Godly Saints From The Past: A Look Into The Lives Of Forgotten Saints In Christian History (William Booth 1829-1912)

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“The Prophet Of The Poor”

William Bramwell Booth was born on April 10, 1829 to Samuel and Mary Booth in Nottingham, England.  William had three sisters named Ann, Emma, Mary, and older brother named Henry that died on his second birthday. William’s parents were not religious and they had little education. William’s father grew up in poverty and was determined that he would grow rich one day. Samuel did grow rich, but his son William said that it was because he lived without God and only lived to get rich. In 1842 at age 13 William’s father sent him to work at a pawnbrokers shop in the poor part of Nottingham. It was a job that William did not like very much but there it would be that God would have him, in order to awaken his heart to the reality of those living in poverty. That same year William’s father became ill and as result William was left along with his mother to be able to take care of the family. Therefore he didn’t have the same advantages as other children got in their education and grew up in poverty, while working up to 16 hours a day without much pay.

It was about this time that William began to attend a church called Broad Street Wesley Chapel, which was a Methodist church. It was there in 1844 when walking home from church around 11:00pm that William said “It was in the open street of Nottingham that this great change passed over me.” Shortly after that experience William at the age of 15 wrote in his journal “God shall have all there is of William Booth.” In 1846 William heard the preaching of Reverend James Caughey and David Greenbury, and was greatly impressed to see the number of souls saved as result of their preaching. He was encouraged to group of fellow believers to begin preaching on the streets. As result William and his friends set out to evangelize to the poor at the age of 17 joined an evangelist circuit called New Wesleyan Connexion. They held nightly open-air meetings and invited people into meetings in different cottages. They would sing and exhort people to come to Christ and they would visit with the converts and the sick upon which whose names and addresses they would keep record of. This would be the very same methods that William Booth would use when the Salvation Army was started.

William was encouraged by his pastor to prepare for ordained ministry and he became the pastor of a Methodist church from 1850 to 1861. William was finding that the typical “organized” and “settled” ministry was not suiting him well and in 1861 he left that ministry. It was during this time that he would meet his wife Catherine Mumford on July 16, 1855. Their marriage would last for 45 years until Catherine’s death. In 1861 William and his wife became itinerant evangelists in Wales, Cornwall, and the Midlands, which were revered to as Britain’s “burned-over districts.” He began to go wherever he could as a evangelist to preach the gospel and hundreds were converted to Christ thru his preaching, and fisherman would row ten miles and villagers walk up to four miles just to hear him preach. William said in doing ministry “Go for souls and go for the worst.”

The beginning states of The Salvation Army began on July 2, 1865 William and Catherine went to East London to the Whitechapel neighborhood to preach the gospel. Any were held every night for two weeks among the poor slums of London. It was there that where they were find much evil and depravity taking place. One night was William returned home after a meeting there was some serious thinking and said to his wife “I have found my destiny” on July 5, 1865. It was said that every fifth house in the area was a gin shop and that they had special steps to where even the youngest of children could reach the counter for a drink. After seeing all the evil taking place, William told his wife Catherine “I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, ‘Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labors?”

Soon converts began coming into the meetings and they were beginning to use an unused warehouse. This first ministry was called the East London Christian Mission that was established in 1869. Many times at their meetings it was disrupted by rain, winds, and ruffians that would tear their tents down, of which they did on several occasions. They finally ended up renting a dance hall and up to 600 would gather to hear the Word of God. Booth would end up using any place he could to preach the gospel including: dancing saloons, stables, wool warehouses, theaters, race coarse grandstands, circus rings, sheds, huts, and quite often on street corners. As result of his meetings many were converted to Christ and came under the power of God through his preaching. Yet many of his meetings were met with hostility such as broken ankles and wrists, pelted with stones and mud, lime thrown in eyes, people getting bitten, others kicked and punched, and at times the crowds began to riot.  Once when he was spit on while preaching he said to his fellow soldiers “Don’t rub it off it is a medal.” The police most often times did little to nothing in order to protect them. In fact William Booth had his own private bodyguard named Pete Monk who was an Italian prize fighter, that was converted under the ministry of William Booth. Truly William Booth and those evangelists working with him were an army in a war to save souls.

The name Salvation Army came about in Mary 1878 when Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary of 48 years named George Scott Railton. Bramwell, the son of William Booth, heard his father say to George to write in the letter “We are a volunteer army.” Bramwell said to his father, “Volunteer, I’m not volunteer, I’m a regular!” Upon hearing this Railton was instructed to cross out the word volunteer and put in the word Salvation. From that came the ministry that was to be called “The Salvation Army.” William Booth now in this army that wanted people to be saved was called the General. It was then as the leader of this army of saints spreading the gospel, that William Booth became known as “The General.” By January of 1879 he had 81 stations, 127 full time evangelist (100 of his own converts), 75,000 services a year were going. In 1880 it expanded to the United States and adopted uniforms.

The orders and regulations of how the Salvation Army was patterned after that of the British Army. The workers who were spreading the gospel in this Salvation Army were given military titles. The trainee became “Cadets”, local units designated at “Corps” and places of worship became known as “Citadels” and “Outposts” and their evangelistic outreaches came to be known as “Campaigns.” Those who were converted under their ministry were organized into disciplined groups. At first this new army was met with much criticism and hostility, yet they were reaching those that most of the church ignored. Once two of his officers set out to start a new work and met with much failure and opposition. They were tired and frustrated and wanted William to close the rescue mission. Yet Booth sent back a telegram with two words on it “TRY TEARS.” William Booth said “We are a salvation people, this is our specialty, getting saved, and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved. “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight, while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, where there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight! I’ll fight to the very end!”

William Booth died on August 20, 1912 and would find 150,000 people file past his casket, and 40,000 people including Queen Mary attend his funeral, while setting next to a prostitute that was converted under Booth’s ministry. Traffic in London was stopped for 2 hours during the funeral procession as 10,000 from The Salvation Army passed through the streets. This is quite amazing for a man that born and grew up in poverty and lived among a people of poverty for most of his life. As result of his life and his work among the poor he was given the title “The Prophet Of The Poor.” Today the impact of the Salvation Army still carries on with over 25,000 officers in 91 countries. It has been estimated that 2,000,000 individuals have came to faith in Christ through the work of Salvation Army. It has also been estimated that William Booth traveled over 5 million miles and preached 60,000 sermons in 60 years of ministry. With trips that included 5 trips to America and Canada, three to Australia and South Africa, two to India, one to Japan, and several others to European countries. William’s passion was for souls so much so that on June 24, 1904 at a visit to Buckingham Palace, the King of Wales asked William what his recreations were, to which he responded, “Sir, some men have a passion for art, fame and gold. I have a passion for souls.”


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