The Life of Smith WigglesworthPosted: June 10, 2011
The year 1859 was a year of revival. Revival began that year in Ireland; revival in Wales and in the United States had already begun. People in these lands were finding renewal in their lives, and a new peace and joy in their hearts. Thousands were reconciled to God. That same year, in a shack in Mengton, Yorkshire, England, Smith Wigglesworth was born. The family was poor: his father was hard-pressed to feed his wife and four children. Smith went to work at age six, pulling turnips. At age seven, he, his father, and his older brother gained employment at the local mill, working twelve long hours each day.
No one in his immediate family was Christian, but Smith seemed to have an instinctive longing for God from an early age. His grandmother, a Wesleyan Methodist, took him to meetings with her. One Sunday morning, when he was eight years old, he felt in himself an inexplicable knowledge of spiritual rebirth.
Smith’s revelation of his salvation gave him great joy, as it did to his dying day. As a teenager, he was always eager to share this joy with other boys—even though, unpolished and perhaps not too tactful, he was often rebuffed. When he was sixteen, the Salvation Army came to Bradford, where his family had moved. He was inspired to spend many hours fasting and praying for the salvation of souls. He began to join the Army in their efforts, though he never became a member. They often gathered to pray throughout the night. Each week they would claim in faith fifty or more souls—and they would get them.
When he was twenty, he moved to Liverpool. He began to minister to street children, gathering them together for meetings, and hundreds were saved. He spent all his income on food for the poor in hospitals and on the docks, and spent long hours in prayer. His heart was very tender toward the people, and would often weep before them.
Smith was led back to Bradford, where he ventured upon his own plumbing business. At a Salvation Army meeting in an old theater, his attention was attracted to a lovely young girl receiving salvation at the altar. She was Polly Featherstone, seventeen years old, the daughter of a Methodist temperance lecturer. He felt drawn to her immediately, and they became good friends. Polly experienced great spiritual growth, and was soon introduce the General Booth himself, who made her an officer in the Army. She was an exuberant speaker, and had a lovely singing voice.
Smith fell deeply in love with Polly. When he was twenty-three and she was twenty-two, they were married. He always was to hold her in the highest respect, and gave much credit to her: “All that I am today I owe, under God, to my precious wife.”1 A talented speaker, she developed a fine ministry, changing her association to a group called the Blue Ribbon Army. Smith, content to give himself to prayer and altar work, left the preaching to Polly.
A severe winter storm hit Bradford, causing much damage to plumbing, and Smith became very busy with his work. His prayer life and meeting attendance dropped off, and his heart grew cold toward the Lord. He began to be wrapped up in his own prosperity, and even bitter against Polly’s unbending spirituality. One night she came home exceptionally late from a meeting. Smith, perturbed, spouted, “I am master of this house, and I am not going to have you coming home at so late an hour as this!”2 When Polly asserted that Christ was her master, he put her out the back door and locked it. Polly marched around the house and into the front door, which he had neglected to lock. She entered the house laughing, so much so that soon Smith was laughing, too. Her graciousness and perseverance soon won him back to the Lord.
Smith had to go to Leeds once a week to pick up supplies for his plumbing business. He found out that there were divine healing meetings there and began to attend when he could. Since divine healing was considered fanaticism in those days, he did not tell Polly for a long time, unsure of how she would react. She found out on her own, and decided to accompany him to a meeting, since she herself had an infirmity. She was healed, and both the Wigglesworths became enthusiastic proponents of the healing ministry.
Later, Polly confronted her husband on his continued use of medicine. He had been afflicted with a severe case of hemorrhoids since childhood, and would bleed profusely and suffer much pain without the “salts” he took each day. He was moved to believe for his healing, and he discontinued his medication. When the “moment of truth” came, his bowels worked perfectly. He was never troubled again.
Smith remained zealous for the winning of souls. He tried each day to win at least one soul to the Lord. Often he would stand on a street corner, asking the Lord to point out someone he could talk to. In his business, he would witness to homeowners and servants alike as he worked in their homes.
He continued to attend the meetings in Leeds, and took many sick and needy people with him to be healed. One day the people who held the meeting asked Smith to take over while they attended a convention. He knew he would have to speak and minister to the sick, neither of which he had done before, but he could not refuse. He preached as best he could, and a number of people came forward to the healed. The first was a man who needed crutches to walk. Smith laid his hands on him and prayed simply, setting his reliance upon God. No one was more surprised than he when the man dropped his scratches and began to walk! From then on, Wigglesworth had an excellent healing ministry.
He was asked by a man to go to his home to pray for his wife, who was dying. He took a bottle of oil, to anoint her. Being a beginner, he poured the whole bottle over her at once. As he prayed he opened his eyes to see a vision of Jesus standing at the foot of the bed, with a smile of compassion on his face. The woman was healed, and that image of Jesus never left Smith’s mind.
One Sunday, while preaching, Smith was struck down with excruciating abdominal pain. Some men took him home, and the doctor was summoned. The doctor told the family that there was no hope, that he was too far gone, suffering from an extreme case of appendicitis. When he left, an elderly lady and the young man, both strangers, came in. The young man laid his hands on him and rebuked the devil, and Smith was instantly healed.
The Wigglesworths heard that people were being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in other tongues in Sunderland. Most Christians in those days were insistent, as many are today, that they were filled with the Holy Spirit when they were saved, or during some outstanding spiritual experience. They believed that they had all that God had to give, and that tongues were of the devil. Nevertheless, Smith was determined to find out for himself, so he went.
Smith was disappointed by the meetings there. The people sat quietly, waiting in prayer. He would speak up and challenge them, for he was not hearing the “tongues” he wanted to hear. The people would ask him to be quiet, that he was disturbing their meetings. Smith began to feel very hungry for more of God. He spent days there, but did not get what he was looking for. On the morning he had to leave, he asked for hands to be laid on him one more time. At last he received the Baptism, speaking in tongues and having a vision of the Lord Jesus.
Polly was skeptical. She also believed of that she had already received the baptism. But the next time Smith stood up to preach, she was amazed at the new power of his message, and was convinced that it was real.
Smith’s ministry became renowned. He was in demand to preach, and was always being asked to minister to the sick and dying. In time, his ministry spread to Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Palestine, Switzerland, and the United States. Thousands were healed at single meetings. Demons were cast out, and the dead were raised. But more importantly, many thousands of people came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus through his ministry.
1. Stanley Howard Frodsham, p. 17.
2. Frodsham, p. 22.
Frodsham, Stanley Howard. Smith Wigglesworth: Apostle of Faith. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1948.
Wigglesworth, Smith. Ever Increasing Faith. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1938.
Wigglesworth, Smith. Faith That Prevails. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1938.
©2011 Paul A. Hughes. Originally submitted to Dr. Andrew McDearmid, in partial fulfillment of the course requirements for Missions 112, Southwestern Assemblies of God University, April 10, 1983.