Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Boreham on the Salvation Army

What's the Point of the Church?
I was born at Tunbridge Wells in Kent. As I sat in the old church on Mount Ephraim, sometimes following the Liturgy, sometimes listening to the sermon, and sometimes dreaming of very different things, one problem perpetually assailed me.

I cherished for the Church and all its teachings a veneration that almost amounted to awe; yet one thing puzzled me: I could see no utility in it all. I used to wonder what end was served by it. It seemed so hopelessly remote from real life and from the pleasures and pursuits of the week.

I failed to detect any practical purpose in this aspect of things. I thought my father the very personification of everything that was upright, everything that was chivalrous, everything that was noble, unselfish and true; but it never occurred to me that there was any connexion between his inflexible integrity on the one hand and his attachment to the sanctuary on the other.

Trio of Experiences
I thought my mother the sweetest and most queenly woman of whom I had ever heard or read; but I never once imagined that her affection for these sacred and awful mysteries accounted in any measure for her charm. But, after a while, three things happened, and those three things threw a new light upon everything.

My father and mother passed through a profound and poignant spiritual experience that had its repercussions in my own soul: that was the first. I heard Mr. Moody preach to an enormous gathering in the open air: that was the second. And the Salvation Army—then a sensational novelty—came to our town: that was the third.

Surprised by Religion
The uniforms—especially of the women—greatly intrigued me. It happened that several men whom I had met in ordinary life figured among the Army's earliest converts in the town; and I was electrified when I beheld them figuring in this new role. As, hovering on the fringe of the crowd at their open-air gatherings on the Tunbridge Wells Common, I listened to the testimonies of these men, I tremendously admired their courage. Religion seemed bent upon surprising me: I had never dreamed that it might assume such a form as this.

I made my way to those intriguing meetings on the Common every Sunday afternoon. And when, shortly afterwards, the Skeleton Army appeared, the whole thing seemed to throb with sensation. I several times witnessed the clash of the two armies; heard the members of the Skeleton Army drown with their ribald songs and senseless shouts the voices of the Salvationists; and more than once gazed upon scenes of actual violence.

When I saw those, of both sexes, whose appeals had so affected me, bleeding from wounds inflicted by fists or sticks or stones, my whole soul was stirred within me. I realized that religion—the religion that had seemed to me unpractical—meant so much to these men and women that, for its sake, they were ready to bear any shame, endure any suffering, or die any death.

Prophetic Stance
A few years later, when the municipal authorities at Eastbourne took it into their heads that street-corner evangelism and preaching on the sands were inconsistent with the decorum of a fashionable seaside resort, and passed a by-law prohibiting open-air meetings in the town, General Booth sent his Salvationists in their thousands to the lovely Sussex watering-place with instructions to hold open-air meetings everywhere. The Sussex gaols were soon crowded to suffocation with prisoners in Army uniform, whilst the warders were half-deafened by the rollicking Army choruses. The authorities were at their wits' ends. Moved by a sympathy born of my boyish experiences at Tunbridge Wells, I hurried down to Eastbourne as soon as I could escape from the office in which I was employed in London, and spent with the Eastbourne Salvationists one of the most exciting week-ends of my life. The obnoxious by-law was, of course, shattered to smithereens.

Courageous Confession
At about this time the Salvation Army made upon my mind an impression of a very different kind. The town of Tunbridge Wells, which prided itself on its immaculate respectability, was shocked by a horrible and dastardly murder. The manager of a local saw mills had been done to death among his own stacks of timber. The hideous crime was, of course, the talk of the town. But the perpetrators had left no clue, and, in course of time, the sordid affair faded from the public consciousness.

Then, like a bolt from the blue, the Captain of the Salvation Army announced that two young fellows of about seventeen or eighteen had attended a service at his Barracks, had made a profession of conversion and had authorized him to report to the police that they were responsible for the murder at the saw mills.

They were arrested, tried, convicted and hanged. In their last moments they testified to the joyous reality of the gracious experience that had come to them at the penitent form. And I remember feeling that the religious impressions that could lead to so courageous a confession and to so dreadful a death must be of a particularly powerful and penetrating kind.

Enjoyable Fellowship
Since those days I have myself spent sixty years preaching the everlasting gospel; and, in every part of the world, I have enjoyed the most beautiful fellowship with officers and members of the Salvation Army.

And in all my travels I was seldom more deeply moved than when Mrs. General Carpenter told me that Commissioner T. Henry Howard, old General Booth's right-hand man during the early campaigns of the Army, died clasping my own Bunch of Everlasti ngs.

Salvo Stories
May I, whilst in this vein, pay a grateful tribute to the value of the Army literature? I love the choice little biographies in The Warrior's Library, lives of men like Jean Oberlin, George Fox, Peter Cartwright, Francis of Assisi and the rest. It was with immense enjoyment, and to my permanent enrichment, that I first read the biographies of the great Salvationists—Catherine Booth, William Booth, Commissioner Howard, Staff Captain Kate Lee, and the rest. The stately records of these flaming spirits are beautifully written.

Harold Begbie, Commissioner Booth-Tucker, Mrs. General Carpenter, and others have produced works that deserve to be treasured as part of the Church's choicest board. The story that they tell—the story of the rise and progress of the Salvation Army, and the story of the deathless spirits that served and suffered under its flag—is full of pathos, full of heroism, full of true chivalry, full of consecrated nobleness. More recently I have studied with great enjoyment and profit The Father of Salvation Army Music, Campaigning in Captivity, and other of the works of Lieut. Colonel Arch. R. Wiggins. They are all very moving.

Consuming Passion
As one lays aside these inspiring volumes, it stands out crystal clear that the pioneers and pathfinders of the Salvation Army not only displayed in their own persons a consuming passion for the souls of people, but that, to the incalculable gain of the world at large, they infused that sacred intensity into the experience of all the Churches.

F W Boreham, ‘The Salvation Army’, Arrows of Desire (London: The Epworth Press, 1951), 130-133.

Image: Salvoes on the Street