His supreme value for the student of religion is to be found in the explanation of this unifying power. In spite of intellectual shortcomings which might seem almost to exclude him from the serious attention of educated people, he stands out with a marked emphasis from the company of far abler men by reason of this power—this sense of unusual vigour and abnormal concentration of strength. And the explanation of this power, which unifies an otherwise incoherent personality, is to be found, I am quite confident, in his burning hatred of iniquity.
As a boy, like the poet Gray and the late Lord Salisbury, he suffered a good deal of bullying, and thus learned at school something beyond the reach of the Latin Grammar, namely, the brutality of human nature. He has never forgotten that discovery. Indeed, his after-life has widened and intensified that early lesson. Sin is brutality. It is selfishness seeking its low pleasure and its base delight in vilest self-indulgence involving the suffering of others, sometimes their profoundest degradation, even their absolute destruction. Particularly did he experience this burning conviction when he came to understand the well-nigh inconceivable brutality of sexual vice. I believe that it was a poor harlot in the slums of London who first opened for him the door of fanaticism.
He had longed as a schoolboy to hit back at his tyrants, and now in the dawn of manhood that long repression made its weight felt in the blows he showered on the face of evil. For a year or two he was a wild man of evangelicalism, leading attacks on evil, challenging public attention, seeking imprisonment, courting martyrdom. It was from the flaming indignation of his soul that Mr. Stead took fire, and led a crusade against impurity which shocked the conscience of the eighties. But so deep and eternal was this hatred of evil, that General Booth soon came to see that he must express it in some manner which would outlive the heady moments of a “lightning campaign.” He settled down to express that profound abhorrence of iniquity in terms of organisation. Tares might be torn suddenly from the human heart, but not the root of evil. If he could not kill the devil, at least he could circumvent him.
Such intense hatred of evil as still consumes his being is not popular in these days, and may perhaps be regarded as irrational. But we should do well to remind ourselves that while those who regard evil merely as a vestigial memory of human evolution do little or nothing to check its ravages, men like General Booth, and the men and women inspired by his abhorrence, save every year from physical and moral destruction thousands of unhappy people who become at once the apostles of an extreme goodness.
Such evidences of mediocrity as exist in the Salvationist are purely intellectual; morally and spiritually he is in the advance guard of the human race.