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- Catherine Booth - 4/16 -
'I fear you did not fully understand my difficulty. It was not circumstances. I thought I had assured you that a bright prospect would not allure me, nor a dark one affright me, if only we are _one in heart_.
My only reason for wishing to defer the engagement was that _you_ might feel satisfied in your mind that the step is right.... If you are convinced on this point, let circumstances go, and let us be one, come what may.'
This is exactly what they did, and after meeting, and together consecrating their lives to God, they solemnly pledged themselves to each other.
And now began a three-years' engagement, in which, though often for long months at a time they never met, they remained true to each other and to God, in thought and word and deed.
Many of the beautiful letters that our Army Mother wrote to The General at this time, I am glad to tell you, have been kept, and we will look together at some of the ways in which she tried to help and cheer him.
In the first letter after their engagement she ends with these words:--
'The more you lead me up to Christ in all things, the more highly shall I esteem you; and if it be possible to love you more than I do now, the more shall I love you. You are always present in my thoughts.'
Now you must not think that, even in these early days, our General had a very easy life. He was often much perplexed and troubled, longing above all to do God's Will for the Salvation of the people, and yet not quite sure what that Will was. At these times Catherine was of untold help to him.
Once he was very unsettled--not certain whether he should remain away in the North of England, or accept a place in London, where the two could often meet. Most girls would have said, 'Oh, come, then we shall be near to each other'; but you will see that her advice to him is just as suitable for you when you are not certain of your duty--that she does not consider her own feelings at all.
'I wish,' she writes, 'you prayed more and talked less about the matter. Try it, and be determined to get clear and settled views as to your course. Leave your heart before God, and get satisfied in His sight, and then do it, be it what it may. I cannot bear the idea of your being unhappy. Pray do in this as you feel in your soul it will be right. My conscience is no standard for yours.'
Then she adds, lower down:--
'Oh, if you come to London, let us be determined to reap a blessed harvest. Let our fellowship be sanctified to our souls' everlasting good. My mind is made up to do my part towards it. I hope to be firm as a rock on some points. The Lord help me. We must aim to improve each other's mind and character. Let us pray for grace to do it in the best way and to the fullest extent possible.'
'Anyway,' she says, a day or two later--and ever remember her words when outside things try and distress you--'don't let the controversy hurt your soul. Live near to God by prayer.... You believe He answers prayer. Then take courage. Just fall down at His feet, and open your very soul before Him, and throw yourself right into His arms. Tell Him that if you are wrong you only wait to be set right, and, be the path rough or smooth, you will walk in it.
'Oh, you must live close to God! If you are a greater distance from Him than you were, just stop the whirl of outward things, or rather leave it, and shut yourself up with Him till all is clear and bright upwards. Do, there's a dear. Oh, how much we lose by not coming to the point. Now, at once, realize your union with Christ, and trust Him to lead you through this perplexity. Bless you. Excuse this advice. I am anxious for your soul. Look up. If God hears my prayers, He must guide you--He will guide you.'
In these early days our General was tempted, as some of us are tempted to-day, to feel nervous and shy when talking before large crowds, and where the people were better dressed and better off than usual. He wrote his feelings to Catherine, and she sends him back her wise advice and help. 'I am sorry for this,' she says, 'and am persuaded it is the fear of man which shackles you. Do not give place to this feeling. Remember you are _the_ Lord's servant, and if you are a faithful one it will be a small matter with you to be judged of man's judgment. Let nothing be wanting beforehand to make what you say helpful, but when you are before the people try to think only of your own responsibility to Him who hath sent you.'
Again, later, she writes:--
'Try and cast off the fear of man. Fix your eyes simply on the glory of God, and care not for frown or praise of man. Rest not till your soul is fully alive to God.' How truly she herself carried this out in her own Meetings you will hear later on.
Miss Mumford was very anxious that The General should improve himself with plenty of hard work. She saw what he might become, and she also knew that unless he did _his_ part all those wonderful powers which God had lent to him would be thrown away.
'Do assure me,' she writes, 'my own dear William, that no want of energy or effort on your part shall hinder the improvement of those talents God has given you.'
So that, with his constant travelling and preaching, he might get time to read and think and learn, she suggested a little plan to him in his billets.
'Could you not,' she says, 'provide yourself with a small leather bag or case, large enough to hold your Bible and any other book you might require--pens, ink, paper and a candle? And, presuming that you generally have a room to yourself, could you not rise by six o'clock every morning, and convert your bedroom into a study till breakfast time?... I hope, my dearest love, you will consider this plan, and keep to it, if possible, as a general practice. Don't let little difficulties prevent your carrying it out.'
You must remember that at this time neither Catherine nor Mr. Booth ever dreamed of the wonderful work they were to be called to do. He was then preaching and getting souls saved, mostly in country places, and had many a 'hard go,' but _that_ was no reason why he should not improve.
Did The General like this advice and counsel? Or did he feel, as some men do to-day, that women cannot judge nor understand such things?
Ah! he was wise, and only too glad to have all the help that Catherine could give him. In fact, he often wrote begging her to help him more. The outlines for addresses which she sent him weekly he valued and used, as this letter shows:--
'I have,' he writes, 'just taken hold of that sketch you sent me on "Be not deceived," and am about to make a full sermon on it. I like it much. It is admirable.
'I want a sermon on the Flood, one on Jonah, and one on the Judgment. Send me some bare thoughts, some clear, startling outlines. We must have that kind of truth which will move sinners.'
But if Catherine Mumford was anxious about the mind and work of her future husband, much more was she anxious about his soul. To her, there could be no true love without faithfulness, and where she felt it necessary, she cautioned him in the truest and tenderest way:--
'You have special need,' she writes, 'for watchfulness and for much private intercourse with God.
'My dearest love, beware how you indulge that dangerous element of character, ambition. Misdirected, it will be everlasting ruin to yourself, and perhaps to me also. Oh, my love, let nothing earthly excite it; let not the wish to be great fire it. Fix it on the Throne of the Eternal, and let it find the realization of its loftiest aspirations in the promotion of His glory, and it shall be consummated with the richest enjoyments and brightest glories of God's own Heaven.'
You wonder, perhaps, if Catherine ever wrote 'love letters,' as we call them. She never wrote the foolish and sentimental letters which say a great deal, and mean very little; but she was able to put her great love into words strong, intense, and full of tenderness.
'Do I remember?' she asks in one letter. 'Yes, I remember all--all that has bound us together. All the bright and happy, as well as the clouded and sorrowful times of our fellowship. Nothing relating to you can time or place erase from my memory. Your words, your looks, your actions, even the most trivial and incidental, come up before me as fresh as life. If I meet a child called William, I am more interested in him than in any other. Bless you. Keep your spirits up, and hope much for the future. God lives and loves us, and we shall be one in Him, loving each other as Christ loved us.'
William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married in London, on June 15, 1855; and here are a few lines from the last letter she wrote to him before the engagement was ended, and the long thirty-five years of happy married life began:--
'I long to see you. Your letters do not satisfy the yearnings of my heart. Perhaps they ought to. I wish it were differently constituted. I might be much happier. But it _will_ be extravagant and enthusiastic in spite of all my schooling. If I ever get to Heaven, what rapture shall I know! No, there is no fear of our loving each other too much. How can we love each other more than Christ has loved us? And this is the standard He has given us. What a precious thing is the religion of Jesus! It makes our first duties our highest happiness. It has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. We will spend all our energies in trying to persuade men to receive and practise it.'
How wonderfully she carried this intention into practice, and, together with The General, lived every moment 'publishing the Sinner's Friend,' you shall read later on.
A LIFE OF SACRIFICE
'Since I came to the crucifixion of myself, I have not cared much what men might say of me.'--MRS. BOOTH.
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