This is the day that … Catherine Booth died, in 1890.
Catherine Booth (nee Mumford), was born to a coachbuilder in Derbyshire, in 1829. She read the Bible eight times by the age of twelve, but was converted at the age of 15, when the words of a hymn led her to assurance of salvation.
At fourteen she developed spinal curvature and four years later, incipient tuberculosis. While ill in bed she began writing magazine articles against alcohol.
Catherine met William Booth, a Methodist minister in 1852. Catherine was impressed with both the sermon and the young preacher.
William believed ministers should be “loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities.” While keen on social reform, Catherine, an avowed feminist, disagreed with William’s views on women. She objected to William describing women as the “weaker sex” and she argued that women should preach, while William opposed the idea. Despite their disagreements about the role of women in the church, the couple married on 16th June 1855.
Catherine first preached in1860 when a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. The sermon so impressed William that he changed his mind about women preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. Lord Shaftesbury regarded William as the antichrist for his promotion of women preachers. Booth later wrote, “some of the best men in my Army are women”!
When William created the Salvation Army she took her place as the beloved mother of the movement. She particularly inspired young ladies to preach and evangelise, including her own daughters. She journeyed to Paris to help her daughter Catherine and a handful of other young ladies set up the Salvation Army there.
Some said that Catherine’s sermons were as good as her husband’s. Certainly many were converted under her ministry.
For 30 years she and her husband waged war on sin and reached out a loving hand to England’s poor and needy.
She also took social action including the Food For A Million Shops, where poor could buy an inexpensive three-course meal. She was angered by the sweated labour that many women were subjected to, working 14 hours a day for a pittance. Bryant and May matches also used yellow phosphorous that poisoned the women working with it. She began a campaign that her husband completed after her death, to end the use of yellow phosphorous.
Eventually she found herself on the banks of ‘chilly Jordan’. She writes from her deathbed – to the 20,000 gathered in the Crystal Palace:
“My dear Children and Friends, My place is empty but my heart is with you. You are my joy and my crown. Your battles, sufferings and victories have been the chief interest of my life these 25 years. They are still. Go forward … live holy lives … love and seek the lost; bring them to the blood … I am dying under the Army flag; it is yours to live and fight under. God is my salvation and refuge in the storm. I send you my love and blessing. Catherine Booth.”
On Saturday, 4 October, 1890, the old General and his family gathered around Catherine’s bed. They prayed. They sang. Such grand old hymns as:
Calvary’s stream is flowing so free,
Flowing for you and for me.
“Go on,” Catherine said … and they sang some more –
Jesus, my Saviour, has died on the tree,
Died on the tree for me! Hallelujah!
Eventually, unable to speak, Catherine Booth pointed to the text hanging upon the wall, which read, “My Grace is sufficient for thee”. “That”, writes her biographer, “was her last testimony to God’s faithfulness.”
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.