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.
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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