The last time we visited upon General William Booth we learned he had hard childhood with a father who cared more about money and vanity than his own children. His father's constant struggle to maintain a lifestyle he could not afford came to end when William was thirteen years old. Forced from his education into an apprenticeship as a pawnbroker young William learned many valuable lessons that would lead him on a path to change the world.
William Booth had been born into poverty yet never had never seen what extreme poverty looked like until his apprenticeship. His apprenticeship began with a simple task: Sweep the floors and fold the bedding and clothes that people brought in to pawn. Mr. Eames, the man he apprenticed under, taught him how pawning works. A person needing cash would bring their items to the store. Mr. Eames would value the item and pay the customer only 60% of what the item was worth. Mr. Eames would hold the item for two weeks. If the person didn't return or pay the loan back he would keep the item and sell it at a higher cost than he bought it for. Mr. Eames showed William how to determine the value of something. William noticed people would bring all sort of items, items they would need for work or daily living. Most of the people who came to the pawnshop couldn't afford to buy their items back. It broke William's heart to see how desperate the poor were to pay their rent or put food on the table. He realized this was the kind of work his father would excel at and wanted him to employ. William hated the idea of taking advantage of the destitute just so you better your situation. He was disgusted at the thought of it and hated his apprenticeship.
He stated of that time in his life:
"I had scarcely any income as an apprentice, and was so hard up when my father died, that I could do next to nothing to assist my dear mother and sisters, which was the cause of no little humiliation and grief. The system of apprenticeship in those days generally bound a lad for six or seven years. During this time he received little or no wages, and was required to slave from early morning to late evening upon the supposition that he was 'being taught' the business, which, if he had a good master, was probably true. It was a severe but useful time of learning. My master was a Unitarian--that is, he did not believe Christ was the son of God and the Saviour of the world, but only the best of teachers; yet so little had he learnt of Him that his heaven consisted in making money, strutting about with his gay wife, and regaling himself with worldly amusements."
William's father, Samuel Booth, grew ill and died on September 23, 1842. His father seemed to have a change of heart as he laid dying. He was baptized on his deathbed. After baptism he dedicated his wife, Mary, and their four remaining children to God. The small family sung Rock of Ages as their patriarch died.
A LOVING MOTHER
William didn't know how to feel about his sixty-five year old father's passing. He had always had a closer relationship with his mother than his father. His father had kept a distant relationship with him for most of his life. The only time Samuel gave him attention was when he was trying to push William to make shady deals or use other people to get ahead in the world. William had never felt comfortable using other people for personal gain.
Shortly after her husband's death, Mary moved the family to Goosegate where she set up a tiny sewing shop. She and her three daughters sold sewing needles, thread, hatpins and anything else a woman might require. The small shop wasn't very far from the pawn shop where William apprenticed. Although times were hard for the widow and her children, Mary never abandoned them. She would constantly encourage her children, as she had done throughout their lives, by telling them things would get better. Whenever she could, Mary would walk to the pawn shop where her son worked and check in on him. Mary was the constant rock in William's life and he never forgot her.
William wrote these words about his mother in his book, All the World, published in 1893:
|Mary Moss Booth|
"I loved my mother. From infancy to manhood I lived in her. Home was not home to me without her. I do not remember any single act of wilful disobedience to her wishes. When my father died I was so passionately attached to my mother that I can recollect that, deeply though I felt his loss, my grief was
all but forbidden by the thought that it was not my mother who had been taken from me. And yet one of the regrets that has followed me to the present hour is that I did not sufficiently value the treasure while I possessed it, and that I did not with sufficient tenderness and assiduity at the time, attempt the impossible task of repaying the immeasurable debt I owed to that mother's love.
She was certainly one of the most unselfish beings it has been my lot to come into contact with. 'Never mind me' was descriptive of her whole life at every time, in every place, and under every circumstance. To make others happy was the end of all her thoughts and aims with regard not only to her children but to her domestics, and indeed to all who came within her influence. To remove misery was her delight. No beggar went empty-handed from her door. The sorrows of any poor wretch were certain of her commiseration, and of a helping hand in their removal, so far as she had ability. The children of misfortune were sure of her pity, and the children of misconduct she pitied almost the more, because, for one reason, they were the cause of sorrow to those who had reason to mourn on their account.
For many years before she died, love, joy, and peace reigned in her heart, beamed from her countenance, and spoke in her words. Her faith was immovably fixed on Him who is able to save to the uttermost. It was a common expression of confidence with her that 'Jesus would go with her all the way through the journey of life--even to the end. He would not leave her. Her feet were on the Rock."
A NEW PURPOSE
Mary and her children faced the worst of their poverty after the death of her husband yet Mary refused to allow the negative situation of their lives destroy them. She kept encouraging their faith through prayer and taking them to Saint Stephen's Church to worship every Sunday. William was quite bored in church and disheartened at the way people were treated in church based on their social economical statues. The poor were forced to sit in seats behind the pulpit or on benches in broad aisles while the rich had reserved the right to sit in the perfect spot to see and hear the message. No one dared to sit in those areas of the church. William, his family and the rest of the poor were cast aside too poor for even Jesus to take notice of them. When the clergy preached their message to the "common people" he rarely looked at the poverty stricken and kept his eyes on the rich. William hated the dull, class discrimination message that the church taught and needed a change.
His chance for change came in the fifteenth year of his life when a Wesleyan couple invited him to their church. The Methodist Movement had begun soon after the death of John Wesley. John Wesley had sought to change the Anglican Church yet against his dying wishes his followers started their own church, the Methodist Church. William attended Broad Street Chapel and fell in love with the preachers who visited upon the church to spread their messages. He heard messages from many outstanding preachers and would often reflect upon what he learned on his way back home. Two preachers especially affected young William, Reverend James Caughey form the United States and Isaac Marsden from Yorkshire. William enjoyed the lively singing, the preaching and the free-flow atmosphere during worship. Although he enjoyed his worship experience and learning about God he never settled upon matters of his own soul. The Methodist had taught him he needed to give his entire life over to God but that seemed too hard for William to do. How could he give his entire life?
William struggled with the idea of handing his all to God until one day his bible study teacher, Henry Carey, opened his lesson with these words, "A soul dies every minute." The words haunted William. I think it would be best to hear the rest of the story in William's own words:
"When as a giddy youth of fifteen I was led to attend Wesley Chapel, Nottingham, I cannot recollect that any individual pressed me in the direction of personal surrender to God. I was wrought upon quite independently of human effort by the Holy Ghost, who created within me a great thirst for a new life.
I felt that I wanted, in place of the life of self-indulgence, to which I was yielding myself, a happy, conscious sense that I was pleasing God, living right, and spending all my powers to get others into such a life. I saw that all this ought to be, and I decided that it should be. It is wonderful that I should have reached this decision in view of all the influences then around me. My professedly Christian master never uttered a word to indicate that he believed in anything he could not see, and many of my companions were worldly and sensual, some of them even vicious.
Yet I had that instinctive belief in God which, in common with my fellow-creatures, I had brought into the world with me. I had no disposition to deny my instincts, which told me that if there was a God His laws ought to have my obedience and His interests my service.
I felt that it was better to live right than to live wrong, and as to caring for the interests of others instead of my own, the condition of the suffering people around me, people with whom I had been so long familiar, and whose agony seemed to reach its climax about this time, undoubtedly affected me very deeply.
There were children crying for bread to parents whose own distress was little less terrible to witness.
One feeling specially forced itself upon me, and I can recollect it as distinctly as though it had transpired only yesterday, and that was the sense of the folly of spending my life in doing things for which I knew I must either repent or be punished in the days to come.
In my anxiety to get into the right way, I joined the Methodist Church, and attended the Class Meetings, to sing and pray and speak with the rest." (A Class Meeting was the weekly muster of all members of the church, who were expected to tell their leader something of their soul's condition in answer to his inquiries.) "But all the time the inward Light revealed to me that I must not only renounce everything I knew to be sinful, but make restitution, so far as I had the ability, for any wrong I had done to others before I could find peace with God.
The entrance to the Heavenly Kingdom was closed against me by an evil act of the past which required restitution. In a boyish trading affair I had managed to make a profit out of my companions, whilst giving them to suppose that what I did was all in the way of a generous fellowship. As a testimonial of their gratitude they had given me a silver pencil-case. Merely to return their gift would have been comparatively easy, but to confess the deception I had practised upon them was a humiliation to which for some days I could not bring myself. I remember, as if it were but yesterday, the spot in the corner of a room under the chapel, the hour, the resolution to end the matter, the rising up and rushing forth, the finding of the young fellow I had chiefly wronged, the acknowledgment of my sin, the return of the pencil-case--the instant rolling away from my heart of the guilty burden, the peace that came in its place, and the going forth to serve my God and my generation from that hour.
"It was in the open street that this great change passed over me, and if I could only have possessed the flagstone on which I stood at that happy moment, the sight of it occasionally might have been as useful to me as the stones carried up long ago from the bed of the Jordan were to the Israelites who had passed over them dry-shod. Since that night, for it was near upon eleven o'clock when the happy change was realised, the business of my life has been not only to make a holy character but to live a life of loving activity in the service of God and man. I have ever felt that true religion consists not only in being holy myself, but in assisting my Crucified Lord in His work of saving men and women, making them into His Soldiers, keeping them faithful to death, and so getting them into Heaven."
William vowed, "God should have all there is of William Booth." William's life was about to change forever.