Salvation In Youth
In convincing him that goodness was the only safe passport to peace and prosperity of any lasting kind, William Booth’s mother had happily laid in the heart of her boy the best foundation for a happy life, “Be good, William, and then all will be well,” she had said to him over and over again.
But how was he to “be good”? The English National Church, eighty years ago, had reached a depth of cold formality and uselessness which can hardly be imagined now. Nowhere was this more manifest than in the “parish” church. The rich had their allotted pew, a sort of reserved seat, into which no stranger dare enter, deserted though it might be by its holders for months together. For the poor, seats were in some churches placed in the broad aisles or at the back of the pulpit, so conspicuously marking out the inferiority of all who sat in them as almost to serve as a notice to every one that the ideas of Jesus Christ had no place there. Even when an earnest clergyman came to any church, he had really a battle against great prejudices on both sides if he wished to make any of “the common people” feel welcome at “common prayer.” But the way the appointed services were “gone through” was only too often such as to make every one look upon the whole matter as one which only concerned the clergy. Especially was this the effect on young people. Anything like interest, or pleasure, in those dull and dreary, not to say “vain” repetitions on their part must indeed have been rare.
It is not surprising then that William Booth saw nothing to attract him in the Church of his fathers. John Wesley, that giant reformer of religion in England, had been dead some forty years, and his life-work had not been allowed to affect “the Church” very profoundly. His followers having seceded from it contrary to his orders and entreaties, had already made several sects, and in the chief of these William Booth presently found for himself at least a temporary home. Here the services were, to some extent, independent of books; earnest preaching of the truth was often heard from the pulpits, and some degree of real concern for the spiritual advancement of the people was manifested by the preachers.
Under this preaching and these influences, and the singing of Wesley’s hymns, the lad was deeply moved. To his last days he sang some of those grand old songs as much as, if not more than, any others; that one, for example, containing the verse:—
And can I yet delay my little
all to give?
To tear my soul from earth away, for Jesus to receive?
Nay, but I yield, I yield! I can hold out no more,
I sink, by dying love compelled, and own Thee conqueror.