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Heroes: George Scott Railton

by in Action, Features, Sliding Gallery

HERO: George Scott Railton
Years Fighting: 1868-1913
Hero ID: Soldier Saint
Mission: Total sacrifice to win the war against Satan
Strength: self-sacrifice, superhuman language decoder, passion and conviction, holiness, unwavering loyalty

Ten years old, stricken with cholera, alone at home, and convinced he was going to die, George Scott Railton prayed eagerly for God’s forgiveness. He knew from his parents (missionaries and ministers for the Wesleyan church in Scotland) that life following Jesus meant many sacrifices, caring for the poor, and working to bring God’s light to others. Cholera never killed George, however in 1864 while they were both tenderly nursing cholera patients who couldn’t afford healthcare, George’s parents both died of the disease. This left Railton jobless, penniless, and homeless – harsh realities for a 15 year old.

Luckily, he was no ordinary dude. His older brother (already a minister like his parents) hooked him up with a shipyard job and lodgings in London. While sufficiently paying the bills, George hated the job which frequently forced him to lie regarding goods received and shipped. The dishonesty was hard on his soul and he really just wanted to serve Jesus. One day, to the horror of his older brother, he got himself fired at work, took the 20 pounds he had saved up and boarded a ship headed to Morocco, Africa. Why, you may ask? It was his attempt to convert the whole Muslim country to Christianity of course! He marched all through the arid land with a flag that read REPENTANCE-FAITH-HOLINESS. When all his money was gone and his mission had failed, he was forced to work his way back to England as a ships steward. You gotta give props to the guy, he had guts. This no holds-barred, reckless, disregard for his own well-being and total regard for telling others of God would be the main hallmark of his entire life.

After working various jobs, he heard of The Christian Mission and a preacher named William Booth who was aggressively pursuing London’s scoundrels for Christ. After hitching a ride to London and hearing Booth for himself, he was sold. Booth was in desperate need of an assistant – a secretary/ administrator/ organizer type, which was right up Railton’s alley. He moved in and became the unofficially adopted oldest child of the Booth household (the Booths had 7 children of their own). Every morning, early to rise, George would go to William, work on documents and correspondence and discuss plans for the day. They tirelessly schemed, agreed, disagreed, and mobilized their tiny Christian Mission into an explosive International movement within a decade! George was the main editor and contributor to The War Cry and was the driving force behind the Mission’s transformation into an militaristic ARMY. He was also instrumental in establishing the foundation of the Army’s doctrines, tactics, and principles.

Soon, Booth was mentoring his oldest son Bramwell to take over the number two position in the Army and so Railton was sent on the road. He (along with 7 female officers/pastors) pioneered official TSA work in the United States (coming alongside the unofficial work by the Shirley family in Philadelphia) and won Canada’s first convert when he held an open air in Nova Scotia after missing his ship back to England. He was most known for his extreme self-denial and devotion. He insisted on always traveling in the lowest class and (wearing his Army uniform complete with bright red shirt detailed with a large golden cross) ministering to those he travelled with. He often slept on the floor, never ate for days, had not enough clothes or sufficient lodging to keep him warm. To him, this was nothing less than every soldier and officer should be eager to do for Jesus. While traveling from Corps to Corps (church to church) as a Territorial Commander (geographic leader) he would lead 2 or 3 meetings, a couple open airs and marches, all in one day- often in not the best of health! This kind of work ethic meant the officers he lead held him in great respect, and he inspired the best in those around him.

To the great advantage of the Army, G.S.R had a super-human gift for languages. As a school boy he was taught the basics of Greek and Latin. As a Salvationist he served in Germany, France, Spain, South Africa, West Africa, Russia, Japan, and China (which he ‘invaded’ by himself against the wishes of headquarters). Everywhere he went he could fluently communicate and translated many Songbooks. Who knows how many languages he could speak by the time he died?

George did, somehow, find time for love. He married a Salvation Army sergeant named Marianne Parkyn who came from a very respectable family that was ashamed of her involvement with the Army. They had 2 sons and a daughter. Although Marianne travelled with George to and from South Africa, ministering alongside him, after they had children she stayed home while he went globe-trotting for the Army. His complete devotion to the Army left his family without Father and husband for much of the time.

Throughout the years, the close bond between Railton and the Booths became heavily tested. He disagreed with many of the strategies and activities of the Army and was thus slowly and surely shut out of all the decision-making. This descent from second-in-command in combination with his non-stop work ethic had a bad effect on his health. Numerous times he came within inches of death and, only because of the t.l.c of his wife, did he survive such episodes.

George became especially alarmed when The Salvation Army started their own life insurance company for officers called the Assurance Society in order to raise funds for the rapidly expanding movement. In his mind a good officer had no regard for their own health or well-being, but gave everything they had- including money- for the fight to win souls. He had been known to live on pennies a day and never collected a full Commissioner’s salary. He stood up for his principles and convictions in times when it was very unpopular to do so. At a huge Army event with thousands in attendance Railton stepped up onto the platform dressed in sackcloth (the clothing worn by Biblical prophets and those repenting to God). He took the document describing the Assurance society, criticized it, threw it on the ground and stamped all over it. While he may have well been a prophet, pointing to the very vices that would continue to trip up the Army for years to come, this public display of disagreement and discord caused a rift between Railton and the Booths that never truly healed. The time came when George came close to being asked to leave the Army, but he refused to quit, and continued faithfully pouring himself out to carry out its mission.

Aside from his holiness, devotion to God, and selflessness, this loyalty and faithfulness to a cause which really, in many ways, betrayed and mistreated him, is one of Railton’s most heroic acts to me. In todays world we can so easily harbor bitterness when we have been wronged or maltreated. It is common to give up or give in when the going gets tough and the tide turns against you. And yet this man withheld nothing, stayed true to the end through what to most would be insurmountable obstacles, and gave everything he had to God and the Army without bitterness.

George was helping inspect the Army in Germany one last time when he ran into some old officer friends. Unable to resist their company, he was made late and had to rush to catch his train. After hopping in the train he sat down and died of a heart attack- nothing less than one would expect of him. To me, one of the best indicators of his attitudes, selflessness, and dedication to the Lord and the Army is evidenced in a small piece of paper that was found in his briefcase by police at the time of his death. Written in 3 languages, it stated:

To the police:
G.S. Railton, for years, since 1898, suffered from heart weakness.
Address: 101 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC
If found anywhere dead or unconscious please:
If dead- bury on the spot as quickly and cheaply as possible, reporting as above.
If a church close by will bury, good.
If not, do not trouble, but report.
If found unconscious, get into any hospital. I do not want to burden anyone.
You can rely on The Salvation Army to pay any really needed costs, as of a poor man, no flowers.
101 will report to my dear wife and family; but I do not want any of them to have the cost and misery of coming to bury or nurse me.
My love to everyone. Amen. I am going to heaven. Meet me there.

R-U a part of The Salvation Army? If so, this stuff is in your D.N.A- it’s part of your spiritual tree! Tap into it. Let it speak and breathe life into you. Wake up from your trance. Dust yourself off.

Do yourself a favour. Sit down for a minute. Turn off your cell phone and ipod and reflect for a couple minutes of ‘you’ time to do some soul searching. Answering these questions below will help give you a sense of purpose in your life.

  • What does self-denial and sacrifice mean to you and how can you deny self and sacrifice more for God?
    Most of us don’t mind giving up a coffee a week and giving our change to missions, but we rarely have to confront the kind of selflessness shown by Railton and early SA officers. They came close to starvation and ran themselves ragged ON PURPOSE for Jesus. Most people today would encourage you to make sure you take time for yourself, time to relax, recharge, etc. Railton would have answered that with a passionate “HOGWASH!”
  • Who have you shared Jesus with today?
    There are hundreds of people all around you everyday that have no idea about God’s love – many of them are hurting because of it. You don’t need to march into a foreign country. Pray for some boldness then share your faith with someone who needs to hear it like your sister, a grocery store clerk, that guy asking for your change, someone at school….
  • Have you ever been mistreated, put down, ignored or treated poorly by Christians (even those in your own church)?
    It would be a miracle if you could answer ‘No’ to that one. The Church is a gathering of broken people who are trying to do their best to love God and others, but it’s hard work! We often hurt each other, but the beauty of Christianity is that it’s foundations are GRACE and FORGIVENESS, unlike the world’s bitterness and revenge. Forgive those Church people today and let your bitterness go. The world, Church, and your heart will be better for it.
  • Have you ever been tempted to give up in ministry?
    Railton’s life shows us that it’s possible to be faithful when you really believe in a cause. So many youth pastors and young people are eager to quit when the going gets rough, but nothing that’s worth doing is easy. Buckle down, press in to Jesus, You can do it!!!!

See previous Heroes Episodes:

Frederick Booth-Tucker | Joe The Turk | Donut Girls | Eliza Shirley | Sarah Beaty | James Barker | Abolitionist Trio | Elijah Cadman

Fight against injustice // Fight hard // Fight with love

:: by Heidi Adams of Triton, NL
I’m a Salvation Army youth pastor and enjoy unicycling, playing the ukulele and singing off-key, loving Jesus, making the world a better place, and refusing to grow up. Check out Just Youth.

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