“The man whose sermon is ‘REPENT’ sets himself against his age and will for a time be battered mercilessly by the age whose moral tone he challenges. There is but one end for such a man…’OFF WITH HIS HEAD…!’ Beware, oh preacher, you had better not try to preach repentance until you have pledged your head to heaven.” Joseph Parker
Pastor Lindell Cooley explains, in the following lines, the heart-felt passion and purpose that drove such a man as William Booth:
“At the end of the eighteen hundreds there was a man who looked upon the moral and spiritual decay of the world and the church and realized that something radical needed to happen to bring his world back to God. His name was William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. With this realization came fervent prayer and through prayer the lyrics to this song. ‘Oh God of burning, cleansing flame, Send The Fire. Your blood-bought gift today we claim, Send The Fire. To burn up every trace of sin, to bring the light and glory in, the revolution now begins, Send The Fire today.’ Even now these words have as much meaning as they did when they were first written. People have lost their sense of moral urgency and spiritual fervency and only the fire of God can burn away deception and cause the light of Jesus to be seen.”
A.W.Tozer once wrote:
“Great industrial concerns have in their employ men who are needed only when there is a breakdown somewhere. When something goes wrong with the machinery, these men spring into action to locate and remove the trouble and get the machinery rolling again.
For these men a smoothly operating system has no interest. They are specialists concerned with trouble and how to find and correct it.
In the kingdom of God things are not too different. God has always had his specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown, the decline in the spiritual health of the nation or the church…..they always appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in the name of God and righteousness….let the people of God go astray from the paths of truth and immediately the specialist appears almost out of nowhere…! Such a man was likely to be drastic and radical….and the curious crowd that gathered to watch him work soon branded him as extreme, fanatical and negative. He would shock some, frighten others and alienate not a few, but he knew who called him and what he was sent to do….and that fact marked him out as different, a man apart.”
These kind of men usually did not come from the list of very important and prominent men of the time. As a matter of fact William Booth never would have made it to that list, being from a poor bankrupt family, he was a quiet and humble man working as an apprentice pawnbroker trying to feed a wife and six children with another on the way. God had a mighty purpose for Booth who at the time had no idea that he …“had come into the kingdom for a time as this.”(Esther 4:14)
England by the mid-eighteen hundreds was considered by many Theologians of today as a dark and dying nation. In just one hundred years the fire and zeal of evangelists like John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others had gone out due to compromise in the lives of their followers. The white-hot flame that was once the world changing Methodist Church, due to personal agendas and worldliness, was wracked with doctrinal disputes, division, and a stern prideful hierarchy.
Booth was converted in a Nottingham Wesleyan Chapel. He became a Methodist New Connexion minister-his lack of education prevented him from becoming a Wesleyan one. He had a strong passion to preach, so supported and encouraged by his wife Catherine, he became a successful revivalist preacher. Too successful it seems. Constantly in demand as a visiting speaker he was refused permission to preach in any Methodist Church. It was Booth’s fervor that led to the disagreement with the leaders of the church, who preferred traditional methods. Booth believed that church ministers should spend their time loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captives and oppressed from sin, sharing food and home, clothing the naked and carrying out family responsibilities. He sought to bring into his worship services an informal atmosphere that would encourage new converts. Joyous singing, instrumental music, clapping of hands and an invitation to repent. Booth then resigned as a minister. It wasn’t long before Booth and his wife travelled throughout England conducting revival meetings.
The meetings proved to be great successes:
“People have said that he poked his umbrella into the ground and preached to it, like a man mad, to attract a crowd. Others asserted that he was so striking in appearance, and eloquent in speech that he would not have needed such a device.”
Two missioners in East London heard him addressing the crowds outside the ‘Blind-Beggar’ public house, and invited him to preach at a tent-mission in Whitechapel. The tent was set up in a Quaker graveyard. The date was July 2, 1865. The tent meeting was a success and according to the ‘History of the Salvation Army’:
“Was both a culmination and a beginning: this ended Booth’s wanderings as an itinerant evangelist, and began his career and renown as the leader of a vigorous group dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women.”
Booth then declared “war” on the powers of darkness. He founded an organization along military lines. His soldiers were desperately poor. Before their conversion they were thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards. They were converted but the churches did not want them. So Booth put them to work to save others like themselves. They preached, marched, and sang in the streets, a living testimony to the power of God.
Before long Booth had over sixty converts. By 1867 he had ten full time evangelists; by 1874 he had 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists. They served under the name “The Christian Mission”, and they carried it’s banner into neighboring areas and then to other cities. With their militant spirits, the converts had become like an army. They hailed their leader as “General.” They called themselves “The Hallelujah Army.”
In 1878 “General” Booth was reading a printer’s proof of an annual report which stated,“The Christian Mission under the superintendence of the Rev. William Booth is a volunteer Army.” Booth crossed out the words “volunteer Army” and penned in “Salvation Army.” In August of that year the name was adopted. The idea of an Army fighting sin caught the imagination of the people and the Army began to grow rapidly. Booth’s fiery sermons and sharp imagery drove the message home and more and more people found themselves willing to leave their past behind and start a new life as a soldier in The Salvation Army.
One of the most effective weapons in “General” Booth’s arsenal was fervent prayer. It was not unusual for Booth to hold “an all night of prayer” when he came to preach the Word of God. People would flood the altars everywhere he went.”The power of God was wonderfully manifest in the meetings…people were frequently, struck down, overwhelmed with a sense of the presence and power of God.”
Booth’s battle cry was “Go for souls and go for the worst.” The worst of sinners were saved, throughout the area saloons were closed and entire cities were shaken. Booth’s success attracted not only supporters but also enemies. Opposition came in the form of a “Skeleton Army” which also marched and attempted to drive the Salvation Army off the streets.
Night after night Booth would come home bleeding and bruised after being attacked for preaching. He would then take his wife’s hand and say,” Kate, let me pray with you.” After praying with Catherine he would rise from his knees armed with fresh courage and hope. She would encourage him,”if we get tired we had better go and be done with it, anything is better than a dead church.” In her diary she would write that Booth would “…stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck.” One night meetings were held in an old warehouse where stones and fireworks were thrown through the window as they sang hymns. Those who served in the Army, almost every night, were pelted with hot coals, sprayed with tar and burning sulphur, beat, stoned and even kicked to death in the streets. Those in the Salvation Army always resisted their enemies with a cheerful “God bless you” and a prayer. General Booth, himself was often in the thick of it. When spit on during a Midlands tour, Booth encouraged his fellow soldiers, “Don’t rub it off-it’s a medal!!!” These soldiers of the Lord were steadfast and would not be moved. Not only did they refuse to be driven away but they also won many Christian converts from their enemies.
So strong was Booth’s prayer life that wherever he went great manifestations of the Spirit became evident. Once while traveling , his train was delayed. He took advantage of the opportunity and exhorted some nearby idle factory workers. He said, “some of you men never pray, you gave up praying long ago. But I’m going to say to you, won’t you pray for your children, that they may be different?” Within minutes, 700 men knelt in silent prayer.
Philip Gibbs, a journalist for the London Daily Mail, met Booth in 1902. Gibbs remembers:
“His spirit was like a white flame. He had a burning fire within him. Presently he seized me by the wrist and dragged me down to my knees beside him.’Let us pray for the press’, he said, and then he prayed long and earnestly for the newspaper Press that it might be inspired by the love of truth and charity and the Spirit of the Lord.”
In another interview Booth was asked about the training of his soldiers. He was quoted as saying that if he could do it, he would have finalized the training of his soldiers with twenty-four hours hanging over an open hell, to see its eternal torment. Then he said,”With just 100 men I could evangelize the world.”
At another time, two Salvation Army officers set out to start a new work, only to meet with failure and opposition. Frustrated and tired they appealed to the General to close the mission. “General” Booth sent back a telegram with two words on it, “TRY TEARS.” They followed his advice and they witnessed a mighty revival.
Booth’s emphasis was on saving lost souls by bringing sinners to repentance. The Salvation Army also set up Soup Kitchens, where large bowls of soup and bread were supplied for one penny to the very poor, and for nothing to those who were penniless. It also set up lodging houses for poor people to sleep off the streets.
Today the Salvation Army is a far cry from the evangelical branch of the universal Christian Church it started out to be. But while Booth was alive he stayed true to the motto “BLOOD AND FIRE“, (the blood stood for the Blood of Christ and the fire is the fire of the Holy Spirit).
Booth taught salvation came by repentance through the Blood of Jesus Christ. Victorian England flocked to the Salvation Army’s message by the thousands. It not only became a national movement but by the time of Booth’s death had spread to 58 countries worldwide.
Booth lived to the age of 83. To the end he remained a Christian activist who believed his two objectives were the saving of the lost souls and righting the social injustices of his time. He never lost his zeal for the Gospel, his love of his Lord or his heartfelt compassion for the poor.
Here is an extract from his last public address on May 9, 1912:
“While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl on the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight—-I’ll fight to the very end!”
Three months later on August 20, 1912, “General” William Booth was promoted to eternity.
2 Timothy 3:12 “….all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”