William Booth Passion for Souls

William Booth was born, on April 10, 1829.

In his massive 987-page biography, Harold Begbie claims that he was “one of the most signal figures in human history.”  Amen!  But when that little tot arrived in a humble, poor cottage of a builder, in Nottingham, England, the parents never dreamed what lay in store for their baby son.

Before he died his name would be a household word around the world.  Royalty would be delighted to meet him.  Sixty-five thousand would file past his coffin in silent tribute; thousands more around the world would thank God for this grand old warrior of the cross, William Booth.

Converted at the age of 15, he embraced the Wesleyan doctrine of Holiness, and soon became one of their local preachers.

In 1849 William relocated to London and worked in a pawnbroker’s shop at Walworth. He was touched by the needs of the poor and came to the conclusion that ministers should attend to “loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities”.

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On his 33rd birthday he fell in love with Catherine Mumford.  By this time he was a full-time pastor – and she was one of the congregation.  They married on 16 June, 1855, and she soon became a vibrant co-worker. She had strong ideas about the role of women and pressed on William her claim and the right of other women to take active part in the ministry.

The Methodists refused to release him for an itinerant evangelistic ministry, so William resigned.  With his beloved wife at his side, they blazed a trail across England in pursuit of souls – first with the Methodist Church for 14 years, and then as superintendent of the “Christian Revival Association“, an organisation that was later to change its name to “The Salvation Army“.

Booth sought ways to reach the poor, illiterate and those who had never before been attracted to the gospel. He emphasised joyful singing, the use of musical instruments – thus the Salvation Army bands, clapping of hands and salvation appeals in the meetings.

Despite hostility from mobs and churches alike (Lord Shaftesbury called Booth the “Anti-Christ” – Echoes and Memories, by Bramwell Booth, page 40), yet thousands were converted.  “Go for souls, and go for the worst”, was his advice to the men and women who sallied forth to rescue the devil’s captives.

Booth’s evangelistic work in London’s East End made him aware of the working conditions of women working at the Bryant & May factory there.

J Evan Smith, for many years Booth’s private secretary, writes: “The secret of William Booth’s success was his burning passion for the souls of men. The centre and citadel of his power was the strength of his love for souls. He had an unshakeable confidence in God’s ability to save the worst” (Booth the Beloved, page 90).

Something of this grand old warrior’s burden for souls can be seen in his words spoken to his son.  The operation had been a failure and the old General learned that he was blind. “Well, Bramwell,  I’ve 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!”

General Booth “lay down his sword” – as the Salvation Army puts it – on 20 August, 1912.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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Catherine Booth one of the Army’s Best Men!

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.

Katie Booth the Marechale

This is the day that … The Marechale was born, in 1858.

She was the second child of William and Catherine Booth … and she, too, was named Catherine (but usually called Katie).

At the age of 22, she was taken to Paris by her mother and left there with a small group of equally young women to introduce the Salvation Army (of which her father was the “General”) into France.

Within a week she was “sworn at, jeered at, and pelted with stones and mud …” But her incredible tenacity and sincerity of purpose gradually won through. They nicknamed her “La Capitaine” at first … and then “La Maréchale” (the Field-Marshall).

The first meetings in Paris were in a dingy building in a rough quarter, where, as the Police Sergeant described her crowd, “They have got in that crowd half the cut-throats of Paris”. Yet these hardened men were dazzled by the innocent and dedicated zeal of the young ladies pressing upon them a gospel which their religion-hating culture had denied them.

After no result from exhausting effort a Christian lady advised Katie to return to her mother in England. The reply came, “If I cannot save France, I can die for it!” Young Catherine won her first convert by going to an old washer-woman at the back of the meeting, hugging her and telling her how much she loved her.

With the assistance of a dozen other young maidens under her remarkable leadership – ever in the forefront of the battle for souls – the Maréchale planted the Salvation Army also in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland.

On 8 February, 1887, she married Arthur Sydney Clibborn (the “Hallelujah Quaker” had been his nickname when he first joined the Salvation Army!) – and the couple were known as the “Booth-Clibborns”. Ten children were to be born in the next 15 years.

Then came the clash of personalities – General Booth laying down certain laws … to be implicitly obeyed … and Katie and her husband refusing to do so. It is a sad story …

Clibborn was a pacifist and he sided with the Boers in South Africa during the Boer War. He also wanted to preach divine healing and the imminent return of Christ; two themes which echoed through the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which followed during the twentieth century. The Booth-Clibborns became followers of Scottish born preacher, Dowie, who believed himself to be a modern-day John the Baptist. Downie published Clibborn’s endorsement and that brought great tension with William Booth.

On 10 January, 1902, the Booth-Clibbons resigned from the Salvation Army. Ten years later, when her father lay dying – and blind – she was allowed into his room “on condition that she would not say who she was” (The Heavenly Witch, by C. Scott, page 217).

On 20 February, 1939, she was widowed, and on 9 May, 1955, she herself was ‘promoted to Glory’.

Despite her severance from the Army’s ranks over half a century earlier she never slowed up in her quest for souls.

Her fare to Australia (in 1936) was paid for by Dame Violet Wills, a member of the tobacco family … although Dame Violet was ironically, a campaigner against smoking.

After meeting the Maréchale John Ridley wrote:
I trace thy fervent feet
to many a haunt of Hell;
And hear thy voice so sweet
The gospel message tell;

And sinners in their shame
And women of ill fame
Will ever bless thy name,
La Maréchale.
(The Passion for Christ, page 72).

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.