Smith Wigglesworth (1859—1947) was a British preacher who was influential in the early Pentecostal movement. Wigglesworth, along with Charles Parham in the U.S., was one of the first preachers to espouse and practice the teachings of Pentecostalism, particularly faith healing and the gift of tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fans of Wigglesworth call him the “Apostle of Faith.”
Smith Wigglesworth grew up poor and was unable to gain an education because, from a young age, he needed to work to help support his family. After he married, his wife taught him to read using the Bible. Remarkably, the Bible was the only book Wigglesworth ever read, and he did not permit other reading materials in his home—not even a newspaper!
In 1907, Wigglesworth claimed that “the Glorious Presence of the Glory of God” rested on him for seven days straight, and after that time he was “actually living in the Acts of the Apostles’ time. I am speaking with new tongues, the Holy Fire of God’s Presence fills me till my pen moves to the glory of God, and my whole being is filled with the Presence of the Holy Ghost” (Confidence magazine, October 1908, p. 11, 15–16). He taught that speaking in tongues was a necessary sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that a different gift of tongues could be received later to pray and praise the Lord with. During one of his early sermons, people in the audience started falling on the floor and laughing, which Wigglesworth took as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
There are many reports of Wigglesworth healing people of various maladies: fevers, appendicitis, deafness, heart failure, asthma, cancer, and even seasickness. Wigglesworth’s view was that all sickness is a work of the devil, and so healing was an act of spiritual warfare. For this reason, he often cast out whatever “demon” was causing the trouble. Sometimes, the exorcism required violence, and Wigglesworth would slap, punch, or shake the sick person. Wigglesworth explained his need to resort to violence: “There are some times when you pray for the sick and you are apparently rough. But you are not dealing with a person, you are dealing with the satanic forces that are binding that person” (Ever Increasing Faith, Gospel Publishing House, 1924, p. 135–136).
Wigglesworth, like the preachers in the modern Word of Faith movement, laid the responsibility for healing on the sick person. The message was, if you have faith, you will be healed. A lack of healing shows a lack of faith and/or sin in one’s life, according to Wigglesworth: “There is a close relationship between sin and sickness . . . but if you will obey God and repent of your sin and quit it, God will meet you, and neither your sickness nor your sin will remain” (ibid., p. 41).
Wigglesworth reported seeing Jesus on several occasions and claimed to have resurrected fourteen people from the dead. According to Wigglesworth, he and his wife allowed no medicines or doctors in their home: they committed themselves to trust only in the Divine Healing.
His wife died in 1913, and starting in 1914, Smith Wigglesworth traveled extensively, holding healing meetings in the United States, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, India, South Africa, Australia, and elsewhere. Of those who doubted the healings were real or that tongues were a necessary sign of Spirit baptism, Wigglesworth simply said they did not believe the “full gospel.”
Of course, Jesus healed many people as evidence of His deity and power. And the twelve apostles were given the gift of healing as confirmation of their message to the world. But there are no apostles today, and those who claim to fill that role or to have the power of an apostle are deceivers. Today’s “faith healers,” like their protégé Smith Wigglesworth, perform their “miracles” only in carefully organized meetings and on a stage they control. None of them are walking through hospitals healing everyone as they go.
Smith Wigglesworth falsely taught that all sickness is proof of the presence of the devil, leaving no room for God’s purposes in suffering (2 Corinthians 1:8–9; Hebrews 12:6). He falsely taught that illness and disease are linked to personal sin, ignoring Jesus’ teaching on the subject (John 9:1–3). Wigglesworth falsely taught that it is always God’s will to heal a person physically, despite Paul’s testimony to the contrary (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). Wigglesworth falsely taught that, if a person is not healed, the blame lies in that person’s lack of faith, even though Jesus healed a man who had no faith at all (John 5:1–9). Given all the false teaching from Wigglesworth, we conclude that he was a false teacher, regardless of whatever popularity he enjoyed and whatever shows of power he may have included in his act.