Sunday, 31 August 2014

William Booth on Prison

I recently read a book [don't you just love Kindle!] entitled 'In Darkest England' by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army.

You may still see a few Salvationists around our cities and towns, especially at Christmas playing carols with their brass instruments, and you may even wonder what they're all about.  In the words of an old Cliff Richard song:

'And I thought, "If that's an army, it's a funny way to fight!"'

But I have to impress on you this one thing.  With due respect (there are still some great people in that movement), they are a pale shadow of the powerful, militant movement they once were.  They are an odd group in some ways [a military structure, no baptism or communion], but it is hard to argue with the huge success they had through the Gospel in Victorian and Edwardian England among the poorest and vice-ridden underclass.

I found it such an interesting book, that I collected a number of quotes which I still believe are pertinent for the church today and I am going to reproduce them over the next few days and weeks.

This is what Booth said about Prison:

The Salvation Army has at least one great qualification for dealing with this question I believe I am in the proud position of being at the head of the only religious body which has always some of its members in gaol for conscience' sake. We are also one of the few religious bodies which can boast that many of those who are in our ranks have gone through terms of penal servitude. We, therefore, know the prison at both ends. Some men go to gaol because they are better than their neighbours, most men because they are worse. Martyrs, patriots, reformers of all kinds belong to the first category.

No great cause has ever achieved a triumph before it has furnished a certain quota to the prison population. The repeal of an unjust law is seldom carried until a certain number of those who are labouring for the reform have experienced in their own persons the hardships of fine and imprisonment. Christianity itself would never have triumphed over the Paganism of ancient Rome had the early Christians not been enabled to testify from the dungeon and the arena as to the sincerity and serenity of soul with which they could confront their persecutors, and from that time down to the successful struggles of our people for the right of public meeting at Whitchurch and elsewhere, the Christian religion and the liberties of men have never failed to demand their quota of martyrs for the faith.

I love how Booth does not lament the fact that his people are imprisoned, but takes it as a badge of honour.

Without doubt, some of the freedoms we have today to preach the Gospel in the streets were won for us by the Salvation Army.  They managed to get these freedoms enshrined in our law by the House of Lords during a time when many local Magistrates [often on cahoots with the owners of pubs] opposed them bitterly and many Salvationists were sent by them to prison for preaching the Gospel.

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