Leaving a legacy: the cloud of witnesses

Henry “Butcher” Varley, the British revivalist, gave a charge that gripped D.L. Moody’s heart. Moody recalled Varley saying, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” Moody replied, “By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”

As students of the Bible and followers of Jesus Christ, consider the legacy we have inherited. Believers throughout history, who pressed to make their Lord Jesus known, have entrusted it to us: witnesses like Moody, Varley, Torrey, Noah, King David, Mary, Lazarus, Peter, Paul, and John.

This great cloud of witnesses spurs us on (Heb. 12:1). Their histories bear continual witness to the Gospel of Jesus. Their testimonies exemplify surrender of self to the declaration and demonstration of His full Gospel. The great cloud calls to us, urging us to walk in their footsteps, follow their examples, and build on their foundation.

“Imitate us as we imitate Christ!” their lives beckon. Someday soon, those serving the Lord Jesus will join that cloud of witnesses. Their legacy urges, “As the Lord tarries, call future generations to Gospel-centered lives through your faithfulness today!”

Moody heard that call from his friend Varley. In 1873, Moody asked Varley to repeat his words that had spoken so powerfully to him just a year earlier. Varley looked at him blankly. He did not recall uttering any such charge.

 

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” ~Henry “Butcher” Varley

“By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” ~D.L. Moody

According to Paul Gericke’s Crucial Experiences in the Life of D.L. Moody, Moody responded to Varley, “Ah, those were the words sent to my soul, through you, from the Living God. As I crossed the wide Atlantic, the boards of the deck of the vessel were engraved with them, and when I reached Chicago, the very paving stones seemed marked with [them]. Under the power of those words I have come back to England, and I felt that I must not let more time pass until I let you know how God had used your words to my inmost soul.”


What are you preparing for those who will come behind you? Like sewing squares into a patchwork quilt, you can choose each day to add beauty to your legacy. What are you forging that you plan to pass on?

When believers stand before Jesus, our works will be tested by fire. Only treasures stored up in Heaven, the precious metal and gems of work done for Christ, will endure (Mt. 6:19-21; 1 Cor. 3:13-15).

Leonard Ravenhill advised an evangelist, “Make sure when you die that you aren’t standing knee deep in ashes.”

As we proclaim the Gospel and run this race with perseverance, the ripple effect of our legacy may touch nations. Our calling is to bear witness by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). As we faithfully serve, we remain unaware of the full extent of our legacy until we arrive in glory.

Wigglesworth calls thousands to “only believe.”

Smith Wigglesworth has been called an apostle of faith.

He reportedly won thousands to Jesus, saw multitudes healed, raised 14 from the dead, and planted several Pentecostal churches across five continents. He began as an illiterate plumber turned street preacher.
 
Wigglesworth was born in 1859 in a shack in Menston, a small village in Yorkshire, England. At age seven, Wigglesworth, his older brother, and his father were hired at a textile factory. Finally, food ceased to be scarce.
 
Though neither of his parents were people of faith, Wigglesworth explained to biographer Stanley Frodsham, “I can never recollect a time when I did not long for God.” At eight, Wigglesworth joined his grandmother at a revival meeting. He recalled, “As I clapped my hands and sang,…I looked to the Lamb of Calvary. I believed that He loved me and had died for me. Life came in—eternal life—and I knew that I…was born again.” Wigglesworth explained, he immediately became a “soul-winner,” first winning his own mother to Christ.
 
At nine, Wigglesworth began full-time work in a mill. He felt he was “robbed of an education.” Like his mother, Wigglesworth had great difficulty expressing himself. Until three old men, family friends, laid hands on him. He remembered, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and I was instantly set free from my bondage. I not only believed, but I could also speak.”
 
When Wigglesworth joined the Salvation Army at 16, he was delighted by their passion. Wigglesworth learned to fast and pray for the salvation of lost souls. He said, “Every week we saw scores of sinners yielding their hearts to Christ.”
 
 
“The Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and I was instantly set free from my bondage. I not only believed, but I could also speak.” ~Smith Wigglesworth
 
A fellow believer at the mill taught Wigglesworth Bible doctrine and plumbing. At 18, Wigglesworth began work as a plumber, giving all his earnings to feed children that gathered to hear him preach. Wigglesworth opened his own plumbing business at age 23 and met a woman, he called “the best girl in the world!”
 
Mary Jane Featherstone, called Polly, was born again at a Salvation Army open-air meeting. Wigglesworth was in the audience and noticed her at the altar. General William Booth invited Polly to join the Salvation Army as an open-air preacher and singer. She was fearless and eloquent, and Wigglesworth was attracted.
 
When Polly and Smith were married in 1882, she began teaching her husband to read and write. Polly would preach, while Smith counseled sinners at the altar. He said of his wife, “She was a great soul-winner.” Smith continued plumbing and brought their five children to meetings. When Smith was called upon to preach, he would often break down into sobs for the lost. Another preacher would step in to finish his message.
 
During a trip for supplies from Leeds, Smith attended a divine healing meeting. He then started paying for the sick in his hometown, Bowland, to travel to Leeds. When Polly grew ill, he brought her, unsure of how she would respond. Polly received prayer and was instantly healed. Both Wigglesworths recognized this as a true movement of the Holy Spirit and founded the Bowland Street Mission. Polly and Smith began teaching about Christ’s healing power and saw several healed.
 
In 1907, Smith heard that believers in Sutherland were reportedly receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues like on Pentecost. Smith and Polly were among those who believed true Christians had already received Spirit baptism.  Because Smith desired to speak in tongues though, he traveled to Sutherland. He was so disappointed, he interrupted the meeting, saying, “I do not understand why our meetings seem to be on fire, but yours do not seem to be so.”
 
Before leaving, Smith received prayer from the vicar’s wife. He saw a vision of Christ at the Father’s right hand. He opened his mouth to praise and spoke in new tongues. Smith preached that evening like never before. Afterward, 50 were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. The local paper, the Sunderland Daily Echo, headlined a story of Smith’s experience.
 
When Smith returned home, Polly greeted him, saying, “I want you to know that I am just as baptized in the Holy Spirit as you are, and I don’t speak in tongues.” That Sunday, Smith preached. Polly decided she would test the legitimacy of her husband’s experience. He spoke with new boldness. Polly reported thinking, “That’s not my Smith, Lord!” In the coming weeks, hundreds in Bedford received the baptism with the Spirit and spoke in tongues, including Polly and the Wigglesworth’s oldest son.
 
Soon, the couple began receiving calls to preach throughout England, riding trains and even bicycles to pray for the sick. Smith was known for preaching a simple gospel and would call hearers to “only believe.” In 1914, Smith began ministering overseas.
 
He called himself a man of one Book. His sermons were mainly comprised of Scripture quotations. Newspapers reported miracles, the dead raised, and healings following his preaching ministry. Though he was not present at any of the revivals that sparked Pentecostalism, Pentecostals view Smith as one of the movement’s greatest modern patriarchs.
 
In 1947, at another minister’s funeral, Smith breathed his last and painlessly bowed his head. Smith never exalted himself and never wrote a book, but his stubborn faith in the Spirit and undying love for Jesus empowered him to demonstrate the gospel to the world.
 
No matter what church stream we find ourselves in, there are lessons to be learned and principles of prayer from the Wigglesworths that can inspire us as we seek to follow Jesus today. 
 

What scenes in Smith’s life stand out most strongly to you? 

 
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