(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)
GABOURY’S CRITICAL BOOK REPORT
Smith Wigglesworth, Ever Increasing Faith (1924; Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1972), 176 pp.
Here are eighteen messages given by Smith Wigglesworth (b. 1859) himself. The content resembles what W. Hacking, his friend and biographer, has said concerning Wigglesworth’s doctrines, methods, and claims. But by the mouth of these two witnesses we are not compelled to believe the claims because the doctrines and methods by which the claims are said to have come to pass do not line up with the rule of Scripture.
Wigglesworth gives God the glory for the wonders he says happened in his ministry. And he includes testimonies in confirmation of some of these wonders that were allegedly done. Sometimes names are even given. But Wigglesworth’s beliefs and practices dissuade me from believing any of this very readily. Here, then, from my long list of things that are questionable, even objectionable and unbiblical: (1) His demonology. Because Jesus rebuked a fever, does this mean for sure that a demon was involved? (p. 65.) Does a drunkard have to have a ‘drink demon’? (p. 108.) Are broken homes the fault of demons? (p. 163.) Are we to blame them for something as common as cancer? “When I see a cancer I always know it is an evil spirit” (p. 86.) Even a stiff knee is a demon! (p. 161.) Isn’t this going too far? How can we believe the cure when the diagnosis is incredible? (2) His ‘Spirit Baptism.’ After much seeking, he received this, finally, at the hands of a woman (p. 112.) There is no precedent for this in Scripture. Yet Wigglesworth confidently asserts that his doctrine has “the backing of the Scriptures” (p. 113.) We are bound to suspect the works that proceed from such a ‘baptism.’ In the Foreword we read that this ‘baptism’ was a major turning point in Wigglesworth’s life. In fact, this event was the catalyst to his world-wide ministry. We don’t judge the genuineness of something like a ‘baptism’ merely on account of its effects, like joy and praise, because feelings, exultations, and even works and wonders may arise from counterfeit causes. We judge the ‘baptism’ according to how it measures up to the Bible’s presentation of it. And this one just doesn’t measure up. The only safe thing to do is to doubt any ministry that springs from an unbiblical source. The gross errors that follow from this ‘baptism’ testify to its illegitimacy. Tongues, the evidence of Spirit-Baptism, according to Wigglesworth, is also the evidence Jesus desires ministers to have (p. 114.) This is to make Jesus a liar, for there is no evidence of Jesus wishing any such thing. False doctrine often leads to blasphemy of this kind. Wigglesworth’s religion is wrapped up in ‘manifestations.’ Speaking in tongues is equated with living in the Spirit (p. 96.) To live a holy life one must speak in tongues! To justify his own excess in this area, he says that Paul “must have been speaking in tongues both day and night” (p. 172.) (3) His Methods. The method (among the many that are unorthodox) that dissuades me most from believing the declared results is repetitive prayer. If Jesus ever condemned anything at all, it was this. Not only does Wigglesworth imagine that repeating the word ‘Jesus’ over and over again will do a wonder, but he thinks this formula to be best worked out by whispering (which innovation he copied from some other ‘healer,’ p. 28.) All of this is to treat the Lord like an impersonal force to be actuated by a mantra. Can there be authentic “power in the name of Jesus” by the repetitive method? (pp. 32, 34.) Scripture teaches, and therefore I dogmatically assert, that there cannot. Ever Increasing Faith has caused me to wonder if I could have been wrong in my positive assessment of Bevington and the healings wrought through him. But here is a difference. When he felt the victory coming, Bevington would end up whispering something like ‘glory, glory, glory’ But this is not the same as using a repetition to cause a cure. That may seem like a measly difference. In fact, it is a major difference. Wigglesworth used repetition as a method; Bevington’s repetition was an exclamation. One is meant to cause; the other is caused. One is a sin; the other is praise.
Are we obliged to believe that the sick were healed through handkerchiefs prayed over by this man? (p. 63, 64.) I feel obliged to disbelieve. Do I feel ‘judgmental’ for doubting that thousands were healed and hundreds were saved during his ‘revivals’ in Scandinavia? (p. 35.) Not in the least. If I had insufficient reason so far for disbelieving and for judging as I have, my judgment would be negative and skeptical just on account of this ‘faith healer’s’ character flaws. (1) His impudence. Does God really rejoice when we approach him like this?—: “You have promised it, Lord. Now do it.” (emphasis his, p. 81.) Because of who God is, we should not dare to believe that answers to prayer happen by orders like this. We should doubt the claims of a man who speaks like this to God and who advises others to do the same. Furthermore, the order here is on the basis of a sweeping promise by God to heal, which promise God never gave. (2) His pride. “As I got into the carriage again [after praying and being filled by the Lord], one of them cried out, ‘You convince me of sin.’ Within three minutes everyone in the [railroad] car was crying to God for salvation” (p. 99.) Although he prefaces this story with a denial of glory to himself and a disavowal of boasting, something’s not right. Would a man so holy as to convict sinners of sin by his mere appearance not also be so humble as to never mention the incident? The apostle Paul was moved by the Holy Ghost to mention his transport to heaven. But even when so moved, he could not bear to say plainly that this happened to him. Holiness is too humble to blow the trumpet. Smith Wigglesworth is not reluctant enough. I have read enough religious history to know (not to boast!) that men who project holiness are too humble to mention the effects. Like Moses when he pulled the veil over his face, they pull the veil over these kinds of stories. If there is any truth in this story, my guess is that the man on the train said what he said mockingly and that the others chimed in with pretended cries for mercy. There is this story in our own day of some man being convinced of sin during a round of golf just by the presence of Billy Graham. I doubt that Mr. Graham ever mentioned it. Such a thing is told by others. Or, if mentioned by the Subject, such a story would be surrounded by teaching so brilliant as to make us comfortable believing the narrative. That is not the case in this book.
Wigglesworth endorses fundamental doctrines like hell and the deity of Jesus Christ (p. 120.) One time, at least, he allows teaching on salvation to eclipse his emphasis on healing (p. 90.) He encourages the reading and memorization of the word (p. 102.) There is a story or two well told. This is all good. But his aim in these messages is toward ‘manifestations’ (p. 126.) And this is nothing else than the spirit of that adulterous generation chided by Jesus for seeking after signs.
Content: C (Messages full of stories that are ‘hard to believe.’)
Style: B (Hackneyed but tolerable.)
Tone: C (Positive thinking gone wild.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
B: an average book: let it go.
C: read only if you have to.