john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Ephesians 6: William Booth and his struggle with the powers

    St Christopher Norris Green, Morning Communion, 23/8/2009

    Ephesians 6.10-20 , John 6.56-69
    Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
    [Ephesians 6.10-12]
    My theme today is William Booth and his struggle with the powers.

    When he was a child, William Booth struggled against the powers. Booth was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, the only son of four surviving children born to Samuel Booth and Mary Moss. His father was wealthy by the standards of the time, it was the power of the banks and the power of the city and its system of investments which had set Samuel Booth up that way.

    But - as you know if you can read the small print at the bottom of the TV screen or newspaper advert, as you possibly know from your own experience - investments can go down as well as up. That's the powers at work. And during William Booth's childhood, as a result of his father's bad investments, the family descended into poverty.

    In 1842, Samuel Booth was bankrupt. He could no longer afford his son's school fees, and 13-year-old William was apprenticed to a pawnbroker. Samuel Booth died later that same year, a man defeated by the power of the investment system.

    William Booth, the pawnbrokers apprentice, saw the powers at work in his everyday dealings with people. The same powers which built up wealth for so many also sent many others into poverty, and into his pawnbrokers shop. It was there, perhaps, that Booth developed a keen understanding of the struggles and the needs of the poorest in society, a keen desire to help them find salvation.

    The young William Booth found salvation in Methodism, trained himself in writing and in speech, became a Methodist lay preacher, and followed a calling to be an evangelist: Booth's one desire was to take up his armour as a soldier in the battle against the powers.

    In the church, William Booth struggled against the powers. The powers-that-be in the Methodist conference knew that Booth's best work and Booth's passion was in evangelism, in running evangelistic campaigns, but despite this the Methodist powers-that-be kept assigning Booth to pastoral jobs, which frustrated him in his mission - and was not good, either, for the churches to which he was sent. It was here in Liverpool at the Methodist conference in 1861, after having his request to be freed for full-time evangelism refused yet again, that Booth resigned from the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion to become an independent evangelist.

    William Booth - and his wife and companion in the struggle, Catherine, did not take this decision lightly. At the time Booth said,

    "It was a heartbreaking business. Here was a great crowd of people all over the land who loved me and my dear wife. I felt a deep regard for them, and to leave them was a sorrow beyond description. But I felt I must follow what appeared to be the beckoning finger of my Lord. So, with my wife and four little children, I left my quarters and went out into the world once more, trusting in God, literally not knowing who would give me a shilling, or what to do or where to go.
    "All my earthly friends thought I was mistaken in this action; some of them deemed me mad. I confess that it was one of the most perplexing steps of my life. When I took it every avenue seemed closed against me. There was one thing I could do, however, and that was to trust in God, and wait for His Salvation."
    Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. ... Take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand ... and having done everything, to stand firm.
    [Ephesians 6.10,13]
    William and Catherine struggled against the powers as they set up The Christian Revival Society in London's East End, offering repentance, salvation and Christian values to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes, opening soup kitchens which they called "Food for the Million" shops. The general public, who had the power to offer support and encouragement to William and Catherine, instead scoffed at them for their Christian work among the city's most derided and forgotten people. The churches who William and Catherine had served for the past twenty years, and who had the power to work alongside them in their ministry, instead rejected them, and the undenominational evangelists whose ministries the Booths now shared, had the power to affirm them in their mision, but instead chose to disagree with their methods and to distance themselves from their ministry.

    Still, the Booths were not defeated by the negative powers which placed obstacles in their way. Taking up the invitation which Saint Paul first offered the church in Ephesus William Booth put on the whole armour of God, for the struggle, not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places - and the Salvation Army was born.

    Here is the armour of God which William Booth wore:

    Booth wore the belt of truth - his best selling book In Darkest England and the Way Out compared what was considered "civilised" England with "Darkest Africa" - a land which in in 1890, was considered poor and backward. Booth suggested was that much of London and greater England after the Industrial Revolution was not better off in the quality of life than those in the underdeveloped world.

    Booth wore the breastplate of righteousness - his book proposed a strategy to apply the Christian Gospel and work ethic to the problems. Booth wrote of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor could be trained in agriculture, training centres for prospective emigrants, homes for fallen women and released prisoners, aid for the poor, and help for drunkards. He laid down schemes for poor men's lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort.

    Booth wore shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace - he was always clear that the movement he founded was not a socialist or communist society, supported by people forced to finance his plans; Booth clearly walked the way of Christ; his mission was gospel-inspired and gospel-grounded.

    Booth wore the shield of faith, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one - though the early years were lean ones, with a lack of money to help the needy and develop the mission, Booth and The Salvation Army persevered. And their faith brought growth: in the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries, including the United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden, and to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica...

    Booth wore the helmet of salvation - his ultimate aim was to get people 'saved'.
    In the introduction to his book Booth wrote,
    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.
    And finally, Booth wore the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 'My conscience', he wrote,
    led me to measure my own actions, and judge my own character by the standard of truth set up in my soul by the Bible and the Holy Ghost; and it has not permitted me to allow myself in the doing of things which I have felt were wrong without great inward torture. I have always had a great horror of hypocrisy - that is, of being unreal or false, however fashionable the cursed thing might be, or whatever worldly temptation might strive to lead me on to the track. In this I was tested again and again...
    He was tested, but he overcame. The story of the Salvation Army as it continues right through to today affirms this. William Booth put into practice the form of Christian discipleship which Saint Paul proposed to the Ephesians - one prepared for combat with powerful enemies.

    So be encouraged by the story of William Booth. For the struggle which he engaged in is the the same struggle which engages us.

    How to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. How to stand against the wiles of the devil. How to find strength in the Lord for the struggle, not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places: it's the same struggle today as ever.

    So be encouraged by the story of William Booth. For the faith which inspired him can be our faith. For the power of God which gave him strength for the struggle is the same power which is available to us, as we pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. For the mystery of the gospel which William Booth declared boldly, is the same mystery through which Christ offers us salvation.

    Notes
    This sermon is stitched together from material adapted from The Authoritative Life of General William Booth, by George Scott Railton, Chapter III: Lay Ministry, and Chapter V: Fight Against Formality, Wikipedia's William Booth pages, and as ever takes prompts from Paul Nuechterlein's Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary (PROPER 16 (August 21-27) -- YEAR B)