Darling, I’ve found my Destiny!

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

1865 is a landmark year for historians, friends and members of the Salvation Army.

It was in July, 1865, that William and Catherine Booth finally moved to the capital city of England and of the British Empire. Catherine had already ministered effectively at an outreach to prostitutes. William was eager to preach the Christian message among those who seemed most resistant to it: the working classes.

The decision was made but the strategy wasn’t yet clear.

Darling, I’ve found my destiny!
Richard Collier, in his superb biography of Booth, The General Next to God, paints Booth’s turning point skilfully:

He came up the Mile End Road, East London … Outside the drab red-brick façade of The Blind Beggar tavern he halted. From beneath his arm he drew a book and … gave out the verse of a hymn.

In an instant faces were glued to the pub’s glass windows; a ragged unwashed throng pressed curiously about the stranger …

‘There is a heaven in East London for everyone,’ they heard him cry, ‘for everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Saviour.’

From the pub there came only a spattering volley of jeers and oaths … Then from the rear a rotten egg came whizzing to find its mark and the subtle spell was broken. With the yolk trickling slowly down his pallid cheek the stranger paused, and prayed. Then, pulling his hat over his eyes, he walked rapidly westwards …

Towards midnight, as Catherine later recalled, a key grated abruptly in the lock and Booth, his eyes shining, strode into the living-room.

‘Darling,’ were the first words that burst from his lips, ‘I’ve found my destiny!’[i]

Booth was deeply concerned for the unchurched. Evangelical churches in the city seemed to be doing well, but there was a vast multitude of those who were utterly apathetic about God, faith, or Christian ethics.

More than two-thirds of the working classes never come to church
Booth could see the poverty and the bitterness that went along with it:

The moral degradation and spiritual destitution of the teeming population of the East of London are subjects with which the Christians of the metropolis are perfectly conversant. More than two-thirds of the working-classes never cross the threshold of church or chapel, but loiter away the Sabbath in idleness, spending it in pleasure-seeking or some kind of money-making traffic. Consequently, tens of thousands are totally ignorant of the Gospel; and, as they will not attend the means ordinarily used for making known the love of God towards them, it is evident that if they are to be reached extraordinary methods must be employed.[ii]

Both William and Catherine were extraordinarily hard-working. They rarely seemed to rest. And so, with no regular form of income, William set about organising campaigns, tent missions, evangelistic outreaches ­– irrespective of the likelihood of a positive response.

A passionate determination for mission
His passion and urgency to communicate the love of God to ‘dying men’ became the driving force of the remainder of his life, and of the organisation that would soon come to birth: The Salvation Army.

He later wrote,

When I saw those masses of poor people, so many of them evidently without God or hope in the world, and found that they so readily and eagerly listened to me, following from Open-Air Meeting to tent, and accepting, in many instances, my invitation to kneel at the Saviour’s feet there and then, my whole heart went out to them. I walked back to our West-End home and said to my wife:

‘O Kate, I have found my destiny! These are the people for whose Salvation I have been longing all these years. As I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces to-night (sic) I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, “Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labours?”

And there and then in my soul I offered myself and you and the children up to this great work. Those people shall be our people, and they shall have our God for their God.’[iii]

Is there such a passion for those who are so indifferent to the Christian message today?

Is there such a longing, such a willingness to sacrifice, to work, to pray, to preach, in order to see lives turn to Christ in our day?

As churches organise for mission in the great cities of the world, may we not take early discouragements to heart. May the great churches in our cities not only focus on those who are already open to our message; may they find a resolve to reach those who have already written Christianity off.

A rotten egg smacked Booth on the side of his face. As he walked home at midnight a conviction was born in his heart – the Gospel must be preached – ‘That night,’ he later declared, ‘The Salvation Army was born.’[iv]

More next time…
To read the whole William Booth story begin here

©2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) 15,19
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:302
[iii] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 56
[iv] ibid

The Critical Importance of Reaching the Working Classes

Howard Cook's 'Worker with Harvest, Factory' circa 1929

Brilliant New Song-Writing
In terms of the great hymns of the Christian Faith, the Methodist movement was a source of unparalleled treasures…and also some hidden ones!

And it’s the hidden treasures that we will enjoy together! But first, we’ll look at possible reasons why they’re still hidden.

How can you spot a movement on the wane?

It seems an observable reality that the beginning of the end of a great movement in church history is accompanied by certain features.

One of these – perhaps the most damaging – is a disproportionate desire for respectability. We might suggest a prevalence to preserve or promote Christianity as a respectable middle class religion.

Of course, I’m not advocating that our leaders should be anything less than truly respected in their own communities, nor that they should be deliberately rough.

I am certainly not criticising a hunger to improve in knowledge. We should all should aim to be good learners and students throughout life. It’s vital to gain theological insight. Ignorance is not good.

The true nature of Christian influence
But we must guard against snobbery. The twelve men that Jesus hand-picked to follow Him were not the most sophisticated or best educated. The point is that He took them to be with Him, He trained them and He was the source of their learning and their influence.

Paul, who had some rabbinical education, had to be broken utterly and come to the point of considering all he inherited as ‘rubbish’ for the sake of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).

Christianity promotes knowledge
But the Christian Faith uplifts people. It changes us! And essentially because Jesus came teaching and healing, Christians have gone into the world and built universities and medical facilities.

Christian expansion at its best has been marked by educational (and scientific) endeavour and compassionate service to the suffering. It’s because of Jesus.

In a very real way, God takes hold of us and improves us! Therefore, may God protect you from automatically distancing yourself from anyone you consider ‘below’ you, in some way. How vile! How unlike Jesus Christ!

The first generation of leaders should, like William Booth of the Salvation Army, carefully gauge the influence on ordinary people of the leaders who are emerging (Elijah Cadman, a former prize fighter, became Booth’s right hand man).

Don’t overlook ‘unschooled, ordinary men’
We mustn’t overlook those who have been transformed into leaders by ‘grace and grit’, and who like Peter and the other apostles, might be considered ‘unlearned men’, or ‘unschooled, ordinary men’, as the NIV puts it (see Acts 4:13). We might be missing some ‘mighty men’.

We would have to put aside John Bunyan, Howell Harris, William Carey, DL Moody, Elijah Cadman, CH Spurgeon (perhaps the most remarkable example of self-education in a Christian leader), and a host of others – in fact, we might question God as to why He made His Son an apprentice labourer rather than a college lecturer!

Reaching the ‘working class’ is a key to transforming a culture
The point is this – that when Christianity really breaks into a culture, it breaks through to those who, in Europe at least, are usually called ‘working class’.

Christianity’s ability to lastingly change the culture has been when the working people, the ordinary backbone of the population, have embraced the faith as theirs.

This is partly why we’ve spent so long examining the incredible suffering and persecution that took place amongst the 18th century Methodists. Before conversion the ordinary people of Britain rejected the gospel – but the preachers wouldn’t give up, and in the end, the gospel won through.

Songs of the People!

As we will later see with the breathtaking story of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century, when ordinary folk take Christ to themselves, we get some great new songs and sayings. The whole church is enriched and refreshed – not by mere novelty, but by the cultural strengths of every grouping in our culture.

Well now, all of that was really an introduction to some wonderful, informal and hilarious segments from hymns of the Methodists from the 18th and 19th Century. To check out the hymns click here

Picture: Howard Cook, Worker with Harvest, Factory © The Smithsonian American Art Museum

© 2010 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog