Darling, I’ve found my Destiny!

William Booth preaching in a marquee
William Booth preaching in a marquee

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 begin here

©2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[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

Evangelism, Sexual Slavery and Catherine Booth

 

Catherine Booth with her growing family
Catherine Booth with her growing family

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

© 2015 Lex Loizides Church History Review

[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

William and Catherine Booth: Mercy, Mission and Faith

William and Catherine Booth and their family
William and Catherine Booth and their family

Long before William Booth was known as the General of the Salvation Army he was known as a Methodist Evangelist. He was passionate, fiery, insistent on results.

And he remained an Evangelist until his death.

He seemed to know little embarrassment when dealing with the subject of hell (once famously saying he wished that preachers would get just five minutes at the gates of hell in order to arouse their compassion).

Mercy! Have you heard the word?
But he was also a preacher of Christian compassion:

‘Mercy! Have you heard the word? Have you felt its power? Mercy! Can you describe its hidden, unfathomable meaning? Mercy! Let the sound be borne on every breeze! Mercy! Shout it to the world around until there is not a sin-unpardoned, a pollution-spotted, a Hell-marked spirit unwashed, unsanctified! Until there is not a sign of the curse in existence, not a sorrow unsoothed, not a tear unwiped away! Until the world is flooded with salvation and all men are bathing in its life-giving streams!’[i]

He might well have become a popular local pastor, as the great CH Spurgeon became at about the same time. But Booth felt the same itinerating pull of his Methodist forefathers, who had said, ‘The whole world is now my parish!

My Horizon was smaller and needed less to fill it!
Reflecting in later years on the invitation to pastor a church, he wrote, ‘The Spalding people welcomed me as though I had been an angel from Heaven, providing me with every earthly blessing within their ability, and proposing that I should stay with them forever! They wanted me to marry [Catherine] right away, offered to furnish me a house, provide me with a horse to enable me more readily to get about the country, and proposed other things that they thought would please me. With them I spent the happiest eighteen months of my life. Of course my horizon was much more limited in those days than it is now, and consequently required less to fill it.’[ii]

After his marriage to Catherine Mumford in 1855, and his continued success as a traveling evangelist, his role amongst the Methodist new Connexion began to be debated by his peers.

Local Methodist pastors were not entirely happy with Booth riding into town, preaching up a storm, getting their congregants ‘saved’ and then disappearing in a cloud of glory. He needed to be brought into line.

The infighting is painful to read, but, in the end, the Methodists made it so uncomfortable for the Booths that they felt they had no option but to resign.

The Booths break away from Methodism
Catherine, writing to her parents, expressed their resolute determination to break free (there is, of course, an irony in this, as the Salvation Army later had to defend itself against charges of inflexibility):

‘I do not see any honourable course for us but to resign at once and risk all (if trusting in the Lord for our bread in order to do what we believe to be His will ought to be called a risk).’[iii]

The break finally came in 1861. At the final meeting where their future was to be decided, a compromise was offered to them but which was unacceptable to Booth. Catherine was seated in the gallery above the proceedings and when Booth took a glance upward to her, she called out ‘Never!’

Booth stood up and waved his hat towards the door, while shouts of ‘Order! Order!’ rang out. He walked across the chapel floor where he met his wife at the foot of the stairs to the gallery, embraced her, and then walked out of the meeting and into their future.

It was a future that held continued evangelistic fruit for them both, but one which later drew thousands of others into that fruitfulness. But more of that later…

©2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:92

[ii] ibid 1:133

[iii] ibid 1:250