William Booth Finds His Destiny
In a sense, The Salvation Army’s missionary outreach began in 1865. One evening William Booth left his West London lodgings and walked along Mile End Waste, a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of “shows, shooting-ranges, petty dealers, and quack-doctors.” Outside the “Blind Beggar” pub, he listened to some street evangelists; when they had finished, he was invited to speak and found it an invigorating challenge. At midnight, when he returned home, he told Catherine, “Darling, I have found my destiny!”
Capturing the spirit of that beginning is this poem by Salvationist author John Coutts* [* From Humanities (Robert Greene Publishing, 1 Cirrus Crescent, Gravesend, Kent KA12 4QS England). Used by permission.] . It describes an early open-air address by Booth and his assistant, George Scott Railton.
When William came at last to Mile End Waste
He saw the grey world sliding to and fro
Like aimless rubbish on the indifferent tide:
And then there came the dry and evil chuckle
That once beset the Son of Man Himself.
"Don’t waste your time: no Saviour died for them—
Bundles of rags redeemed in precious gin:
My flock, you know: poor devils damned already!”
Sick with despair he tossed his mane and cried
“Give us a song.” So Railton thundered forth
“Jesus, the name high over all … ”
… and suddenly
The two were bobbing in the uproarious mob
Of drunks and drabs and roughs and hags and demons
Swarmed from the lurid gaslit hells around.
“Hurrah” roared William: as the battle brewed
He saw Christ’s blood—bright as a royal banner
Flaunted before King Satan and his hosts.
Loudly he roared against the assembled fiends
That gripped each pauper by the throat, and perched
On twisted shoulders wrapped in dirty shawls.
“ … Angels and men before him fall … Now grandma,
Tell ’em you’re saved!—and devils fear and fly …
Come to the tent at seven. It’s warm inside!”
Then thudding raindrops washed the crowd away,
And William, plodding through the sodden slum
Saw Christ’s compassion streaming in the gutters,
And dirty cobbles drenched in Holy Ghost.
Copyright © 1990 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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