William Booth (1829 – 1912) was the founder and first General (1878-1912) of The Salvation Army.
In 1865, Booth and his wife Catherine opened The Christian Revival Society in the East End of London, where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays, to offer repentance and salvation to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes.
He and his followers practised what they preached. They performed self-sacrificing Christian and social work, such as opening “Food for the Million” shops (soup kitchens), not caring if they were scoffed at or derided for their Christian ministry work.
In 1878 the name of the organization was changed to The Salvation Army, with its own flag and its own music, often with Christian words to popular tunes sung in the pubs. He and the other soldiers in God’s Army would wear the Army’s own uniform, ‘putting on the armour’, for meetings and ministry work. He became the General and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as officers.
In his later years, he was received in audience by kings, emperors and presidents, who were among his ardent admirers.
The book speaks of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor can be trained in agriculture, training centres for prospective emigrants, homes for fallen women and released prisoners, aid for the poor, and help for alcoholics. He also lays down schemes for poor men’s lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort. He says that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it will be the task of each Christian to step into the breach.
“The following Letters were, in the first instance, addressed to weekly meetings of Salvation Soldiers… They do not, of course, profess to treat this great subject with anything like completeness, nor do I make any claim for them to literary elegance or power; and yet, if they are used at all, they must go as they are, for I have no opportunity to properly revise them.” — William Booth