1st Salvation Army Sermon Preached in a Torn Tent

Dan Graves, MSL

1st Salvation Army Sermon Preached in a Torn Tent

The tent was tattered. Patches sewn onto it merely ripped the rotted canvas further. The ground on which it was pitched was an unused Quaker graveyard. But the man who preached on this day, July 2, 1865, was confident in what he had to say. Using revival methods pioneered by Charles Finney, he pointed to sinners and called them specifically to repentance. When William Booth preached the first of nine sermons in that tattered tent, he did so under the name of the East London Christian Mission; Thirteen years later, it became the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army: every major city in the United States and Britain has a post, and there are many in other countries. Near Christmas, Salvation Army bells tinkle for donations. Their work helps the poor and suffering wherever they are found.

From his teenage years William had worked in missions to save souls. In fact William had a running skirmish with his particular group of Wesleyan Methodists because of his impatience to preach without proper credentials and his eagerness to bring people to church who left lice on the church pews. These Methodists did all they could to keep him from preaching, and at one point they took away his membership (class ticket) because he was suspected of being a "reformer" (a group which called for evangelization of the poor and outcast).

Later William joined the Reformed Methodists and preached around the English countryside. At about the same time, he met his wife, Catherine Mumford, who was deeply moved by the first sermon she heard him preach. She had to go home sick from the meeting, and he escorted her. That was the start of their courtship. They married in 1855 and seldom have a man and wife labored together to do so much good.

Standing in his patched tent, the misery of London's millions struck home to William. Himself a child of poverty and often at his wit's end how to feed his own family, he understood only too well the desperate needs of the poor.

William's wife, Catherine, understood the need of the poor, too. Of higher social standing and better educated than her husband, she nonetheless sympathized with the urban poor and had begun a work among London's prostitutes. A strong advocate of female ministry, she preached as often as her husband and just as well, if not better. Often her speaking engagements were the main support for the pair's growing family. Thanks to her insistence on allowing women to preach, the Salvation Army had a majority of women ministers from the start.

William and Catherine realized that they had to meet more than spiritual needs: the physical needs were just too great. And that is what they did. Their approach met furious opposition in its early days, especially from tavern keepers who saw their trade drop off when clients were converted. Among the Army's implacable foes were pastors who detested its brash methods. William Booth was repeatedly attacked with hurled objects. Some of his workers were killed. But the Salvation Army became a force for good in England, America and many other lands. Today it is a world-wide institution.

Bibliography:

  1. Booth-Tucker, F. de L. The Life of Catherine Booth the Mother of the Salvation Army. Revell, 1892. Source of the image.
  2. "Booth, William." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921-1996.
  3. Coutts, General Frederick. No Discharge in this War. New York: Salvation Army, 1974.
  4. Hattersley, Roy. Blood and fire : William and Catherine Booth and their Salvation Army. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
  5. Petersen, William J. Martin Luther Had a Wife. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1983.
  6. William and Catherine Booth.Christian History. Issue #26, 1990.
  7. Wintle, Justin. Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture, 1800-1914. London ; Boston : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

Last updated July, 2007.

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