The GOSPEL TRUTH
THE SALVATION ARMY FOLLOWING CHRIST: BY COMMISSIONER RAILTON
DURING the past twenty years there has been growing up in the midst of Christendom an organization which has been all along denounced and opposed, in a manner remarkably resembling the opposition shown to Christ and His Apostles by the religious and respectable people of their day. The very phrases applied to the latter have been those most commonly used in connection with the Salvation Army.
Such expressions as "blasphemy," "blasphemous performance," "mockery of religion," have been repeatedly used by the most thoughtful and influential critics with respect to this organization, and for what reason? Simply because poor and unlettered men and women are found continually expressing an intimate acquaintance with God in terms almost identical with those which are common in the Psalms and the Gospels. The poor man cries, and the Lord hears and delivers him; the convicted publican smites on his breast and cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner," but the unbelieving onlooker denounces his crying as an "intolerable noise," and his declaration that he has been delivered, an "unwarrantable presumption." It is notorious that in thousands of buildings next Sunday, congregations of people who, a few years ago, had nothing whatever to do with the worship of God, will be repeating exactly such-like experiences. Yet even some of those who regard these people with a somewhat friendly eye will excuse their making "a joyful noise unto the Lord" as a "pardonable extravagance," and will explain that it is due to their "want of culture" that they do not worship God in the "decorous silence" which is customary in modern places of worship. The greater part of the community, in view of such examples, denounced the whole of the proceedings as an "outrageous nuisance," "a farce," etc., which "ought to be put down" or got rid of if it were possible, and which it is to be hoped "will not last long."
Now it is a remarkable fact, worthy of the most careful study by all who would understand either the power of God or the times in which we live, that in the face of all this hostile opposition this Army will go on without altering its course in the slightest degree to gain public favour, and that in fact it has gone on steadily increasing during twenty years, in spite of such opposition.
Five years before this book was first published this Army had only 442 corps and 1,067 officers--persons, that is to say, employed in the work and supported by it. During the year 1882, no less than 669 of the soldiers--251 of them women--were knocked down, kicked, or brutally assaulted in the streets; fifty-six of the 530 buildings used were attacked and partially wrecked, and eighty-six officers or soldiers, fifteen of them women, were looked up and imprisoned by the authorities in connection with the open-air services. Bishops, editors of religious papers, chairmen of great religious assemblies united to denounce the Army in the extremest terms; but at the end of twenty years it is found to consist of 4,185 corps, under the leadership of more than 13,500 officers.
Now, if it be correct that the Army systematises blasphemy, this prodigious increase is truly a calamity; but if, on the contrary, it is found that thousands whose every second sentence was formerly an oath, and who neither feared God nor regarded man, are now to be seen clothed and in their right minds, singing (though it may be in rough style) the praises of God and living honest, industrious, and benevolent lives; then surely these figures eloquently demonstrate that the truth lies entirely on the other side, and that this vast working-class organization is, after all, acting in conformity with the will of God, and therefore blessed and helped by Him, involving the inevitable conclusion that the common opinion of the day is in violent opposition to the spirit and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
Let us examine a little more closely the method of the Army's increase, as illustrated by one of its most recent advances. A couple of young girls, formerly engaged in domestic service, declare themselves to be called to go out and preach the Gospel. For this purpose they place themselves at the disposal of the only religious organization in the world which thinks it right to give them this opportunity, and after careful examination into their character, they are sent off to a foreign country, where they are to raise an Army corps in a certain small town. The building in which they are to gather their congregation is simply a long-disused workshop, where a number of unbacked seats have been placed. There is not a single person in the town who can be regarded as friendly to their mission, and most people consider their appointment as directly opposed to the will of Christ. Yet night after night their humble barracks are crowded with an audience consisting mainly of persons who have never worshipped God before. The meetings are interrupted, and violent scenes sometimes occur. Yet, as is common all over the world, those two officers have raised a corps in a short time.
And what is their corps? It consists of working men and women who are ready to stand up in the meetings and add their testimony to that of their officers, that Jesus Christ is a living Saviour. In the language of apostles and psalmists, not quoted but reproduced almost in identical terms from their own experience, they say that they were up to the time of their coming to these meetings "If afar off by sin and wicked works, but have now been brought nigh to God by the blood of the Cross;" that He has filled their hearts with peace and gladness such as they never found while in pursuit of worldly pleasure, a peace and gladness which rather increase than diminish under the scorn and opposition of family, friends, and workmates. It is not long before some of these converts are found expressing their highest ideal of duty in the desire to do exactly what their officers did when they left home, situation, worldly comforts and prospects, and embarked on a life of poverty and difficulty such as they have seen worked out before their eyes, in order to spread the glad tidings of a real Saviour from sin, whom they personally know.
Every step in the Army's progress has been accomplished in some such way as this, and the astonishment to most of us is not that such results should follow, but that people of intelligence should either continue with their eyes closed to it all, as though it had no existence, or else with persistence object, as though the Army were violating in every way the will of God. Again I say, this drives one inevitably to one of two conclusions, either the army must be a system of the most terribly God-dishonouring delusions curse to the world of the most awful kind, or else, if it be indeed what it professes to be, inspired, moved, and directed by Him--then the peoples of our day must have departed far from the spirit and teaching of God, both by His prophets and His Son, to have come into direct collision with these forces acting under His leadership.
If we search still more deeply into the secret of the Army's life and activities we shall find at every step the phenomenon of a faith and practice exactly similar to those which the language of psalmists and apostles, literally taken, describes. Here are poor fishermen, who declare that they have heard Jesus Christ calling them to leave all and follow Him. They say that He walks by their side on the shore and sails with them over the stormy deep; that they commune with Him in the night watches; that whereas, but a short time ago, they were so utterly in darkness as to know nothing of the possibility of prayer, they now see clearly those great spiritual truths which have sustained their comrades in ages past; that God Himself is their light, and gives them to see, day by day, amidst the most toilsome occupations and the most ruffianly surroundings, more and more of Himself and His will concerning them. Nobody pretends to question that the lives of multitudes of such men have been, as the result of their connection with this Army, transformed as completely as they themselves declare that their inward experiences have been. Here are people who, but a few years ago, received with blows and curses those who spoke to them in the name of Christ, but who now manifest the same tender love towards those who ill-treat as was shown in the first place towards themselves--men and women who gladly bear contempt, abuse, poverty, and suffering of every kind, that they may spend the part of life which still remains to them in proclaiming their Saviour; men and women whose want of education and of many qualifications that one would suppose to be desirable for such a work, cannot prevent from profoundly impressing the souls, and thus changing the lives of multitudes of others. How is it all to be accounted for? We must either accept their own account of the marvel, and conclude that it is by the power of Jesus of Nazareth that these men see and walk thus in the presence of us all, or else we must find some other way of accounting for the change wrought in them.
Attempts of this kind have indeed been made, but they do not commend themselves to very serious attention. "Excitement--all excitement!" some have said. But has religious excitement ever been known to last for years consecutively in individual cases? Generally speaking, the duration of a wave of popular excitement upon any subject is to be measured by weeks, or by months at most. But here we have huge audiences gathered continuously, Sunday after Sunday, for years, and men and women devoting themselves to the holding of services said to be of the "most exhausting character," night after night, without intermission. How can any mere excitement account for all this?
A somewhat more reasonable theory is that the Army owes all its successes to a "rigid discipline." But is not this begging the whole question? That the Army maintains and extends its influence largely as the result of military order and system is undoubtedly true; but the question is how men and women, hitherto averse to all religious control, and indeed, control of any kind, are induced to submit themselves without fee or reward to the orders of those who are often in every way their inferiors. Look at that young lad, not out of his teens, commanding a corps in some large city. His every sign is obeyed by men and women old enough to be his grandparents, by tradesmen who were accustomed to manage business affairs before he learned arithmetic (what little he knows of it), by sergeants and soldiers of the Army, who have served years longer than himself in it, and some of whom know more of God and mankind, more of the work and literature of the Army, than he does, Whence all this ready obedience, this systematic labour under such leadership? It is easy to explain all upon "the love of Christ constraineth us" principle, "submitting yourselves one to another in love;" but take that away, and what becomes of the Army's discipline?
The Army's discipline is all the more remarkable when we remember that it is applied amongst all nations alike, and that in the world's three greatest Republics it is carried out as successfully as amongst communities more accustomed to the idea of submission to absolute authority. Moreover, the marvel of general and absolute obedience, rendered without murmuring by persons of all sorts and conditions, scattered all over the world, is all the more striking at a time when any approach to the exercise of authority in connection with religious work is becoming more and more out of the question.
Just consider for a moment what this Army discipline amounts to. Many a thousand times this week, and every week of this hot summer, bodies of men and women are induced, after having toiled all day at their usual employment, to walk a more or less considerable distance from their homes, and place themselves under the leadership of officers who keep them from two to three hours engaged in praying, singing, speaking, marching through the streets, standing in narrow dirty alleys and courts, or sitting on unbacked seats in the close atmosphere of uncomfortable buildings. Yet this only represents the public services of the Army. We give up in despair any attempt to calculate the number of hours spent by scores of thousands of these soldiers in visiting, War Cry selling, and other labours, under the direction of their officers. All this will bear investigation and consideration to any extent; and the more it is considered, the more inevitable will be the conclusion that the Army's strength within and without must arise from a power far superior to anything human. If so, then the Army is everywhere a standing manifestation of the saving power of God, and a standing reproof to the "modern thought" which ignores that power.
The one-minded and one-heartedness of the Army is strikingly exemplified in its newspapers and its prayers. It has 61 publications, issued in 49 different countries and colonies, in 23 different languages. In not one of these can there be found any recognition of the controversies which disturb the Christian world. They represent minds always engaged upon the one subject, lives entirely devoted to the one object--the subjugation of the world to the dominion of Jesus Christ. In prayer this absolute union of heart and mind is even more remarkable. In the course of more than twenty years there have of course arisen frequently within the Army differences and disputings, which could not have been easily brought to an end but for the exercise of a strong central authority; but it is a remarkable fact that these differences have scarcely ever arisen from any variety of opinions, and in only one or two instances from the introduction of any new teaching. I have been very much impressed with the Army's oneness in prayer, during tours in which I had the opportunity to observe closely the action of soldiers of half a dozen different nations in succession. I do not wonder that the Army is reproached with the constant use of a few phrases, repeated over and over again. The accusation is gloriously correct to this extent--that officers and soldiers, to whatever class or nation they may belong, and wherever you may meet them, appear to have their minds so concentrated upon the one great theme, and their whole energies so thoroughly called out for the accomplishment of the one result, that to hear one is to hear all.
Now to what conclusion can one come but that either all this union is produced by one Almighty Spirit working "all in all" according to the Scriptures, making His real followers not only of one spirit but "of one mind," giving them to "see light in His light," producing in every one the same purpose and the same entire subjection to the will of Christ, or else that we are in presence of the most astounding wonder of the age, without having placed before us any means of accounting for its existence.
This becomes all the more evident when we look at the financial system of the Army. To overcome the general indifference to religion and its teachers, it has become common, in our time, to endeavour to induce the poor to attend the ministrations of this or that religious community by the presentation of gifts, or the provision of gratuitous entertainments. The Salvation Army, on the other hand, goes to the people in every service with its collecting boxes, and pays the rental of expensive buildings everywhere by means of the poor man's pence. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are contributed in this way annually, the people not only meeting the cost of the services conducted in their own immediate neighbourhood, but assisting in the extension of the Army's work--all over the world, and showing the greatest readiness to respond to every appeal from new enterprises. There are multitudes of persons whose incomes are between 10s. and 20s. per week, who give to the Army one or two shillings of that amount, besides devoting so much of their time and strength to its operations, as already explained. The 13,500 Officers who have given themselves up entirely to the war, without the guarantee of any salary whatever, merely represent tens of thousands more who would gladly do the same thing, if we were able rapidly enough to arrange for their despatch to every part of the great world-field. We had more than 1,000 such offers in a few weeks of 1887, in England alone. To all these people home and comfort are as enjoyable as to yourself or any one else; yet they glory in the possibility of a whole life of self-denying activity for Christ, and eagerly look forward to the day when, far from home and old friends, their bodies shall be lowered into a Salvation Soldier's grave, amid the tears and prayers of others now revelling in sinful indulgence, but induced by their life, example, and testimony to leave all and follow Christ.
Let no one say in presence of a vast assemblage of facts like this, that it is no longer required of us, or no longer within our power, to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and apostles of the past. Amidst the snows of Lapland, as well as in the Indian jungle, on the outskirts of European occupancy in the far West and the other side of the world, as well as in the midst of crowded European and American cities, men and women are proving every day that the experiences of the Psalms, the very experiences of God's presence and salvation, which in apostolic days made the poor, despised, and persecuted followers of the Messiah the happiest of beings, are now within the reach of all who will equally deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him who became poor in order to make others rich forever.
The Salvation Army deserves and demands the careful and patient study of all who would learn how best to follow God and hasten the coming of His kingdom. The more closely and carefully you examine, the more fully will you be driven to the conclusion--the opinions of the day to the contrary, notwithstanding--that those who truly wish to follow Christ at all costs can do so in this age as well as in previous ones, and will succeed, just as others have done before, in gaining the world's hatred, the smile of God, and the victory which He guarantees to all who trust in and obey Him.
When the late Mrs. Booth penned the foregoing remarks, in 1887, we had some 5,000 officers. We have now, in 1907, more than 15,000. Judge if she took too sanguine a view of our prospects, or if you can possibly put too much confidence in what this book tells you of God's power to make of any who will trust and obey Him a great living force in our days as in the days of old.
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