William Booth (1829-1912)
(anything in brackets are my thoughts)
William Booth’s father, Samuel, was born in Belper in 1777. He was a nail manufacturer, builder and architect and lived a prosperous life. His second wife, Mary, was born in 1791 in Derbyshire as well. She turned down his first offer of marriage, but eventually she gave in. William was the middle of five children. Samuel moved to Nottingham having lost his fortune through speculation. Nottingham was growing very fast as a result of the lace-making industry; the reason why Samuel went there. There was a great deal of land and building speculation that pushed up prices and pushed many into poverty.
William was born on the 10th April 1829 at 12 Nottintone Place, Sneinton, Nottingham, which was a suburb in those days and close to the countryside. Two days later he was christened at Sneinton Church. William never knew much about his father, only that he was born in poverty, so wanted to become rich. He did so, but lost it all and died miserably without God. William said he had inherited the ‘grab’ from his father, but he wanted to grab souls, not money.
Begbie wrote that William was, ‘one of the most honest, downright and straightforward men that ever lived’.
It seems that William had an unhappy childhood; he got no help at all from his father and little encouragement from his mother and he always had the shadow of poverty over his home. He said his childhood was, ‘a season of mortification and misery.’
Owing to poverty the family had to move from Sneinton. A man known as Grandfather Page had a ‘smallware’ shop and had been rich, but on being converted he gave his business to his sons and went to live simply close to the Booths, devoting his time to religious works. Surprisingly late in life he married a young woman and opened his shop to support his new family. He loved flowers and had an allotment nearby where he would often go to spend time with the Lord in his shed. Later in life one of his rich sons sent a carriage every afternoon to take him to the garden. When blind he would still visit his flowers and would sing hymns as he walked up and down, guided by a rope. He used to say, ‘I have been walking by faith for over forty years and not known what it is to have a gloomy hour’. He worked among the neglected, the sick and the sorrowful. He started a Ragged school in the slums and prayer meetings in the houses of the poor. (What an example to us all! Grandfather Page lived opposite the Booth’s; I wonder if he was an influence on the young lad?)
William was a child of fiery temper and impetuous will, who grew up with little guidance, wanting to spend as little time as possible at home. It was clear from an early age that he was a leader. At the age of six he went to the select academy of Biddulph, where he seems to have learned very little owing to bad teaching. He was sent there because his father wanted William to be a gentleman. His parents sent him to the local church on Sunday’s, but he got nothing out of it.
When William was thirteen the bank called in the mortgage on their home and that was the end of his school days – he had to start work, his father apprenticed him to a pawn-broker, hoping that he would in time make a lot of money. This occupation brought William face to face with many of the poor of Nottingham.
Less than a year later, in 1842, William’s father died, making a death bed conversion. It was after this that William began to take an interest in religion; moving to a Methodist Chapel from the local Church of England. At fourteen he went with two friends to special meetings at a Wesleyan church. William wrote that he was so impacted by what he heard that, had it not been for his friends, he would probably have given his life to the Lord that night. He wanted to be saved because he was unhappy. He always believed that God existed.
In the workplace William was quick, thorough, energetic, orderly and trustworthy and he wanted to succeed. When he was fifteen his mother had to move from their house and opened a small shop in Goose Gate to try to earn enough to keep the family. William decided he wanted to live right rather than live wrong and the poverty around him deeply impacted him; particularly the sight of children crying in the streets from hunger.
Something in his conscience prevented William from surrendering to Christ. He did something for his friends while making a profit, all the while pretending that he was making a sacrifice and doing them a favour. In gratitude his friends gave him a silver pencil case. He knew he had to tell his friends of his deception before he could accept Christ as his Saviour. Decades later he remembered in great detail the whole episode. He repented to his friends and returned the pencil case. Immediately the burden lifted and peace flooded his heart. He was happy and was willing to go to the ends of the earth for Jesus. He immediately turned his back on the world and passionately followed Jesus, although he did remain in his workplace for a time.
Shortly after his conversion William was to do something that was a sign of things to come. There was a very poor old woman in his area who was mocked and degraded by many. William got his friends to give money and they installed the old woman in a small cabin and paid for her support.
In 1846 James Caughey, an American evangelist, came to speak in Nottingham, and William was set on fire at his meetings. Caughey not only majored on salvation but also on holiness. Here at last was religion in action, the real and living religion of his dreams. His close friend, Will Sanson was so stirred by the meetings that he set up meetings of his own in the slums of Nottingham and invited William to take part. Surprisingly, William did not preach or lead any of the meetings, which was against character. However, an evangelist from Scarborough, David Greenbury, recognised his earnestness, the vigour of his personality, his remarkable appearance and emphatic manner. He urged upon the young man that it was his duty to speak, that he owed it to God to conquer his timidity, which was a form of selfishness. As a result William threw himself into street preaching.
They would stand on a chair in the street, give out a hymn, William would speak and they would then invite the people to a meeting in a house. Will Sanson would kneel down after the meeting and wrestle with God in prayer (travailing prayer) until it seemed he would move the very stones on which he knelt, as well as the hearts of the people who heard him.
An old lady who was the sister of one of William’s friends described him as, “a nice-looking lad. He was tall, yes, decidedly tall and thin; remarkably so. He was clean shaven in those days, he wore his hair long, it was the fashion then and his hair was black as coal; he had a stoop in his shoulders and looked as if he had outgrown himself. I should say that he was something more than nice-looking. I should call him strange-looking, romantic-looking. If you saw him once you would never forget him. Of course his nose was very striking-looking. We always called that ‘the Wellington.’ A strange face, very, so pale, so white and with all that black hair and those piercing eyes – yes, a romantic face – decidedly so.”
During these early years as an evangelist one could see signs of what was going to be. One could see the glimmer of an original mind, flashes of a spirit that could revolt passionately from orthodoxy and sparks of a soul that might well burst into flame for the salvation of unhappy people.
William gathered together a band of men from the slums he had led to the Lord and one Sunday marched them into his Methodist church and sat them down on the best pews he could find. He was thrilled at doing this, but the response was not what he had hoped for. The powers that be ordered him to in future bring the raggedy men in through the back door and sit them on the pews set aside for the poor! Despite clearly being upset, he obeyed his superiors.
It was not an easy time for William. During a long day he would work hard at a job he did not like, earning a small wage to help support his family. During a few hours at night he was able to practice his passion for bringing in the lost. At this time neither his family nor his church supported him in his evangelism.
The centre of his belief was that as soon as a soul is converted – that is to say as soon as the spirit of a man looks at earthly life with the sure and certain knowledge that God exists and that by faith in Christ he is brought into harmony with that God – temptation loses its power and the soul is compelled towards holiness. He was very single-minded at this time, being a passionate teenager, so he does not seem to have questioned the fact that he was very unhappy with his and his family’s circumstances, despite him having come into harmony with God. Everything was rather black and white to him at this time.
William had ambition. During this period he said to a friend, ‘I intend to be something great; I do not mean to be part of the commonality.’
His minister, Samuel Dunn, was impressed with William’s evangelistic work and suggested that he go into the ministry – he was nineteen at the time. He turned down the offer, probably because he was concerned about supporting his family or perhaps because he had the ambition to make a fortune. He gave the excuse that his health was not good, so Dunn sent him to a doctor who agreed and said he would not last a year.
So William continued working. Shortly afterwards his six-year apprenticeship ended and he was glad to leave and put those humiliating years behind him. For a year he looked for a job that would allow him more time to evangelise, but he failed. Despite the favour of his minister, none of the wealthy people in his church offered him a job. During that year he felt very dejected; almost crushed. At the end of it he decided to move to London.
William found London incredibly lonely and depressing. He could find no work outside of pawnbroking, so he was forced to take a job with a Walworth pawnbroker. His new master believed in God, but believed in making money more; he was a religious hypocrite. William felt that he was a slave, having to work all hours, leaving little time to preach. However, he worked hard despite the way he was treated and it appears that it was in these first few months of being in London that he started to think about going into the ministry. Seeing the poverty, the drunkenness and the destitute children was overwhelming for him.
In 1850 there was a split in the Methodist Church. (it was basically between those who believed in protecting what had been achieved through control, whilst ignoring what had brought Methodism into creation – revivalism; and those who resented the control and wanted to keep to the Methodist roots.) Although he kept out of the disputes, William believed in authority and obedience, so he did not support those leaving even though Samuel Dunn, his old pastor, was one of them. This is quite surprising as his new way of evangelising did not fit naturally with a Church that did not really believe in revivals.
William determined that he must go into the ministry, but no preachers were needed amongst the Methodists in his area. Then he met E J Rabbits who was a self-made businessman, who heard him preach at Walworth Road Methodist Chapel. Rabbits was for the reforming side of Methodism and he recognised the revivalist in William. In June 1851 he persuaded him to work among the Reformers and then one day he asked William how much he would need to earn to be a full-time minister, William told him 12 shillings – Rabbits said he would give him 20 shillings a week for three months and that was that.
He left his place of work although his boss tried to get him to stay by offering more money. That day was very important to William – it was Good Friday, it was his birthday (April 10th 1852) and he fell in love with his future wife.
Catherine Mumford had heard William speak and wanted to meet him, so Rabbits arranged it. There was an instant connection between them. They were the same age, but Catherine was more intelligent than William, but she had less spiritual experience and at the time less of a personality. She had more culture and she admired his strength and the boundless depths of his self-sacrificing love for people. William was impressed by Catherine’s force of character, the purity of her faith and her instinct for worship.
On his birthday Rabbits persuaded him to go to a service of the Reform group in a schoolroom in Cowper Street and there he met Catherine again. After the meeting he took Catherine home to the suburb of Brixton and on the journey they both realised they were in love. Theirs was in a way a Methodist love story. Passion was there, deep and abiding, but passion restrained by duty and consecrated by devotion.
Writing about their journey to Brixton, Catherine wrote, ‘It seemed as if we had intimately known and loved each other for years.’ As William had nowhere to stay, Catherine’s mother invited him to stay the night and was party to their discussions. Catherine wrote, ‘my mother listened and had her say and before we parted she was almost as interested in him as I was myself.’
However, William was uncertain about asking marriage as he had a wage only for three months and he was not keen to be part of the Reformers. Catherine was in delicate health and William was adamant that he needed to be able to keep her in the way she was accustomed.
There are several letters surviving where they wrestle with this problem. They both continually go before the Lord to try to discover what His will was for William. Catherine was sure that he should approach the Congregationalists for work, but they knew nobody who could make a connection for them. They decided to approach a well-known dissenter to see if he could help. This man liked William and made a connection for him with the Congregationalists; assuring him that he would not have to change his theology as the Congregationalists were Calvinists. Having passed his exams and on the point of going to college to study, one of the leaders told him he would have to preach Calvinism. He bought a book to study the subject, but after reading 30 or 40 pages he tossed the book aside and gave up the idea of being with the Congregationalists. Of course, the idea that only the elect could be saved was against everything he believed in.
William and Catherine were concerned that this door closed, particularly as William had given his last money to a dying girl as he was planning to go to college the next day. However, God was on the case and within a week he received an invitation from a Reformer group in Spalding, Lincs for him to join them as head of the Circuit. He accepted, even though it meant being away from his Catherine.
London had been a bad experience for him; basically nobody wanted to use him and he began doubting his calling, but Spalding renewed his confidence. He wrote that the people there welcomed him like an angel from heaven. They offered to furnish a house for him, get him a horse and encouraged him to marry immediately. He spent a happy eighteen months with them.
On his first Sunday preaching 15 were saved! On the Monday there were three more saved, but he became ill and had to rest. At Donnington the following Sunday, 14 were saved. At Swinhead Bridge during the week following the little society nearly doubled in size. That week was his most successful and probably confirmed to him his calling.
Over the next few months while they were apart they wrote letters to one another. These letters are a real blessing and give a real insight to their relationship. Many of their letters survive. It is interesting to see amongst the expressions of love for one another, William asking her for advice and Catherine giving it. She clearly was a very bright woman and at this time she realised that his success could be a way in for the enemy. She tries to bring him down to earth, encouraging him to read certain books, encouraging him to keep close to the Lord and to watch out for ambition. She really wanted a holy husband. She keeps saying that everything must be done for the Glory of God! Catherine was an immense influence on William’s spiritual growth. She was like a mother or a guardian angel. But, she shows herself obsessed with religion, scarcely being able to write one letter without a reproach, an admonishment, a warning or a cry for deeper spirituality.
William was often concerned about what the will of God was. He did not know what his next step should be, changing his mind all the time, but Catherine was more decided. She thought he should join the New Connexion, another branch of Methodism as it would give him a greater sphere of influence. However, William was loath to leave the Reformers as they were so kind to him and offered him the prospect of a house if he got married.
William, at this time, went from being in high spirits one moment and then dejected the next. Some of this may be due to his ill health. He suffered from indigestion his whole life. Despite the success of his public meetings, he often went into depression over the state of his own character. He was humble and wanted to improve himself.
At the beginning of 1854 William decided to leave Spalding for London to join with the New Connexion, although he was not sure he was doing the right thing and his friends in Spalding were not best pleased. He came to London to study for the ministry. This was fully supported by Catherine, but many years later she acknowledged that she probably put too much emphasis on the importance of William studying. Without her influence one wonders whether he would ever have taken this step. He was not good at studying, which is no real surprise. He had spent 18 months seeing quite a few people getting saved – it is not easy to give that up to study for a theological degree.
William could not refrain from preaching. The day he arrived in London, 15 souls sought salvation under his preaching at Brunswick Street Chapel. He impressed his tutor with his studies and at the next Conference he was appointed as assistant to the Superintendent of an area of London. This was very unusual for such a young man and he was also told he could marry in a year when probationers could not marry for four years.
William sometimes went around the country doing evangelistic services. (Interestingly, he wrote, ‘they must have hell-fire flashed before their faces or they will not move.’ Not the sort of sermon we do these days). Unfortunately, among the New Connexion leadership were some who were conservative and orthodox who did not like revivalism, but William’s success prevented criticism from being expressed.
The President of the Connexion heard about William and asked him to come and do meetings in Longton and Hanley, Staffordshire. William at first declined for various reasons, including that he was too young, but he was persuaded to go.
From The Staffordshire Sentinel.
Zion Chapel, Longton. A series of revival services have been held in the above-named place of worship. On Wednesday 3rd the Rev. Wm. Booth of London preached and continued the services each evening until 10th. The effect of the Revd. gentleman’s preaching was truly astonishing; his view of the Christian religion was clear, his delivery powerful, melting his audience to tears; a hallowed influence pervaded the assemblies congregated to hear him during his stay in Longton. The effect of his eloquence tells amazingly. He reminds his hearers of J B. Gough; with every argument, he carries conviction to the heart. His glowing language, his startling incidents, his appeals to the judgment of his hearers are of no ordinary character, and the impression made upon his auditory will not be readily effaced and the happy results of his labours is an accession of about 150 members to the church.
His work was very fruitful, so much so that Catherine worried about his pride, but he kept assuring her that God was his primary focus. Around Stoke he had good success, but when he went further afield – less so. But, all the time he was away from the woman he loved. In all they were separated for about three years. On the 16th June 1855, they finally got married at New Chapel Stockwell Green, with only her father and his sister present. (the building still exists, but was sold to Islamists in 1986)
After a week’s honeymoon on the Isle of Wight, it was back to work holding meetings all over the country. Catherine shows herself to be the adoring wife, full of love for her husband and she soon became pregnant. He is overflowing with love for her, he will do anything for her and somehow he seems to be more sure of himself. After successful meetings in Sheffield she felt her husband was due for even greater things. His popularity was embarrassing, his success as a revivalist amazing and all the accounts of that time show him as a fiery preacher, not only able to crowd and pack large buildings with a breathless audience; not only able to sway the emotions of enormous congregations but able to permanently change the lives of sinful men. However, he did not like to socialise and he had invitations from all over.
William Bramwell Booth was born on 8th March 1856.
In the middle of his successes, where he was compared with John Wesley, William would drop into despair again and again. Part of this was his indigestion, but more probably because he was harassed, criticised and opposed by the Church. Some did not like the emotionalism, some thought he was too young and some were jealous. As a passionate revivalist the rigours of so much preaching would have worn out a very healthy man, let alone a man like William. It was clear which side won as in the 1857 Annual Conference, with a vote of 44 to 40, he was taken away from evangelism and made a circuit preacher in Brighouse, Yorkshire.
William considered this work to be the hardest of his career, no small wonder as he was yearning to save the lost, not pastor. During the year they went over to Sheffield to meet James Caughey who had had such an influence on William as a lad. This was his second visit from the USA. He baptised their second son Ballington. In May William received ordination into the New Connexion after four years probation.
In 1858 William was sent to Gateshead that was experiencing trouble, but he soon had 2,000 people squashed into the church. The ironworkers called it the ‘Converting’ shop. It was here that Catherine began to talk to the poor in their homes, despite having just given birth to her daughter Catherine. In 1860 Catherine preached for the first time, shortly after the birth of their fourth child, Emma.
By the 1861 Conference they decided that if William was not released to do evangelistic work, they would go on their own, despite not having any money, having a delicate wife with four young children. (The really ironic part of William Booth’s ministry is that as one of our great revivalists, he was fixed in Gateshead during the main part of the biggest revival we have ever seen – 1859-1862) Catherine went to the Conference with her husband and it was mainly due to her resolution, courage and faith that William left the Connexion. Up until the last moment he was afraid and hoping for a compromise - he hated controversy and reverenced authority. Everything was about doing God’s will, but their total lack of any money had some influence in their decision making. William was offered a poor compromise at the Conference and he looked questioningly at his wife in the gallery. She rose in her place and shouted, ‘Never!’ At that William jumped to his feet, bowed and walked out of the chapel with his wife to start a new adventure.
(How typical of denominations! William was compared with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who made the Methodists famous through revivalism and yet he was thrown out of the Church because of – revivalism!)
A friend from New Connexion invited him to start meetings in Hayle, Cornwall, that turned into a revival over all the west of Cornwall. He received a little help from William Haslam who had only left the town seven months earlier, he having dug the ground. On Good Friday he went to Pendeen Church to listen to the evangelist, Robert Aitken and was very impacted. William was really struggling here, despite the successes, his body was in a lot of pain and he was really worried about the future. His old uncertainty came back with a vengeance; even at one point wondering if he should go into commercial business in London.
It was a wonderful awakening, but there was great opposition. The Wesleyan’s refused to open any of their churches for meetings, and the Primitive Methodists told their churches not to get involved. At the end of the revival it is estimated that 7,000 were converted.
After 18 months the Booth’s left Cornwall with their now five children and went to Cardiff. There were one or two churches open to them there, but for the first time they used secular buildings. Some of his financial worries were allayed at this time through the generosity of two wealthy men. They then went to Walsall and another revival was established, with the meetings held outside and many going to hear both the Booths’ speak.
After Walsall, the meetings for a while were much less successful. His discouragement and depression remained. By 1864 the Booth’s had six children. William, in his own rough, strong, emotional, unsentimental way was extremely fond of them; but he was too involved in his work, too distracted by his worries and suffering too much from his ailments to give them the whole and perfect love of a father’s heart. It was to Catherine that fell the main work in bringing up the children.
In 1865, while they were living in Leeds, Catherine was asked to do a short mission in Rotherhithe, London, where she saw the possibility of ministering to the poor. Bills were sent around saying, ‘Come and hear a Woman speak’. The success of this mission encouraged them to move to Hammersmith and to make London their headquarters.
For the last few years William had been very downcast by what he saw in the lives of people after they were converted. They did not become missionaries, they did not make great sacrifice and they did not touch the lives of other people. He was hoping to see the world change and he blamed himself. The same continued when in London and it was ten years before he realised that the one way he could lastingly change men and women was to make them, at the moment of conversion, seekers and savers of the lost.
A woman became the Booth’s lodger in 3 Gore Road, Hackney in 1867 and she gives an insight into the family. ‘Mrs Booth was a very able woman, a very persuasive speaker and a wonderful manager; but the General was a force, he dominated everything. I have never met anyone who could compare with him for strength of character. You knew the difference in the house directly he opened the door. You felt his presence in every department of home life. He was a real master… Prevarication, like stupidity exasperated him. Everything had to go like clockwork, but very much faster than time. I always say that he got 48 hours work out of twenty-four… He’d change too in a twinkling of an eye from gloom and dejection to a contagious hilarity that carried everything before it. He suffered in those days with neuralgia and indigestion, it was often dreadful to see how the poor man suffered; but he would fling it all off directly there was work to do or if he had to comfort anyone else, particularly Mrs Booth. His love for his wife was the most beautiful thing I have ever known.’ She was particularly impacted by the way he treated his wife during the many illnesses that beset her year in and year out. William was meticulous about tidiness and personal cleanliness and he loved going out into the pure air of the country.
The children were disciplined too much by today’s measure, but they seemed to grow up well and they adored their father. Strangely, Catherine spent a lot of time looking after the children, but no time playing with them! However, William would try to play with them each day, work permitting. It was also to their father that the children normally went when in trouble. The servants idolised the Booths and generally felt part of the family. The boys kept all sorts of small animals in the back garden and William loved them as well and shared in the excitement of every new addition. He did not allow the children to be dressed in expensive clothes, although he would love to have done so, but he needed to set an example to the poor.
There was a plan one Christmas to have a wonderful, traditional Christmas and much preparation was made for it. However, William returned from giving the Christmas sermon looking pale and drawn and he could not enter into any of the festivities. What he saw amongst the poor stabbed him in the heart and every Christmas from then on, the family would be out delivering food to the poor.
Up to this point William’s only concern was the spiritual well-being of the poor, he did not consider that their poverty could influence love, worship and aspiration. He was extraordinarily successful due to the passion and love he had for the people. He had his first meeting in the East End on an old Quaker burial ground in Thomas Street and then in the open air in the Mile End road. At that time William met an Irish prizefighter walking down the street. He stopped to speak with him and something about William’s countenance really impressed him, in fact the next day he was to fight one of the best fighters behind the Blind Beggar pub, but on leaving William he believed it would be his last fight. The man he was fighting had a huge reputation and he was much bigger and stronger, but the Irishman won easily after an hour and three-quarters! After winning he went to the Mile End road to hear William and a short time later he gave his life to the Lord, William’s first convert in the East End. The Irishman became the head of food distribution and he took the meetings in the slums of Shoreditch. He said that it seemed that William would tear the soul out of your body!
William was drawn to the East End by the poverty, drunkenness, immorality and blasphemy of the people living there. He had no rest until he helped them. His focusing on this form of Mission lost him a lot of friends. ‘Some of them objected to his holiness teaching. Others considered that he laid too much stress upon repentance and works and too little on bare faith. Not a few grew weary of the ceaseless open-air meetings and processions with the mobbing and mockery of the crowd.’ Consequently, he was short of funds again, but a philanthropist came to his rescue.
His courage was never more evident than at the beginning of this new ministry. There was great antagonism and he had to endure ridicule, hatred and scorn from the atheists that packed the East End. William is a bit of a mystery as when Holy Spirit was flowing powerfully through him during the revival meetings, he was full of doubts, but here in the East End, where there was so little of God, he seems not to have doubted at all. He had no help from the churches and no building for his meetings, yet he went into the lion’s den and preached to the worse of humankind.
One day thugs cut the chords of his tent, so he was forced to move his meetings to a dancing hall. On a Sunday William would give three or four outdoor addresses, led two or three processions through the streets and conducted three meetings in the dance hall! On weeknights, they met in a wool warehouse in Bethnal Green. They had various strange meeting places, until they found the Effingham Theatre in 1867. William’s idea was to feed his converts into the churches, but when he found that the churches failed to keep them or indeed turned their backs on the converts, William thought about making the Christian Mission itself a ‘church’.
The Christian Mission went on growing, but finance, as usual, was the limiting factor and, as usual, a dreadful cause for concern. Catherine challenged her husband, ‘Where is it all leading? Are we a religious body or are we an appendix to the churches?’ William’s response was that he did not want to form a new sect. The Mission was run by a committee, but things came to a head when some of the bolder people involved approached William to say they were concerned at the direction the committee was taking the Mission and asked him to step in. William acted and created the Salvation Army with himself as the autocratic leader or General Superintendent.
According to William, ‘The object of this Mission is to seek the conversion of the neglected crowds of people who are living without God and without hope and to gather those converted into Christian fellowship, in order that they may be instructed in Scriptural truth, trained in habits of holiness and usefulness and watched over and cared for in their religious course.’
At the 1877 Conference of the Christian Mission William announced the removal of the committee and his appointment as General Superintendent. He considered the Mission had gone off course, that they were dealing with trifling matters rather than looking at the bigger picture and making important decisions through a majority decision, a decision that inevitably will be made slowly. People joined because of William and they wanted to be directed by William and not a committee.
By this time the Mission had extended beyond London. Whenever Catherine went around the country addressing large meetings, they tried to set up a ‘station’ and then sent evangelists to the area. The whole organisation was kept informed through the Christian Mission Magazine. Catherine was the visible side of the Mission as she spoke all over the country and her being a woman preacher, large crowds came to hear her. William worked all hours at home behind the scenes.
Conversion of the Mission into the Salvation Army was delayed for a year over doctrine. William believed that baptism was symbolic, so he paid no attention to it. However, he paid a lot of attention to holiness. He looked for perfection in love after conversion and encouraged people to aspire to entire sanctification of the will. In order to achieve this William began ‘Holiness Meetings’. Catherine was always ahead of him when it came to Holiness often commenting on the importance of ‘making character’.
(for an account of the Baptism of Fire please read my booklet, free on www.ukwells.org)
During the period 1875-8 many left the Christian Mission for all sorts of reasons. The work was too hard, evangelising too difficult, women had too prominent a place, the emotionalism of Holiness meetings was wrong or Holiness teaching was wrong. It was a very hard time; the churches were almost universally unsupportive and the attacks from the public were frequent. William himself was attacked physically several times and the helpers often had water (or worse) dropped on them, dead cats thrown at them etc. Even two policemen attacked them and many did not defend them.
The devotion of his followers was extraordinary. Some almost starved themselves for the sake of the Mission and many went out evangelising, knowing that they might face the mob.
August 1878, the Christian Mission magazine announced that the Mission ‘has organised a Salvation Army to carry the Blood of Christ and the Fire of the Holy Ghost into every corner of the world. From now on the evangelists would be known as 'captains', compared to 'reverend' in the Church. One day William was having a meeting with his son Bramwell and another when they read in the press the ‘Volunteer Army’ and his son shouted out that he was not a Volunteer and William came over and scratched out ’Volunteer’ and put in ‘Salvation’. The effect of doing that was electric! The new name meant a warfare on sin and apathy, it gave a new forward movement to the mission. At this time the uniform was introduced, but on a voluntary basis and the magazine was re-named the ‘Salvationist’.
In July 1879 a rare positive article of a Salvation Army meeting was published in the weekly newspaper ‘The Saturday Review’. “…If the sight of many pairs of radiant eyes and waving arms would not persuade them, they would certainly be convinced by a rousing slap on the back from some happy and devout stranger. In fact, the flow of animal spirits, the manifest affection of all these rough people for one another, the absence of anything like hypocrisy or self-seeking in the whole affair, were not to be overlooked by any candid spectator… The real good, such as it is, done to the nation by widespread movements of revival like this is less a religious than a moral one… The strength of Mr Booth seems to be that he unites the two powers; he preaches doctrines that fill the face of the believer with light and radiance and he is no less thorough in enforcing a complete reform of life.”
One theological question William wrestled with for a long time was Communion. He was brought up with a reverence and honour for the rite. Eventually, he came to the opinion, ‘There must be no baptismal service that can delude anyone into a vain hope of getting to heaven without being ‘born again’. There must be no Lord’s Supper administered in such a way to show anything like a priestly superiority of one over another – every saved person being a Priest unto God.’ And, ‘There must never be a sacramental service at the end of a meeting so as to prevent the possibility of inviting sinners to the Mercy Seat.’ If the Salvation Army offended the orthodox, it kindled enthusiasm of the unorthodox. It was a religion the multitudes could understand, everyone was equal.
The Bishop of Truro, who was soon to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a point of meeting and writing to William. He even approved of him not taking Communion, but he did ask for one concession, that those who wanted to take Communion could go to an Anglican church to partake, but William refused, because; if he were to comply, he would be admitting that the Salvation Army lacked an essential part of salvation. However, he did urge his people, while they were eating bread and drinking, to remember the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is impossible to exaggerate the gross slanders that were circulated concerning General Booth in the early days of the Salvation Army. Except for the masses, most people were shocked by the methods he used to bring in the lost; the Church was antagonistic because the Salvation Army was not connected to it. To half the public William sought notoriety, to the other half he was an imposter lining his own pocket. Of course, the people were happy to criticise, but not try to bring in the lost themselves and the Church was happy to forget how William tried to remain part of her.
William would say, ‘we have not set up a new sect, we have raised an army, we are making a force.’ The brutality with which the Salvation Army was attacked by the mob and the venomous attacks from orthodox religious people were phenomena of the times which seem to justify William’s efforts to Christianise the country at almost any cost. In 1881 he had to write to the Home Secretary complaining that the mobs only had the nerve to attack the Army because they had been told that they could do so with impunity. So clearly, in some cases the magistrates and police were complicit. The Mayor of Basingstoke declared that he could not protect the Army from the mobs. ‘Skeleton Armies’ sprang up in various towns in order to break up the Salvation Army marches. As the main target of the Salvation Army was alcohol, it is not surprising that the brewers and publicans were amongst their main opponents. These disturbances became frequent and serious. In Weston-Super-Mare a salvationist was sentenced to three months in prison for causing a riot. A higher court eventually quashed the sentence. Of course, the salvationists never fought back.
In twelve months, 669 salvationists, including 251 women, were knocked down, kicked or brutally assaulted. 56 of their buildings were stormed and partially wrecked, 86, including 15 women, were imprisoned. But as usual, out of persecution came growth.
William did have some supporters among the wealthy and in the Houses of Commons and Lords. W T Stead was a strong supporter amongst the newspapers and he had some supporters amongst the bishops.
There was a notorious pub in City Road called the Eagle, that also had gardens, a music hall and a theatre, where some of the most immoral people in London gathered. In 1882 this property’s lease came up for sale and William bought the underlease and converted the buildings for religious meetings. The enemy was not going to give up one of his strongholds without a fight and a riot occurred when the mob tried to break up the salvationist’s march on the opening day. Howling mobs besieged the property by day and night; it was attacked by savage gangs with sticks and stones. For months the police had to protect the building, often with drawn truncheons. William’s life was often in imminent danger.
As well as the mobs, the whole legal system was launched against William by powerful forces. Some felt that the right of a free Englishman to have a drink was at stake. The question was, was William allowed to have a property with an alcoholic drinking license without offering for sale any drink. William won in the Court of Chancery, but lost another case at the Court of Queen’s Bench, where the judge said that William had to give back the property. The extraordinary thing was that William was fighting for the morality of the City and he received hardly any support.
Having spread to America, Australia and France, 1882 saw further growth to Switzerland, Sweden, India and Canada.
The following year the bishops of Oxford and Hereford made serious charges against the salvationists. These came to nothing but gave more people the chance to criticise them. It just built on the rumours of sexual immorality coming out of the emotional meetings and of supposedly blasphemous handbills being distributed by the Army.
There were hopes amongst some Anglicans that there would be some joining between the Church of England and the Salvation Army. Both sides were aware of the opportunity missed with John Wesley, but there did not seem to be enough desire or time on either side to push something through. One of the main reasons nothing came about was William’s dominating leadership of the Salvation Army and his lack of diplomacy. There is little question that without William’s autocratic leadership the movement would not have got as far as it did and such leadership would not have gone down well in Anglican circles. Also, the two young firebrands in the leadership, his son Bramwell and George Railton were not in favour.
Bramwell Booth had a passion to do something about the selling of girls for prostitution purposes, something that was rife in London and he set up the Salvation Army’s first Rescue Home. However, this was not enough for Bramwell, so he approached the most dynamic newspaper editor of his day, W T Stead. Stead was truly shocked at the evidence he saw and he splashed it all over the Pall Mall Gazette (the forerunner of the Evening Standard). The country was roused, but Stead realised that many would think the articles were only newspaper sensationalism, so he devised a plan to buy a girl himself to prove what he was writing was true. Unfortunately, the authorities prosecuted him over a technicality and he was put in prison for three months. This whole adventure was not looked favourably upon by William Booth as he saw that the Salvation Army could be damaged, but it ended up with the Army looking after such girls.
The Salvation Army consumed all of William’s home life. He was constantly writing letters and having meetings, Catherine would be preaching all around the country, Bramwell, Ballington, Catherine and Emma were fully involved and the younger children helping out and longing to be salvationists. Their home was like a railway station. Everything William did was for the furtherance of the Salvation Army; he made his children outcasts of religion, he used every scrap of Catherine’s vanishing strength for Kingdom purposes. Even in his mid-fifties nobody had more energy than he did, no one was more impatient of excuses or laziness, no one was more ready to go where the fight was hardest. The only times he slowed down was to love on his children or listen to music. He loved his life and he believed with all his heart that God had given into his hands the key to Salvation.
In 1879 a salvationist emigrated to the USA and asked Head Quarters for help. Needing some persuasion William sent a leader to look out the land and on him reporting back he pushed the work there energetically. When he visited there in 1886 he found 238 corps and 569 officers. William was very excited about the country and the potential there but recognised they needed a lot more staff. His letters to Catherine were full of love language as usual; they had been married over thirty years, but their love for one another seems to be just as strong. He wrote, ‘I am just the same, your husband, lover and friend. As in the earliest days, my heart can know no change.’ He was largely received with a lot of honour at the many cities he visited. This visit to the USA gave a valuable impulse to the work.
In 1888 William came home one night and was very distressed by something he saw and the next morning he exclaimed to his son Bramwell that something had to be done for those sleeping rough. For the last twenty years, when William looked at London, his questions were; how many were saved? How many went to church? However, now he was wondering about the physical health of Londoners as opposed to their spiritual health. William’s love for people made him a social reformer, almost against his will.
Catherine Booth had been unwell for years, but in 1888 she found a tumour that was diagnosed as cancer. An operation was advised, but after considering she declined. She was told she had 18-24 months to live. She continued to preach for a few months and continued her correspondence for a while longer, but the progress of the cancer was obvious. After a period of intense suffering, Catherine died on 4th October 1890. It is difficult to overstate the agonies poor Catherine endured for over a year before she died. Her husband’s journal describes the horrors. The main reason for her pain was that she refused morphine for religious reasons. One can only imagine the pain William went through seeing his beloved wife suffer so much. He could not understand why God did not intervene. Despite the horrific circumstances William and Catherine had times together that were almost heavenly. Finally, with a last kiss from her adoring husband, the Mother of the Salvation Army died.
Amongst the pain and anguish the work of the Salvation Army had to go on, as well as the writing of an important book. ‘In Darkest England and the Way Out’, was published just after Catherine’s death – it set out his plans to alleviate misery and suffering and received a mixed response. Some viciously attacked him, but William would not defend himself, he wrote to a friend, ‘God and time will fight for me; I must wait and my comrades must wait with me.’
One of the main criticisms was concerning William’s autocratic rule over the Army. He had learned from experience that the this was the best form of government to make important decisions quickly. Some people assumed that because of this leadership style he was taking money out for his own use, but this was far from the truth. William only ever took the minimum amount of money his family could live on and meticulously ensured that the Salvation Army received all the money from the ‘War Cry’ and his book.
William needed to raise £100,000 for his plans to help the homeless etc, so he needed people to believe in him and his leadership style if they were to contribute. They did, which can be seen from the fact that the sum was raised within four months of his book coming out.
Up until 1890, William had been a passionate evangelist, harassed by poverty, opposed by enemies and often involved in doubts and uncertainties. Between 1891 and 1898, although sometimes insisting on the first importance of spiritual work, he was unquestionably heart and soul in the Salvation Army’s magnificent effort to solve the social riddles of modern industrialism.
After Catherine’s death, William threw himself into the creation of his social scheme, so much so that by early 1891 he needed to have a rest, so he went on a world tour. Over these years he went all over the world on fire with passion for his social scheme and was received rapturously by the masses and respectfully by men of influence.
Instinctively, the people felt that William was a man who felt deeply for the outcasts of society. He not only loved mankind but believed in love as the sole energy of progress. He always told his Officers about the necessity to love. The two aspects of his character that most explain his popularity are his love and his sincerity and through these he won the confidence of the world and the love of the poor.
William virtually ignored the criticisms that came at him so frequently, preferring to just get on with his work, but he very much welcomed comment from his inner circle – he would say that the Salvation Army was not a mutual admiration society, but rather a school for self-criticism. After their mother’s death, Bramwell, Emma and Herbert were William’s main support – they were his critics and guardians. The rest of his seven children (one was an invalid) had Salvation Army posts abroad. Sadly, three of the children resigned to pursue their own ministries. Ballington resigned in 1896 when he was posted away from the USA where he had been in charge and he tried to take as many Army supporters as possible with him when he set up a similar organisation. After the birth of her tenth child, Catherine resigned because of the restrictive nature of the rules and regulations. She and her husband continued to minister around the world. Herbert’s relationship with Bramwell and his father deteriorated and he resigned in 1901. (Something that is not to William’s credit was that he never reconciled with his three children after they resigned.)
£128,000 was raised for William’s social scheme. Food Depots and Shelters, Rescue Homes and Labour Bureaux, were set up in the great industrial centres, a farm was purchased in Essex, and the entire Social Wing of the Army, with Shelters for Women and Prison-gate Brigade, and a Slum Sisterhood, was re-organised. But a sum of £30,000 a year was necessary to sustain this immense activity. Donations were affected by William’s enemies, being led by the Times newspaper, making scurrilous accusations against him and the Army. Rumours about them misappropriating money from the fund abounded so that William felt it necessary to have an independent audit of the accounts. The audit showed that there was no hint of misapplication of funds, but that did not stop his main detractors from libelling William.
The poor of the East End were not neglected by any means, but William believed the charity was sentimental charity and not practical and scientific. He saw that despite free housing, free meals, clothing and gifts of money, there was no moral or religious progress. His scheme was not to give, not to relieve but to rescue, revive and rebuild. Giving someone a free breakfast achieved nothing long-term. William’s inspiration and passion for his scheme drove it to fruition. Virtually every one of his proposals came into being, with the help and skill of the Army’s leadership.
William worked tirelessly for three years to see his dreams of social reform become a reality, but then he handed the work over to others and concentrated again on salvation. He wrote, ‘The Holy Ghost convicting people of sin, making them saints and soldiers – sacrificing, weeping, toiling to save men from sin and hell – there is our power in a nutshell.’ It did not matter where in the world he was Bramwell kept him informed of what was going on. Bramwell sometimes made decisions while his father was away, sometimes William came down angrily on his Chief of Staff, but more often he agreed with the decision. He loved and trusted his son.
Even at 70 William was pushing on. Whether tired or sick he drove himself on and on to finish his life’s work. When travelling he would still speak at three meetings a day and during the day he might have to give up a precious half-hour walk from the pressure of work. At rest he was like a tired man who observes and reflects between spells of nodding sleep, but in action, with his thin arms raised above his head, his eyes blazing and his powerful voice hurling out his thoughts, he was like a prophet! At rest his gentleness and tenderness and even sweetness gave a singular beauty to his old and rugged face. In his face you could see how the spirit was bowed down by the sorrows and sufferings of humanity.
In one letter sent from his 1902 tour of the USA, he said that the three oldest of his 28 grandchildren were preaching! A minister in New York was asked what he thought of the Salvation Army and the reply was, ‘To tell you the truth I don’t like it at all, but to be candid with you, I believe God Almighty does.’ The Mayor of Chattanooga said, ‘we come out gladly tonight to welcome a man who has given himself for suffering, weeping, struggling, starving humanity; the General of the Salvation Army, an Army that not only saves men from the storms and sorrows of life but prepares them for the hereafter.’ William received praise from everyone, especially the secular press which was something very new. In nine weeks of this tour he conducted 93 meetings that were almost all full to bursting, travelled 7,500 miles, saw 1,150 ask Jesus into their lives and did a massive amount of correspondence!
On coming to Washington William was asked to attend a dinner put on by Senator Hanna, who was head of the Republican Party. At this dinner were fifty of the most influential men in the country; the Vice President, the Speaker, Senators, Supreme Court Justices etc. They came to honour their host rather than to meet William. None of them had met him before and most of them knew little of the Salvation Army. The evening started coldly with little conversation and little interest in William and the elaborate dinner was the same, but then William was asked to speak. He said himself that he was tired, he got muddled and forgot several things in his hour long speech, but the impact on these powerful people was amazing. On his finishing his host stood up, looking for a handkerchief to wipe away his tears and he was not the only one. There then followed impromptu speeches from the most senior people present; speeches the like had not been heard before. Mostly they spoke eloquently from their hearts. Each of them went back to whatever was spiritual or holy from their childhood or to the best moments from their lives. One of the speakers was the Senator in charge of the public finances who was renowned for holding the country’s purse strings very tightly, but he actually said that he would appropriate some public money for the Salvation Army in Washington. Another Senator was President of the American Unitarian Association, which was probably the church with the least sympathy towards the work of the Army, but he said how wrong he had been in his attitude towards the Army. He compared it to the early Christian Church and commented on the courage, self-sacrifice and heroism of its members. In the future many of those present would comment on how that dinner stood out above all similar occasions.
Shortly afterwards William was asked to the White House where he sat next to President Roosevelt at lunch. Then he was asked to open a Senate session in prayer. Senator Hanna took him onto the floor of the Senate which was a singular honour where he was greeted by virtually every Senator. At the given moment he was escorted to the seat normally occupied by the Vice President from where he gave a six-minute prayer that he believed had been inspired by God. Afterwards, he spent an hour on the floor of the Senate, meeting many people. (what an extraordinary honour for him – such a humble man lifted up to such heights)
In 1903 the Army built their General a modest house in Hadley Wood, North London, for him to live out his days, but even on this gift he paid 4% on the capital spent, so he in effect was paying a mortgage. He would spend his days reading, following the news from his worldwide organisation and in writing and then he would lose patience and yearn for activity, so he would go on a tour somewhere, crusading against sin and then it would be back home. He loved to write letters to his children, telling them that he loved them – the letters to Bramwell constitute a library in themselves. It seems that writing was his way of relaxing. Bramwell’s wife and children were constant visitors and William was devoted to his grandchildren and they to him.
His children loved him too – his daughter Eva wrote, ‘You know my love for you, my ever-burning, all-absorbing desire to please you in every particular, to comfort you, to help you, and in some small measure to brighten the other end of life's journey for you, to live in your heart, and to spend every energy in the front ranks of the battle that you are waging. Ever in fondest and unchanging love, Your own little soldier child.’
A deep tragedy hit William at this time with the death of his daughter Emma in a train crash in America. Bramwell was his right hand, but Emma was his left. The loss of his daughter in his old age elicited compassion from millions across the world.
The next honour for William was a private interview with the King. Edward appeared to be very interested in the work the Salvation Army did and supported it. Right afterwards was the Army’s International Congress that required him to speak the length and breadth of the country. He travelled 1,250 miles by motor car and spoke 105 times, but despite feeling worn out he went on a Continental tour in the autumn.
A story illustrates the power of William’s speaking. A couple heard him speak in Falmouth. They were both well-known artists and important people in the area. They were so impacted by William’s words that they decided to work among the fisher lads of Falmouth. Within a year they, with the support of some friends, had set up a Working Boys Club with a membership of 160 and the boys were no longer roaming the streets causing trouble. Each boy committed not to drink, smoke or gamble. Whenever anyone praised the couple for what they had done they always said any praise was due to General Booth, not them.
The motor car was the General’s new method of transport. His welcome wherever he went was still amazing. In 1905 he was in Scotland and wrote, ‘Dumfries was tremendous. It was wonderfully great. The whole town and country must have turned out, and the affectionate greeting of the people was as much as I could stand. One man pushed a £5 note on Lawley's car. We have had flowers, fruit, and kisses thrown at us; now comes the turn of the £5 notes…’
He then sailed for Australia and was away for six months. The trip was an outstanding success. On returning he had more time to deal with Army matters at home, including a new idea of his to raise up shelters for the homeless in advance of harsh weather, and the continuing policy to export people to Canada and other places. Emigration was part of William’s plan to convert the world. In 1905 3,000 went to Canada. He was honoured with the Freedom of the City of London, followed by lunch at the Mansion House and a tour of the City. He lunched the next day with the Lord Mayor and a few days later was given the Freedom of his native city, Nottingham. At the end of the year he went on a triumphal visit to Germany and Switzerland where he was received like a hero – William was surprised at the huge enthusiasm as only a couple of years before the Army experienced a lot of opposition and prejudice.
Few dreams that entered the mind of the General in old age were dearer than the dream of a vast Salvation Army Colony in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). It was a dream which was part of his far greater dream, the conversion of the world. He believed that by an immense infusion of people in Rhodesia, he could capture the attention of the whole world. It was his belief that mankind wanted mothering or shepherding, and he was convinced that he knew how this process should be carried out. His faith in discipline plus spiritual affection was unbounded. He thought that he could make masses of people blissfully happy, and richly prosperous in a State of this kind. To the very last the General held on to this dream. He had interviews with many influential people, including the Prime Minister, to try to further his aims. Much of his time in 1906 was spent on this project.
Early in 1907 the General went to Denmark and had a very good meeting with the King and Queen and then one with the Queen of Sweden. Then in March, he was in Canada which included his speaking in Parliament and where he met just about anybody who was anybody. Then on to Japan
At Kobe he had two of the most remarkable meetings of his life. In the prayer meetings about 500 people came onto the stage seeking Salvation with cries and tears. One old man had never heard about Christianity, but he wanted Salvation and he wanted to go home to tell his children the good news. He said his heart was now like the General’s heart. At night he noticed a young girl, with a face beaming with peace and joy, who had found Salvation that afternoon, leading her 84 year old grandmother to the Saviour. There had been no excitement at all during William’s evening address and at first nobody moved when they were asked to come forward to seek Salvation. After a pause there was a deluge and the large stage was covered with weeping men and women.
After quick meetings with the Chinese and Russian ambassadors he left for Okayama where for nearly two miles from the station the streets were lined with people. He had nothing but favour from high and low in Japan and particularly from the press. He even had a short audience with the Emperor. On leaving Japan 25,000 people cheered him off, shouting ‘Banzai’. He was told that not even the Emperor received such acclaim.
Later that year the General received an honorary Doctorate from Oxford University. Lord Curzon wrote to him: ‘This is probably one of the few honours which you would be willing to accept. To me it would be an even higher honour to be the instrument of conferring it: for I should like the famous and ancient University, of which I am now the Head, and which has played so notable a part in the history of our country — to have the privilege of setting its seal upon the noble work that you have done for so many years, and are continuing to do, for the people of all countries — a work excelled in range and beneficence by that of no living man.’
Another remarkable trip to the USA followed, during which he again met the President.
William continued his work on the Rhodesian Colony. He managed to get meetings with several senior ministers, including the Prime Minster, on one visit to Parliament and more the following day. None of them were against his idea – he was trying to get the Government to contribute £100,000. He then went to South Africa to promote his venture there; receiving great favour he met with several members of the Government.
At the end of the year he had an operation to remove cataracts from both eyes.
In 1909 William went to Scandinavia again and had an audience with the new King of Sweden who was very supportive. Great things were said about him by Royalty, the Church and the Press. ‘There are many kings and princes in this world, many great men, ecclesiastical or worldly, civilians and military, and if you want to refer to any of them you are compelled to add the name to the attribute, but when you speak of ' The General,' then it is not needed, for all the world knows that it is a question of General Booth. The other great men are many, but he is a unique one, like the Pope.’ Having been well received in Russia, although he was not allowed to have any meetings, he returned to England and had a meeting with Queen Alexandra, the Dowager Empress of Russia and the Queen’s daughter Victoria. The Empress pointed out that the Church in Russia could be a stumbling block for the Salvation Army. The ladies showed a great deal of interest, respect and real emotion towards him.
After celebrating his 80th birthday William went on his usual motor tour. At Hereford he met with the Bishop and he held a great meeting at the Drill Hall before spending the night at the Bishop’s Palace. One of his assistants reported being present at the end of a time of prayer between the two men that ended with the General asking the Bishop to bless him and then the Bishop asked the General to do the same. It was a sacred moment.
During the meeting at the Drill Hall the General noticed that he was having problems with one of his eyes. It was so bad the next day that he was told to give up the Campaign and get to London as soon as possible. Three days later he found out that sight in the eye had gone permanently. For several days he was in a lot of pain. Within two months he was working again as hard as ever.
In November he had a meeting at a prison and 29 came forward for repentance. An evening newspaper asked him if he would be willing to be made a Lord, to which he gave an affirmative reply. (It really is quite extraordinary that he was never given a knighthood or made a peer.)
His years were catching up with him, his body was suffering and he was tired, but he was still driven on. Whilst in America his daughter Eva made him promise to stay lying down in the room to rest while she went to another room to do something. Just a short time later she heard him walking about, so she went in to admonish him for breaking his word. He was walking up and down, his eyes and cheeks wet with tears. ‘Oh I know, I know’ he broke out, ‘but I have been thinking of all the sufferings of little children, the children of the great cities. I cannot rest! I cannot rest!’
He still was a man of ideas. His latest was to lobby for Salvation Army work in all the prisons. He had a good meeting with Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary and other senior officials. Churchill asked him if he was converted, the General said no, but that Churchill was convicted. William said, ‘What I am most concerned about is not what is in you at the moment, but what I can see of the possibilities of the future.’
1911 opened with William suffering with his eyes again, his one remaining eye getting worse and his continuing experience of blackouts. He was assured by the doctor that it was just old age. However, he still did a European tour and a UK tour and worked as much as he could on administration issues.
The following year, in March, it was decided to operate on the General’s remaining good eye, but the operation was not a success. Bramwell went to give the news to his father. ‘You mean I am blind?’ the General asked, ‘Well General, I fear that we must contemplate that.’ After a pause the old man said, ‘I shall never see your face again?’ ‘No, probably not in this world.’ During the next few moments the veteran's hand crept along the counterpane to take hold of his son's, and holding it he said very calmly, ‘God must know best!’ and after another pause, ‘Bramwell, I have done what I could for God and for the people with my eyes. Now I shall do what I can for God and for the people without my eyes.’ (a typically William statement, full of faith and courage)
Four months later, in a letter to Eva, he said that he was going into action once more, in the Salvation War and that he believed God would give him more successes. His desire was to make the Salvation Army such a power for God and of such benefit to mankind that no wicked people could spoil it. He had been feeling ill and without energy, so he was using that as an excuse for doing nothing, but the doctors told him that if he continued thinking in this way his life would be over, so he determined to encourage himself and start the fight again.
However, it was not to be; the General began to fade. In what proved to be his last coherent conversation with Bramwell he made him promise that he would concentrate on helping the homeless of the world and unfurl the Salvation Army flag in China. Near the end he said to Bramwell with a smile, ‘I am leaving you a bonnie handful!’
At the end Bramwell bent over his father and kissed him. ‘Kiss him again,’ whispered Mrs Booth-Hellberg, ‘kiss him for Eva.’ And Bramwell kissed his father again, and placed in his hand the cable which had come from Eva in America, saying: ‘Kiss him for me.’ On 20th August 1912, William Booth died.
For some reason this hero was not buried in Westminster Abbey. The funeral service was at an Exhibition Hall in Hammersmith Road - 40,000 attended, including Queen Mary who sat next to a converted ex-prostitute. The crowds that lined the streets for his journey to Abney Park Cemetery were the greatest ever seen. Humanity wept for William Booth as a man weeps for a friend.
(His legacy was a Salvation Army that numbered 15,875 officers and cadets, operating in 58 lands.)
‘The Life of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army’, by Harold Begbie, 1920.
“The following descriptions of Holiness Meetings, taken from The Christian Mission Magazine, afford no real picture of the extraordinary sights which were witnessed, nor do they give an adequate account of the effects produced upon the souls of those who took part in them. Bramwell Booth tells me that, after many years of reflection, and disposed as he now is to think that in some degree the atmosphere of those meetings was calculated to affect hysterically certain unbalanced or excitable temperaments, he is nevertheless convinced, entirely convinced, that something of the same force which manifested itself on the day of Pentecost manifested itself at those meetings in London. He describes how men and women would suddenly fall flat upon the ground, and remain in a swoon or trance for many hours, rising at last so transformed by joy that they could do nothing but shout and sing in an ecstasy of bliss. He tells me that beyond all question he saw instances of levitation people lifted from their feet and moving forward through the air. He saw bad men and women stricken suddenly with an overmastering despair, flinging up their arms, uttering the most terrible cries, and falling backward as if dead supernaturally convinced of their sinful condition. The floor would sometimes be crowded with men and women smitten down by a sense of overwhelming spiritual reality, and the workers of the Mission would lift their fallen bodies and carry them to other rooms, so that the Meetings might continue without distraction. Doctors were often present at these gatherings. Conversions took place in great numbers; the evangelists of the Mission derived strength and inspiration for their difficult work, and the opposition of the world only deepened the feeling of the more enthusiastic that God was powerfully working in their midst.
The following article from The Christian Mission Magazine for September 1878, gives an account of "A Night of Prayer," lasting from the 8th to the 9th of August:
Compelled from want of space to include a full report in detail, we must endeavour, as briefly as possible, to describe what was undoubtedly the most wonderful meeting ever held in the history of the Mission.
The whole company, amounting to three or four hundred, settled down for the whole night, a very great advantage over meetings from which many have had to retire at midnight or early morning and from the beginning to the end, weary as almost every-one was, after four days of almost ceaseless [previous] services, the interest and life of the meeting never diminished.
Scarcely had the first hymn been commenced, when a company of butchers assembled in a yard next door, with the avowed intention of disturbing us, commenced a hullabaloo with blowing a horn, rattling of cans, and other articles, so as to keep up a ceaseless din, which was heard even whilst the whole company sang aloud. But nobody was disturbed. We felt we were fighting, that was all, and everyone seemed to sing all the more gladly and confidently,
Glory, glory, Jesus saves me,
Glory, glory to the Lamb.
But the enemy had a new device. By burning something placed near open ventilators, and in a stove-pipe which passed through that wall, they filled the air all through the building with an effluvium which set everyone coughing. Two or three sisters in delicate health had to go out for a few minutes. Singing and praying became for a while all but impossible. There was a rush of strong men to close up every aperture. The stove-pipe was not only stopped but pulled down in a few seconds, and a watchman was soon at a top window with a bull's-eye ready for identification and defense, should they again come up to the attack. Throughout, we saw no ruffled countenance, no clouded brow, heard no harsh word. The disturbance was met even more promptly within the minds and hearts of the company than in its outward forms, and then, with a relieved atmosphere and an increased joy, we betook ourselves again to the business of the night.
We give up all attempt to even sum up the addresses delivered by Mr Booth, Mr Bramwell and Miss Booth, Bros. Robinson, Dowdle, Corbridge, and Sister Dowdle. The great object of the meeting was to address God, and it was in prayer and in receiving answers that the meeting was above all distinguished.
Round the table in the great central square Satan was fought and conquered, as it were, visibly by scores of persons whose names and number no one attempted to take. Evangelists came there burdened with the consciousness of past failings and unfaithfulness and were so filled with the power of God that they literally danced for joy. Brethren and sisters who had hesitated as to yielding themselves to go forth anywhere to preach Jesus, came and were set free from every doubt and fear, and numbers whose peculiar besetments and difficulties God alone can read came and washed and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.
That scene of wrestling prayer and triumphing faith no one who saw it can ever forget. We saw one collier labouring with his fists upon the floor and in the air, just as he was accustomed to struggle with the rock in his daily toil until at length he gained the diamond he was seeking perfect deliverance from the carnal mind and rose up shouting and almost leaping for joy. Big men, as well as women, fell to the ground, lay there for some time as if dead, overwhelmed with the Power from on High. When the gladness of all God's mighty deliverance burst upon some, they laughed as well as cried for joy, and some of the younger evangelists might have been seen, like lads at play, locked in one another's arms and rolling each other over on the floor.
Well, perhaps there was something besides the genuine work of the Holy Ghost there, perhaps there were cases of self-deception and presumption, perhaps there were some carried away by the contagion of the general feeling. How could it ever be otherwise while Satan comes up with the people of the Lord? But, at any rate, God wrought there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, so as to confound the wicked one and to raise many of His people into such righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost as they never had before, and thousands, if not millions, of souls will have to rejoice forever over blessings received by them through the instrumentality of those who were sanctified or quickened between the 8th and 9th of August, 1878.
The usual un-intoxicating wine not having been prepared for sacrament, we managed uncommonly well with water, and in fact everybody seemed to have got into a condition in which outward circumstances are scarcely noticed, and the soul feasts on God, no matter what passes outside. We had been drinking the best wine for hours. After sacrament only a quarter of an hour remained for the love feast, if we were to conclude, as intended, at six; but under Captain Cadman's energetic leading eighty-one bore their clear simple testimony to the Blood that cleanses from all sin in a very few minutes over that time, and after a little
prayer we parted. Of course, some felt sleepy when all was over; but so little exhausted were most of the evangelists, that a business meeting, commenced at 7 o'clock, was kept up with energy for nearly two hours, while many remained and transacted business with Mr Booth until one o'clock.
Another account, this time of a "Musical Service," shows how the enthusiasm of the people was welcomed as a return to the religion of the first century:
. . . The sight of the faces on the platform was one never to be forgotten it was more than joy that lit them all up it was the rapture of spiritual drunkards. When we saw one
brother, advanced in years and stiffened by the long habit of solemn religious "ordinances," dancing, yes, fairly dancing to the music, whilst others, less constrained, were tossing bare
arms about and rolling hither and thither as they sang, we realised as never before how free and easy the grace of God can make the people. Here is once more the old religion, reckless of public opinion and full of glory and God which made it necessary for the apostles to recommend sobriety.
Mr Ballington Booth, a month later, gives a brief description of a "Holiness Meeting," which is interesting:
September 13th was a wonderful time. Never shall I forget it. Oh, God did search all hearts that night. After speaking about giving up all and being kept by the power of God, and singing "I am trusting, Lord, in Thee," we fell on our faces for silent prayer. Then God Almighty began to convict and strive. Some began to weep, some groaned, some cried out aloud to God. One man said, "If I cannot get this blessing I cannot live"; another said, "There's something, there's something. Oh, my God, my God, help me. Set me straight; put my heart straight"; and while we sang
Saves me now, saves me now,
My Jesus saves me now,
a dear young sister stepped up to the table, then two more followed, and now we sang again,
Saves me now, saves me now,
Yes, Jesus saves me now.
Many more were smitten. We dropped on our knees again. Five or six more came forward. One dear man took his pipe from his pocket and laid it on the table, resolved that it should stand between his soul and God no longer. Then six or seven more came forward. We could scarce then sing or pray. Everyone was overpowered by the Spirit. One young man, after struggling and wrestling for nearly an hour, shouted
"Glory! glory! glory! I've got it. Oh! Bless God!" One young woman shook her head, saying, "No, not tonight," but soon was seen on the ground pleading mightily with God. Every un-sanctified man or woman felt indescribably. Three or four times we cleared the tables and forms, and again and again they were filled. And all joined in singing the words,
I have thee, oh! I have thee
Every hour I have thee;
and one brother said, "Oh, oh! if this ain't heaven, what'll heaven be?" Another brother said, "I must jump." I said, "Then jump," and he jumped all round. So we sang, cried,
laughed, shouted, and after twenty-three had given their all to the Master, trusting Him to keep them from sinning, as He had pardoned their sins, we closed, singing
Glory, glory, Jesus saves me,
Glory, glory to the Lamb.
Glory, glory, glory, glory to Jesus, to JESUS. We must conquer and win Hayle for Jesus. Good times all day on Sunday. Saints jumping, dancing, crying, shouting, and rolling on the ground. We disgusted some people. Hallelujah. Blood-washed Johnny.
. . . Then came the power. All got down after Mr Ballington said a few words; then came the glory; such a rush out: then a fight and a struggle. Out came seven feathers, three pipes,
three pairs of earrings, three brooches, two other fine things, one grand pin, one Albert chain, one tobacco-pouch, two pieces of twist, one 24 inches long. They did go in; I never saw such a meeting. Mr Ballington asked one man, "Does He save you?" He said, "He does." "Tell Him He does again," said Mr Ballington. He kept telling Him. At last he said, "Mr Booth, I shall burst if God does not enlarge the vessel." Then he got them to sing, "The Lamb, the Lamb," and they did sing it.
Never can I forget Tuesday night’s Holiness Meeting, held in the Salvation Chapel, Spring Garden Lane. . . . God backed the speaking with convicting, cutting power, after which His
Spirit was poured upon us in an overwhelming manner. Immediately afterwards some twenty rushed forward for this freedom from sin. We sang. Weeping and groaning commenced in all parts, when some twenty more rushed forward. Oh, the scene at this juncture. One dear lad, not above seventeen, after lying his length on the ground for some time, cried out, "Oh, it’s come. I have it. Oh, God! my God! my God! You do cleanse me." Then followed more wrestling and agonising, and the forms again being cleared of those who had obtained liberty, some twenty more sprang to the front, and plunged into "the pool." Once more we cleared them, but only to make room for more who were waiting to come out and sing, "I believe, I believe, Jesus saves, Jesus saves"; but at this point nothing could be heard save sobs and groans and heart-rending prayers. Thus continued this mighty outpour until upwards of seventy rose testifying with feelings indescribable and unutterable joy, while all around stood weeping and rejoicing, singing and shouting.
A young man who rushed out of his seat, fell at the penitent-form and cried for mercy which he soon obtained as soon as he ventured his all on the Blood being so overpowered with the glory, for we had it down and no mistake, got up, and looking in my face with his hands on his breast, said: "I think I am going to die, but the Blood cleanseth me." I turned to Brother Davies and said, "This fellow is going to die"; and he shouts, "Hallelujah." I turned to the fellow and said, "Get on your knees, and if you die, die at the feet of Jesus"; but, thank God, he is only just beginning to live, and he is still alive and means to fight in the Army. Glory to God.
I went to one young man that was kneeling at the penitent form; he was just like a block of marble, he knelt with his hands clasped, and his eyes raised to Heaven. I laid my hand on his shoulder and said to him, "My brother, what have you come out to this form for?" He did not speak for a few moments. At last he gasped out, at the same time laying his hand on his breast, "Oh, it’s all here, I never felt like this before," then the tears began to flow, and he began to shout, "Oh, I want Christ! I want Christ! I want Christ!" and Glory to God he soon got what he wanted for none ever sought His face in vain.
A sanctifying influence and convincing power seemed to steal over all as we sang, "I am coming to the Cross." And we did get to the Cross to its very foot. After prevailing prayer
Captains Smith, Haywood, and Coombs gave powerful testimonies of Christ’s taking away and keeping from the desire of sin. I felt unutterably filled with the Spirit. Never shall I forget the scene that took place when all unsanctified were asked to come forward. It seemed as if Christ said, "What will ye that I should do unto you?" Some, when it came to real definite work, we found had not yet the witness of pardon; others had for years been hungering and thirsting for deliverance from the power of sin but had been clinging to some fond idol. There was a cry on all sides. Some fifteen or sixteen rushed to the front. "Oh, Lord, I’ll not get up till Thou hast sanctified me," said one young man. "My Lord, my Saviour," said one dear young woman, "You know for years this is what I have been seeking: Oh, Jesus, Jesus, give it to me." And He did, and she rose, clapped her hands, and shouted for joy. After this, over twenty more rushed forward; while those who had obtained the blissful peace stood round singing, with faces of rapture and tears of joy, "I am sure, I am sure Jesus saves, Jesus saves, and His Blood makes me whiter than snow." More idols cast at Christ’s feet; more rose feeling the liberty; more room was made for those yet seeking; more rushed forward; and while weeping and wrestling and groaning on all sides, a man cried out, “I’m willing! I’m willing! I’m willing!" "What are you willing to do, my brother?" I asked. "Oh," he replied, "willing to confess Christ before my shop-mates." Some nine or ten forms were cleared until over 200 came forward seeking in an agony of soul and heart a life of purity. We finished this meeting with 250 testimonies.
One dear woman says she will have to thank God forever for sending the Salvation Army here. She would not yield at our meeting, so she went to our Council of War at Merthyr, and
stayed at the all-night of prayer when God set her captive soul at liberty. When she got saved she shouted and jumped like a madwoman, and Happy Jack jumped with her. It just suited me. Oh, Hallelujah! When she came out her husband scolded her for shouting so, and making so much noise. Since then he has got saved too. He was as bad as his wife. As soon as he got saved he jumped up and shouted, "This is Glory! This is Glory! This is Glory!" And we all shouted together. This man went shouting all the way home, "THIS IS GLORY! THIS IS GLORY!" and we could hear him five hundred yards off. One man said to me, "You have sent him right off his head." I said, "He is all right. They suit me." Oh, Hallelujah!