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- Catherine Booth - 5/16 -
At the time when our Army Mother married The General's work was, as we have seen, that of an 'Evangelist' or 'Travelling Minister.' He would stay in a town for some weeks or months, as the case might be, preaching and holding Meetings, and getting people saved, both in the town itself and the places round.
It was a blessed and useful life, but very wearying; and we can fancy how trying it must have been for Mrs. Booth after her marriage not to have any home of her own, but to billet first in one stranger's house, and then in another's.
But she did not complain, though we see what it cost her by a letter she writes to her mother, telling the good news that they are to live in lodgings while at Sheffield:--
'You cannot think,' she writes, 'with what joy I look forward to being to ourselves once more. For though I get literally oppressed with kindness, I must say I would prefer a home where we could sit down together at our own little table, myself the mistress, and my husband the only guest. But the work of God so abundantly prospers that I dare not repine, or else I feel this constant packing and unpacking and staying amongst strangers to be a great burden, especially while so weak and poorly. But then I have many mercies and advantages. My precious William is all I desire, and without this what would the most splendid home be but a glittering bauble?'
For several years Mrs. Booth travelled in this way from place to place, helping, cheering, and encouraging her husband in his soul-saving campaigns. She felt her duty lay here, and even when she had a little son to care for, she was unwilling to settle down. Writing to her mother, who urged her to leave off this trying life; or, at any rate, to hand the baby over to her, she says:--
'My objection to leaving William gets stronger as I see the need he has of my presence, care, and sympathy; neither is he willing for it himself. Nor can I make up my mind to parting with Willie.'
Mrs. Booth's object was to be a help to her husband--not a hindrance; to push him forward in his soul-saving work--not to hold him back; and therefore, instead of rejoicing, as most wives and mothers would have done, when a settled home and work were offered him, she was doubtful.
'Personally considered,' she writes to her mother, 'I care nothing about it. I feel that a good rest in one place will be a boon to us. Anyhow, if God wills him to be an Evangelist, He will open the way. I find that I love the work itself far more than I thought I did, and I am willing to risk something for it.'
After this came several years of great conflict and struggle. The Conference (or, as we would say, Headquarters) under whom The General worked did not wish him to continue the great Salvation Campaigns for which God had so marvellously fitted him. They wanted him to 'settle down,' and spend perhaps several years in one place like ordinary ministers.
To please those who were over him he did this, and spent four years in one town. But though God blessed his efforts, The General was convinced that he was called to greater things. He loved the sinners; wherever he went crowds flocked to hear him, and the vilest were converted. Was it God's will, therefore, that he should sacrifice the work his soul loved, and 'settle down' into an ordinary life, helping and reaching only the people of one small city?
This question our Army Mother helped him to decide. Try to picture her position. She had by this time a family of little children, and her health was very delicate. By counselling The General to 'settle down,' as his friends wished him to do, she would have a nice home, a comfortable income, and, above all, the constant presence of her husband, who would no longer need to leave her on his long soul-saving tours.
By refusing the position offered, and choosing instead to take up the 'evangelistic life' again, The General turned his back on salary, home, and work, and went out into the world, with his wife and four children, friendless and alone. Do you wonder that the struggle was a severe one?
'Pray for me,' she wrote to her mother, when the question was about to be settled. 'I have many a conflict in regard to the proposed new departure; not as to our support--I feel as though I can trust the Lord implicitly for all that; but the Devil tells me I shall never be able to endure the loneliness and separation of the life. He draws many a picture of most dark and melancholy shade. But I cling to the promise, "No man hath forsaken," etc., and, having sworn to my own hurt, may I stand fast. I have told William that if he takes the step, and it should bring me to the workhouse, I would never say one upbraiding word. No. To blame him for making such a sacrifice for God and conscience' sake would be worse than wicked. So, whatever be the result, I shall make up my mind to endure it patiently, looking to the Lord for grace and strength.'
But if it was difficult for Mrs. Booth, the path was equally dark and hard for The General.
'William hesitates,' she writes a few weeks later. 'He thinks of me and the children, and I appreciate his love and care. But I tell him that God will provide, if he will only go straight on in the path of duty. It is strange that I, who always used to shrink from the sacrifice, should be the first in making it. But when I made the surrender I did it whole- heartedly, and ever since I have been like another being. Oh, pray for us yet more and more! We have no money coming in from any quarter now. Nor has William any invitations at present. The time is unfavourable. I am much tempted to feel it hard that God has not cleared our path more satisfactorily. But I will not "charge God foolishly." I know that His way is often in the whirlwind, and He rides upon the storm: I will try to possess my soul in patience, and to wait on Him.'
Sometimes you have heard your Officers talking in a Meeting, and telling the people that, if they will but step out in faith, and do right, God will open up the way for them. The example of our General and Army Mother has taught us this lesson, for few ever took a step of faith into greater darkness and difficulty than they did at this time.
'My dearest,' writes Mrs. Booth to her mother, 'is starting for London. Pray for him. He is much harassed. But I have promised to keep a brave heart. At times it appears to me that God may have something very glorious in store for us, and when He has tried us He will bring us forth as gold. It will not be the first time I have taken a leap in the dark, humanly speaking, for conscience' sake.'
It was, indeed, a 'leap in the dark': to break up their little home in the North, and, travelling by boat, to save expense, to bring their four children to Mrs. Mumford's house in London. There they separated: the father and mother went to Cornwall, to hold a Salvation campaign in a little chapel that had been lent to them, and the children remained behind.
Of the marvellous way in which God blessed the Cornish work, I cannot stop to tell you. Mrs. Booth's name as a preacher was by this time becoming as widely known as that of her husband; and they went from one place to another, at first together, and then, afterwards, separately, so as to be able to do more good, for four long years.
Whenever possible, our Army Mother took her children with her: she never left them to others when she could help it, and later on I shall tell you what a devoted and tender mother she was; but the strain of those four long years no one will ever know. I want you to see the dark as well as the bright side of her wonderful life; and here is part of a letter to her mother, written at that time:--
'I feel dreadfully unsettled at present. I don't like this mode of living at all. William has now been away from home, except on Friday and Saturday, for twelve weeks. I long to get fixed together again once more. The going backwards and forwards and being in other people's houses does not suit William. Nor do I like leaving home for the Sabbaths. I am much tempted to look gloomily towards the future. But "my heart is fixed." "I will trust, and not be afraid."'
Then again, a little later on:--
'Pray for me. I sometimes feel as though I had taken a path which is too hard for me, and duties too heavy for me to perform; but it is my privilege to say, and to feel, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."'
Once again she says:--
'Well, the Lord help us to be faithful to our convictions, even in the dark and cloudy day! I have felt it hard work to do so lately. Many a time have I longed to be where the weary are at rest.
'Well, we must labour and wait a little longer; it may be that the clouds will break, and surround us with sunshine. Anyway, God lives above the clouds, and He will direct our path.'
The General and Mrs. Booth were holding Salvation services in London when our Army Mother was called to make a fresh sacrifice, never dreaming of the wonderful results that would spring from it. You shall read about it in her own words, spoken many years afterwards:--
'I remember well,' she says, 'when The General decided at last to give up the evangelistic life and to devote himself to the Salvation of the East- Enders. He had come home from a Meeting one night, tired out, as usual. It was between eleven and twelve o'clock. Flinging himself into an easy chair, he said to me, "O Kate, as I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces to-night I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, 'Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labours?' And I felt as though I ought at every cost to stop and preach to these East-End crowds."
'I remember the emotion that this produced in my soul. I sat gazing into the fire, and the Devil whispered to me, "This means another new departure--another start in life."
'The question of our support I saw at once to be a serious difficulty. Hitherto we had been able to meet our expenses by the collections which we had made from our respectable audiences. But it was impossible to suppose that we could do so among the poverty-stricken East-Enders. We did not then see things as we do to-day. We were afraid even to ask for a collection among the East London crowds.
'Nevertheless, I did not answer discouragingly. After a moment's pause for thought and prayer, I answered, "Well, if you feel you ought to stay, stay. We have trusted the Lord once for our support, and we can trust Him again."'
Mrs. Booth, when she answered like this, had no idea of all that was to follow. She never dreamt that, from The General's standing alone in Whitechapel, a mighty wave of Salvation would sweep over the earth, nor that God was about to raise up an Army of which she and The General were to be the leaders.
But, as always before, she willingly agreed to whatever would be for
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