I’m deeply in awe of two ordinary people who have impacted our world as a result of surrendering themselves to an extraordinary God. William and Catherine Booth were ordinary people who God used in extraordinary ways.
William was left fatherless at an early age and as a teenager had to work incredibly long hours for a boss who drove him like a slave.
Catherine was a sickly kid; too sick to go to school.
Soon after he came to faith at age 15, William was inspired by an American evangelist to step out of his comfort zone. Naturally timid, he finally stepped out to read the Bible and talk to people in the street. Although he was ridiculed and even had bricks thrown at him, William did not get discourage but kept on doing what he knew he was called to do. Courageously he wrote in his diary “God shall have all there is of William Booth.” And from that day on, he showed that he meant what he wrote.
Working in a shop from early morning until 8 p.m of an evening, the he would hurry to prayer meetings which would last until 10 p.m. Sometimes after this he would call on the sick and dying. It’s said that he made hundreds of hospital calls before he was twenty years of age.
He also also did much street preaching late at night during these years, and at seventeen he was made a local preacher by the Wesleyan Methodists. Really, he was doing the work of minister before he was made a minister.
Catherine on the other hand was born into a well to do family. She was a sickly child, with her frequent illnesses robbing her of the education that she would otherwise have received. It was in the days well before television, internet and Facebook were there for us to escape to. And so, she read the Bible.
By the time she was 12 years old, she had read the Bible cover to cover 8 times!
William and Catherine are best known for starting the Salvation army, which started as a result of a ministry to the poor that they started at age 36.
Over his 60 years in ministry, it’s estimated that William Booth preached 60,000 sermons (20 a week) and travelled over 5 million miles. And that was in an era before modern transport!
At the time of William’s death, the “Army” had 21,203 officers with 8,972 societies and were working in 58 countries preaching the Gospel in 34 languages.The impact of their work is felt and seen worldwide even today, just over 100 years since William passed to eternity. What a legacy he and Catherine have left!
William never lost that full devotion to God that he wrote in his journal as a teenager. Late in life King Edward vii asked William what his recreations were. He replied, “Sir, some men have a passion for art, fame and gold. I have a passion for souls.”
His constant cry was “GO FOR SOULS, and go for the worst!”. And that’s what he did. He went to the places where the people who didn’t know Jesus were. He ministered to their very real needs and all the time he preached the gospel.
William and Catherine frequently endured opposition, mainly from other Christians, but this didn’t stop them doing what God called them to do.
Other leaders in the denomination were envious of William’s success. They wanted him to stop the evangelistic work and to focus full time on the churches he was given to oversee. But William’s heart was for reaching those outside the church.
One day, in church the realisation hit him “Why am I here, with this crowded chapel of people who want to hear the message? Why am I not outside, bringing the message of God to those who don’t want it?”
In the end William and Catherine had to leave the movement to be faithful to the evangelistic call God had given him. This was a heartbreaking time for both Catherine and William. But through times like this their courage was tested and strengthened and their resolve was formed.
Catherine was also forced to overcome her fears as a result of her convictions. At that time, it was unheard of for women to speak in adult meetings, but she became known as the woman preacher and became famous for her own gospel campaigns where she drew huge crowds. But it took a step of courage and conviction for this to happen.
One day in church as William was concluding his sermon, Catherine got up and walked slowly down the aisle to where he stood.
“What is it my dear?” William whispered to her.
“William I desire to speak”
William said “My dear wife wishes to speak.” Then he sat down.
Catherine began “I dare say that many of you have been looking on me as a very devoted woman, but I have been disobeying God. I am convinced that women have the right and duty to speak up, yes, even to preach. I have struggled with this a long time, but I’ll struggle with it no longer.”
William then quickly responded “Tonight my wife will be the preacher!”
And so Catherine’s ministry as a preacher began.
When asked for the secret of his success, William Booth said:
“I will tell you the secret. God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunities. But from the day I got the poor of London on my heart and caught a vision of all Jesus Christ could do with them, on that day I made up my mind that God would have all of William Booth there was. And if there is anything of power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.”
Could you ever imagine God using you like He used William or Catherine Booth?
Of course the call of God and the magnitude of our direct ministry is different for each one of us with different people being given different degrees of grace. But we are all recipients of God’s grace and we are called to use what God gives us for God’s glory and the expansion of His kingdom.
William once said that the greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.
No matter whether you are young or old, male or female, healthy or sick, God wants to use you. Perhaps you may have the courage to say “God, you can have all of me. I surrender totally to you. Take me and use me however you will”.
God can use a person like that!
ps – If you’d like to hear more about William ad Catherine Booth, you can listen to a recent message here