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.