June 8, 1859 - March 12, 1947
“I saw that God wants us so badly that He has made the condition as simple as He possibly could—“Only Believe.”
To Wigglesworth, simple obedience to what one believed was not and extraordinary feat, as it is for most other believers. It was as simple as the fruit of his belief system. His own faith was said to be unflinching and sometimes ruthless. However, regardless of the tactics used, Smith was known to possess an unusual teaching anointing and keen sense of compassion-the fruit of which produced countless salvations and miracles in his ministry every day. The power of Jesus was so great on Smith’s ministry that raising the dead and healings was only one facet of Smith’s service. The great apostle of faith walked in such astounding measures of Gods anointing that the miraculous following of his ministry was only secondary to it. In his lifetime, this onetime plumber would give new meaning to the word adventure. Adventure’s single requirement-“Only Believe”. Because of this man’s great faith and fruit, we are honored to call him one of God’s great generals.
History: 1859 was a historic year in the body of Christ. The third great awakening had been going on for two years in America, and some of the main men of God at that time had distanced themselves from organized religion and forming churches, praying for revival. This was also the year that one of Gods greatest generals would be born as well. Smith Wigglesworth was born June 8, 1859 to John and Martha Wigglesworth in Menston, Yorkshire England. Smiths father was very poor and worked long hours for little pay in order to support his mother as well as three boys and one girl. There were times when his father needed that money for food, for there was none in the house. Regardless of circumstances however they always seem to make it through. At six years of age, Smith got to help his parents and work in the field, pulling and cleaning turnips, and he recalls how sore hid tiny hands became pulling turnips from morning until night. At seven years of age, Smith and his older brother went to work in a Woolen mill. His father obtained employment in the same mill as a weaver. Things were easier in there house from that time on, and food became more plentiful, but things still were not perfect.
Smith remembers his mother being very industrious with her needle and how she made all children’s clothes, chiefly from old garments that had been given to her. Smith himself usually wore an overcoat with sleeves three or four inches too long, which was very comfortable in cold weather. Smith recalls those long winter nights and mornings, having to get out of bed at five o’clock to snatch a quick meal and then walk two miles to be at work by six. As a child Smith had to work twelve hours each day, and he often said to his father, “It’s a long time from six until six in the mill.” He can remember the tears in his eyes as he said: “Well, six o’clock will always come.” Sometimes it seemed like a month coming. Despite all the hardships of life Smith was born into, Smith could never recollect a time when he did not long for God. Even though neither father nor his mother knew God, Smith was always seeking Him. Smith would often kneel down in the field, and ask Him to help him. He would ask Him especially to enable him to find where the birds’ nests were, and after he had prayed he seemed to have an instinct to know exactly where to look. Despite any situation, because of his relationship with the Lord, Smith knew no fear, and always sensed that he was being shielded by the power of God.
Smith’s grandmother was a huge influence on his spiritual life. She was an old-time Wesleyan Methodist and would take him to most of the meetings she attended. When Smith was eight years of age there was a revival meeting held in her church. He can remember one Sunday morning at seven o’clock when all those simple folks were dancing around a big stove in the center of the church, clapping their hands and singing. As Smith clapped his hands and sang with them, a clear knowledge of the New Birth came into his soul. He looked to the Lamb of Calvary. Smith believed that Jesus loved him and had died for him. Life came in... eternal life. He knew that he had received a new life which had come from God. He was born-again. He saw that God wanted us so badly that He made the condition as simple as He possibly could— “Only believe.” That experience was real and he never doubted his salvation since that day.
After Smiths salvation, he delighted in going to meetings, especially those in which everyone was giving a testimony. Smith would arise to give his, but would have no language to convey what he felt in the depths of his soul. Invariably Smith would burst out crying. One memorable day three old men, whom he knew very intimately, came across to where he was weeping, unable to speak. They laid their hands on him, and The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in a mighty way. Smith was instantly set free from the bondage plagued him. Smith was so ecstatic, Not only could he believed what happened, but he could also speak as well. From the time of Smiths conversion he became a soul-winner for Jesus, and the first person Smith won for Christ was his own mother.
Soon he began operating as the evangelist, which would be most of his life’s focus. Because Smith’s first convert was his own mother, his father realized what had happened, and started taking the family to an Episcopal church. Although his father was never born again, he enjoyed the parson, who just happened to frequent the same pub as he did, and remained a faithful church-goer through Smith’s youth.
When he was thirteen, his family moved from Menston to Bradford, where Smith became deeply involved with the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Even though he couldn’t read, it was at this time that Smith began the habit of always having a copy of the New Testament with him wherever he went. Then in 1875 when Smith was about sixteen, the Salvation Army opened a mission in Bradford, and Smith found a powerful ally in his desire to see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In the meetings he attended with the Salvationists, he soon learned there was great power behind prayer and fasting.
At seventeen, Smith met a Godly man at a mill who took him in as an apprentice and taught him the plumbing trade. He also told Smith about what the Bible taught on water baptism, and soon afterwards Smith gladly obeyed and was baptized in water. During this time, he also learned more about the second coming of Christ and strongly believed that Jesus would come at the turn of the century. This made him ever more vigilant to “change the course” of everyone he met. In 1877 at the age of nearly eighteen, Smith decided it was time to set out on his own. He went to the home of a plumber and asked for a job. When the plumber told him he had no need for any help, Smith thanked him, apologized for using his time, and turned to walk away. Immediately, the man called him back. He said, “There is something about you that is different. I just cannot let you go.” At that, the man hired him on the spot.
By the time Smith was about twenty, the man he worked for could not keep him busy anymore—he just worked too efficiently! So Smith moved to Liverpool to find more work. There he began to minister to the children of the city. Ragged and hungry children came to the dock shed, where he preached the Gospel to them and did his best to feed and clothe them from what he made as a plumber in the area. He also visited the hospitals and ships, praying and fasting all day on Sunday, asking God for converts. As a result, he never saw fewer than fifty people saved each time he ministered. He was also frequently invited by the Salvation Army to speak at their meetings, but though he saw great results, he was never eloquent. He often broke down and cried before the people because of his burden for souls, and it was this brokenness that brought people to the altar by the hundreds.
It was also around this time that Smith watched with great interest as a young, socially affluent woman came forward in one of the Salvation Army meetings and fell to her knees. She refused to pray with any of the workers until the speaker known as “Gypsy” Tillie Smith came and prayed with her. When they were done, the young woman jumped to her feet, threw her gloves in the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah! It is done!” The next night as she gave her testimony, Smith felt as if she belonged to him. As Smith later said, “It seemed as if the inspiration of God was upon her from the very first.”‡ The young woman’s name was Mary Jane Featherstone, but everyone called her “Polly.” She eventually received a commission as an officer in the Salvation Army from General William Booth. Smith did what he could to work near her, and in the coming years a romance bloomed between them.
As Smith and Polly grew closer, Polly eventually faced the difficult decision of choosing either to continue with the Salvation Army or her love for Smith. Even though Smith never officially joined the Salvation Army, he was considered a private in their ranks, and Polly was an officer. There were strict regulations against officers and lower ranks having romantic relationships, so even though they always remained true friends of the Salvationists, Polly retired from their ranks and took up mission work with the Blue Ribbon Army. Those in her Methodist church also recognized her calling and asked her to help evangelize their churches. Hundreds were converted as a result.
Ministry and Impact: Smith’s ministry really became sound when Smiths wife and partner Polly came into his life. Polly had from the beginning the eloquence Smith longed for but couldn’t learn. Smith and Polly had a burden for a part of Bradford that had no church, so they soon opened the Bradford Street Mission and began ministering together. Polly did most of the speaking, because she was the stronger and more accomplished of the two as an orator, and Smith oversaw the needs of the rest of the work. While she preached, he was at the altar praying for more to come to Christ. Of this relationship, Smith later said, “Her work was to put down the net; mine was to land the fish. This latter is just as important as the former.” The winter of 1884 was very severe in Bradford, and plumbers were in high demand. As a result, a time of intense work began for Smith that would last for the next two years, and he became literally consumed by his natural occupation. His church attendance declined and slowly but surely his fire for God began to grow cold. In the light of Polly’s increasing faithfulness, Smith’s backsliding seemed all the more pronounced to the point that her diligence began to wear on him.
Then one night, this came to a head when she came home from church a little later than usual. Smith confronted her: “I am master of this house, and I am not going to have you coming home at so late an hour as this!” Polly quietly replied, “I know that you are my husband, but Christ is my Master.” At this, Smith forced her out the back door, then closed and locked it. However, in his annoyance, he had forgotten to lock the front door, so Polly simply walked around the house and came in through the main entrance, laughing. When Smith finally saw what he had done, he caught her laughter and realized how silly he had been. Together they laughed about the matter, but to Smith it was also a revelation of how cold he had grown in the things of God. Shortly afterward, he spent ten days praying and fasting in repentance, and God gloriously restored him.
On a trip to Leeds for plumbing supplies, Smith heard of a meeting where divine healing was to be ministered. He attended and was amazed at what he saw. What others saw as fanaticism, Smith recognized as sincere and of God. On his return to Bradford, he would search out the sick and pay for their way to attend the Leeds healing meetings. When his wife grew ill once, he told her about the meetings, somewhat afraid that she would think he had finally gone off the deep end. Instead, she accepted it and agreed to go to the meetings with him. When the prayer of faith was offered for her in Leeds, she received an instant manifestation of healing. They both became passionate about the message of divine healing and their meetings began to grow, causing them to need a larger mission space.
Soon they obtained a building on Bowland Street and opened the Bowland Street Mission. Across the wall behind the pulpit they hung a large scroll which read: “I Am the Lord That Healeth Thee.” Not many years after this, in the first years of the 1900s, Smith received prayer for healing a hemorrhoid condition he had battled since childhood. He was soon fully healed and never had a problem with this condition for the rest of his life. Over the years that followed, the healing available through God increasingly became a part of Smith’s sermons and ministry, though healings were not frequent nor truly spectacular at first. Then those in the Leeds Healing Home recognized Smith’s faith and asked him to speak while they were away at a convention. Smith accepted only because he felt he could get someone else to do it once he was in charge of the meeting, but all others refused, insisting they felt God wanted him to speak. Smith ministered his sermon hesitantly, but at the close of the service fifteen people came forward for prayer, and all of them were healed! One of them had hobbled forward on crutches and began dancing around the room without them after Smith prayed for him. He had been instantly healed! No one was more surprised by the results of his prayers than Smith himself.
In 1907, Pentecost had reached Sunderland, and Smith heard that people there were being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in other tongues. Smith wanted the same gift, and on the last day of a trip to Sunderland, he received it. The moment the Vicar’s wife agreed to lay hands on him praying a simple but powerful prayer, the fire of haven fell, and Smith had a vision of the empty cross with Jesus exalted at the right hand of the Father. Smith opened his mouth to praise God and began instantly speaking in tongues. He knew immediately that what he had received of God now was much fuller than what he had received when praying and fasting and asking God to sanctify him.
Being so excited Smith went to the church where Vicar Boddy was conducting the service and asked to speak. Vicar Boddy agreed. Smith then spoke as he never had before, and at the end of his “sermon” fifty people were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues. Even the local paper, the Sunderland Daily Echo, picked up the story and headlined the meeting and what Smith had experienced. Smith’s fame in England grew, and in 1914 he began traveling abroad to minister. By the 1920s and 1930s there was no more sought-after speaker in Pentecostalism. Although he never accepted the cloak, his acknowledgement as the “Apostle of Faith” made the Pentecostal world look to him as one of its greatest patriarchs, even though he had never been involved in any of the revivals that started the movement. Miracles, healings, the dead being raised, and other signs and wonders followed his ministry as he continued in the uncompromising and blunt style that no one could ever emulate.
Truth be told, Smith just never seemed to feel the need to be polite when chasing out sickness, disease, and other works of the devil. His sentiment was also that if the Spirit were not moving, then he would move the Spirit. This was not arrogance, but confidence in the work God wanted done on the earth. Smith would create an atmosphere of uncompromising faith in the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit would never fail to show up. In 1922 Smith traveled to New Zealand and Australia, among other places, and in a few short months saw thousands saved and several Pentecostal churches birthed in the greatest spiritual renewals either nation had ever seen. In 1936 he traveled to South Africa and delivered to David du Plessis a profound prophecy of the upcoming revival of the Charismatic Renewal that would not even start until after Wigglesworth’s death. By this time Smith was in his seventies and probably the most well-known Pentecostal in the world.
Then on March 12, 1947, while attending the funeral of a fellow minister, Smith bowed his head in the midst of a conversation and went home to be with the Lord without any pain or struggle at the age of 87. While Smith would never form his own denomination or write a book, let alone a systematic set of doctrines and theology, his simple faith still impacts believers today. His relationship with God produced power that had not been seen on the earth for many centuries. For this reason, God also showed him things that others only dreamed of seeing. He never wanted to be put on a pedestal and worshipped, but be instead, an example of what every Christian can experience if they would “only believe.”
Family Life: Smith had such a unique experience as a family man, in the fact that Polly and Smith were not just husband and wife, or just parents. They were partners in every aspect of the word. They truly were one with one another, despite certain discrepancies in the flesh. In 1882, Smith returned to Bradford, he and Polly wed. Polly was twenty-two years old and Smith was twenty-three. In their thirty years of marriage, the Wigglesworth’s had five children: Alice, Seth, Harold, Ernest, and George. Before each child was born, Smith and Polly prayed over them that they would faithfully serve God throughout their lives. The blessing of the Lord remains on their family to this day.