— SalArmyMidland (@SalArmyMidland) July 2, 2015
William Booth (10 April 1829 – 20 August 1912) was a British Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General (1878–1912). The Christian movement with a quasi-military structure and government founded in 1865 has spread from London, England to many parts of the world and is known for being one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid.
The name The Salvation Army developed from an incident in May 1878. William Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton and said, “We are a volunteer army.” Bramwell Booth heard his father and said, “Volunteer, I’m no volunteer, I’m a regular!” Railton was instructed to cross out the word “volunteer” and substitute the word “salvation”. The Salvation Army was modelled after the military, with its own flag (or colours) and its own music, often with Christian words to popular and folkloric tunes sung in the pubs. Booth and the other soldiers in “God’s Army” would wear the Army’s own uniform, ‘putting on the armour,’ for meetings and ministry work. He became the “General” and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as “officers”. Other members became “soldiers”.
Though the early years were lean ones, with the need of money to help the needy an ever growing issue, Booth and The Salvation Army persevered. In the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries, notably the United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden and others, including to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, Cape Colony, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.
Often the beginnings in other countries occurred through “salvationist” activities by non-officers who had emigrated. With some initial success they would contact London to ‘send officers.’
In other cases, like in Argentina, a non-salvationist told Booth that there were thousands of British people there who needed salvation. The four officers sent in 1890 found that those British were scattered all over the pampas. But the missionaries started ministry in the Spanish language and the work spread throughout the country – initially following the rail-road development, since the British in charge of building the rail-roads were usually sympathetic to the movement.
During his lifetime, William Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, travelling extensively and holding, “salvation meetings.”
Booth regularly published a magazine and was the author of a number of books; he also composed several songs. His book In Darkest England and the Way Out not only became a best-seller after its 1890 release, it set the foundation for the Army’s modern social welfare approach. It compared what was considered “civilised” England with “Darkest Africa” – a land then considered poor and backward. What 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.
General Booth in later years
He proposed a strategy to apply the Christian Gospel and work ethic to the problems. The book speaks of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor can 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 also lays down schemes for poor men’s lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort. He says that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it will be the task of each Christian to step into the breach. However, Booth was not departing from his spiritual convictions to set up a socialist or communist society or sub-class, supported by people forced to finance his plans; Booth’s ultimate aim was to get people “saved.”
Booth asserts in his introduction,
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.
It was asserted in some circles that In Darkest England was actually written by the crusading journalist, W.T. Stead, who, in his own words, acted as a “literary hack” for the General when Mrs. Booth lay dying. However, this assumption was swiftly dismissed by Stead some years later, declaring that, “The idea of Darkest England.. was the General’s own. My part, of which I had no wish to speak.. was strictly subordinate throughout.”
In Darkest England and the Way Out was reprinted several times and lately in 2006.