Why Social Holiness? – Part Three
III. Social Holiness in Army History and Theology
Social holiness understood as personal piety within community has not been a strength of the Army, in spite of Booth’s comments when reflecting on the Methodist class meetings that “We must follow Wesley in this or we are a rope of sand.” The initial growth of The Christian Mission and The Salvation Army came on the one hand through the revival preaching of William and Catherine Booth and others around them, as well as the organizational ability of William Booth. Mass meetings became the hallmark of the early Army, often preceded or followed by marches in the streets of major cities. So the Army became a cultural phenomenon, but the growth was not supported or sustained by the setting up of the Methodist class meetings to help the converts grow in God’s grace. Many of the early converts were loyal to the Army, but demonstrated no sustained Christian witness and growth.
However, social holiness understood as care for the neighbor did become part of the ministry of the Army, and attention is now given to that view of social holiness. William published In Darkest England and the Way Out in 1890 to outline the social problems that the Army was encountering as well as the solutions to those problems. However, the book was also written to raise money for the ever-developing social ministries in The Salvation Army. The inauguration of that ministry signaled one of many critical turning points in the life of William Booth and his Salvation Army.
The Christian Mission had no organized social ministry, save the Food-for-the-Millions program, administered by Bramwell Booth and James Flawn, which ran from 1870 to 1874. Each Mission preaching station tried to meet human need as much as possible, but no organized, centrally controlled ministry to the poor was undertaken in those days except for that Food-for-the-Millions program.12 What moved William and Catherine Booth as they surveyed Whitechapel Road in East London was that men and women were living their lives in rebellion against God. They were sinners who needed to be saved, and the preaching of both Booths called sinners to repentance and raised up saints in the way intended by God. Once The Christian Mission was established, its missions were called preaching stations, and the purpose of the Mission was to save sinners and raise up saints after the model provided by William and Catherine Booth and George Scott Railton and others. This emphasis was continued after the founding of The Salvation Army in 1878. The Booths were not unsympathetic to the physical plight of people, but that aspect of ministry was relatively unimportant to them initially.
In explaining the change from The Christian Mission to The Salvation Army, Booth affirmed this single mission. “We are a Salvation people—this is our speciality—getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more, until full salvation on earth makes the heaven within, which is finally perfected by the full salvation without, on the other side of the river. . . .My brethren, my comrades, soul saving is our avocation, the great purpose and business of our lives. Let us seek first the kingdom of God, let us be SALVATIONISTS indeed.”13
In defining the work of The Salvation Army to the Wesleyan Conference in August of 1880, Booth stated that “We go on the three broad lines of Repentance, Faith, and Holiness of Heart.”14 One would search in vain in this entire address in which he set forth the principles of The Salvation Army, and many similar addresses during this period, to find any references to soup kitchens or lodging houses, let alone any biblical or theological justification for the extended ministry of social salvation. William Booth and his Salvation Army were still involved in the single mission of converting sinners. That, it was thought, was the highest service that could be rendered to the poor. “This impulse was purely evangelical; it did not become what is called humanitarian or economic till ten years later. At its beginning, The Salvation Army was a society of men and women which existed only to preach the repentance of sins.”15
However, others in the movement began to recognize the complexity of their ministry, and there dawned an awareness in some of Booth’s officers and soldiers that it was not enough to preach the gospel to the poor, but that preaching had to be complemented by taking care of the physical needs of the poor. And so it is a fact of history that the organized social ministry of The Salvation Army did not begin at the initiation of William Booth in East London, but with Salvationists in Melbourne, Australia with the establishment of a half-way home for released prisoners.16 The Center was opened on December 8, 1883 as a kind of loving Christian reversal to the brutal transportation of the “criminal class” from England to Australia to empty English prisons of all those unwanted citizens. “In their most sanguine moments, the authorities hoped that it would eventually swallow up a whole class—the ‘criminal class,’ whose existence was one of the prime sociological beliefs of late Georgian and early Victorian England. Australia was settled to defend English property not from the frog-eating invader across the Channel but from the marauder within. English lawmakers wished not only to get rid of the ‘criminal class’ but if possible to forget about it.”17 Little wonder that the compassion of these English Salvationists toward their countrymen was manifested in this practical way. “Within four years five such centres had been set up in the state capital, and Booth dispatched an officer from England to Australia to study how this development could be applied to the home base.”18
It was not until 1884 that social work began in an organized fashion in Booth’s backyard, as it were. The rescue home for prostitutes opened on Hanbury Street, Whitechapel, at the instigation of a soldier by the name of Mrs. Cottrill, and the Purity Crusade and the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 came as a result of that ministry.19 In the meantime, various officers and soldiers continued to involve themselves in diverse aspects of social ministry. In Toronto, Canada in 1886 the Army opened the first institution to give attention to alcoholic women, and in 1887 there was the opening of a day care center in one of the “slum posts” of London so that working mothers could be relieved of the responsibility of their children.
The crippling dock strike in 1889 “tested the faith of settlers and Salvationists who responded with sympathy, enthusiasm and practical aid.”20 A food and shelter center for the homeless was established in the West India Dock Road. In 1889 a women’s shelter was opened on Hanbury Street, and on June 29, 1890 The Salvation Army opened the first ‘Elevator,’ a “sheltered workshop” for men.
However, until 1889 Booth was still making few public pronouncements about these social operations. He was apparently pleased with the initiative that his people were showing in taking care of the needs of the people. But his theology still reflected only a single purpose for his Army—that of winning souls. A typical article of Booth’s is found in The War Cry of January 1887. After a thirteen-week journey of 16,000 miles, he wrote:
I have come back with the impression that the need of the world is bigger than ever I thought it was, and I have also come back with the impression that The Salvation Army is equal to it, if The Salvation Army will only do its duty.21
In the entire article Booth made no reference to a second mission, to social salvation or to social work. His references were only to the soul-saving mission of The Salvation Army and to spiritual redemption.
The magnitude of the social problems that The Salvation Army was addressing in Great Britain came to sharp focus during the middle 1880s. Booth’s sensitivity to the poor, to whom he had been preaching for many years, was heightened through the experiences of his Army. A severe economic depression had taken its toll in England, and the effects of that depression manifested themselves in the places where Booth’s Army was at work, “1873 being the date normally given for the beginning of the ‘great depression’ and 1874 as the beginning of the nineteenth century disaster to British agriculture.”22
A one-volume analysis of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and religion in East London originally entitled Life and Labour of the People was written by Charles Booth in 1889, and was eventually expanded into the seventeen-volume work entitled Life and Labour of the People in London.23 But the first volume was published before William Booth published his In Darkest England and the Way Out, and so Booth made use of Charles Booth’s work, and was disturbed by the plight of the people with whom the Army and he had been working and to whom the gospel had been preached. There is no question that “Booth wrote In Darkest England against a background of both social unrest and growing political concern.”24 Hattersley has written the following:
In the previous year, the London dockers had struck for a standard wage of sixpence an hour and, after a month of picketing and protest, won. Public opinion—at least the increasingly educated and articulate working classes—was on their side. The dockers—casual labourers who reported for work each day, but worked at best for three, had once been the powerless poor. But, although they remained amongst the worst paid of British workers, by 1889 they were powerful enough to defeat the increasingly prosperous dock owners. Part of their success was due to the energy and ability of their leader, Ben Tillet. But Tom Mann and John Burns guaranteed the dockers’ success by bringing out the engineers ‘in sympathy.’ Victory for organized labour was, in itself, frightening enough for the political establishment. But building on the experience of the dock strike Tillet, Burns and Mann began to organize unskilled workers. The result was the powerful force of New Unionism. And it was created by men who might—had their inclination not been for politics—have marched with the Salvation Army. Tillet was brought up a Methodist. Mann and Burns were campaigners for total abstinence from drink. Their great victory was won on the battlefield of London’s East End where William Booth had first taken up arms against the devil. New Unionism and the Salvation Army were for the poor and of the poor.25
Finally it was decided that an office be created to coordinate the social reform operations of The Salvation Army. Therefore, by 1890 the tentative efforts of The Salvation Army at social reform were placed under the office of what became known as the Social Reform Wing of The Salvation Army, commanded by Commissioner Frank Smith.26 Smith played a significant part in moving General Booth’s sympathies in the direction of social ministry. And a “Darkest England” Trust Deed was executed on January 30, 1891 in a public meeting in St. James’ Hall, London.27 To answer critics of the Darkest England Scheme that the money was misused, a Committee of Inquiry was established and a report was issued on December 19, 1892, completely exonerating the Army and its General. Booth had always been very careful to give an accurate account of funds given to The Christian Mission and The Salvation Army.
With the establishment of that Social Reform Wing, The Salvation Army entered into a new stage of its ministry under the direction of its General, which one biographer has characterized as “an immense change in the direction of the Army.”28 Booth and his Army finally recognized institutionally the importance of the second mission that had gradually gained acceptance. Between 1889 and 1890 the commitment to social salvation became fixed. The timing was significant in the history of The Salvation Army. Hitherto its chief concern had been for personal salvation from sin, and social concerns were secondary, but increasing in importance. Now, however, the movement was engaged in two works—personal salvation and social salvation. It now had, as has been mentioned, a dual mission. There is little evidence to substantiate John Kent’s statement that “Darkest England appeared when the original religious basis of the Army was proving too weak to sustain the initial success.”29 In fact, it is altogether possible that the opposite is true—that Darkest England was written precisely because of the success and strength of The Salvation Army in many places in the world and because Booth had developed a biblical and theological justification for his growing work.
The surest public expression of this mission came from Booth himself. In October of 1890 he published In Darkest England and the Way Out in which he gave theological expression to the necessity of social salvation in which The Salvation Army had already been engaged. However, the question needs to be asked: why did the transition take place, and why was Booth ready to focus his enlarged vision of salvation as a double mission. Indeed, W. T. Stead himself, who used his journalistic skills to assist Booth in the writing of In Darkest England and the Way Out, stated the following in The Star on January 2, 1891: “Everyone knows perfectly well that two years ago, nay, even one year ago, General Booth did not see his way to the utilization of The Salvation Army as an instrument of social reform.”30 W. T. Stead had intimate knowledge of In Darkest England and the Way Out because Booth asked Stead “if I could get him a literary hack who could lick his material into shape, and get the book out in time. I said, ‘I will do your hack-work myself,’ and I did. I was very proud to do it.”31
There are many possible answers to this question, and many factors, both personal and institutional, coalesced at this time and gave rise to an expanded ministry. The first has already been noted, but bears repeating. William Booth, reared in poverty himself, demonstrated social sensitivity toward the poor and needy in Nottingham, in Whitechapel Road, and in the ministry of The Salvation Army. However, at one time these social concerns were fleeting compared with the concern for the personal conversion of men and women. Experience, both personal and institutional, had heightened his sensitivities about people’s physical impoverishment. He wanted to help the poor.
This heightened sensitivity was shared by many who had joined Booth’s Army, and culminated in the 1880s through their continual exposure to the stark realities of depressed urban life in London and in other parts of the world. The experience gained by Booth and his Social Reform Wing, especially in the context of a great depression in England in the 1880s, caused them to come to grips with the fact that people were not interested in an escapist gospel, but welcomed a gospel that sustained them physically as well as spiritually. W. T. Stead himself noted that the experience gained by the Social Wing of The Salvation Army “encouraged the General to take a decided step in advance.”32 This was especially true in 1889 during the London Dock Strike, a devastating strike to the dockers and their families. Thousands of people were out of work and seeking food and shelter for their families.33<
Second, William Booth certainly recognized that virtually hundreds of other people and organizations were engaged in social work. Much of the work in England was under the auspices of an agency known as the Charity Organization Society, founded in 1867. The Charity Organization Society consequently saw no need for the Army’s social ministry, and often opposed it, probably because, in Bennett’s words, “Booth had valued his independence too much to become part of it, so there existed a degree of tensions between the two organizations.”34 The work, so claimed the Charity Organization Society, was already being done. However, if the reports of Charles Booth were accurate, the work was inadequate and certainly having no lasting results, especially in the area of serious unemployment and its attendant problems. “The General was never good in acknowledging the work of others.”35 The basic problem was not that there was no charity toward the poor taking place at that time, but that there was too much of sentimental charity with no lasting results. In speaking specifically about Catherine Booth in this regard, Barbara Robinson wrote the following:
In 1884, Catherine Booth delivered the sermon, “Sham Compassion and the Dying Love of Christ,” a succinct critique of trends in late nineteenth-century social policy and philanthropy. It must be acknowledged that the social context she addressed was very different from the one faced by John Wesley. While Wesley sought to overcome widespread indifference to the plight of the poor, Catherine believed that Victorian charitable intervention had run wild. She was reacting to the late-nineteenth century proliferation of charities—a flood of what she termed “schemes without a Savior” or “religions of bodily compassion” which ignored serious soul-need. She ardently believed that much of the Christian activism of the period would only result in “a more eternal weight of misery at the cost of little present relief.”36
William Booth echoed Catherine’s critique and, convinced that he was now ready to improve on the work being done, offered the following criticism:
And yet all the way through my career I have keenly felt the remedial measures usually enunciated in Christian programmes and ordinarily employed by Christian philanthropy, to be lamentably inadequate for any effectual dealing with the despairing miseries of these outcast classes. The rescued are appallingly few—a ghastly minority compared with the multitudes who struggle and sink in the open-mouthed abyss. Alike, therefore, my humanity and my Christianity, if I may speak of them in any way as separate from one another, have cried out for some more comprehensive method of reaching and saving the perishing crowds.37
Third, Booth perceived that much of the Church was unwilling to enter into a second mission in spite of the glaring needs of the people before the eyes of the Church. Booth was convinced, “and with good reason, that the respectable churches—both Anglican and Nonconformist—would not reach out to offer either spiritual or material comfort to the undeserving poor.”38 Andrew Mearns, a Congregational minister, had published his book entitled The Bitter Cry of Outcast London as recently as 1883. That book “stirred up the public conscience as no other work had. It was a devastating indictment of the failure of churches to respond to the needs of the poor in any way other than to build churches and chapels and offer limited aid.”39
And so by 1890 Booth, convinced that it was theologically correct to address social redemption systematically, was willing to commit himself and his Army in a way that he wished for the Church. He was at times critical of the Church for not understanding either the necessity of or the nature of social redemption. “Why all this apparatus of temples and meeting-houses to save men from perdition in a world which is to come, while never a helping hand is stretched out to save them from the inferno of their present life?”40
This theological foundation was based on the great commandment of Jesus to love one’s neighbor, a theological text that Booth referred to often in his later ministry.41 However, this foundation was not only biblical but also Wesleyan.42 The Wesleyan theological option for the poor found expression in Booth’s social ministry. “There exist many parallels in the Army to the radical side of Methodist preaching. Booth remarks in his book In Darkest England and the Way Out that ‘The Scheme of Social Salvation is not worth discussing which is not as wide as the Scheme of Eternal Salvation set forth in the Gospel. The Glad Tidings must be to every creature, not merely to an elect few who are to be saved. . . .It is now time to fling down the false idol, and proclaim a Temporal Salvation as full, free and universal, and with no other limitations that the ‘Whosoever will’ of the Gospel.’ Here one finds many of the Wesleyan themes of a personal ‘gospel egalitarianism’ overflowing into a social vision for the poor, though perhaps not with the same theological sophistication but with the same anti-Calvinistic polemic.”43
Fourth, the authoritarian structure of the Army was important to Booth in spite of the growing democratic impulses of the nineteenth century, and was well in place and functioning by 1889-1890. Booth related that structure to this second mission—he believed that his organization was best suited for redemption in two worlds because of that structure. The dual redemptive mission of The Salvation Army would succeed through proper leadership and management where other less authoritarian enterprises had failed. He wrote that “so far from resenting the exercise of authority, The Salvation Army rejoices to recognize it as one great secret of its success, a pillar of strength upon which all its soldiers can rely, a principle which stamps it as being different from all other religious organizations founded in our day.”44
A final reason—and perhaps the most important—why Booth was now ready to enter into this second mission revolved around the changing influential persons in his life and ministry. Two of the most significant persons in Booth’s life up to this point were Catherine Booth and George Scott Railton. Both were adamant that the primary work of the ministry of The Christian Mission and The Salvation Army was the conversion of sinners and the raising up of saints. However, there was a diminishing influence of Catherine and Railton upon Booth with his wife’s death in 1890 and with Railton’s continuing lack of sympathy with the growing social emphasis of The Salvation Army, climaxing with his protestations in 1894 of the launching of a Salvation Army Assurance Society.45 There is no doubt that Railton “feared that the new departure would detract from the Army’s work in winning people to Christ. It proved to be another step in his increasing isolation from the rest of the Army hierarchy.”46
As noted, Catherine Booth had been ill for quite some time previous to 1890. Her influence in the Army was chiefly in the realm of encouraging the officers and soldiers, and preaching and teaching such doctrines of holiness and the role of women in ministry. This is not to say that she did not have some sympathy with the second mission, as her involvement in the Purity Crusade amply testifies. William Booth consulted her on the writing of In Darkest England and the Way Out, and dedicated the book to her. However, it remains a moot question of precisely how critical Catherine Booth would have been of the new direction of redemption once she saw it fully inaugurated. In his biography of Catherine Booth, W. T. Stead, himself one who influenced Booth in this new direction, quoted from a letter that Catherine Booth had written to him: “Praise up humanitarianism as much as you like, but don’t confound it with Christianity, nor suppose that it will ultimately lead its followers to Christ.”47 One author has rightly noted that Catherine’s “Wesleyan creed rested on the doctrine of human depravity. Soup and soap were, at best, ancillary to soul saving. Had she lived longer, she might have shared others’ concerns about the gap between the army’s spiritual and its social work.”48
On the other hand, Railton at this time was a tireless evangelist, travelling the world for the Army. In that capacity, he was, however, far removed from Booth and the organizational and administrative development of the Army in London. Those closest to Booth in the development of the Darkest England Scheme were Bramwell Booth, W. T. Stead, and Frank Smith. Bramwell Booth, the eldest son and Chief of the Staff, had long been convinced of the necessity of social ministries, but was cautious about the relationship of that ministry to the more overtly religious work of the Army.49 W. T. Stead was the journalist whose sympathies were for the betterment of society by any possible means, not the least of which was the work of the Army, and he assisted Booth with the writing of In Darkest England and the Way Out. He protested, however, that the book was primarily Booth’s own work, but Booth needed an editor. And W. T. Stead, who left The Pall Mall Gazette to begin the Review of Reviews was a natural choice, even though Booth did not always agree with Stead. “He tolerated the editor and used him, but he did not like him, and certainly would not have trusted him to have a free hand at writing a book that was always going to result in significant changes to The Salvation Army.”50 Finally there was Frank Smith. “More than anyone, Frank Smith got Booth to champion the lot of the poor after 1887. Under Smith’s tutelage, Booth adopted ideas from Henry George, Arnold white, H. Rider Haggard, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and others. . . .Smith filled Booth’s ears with social reform and used War Cry reports to represent his own social views as Booth’s.”51
However, Smith had other loyalties, and his political involvement and socialistic sympathies eventually caused him to leave the Army, but not before his significant influence in the Darkest England Scheme. Apart from Bramwell Booth, W. T. Stead and Frank Smith, there were others who may have influenced Booth with the writing of In Darkest England and the Way Out, but these three were the most important shapers of this new direction in ministry.52
By 1890 The Salvation Army was well launched on a second mission. It was a now a movement that was committed to both spiritual and social redemption, and Booth’s theology from this time forward reflected this dual mission. His public pronouncements attempted to maintain the tension of the dual mission. This developed theology of redemption still included personal salvation from sin for the individual who believes by faith. However, now Booth embraced a theology of redemption that included social salvation from the evils that beset people in this life. And just as there was the possibility of universal spiritual redemption in Booth’s theology, reflecting his Wesleyan theology, so there was the possibility of universal social redemption, reflecting his postmillennial vision for the salvation of the world before the return of Christ.
William Booth was nothing if not a military strategist for God. He knew that before launching this new ministry publicly, he had to bring his own people into line with his enlarged theological vision, and knew that it would not be possible to win the hearts and minds of all his soldiers and officers on this issue. Many like Railton and perhaps even Catherine would still hold that the salvation of the soul is the surest way to bring about social redemption. However, as part of his strategic plan Booth wrote one of his most important articles in 1889 appropriately entitled “Salvation for Both Worlds” published in All the World in January of 1889. In that article he explained that he had always been aware of the physical impoverishment of the people to whom he had preached, having experienced poverty himself. He nevertheless saw no remedy for such poverty and so was determined to save people’s souls even if he could not help them in this world.
However, he noted that his own and his people’s experience had taught him “that the miseries from which I sought to save man in the next world were substantially the same as those from which I everywhere found him suffering in this.”53 And Booth concluded that he now had two gospels to preach—a gospel of redemption from personal sin and a gospel of redemption from social evil. He broadened his theological language to take into account his changed theology. He added new meaning and a new dimension to the redemptive theological language that he had been expressing for years. Salvation now had social obligations and dimensions as well as spiritual ones.
Ten months after writing “Salvation for Both Worlds” designed obviously to prepare his own people for a personal and institutional allegiance and commitment to a double mission, Booth began writing In Darkest England and the Way Out. Booth’s Army had already demonstrated in many parts of the world both a willingness and a capacity to enter into social ministries. William Booth was convinced of the theological justification of both personal and social salvation, and with the writing of this book he was now ready to commit his Salvation Army to war on two fronts. He wrote In Darkest England and the Way Out to explain his developed theology and thereby explain the evolution that had taken place in his own thinking and in the mission of the Army which was increasingly placing itself in the public eye. And the date of the publication, October of 1890, was a critical date in the theology of William Booth because it most clearly represents not only his broadened theological vision of redemption, but also his desire and his willingness to act in a way that was consistent with his own theology.
Those who read and interpret this book only in the light of its social analysis and constructive programs will seriously miss an important intention of the book, and in doing so will misunderstand William Booth at this important time in his life and ministry. The book is also an expression of Booth’s expanded view of redemption to include social redemption. He wanted to maintain the delicate balance between personal and social salvation. Doing so was important to Booth for at least two reasons. First, he feared that social salvation would break loose from its ties to spiritual salvation, thus rendering The Salvation Army merely an ineffectual social agency. Second, he wanted to respond to his critics on the one hand who denied the validity of his social work, and his critics on the other hand who denied the validity of his religious work.54
Booth was not equally clear, however, in spelling out those intentions. Nevertheless, it was important for Booth to explain that the social ministry of the Army was not an end in itself. The work of social redemption was preparatory, necessarily, to the work of spiritual or personal redemption. Experience had taught him that some people were so disastrously oppressed by their present physical circumstances that “these multitudes will not be saved in their present circumstances.”55 A similar theme is reiterated throughout his book. Booth was convinced that “If these people are to believe in Jesus Christ, become the servants of God, and escape the miseries of the wrath to come, they must be helped out of their present social miseries.”56 The clearest statement of Booth’s intentions is found in his assertion that “at the risk of being misunderstood and misrepresented, I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body.”57 Years later that theological position is reiterated in a letter to his officers on the occasion of his eightieth birthday:
But while you strive to deliver them from their temporal distresses, and endeavour to rescue them from the causes that have led to their unfortunate condition, you must seek, above all, to turn their miseries to good account by making them help the Salvation of their souls and their deliverance from the wrath to come. It will be a very small reward for all your toils if, after bringing them into condition of well-being here, they perish hereafter.58
Only when Booth’s social mission is placed within the framework of his entire theological vision will it be completely understood. His newly formulated theology of redemption was sustained and supported by other aspects of his theology that he had articulated previous to 1889-1890. He had already conceived of his Army as a part of the universal Church that was blessed by God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. He had developed his imagery of Christ to include the conquering Christ who was the model for deliverance from the evils of this world as well as from the wrath of the next world. He believed that evil was not finally triumphant, but that universal redemption, both personal and social, was possible. He believed in an ultimate eschatological goal—a goal that would embrace both spiritual and social redemption, and he held out that goal as hope for ultimate redemptive victory for his Army of salvation. It is interesting and not inconsequential that his most important article dealing with this eschatological goal was written in August of 1890, the same time that he was completing the writing of In Darkest England and the Way Out.59
The problem is, of course, that sometimes history can present us with some inconvenient truths, not to be ignored. The first question that needs to be raised is this—was Booth completely settled with the direction that The Salvation Army took, especially after 1890? At the very least, there appeared to be some lingering question in the mind of Booth as to whether the decision to enter into social ministries was a wise one. In his book entitled The Salvationists, John Coutts refers to the issue of the Army’s opening up a full-fledged medical work in India in 1893. Bramwell Booth tried to persuade William Booth of this necessity, and Coutts wrote, “The old man took some persuading. Might not the care of sick bodies divert attention from the salvation of perishing souls? But at last he agreed.”60 Owen Chadwick raised the same question in his The Victorian Church. He wrote, “The most revivalist of sects was now willing to allow that a Christian had other duties to his neighbor apart from his duty to convert him. Yet in Booth’s lonely old age. . .he sometimes wondered whether he had been right to allow the Army to divert its energies from conversion.”61 Tim Macquiban wrote that there is evidence that Booth “drew back in trepidation from the diversion from what he still saw as the primary tasks and preoccupations of his ministry—sin and salvation, hell and heaven, the devil and the Lord, features of the older-style evangelism.”62
Booth’s official biographer, Begbie, raised this question. He wrote that “after many years of incredible labour in the social work of the Army he came to wonder. . . whether he ought ever to have diverted any of the energies of the Army from the strictly evangelical responsibilities of the preacher’s vocation.”63 And Ervine, when writing about William Booth getting back to preaching after so much of his energy had been given to the Darkest England Scheme, wrote that “Schemes of social reform had no interest for him any more, and he sometimes doubted his wisdom in adopting any.”64
This question obviously lingered even after William Booth’s death, and upon his becoming the second General of The Salvation Army Bramwell Booth had to face the question again. A newspaper reporter asked him about the Darkest England Scheme. Bramwell Booth’s reply is important not only because he was one of the shapers of that Scheme, but because now as General he would be the leader of the Army to move the Scheme into the twentieth century. Therefore, his vision of the Scheme is critical in providing some comprehensive view of what evolved in the ministry of the Army several years earlier. Bramwell Booth said:
My answer. . .is that I have always looked on the Darkest England scheme and what came out of it as a comparatively small, though essential, part of the work of The Salvation Army—as a link rather than the main body of the thing. I say essential because it was, and is, an expression of the passion at the heart of the organism itself, but as such it takes a subordinate place in my own conception of the history—and, shall I say the hopes?—of the Army
At the same time, there is no doubt that the scheme has done two good things for the Army, as well as a good thing for the world. It helped the Army into the eye of those who were compassionate for the poor, but under the influence of a generous humanitarianism which hitherto looked upon the Army as little more than a small religious sect struggling for its own existence. Secondly, it opened the way for the Army to use a vast weight of previously unemployed power in its own ranks, because it provided a platform for action other than the platform of talking and solo singing, of great religious functions, and the publication of religious literature. It provided work for another type of soldier—the man or woman who could act but not talk. So far as its reflex effect upon the Army is concerned the Darkest England scheme has fully justified itself.65