Evangelism with William Booth, in his own words

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the first post in the Booth series click here

©2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


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

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