The Authoritative Life Of General William Booth Founder of The Salvation Army
G. S. Railton First Commissioner to General Booth
With a Preface by General Bramwell Booth
Copyright, 1912, By George H. Doran Company
I have no hesitation in commending this small volume as containing so far as its space permits, a good picture of my beloved Father and a record of much that made his life of interest and importance to the world.
It does not, of course, profess to cover anything like the whole story of his many years of world-wide service. It could not do so. For any such complete history we must wait for that later production which may, I hope, be possible before very long when there has been time to go fully through the masses of diaries, letters and other papers he has left behind him.
It must not be supposed that I can make myself responsible for every phrase Commissioner Railton has used. I know, however, that perhaps no one except myself had anything like his opportunities, during the last forty years, of knowing and studying my Father's life, both in public and private, and of understanding his thoughts and purposes.
Now we wish this book to accomplish something. We cannot think it possible for anyone, especially a Salvationist, to read it without being compelled ever and anon to ask himself such questions as these:—
"Am I living a life that is at all like this life? Am I, at any rate, willing by God's grace to do anything I can in the same direction, in order that God may be more loved and glorified, and that my fellow men may be raised to a more God-like and happy service? After all, is there not something better for me than money-making, or the search after human applause, or indeed the pursuit of earthly good of any kind?
"If, instead of aiming at that which will all fade away, I turn my attention to making the best of my life for God and for others, may I not also accomplish something that will afford me satisfaction at last and bear reflection in the world to come?"
I hope also that to some, at least, the great message of this life will stand revealed in these pages. I believe it to be that, while God can do little or nothing by us until we are completely submitted and given up to Him, He can work wonders of infinite moment to the world when we are. Asked, a few months before his death, if he would put into a sentence the secret as he saw it, of all the blessings which had attended him during his seventy years of service, The General replied: "Well, if I am to put it into one sentence, I would say that I made up my mind that God Almighty should have all there was of William Booth." It was, in the beginning, that entire devotion to God and its continued maintenance which could, alone, account for the story told in these brief records.
The book is, of course, written in the main from the Salvationist point of view; much of it, indeed, is simply a reproduction of my father's own sayings and writings to his own people. This, to all thoughtful readers, must be our defence against any appearance of self-glorification, or any omission to refer to the work in the world that others are doing for Christ. No attempt has been made to tell the story of The General's "life and times," but simply to note some of the things he said and did himself. And I trust the record may be found useful by all the many servants of God who do not think exactly as he thought, but who yet rejoiced in the triumphs of the Cross through his labours.
To continue and to amplify the results of his work must needs be my continual aim. I am full of hope that this book may bring me some help, not only towards his Memorial Scheme, which contemplates the erection and equipment in London and other Capitals of enlarged premises for the Training of Officers in every branch of the work, or where they already have such buildings, the erection of new Headquarters or Halls; but towards the maintenance and extension in every land of the work he began.
It cannot but be a special gratification to me to know that this book will be received with eager affection in almost every part of the world. How could it ever cease to be my greatest joy to strive more and more after my Father's ideal of linking together men and women of every land and race in one grand competition for the extinction of selfishness by the enlistment of all sorts and conditions of men in one Great Holy War for God and for all that is good?
Whether those into whose hands this volume falls, agree or not with the teachings of The Salvation Army, may God grant them Grace to join heartily at least in this, my Father's great purpose, and so help me to attain the victory for which he lived and died.
W. Bramwell Booth. London International Headquarters of The Salvation Army.
Chapter I Childhood and Poverty Chapter II Salvation in Youth Chapter III Lay Ministry Chapter IV Early Ministry Chapter V Fight Against Formality Chapter VI Revivalism Chapter VII East London Beginning Chapter VIII Army-making Chapter IX Army Leading Chapter X Desperate Fighting Chapter XI Reproducing The Army in America Chapter XII In Australasia Chapter XIII Women and Scandinavia Chapter XIV Children Conquerors in Holland and Elsewhere Chapter XV India and Devotees Chapter XVI South Africa and Colonisation Chapter XVII Japanese Heroism Chapter XVIII Co-operating With Governments Chapter XIX Conquering Death Chapter XX His Social Work Chapter XXI Motoring Triumphs Chapter XXII Our Financial System Chapter XXIII In Germany In Old Age Chapter XXIV The End Chapter XXV Tributes Chapter XXVI Organisation Chapter XXVII The Spirit of The Army Chapter XXVIII The General as a Writer
Important Events Connected with The General's Life and Work
William Booth Catherine Booth General Bramwell Booth Mrs. Bramwell Booth Emma Booth Tucker Commander Miss Booth Autograph Page
The Authoritative Life of General William Booth
Founder of The Salvation Army
Childhood and Poverty
William Booth was born in Nottingham, England, on April 10, 1829, and was left, at thirteen, the only son of a widowed and impoverished mother. His father had been one of those builders of houses who so rapidly rose in those days to wealth, but who, largely employing borrowed capital, often found themselves in any time of general scarcity reduced to poverty.
I glory in the fact that The General's ancestry has never been traced, so far as I know, beyond his grandfather. I will venture to say, however, that his forefathers fought with desperation against somebody at least a thousand years ago. Fighting is an inveterate habit of ours in England, and another renowned general has just been recommending all young men to learn to shoot. The constant joy and pride with which our General always spoke of his mother is a tribute to her excellence, as well as the best possible record of his own earliest days. Of her he wrote, in 1893:—
"I had a good mother. So good she has ever appeared to me that I have often said that all I knew of her life seemed a striking contradiction of the doctrine of human depravity. In my youth I fully accepted that doctrine, and I do not deny it now; but my patient, self-sacrificing mother always appeared to be an exception to the rule.
"I loved my mother. From infancy to manhood I lived in her. Home was not home to me without her. I do not remember any single act of wilful disobedience to her wishes. When my father died I was so passionately attached to my mother that I can recollect that, deeply though I felt his loss, my grief was all but forbidden by the thought that it was not my mother who had been taken from me. And yet one of the regrets that has followed me to the present hour is that I did not sufficiently value the treasure while I possessed it, and that I did not with sufficient tenderness and assiduity at the time, attempt the impossible task of repaying the immeasurable debt I owed to that mother's love.
"She was certainly one of the most unselfish beings it has been my lot to come into contact with. 'Never mind me' was descriptive of her whole life at every time, in every place, and under every circumstance. To make others happy was the end of all her thoughts and aims with regard not only to her children but to her domestics, and indeed to all who came within her influence. To remove misery was her delight. No beggar went empty-handed from her door. The sorrows of any poor wretch were certain of her commiseration, and of a helping hand in their removal, so far as she had ability. The children of misfortune were sure of her pity, and the children of misconduct she pitied almost the more, because, for one reason, they were the cause of sorrow to those who had reason to mourn on their account.
"For many years before she died, love, joy, and peace reigned in her heart, beamed from her countenance, and spoke in her words. Her faith was immovably fixed on Him who is able to save to the uttermost. It was a common expression of confidence with her that 'Jesus would go with her all the way through the journey of life—even to the end. He would not leave her. Her feet were on the Rock.'"
To this testimony to his mother's worth The General added:—
"To those whose eyes may fall on these lines, may I not be excused saying, 'See to it that you honour your father and your mother, not only that your days may be long in the land, but that you may not, in after years, be disturbed by useless longings to have back again the precious ones who so ceaselessly and unselfishly toiled with heart and brain for your profoundest well-being.'
"My mother and father were both Derbyshire people. They were born within a few miles of each other, the former at Somercotes, a small village within a mile or two of Alfreton and the latter at Belper. My mother's father was a well-to-do farmer. Her mother died when she was three years of age; and, her father marrying again, she was taken to the heart and home of a kind uncle and aunt, who reared and educated her, giving her at the same time a sound religious training.
"Years passed of which we have but imperfect knowledge during which, by some means, she drifted to the small town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Here she met my father, who was availing himself of the waters as a remedy for his chronic enemy, rheumatism. He offered her marriage. She refused. He left the town indignant, but returned to renew his proposal, which she ultimately accepted. Their marriage followed. Up to this date her path through life had been comparatively a smooth one; but from this hour onward through many long and painful years, it was crowded with difficulties and anxieties.
"My father's fortunes appear to have begun to wane soon after his marriage. At that time he would have passed, I suppose, for a rich man, according to the estimate of riches in those days. But bad times came, and very bad times they were, such as we know little about, despite all the grumbling of this modern era. Nottingham, where the family was then located, suffered heavily, a large proportion of its poorer classes being reduced to the verge of starvation. My father, who had invested the entire savings of his lifetime in small house property, was seriously affected by these calamitous circumstances; in fact, he was ruined.
"The brave way in which my mother stood by his side during that dark and sorrowful season is indelibly written on my memory. She shared his every anxiety, advised him in all his business perplexities, and upheld his spirit as crash followed crash, and one piece of property after another went overboard. Years of heavy affliction followed, during which she was his tender, untiring nurse, comforting and upholding his spirit unto death; and then she stood out all alone to fight the battles of his children amidst the wreck of his fortunes.
"Those days were gloomy indeed; and the wonder now in looking back upon them is that she survived them. It would have seemed a perfectly natural thing if she had died of a broken heart, and been borne away to lie in my father's grave.
"But she had reasons for living. Her children bound her to earth, and for our sakes she toiled on with unswerving devotion and unintermitting care. After a time the waters found a smoother channel, so far as this world's troubles were concerned, and her days were ended, in her eighty-fifth year, in comparative peace."
"During one of my Motor Campaigns to Nottingham," The General wrote on another occasion, "my car took me over the Trent, the dear old river along whose banks I used to wander in my boyhood days, sometimes poring over Young's Night Thoughts, reading Henry Kirke White's Poems, or, as was frequently the case before my conversion, with a fishing-rod in my hand.
"In those days angling was my favourite sport. I have sat down on those banks many a summer morning at five o'clock, although I rarely caught anything. An old uncle ironically used to have a plate with a napkin on it ready for my catch waiting for me on my return.
"And then the motor brought us to the ancient village of Wilford, with its lovely old avenues of elms fringing the river.
"There were the very meadows in which we children used to revel amongst the bluebells and crocuses which, in those days, spread out their beautiful carpet in the spring-time, to the unspeakable delight of the youngsters from the town.
"But how changed the scene! Most of these rural charms had fled, and in their places were collieries and factories, and machine shops, and streets upon streets of houses for the employes of the growing town. We were only 60,000 in my boyhood, whereas the citizens of Nottingham to-day number 250,000.
"A few years ago the city conferred its freedom upon me as a mark of appreciation and esteem. To God be all the glory that He has helped His poor boy to live for Him, and made even his former enemies to honour him."
But we all know what sort of influences exist in a city that is at once the capital of a county and a commercial centre. The homes of the wealthy and comfortable are found at no great distance from the dwellings of the poor, while in the huge market-places are exhibitions weekly of all the contrasts between town and country life, between the extremest want and the most lavish plenty.
Seventy years ago, life in such a city was nearly as different from what it is to-day as the life of to-day in an American state capital is from that of a Chinese town. Between the small circle of "old families" who still possessed widespread influence and the masses of the people there was a wide gap. The few respectable charities, generally due to the piety of some long-departed citizen, marked out very strikingly a certain number of those who were considered "deserving poor," and helped to make every one less concerned about all the rest. For all the many thousands struggling day and night to keep themselves and those dependent upon them from starvation, there was little or no pity. It was just "their lot," and they were taught to consider it their duty to be content with it. To envy their richer neighbours, to covet anything they possessed, was a sin that would only ensure for the coveter an eternal and aggravated continuance of his present thirst.
In describing those early years, The General said:—
"Before my father's death I had been apprenticed by his wish. I was very young, only thirteen years of age, but he could not afford to keep me longer at school, and so out into the world I must go. This event was followed by the formation of companionships whose influence was anything but beneficial. I went down hill morally, and the consequences might have been serious if not eternally disastrous, but that the hand of God was laid on me in a very remarkable manner.
"I had scarcely any income as an apprentice, and was so hard up when my father died, that I could do next to nothing to assist my dear mother and sisters, which was the cause of no little humiliation and grief.
"The system of apprenticeship in those days generally bound a lad for six or seven years. During this time he received little or no wages, and was required to slave from early morning to late evening upon the supposition that he was 'being taught' the business, which, if he had a good master, was probably true. It was a severe but useful time of learning. My master was a Unitarian—that is, he did not believe Christ was the son of God and the Saviour of the world, but only the best of teachers; yet so little had he learnt of Him that his heaven consisted in making money, strutting about with his gay wife, and regaling himself with worldly amusements.
"At nineteen the weary years of my apprenticeship came to an end. I had done my six years' service, and was heartily glad to be free from the humiliating bondage they had proved. I tried hard to find some kind of labour that would give me more liberty to carry out the aggressive ideas which I had by this time come to entertain as to saving the lost; but I failed. For twelve months I waited. Those months were among the most desolate of my life. No one took the slightest interest in me.
"Failing to find employment in Nottingham, I had to move away. I was loath, very loath, to leave my dear widowed mother and my native town, but I was compelled to do so, and to come to London. In the great city I felt myself unutterably alone. I did not know a soul excepting a brother-in-law, with whom I had not a particle of communion.
"In many respects my new master very closely resembled the old one. In one particular, however, he differed from him very materially, and that was he made a great profession of religion. He believed in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and in the Church of which he was a member, but seemed to be utterly ignorant of either the theory or practice of experimental godliness. To the spiritual interests of the dead world around him he was as indifferent as were the vicious crowds themselves whom he so heartily despised. All he seemed to me to want was to make money, and all he seemed to want me for was to help him in the sordid selfish task.
"So it was work, work, work, morning, noon, and night. I was practically a white slave, being only allowed my liberty on Sundays, and an hour or two one night in the week, and even then the rule was 'Home by ten o'clock, or the door will be locked against you.' This law was rigidly enforced in my case, although my employer knew that I travelled long distances preaching the Gospel in which he and his wife professed so loudly to believe. To get home in time, many a Sunday night I have had to run long distances, after walking for miles, and preaching twice during the day."
The contrast between those days and ours can hardly be realised by any of us now. We may put down almost in figures some of the differences that steam and electricity have made, linking all mankind together more closely than Nottingham was then connected with London. But what words can convey any picture of the development of intelligence and sympathy that makes an occurrence in a London back street interest the reading inhabitants of Germany, America, and Australia as intense as those of our own country?
What a consolation it would have been to the apprentice lad, could he have known how all his daily drudgery was fitting him to understand, to comfort, and to help the toiling masses of every race and clime?
In the wonderful providence of God all these changes have been allowed to leave England in as dominating a position as she held when William Booth was born, if not to enhance her greatness and power, far as some may consider beyond what she deserved. And yet all the time, with or without our choice, our own activities, and even our faults and neglects, have been helping other peoples, some of them born on our soil, to become our rivals in everything. Happily the multiplication of plans of intercourse is now merging the whole human race so much into one community that one may hope yet to see the dawn of that fraternity of peoples which may end the present prospects of wars unparalleled in the past. How very much William Booth has contributed to bring that universal brotherhood about this book may suffice to hint.
Salvation In Youth
In convincing him that goodness was the only safe passport to peace and prosperity of any lasting kind, William Booth's mother had happily laid in the heart of her boy the best foundation for a happy life, "Be good, William, and then all will be well," she had said to him over and over again.
But how was he to "be good"? The English National Church, eighty years ago, had reached a depth of cold formality and uselessness which can hardly be imagined now. Nowhere was this more manifest than in the "parish" church. The rich had their allotted pew, a sort of reserved seat, into which no stranger dare enter, deserted though it might be by its holders for months together. For the poor, seats were in some churches placed in the broad aisles or at the back of the pulpit, so conspicuously marking out the inferiority of all who sat in them as almost to serve as a notice to every one that the ideas of Jesus Christ had no place there. Even when an earnest clergyman came to any church, he had really a battle against great prejudices on both sides if he wished to make any of "the common people" feel welcome at "common prayer." But the way the appointed services were "gone through" was only too often such as to make every one look upon the whole matter as one which only concerned the clergy. Especially was this the effect on young people. Anything like interest, or pleasure, in those dull and dreary, not to say "vain" repetitions on their part must indeed have been rare.
It is not surprising then that William Booth saw nothing to attract him in the Church of his fathers. John Wesley, that giant reformer of religion in England, had been dead some forty years, and his life-work had not been allowed to affect "the Church" very profoundly. His followers having seceded from it contrary to his orders and entreaties, had already made several sects, and in the chief of these William Booth presently found for himself at least a temporary home. Here the services were, to some extent, independent of books; earnest preaching of the truth was often heard from the pulpits, and some degree of real concern for the spiritual advancement of the people was manifested by the preachers.
Under this preaching and these influences, and the singing of Wesley's hymns, the lad was deeply moved. To his last days he sang some of those grand old songs as much as, if not more than, any others; that one, for example, containing the verse:—
And can I yet delay my little all to give? To tear my soul from earth away, for Jesus to receive? Nay, but I yield, I yield! I can hold out no more, I sink, by dying love compelled, and own Thee conqueror.
The mind that has never yet come in contact with teaching of this character can scarcely comprehend the effect of such thoughts on a young and ardent soul. This Jesus, who gave up Heaven and all that was bright and pleasant to devote Himself to the world's Salvation, was presented to him as coming to ask the surrender of his heart and life to His service, and his heart could not long resist the appeal. It was in no large congregation, however, but in one of the smaller Meetings that William Booth made the glorious sacrifice of himself which he had been made to understand was indispensable to real religion. Speaking some time ago, he thus described that great change:—
"When as a giddy youth of fifteen I was led to attend Wesley Chapel, Nottingham, I cannot recollect that any individual pressed me in the direction of personal surrender to God. I was wrought upon quite independently of human effort by the Holy Ghost, who created within me a great thirst for a new life.
"I felt that I wanted, in place of the life of self-indulgence, to which I was yielding myself, a happy, conscious sense that I was pleasing God, living right, and spending all my powers to get others into such a life. I saw that all this ought to be, and I decided that it should be. It is wonderful that I should have reached this decision in view of all the influences then around me. My professedly Christian master never uttered a word to indicate that he believed in anything he could not see, and many of my companions were worldly and sensual, some of them even vicious.
"Yet I had that instinctive belief in God which, in common with my fellow-creatures, I had brought into the world with me. I had no disposition to deny my instincts, which told me that if there was a God His laws ought to have my obedience and His interests my service.
"I felt that it was better to live right than to live wrong, and as to caring for the interests of others instead of my own, the condition of the suffering people around me, people with whom I had been so long familiar, and whose agony seemed to reach its climax about this time, undoubtedly affected me very deeply.
"There were children crying for bread to parents whose own distress was little less terrible to witness.
"One feeling specially forced itself upon me, and I can recollect it as distinctly as though it had transpired only yesterday, and that was the sense of the folly of spending my life in doing things for which I knew I must either repent or be punished in the days to come.
"In my anxiety to get into the right way, I joined the Methodist Church, and attended the Class Meetings, to sing and pray and speak with the rest." (A Class Meeting was the weekly muster of all members of the church, who were expected to tell their leader something of their soul's condition in answer to his inquiries.) "But all the time the inward Light revealed to me that I must not only renounce everything I knew to be sinful, but make restitution, so far as I had the ability, for any wrong I had done to others before I could find peace with God.
"The entrance to the Heavenly Kingdom was closed against me by an evil act of the past which required restitution. In a boyish trading affair I had managed to make a profit out of my companions, whilst giving them to suppose that what I did was all in the way of a generous fellowship. As a testimonial of their gratitude they had given me a silver pencil-case. Merely to return their gift would have been comparatively easy, but to confess the deception I had practised upon them was a humiliation to which for some days I could not bring myself.
"I remember, as if it were but yesterday, the spot in the corner of a room under the chapel, the hour, the resolution to end the matter, the rising up and rushing forth, the finding of the young fellow I had chiefly wronged, the acknowledgment of my sin, the return of the pencil-case—the instant rolling away from my heart of the guilty burden, the peace that came in its place, and the going forth to serve my God and my generation from that hour.
"It was in the open street that this great change passed over me, and if I could only have possessed the flagstone on which I stood at that happy moment, the sight of it occasionally might have been as useful to me as the stones carried up long ago from the bed of the Jordan were to the Israelites who had passed over them dry-shod.
"Since that night, for it was near upon eleven o'clock when the happy change was realised, the business of my life has been not only to make a holy character but to live a life of loving activity in the service of God and man. I have ever felt that true religion consists not only in being holy myself, but in assisting my Crucified Lord in His work of saving men and women, making them into His Soldiers, keeping them faithful to death, and so getting them into Heaven.
"I have had to encounter all sorts of difficulties as I have travelled along this road. The world has been against me, sometimes very intensely, and often very stupidly. I have had difficulties similar to those of other men, with my own bodily appetites, with my mental disposition, and with my natural unbelief.
"Many people, both religious and irreligious, are apt to think that they are more unfavourably constituted than their comrades and neighbours, and that their circumstances and surroundings are peculiarly unfriendly to the discharge of the duties they owe to God and man.
"I have been no exception in this matter. Many a time I have been tempted to say to myself, 'There is no one fixed so awkwardly for holy living and faithful fighting as I am.' But I have been encouraged to resist the delusion by remembering the words of the Apostle Paul: 'There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.'
"I am not pretending to say that I have worked harder, or practised more self-denial, or endured more hardships at any particular time of my life than have those around me; but I do want those who feel any interest in me to understand that faithfulness to God in the discharge of duty and the maintenance of a good conscience have cost me as severe a struggle as they can cost any Salvation Soldier in London, Berlin, Paris, New York, or Tokio to-day.
"One reason for the victory I daily gained from the moment of my conversion was, no doubt, my complete and immediate separation from the godless world. I turned my back on it. I gave it up, having made up my mind beforehand that if I did go in for God I would do so with all my might. Rather than yearning for the world's pleasures, books, gains, or recreations, I found my new nature leading me to come away from it all. It had lost all charm for me. What were all the novels, even those of Sir Walter Scott or Fenimore Cooper, compared with the story of my Saviour? What were the choicest orators compared with Paul? What was the hope of money-earning, even with all my desire to help my poor mother and sisters, in comparison with the imperishable wealth of ingathered souls? I soon began to despise everything the world had to offer me.
"In those days I felt, as I believe many Converts do, that I could willingly and joyfully travel to the ends of the earth for Jesus Christ, and suffer anything imaginable to help the souls of other men. Jesus Christ had baptised me, according to His eternal promise, with His Spirit and with Fire.
"Yet the surroundings of my early life were all in opposition to this whole-hearted devotion. No one at first took me by the hand and urged me forward, or gave me any instruction or hint likely to help me in the difficulties I had at once to encounter in my consecration to this service."
This clear experience and teaching of an absolutely new life, that "eternal life" which Jesus Christ promises to all His true followers, is indispensable to the right understanding of everything in connexion with the career we are recording. Without such an experience nothing of what follows could have been possible. With it the continual resistance to every contrary teaching and influence, and the strenuous struggle by all possible means to propagate it are inevitable.
One is amazed at this time of day, to find intelligent men writing as though there were some mysticism, or something quite beyond ordinary understanding, in this theory of conversion, or regeneration.
Precisely the process which The General thus describes in his own case must of necessity follow any thoughtful and prayerful consideration of the mission and Gospel of Christ. Either we must reject the whole Bible story or we must admit that "all we like sheep have gone astray," taking our own course, in contempt of God's wishes. To be convinced of that must plunge any soul into just such a depth of sorrow and anxiety as left this lad no rest until he had found peace in submission to his God. No outside influences or appearances can either produce or be substituted for the deep, inward resolve of the wandering soul, "I will arise, and go to my Father." Whether that decision be come to in some crowded Meeting, or in the loneliness of some midnight hour is quite unimportant. But how can there be true repentance, or the beginning of reconciliation with God, until that point is reached?
And whenever that returning to God takes place, there is the same abundant pardon, the same change of heart, the same new birth, which has here been described. What can be more simple and matter of fact? Take away the need and possibility of such "conversion," and this whole life becomes a delusion, and the proclamation of Jesus Christ as a Saviour of men inexcusable. What has created any mystery around the question amongst Christians, if not the sacramental theory, which more or less contradicts it all? In almost all Christian Churches a theory is set up that a baby by some ceremonial act becomes suddenly regenerated, "made a child of God, and an heir of His Kingdom."
If that were the case, there could, of course, have been no need for the later regeneration of that child; but I do not believe that an ecclesiastic could be found, from the Vatican to the most remote island-parish where children are "christened," who would profess to have seen such a regenerated child alive. There is notoriously no such change accomplished in any one, until the individual himself, convinced of his own godless condition, cries to God for His Salvation, and receives that great gift.
What a foundation for life was the certainty which that lad got as he knelt in that little room in Nottingham! Into that same "full assurance" he was later on to lead many millions—young and old—of many lands. The simple Army verse:—
I know thy sins are all forgiven, Glory to the Bleeding Lamb! And I am on my way to Heaven, Glory to the Bleeding Lamb!
embalms for ever that grand starting-point of the soul, from which our people have been able, in ignorance of almost everything else of Divine truth, to commence a career of holy living, and of loving effort for the souls of others.
How much more weight those few words carry than the most eloquent address bereft of that certainty of tone could ever have!
That certainty which rests not upon any study of books, even of the Bible itself, but upon the soul's own believing vision of the Lamb of God who has taken its sins away; that certainty which changes in a moment the prison darkness of the sin-chained into the light and joy and power of the liberated slave of Christ; that is the great conquest of the Salvation Soldier everywhere.
And yet, perhaps, in the eyes of an unbelieving world, and a doubting Church, that was General Booth's great offence all through life. To think of having uneducated and formerly godless people "bawling" the "mysteries of the faith" through the streets of "Christian" cities, where it had hitherto been thought inconsistent with Christian humility for any one to dare to say they really knew Him "whom to know is life eternal"! Oh, that was the root objection to all The General's preaching and action.
And it was one of the most valuable features of his whole career that wherever he or his messengers went there came that same certainty which from the days of Bethlehem onwards Jesus Christ came to bring to every man.
"By faith we know!" If every outward manifestation of The General's successes could be swept off the world to-morrow, this positive faith in the one Saviour would be capable of reproducing all its blessed results over again, wherever it was preserved, or renewed. Any so-called faith which gives no certainty must needs be hustled out of the way of an investigating, hurrying, wealth-seeking age. Only those who are certain that they have found the Lord can be capable of inducing others to seek and find Him.
Convictions such as we have just been reading of were bound to lead to immediate action. But it is most interesting to find that William Booth's first regular service for Christ was not called forth by any church, but simply by the spontaneous efforts of one or two young Converts like himself. No one could be more inclined towards the use of organisation and system than he always was, and yet he always advocated an organisation so open to all, and a system so elastic, that zeal might never be repressed, but only made the most of. It is, perhaps, fortunate that we have in one of his addresses to his own young Officers the following description of the way he began to work for the Salvation of his fellow-townsmen:—
"Directly after my conversion I had a bad attack of fever, and was brought to the very edge of the grave. But God raised me up, and led me out to work for Him, after a fashion which, considering my youth and inexperience, must be pronounced remarkable. While recovering from this 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.
"How I worked in those days! Remember that I was only an apprentice lad of fifteen or sixteen. I used to leave business 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! How I can remember rushing along the streets during my forty minutes' dinner-time, reading the Bible or C. G. Finney's Lectures on Revivals of Religion as I went, careful, too, not to be a minute late. And at this time I was far from strong physically; but full of difficulties as those days were, they were nevertheless wonderful seasons of blessing, and left pleasant memories that endure to this hour.
"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.
"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,' as we used to sing, the fame of our Saviour. 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. 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 when a great trial overtook me. The bosom friend already referred to was taken from my side. We had been like David and Jonathan in the intensity of our union and fellowship in our work for God. He had a fine appearance, was a beautiful singer, and possessed a wonderful gift in prayer. After I had spoken in our Open-Air Meeting he would kneel down and wrestle with God until it seemed as though he would move the very stones on which he knelt, as well as the hearts of the people who heard him. Of how few of those men called ministers or priests can anything like this be said!
"But the unexpected blow came. He fell into consumption. His relations carried him up and down the country for change of air and scene. All was done that could be done to save his life, but in vain. The last change was to the Isle of Wight. In that lovely spot the final hope fled. I remember their bringing him home to die. He bade farewell to earth, and went triumphantly to Heaven singing—
And when to Jordan's flood I come, Jehovah rules the tide, And the waters He'll divide, And the heavenly host will shout— "Welcome Home!"
"What a trial that loss was to my young heart! It was rendered all the greater from the fact that I had to go forward all alone in face of an opposition which suddenly sprang up from the leading functionaries of the church."
The consecration which William Booth made of himself to this work, with all the zeal and novelty with which it was characterised, was due, no doubt, to the teaching, influence, and example of James Caughey, a remarkable American minister who visited the town. Largely free from European opinions and customs in religious matters, and seeking only to advance the cause of Jesus Christ with all possible speed, this man to a very large extent liberated William Booth for life from any one set of plans, and led him towards that perfect faith in God's guidance which made him capable of new departures to any extent.
The old-fashioned representatives of officialdom grumbled in vain at novelties which have now become accepted necessities of all mission work.
"But just about this time," The General has told us, "another difficulty started across my path in connexion with my business. I have told you how intense had been the action of my conscience before my conversion. But after my conversion it was naturally ever increasingly sensitive to every question of right and wrong, with a great preponderance as to the importance of what was right over what was wrong. Ever since that day it has led me to measure my own actions, and judge my own character by the standard of truth set up in my soul by the Bible and the Holy Ghost; and it has not permitted me to allow myself in the doing of things which I have felt were wrong without great inward torture. I have always had a great horror of hypocrisy—that is, of being unreal or false, however fashionable the cursed thing might be, or whatever worldly temptation might strive to lead me on to the track. In this I was tested again and again in those early days, and at last there came a crisis.
"Our business was a large one and the assistants were none too many. On Saturdays there was always great pressure. Work often continued into the early hours of Sunday. Now I had strong notions in my youth and for long after—indeed, I entertain them now—about the great importance of keeping the Sunday, or Sabbath as we always called it, clear of unnecessary work.
"For instance, I walked in my young days thousands of miles on the Sabbath, when I could for a trifling sum have ridden at ease, rather than use any compulsory labour of man or beast for the promotion of my comfort. I still think we ought to abstain from all unnecessary work ourselves, and, as far as possible, arrange for everybody about us to have one day's rest in seven. But, as I was saying, I objected to working at my business on the Sabbath, which I interpreted to mean after twelve o'clock on Saturday night. My relatives and many of my religious friends laughed at my scruples; but I paid no heed to them, and told my master I would not do it, though he replied that if that were so he would simply discharge me. I told him I was willing to begin on Monday morning as soon as the clock struck twelve, and work until the clock struck twelve on Saturday night, but that not one hour or one minute of Sunday would I work for him or all his money.
"He kept his word, put me into the street, and I was laughed at by everybody as a sort of fool. But I held out, and within seven days he gave in, and, thinking my scrupulous conscience might serve his turn he told me to come back again. I did so, and before another fortnight had passed he went off with his young wife to Paris, leaving the responsibilities of a business involving the income and expenditure of hundreds of pounds weekly on my young shoulders.
"So I did not lose by that transaction in any way. With no little suffering on four separate occasions, contrary to the judgments of all around me, I have thus left every friend I had in the world, and gone straight into what appeared positive ruin, so far as this world was concerned, to meet the demands of conscience. But I have trusted God, and done the right, and in every separate instance I can now see that I have gained both for this world and the next as the result.
"During all the period of my lay preaching, both in Nottingham and London, I had to grapple with other difficulties. What with one thing and another I had a great struggle at times to keep my head above the waters, and my heart alive with peace and love. But I held on to God and His grace, and the never-failing joy that I experienced in leading souls to Christ carried me through."
How can anybody fail to see how much more the masses are likely to be influenced by the preaching, no matter how defective oratorically, of one who has thus lived in the midst of them—living, in fact, their very life of anxiety, suffering, and toil—than by that of men, however excellent, who come to them with the atmosphere of the study, the college, or the seminary?
And yet, after having been trained for a year in the rough-and-ready oratory of the streets, subject to interruptions and interjected sneers, The General was called upon, in order to be recognised as fit for registration as a lay preacher, to mount the pulpit and preach a "trial sermon"! Accustomed as he had become to talk out his heart with such words and illustrations as involuntarily presented themselves to the simple-minded, though often wicked and always ignorant crowds, who gathered around the chair on which he stood; able without difficulty to hold their attention when he had won it, and drive the truth home to their souls, in spite of the counter-attractions of a busy thoroughfare, he took very hardly to the stiff, cold process of sermonising and sermon-making such as was then in vogue, and it was some time before he had much liberty or made much progress in the business.
Still, in due time he was passed, first as a lay "preacher on trial," and later called as fully qualified to preach at any chapel in the district—this latter after a second year's activities and a "second trial sermon."
When he once got on to this sermon-making line he took the best models he could find—men like John Wesley, George Whitefield, and, above all, C. G. Finney, who he could be certain had never sought in their preaching for human applause, but for the glory of God and the good of souls alone.
In the Psalms, as in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, we have the most unmistakable guidance upon this subject, showing it to have been God's purpose so to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh that all His people should be true prophets—not all, of course, of the same calibre or style, but all capable of warning and teaching, in all wisdom, every one whom they could reach.
The work of the ministry is another thing altogether. Let no one suppose that The Salvation Army at all underrates the "separation" unto His work of those whom God has chosen for entire devotion to some task, whatever it be. As to those whom we take away from their secular calling to become our Officers, I will only say here that we judge of their fitness not alone by their ability to speak, but by their having proved themselves to be so devoted to the poor that we can rely upon their readiness to act as servants of the very neediest in any way that lies within their power. Only two persons at each of our Stations, the Officers actually in command, receive any payment whatever from The Army. All the others associated with us, many of them wearing our uniform and holding some particular office, give freely their leisure-time and money to the work, and may be spoken of as "lay preachers."
Our young "local preacher" generally spent his Sundays in some distant village where he had been appointed to preach, just as is the case in these days with thousands of our Soldiers.
"My homeward walk, often alone through the dark, muddy fields and lanes," he tells us, "would be enlivened by snatches of the songs we had been singing in our Meetings, and late into the night people might have heard my solitary prayers and praises. 'Don't sit up singing till twelve o'clock after a hard day's work,' was one of the first needed pieces of practical advice I got from my best adviser of later years."
"But we never felt we could have too much of God's service and praise, and scarcely regarded the grave itself as a terminus for our usefulness; for in the case of a girl who had attended our Cottage Meetings, and who had died of consumption, we lads organised something very like one of our present-day Salvation Army Funerals.
"Having ministered to the poor girl's necessities during her sickness, comforted her in her last hours of pain, sung hymns of triumph round her bed as her spirit took its passage to the skies, we had the right, as her only friends, to order her funeral, and we resolved to make the most of it for the good of her neighbours.
"Although it was in the depth of winter, and snow lay thick on the ground, we brought the coffin out into the street, sang and prayed around it, and urged the few neighbours who stood shivering by, or listening at their doors and windows, to prepare for their dying day. We then processioned to the Cholera Burial Ground, as the cemetery in which the poorest of Nottingham were buried was called, obtaining permission from the Chaplain to hold another little Meeting by the grave-side, after he had read the ordinary Service. I cannot but feel that the hand of God was upon me in those days, teaching me how much lay preachers could do."
How wonderful that the lad who did all that in the teeth of religious convention and opinion should have lived to organise just such battles and just such funerals all round the world, and to train hundreds of thousands of Soldiers of Christ to do likewise! What a termination to his own career he was preparing all the time, when the City of London was to suspend the traffic of many of its busiest thoroughfares for hours to let his coffin pass through with a procession of his uniformed Soldiers a mile long!
With regard to the question of a "Call to the ministry," that bugbear of so many souls, The General constantly expressed himself as follows:—
"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? 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 any one to 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?
"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 peculiarly 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 any one from asking God for it, or blessing Him for His special kindness when He gives it."
There is, I think, no doubt that God did give to young William Booth such a call, although he never spoke of it, perhaps lest he might discourage any who, without enjoying any such manifestation, acted upon the principles just referred to. At any rate, he battled through any season of doubt he had with regard to it, and came out into a certainty that left him no room for question or fear.
We cannot wonder that God Himself rarely seems to find it wise, even if it be possible, to fit men for His most important enterprises in a few years, or by means of one simple process of instruction. Consider the diversity of men's minds and lives, and the varying currents of thought and opinion which are found in the various parts of the world at different periods of even one century, and it will at once be seen how impossible we should all immediately pronounce it to fit one man by means of one pathway of service to be the minister and leader of the followers of Christ in every part of the world.
Christ Himself was kept in an obscurity we cannot penetrate for thirty years before He was made known to the comparatively small people amongst whom all His time on earth was to be spent. Moses was not called till he was eighty years old, having spent forty years amidst the splendours of one of the grandest courts of the ancient world, and forty more amidst the sheep on a desert border!
How was the ardent English lad who came to serve in a London shop during the week, and to do the work of a lay preacher on Sundays, to be fitted to form and lead a great Christian Order of devotees out of every nation, and to instruct and direct them in helping their fellow-men of every race in every necessity that could arise? To prepare a man merely to preach the Gospel a few years of service in that work might suffice; but then we should probably have seen a man merely interested in the numbers of his own audiences and the effect produced upon them by his own preaching.
For William Booth a much more tedious and roundabout journey was needed. He must first of all preach his way up from the counter to the pulpit, and he must then have twenty years of varied experiences in ministerial service amongst widely differing Churches, before he could be fit to take up his appointed place, outside all the Churches, to raise from amongst every class a new force for the exaltation of Christ amongst all men.
For so great a work he must needs have a helpmeet, and he was to find her when she was still physically as weak and unlikely for the great task as he was, and as entirely severed from all existing organisations. Catherine Mumford, like himself, innocent of any unkind feeling towards her Church, had been excluded from it, simply because she would not pledge herself to keep entirely away from the Reform party.
Unable really at the time to do more than teach a class in the Sunday School, and occasionally visit a sick person, she nevertheless, by the fervour of her action, made herself a power that was felt, and threw all her influence on the side of any whole-hearted religious or temperance effort. The anxiety of both these two young people not to allow any thought for their own happiness to interfere with their duty to God and to their fellows delayed their marriage for years; and when they did marry it was with the perfect resolve on both sides to make everything in their own life and home subordinate to the great work to which they had given themselves.
Neither of them at the time dreamed of Mrs. Booth's speaking in public, much less that they were together to become the liberators of woman from the silence imposed on her by almost every organisation of Christ's followers. Having known both of them intimately during the years in which The Salvation Army was being formed, I can positively contradict the absurdly exaggerated statement that The General would have had little or no success in life but for the talents and attractive ministry of Mrs. Booth. She was a helpmeet in the most perfect sense, never, even when herself reduced to illness and helplessness, desiring to absorb either time or attention that he could give to the great War in which she always encouraged him as no other ever could. Remaining to her latest hour a woman of the tenderest and most modest character, she shrank from public duty, and merely submitted so far as she felt "constrained," for Christ's sake, to association with anything that she was convinced ought to be done to gain the ears of men for the Gospel, however contrary it might be to her own tastes and wishes. Perhaps her most valuable contribution to the construction of The General's life was her ability to explain to him opinions and tastes differing widely from his own, and to sustain and defend his general defiance of the usual traditions and customs of "society."
His own feelings about it all he has described in these words:—
"The sensations of a new-comer to London from the country, are always somewhat disagreeable, if he comes to work. The immensity of the city must especially strike him as he crosses it for the first time and passes through its different areas. The general turn-out into a few great thoroughfares, on Saturday nights especially, gives a sensation of enormous bulk. The manifest poverty of so many in the most populous streets must appeal to any heart. The language of the drinking crowds must needs give a rather worse than a true impression of all.
"The crowding pressure and activity of so many must almost oppress one not accustomed to it. The number of public-houses, theatres, and music-halls must give a young enthusiast for Christ a sickening impression. The enormous number of hawkers must also have given a rather exaggerated idea of the poverty and cupidity which nevertheless prevailed. The Churches in those days gave the very uttermost idea of spiritual death and blindness to the existing condition of things; at that time very few of them were open more than one evening per week. There were no Young Men's or Young Women's Christian Associations, no P.S.A.'s, no Brotherhoods, no Central Missions, no extra effort to attract the attention of the godless crowds; for miles there was not an announcement of anything special in the religious line to be seen.
"To any one who cared to enter the places of worship, their deathly contrast with the streets was even worse. The absence of week-night services must have made any stranger despair of finding even society or diversion. A Methodist sufficiently in earnest to get inside to the 'class' would find a handful of people reluctant to bear any witness to the power of God.
"Despite the many novelties introduced since those days, the activities of the world being so much greater, the contrast must look even more striking in our own time."
Imagine a young man accustomed to daily labour for the poor, coming into such a world as that!
Thought about what they sang and said in the private gatherings of the Methodist Societies could only deepen and intensify the feeling of monstrosity. They sang frequently:—
He taught me how to watch and pray, And live rejoicing every day.
But where were the rejoicing people? Where was there indeed anybody who, either in or out of a religious service, dared to express his joy in the Lord—or wished to express anything. It was as if religious societies had become wet blankets to suppress any approach to a hearty expression of religious faith. Nevertheless, by God's grace, it all worked in this case not to crush but to infuriate and stir the new-comer to action.
Preaching, under such circumstances, was a relief to such a soul, and necessarily became more and more desperate.
One hearing of William Booth was enough for Mr. Rabbits, a practical, go-ahead man, who had raised up out of the old-fashioned little business of his forefathers one of the great "stores" of London, and who longed to see the same sort of development take place in connexion with the old-fashioned, perfectly correct, and yet all but lifeless institutions that professed to represent Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world. His sense of the contrast between this preacher and others whom he knew was proportionately rapid and acute. The effects produced on hearers were the same at every turn.
This living preaching was and is a perfect fit with all the rush of the world outside, and the helplessness of the poor souls around.
William Booth was, as we have seen, only seventeen when he was fully recognised as a preacher of the Gospel according to the custom of the Methodist Churches, and at nineteen his minister urged him to give up his life to the ministry. At that time, however, he felt himself too weak physically for a ministerial career, and in this view his doctor concurred. So determined was he to accomplish his purpose, however, that he begged the doctor not to express his opinion to the minister, but to allow the matter to stand over for a year. Unless a man with a nervous system like his was "framed like a bullock," and had "a chest like a prize-fighter," he would break down, said the physician, and seeing that he was not so built, he would be "done for" in twelve months. The doctor went to the grave very soon afterwards, whereas The General continued preaching for over sixty years after that pronouncement.
At this period, some of the Wesleyans who were discontented with their leaders in London broke into revolt, and there was so much bitter feeling on both sides, that the main object of John Wesley—the exaltation of Christ for the Salvation of men—was for the moment almost lost sight of.
Mr. Booth joined with the most earnest people he could find; but though they gave him opportunity to hold Meetings, he wrote to one of his old associates:—
"How are you going on? I wish I knew you were happy, living to God and working for Jesus.
"I preached on Sabbath last to a respectable but dull and lifeless congregation. Notwithstanding this I had liberty in both prayer and preaching. I had not any one to say 'Amen' or 'Praise the Lord' during the whole of the service. I want some of you here with me in the Prayer Meetings, and then we should carry all before us."
Thus we see emerging from the obscurity of a poor home a conqueror, fired with one ambition, out of harmony with every then existing Christian organisation, because of that strange old feeling, so often expressed in the Psalms of David, that the praises of God ought to be heard from all men's lips alike, and that everything else ought to give way to His will and His pleasure.
In speaking to his Officers later on he said:—
"When the great separation from the Wesleyan Church took place, Mr. Rabbits said to me one day: 'You must leave business, and wholly devote yourself to preaching the Gospel.'
"'Impossible,' I answered. 'There is no way for me. Nobody wants me.' 'Yes,' said he, 'the people with whom you have allied yourself want an evangelist.'
"'They cannot support me,' I replied; 'and I cannot live on air.'
"'That is true, no doubt,' was his answer. 'How much can you live on?'
"I reckoned up carefully. I knew I should have to provide my own quarters and to pay for my cooking; and as to the living itself, I did not understand in those days how this could be managed in as cheap a fashion as I do now. After a careful calculation, I told him that I did not see how I could get along with less than twelve shillings a week.
"'Nonsense,' he said; 'you cannot do with less than twenty shillings a week, I am sure.'
"'All right,' I said, 'have it your own way, if you will; but where is the twenty shillings to come from?'
"'I will supply it,' he said, 'for the first three months at least.'
"'Very good,' I answered. And the bargain was struck there and then.
"I at once gave notice to my master, who was very angry, and said, 'If it is money you want, that need not part us.' I told him that money had nothing to do with the question, that all I wanted was the opportunity to spend my life and powers in publishing the Saviour to a lost world. And so I packed my portmanteau, and went out to begin a new life.
"My first need was some place to lay my head. After a little time spent in the search, I found quarters in the Walworth district, where I expected to work, and took two rooms in the house of a widow at five shillings a week, with attendance. This I reckoned at the time was a pretty good bargain. I then went to a furniture shop, and bought some chairs and a bed, and a few other necessaries. I felt quite set up. It was my birthday, a Good Friday, and on the same day I fell in love with my future wife.
"But the people would have nothing to do with me. They 'did not want a parson.' They reckoned they were all parsons, so that at the end of the three months' engagement the weekly income came to an end; and, indeed, I would not have renewed the engagement on any terms. There was nothing for me to do but to sell my furniture and live on the proceeds, which did not supply me for a very long time. I declare to you that at that time I was so fixed as not to know which way to turn.
"In my emergency a remarkable way opened for me to enter college and become a Congregational minister. But after long waiting, several examinations, trial sermons and the like, I was informed that on the completion of my training I should be expected to believe and preach what is known as Calvinism. After reading a book which fully explained the doctrine, I threw it at the wall opposite me, and said I would sooner starve than preach such doctrine, one special feature of which was that only a select few could be saved.[A]
"My little stock of money was exhausted. I remember that I gave the last sixpence I had in the world to a poor woman whose daughter lay dying; but within a week I received a letter inviting me to the charge of a Methodist Circuit in Lincolnshire, and from that moment my difficulties of that kind became much less serious.
"The Spalding people welcomed me as though I had been an angel from Heaven, providing me with every earthly blessing within their ability, and proposing that I should stay with them for ever. They wanted me to marry right away, offered to furnish me a house, provide me with a horse to enable me more readily to get about the country, and proposed other things that they thought would please me.
"With them I spent perhaps the happiest eighteen months of my life. Of course my horizon was much more limited in those days than it is now, and consequently required less to fill it.
"Although I was only twenty-three years of age and Lincolnshire was one of the counties that had been most privileged with able Methodist preaching for half a century before, and I had to immediately follow in Spalding a somewhat renowned minister, God helped me very wonderfully to make myself at home, and become a power amongst the people.
"I felt some nervousness when on my first November Sunday I was confronted by such a large congregation as greeted me. In the morning I had very little liberty; but good was done, as I afterwards learned. In the afternoon we had a Prayer, or After-Meeting, at which one young woman wept bitterly. I urged her to come to the communion rail at night. She did so, and the Lord saved her. She afterwards sent me a letter thanking me for urging her to come out. In the evening I had great liberty, and fourteen men and women came to the communion rail; many, if not all, finding the Saviour.
"On the Monday I preached there again. Four came forward, three of whom professed to find Salvation. I exerted myself very much, felt very deeply, and prayed very earnestly over an old man who had been a backslider for seven years. He wept bitterly, and prayed to the Lord to save him, if He could wash a heart as black as Hell. By exerting myself so much I made myself very ill, and was confined to the house during the rest of the week. My host and hostess were very kind to me.
"The next Sunday I started from home rather unwell. I had to go to Donnington, some miles away, in the morning and evening, and to Swineshead Bridge in the afternoon.
"But at night God helped me to preach in such a way that many came out, and fourteen names were taken of those who really seemed satisfactory. It was, indeed, a melting, moving time.
"I was kneeling, talking to a Penitent, when somebody touched me on the shoulder, and said, 'Here is a lady who has come to seek Salvation. Her son came to hear you at Spalding, and was induced to seek the Saviour, and now she has come to hear you, and she wants Salvation, too." The Lord had mercy upon her, and she went away rejoicing.
"At Swineshead Bridge—the very name gives some idea of the utterly rural character of the population—I was to preach on three successive evenings, in the hope of promoting a Revival there. Many things seemed to be against the project; but the Lord was for us. Two people came out on the Monday evening, and God saved them both. This raised our faith and cheered our spirits, especially as we knew that several more souls were in distress.
"On the Tuesday the congregation was better. The news had spread that the Lord was saving, and that seldom fails to bring a crowd wherever it may be. That evening the word was with power, and six souls cried for mercy. At the earnest solicitations of the people, I decided to stay the remainder of the week, and urged them to pray earnestly, with the result that many more sought and found Salvation, and the little Society was nearly doubled.
"On the Saturday, just before I started home on the omnibus, a plain, unsophisticated Christian came and said, 'O sir, let me have hold of your hand.' When he had seized it between both his, with tears streaming down his face, he said, 'Glory be to God that ever you came here. My wife before her conversion was a cruel persecutor, and a sharp thorn in my side. She would go home from the Prayer Meeting before me, and as full of the Devil as possible; she would oppose and revile me; but now, sir, she is just the contrary, and my house, instead of being a little Hell has become a little Paradise.' This was only one of a number of cases in which husbands rejoiced over wives, and wives over husbands, for whom they had long prayed, being saved.
"I shall always remember with pleasure the week I spent at Swineshead Bridge, because I prayed more and preached with more of the spirit of expectation and faith, and then saw more success than in any previous week of my life. I dwell upon it as, perhaps, the week which most effectually settled my conviction for ever that it was God's purpose by my using the simplest means to bring souls into liberty, and to break into the cold and formal state of things to which His people only too readily settle down."
For the sake of readers who have never seen Meetings such as The General for so many years conducted, it seems at once necessary to explain what is meant by the terms "seeking mercy" or "Salvation," the "cries for mercy," and, above all, the "Mercy-Seat," or "Penitent-Form," which appear so constantly in all reports of his work.
From the first beginnings of his Cottage Meetings as a lad in Nottingham, he always aimed at leading every sinner to repentance, and he always required that repentance should be openly manifested by the Penitent coming out in the presence of others, to kneel before God, to confess to Him, and to seek His pardon.
This is merely in accordance with the ancient customs practised by the Jews in their Temple, to which practice Jesus Christ so strikingly calls attention in His Parable of the Publican, who cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner." The Psalms of David abound with just such cries for deliverance, and with declarations that God heard and answered all those who so cried to Him in the anguish of their guilt.
The General was never blind to the fact that open acts of contrition like this may be feigned, or produced by a mere passing excitement; but having seen so much of the indifference with which men generally continue in sin, even when they admit their consciousness of guilt and danger, he always thought the risk of undue excitement, or too hasty action, comparatively small.
The "Penitent-Form" of The Salvation Army is simply a form or a row of seats, immediately in front of the platform, at which all who wish to seek Salvation are invited to kneel, as a public demonstration of their resolution to abandon their sins, and to live henceforth to please God. Those who kneel there are urged to pray for God's forgiveness, and when they believe that He does forgive them to thank Him for doing so. Whilst kneeling there they are spoken to by persons who, having passed through the same experience, can point out to them the evils and dangers they must henceforth avoid, and the first duties which a true repentance must demand of them.
There are many cases, for example, in which the Penitent is urged to give up at once some worldly habit or companionship, or to make confession of, and restitution for, some wrong done to others. An Officer or Soldier accompanies the Penitent to his home or to his employer, should such a course appear likely to help him to effect any reconciliation, or take any other step to which his conscience calls him. The names and addresses of all Penitents are recorded, so that they may be afterwards visited and helped to carry out the promises they have made to God.
For convenience' sake, in very large Meetings, such as those The General himself held, where hundreds at a time come to the Penitent-Form, a room called the Registration Room is used for the making of the necessary inquiries and records. In this room those who decide to join The Army have a small piece of ribbon of The Army's colours at once attached to their coats. But this Registration Room must in no way be confused with an "Inquiry Room," where seeking souls can go aside unseen. The General was always extremely opposed to the use of any plan other than that of the Penitent-Form, lest there should be any distinction made between one class and another, or an easier path contrived for those who wish to avoid a bold avowal of Christ.
And he always refused to allow any such use of the Bible in connexion with Penitents as has been usual in Inquiry Rooms, where the people have been taught that if they only believed the words of some text, all would be well with them. The faith to which The General desired all who came to the Penitent-Form to be led is not the mere belief of some statement, but that confidence in God's faithfulness to all His promises, which brings peace to the soul.
Nothing could be more unjust than the representation that by the use of the Penitent-Form an attempt is made to work up excitement, or emotion. Experience has proved, everywhere, that nothing tends so rapidly to allay the painful anxiety of a soul, hesitating before the great decision, as the opportunity to take at once, and publicly, a decisive step. We often sing:—
Only a step, only a step, Why not take it now? Come, and thy sins confessing, Thou shalt receive a blessing; Do not reject the mercy So freely offered thee.
But the Penitent-Form is no modern invention, nor can it be claimed as the speciality of any set of religionists. Even heathen people in past ages have provided similar opportunities for those who felt a special need either to thank their God for blessings received, or to seek His help in any specific case, to come forward in an open way, and confess their wants, their confidence, or their gratitude, at some altar or shrine.
Shame upon us all that objection should ever be made to equally public avowals of penitence, of submission, of faith, or of devotion to the Saviour of the world. The General, at any rate, never wavered in demanding the most speedy and decisive action of this kind, and he probably led more souls to the Penitent-Form than any man who has ever lived.
In Germany especially it has frequently been objected that the soul which is "compelled" to take a certain course has in that very fact manifested a debased and partly-destroyed condition, and that nothing can excuse the organisation of methods of compulsion. With any such theory one could not but have considerable sympathy, were it not for the undeniable fact that almost all "civilised" people are perpetually under the extreme pressure of society around them, which is opposed to prayer, or to any movement of the soul in that direction.
To check and overcome that very palpable compulsion on the wrong side, the most desperate action of God's servants in all ages has never been found strong enough. Hence there has come about another sort of compulsion, within the souls of all God's messengers. It could not but be more agreeable to flesh and blood if the minds of men could more easily be induced to turn from the things that are seen to those which are invisible. But this has never yet been the case. Hence all who really hear God's voice cannot but become alarmed as to the manifest danger that His warnings may remain entirely unheeded. When once any soul is truly enlightened, it cannot but put forth every devisable effort to compel the attention of others.
The Army is only the complete organisation of such efforts for permanent efficiency. We may have had to use more extreme methods than many before us, because, unlike those who are the publicly recognised advocates of Christ, we have, in the first instance, no regular hearers at all, and have generally only the ear of the people so long as we can retain it, against a hundred competitions. And yet, to those who live near enough to notice it, the exercise of force by means of church steeples and bells is far more violent, all the year round, than the utmost attack of the average Corps upon some few occasions.
Who complains of the compulsion of railway servants, who by bell, flag, and whistle, glaring announcements, or in any other way, urge desiring passengers to get into their train, before it is too late? Wherever a true faith in the Gospel exists, The General's organisation of compulsory plans for the Salvation of souls will not only be approved, but regarded as one of the great glories of his life.
The "Will you go?" of The Army, wherever its songs are heard, has ever been more than a kindly invitation. It has been an urging to which millions of undecided souls will for ever owe their deliverance from the dilatory and hindering influences around them, into an earnest start towards a heavenly life.
That is why The General taught so many millions to sing, in their varied languages, his own song:—
O boundless Salvation! deep ocean of love, O fulness of mercy Christ brought from above! The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free, Now flowing for all men—come, roll over me!
My sins they are many, their stains are so deep, And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep; But useless is weeping, thou great crimson sea, Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me!
My tempers are fitful, my passions are strong. They bind my poor soul, and they force me to wrong; Beneath thy blest billows deliverance I see, Oh, come, mighty ocean, and roll over me!
Now tossed with temptation, then haunted with fears, My life has been joyless and useless for years; I feel something better most surely would be, If once thy pure waters would roll over me.
O ocean of mercy, oft longing I've stood On the brink of thy wonderful, life-giving flood! Once more I have reached this soul-cleansing sea, I will not go back till it rolls over me.
The tide is now flowing, I'm touching the wave, I hear the loud call of "The Mighty to Save"; My faith's growing bolder—delivered I'll be— I plunge 'neath the waters, they roll over me.
And now, Hallelujah! the rest of my days Shall gladly be spent in promoting His praise Who opened His bosom to pour out this sea Of boundless Salvation for you and for me.
Fight Against Formality
The Army's invariable principle of avoiding even the appearance of attacking any other association of religionists, or their ideas or practices, renders it difficult to explain fully either why William Booth became the regular minister of a church, or why he gave up that position; and yet he has himself told us sufficient to demonstrate at one stroke not only the entire absence of hostility in his mind, but the absolute separateness of his way of thinking from that which so generally prevails.
The enthusiastic welcome given to The General wherever he went, by the clergy of almost every Church indicates that he had generally convinced them that he had no thought of attacking them or their Churches, even when he most heartily expressed his thankfulness to God for having been able to escape from all those trammels of tradition and form which would have made his great life-work, for all nations, impossible. And I think there are few who would nowadays question that his life, teaching, and example all tended greatly to modify many of the Church formalities of the past.
"Just before leaving Lincolnshire," he says, "I had been lifted up to a higher plane of the daily round of my beloved work than I had experienced before. 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.