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
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?
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This passionate exhortation by William Booth has often been misquoted. At least certain punchy phrases have been lifted out of context.
In one sense he hasn’t helped himself by referring to all gospel-sharing as ‘preaching’. But it’s clear that he is differentiating between the general call on every Christian to witness to those who don’t know Christ and the specific call which some experience and which tends to lead them into and confirm them as public preachers and teachers of the Bible.
He is exasperated by the silence of ordinary, good Christians when it comes to evangelism.
While some phrases are certainly clumsy, let’s not miss the passion:
– We need to become aware of those who don’t yet realise that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
– We need to have an appropriate understanding of eternal realities and the eternal consequences of someone’s rejection of Christ.
– We need to become ‘unselfish’ and start serving people evangelistically.
– If the gospel is true, love should compel us to initiate contact, communication, relationships.
– While there is a special call to vocational ‘ministry’ for some, we are all called to ‘preach’ the gospel. For some, even if they haven’t been specially ‘called to ministry’ they can still seek God for it (Booth was always looking for more leaders).
You may not be a Salvationist. You may not like aspects of Booth’s theology. But every Christian should feel stirred and sharpened by Booth’s words:
How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call? ‘How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call, when there are such multitudes around them who never hear a word about God, and never intend to; who can never hear, indeed, without the sort of preacher who will force himself upon them?
Are you spiritually healthy if you have no compassion? ‘Can a man keep right in his own soul, who can see all that, and yet stand waiting for a ‘call’ to preach? Would they wait so for a ‘call’ to help anyone escape from a burning building, or to snatch a sinking child from a watery grave?
Does not growth in grace, or even ordinary growth of intelligence, necessarily bring with it that deepened sense of eternal truths which must intensify the conviction of duty to the perishing world?
Does not an unselfish love, the love that goes out towards the unloving, demand of a truly loving soul immediate action for the salvation of the unloved?
And are there not persons who know that they possess special gifts, such as robust health, natural eloquence or power of voice, which specially make them responsible for doing something for souls?
If you’ve been called by God obey Him! ‘And yet I do not at all forget, that above and beyond all these things, there does come to some a special and direct call which it is particularly fatal to disregard, and peculiarly strengthening to enjoy and act upon.
I believe that there have been many eminently holy and useful men who never had such a call; but that does not at all prevent anyone from asking God for it, or blessing Him for His special kindness when He gives it.’[i]
More next time…
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
When William Booth taught his fellow ‘soldiers’ in the Salvation Army certain key principles, one of those he emphasized continually was the importance of being able to genuinely influence people towards faith in Christ.
So far so good. Most Christian leaders would agree. We’re only playing if we’re only publishing.
CH Spurgeon, while coming from a different theological viewpoint from Booth, was also unapologetic about the need for results. Souls need to be saved.
And so Booth includes in his own story the fact that, certainly in the mid-19th Century, formal theological training didn’t help equip him in his evangelistic Mission.
Booth moves to the Methodist New Connexion After Booth arrived in London in 1849 he joined a Methodist church and began preaching with some success.
Discouraged by the lack of missional intentionality, he joined the Methodist New Connexion, and was encouraged to seek ordination.
Booth at this time was sent to preach for churches that were losing numbers, and for whom it was felt little could be done. He’d go for two weeks at a time, preaching each evening with much success, sometimes drawing the positive attention of the local press.
There was no doubt that he was a gifted evangelist, but he had no formal training for ministry. He had not even completed High School let alone received a University education.
Booth was self-conscious about this deficiency and asked if he might study under a theologian within the New Methodist Connexion denomination. Surely theological training would help him in the mission.
Give me a chance His prayer was, ‘Give me a chance of acquiring information, and of learning how more successfully to conduct this all important business of saving men to which Thou hast called me, and which lies so near my heart.’[i]
Disarmingly, Booth writes, ‘But instead of better qualifying me for the work of saving men, by imparting to me the knowledge necessary for this task I was set to study Latin, Greek, various sciences, and other subjects, which, as I saw at a glance, could little help me in the all-important work that lay before me…’[ii]
Nevertheless he kept studying until the day finally came when his tutor would hear and assess his preaching. Booth knew he would be evaluated on theological content and not necessarily evangelistic impact.
The occasion was a regular evening service in a church. And there were non-believers there. It was soon clear that this could be no practice run. In his mind the mission always trumps any ‘in-house’ priority, which in this instance, was his own future prospects.
Booth: ‘I saw him seated…at the end of the church…I realized that my future standing in his estimation, as well as my position would very much depend on the judgement he formed of me on that occasion…
I knew that my simple, practical style was altogether different from his own, and of the overwhelming majority of the preachers he was accustomed to approve…
I saw dying souls before me… [But] I saw dying souls before me, the gates of Heaven wide open on the one hand, and the gates of Hell open on the other, while I saw Jesus Christ with His arms open between the two, crying out to all to come and be saved.
My whole soul was in favour of doing what it could to second the invitation of my Lord, and doing it that very night.
I cannot now remember much about the service, except the sight of my Professor, with his family around him, a proud, worldly daughter sitting at his side.
I can remember, however, that in my desire to impress the people with the fact that they could have Salvation there and then, if they would seek it, and, to illustrate their condition, I described a wreck on the ocean, with the affrighted people clinging to the masts between life and death, waving a flag of distress to those on shore, and, in response, the life-boat going off to the rescue.
And then I can remember how I reminded my hearers that they had suffered shipwreck on the ocean of time through their sins and rebellion; that they were sinking down to destruction, but that if they would only hoist the signal of distress Jesus Christ would send off the life-boat to their rescue.
Then, jumping on the seat at the back of the pulpit, I waved my pocket-handkerchief round and round my head to represent the signal of distress I wanted them to hoist, and closed with an appeal to those who wanted to be rescued to come at once, and in the presence of the audience, to the front of the auditorium. That night twenty-four knelt at the Saviour’s feet, and one of them was the proud daughter of my Professor.’[iii]
The brief but happy review The next day Booth met with his tutor for the review.
‘My dear Sir,’ the tutor said, ‘I have only one thing to say to you, and that is, go on in the way you have begun, and God will bless you.’
Booth didn’t complete his studies with the New Methodist Connexion. He writes, ‘I had hardly settled down to my studies before I got into a red-hot Revival in a small London church where a remarkable work was done. In an account of this effort my name appeared in the church’s Magazine, and I was invited to conduct special efforts in other parts of the country.
This, I must confess, completely upset my plans once more, and I have not been able to find heart or time for either Greek or Latin from that day to this.’[iv]
Neither Booth, nor the Salvation Army were anti-education, but in terms of equipping men and women for evangelistic effectiveness, he was adamant that men and women should be appropriately equipped for effective ministry. And that meant a blend of standard education as well as specific equipping to bring people to faith in Christ.
An old Pentecostal preacher is quoted as saying, ‘In all yer learnin’, get the fire!’ Sound advice. Get the learning but get the skills too. And Booth would agree: Get the fire!
To read Booth’s impassioned plea for all Christians to witness click here
For the first post in the Salvation Army story click here
William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, was first and foremost an Evangelist; a preacher of the gospel.
He was famous for his untiring zeal. He described himself as red-hot and he wanted to reproduce red-hot evangelists, preaching the gospel and winning thousands to Christ. And it was this passion for evangelism that sustained his mission to serve the poor effectively (but more of that later).
Saved to Save! Sarah Osborne (nee Butler), a close friend of the Booth family, gives this amazing description of him:
‘He was the most earnest and enthusiastic man I ever knew – he was really burning, really on fire to save souls. He used to say that we were saved to save. He could not stand people who said their souls were saved and who did nothing to save other people.’[i]
As a relatively new convert, he was determined to reach others with the good news he had found and began preaching in the streets and at small ‘cottage meetings’ in peoples homes.
Not Satisfied with a Few Responses and Positive Feedback These early efforts did get some fruit but he was not satisfied.
‘Oh, the stagnation into which I had settled down, the contentment of my mind with the love offered me at every turn by the people! I still aimed at the Salvation of the unconverted and the spiritual advance of my people, and still fought for these results. Indeed, I never fell below that.
And yet if the After-Meeting was well attended, and if one or two Penitents responded, I was content, and satisfied myself with that hackneyed excuse for so much unfruitful work, that I had ‘sown the seed.’ Having cast my bread on the waters, I persuaded myself that I must hope for its being found by and by.
But I heard of a Rev. Richard Poole who was moving about the country, and the stories told me of the results attending his services had aroused in me memories of the years gone by, when I thought little and cared less about the acceptability of my own performances, so long as I could drag the people from the jaws of Hell.
I resolved to go and hear him…When I had heard him preach from the text, ‘Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the salvation of God,’ and had observed the blessed results, I went to my own chamber – I remember that it was over a baker’s shop – and resolved that, regardless of man’s opinions, and my own gain or position, I would ever seek the one thing.
Whilst kneeling in that room, there came into my soul a fresh realisation of the greatness of the opportunity before me of leading men and women out of their miseries and their sin, and of my responsibility to go in for that with all my might.
In obedience to the heavenly vision, I made a consecration of the present and future, of all I had, and hoped to have, to the fulfilment of this mission, and I believe God accepted the offering.’[ii]
To read Booth’s description of 19th city-life (and similarities with the poor in cities today) click here
For the first post in the Booth/Salvation Army series click here
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’sLectures 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
Today we see them, usually around Christmas, ringing a bell and calling for cash donations into red buckets.
In the US they’re a not-for-profit we trust. They’re doing good. Serving those in need.
In the UK they’re held in affection as a kind of mix between the St. John’s Ambulance men and a village fete brass band playing the kind of tunes we imagine were popular in the 1940s. They’re faithful, and part of us.
Kindly people all. They don’t seem to be at war.
It’s amazing how words can lose their meaning through familiarity. Because those two words Salvation and Army were a perfect description for one of the most committed and self-sacrificing forces of evangelisation in the late 19th century. And their influence continues.
In this upcoming series of posts your faith is going to be stirred, your compassion aroused and your desire to do something about poverty in your city will resolve itself, I hope, into action.
– how the passion of the leading Evangelist of the Methodist churches in Britain led to thousands of conversions
– how a commitment to evangelism led to the formation of a church planting movement
– how the power of the Holy Spirit lifted people from poverty to leadership in their communities
– how those who were largely unreached by the established churches were gathered and mobilized for global mission
– how unemployment, starvation and disease were tackled head-on by Christians refusing to accept the status quo
– how the latest technologies and musical innovations were harnessed for gospel proclamation
– how tough, unbelieving communities were reached through creative, sometimes downright crazy, attention-getting gospel initiatives
– how persecution from both rich and poor that led to violence and even martyrdom couldn’t stop the relentless love of a genuinely missional community
– how a movement that began among a few drunks and no-hopers who mocked the message and threw rotten eggs at the messenger spread right across the globe
This is the story of Christ amongst the poor. This is the story of mercy triumphing over judgement. This is the story of blood and fire.
It may well be that the Evangelist is always in a controversial position.[i] He aims to be winsome but is sure to step on toes; tries to bring a simple message firmly, yet knows he deals with slippery objections; doesn’t want to offend, yet proclaims a message contrary to human self-sufficiency, and seeks to express certainties with humility. He mustn’t be driven by his own sense of persuasiveness, yet everyone wants results.
And it’s not only the message which can cause controversy; the changing methods employed by Evangelists can create trouble too!
As we’ve seen already, the appeal (or ‘altar call’, as it tends to be called in the US) is a method that became popular towards the end of the 18th century. After preaching for a series of meetings, those who were either converted or seeking conversion were asked to identify themselves by going to the front of a meeting and talking with a minister, or entering a separate ‘inquirer’s meeting’ for further instruction and prayer.
The reason the appeal is controversial today is because it can give a false impression of conversion, or can be used in the hope of producing conversion rather than merely connecting ‘seekers’ with a spiritual advisor.
Whether you’re a fan of Charles Finney or not you have to concede that, despite the modern critics, he was aiming at conversion through preaching and the Spirit’s work, and using the appeal as a means of either identifying those who already converted or those seeking conversion. We’ll see that in the following quotations.
Finney Beginning In 1825 Finney preached a series of meetings in a small town called Evans’ Mills in Jefferson County, NY.
He writes, ‘The Spirit of the Lord was evidently poured out on the congregation; and at the close of the sermon I did what I do not know I had ever done before, called upon any who would give their hearts to God to come forward and take the front seats…
The moment I made the call [a] young lady was the first to arise. She burst out into the aisle, and came forward like a person in a state of desperation. She seemed to have lost all sense of the presence of anybody but God. She came rushing forward to the front seats, until she finally fell in the aisle and shrieked with agony.
A large number arose in different parts of the house and came forward; and a goodly number appreared to give their hearts to God upon the spot.’[ii]
Revival A little later, preaching in Rome, Oneida County, NY, in the midst of what seems to be full-blown revival, he records,
‘Conversions multiplied so rapidly that we had no way of learning who they were. I therefore every evening, at the close of my sermon, requested all who had been converted that day to come forward and report themselves in front of the pulpit, that we might have a little conversation with them. We were very surprised by the numbers and class of persons that came forward.’[iii]
One observer, Catherine Huntingdon, reported, ‘I do not know the number of converts in our town; it may be four hundred. Two evenings since, when those were requested to come forward who had obtained hopes within the thirty-six hours, between twenty and thirty presented themselves. Usually every other evening the ministers made the request, that they might see who they were, and shake hands with them.’[iv]
The Missionary Herald published news of the revival stating, ‘During one week, it is said, scarcely any secular work was done, so intent were the people on the great concerns of the soul. It was a sort of sabbatical week.’ (published May 1826)[v]
The after-meeting and the appeal While Finney began to see the importance of people being clear about conversion, he initially saw the ‘appeal’ as taking place after the meeting and not necessarily as part of the service itself. This is clear from his practice in Rome:
He writes, ‘Mr Gillett afterwards reported that during the twenty days that I spent at Rome there were five hundred conversions in that town, or an average of twenty per day. At evening when I requested that any who had been converted during the day should come forward and report themselves, the people would remain standing instead of retiring, to see who came forward to report themselves as having been converted; and the utmost astonishment was expressed by those present when they saw who came forward.’[vi]
On many occasions those who came forward took part in a further enquirer’s meeting and the benches or seats that were used at the front of the meeting halls began to be referred to as ‘the anxious seat’, where those anxious about their separation from God waited for prayer or counsel.
A settled practice It may be worth quoting Finney’s at length here:
‘I had never, I believe except in rare circumstances, until I went to Rochester  used as a means of promoting revivals, what has since been called ‘the anxious seat’.
I had sometimes asked persons in the congregation to stand up; but this I had not frequently done…
From my own experience and observation I had found, that with the higher classes especially, the greatest obstacle to be overcome was their fear of being known as anxious inquirers. They were too proud to take any position that would reveal them to others as anxious for their souls.
I had found also that something was needed more than I had practiced to make the impression on them that they were expected then and there to give up their hearts; and something that would call them to act, and act as publicly before the world as they had in their sins; something that would commit them publicly to the service of Christ; some public manifestation or demonstration that would declare to all around them that they abandoned a sinful life then and there, and committed themselves to Jesus Christ…
I had felt for sometime that something more was necessary to bring them out from among the mass of the ungodly to a public renunciation of their sinful ways, and a public committal of themselves to God.
At Rochester, if I recollect right, I first introduced this measure…I made a call…upon all that class of persons whose convictions were so ripe that they were willing then and there to renounce their sins and give themselves to God, to come forward to certain seats which I requested to be vacated, and offer themselves up to God while we made them subjects of prayer.
A much larger number came forward than I expected…’[vii]
But how necessary was it during those revivals? Through using this rather confrontational device Finney made a number of observations. It is very clear that Finney’s concerns and convictions were being shaped primarily by his desire to help people get converted.
And it is clear that his primary perspective was not from the study to the mission but from the impact the preaching was having from the recipient’s point of view, then he developed his thinking.
Again, I am quoting Finney at length to at least allow him the opportunity of a defence.
Exposing pride and clarifying obedience He writes, ‘I found, as I expected, that this was a great power for good. If men who were under conviction refused to come forward publicly and renounce their sins and give themselves to God, this fact disclosed to them more clearly the pride of their hearts. If, on the other hand, they broke over all those considerations that stood in the way of their doing it, it was taking a great step; and as I found continually was the very step that they needed to take. And when the truth was explained to them, and they were made intelligent…this was one of the means used by the Spirit of God to bring them to a present submission to and acceptance of Christ.
Acting rather than waiting I had long been of the opinion that a principal reason why so few were converted…was that they were not brought to the point…
Ministers had been in the habit of preaching to sinners sermons pointing out to them their duty; but then in all probability admonishing them at the close that their nature must be changed by the Spirit of God or they could do nothing. Ministers had been so much afraid of dishonouring the Spirit of God…
Thus just at the point where the sinner needed to think of Christ, of his duty, of the thing important to be done, his attention was turned back to see whether any divine influence was going to change his nature, and let the Spirit of God act upon his nature like an electric shock while he remained passive…
Therefore the thing to be done was to set the sinner’s duty clearly before him, and depend on the Spirit’s teaching to urge him to do it; to set Christ before him, and expect the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Jesus and show them to the sinner; to set his sins before him, and expect the Holy Spirit to show him his awful wickedness, and lead him to voluntarily renounce his sins. I saw therefore clearly that to cooperate with the Spirit of God as an intelligent agent in this work, I must present the truths to be believed, the duties to be done, and the reasons for those duties.’
Cooperating with what the Spirit is doing The non-believer, hearing the sermon, ‘should understand distinctly that the Spirit’s work is not to convert him while he is passive, while he is waiting God’s time; but that the Spirit of God converts or turns him by inducing him to turn himself; that the act of submission is his own act, and the Spirit is persuading him to do this; that faith is his own act…That he gives us faith by inducing us to believe; and that he leads us to perform every duty, to repent, to believe, to submit, to love, by presenting the truths which are calculated to lead to these acts in so clear a light as to overcome our reluctance, and induce us voluntarily, with all sincerity and with all our hearts to turn to God, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him.
With these views of the subject I saw clearly that just at the point where the sinner is thoroughly instructed, and while under the voice of the living preacher with the strong pressure of truth set home by the Holy Ghost upon him, something was needed to induce him to act then and there upon his convictions.
I concluded then, and have always thought since, that to call the sinner right out from the mixed multitude to take a stand for God, to be…open and frank in his renunciation of sin…to call him to change sides, to renounce the world and come over to Christ, to renounce his own righteousness and accept that of Christ – in short to do just that which constitutes a change of heart, was just what was needed. I was not disappointed in the use of this measure.’[viii]
We may not agree entirely with Finney’s rationale, but his determination to serve the non-believer, once the Spirit of God has awakened them, is admirable.
We may also disagree with Finney’s later assertions that certain practices will produce certain results. R.T. Kendall, one time Pastor of Westminster Chapel, writing of his frustration with that church’s lack of evangelistic success, said, ‘Charles Finney, the nineteenth-century American evangelist (whom I admire), taught that if we do certain things, God will do certain things; therefore any church can see true revival. It may have worked for him but I have to say it hasn’t worked for us.’ [vix]
Feel free to add your own insights. Finney said that this ministry device had not disappointed him. Was that because there was such a powerful revival happening anyway? What about Asahel Nettleton and the Reformed Evangelists who preached with similar results and power?
For my view on the use of appeals in churches now click here
For the first part on this three-part series on Evangelistic Appeals click here
For the first part of the ministry of Charles Finney click here
When the Methodists of the late 18th Century began inviting those seeking conversion to come forward at the end of church services the practice became commonplace.
The Methodist evangelist Peter Cartwright records how the preachers planned such meetings. If they were able to discern the Spirit of God moving in significant power they should call for people to give their lives to Christ and invite them to take a seat at the front.[i]
‘Striking fire!’ Cartwright records that one of the preachers said to him, ‘If I strike fire, I will immediately call for mourners, and you must go into the assembly and exhort in every direction, and I will manage the altar. But if I fail to strike fire, you must preach; and if you strike fire, [you] call the mourners and manage the altar. I will go through the congregation and exhort with all the power God gives me.’[ii]
Soon, large numbers were responding to the invitation and the Methodists, after counseling those who responded, were recording these numbers as hopeful conversions.
Understandably, even those who did not share the Arminian theology of some of the Methodists, began to see how an evangelistic appeal could help clarify a person’s response to the gospel and the practice began to spread.
A popular way of responding to the gospel It became such a feature of the growing revival (often referred to as the Second Great Awakening) that preachers found it happening even without their encouragement.
A Baptist preacher, Wilson Thompson, describes what happened at an open air meeting in Kentucky in December 1812:
‘I took for a text the saying of Paul: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ…At the close of this discourse the large congregation seemed deeply affected.
I cast my eyes over them, and the general appearance was a solemn stillness, as though some unseen power was hovering over them. Every eye was set on me, and I felt must with astonishment, and stood silent for some minutes.
I believe there was not a motion nor a sound during the time until, simultaneously, some twenty or more persons arose from their seats and came forward.’[iii]
But, as we’ll see in the next post, it was Charles Finney who, arguably being the most effective Evangelist of this period, became the preacher who popularized the practice more than any other.
In terms of a qualified defence of the practice, I have written on this subject elsewhere. I certainly acknowledge the danger of presumption and of giving a false impression as to the nature of the spiritual work done in a person who has responded to the gospel message by ‘going forward’
It is often asserted that Charles Finney is the dastardly inventor of this religious device, which has had both the staunchly Reformed and the weak-of-faith irritated by its popularity and reluctant to employ it at the end of their messages.
That Finney is the originator of this overwhelmingly popular form of response is apparently enough for some Reformed pastors to reject it outright. Tut tut.
But author Iain Murray, a friend of Dr Lloyd-Jones and a keen historian of revival, has unintentionally come to Finney’s rescue.
Revival and Results In Revival and Revivalism, Murray discusses the dangers of emotionalism. Strange things happen in genuine revivals: people fall down, overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit.
But, when such things take place, there begins a dynamic in which such outward displays of religious excitement can become indicators of success, and preachers eager to see a response to their preaching, or, worse, driven by an ambition to be known as powerful, can fall into the trap of encouraging such responses.
These elements, he argues, were fully at work during the Kentucky Camp Meetings in the early 19th Century, noting menacingly that some ‘went the full distance into delusion’. Nevertheless he credits the Kentucky revival and the Second Great Awakening in America generally as ‘giving men the Bible as their guide instead of the goddess Reason whose reign had begun in France.’
The old Calvinism under threat In the context of these developments he raises the problem of Calvinism’s loosening hold on the prevailing theology of evangelicals. Although the late 18th century revivals had begun primarily amongst Calvinists, new opinions were gaining ground. The first American Methodist magazine was bullishly titled ‘The Arminian Magazine’.
The opinion of those Methodists who were vigourously engaged in the work of evangelisation was that the Calvinists had a tendency to slow things down and get in the way.
If the revival in Kentucky had given a boost to the Christian cause generally it was at the expense of the old Reformed doctrinal unity.
Here Murray charges the Methodists with being ‘overbalanced on an experience-centred Christianity, and too ready to exalt zeal above knowledge.’
Mass Evangelism, Organized Campaigns, Lots of Singing, Presumption
Thus several regrettable outcomes: ‘the Methodists…came to believe that the organization of mass meetings was a very effective part of evangelism. Emotion engendered by numbers and mass singing, repeated over several days, was conducive to securing a response. Results could thus be multiplied, even guaranteed.’
The Calvinists, by contrast, according to Murray, ‘using their Bibles rather than any knowledge of psychology, saw from the New Testament that no technique could produce conversions.’
That the Methodists were then doing what Whitefield had done a generation before (organize mass meetings), and what all believers shall do one day (ie, sing songs of worship to Jesus Christ in a massive, massive crowd cf Rev 7:9-10) is of little consequence to Murray: he is setting the stage for the still irritatingly prevalent ‘altar call’.
How do you know what’s happening? At first it was difficult to tell who was being actually converted. Should they count the ones who fell down as converted? Obviously not. Murray omits the fact that even Whitefield tended to consider the general weeping of one of the mass congregations as a good indicator, even explicitly mentioning the broken emotional responses of Bristol miners as a sign of their repentance.
The whole connection between Kentucky emotionalism and the evangelistic appeal is tenuous anyhow as no ‘altar calls’ happened there anyway.
The first modern appeals Nevertheless here it is: Murray has pinpointed what may well be the first instance of the evangelistic appeal (and it wasn’t Finney): ‘Before the end of the eighteenth century, in some congregations of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the innovation had been introduced of inviting ‘mourners’ to come to the front, metaphorically, ‘to the altar’.
‘Jesse Lee recorded in his journal for 31 October 1798: ‘At Paup’s Meeting House Mr Asbury preached on Eph 5:25, 26, 27…I exhorted, and the power of the Lord was among us…John Easter proclaimed aloud, “I have not a doubt but God will convert a soul today”. The preachers then requested all that were under conviction to come together. Several men and women came and fell upon their knees, and the preachers for some time kept singing and exhorting the mourners…two or three found peace.’’
Murray gives a further example: ‘In 1801 another Methodist in Delaware reported: ‘After prayer I called upon the persons in distress to come forward and look to the Lord to convert their souls. Numbers came forward.’’
As a Christian who joyfully embraces Reformed theology I struggle to see the problem with that example.
What do you think?
More next time…
For the first part in the Charles Finney Story click here
 NB. In the US the appeal is still referred to by the archaic sounding term ‘altar call’. The term ‘evangelistic appeal’ also has problems, of course, considering that the actual appeal is contained in the message itself.
 ‘The phenomenon of hearers falling prostrate during a service or crying out in anguish is nor uncommon at the outset of revivals.’ Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth 1994) p.163
 He says later, ‘There were no ‘altar calls’ in the early great communion services and camp meetings in the Kentucky revival but, with the impetus that high emotion imparted to the immediate and the visible, it was a short step to its introduction by the Methodists.’ P. 186 Thus he reveals the weakness of his historical argument.
The result of Charles Finney’s encounters with the Holy Spirit are well documented: when he preached multitudes came to Christ.
The Apostle Paul talked about preaching with the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor 2:4). While we may be convinced that such demonstrations may differ from culture to culture, the following can certainly be understood as an example of a 19th Century American revivalism.
These events took place three years after Finney received his ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in 1824 in a packed school hall in Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York, and are recounted by him.
An ‘ungodly people’
‘While I was [preaching] I observed the people looked as if they were angry. Many of the men were in their shirt sleeves and they looked at each other and at me, as if they were ready to pitch into me and chastise me for something on the spot…their anger arose higher and higher.
As soon as I had finished the narrative I turned upon them and said, that I understood that they had never had a religious meeting in that place; and that therefore I had a right to take it for granted, and was compelled to take it for granted, that they were an ungodly people. I pressed that home upon them with more and more energy, with my heart full to bursting.’
‘The congregation began to fall from their seats’
‘I had not spoken to them in this strain of direct application, I should think more than a quarter of an hour, when all at once and awful solemnity seemed to settle down upon them; and a some thing flashed over the congregation – a kind of shimmering – as if there was some agitation in the atmosphere itself.
The congregation began to fall from their seats; and they fell in every direction, and cried for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell. Indeed nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate, I should think, in less than two minutes from this first shock that fell upon them. Every one prayed for himself who was able to speak at all. I, of course was obliged to stop preaching, for they no longer paid any attention.
I saw the old man who had invited me there to preach sitting about in the middle of the house, and looking around with utter amazement. I raised my voice almost to a scream to make him hear, and pointing to him said, ‘Can’t you pray?’…
‘You are not in Hell yet!’
I then spake as loud as I could, and tried to make them attend to me. I said to them, “You are not in hell yet; and now let me direct you to Christ.” For a few moments I tried to hold forth the Gospel to them; but scarcely any of them paid any attention.
My heart was so overflowing with joy at such a scene that I could hardly contain myself. A little way from where I stood was an open fire-place. I recollect very well that my joy was so great, that I could not help laughing in a most spasmodic manner.
I knelt down and stuck my head into that fire-place and hung my pocket handkerchief over my head, lest they should see me laugh; for I was aware that they would not understand that it was irrepressible, holy joy that made me laugh. It was with much difficulty that I refrained from shouting, and giving glory to God.’
One by one Finney spoke to individuals, leading them to Christ. Years later he had the joy of receiving funding for his ministry from some of those converted in that very meeting.
Strong-headed, rough as a broken rock, Charles Finney was converted and filled with the Holy Spirit.
He soon realised that he was never going to be a lawyer, but had to be a preacher. He began discussions with his Pastor, George Gale, about ordination and applied to three seminaries, but was rejected (partly because he also applied for financial assistance, partly because he was already in his thirties).
It was agreed by the local presbytery that he should begin personal studies under the guidance of Gale and they would review his application for ordination. Six months into this agreement Gale became ill and advised them to ordain Finney so he could take over pastoral responsibilities at the church in Adams.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. While it is true he was ordained more quickly than expected, it was clear that his somewhat severe style was not going to suit a pastoral mode of ministry. Once again, Gale (whom Finney unfairly criticises in his Memoirs) stepped in to help by suggesting he be commissioned as a ‘missionary’ to evangelise.
This slightly unusual course proved to be providential for Finney. It gave him a pattern for evangelistic ministry and he began to mature as a Christian and a leader as he learnt to preach the gospel.
His reaction to criticism
Although his insecurities and defensiveness are very evident in his Memoirs (and presumably helped define the change from a Reformed to a strong Arminian position in his later theology[i]), he was clearly and wonderfully used by God.
His early meetings were not wildly successful, but he faithfully persevered. He became aware of two primary needs: firstly that the non-believer needed to hear the gospel clearly and respond to it personally, i.e., the command to repent and believe was a command that could be obeyed. Secondly, he became aware of the necessity of the Holy Spirit in working upon the hearts and minds of those who heard, in order that they repent and believe.
At times, in his writings, he flip-flops from one emphasis to the other. But the criticism he received from pastors, theologians and evangelists over his direct and personal methods to ensure responses to the gospel resulted in a decided anti-Reformed position in his thinking.
In fact, his biographer, Keith Hardman, asserts that, in connection with his recollections in his Memoirs, ‘Finney interjected his later theological position into it, as he did with all of these incidents.’[ii]
Prayer and Preaching
Throughout the 1820s Finney continued itinerating, trying to secure conversions to Christ. He was accompanied by a praying minister, Daniel Nash. Nash was no great preacher but recognised a preaching gift in Finney and committed himself to prayer for him and for the meetings. They travelled together in partnership, with Nash sometimes ‘shouting’ in prayer and even calling out the names of individuals whom they considered needed converting! This proved controversial, of course, but the praying/preaching partnership began to bear much fruit – as we will see next time in a post entitled, ‘Demonstrations of the Spirit’s power!’
To read the first part in the Charles Finney story click here
[i] ‘His peculiar views, adopted since he has been at Oberlin, were no part of his theology at that time…Of the doctrine of election Mr Finney in his preaching said very little. His reason for it was that he was dealing with the impenitent chiefly, and he thought it was adapted to converted, or the mature Christian, rather than to the impenitent. This I always thought in some degree a wrong judgement…Had Mr Finney taken a different view of it, and dwelt upon it more, his faith would have been more firmly anchored, and he would have been saved from the position in which he has found himself…When he was licensed and first laboured as a missionary, he was very firm and faithful in bringing out this doctrine.’ George Gale, quoted in Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987)
19th Century Evangelist Charles Finney was one of the more controversial figures on the religious landscape in America.
Converted after fairly rigourous intellectual inquiry, he had an astonishing experience of God’s love and power.
He certainly wasn’t the first to speak of a ‘baptism in the Spirit’ (see Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8) nor would he be the last, but his description of the experience is helpful for those seeking God for a similar dynamic in their spiritual lives.
You can read his introduction to the experience here.
‘A mighty baptism in the Holy Ghost’
His journal records the occasion:
‘But as I returned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without expecting it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, at a moment entirely unexpected by me, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul.
I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love for I could not express it in any other way.
And yet it did not seem like water, but rather as the breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings; and it seemed to me, as these waves passed over me, that they literally moved my hair like a passing breeze.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. It seemed to me that I should burst.
‘So happy that I cannot live!’
I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.
How long I continued in this state I do not know. But it was late in the evening when a member of my choir – for I was the leader of the choir – came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church.
He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.
He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office.
The Laughing Elder
This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him.
Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laugh. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart. It seemed to be a spasm that was irresistible.’[i]
Further prayers were said and the fact one of the elders of the church couldn’t resist laughing when he saw Finney in a relatively helpless state made Finney doubt whether or not he had been presumptuous. Nevertheless he slept.
‘…When I awoke in the morning the sun had risen, and was pouring a clear light into my room. Words cannot express the impression that this sunlight made upon me. Instantly the baptism that I had received the night before, returned upon me in the same manner.
I arose upon my knees in the bed and wept aloud with joy, and remained for some time too much overwhelmed with the baptism of the Spirit to do anything but pour out my soul to God.
It seemed as if this morning’s baptism was accompanied with a gentle reproof, as if the Spirit seemed to say to me, ‘Will you doubt? Will you doubt?’ I cried, ‘No! I will not doubt; I cannot doubt!’’ [ii]
That such experiences of God’s power are recorded throughout church history should challenge us to seek God for authentic encounters with His majesty that we might have an impact on our generation as Finney and others did on theirs.
Next time we’ll look at how Finney began to seek to minister to others…click here
For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here
In northern China, as the 19th Century drew to a close, a more determined resistance to foreign rule finally emerged.
The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists Local militia, later known as ‘Boxers’ (who apparently believed certain boxing type techniques gave them special powers), were deployed specifically to attack foreigners and those assisting them.
Authorised by the Empress Dowager, who sent orders into the provinces in June 1900, the Boxers, or literally ‘The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’, began to kill missionaries and converts.
Thousands of Chinese Christians, nick-named ‘secondary devils’, were martyred and many foreign missionaries and Christians died. Some put the estimate at near 20,000.[i]
‘I can trust’ Hudson Taylor, nearing the end of his life, was initially protected by staff from hearing the worst of the news, but it became impossible to hide.
In Shanxi, 34 Protestant missionaries and 12 Catholics were beheaded before the Governor. In the Beijing area, 15 of Taylor’s missionaries were killed, two others both single female missionaries were killed while kneeling in prayer.[ii]
During the uprising the China Inland Mission alone lost 58 missionaries and 21 of their children.
When Taylor, frail and ill, and resting in Switzerland, heard, he said ‘I cannot read. I cannot think. I cannot even pray. But I can trust.’
‘They do not regret it now’ Part of the correspondence he received was a letter from the two female missionaries written the very day before they were murdered. After reflecting on the desperate situation they found themselves in, Taylor said, ‘Oh think what it must have been to exchange that murderous mob for the rapture of His presence…They do not regret it now.’[iii]
Indeed there is no reported evidence of a single missionary attempting to recant in the face of execution. None of the CIM correspondence revealed a spirit of revenge. Reports also showed that local converts also stayed true to the faith and didn’t back down in order to save their lives. Some local non-Christian officials also paid with their lives to protect the freedom of religion in their areas.[iv]
Taylor’s last trip to China In July, Jennie, Taylor’s second wife, finally succumbed to cancer and Taylor decided to make one last trip to China. There, in April 1905, three veteran missionaries from different missionary organisations met and thanked God for lives spent serving Him in China. They prayed and sang hymns together. They had served as missionaries in China a combined total of 156 years.
It was in China at last that he passed away – in the land where he had spent his life sharing the gospel.
China’s Millions Hudson Taylor’s two-volume biography, written by his son and daughter-in-law, ends with the chapter ‘Prayers Yet to be Answered’. I think even they would be thrilled to know that today millions of Chinese are followers of Jesus Christ.
The success of the gospel is not finally dependent on any individual human leader, yet the role an individual plays can be decisive in its advance.
Ultimately the gospel is dependent on the still-living, resurrected Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The triune God is a God who saves – the dramatic success of Christianity in China, even under the challenges of legislated persecution or atheism, is testimony to that.
(Photo by Andrew Robertson from the ‘Tapes From Scotland’ website)
We may be convinced that the New Testament documents are based on reliable sources – that we have what was originally written from an early date – but do we know that what they contain is reliable? How do we know they weren’t just made up?
Dr Peter J Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge University, attempts to answer the question of the reliability of the Gospel record by looking closely at both non-Christian sources and detailed material within the Gospels themselves.
He draws on research which strongly suggests the implausibility of a claim that the four canonical gospels were clever fakes.
Were these stories made up at a later time or written from a different place, or do they include such a wealth of incidental information that was available only to the ‘close-up’ gospel writers, and which points to their authenticity?
Peter presents the material with wit and precision and we’re left with an extremely convincing case that the four gospels were indeed comprised of genuine eyewitness accounts. You’ll enjoy this!
NEW! UPDATED video link. Click on the image below:
By all means, save some!
From time to time, as church leaders, our hopes for a sudden gain in church growth are raised by news of a fresh and creative initiative. Whether this is a specific evangelistic strategy or whether it’s in connection with church management our response is often similar: We do the research, hear the testimonies, read the materials, pray and prepare to launch into new territory which we hope will yield better results.
None of this is wrong, of course. In fact, we ought to be on our toes for spotting effective means of communicating the gospel message. We must keep imagining and learning and trying all that we can, that ‘by all means we might save some.’ (1 Cor 9:22)
But in all of this we need to remember that this is a life’s work. We are not just jumping from project to project – we are living all of life in the context of God’s mission to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ; all of life and for the duration of our life.
And this is where Hudson Taylor’s example of perseverance can encourage us. By the time of these events he had been serving in China nearly 40 years.
Christians worship a pig! In the early 1890s leaflets were distributed throughout Hunan Province that misrepresented the CIM and other missionary organisations working in China:
‘Missionaries are the frontline troops of western nations in their designs on China; they use magic powers to corrupt the Chinese; they extract unborn children from their mothers’ wombs and scoop out the eyes of the dead to make silver;
Jesus debauched the women of Judea and was put to death for violating the king’s harem;
Christians worship a pig and refuse to honour heaven, earth, the sun, moon, stars, ancestors and the sages.’[i]
As a result of the publication of these leaflets, and the growing resentment of colonial rule, several missionaries lost their lives, and most were living in real danger.
Taylor wrote, ‘We are continually encouraging our converts to brave persecution and to suffer loss for Christ’s sake, and they are apt to think that it is easy for us to speak in this way, seeing that, as far as they can tell, we are well-off and exposed to no danger or loss.
When, therefore, we are in danger they will mark our conduct very closely, and judge for themselves how far we really believe…Years of teaching would not impress them as our conduct at such times may do.’[ii]
Slow Progress and our response to it Like Taylor’s men and women, we also battle misunderstanding as to our purpose or motive. And, just like Taylor’s troops, we also wrestle with slow progress.
We are heartened by bursts of growth and by news of growth in other situations but we must hold steady and persevere in order to build the church in a spiritually bewildered culture.
Writing back in March 1892, Hudson Taylor, after 38 years of hard work, said, ‘The supreme want of all missions in the present day is the manifested presence of the Holy Ghost.
Hundreds of thousands of tracts and portions of Scripture have been put into circulation; thousands of gospel addresses have been given; tens of thousands of miles have been traversed in missionary journeys but how small has been the issue in the way of definite conversions!
We…have much need to humble ourselves before God…’
Seeking the power of the Holy Spirit ‘Few of us, perhaps, are satisfied with the results of our work, and some may think that if we had more, or more costly machinery we should do better. But oh, I feel it is divine power we want…!
Should we not do well, rather, to suspend our present operations and give ourselves to humiliation and prayer for nothing less that to be filled with the Spirit, and made channels through which He shall work with resistless power?
Souls are perishing now for lack of this power!’[iii]
Sure enough, the following month, instead of the normal business meeting of the directors of the Chinese operation, the minutes recorded: ‘Instead of meeting for conference, the China Council united with the members of the mission in Shanghai in seeking for themselves, the whole mission in China and the Home Councils, the filling of the Holy Spirit.’[iv]
Soon after, news was spread of the power of God working in a new way amongst them.
Let’s learn from history – in order to persevere in the mission we are on, we need encounters with God, to be both humbled and empowered by the Spirit of God.
We never graduate from this…this is our life’s work.
For the first part of the Hudson Taylor story click here