Go for the Worst

“I am still going for the most lost”

It has been said of Wilson Carlile that “his was the deep philosophy of a mind in touch with God”, but no-one starts out that way. In fact, Wilson Carlile learned, through some pivotal lessons, how to lean further into God, how to focus his gaze more fully on Him and how to be so Kingdom-focused that he never stopped trying to win people for Christ throughout his life.

The room silenced as Wilson took the platform. Hundreds of people filled the seats; ordinary Christian women and men as well as Bishops and prominent lay people gathered into the Albert Hall in 1937 for the Moody Centenary Meeting to celebrate the birth of Dwight L. Moody, the world-famous evangelist. Wilson Carlile was the only one there who had met Moody and the congregation were eager to hear his message.

His first words received a great ovation, “I am ninety”. He had already been to a large gathering in Brighton that day and arrived on a late train in London. He only had the energy to talk for half an hour but for those 30 minutes he held the audience at the Albert Hall spellbound. Sixty-two years later, a Church Army Captain recalled one of the stories Wilson Carlile told that day of his meetings with D. L. Moody:

“Moody was conducting a mission in the Agricultural Hall, Islington, and Mr. Carlile was among the helpers. Just before one of the meetings the large hall was filled to overflowing. Moody came in and said to him, “are all the seats taken?” The reply was, “there is no room left for another person” whereupon Moody spied two empty seats on the platform and asked why these were vacant. He was told they were reserved for two important members of the Committee. To this Moody said, “Carlile, you are not a lover of souls. Go out and find the worst men you can to occupy these seats”. The Chief (an affectionate title bestowed on him by members of CA) told how that incident had given him a burning passion for the ‘worst’ and in his characteristic way he said, “I am still going for the most lost.” He brought his message to a close by appealing to the audience to be bold in their witness for Jesus. He invited all those who could honestly do so to stand with him and swear afresh for Christ, saying the words, ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’* The sight of 10,000 people rising in their seats repeating together this pledge was a never to-be forgotten experience.”

After that Moody mission, Wilson gave all his free time for the next few years to evangelistic work. Then the call came clearly to give his whole time to this kind of service. This was just one of many moments in the life of young Wilson Carlile, which added more fuel to the fire of his desperate passion to see people come to know Jesus. One of these moments came during a time of intense persecution and resistance to his efforts to share the love of Christ in some of London’s most dangerous slums.

Handbill by Wilson Carlile

“Every night at 8 o’clock and Sunday at 3 and 7, the Church Army declaration of war on Sin and Satan, under the command of the Rev. W. Carlile. Come if you dare!”

January 1883.

Wilson Carlile resigned his curacy and devoted his time to taking slum missions. In 1882 the Church Army was officially launched in the slums of Westminster. This is where he met the first of CA’s strongest opposition. Each of the street processions, which preceded the meetings, produced crowds. Many were hostile. But some were seeking the truth and a new life in Christ. As those involved in gangs gave their lives to Jesus and chose to walk away from criminal activity, other gang members became increasingly angry. A skeleton army formed, made up of gangs and those involved in criminal activity in Westminster. They would throw bags of flour, hot ashes, eggs, door mats, and more at Wilson Carlile, other Church Army leaders and their friends. “Better outside than in!” He would joke, even in one instance when someone threw half a cat at his head.

Church Army welcomed persecution joyously as it only increased the interest in their message of hope. Carlile often remarked, “Thank God for persecution, it is a healthy sign.” In the last few years of his life he said, “I fear the Church Army is getting too respectable.”

“I was thrown on my back to look up”

As he usually did in these moments, Wilson Carlile did not waste those opportunities sent by God to refine him and fix his gaze more intently on Jesus: “I was thrown on my back to look up,” he said. More than once in his life this proved true.

The incident not only had a significant impact on Wilson Carlile’s life but also on the life of his attacker. The man who nearly killed him was sent to prison, despite efforts to clear him of the charges. But God’s love won another victory and from the prison, Wilson received a letter from the man asking for his forgiveness and signed “your loving friend”.

Wilson Carlile found that the more he loved, the deeper he had to go to meet people on their own level. He often said, “Socially I entered into Hell.” But it was in the depths that seemed almost to engulf him that he obeyed his call from God: “Go for the worst.”

These stories have been adapted from the book Yours in the Fight by Marie Carlile. Hale,1945