William Booth (1829 – 1912) founded the Salvation Army – a quasi-military religious organisation dedicated to offering humanitarian aid and tackling the material and spiritual poverty of the Victorian age. William Booth converted to Methodism as a young adult and was a fervent believer in evangelical Christianity. The Salvation Army spread to become a global humanitarian charity seeking to provide material aid and spiritual salvation.
Short Bio William Booth
William Booth was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, England in 1829. Although his family were relatively prosperous, his father later lost his money and was declared bankrupt. William grew up in a situation of poverty.
Aged only 13, Booth was apprenticed to a pawnbroker to earn a living. When Booth was about 15 he heard about Methodism and the message of salvation. He became an ardent convert and embraced the religion wholeheartedly. He read widely and was inspired to become a speaker and missionary seeking to save souls. Booth believed that those who rejected Jesus Christ as their saviour were doomed to eternal hell. He saw his life mission to save as many people as possible.
“Let the business of the world take care of itself … My business is to get the world saved.” “The Risks” in The War Cry (20 December 1884)
After preaching to the poor and ‘sinners’ in Nottingham, Booth wanted to leave his pawnbroking job, which he considered sinful. In 1849, he left Nottingham to seek employment in London as a lay preacher. There were few jobs as a lay preacher, but Booth took to open-air evangelising and would tour the poor districts of London seeking to save souls.
In 1851, Booth joined the reformers (Methodist Reform Church), and in 1852, he married Catherine Mumford. However, Booth was again frustrated at the lack of opportunities to preach within the Methodist church so left to be an independent evangelist.
In 1865, Booth and his wife founded The Christian Revival Society. This was an organisation committed to helping the poorest and most neglected of the East End of London. It involved giving food, shelter and clothes, but also seeking to save people spiritually. At the time, there were many similar religious organisations committed to helping the poor, and offering aid to try and educate people into religious salvation. It was hard work, as the Christian missionaries often faced hostility from local people, who derided their evangelising. Booth and his wife struggled to raise sufficient funds to keep the mission going, but they never gave up and remain committed to serving the poor in the heart of the poorest areas in London.
“While women weep, as they do now,
While little children go hungry, as they do now,
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now,
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”
In 1878, they changed the name of the Christian Revival Society to the Salvation Army. Booth’s motivation was that he didn’t see himself as a volunteer, but a regular soldier serving God. The organisation was based on military principles. Booth was the ‘General’; they had their own flag, their own uniform, and ‘military’ songs based on Christian hymns. Other members were referred to as officers.
The strict organisation and missionary zeal of Booth, helped the Salvation Army grow from humble beginnings to become a global organisation with a powerful presence in countries around the world. The Salvation Army was soon present across Europe, the US and part of the British Empire.
Booth was a tireless worker, travelling to over 58 countries and becoming one of the best-known evangelists and charity workers of the age.
In the 1890s, he published two books called – In Darkest England and the Way Out. This set out his vision for social welfare based on his Christian evangelical principles. He argued that the poorest slums of England were little better than under-developed Africa (this was at a time when many felt Britain a superior civilisation to African countries.)
Booth proposed practical solutions to the endemic poverty and ‘vice’. He offered educational and training schemes, seeking to offer prostitutes, homeless and migrants a chance to create a better life. He saw his Christian charity as filling in a gap left by the state. To Booth, the most important aspect of his work, was not the material aid but seeking to ‘save’ souls. However, offering material aid, was an excellent way to prepare the poor to see the virtues of the Christian religion.
“I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Reputation of Salvation Army
After a difficult beginning period and resentment from those who feared his evangelical Christianity and judgement of sinful activities, The Salvation Army became seen as a useful humanitarian organisation doing good in the slums of England. He received audiences with kings, emperors and presidents.
William Booth of ‘The General’ as he became affectionately known as, died in 1912, aged 83 in Hadley Wood, London. The organisation he created, continued to grow and prosper after his passing.
William Booth: Soup, Soap, and Salvation
William Booth: Soup, Soap, and Salvation at Amazon.com
Quotes William Booth
“Let the business of the world take care of itself … My business is to get the world saved; if this involves the standing still of the looms and the shutting up of the factories, and the staying of the sailing of the ships, let them all stand still. When we have got everybody converted they can go on again, and we shall be able to keep things going then by working half time and have the rest to spend in loving one another and worshipping God.”
“The Risks” in The War Cry (20 December 1884)
“The Army of the Revolution is recruited by the Soldiers of Despair. Therefore, down with any Scheme which gives men Hope. In so far as it succeeds it curtails our recruiting ground and reinforces the ranks of our Enemies. Such opposition is to be counted upon, and to be utilised as the best of all tributes to the value of our work. Those who thus count upon violence and bloodshed are too few to hinder, and their opposition will merely add to the momentum with which I hope and believe this Scheme will ultimately be enabled to surmount all dissent, and achieve, with the blessing of God, that measure of success with which I verily believe it to be charged.”
In Darkest England: And The Way Out (1890), p. 81
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