship must have been like. Today, as we consider missionary travels in the 19th century, we probably ought to be a little more gracious at the occasional forty-minute delay before our 12 hour flights from Cape Town to Europe.
Hamilton held a meeting on the 12th November in the Temperance Hall, Long Street which gathered 60 curious people.
The church was constituted on the 19th November 1876 when just nine people agreed to become members by signing this covenant statement:
‘We do hold that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be our only rule of faith and guidance. The Scriptures teach the doctrines of the Trinity, man’s fall, redemption by the substitution of the Son of God, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit; the final judgement of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; the eternal reward of the righteous and eternal punishment of the wicked. While God, in His sovereign mercy, can call whom he will, the world is invited to embrace the Gospel. The Church of Christ, as set forth in the New Testament, is composed of those who trust alone to Christ for salvation, profess His name before the world, and obey the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We shall endeavour to the utmost of our ability to further the cause of God among us by fervent prayer, diligent attendance on the means of grace, pecuniary assistance in support of the Ministry, and by trying to get others to attend the house of God.’
Soon the church grew and Hamilton was formally appointed as Pastor.
Regular prayer meetings were held in a ‘portrait saloon’ in Caledon St, and Sunday services were started in the Oddfellows’ Hall in Plein Street.
Fruitfulness in evangelism
Hamilton’s evangelistic zeal bore much fruit in Cape Town. Twenty-six conversions were reported as having taken place at one evening meeting.
After a few years the church had grown to such an extent that they were able to build their first church facility. The site they chose was in Wale Street. The construction of the building took a while but was finally completed in 1882. I had discovered this building before relocating to Cape Town in my copy of Spurgeon’s The Sword and the Trowel.
Here is Spurgeon’s announcement of the completion of the Wale Street building:
The text, written by Spurgeon, reads: ‘Most of our readers must be familiar with the story of Mr. Hamilton’s work in Cape Town; for our pages have often contained notices of his self-denying and arduous labours. Leaving the Pastors’ College in 1876, he accepted an invitation from a small company of baptized believers, who desired to form a church upon what they considered the principles of the New Testament. For some years, in various halls and with varying success, the work was prosecuted with great vigour; and at last on March 9th, 1882, the pastor had the inexpressible delight of preaching in the new chapel, of which an engraving is given above.’
Spurgeon later said of Hamilton, ‘He has accomplished marvels, and has often made our heart to sing for joy.’ [ii]
It was also said of him, ‘He was quite something new in the religious world of the Cape. He was unconventional both in dress and manner, and of boundless zeal and energy. He got quickly to work, and found quite a number of people interested in his mission.’ [iii]
Hamilton not only preached in the city centre but also in the suburbs.
As I searched in the National Archives, at the National Library, and online not only did I discover Hamilton’s amazing story, but also that it was his preaching that led to formation of Wynberg Baptist Church. That was of particular interest because in 1983 a number of idealistic young people from Wynberg Baptist Church launched out and began what was to become Jubilee Community Church.
So, in a very real sense – in a manner where you can trace a direct connection – the roots of both Jubilee Community Church and Cape Town Baptist Church go back to the pioneer evangelist William Hamilton.
The congregation outgrew the Wale Street building and, in the middle of the last century, moved to a site that stretches between Kloof and Orange Street where they enjoyed decades of fruitful ministry until falling somewhat into decline. The pastor and congregation reached out to the leadership of Jubilee to see if we could join hands and enter a new season of revitalisation and growth. Amazingly, the collaboration has worked and has become a story of unity, peace and strength which we trust will benefit the city.
The continuity of our history, the strength of two churches coming, as it were, back together; of 140 years of faithful prayer and evangelism, should give us an awareness of the faithfulness of God, and a momentum that is from God. The strong encouragements we have received from former members of the two Baptist congregations that met on this site have been overwhelming. The present congregation feels as though we are being carried by generations of prayers, of faith, of giving, of longing.
We are not merely having a go at something in the city-centre. God is at work!
This is a new beginning. We are trusting God to enable us to renovate the larger auditorium space and grow beyond our current 180-200 or so up to a significant size that will be a blessing to the city and a testimony to God’s grace.
Spurgeon wrote to Hamilton several times. As far as we know, no letter has been preserved (one letter from Spurgeon was stolen from the church minutes). But I discovered a line from one of Spurgeon’s letters to Hamilton which simply said, ‘My heart is thoroughly with your work.’
God Gives Growth
This is not a story about dead heroes. Paul reminds us that one plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3). And it’s God who has preserved this city-centre space for the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, on the 19th November 2016 – the 140th anniversary – we gave thanks, because we’re not only part of a current expression of the church in Cape Town, we’re also joining with one hundred and forty years of history in our city, and we’re joyfully aligning ourselves with the faithfulness of a gracious God.
I’m about to move my office out of a suburb of Cape Town into the city centre. It’s an exciting time. We’re launching a congregation of Jubilee Community Church in the heart of Cape Town and we’re ready to go!
There has been, in recent years, a much-needed focus on cities. Christians have been moving steadily away from the city centres and into the suburbs, often leaving the city without a strong witness.
Yet, we’re told, that the creative culture-making heartbeat (the heart that sends its influence to the rest of our culture) is right back in the place the believers left. If we reach the cities (so the argument goes) there will be a ‘trickle down’ effect that will effect the rest of society.
Small Town Jesus by Donnie Griggs is a robust response. Griggs, who pastors a large church in Morehead City, North Carolina (a town of about nine thousand) raises a banner for the myriad of small towns that may, therefore, seem less significant.
While not denying the importance of cities, he makes a plea for the importance of mission to smaller towns. He speaks from his own experience of being known and getting to know the folk in Morehead, while seeking to build a church that cares for its community and is engaged in a wider mission.
Now, why would I spend time reading a book devoted to mission in small towns when I am about to relocate my work space into the heart of the world’s most beautiful city (I could easily support that assertion with sources, but it’s just a fact).
And – I’ll go further – why am I recommending this book to you, whatever size town you’re in, but especially if you live in a city?
Being a Good Local Simply for this reason: that I have realised, both as I’ve been traveling into the city regularly over the last year, and as I’ve read Donnie’s book, that, in my section of the city centre, I need to become a local.
That’s not something we tend to think of in our cities. We have the dubious luxury of being anonymous much of the time. We expect speed. We expect quality. If something’s not good we complain. And we complain properly. We’ll put a bad review online. We’re helping raise standards by complaining. Griggs has a technical term for this that’s worth remembering. It is called ‘being a jerk’. Hmm. Maybe it’s time to change.
Here are a few pointers Griggs gives for being a good local in a small town. I want to encourage you to take these on board in your locality especially if you’re in the city centre. And feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below. Let’s learn from each other.
Your reputation matters in a small town Things are really close in a village or town. Yet, in the city, you can also develop a different kind of reputation by deliberately seeking to serve those around your work space. Be different from those who rush by. Do good in the city. Be honest. Build a good reputation by being consistently compassionate.
Learn to Enjoy Small Talk In the city, people are often in a rush. But people are also incredibly lonely. Slow down and look around. You’ll see lots of people who are alone and who would benefit from your friendship. Cape Town is not a European city. It is an African city with a lot of Europe in it. People are very open to making connections. There’s a warmth that you sometimes don’t feel in a European city. Griggs writes, that ‘always acting like you have somewhere better to be will eventually lead to unnecessarily offending’ people. That’s good for your city too, even if the rush is tolerated.
Shop Local as much as possible He writes, ‘I would encourage you to see shopping local as an opportunity to become a good local.’ Whether it’s caterers, lunchtime appointments in the city, printing, or just where you regularly purchase coffee or church refreshments, I want the businesses in my section of Cape Town to know we’re part of the neighbourhood. We’re buying local and eating local because we are local. Griggs talks a lot about loving local food and then there’s a whole section about soft-shell crabs. Normally you’d expect an editor’s intervention but these guys in Morehead City love their soft-shell crabs.
Don’t be a Jerk (It’s worth mentioning again) He prefaces this section helpfully by noting, ‘I’m not saying that everyone who lives in a big city is a jerk.’ Followed by the word, ‘But…’ and then so helpfully corrects how, even we as Christians, can act in an unnecessarily discourteous way when dealing with folks in a city.
But, ‘in a small town, you should take every opportunity to be kind and courteous.’
There’s a danger in city life because we probably won’t see a person again, and can therefore treat them with less respect than they deserve, especially if they’re serving us poorly. In a small town our bad responses will get known very quickly. But that behaviour is no less acceptable in the city. And will also be known. You reap what you sow. As in the town and suburb, so in the city, a Christian’s rudeness can have a deadening effect on mission.
Be a Blessing I am taking this on board for our city site: ‘When considering how you can engage the culture of your small town with the gospel, please don’t just settle for contextualized church programs and church facilities. Love where you live and serve where you live. Let everyone know that you really care about them, whether they come to your church or not.’
Donnie has written a highly readable book with a great and simple message: be a blessing to your town. Be deliberate and consistent.
I want to add that, if you’re in the city, see your section of the city, whether you work there each day, or whether you live there, as your own locality, your own small town within the city, and act accordingly.
The Salvation Army were a passionate, experience-focussed, transformative force in the Victorian world.
Ever wondered why the motto was ‘Blood and Fire’? Was that just because those are battle-sounding words and would suggest a military style resolve?
That was partly true. But actually they were carefully chosen for theological reasons.
The blood referred to the centrality of the death of Christ on the cross. This was to be preached always and everywhere. The blood of Jesus was able to cleanse the worst sinner from their sin. Most modern-day Christians would probably guess that connection without knowing the history.
But what’s the fire? And why is it side by side with the blood?
The fire referred to the Holy Spirit appearing ‘as tongues of fire’ upon the early believers on the day of Pentecost. This fire was a current reality, to be received and experienced then and there by Salvationists or anyone who was seeking God in their meetings.
Understandably, among the Victorian church leaders, it was the fire that caused more problems. Mainstream leaders could just about tolerate working class people preaching about the cross and even hell, but the prospect of people attending meetings where they might act (or possibly be encouraged to act) in an undignified way was unacceptable.
What was going on? There’s no soft approach into the descriptions of these meetings. Harold Begbie, in his two-volume biography of William Booth, interviewed Bramwell (Booth’s son and successor) about this business of ‘the fire’.
From an early date, some Salvation Army meetings were characterised by people having dramatic spiritual experiences. It is worth noting that neither William nor Bramwell tried to shut these meetings down, or restrict the possibility of these things happening. In fact, they became part of the movement across Britain.
The Booths didn’t encourage a free-for-all, but within the highly structured context of their organisation they believed people were truly meeting with God.
[Bramwell] describes how men and women would suddenly fall flat upon the ground, and remain in a swoon or trance for many hours, rising at last so transformed by joy that they could do nothing but shout and sing in an ecstasy of bliss…
He saw bad men and women stricken suddenly with an overmastering despair, flinging up their arms, uttering the most terrible cries, and falling backward, as if dead–supernaturally convinced of their sinful condition.
The floor would sometimes be crowded with men and women smitten down by a sense of overwhelming spiritual reality, and the workers of the Mission would lift their fallen bodies and carry them to other rooms, so that the Meetings might continue without distraction. Doctors were often present at these gatherings.
Conversions took place in great numbers; the evangelists of the Mission derived strength and inspiration for their difficult work; and the opposition of the world only deepened the feeling of the more enthusiastic that God was powerfully working in their midst.[i]
And there’s more. But let’s ease into these startling phenomena one step at a time…
More next time.
For the first instalment of the Salvation Army Story click here
I fell in love with the Salvation Army nearly thirty years ago.
My affection arose from two main causes. First, the whole body of that church movement were consistently committed to evangelism. Everyone was involved. Everyone was on mission. They believed they had found the key to transformation – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because every person needs what Jesus Christ offers they were unrelentingly merciful.
Secondly, their commitment to alleviating the plight of the poor and their commitment to issues of social justice; whether clothing someone or launching a rival match making factory which didn’t poison the workers.
The unashamed combination of those two impulses was utterly inspiring (the match factory produced boxes of matches called ‘Lights in Darkest England’).
But beyond my admiration for the range of their engagements and their tenacity, a number of questions inevitably arose.
How did this Christian movement so effectively reach those that ‘normal’ churches were largely failing to reach?
How did they manage to draw the commitment of a myriad of volunteers and produce sustainable NGOs to meet such a variety of needs?
How were they able to go into cities, towns and even villages and preach with unswerving boldness, a raw, compassionate, come-to-Christ-now message, and see thousands converted?
And, in the face of bitter, violent opposition, what was the secret of their battlefield bravery?
Hallelujah wind-ups and glory fits As I continued to read extensively, and particularly the early material, I found a few clues.
Have you ever heard of a ‘Hallelujah Wind-Up’? That was the name given to a moment in a meeting so charged with spiritual vitality that the spring almost breaks and catapults workers out into the harvest? No? Neither had I.
Shhh…let’s not speak too loudly of what Salvationists would affectionately refer to as ‘Glory fits.’
Hilarious and intriguing. Hallelujah wind-ups; glory fits. This quintessentially Victorian working-class movement developed wonderfully non-religious sounding names for their experiences in prayer.
In these next few posts, we’ll dust off the old books and visit the early days that were so full of power. And we’ll find a source of power that Bramwell Booth considered to be the very same dynamic manifest on the day of Pentecost.[i]
Warning! In reviving these stories, I’m not suggesting we imitate styles or phrases, nor are we looking for a formula. Terms and Conditions apply. However, if you are a Christian, you may experience a thirst for a new season of refreshing and empowering. May it carry us to the place of persistent prayer.
‘Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.’ Psalm 68:28
More next time…
For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here
In 1880 William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, was invited to speak at the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in the UK.
This was a generous invitation since it was well known that he had left Methodism to begin a more rigorous evangelistic ministry. Although he had been operating independently for several years, his organisation had only formally adopted the name The Salvation Army three years earlier.
During his message to the conference he explained the impulse that created his evangelism and church-planting movement and gave four keys to their continued success.
A Gospel emphasis that drew non-believers and leaders to the work ‘I was told that ninety-five in every hundred of the population of our larger towns and cities never crossed the threshold of any place of worship, and I thought, ‘Cannot something be done to reach these people with the Gospel?’
Fifteen years ago I thus fell in love with the great crowds of people who seemed to be out of the pale of all Christian Churches. It seemed to me that if we could get them to think about Hell they would be certain to want to turn from it. If we could get them to think about Heaven they would want to go there. If we could get them to think about Christ they would want to rush to His open arms.
I resolved to try, and ‘The Salvation Army’ is the outcome of that resolution. In August, 1877, we had 26 Stations. We have now, in 1880, 162. In 1877, we had 35 Evangelists. We have now 285 Evangelists, or, as we now call them, Officers, and in many instances they have the largest audiences in the towns where they are at work.
We have got all those Officers without any promise or guarantee of salary, and without any assurance that when they reach the railway station to which they book they will find anybody in the town to sympathise with them. The bulk would cheerfully and gladly go anywhere.’
Key #1 The Gospel to the needy ‘If asked to explain our methods, I would say: Firstly, we do not fish in other people’s waters, or try to set up a rival sect. Out of the gutters we pick up our converts, and if there be one man worse than another our Officers rejoice the most over the case of that man.
When a man gets saved, no matter how low he is, he rises immediately. His wife gets his coat from the pawn-shop, and if she cannot get him a shirt she buys him a paper front, and he gets his head up, and is soon unable to see the hole of the pit from which he has been digged, and would like to convert our rough [meeting place] into a chapel, and make things respectable. That is not our plan. We are moral scavengers, netting the very sewers. We want all we can get, but we want the lowest of the low.’
Key #2 Contextualisation and flexibility ‘Secondly. We get at these people by adapting our measures.
There is a most bitter prejudice, amongst the lower classes, against churches and chapels. I am sorry for this; I did not create it, but it is the fact. They will not go into a church or chapel; but they will go into a theatre or warehouse, and therefore we use these places.
In one of our villages we use the pawnshop, and they gave it the name of ‘The Salvation Pawnshop,’ and many souls were saved there.
Let me say that I am not the inventor of all the strange terms that are used in The Army. I did not invent the term ‘Hallelujah Lassies.’ When I first heard of it I was somewhat shocked; but telegram after telegram brought me word that no buildings would contain the people who came to hear the Hallelujah Lassies. Rough, uncouth fellows liked the term. One had a lassie at home, another went to hear them because he used to call his wife ‘Lassie’ before he was married. My end was gained, and I was satisfied.’
Key #3 Getting new believers involved immediately in evangelism ‘Thirdly. We set the converts to work.
As soon as a man gets saved we put him up to say so, and in this testimony lies much of the power of our work.
One of our lassies was holding a meeting in a large town the other day when a conceited fellow came up to her saying, ‘What does an ignorant girl like you know about religion? I know more than you do. I can say the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.’ ‘Oh, but,’ she replied, ‘I can say more than that. I can say the Lord has saved my soul in English.”
[This comment caused loud laughter and cheering in the meeting]
Key #4 Hard work ‘Lastly, we succeed by dint of hard work. I tell my people that hard work and holiness will succeed anywhere.’[i]
Booth as a multi-site church leader If Booth’s Salvation Army ‘stations’ in London alone were considered congregations of a multi-site church we would be celebrating him as the pastor of the largest protestant church in the 19th century.
That, of course, wasn’t his goal. He was determined to see more stations planted and more of those outside the orbit of the church’s influence coming into a relationship with God and a transformed life.
Getting the gospel to those who need it; being flexible in our strategies; including new converts in evangelism; working hard to keep moving forward into the mission.
Of course, more than these four principles were necessary to form a church-planting movement. And more than these are necessary for growing a healthy church. But how are you applying these four in your setting?
The Salvation Army in Canada Before long, the Salvationists were spreading. If they were determined enough to try the zaniest ideas on British audiences, they were willing to travel long distances to take their message elsewhere.
I read this short account of the work of Abbie Thompson in 1883. She was a 19yr old Salvation Army Captain who sought to bring the gospel to Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I’ll let the statement stand on its own, except to give a brief introduction by quoting from two contemporary sources, both of which are hilarious.
The Salvation Army had already ‘opened fire’ in Canada, and were not altogether well received. Their youthful working-class roots were difficult to conceal and some didn’t like it. After all, the two founding officers were still teenagers.
On November 8th 1882, the Toronto Globe recorded,
Rev Mr.Bray of Montreal, is opposed to The Salvation Army and its methods. The Reverend gentleman particularly objects to the hymnology of the Army, portions of which contain, in his opinion, very little of religious fervour. Certainly it is hardly possible to escape the conclusion that there is something irreverent in the hymn, "Elijah was a jolly old man, and was carried off to heaven in a fiery van." Yet its intent is good. It is designed to convey to the untutored mind a biblical truth in language suited to the capacities of the persons on whose behalf The Salvation Army labours.
Abbie Thompson made her first appearance in 1883. The Toronto Mail actually made reference to her arrival:
(Kingston) This morning a trunk arrived from the Cape upon which were written the words ”Captain Abbie Thompson” “Hallelujah” “Fire”. The Customs officer eyed it suspiciously, and thought of dynamite, infernal machines, and fenians. He refused to search it, and ordered its removal to the warehouse to await its owner.[i]
12,000 attending each night! Richard Collier puts this early work in Canada in a condensed but baffling paragraph:
And Canada, where two like-minded pioneers had begun on their own initiative, needed organisers too. From May, 1882, when Jack Addie, an eighteen-year-old dry goods salesman and Joe Ludgate, a clothes presser, paraded the streets of London, Ontario, in blue tunics and helmets like British bobbies, The Army’s cause spread like fire under a leaning wind. At Bowmanville, where every leading citizen became a local officer, new ordinances soon forbade men swearing in the streets. At Guelph, one-ninth of the entire population were Salvationists. When Captain “Hallelujah Abbie” Thompson, a vivacious nineteen-year-old brunette, began drawing crowds of 12,000 a night, a sharp-witted Kingston, Ontario, cosmetics manufacturer was quick to cash in. Swiftly he launched a new line in toiletries – “Hallelujah Abbie Soap.”[ii]
Booth seemed entirely confident in his young, energetic, working-class leaders. And their ability to attract large crowds is almost baffling. Perhaps we are too keen to polish up our new leaders or wait a little too long. Perhaps we could learn a little from history and release more of that youthful energy into ministry (just wait ‘til we get to Spurgeon).
More next time….
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
How will they hear without a preacher?
Paul’s stirring exhortation to evangelism in Romans 10[i] was deeply woven into every aspect of the early Salvation Army.
William Booth and Elijah Cadman aimed to build an evangelistically vigorous organisation. Their approach wasn’t based on the ‘openness’ of the non-believers they felt called to serve. And Booth wasn’t sympathetic to his leaders’ complaints about this or that town being a ‘hard place’. Rather, they should use every possible means to reach people with the gospel.
Why should the devil have all the good tunes? The development of decent musical bands was a key to their success. Rather than just ‘giving out a hymn’ a cappella as the older Methodists would do, the Salvationists developed bands that could quickly draw a crowd.
The music was modern, and the musicians often shamelessly (and humorously) replaced the words of popular music-hall and pub songs with Christian lyrics.
A famous example was ‘Storm the Forts of Darkness, Bring them Down’ which had replaced the well-known, ‘Here’s to Good Old Whisky, Knock it Down!’ (See below if you’re interested in the songs) [ii]
Today there’d be questions about copyright infringement, but when Booth discovered what his musicians were doing, he asked, ‘Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’
By the early 1880s there were 400 Salvation Army bands seeking to gain attention for the evangelistic preaching that would follow.
Getting the attention of the uninterested masses But the evangelists didn’t rely on music – they would try just about anything to get a hearing.
Richard Collier in his classic biography of Booth, The General Next to God, lists just some Salvation Army strategies.[iii] In considering these we mustn’t miss the underlying determination of this missional movement to reach those who would never come to church.
Having said that, a ‘Do not try this at home’ notice is probably advisable. Sometimes ‘Dodgy’ was the order of the day.
First up, something that shocked Booth: the announcement to come and watch ‘The Hallelujah Lasses’. Collier writes, ‘No building on Tyneside could contain the crowds flocking to hear “The Hallelujah Lasses.” Miners and dock-workers, used to calling their own wives “lassie” were moved to hear more about this strange new religion.’
Lieutenant Theodore Kitching rode into Scarborough on a crimson-draped donkey while ringing the school bell to get a crowd. Sometimes he attended the open-air meetings disguised, and in full make-up, as a drunk to create a scene.
Jumping off the Pier! Captain John Lawley dived – mid-sermon – into the sea from a pier, in order to illustrate the ‘boundless ocean of God’s love’. He carried on preaching from the sea.
James Dowdle, the six-foot ‘Saved Railway Guard’, slammed his violin case down on a busy sidewalk and shouted, ‘Stand back! It might go off!’ Then as people gathered he opened it slowly, took out the violin and played. [NOT recommended today in almost any context anywhere in the world!]
One Salvationist toured the streets dressed as John the Baptist; bearded, robed, bare-footed and all. Today we’d just think he was a hipster going to get his morning Latte.
One former violent criminal, dressed again in his prison clothes and preached in the street.
The Lingerie Lasses! Not to be outdone, the Hallelujah Lasses ‘drew record crowds parading the streets wearing their nightgowns over their uniforms’. Collier says Booth suggested it.[iv] That’s an odd one.
In Leicester, Captain William Corbridge handed out realistic-looking railway tickets which read, ‘Hallelujah Railway – Leicester to Heaven’.
One led a live calf through the street, some beat frying pans with rolling-pins. One nutcase spent a week of winter evening lying silently in the snow, and, at the end of the week, when a large crowd had gathered around him jumped up to and preached the gospel.
Raising the Dead! Some carried a coffin through the town. Once they had gained a sympathetic crowd they then scared the life out of them by having the man inside the coffin suddenly throw open the lid, sit up and preach the resurrection to them.
This sounds crazy, but one genuinely huge Victorian celebrity was a Salvation Army leader called Eliza, a ‘factory girl’ from Nottingham, who would ride through the streets with streamers trailing from her hair and clothes and proclaiming ‘I am Happy Eliza!’ There were even sweets named after her. But maybe more about her later.
These determined evangelists rented huge billboards to advertise their meetings, and also spoke one-on-one to thousands.
We may not imitate their methods but surely, Pastors, in a day when apathy is the norm, we ought to imitate their faith?[v]
More next time.
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
Names In 1865 Booth and his team set up headquarters in Whitechapel, London. But they had difficulty deciding on a suitable name.
Here are the early variations they used:
‘The East London Christian Revival Society’ (it’s quite an accomplishment to create a name from which even the most diligent can’t force some kind of acronym).
This soon became ‘The East London Christian Mission’. This was definitely better but, as George Railton tells us[i], they had to drop ‘East London’ because the work was so successful they opened mission sites outside London. ‘East London’ was now only one sphere of their activity.
Finally, ‘The Christian Mission’ remained.
And they kept it for a while but there was an obvious problem with this name. Theirs was one among many good and definitely ‘Christian’ missions operating in England and, by defining their mission as the Christian one, the name seemed to imply haughtiness on their part and a snub towards the others.
So for six years[ii] they were in a kind of awkward limbo. A dynamic work with a not very helpful name. Another interesting intermediary link in the evolution of the Salvation Army’s name was that Booth was then called the General Superintendent. When they became The Salvation Army the shift to General was easy.
Not a Church but an Army! William Booth recalls,
After a while the work began to spread and show wonderful promise, and then, when everything was looking like progress a new trouble arose…Some of the evangelists whom I had engaged to assist me rose up and wanted to convert our Mission into a regular Church…They wanted to settle down in quietness. I wanted to go forward at all costs…so I called them together and said, ‘My comrades, the formation of another Church is not my aim. There are plenty of churches. I want to make an Army.’
He then offered to help those who wanted to leave to find work amongst the churches, but all decided to stay.
By 1878 (13 years from the formation of the London Mission) they had grown to 80 mission sites, which they didn’t name as churches but Stations, and then later – in keeping with army-sounding designations – ‘corps’.
The growth was phenomenal. By 1880, they had 162 Stations. They weren’t just fussing over names – there was such growth behind them that the name had to encapsulate the spirit of what was quickly being recognised as a missionary movement. Remember, their appeal was not to Christians who were restless and unhappy in their churches – their first aim, and the primary pool from which they gained members, was to reach the unbelieving working classes who had no interest in church-going.
A Volunteer Army? Richard Collier writes,
Early one morning in May 1878…Bramwell and Railton were summoned to Booth’s bedroom for the day’s instructions. As Booth, who was recovering from flu, paced the floor in a long yellow dressing gown and felt slippers, Railton scanned the proofs of the pink eight-page folder which was the Mission’s annual report.
It’s preliminary was bold and succinct:
THE CHRISTIAN MISSION
Under the superintendence
of the Rev. William Booth
A VOLUNTEER ARMY
Recruited from amongst the multitudes who are without God and without hope in the world…
At this time the Volunteers, a part-time citizens’ Army … were a favourite butt of cartoonists. Bramwell, aged twenty-two, was stung by the imputation.
‘Volunteer!’ he exclaimed … ‘Here, I’m not a volunteer. I’m a regular or nothing!’
Booth stopped dead in his tracks … Abruptly, he crossed to where Railton sat, taking the pen out of his hand. He struck decisively through the word ‘volunteer’ and substituted the word ‘Salvation.’ Simultaneously, they scarecely knew why, Bramwell and Railton leapt from their chairs, crying, ‘Thank God for that!’[iii]
The Salvation Army it is then…
More next time
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
Not for Nutters Evangelistic leaflets (what used to be called ‘tracts’) have seriously fallen out of favour over the last thirty or forty years. For many Christians the very word ‘tract’ conjures up images of nutters on street corners shouting at passers-by or holding up boards which warn of Coming Doom! Those attracting attention by doing such things presumably also press little explanatory leaflets into the palm of any hapless shopper who shows the tiniest glimmer of interest. Later the tracts will be collected by street cleaners.
Well OK. But I am enthusiastic about tracts not because I fit that personality type. What I’m suggesting is a different type of tract – it’s a personal one. Something written by you. And the kind of encounter in which you would offer someone your own personal tract is not impersonal or forced but friendly.
I’m speaking about those brief moments where you meet someone – a complete stranger – and a few words might be exchanged, perhaps of thanks, and off you go into the rest of your day: you purchase something at a store; you pay for your meal at a restaurant; you speak with a teller at the bank.
I concede that these moments of friendly encounter don’t strike every follower of Christ as a potential opportunity to share the gospel. In fact an attempt to merely speak about your faith then and there would usually feel awkward.
We meet several of these strangers every day. They are usually serving us and yet don’t feel the need to serve them. Why?
An Opportunity for Light to Break in
A young woman in our church in Missouri asked Jo and I to pray for her. She was genuinely distraught. She told us that she works in MacDonald’s and that it was wearing her down. She felt that customers had no respect for her, they were rude and impatient. Added to that, they were hungry and irritable and if she made any mistakes they were utterly unforgiving. Customer after customer, hour after hour, day after day. It was soul-destroying. Obviously we prayed for her, but I thought to myself, what a difference Christians could make! Instead of moaning about how slowly they were being served they could serve the person with a smile and a simple word of encouragement. What a difference that might make to a discouraged person’s day. And then if they were able to add to that encouragement by giving the person their own story of how God’s grace has impacted their lives they certainly would be ‘making the most of every opportunity’ (Eph 5.16).
That’s what personal tracts are about. They’re not for your work colleagues or those who are already your friends. They’re for those chance encounters, where your willingness to serve might be the only moment of light breaking into someone’s darkness.
Check out this amusing 18 minute video to find out how you can write and produce your own.
And please feel free to leave a comment on your own adventures.
Rapid conversions When William and Catherine Booth moved into the east end of London in 1865 their goal was to preach the Christian message and bring people to faith in Christ.
The plan was that any converts would join existing churches. But it didn’t really work out like that.
Booth’s preaching was dynamic and urgent. Many, who would never go to church, heard him and many hundreds were converted. But after their conversion they still wouldn’t go to the churches and, if they did, the churches didn’t seem to want them.
Booth began to look for meeting halls and somewhere to create a headquarters for the London mission. But he needed funds.
One minister, writing for a Christian magazine, describes a meeting he attended with William Booth one Sunday afternoon. I’ve edited down his article but it gives us a flavour of the amazing power of the Holy Spirit working in a context of consistent evangelism.
The structure of the meeting was that, after an introduction, several people would briefly tell of their experience of conversion or of adventures in evangelism and then a hymn would be sung, followed by yet more testimonies. At the end Booth preached and prayed.
As you read through this abbreviated account of the meeting, maybe you could pray for similar evangelistic zeal to characterise your life and the life of your church, and that God would similarly begin to bring large numbers of people to a personal and life-changing faith in Christ.
Here we see personal boldness in evangelism, conversations happening in homes, and in the streets. There are several references to the effective use of tracts (short, easy to read leaflets or brochures which explain the gospel) as well as public preaching. Perhaps one of the reasons the churches used to ‘reap’ more was that, quite simply, they ‘sowed’ more. Enjoy!
The Experience Meeting ‘On the afternoon of Sunday, January 31st, I was able to see some of the results of William Booth’s work in the East of London, by attending his Experience Meeting, held in the East London Theatre. About 2 o’clock some of his helpers and Converts went out from the Mission Hall, where they had been praying together, and held an Open-Air Meeting in front of a large brewery opposite the Hall. The ground was damp and the wind high, but they secured an audience, and then sang hymns along the road, till they came to the theatre, taking in any who chose to follow them. Probably about five hundred were present, though many came in late.
The Meeting commenced at three, and lasted one hour and a half. During this period fifty-three persons gave their experience, parts of eight hymns were sung, and prayer was offered by four persons.
After singing Philip Philips’ beautiful hymn, ‘I will sing for Jesus,’ prayer was offered up by Mr. Booth and two others.
A young man rose and told of his conversion a year ago, thanking God that he had been kept through the year.
A negro, of the name of Burton, interested the Meeting much by telling of his first Open-Air Service, which he had held during the past week in Ratcliff Highway, one of the worst places in London. He said, when the people saw him kneel in the gutter, engaged in prayer for them, they thought he was mad.
A middle-aged man, a sailor, told how he was brought to Christ during his passage home from Colombo. One of the tracts, entitled, ‘John’s Difficulty,’ was the means of his conversion.
A cabman said he used to be in the public-houses constantly; but he thanked God he ever heard William Booth, for it led to his conversion.
Three young men then spoke. The first, who comes five miles to these Meetings, told how he was lost through the drink, and restored by the Gospel; the second said he was unspeakably happy; the third said he would go to the stake for Christ.
A sister spoke of her husband’s conversion, and how they were both now rejoicing in God.
A young man testified to the Lord having pardoned his sins in the theatre on the previous Sunday.
Two sailors followed. The first spoke of his conversion through reading a tract while on his way to the Indies four months ago. The other said he was going to sea next week, and was going to take some Bibles, hymns, and tracts with him, to see what could be done for Christ on board.
A young man of the name of John, sometimes called ‘Young Hallelujah,’ told of his trials while selling fish in the streets; but he comforted himself by saying, ”Tis better ‘an before.’ He had been drawn out in prayer at midnight on the previous night, and had dreamed all night that he was in a Prayer Meeting.
A converted thief told how he was ‘picked up’ and of his persecutions daily while working with twenty unconverted men.
A man who had been a great drunkard, said, ‘What a miserable wretch I was till the Lord met with me! I used to think I could not do without my pint, but the Lord pulled me right bang out of a public-house into a place of worship.’
A young woman said: ‘I well remember the night I first heard Mr. Booth preach here. I had a heavy load of sin upon my shoulders. But I was invited to come up the stage. I did so, and was pointed to Jesus, and I obtained peace.’
Another told of his conversion by a tract, four years ago, on his passage to Sydney. ‘To my sorrow,’ he said, ‘I became a backslider. But I thank God He ever brought me here. That blessed man, Mr. Booth, preached, and I gave my heart to God afresh. I now take tracts to sea regularly. I have only eighteen shillings a week, but I save my tobacco and beer money to buy tracts.’
A stout man, a navvy, who said he had been one of the biggest drunkards in London, having briefly spoken, was followed by one known as ‘Jemmy the butcher,’ who keeps a stall in the Whitechapel Road. Some one had cruelly robbed him, but he found consolation by attending the Mission Hall Prayer Meeting.
Two young lads, recently converted, having given their experience, a dock labourer, converted seventeen months ago, asked the prayers of the Meeting for his wife, yet unconverted.
A young woman gave her experience very intelligently. It was a year and a half since she gave her heart to the Saviour; but her husband does not yet come with her.
The experience of an old man, who next spoke, was striking. Mr. Booth had announced his intention, some time back, of preaching a sermon on ‘The Derby,’ at the time of the race that goes by that name. This man was attracted by curiosity, and when listening compared himself to a broken-down horse. This sermon was the means of his conversion.
A young man told how his sins were taken away. He worked in the city and, through a young man talking to him in the street, he was able to see the way of Salvation, and rejoice in it. He used to fall asleep generally under preaching. ‘But here,’ he said, ‘under Mr. Booth, I can’t sleep.’
A blind girl, whom I had noticed earlier singing heartily in the street, told of her conversion.
Then Mr. Booth offered a few concluding observations and prayed. The Meeting closed by singing. Such is a brief outline of this most interesting Meeting, held Sunday after Sunday.
I could not but wonder at the change which had come over the people. The majority of those present, probably nearly five hundred, owed their conversion to the preaching of Mr Booth and his helpers.
In the evening I preached in the Oriental Music Hall, High Street, Poplar, where five or six hundred persons were assembled. This is one of the more recent branches of Mr. Booth’s work, and appears to be in a very prosperous condition. I found two groups of the helpers singing and preaching in the streets, who were only driven in by the rain just before the Meeting commenced inside. This is how the people are laid hold of.
Shall this good work be hindered for the want of a few hundred pounds?’i
More next time.
For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here
i. George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 59-64
After a year working in East London, Booth had managed to gather about 60 people. This was a ‘mission’ rather than a church, the focus being on evangelism and not on Christian worship as such.
Booth and Barnardo One of Booth’s early partners in the East End of London was soon to leave him: Thomas Barnardo, then a medical student, but who soon founded the impressive Barnardo’s charity, which opened schools and orphanges for abandoned children and is still operating today.
Generously, Booth said, ‘You look after the children and I’ll look after the adults – and together we’ll convert the world.’[i]
Early skirmishes and victories One of Booth’s earliest converts became his first bodyguard. Peter Monk, an Irish prizefighter, was an imposing figure and accompanied Booth to evangelistic meetings.
But one bodyguard is apparently not always enough. Richard Collier records that disturbances were frequent at Booth’s early London meetings. Mrs Eliza Trotman narrowly escaped death when some yobs fired a train of gunpowder at her, causing her clothes to catch fire.
Peter Monk, the ‘General’s Boxer’, would walk up and down the meeting place staring menacingly at trouble-makers to keep them quiet while Booth was preaching.
Booth’s operation gradually became successful. The famous evangelist Gypsy Smith was converted and trained for ministry by Booth when he was only seventeen. Smith was one of numerous young, poor, uneducated men who became the chief evangelists in London. While others were wowing crowds with oratory, these unschooled, rough, preachers were somehow able to reach those who would never approach church or chapel.
Young people released into leadership It may seem crazy to us, but Booth had little choice. He worked with those God gave him – and they were often young. Very young. Gypsy Smith was rejected when he was sent by Booth to Chatham in Kent. Even the other new converts thought a seventeen-year-old way too young to be a leader.
Smith’s answer? ‘If you let me stop here awhile I shall get older. [And] if I haven’t any more whiskers than a gooseberry I have got a wife.’[ii]
Booth began to send these young preachers to different locations across London and beyond. Careful not to call them ‘churches’, in the early days they were known simply as ‘mission stations.’ They were led – overwhelmingly – by those in their twenties, or younger (more of that in a later post).
Booth was clear: he did not want settled congregations enjoying their favourite preacher: He wanted evangelists on a mission to reach their cities – ‘Godly go-ahead dare-devils.’[iii]
We could probably do with a few more of them today.
1865 is a landmark year for historians, friends and members of the Salvation Army.
It was in July, 1865, that William and Catherine Booth finally moved to the capital city of England and of the British Empire. Catherine had already ministered effectively at an outreach to prostitutes. William was eager to preach the Christian message among those who seemed most resistant to it: the working classes.
The decision was made but the strategy wasn’t yet clear.
Darling, I’ve found my destiny! Richard Collier, in his superb biography of Booth, The General Next to God, paints Booth’s turning point skilfully:
He came up the Mile End Road, East London … Outside the drab red-brick façade of The Blind Beggar tavern he halted. From beneath his arm he drew a book and … gave out the verse of a hymn.
In an instant faces were glued to the pub’s glass windows; a ragged unwashed throng pressed curiously about the stranger …
‘There is a heaven in East London for everyone,’ they heard him cry, ‘for everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Saviour.’
From the pub there came only a spattering volley of jeers and oaths … Then from the rear a rotten egg came whizzing to find its mark and the subtle spell was broken. With the yolk trickling slowly down his pallid cheek the stranger paused, and prayed. Then, pulling his hat over his eyes, he walked rapidly westwards …
Towards midnight, as Catherine later recalled, a key grated abruptly in the lock and Booth, his eyes shining, strode into the living-room.
‘Darling,’ were the first words that burst from his lips, ‘I’ve found my destiny!’[i]
Booth was deeply concerned for the unchurched. Evangelical churches in the city seemed to be doing well, but there was a vast multitude of those who were utterly apathetic about God, faith, or Christian ethics.
More than two-thirds of the working classes never come to church Booth could see the poverty and the bitterness that went along with it:
The moral degradation and spiritual destitution of the teeming population of the East of London are subjects with which the Christians of the metropolis are perfectly conversant. More than two-thirds of the working-classes never cross the threshold of church or chapel, but loiter away the Sabbath in idleness, spending it in pleasure-seeking or some kind of money-making traffic. Consequently, tens of thousands are totally ignorant of the Gospel; and, as they will not attend the means ordinarily used for making known the love of God towards them, it is evident that if they are to be reached extraordinary methods must be employed.[ii]
Both William and Catherine were extraordinarily hard-working. They rarely seemed to rest. And so, with no regular form of income, William set about organising campaigns, tent missions, evangelistic outreaches – irrespective of the likelihood of a positive response.
A passionate determination for mission His passion and urgency to communicate the love of God to ‘dying men’ became the driving force of the remainder of his life, and of the organisation that would soon come to birth: The Salvation Army.
He later wrote,
When I saw those masses of poor people, so many of them evidently without God or hope in the world, and found that they so readily and eagerly listened to me, following from Open-Air Meeting to tent, and accepting, in many instances, my invitation to kneel at the Saviour’s feet there and then, my whole heart went out to them. I walked back to our West-End home and said to my wife:
‘O Kate, I have found my destiny! These are the people for whose Salvation I have been longing all these years. As I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces to-night (sic) I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, “Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labours?”
And there and then in my soul I offered myself and you and the children up to this great work. Those people shall be our people, and they shall have our God for their God.’[iii]
Is there such a passion for those who are so indifferent to the Christian message today?
Is there such a longing, such a willingness to sacrifice, to work, to pray, to preach, in order to see lives turn to Christ in our day?
As churches organise for mission in the great cities of the world, may we not take early discouragements to heart. May the great churches in our cities not only focus on those who are already open to our message; may they find a resolve to reach those who have already written Christianity off.
A rotten egg smacked Booth on the side of his face. As he walked home at midnight a conviction was born in his heart – the Gospel must be preached – ‘That night,’ he later declared, ‘The Salvation Army was born.’[iv]
More next time…
To read the whole William Booth story beginhere
[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) 15,19 [ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:302 [iii] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 56 [iv] ibid
Evangelistic Success By 1863 the William and Catherine Booth had spent 18 months in Cornwall. William had been preaching persuasively among the churches and became known as a ‘Revivalist’ (the Primitive Methodists at the time warned against them). But 7000 people had been added to the churches as a direct result of Booth’s evangelistic preaching in that short time![i]
From Cornwall the Booths travelled to Cardiff and, finding that some of the larger churches were unwilling to offer their facilities, Booth adopted a strategy which later became the norm in the Salvation Army, they used non-religious buildings. His evangelistic campaign in Cardiff took place in a circus.[ii]
The need to ‘settle’ Although he continued to see some success evangelistically he also began battling depression. He needed to settle. His wife was battling sickness. Their children were growing. Their future was still uncertain.
Catherine, writing from Leeds to her mother, describes their frustration:
‘Well, we must labour and wait a little longer, it may be the clouds will break and surround us with sunshine. Anyway, God lives above the clouds, and He will direct our path. If the present effort disappoints us I shall feel quite tired of tugging with the churches, and shall insist on William taking a hall or theatre somewhere. I believe the Lord will thrust him into that sphere yet. We can’t get at the masses in the chapels…I think I shall come and try in London before long.’[iii]
The Midnight Movement In 1865 Catherine was invited to take part in a mission in London itself. Hosted by the ‘Midnight Movement’, it was an outreach to prostitutes in the South East but was open to all (the adverts included, ‘Come and hear a Woman preach’).
The needs of the ‘fallen women’, and of the poor generally, ‘made an instant and overwhelming appeal to her heart.’[iv]
The Wesleyan Times reported on the meetings, commenting that Booth ‘identified herself with [the prostitutes] as a fellow sinner, showing that if they supposed her better than themselves it was a mistake, since all had sinned against God. This, she explained, was the main point, and not the particular sin of which they might be guilty. Then the Saviour was exhibited as waiting to save all alike, and the speaker urged all of them, by a variety of reasons, to immediate decision.’
The Sex Trade as Slavery Catherine Booth was not only committed to bringing these individual women to life-change through faith in Christ, but she began agitating against the evil of sexual slavery in London.
One commentator writes, ‘Her indignation knew no bounds that public opinion should wink at such cruel slavery, while professing to be shocked at the scarcely more inhuman brutality that bore the name in other lands.
The paltriness of the efforts put forth to minimize the evil staggered her, and the gross inequality with which society meted out its punishments to the weaker sex, allowing the participators in the vice to escape with impunity, incurred her scathing denunciations.’[v]
This mission trip, provoking, as it did, the passion of Catherine Booth was enough to help bring the Booths to a decision as to where they should settle next.
With no backing, little money, but a conviction that the gospel could transform the lives of those who found themselves in the most desperate of situations, in 1865 they moved to the Empire’s capital city, London.
For the first post in the series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:258 [ii] ibid 1:259 [iii] ibid 1:270 [iv] ibid 1:270 [v] Commissioner Booth-Tucker, ibid 1:272
With further news of attacks on foreigners, and increasing numbers of foreigners being displaced in South Africa, I am reposting this article/review in the hopes that it will stir us to protect those who are South Africa’s guests. News reports today said that around 360 Malawians are stranded in South Africa having lost their homes and possessions including their passports. Thousands of foreigners are presently in transit camps.
George Bizos’ story is one of courage and tolerance and teaches us to value South Africa’s guests. He arrived as a refugee and went on to become Nelson Mandela’s famous lawyer; a true nation-builder.
They left. William and Catherine Booth had endured enough shenanigans at the hands of jealous and controlling leaders. They felt they had to get out.
So in 1861 they stepped into the unknown. William was sure of one thing – that he must preach the gospel in England.
He didn’t wait long. A friend within the Methodist New Connexion invited him to conduct a series of evangelistic meetings in the South West. So William and Catherine left their temporary digs in Brixton and travelled, at their own expense, to Cornwall.
The ‘Penitent Form’ There was controversy surrounding his decision to call those who were responding to the gospel to the front of the meeting hall.
Those in need were identifying themselves publicly. This appeared to be the only response option he offered and didn’t seem to respect peoples’ privacy.
Booth called for a ‘right now’ kind of response, which to some seemed rough and sudden. Surely people needed time to think over these things.
But he was adamant that his method was useful in both identifying those whom his message had impacted and helping the respondent understand their both their need and ability to respond.
This whole process he called the ‘penitent form’. That’s an almost incomprehensible term now, but basically it followed a school-room idea of forms (classes/years) sitting on certain benches in rows. The ‘penitent form’, then, was a vacant bench at the front of the meeting where those who wanted to repent of their sins and turn to Christ could identify themselves and receive prayer.
This method of publicly calling for a response to the evangelistic message was already popular amongst Methodists in both England and America, and was adopted by the American preacher Charles Finney.
‘The people crowded around’ The key issue for us, however, is not really the method but the gospel that produced such an amazing response. Booth writes of one meeting,
‘We had the greatest difficulty to clear sufficient space for a penitent-form, and when we had, the people crowded up and around, and the prayers of those in distress, the shouts of those who had obtained deliverance, and the sympathetic exhortations and exultations and congratulations of those who stood round, all united made the most confounding medley I ever listened to. Again and again I endeavoured to secure order, but it was of no avail, and at length I concluded to let it go for the evening, doing as well as we could.’[i]
The invitations for Booth to preach began to come in quickly and soon more and more chapels were hosting evangelistic meetings where similar scenes were taking place.
In fact, Booth soon found himself in the midst of a hugely successful work. Why then, did he suddenly, in the midst of success, find himself depressed and in difficulties, and hungry for more?
We’re going back to the 18th century today, just briefly.
As I sat reading a selection of William Cowper’s poetry this morning I wondered how many people still read him. He is not a difficult poet and may be unfairly overlooked these days because he is overtly Christian.
The Poetry Foundation’s main article on him states, ‘William Cowper was the foremost poet of the generation between Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth and for several decades had probably the largest readership of any English poet.’[i]
Cowper was a contemporary of William Wilberforce and a friend of John Newton. He was too young to have seen much of the early years of Whitefield and Wesley’s preaching but was certainly impacted by the gospel message they preached.
His huge popularity as a poet existed not only because his Christian hymns were popular in the churches, but because of his notable skill as a poet.
I am reprinting here a section of his beautiful poem To Mary.
In their later years Mary Unwin and Cowper had been engaged and the love between them was very tender although they never married. He was at her side as her health declined in her final illness.
These verses take us right to her bedside. We see his devotion to her even though she can no longer communicate verbally, we share the thrill of her minute but definite responses to his love. No wonder Tennyson said that this poem was too touching, too moving, to be read out loud.
Thy indistinct expressions seem
Like language utter’d in a dream;
Yet me they charm, whate’er the theme,
Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
Are still more lovely in my sight
Than golden beams of orient light,
For could I view nor them nor thee,
What sight worth seeing could I see?
The sun would rise in vain for me,
Partakers of the sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently prest, press gently mine,
And then I feel that still I hold
A richer store ten thousandfold
Than misers fancy in their gold,
I suppose the ‘wow’ moment for me was the intensely touching lines, as Cowper sits by the bedside of his dying love.
‘Partakers of the sad decline, Thy hands their little force resign; Yet gently prest, press gently mine…’
It reminds me of a comment Billy Graham made about his wife Ruth when she was bedridden, how they could experience such ecstatic romance by simply staring into each other’s eyes for long periods of time and know their love was as complete and fulfilling as it could ever be.
Read Cowper’s lines again.
And maybe grab hold of some of his poetry from your local bookstore.
Take a Closer Look is an easy to use resource to help explain who Jesus is, why He came and how someone can begin following Him.
Included are many faith-inspiring verses from the Gospel of John, helpful questions, and a chapter which seeks to help the person envision what life may look like for them were they to become a follower of Christ.
It’s designed to be used one-on-one but is ideal for individual use.
Many have come to a lasting faith in Jesus through this study.
‘When John wrote his book about Jesus more than 1900 years ago, he wanted people to understand who this Jesus really was and why he deserves our trust and commitment. Lex Loizides takes the modern reader by the hand with exactly the same purpose as John had and explains who Jesus is using the words that John wrote down so long ago. If you want to know about Jesus then ‘Take a Closer Look’ is an excellent guide – it is faithful to the original sources.’ Dr. Dirk Jongkind, Research Fellow in New Testament Text and Language, St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge
‘When your curiosity is aroused and the light seems to be beckoning you out of darkness, how superb to have an outstanding aid like this which can, as it were, take you by the hand and lead you to the truth you’re beginning to long for.’ Terry Virgo, Founder of Newfrontiers
‘Take a Closer Look’ introduces you to Jesus. Reading the book is like meeting him for the first time. We hear him speak and our pre-conceived ideas are quickly adjusted to the real Jesus. Gert Hijkoop, Pastor, Wijnstokgemeente, Berkel en Rodenrijs, Netherlands
Speaking as a busy pastor I totally recommend ‘Take a Closer Look’. I really enjoying doing them. I just love sitting down with people and seeing them start to engage personally with Jesus. The simplicity of the study, the focus on Jesus, and the ease with which it can be arranged make it a brilliant resource. Everyone should use this! Ian Galloway, Pastor, City Church, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
‘Take a Closer Look’ is a clear and crisp description of why one should consider Jesus. I have used this book (in Hindi) over the years to facilitate discussions in small groups. The claims and questions posed in the book are thought provoking and have helped healthy discussions. Highly recommended. Samir Deokuliar, TV Presenter and Pastor, Dwaar, Delhi, India
I have found ‘Take a Closer Look’ to be a fantastic tool for introducing seekers to Christ and helping them cross the line of faith and follow Him. If you are looking for a relevant, Biblical and accessible study on Christ for seekers look no further. Steve van Rhyn, Advance Network of Churches,Pastor,Jubilee Community Church, Cape Town, South Africa
Take a closer look is a great resource, that we have used in our church for a number of years, with success. It is particularly useful when you have an individual who is unclear on their faith, and you feel that what they need is a one-to-one short course over coffee. It is non-threatening, focusing on the gospel of John, and very accessible for young and old. Matthew Clifton-Brown, Pastor, Kings Church Edinburgh, Scotland
One of the most important months of my life was going through ‘Take a Closer Look’ in the early 1990s. I knew nothing about Christianity, so understanding the basics was vital to making an informed decision. 20 years later I still have very fond memories of that life-defining time! I’d recommend ‘Take A Closer Look’ to anyone that wants to make their own choice about whether to accept Jesus’ claims. Martin Cooper, Worship Leader, Songwriter, Teacher, British & Irish Modern Music Institute, UK
As a non-believing teenager unsure of what to make of Christianity, ‘Take a Closer Look’ (which I couldn’t put down and read in one sitting) gave me what I needed to make an informed decision. It is a clear explanation of what Jesus said about himself and his work, and what this means for our individual lives. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what Jesus taught. Vincent van Bever Donker, Oxford English Centre, Oxford
I have used these lessons for people from different religious, educational and social backgrounds for over 15 years and found it very effective to lead them to Jesus Christ. I have found it a great one-on-one tool for a person interested in knowing Jesus. We have used it as a wonderful tool to help people open up as they seek to become Christians. Joy-Anne Philip, Cochi, Kerala, India
Scriptural, practical, fruitful and flexible way of sharing Jesus with 1-10+ people at a time. Many lives have been transformed by this helpful tool. Mike Sprenger, Evangelist, UK
‘Take a Closer Look’ is an excellent tool from the heart of an evangelist which will be a help and a blessing to all those who have a heart for the unsaved. Simple but profound. Don Smith, veteran church planter, UK
‘Take a Closer Look’ is a helpful resource that helps me walk someone from objections to the faith to coming to faith in Christ. It is short, accessible and yet proclaims the truth about Jesus powerfully. I trust that this new digital version will help equip believers to reach out to many more of their friends. Gareth Bowley, Pastor, Oasis Church, Amazimtoti, South Africa