(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
W. Hacking, Smith Wigglesworth Remembered (1972; Tulsa, Oklahoma: Harrison House, 1981), 107 pp.
Smith Wigglesworth is alleged by some to have been a great evangelist/healer. I say alleged because I believe, by what Hacking haplessly reveals, that he was neither. The following note in the Foreword by Harold Womersley will help to set our bearings: “I knew Brother Wigglesworth first in 1918 when he visited our Assembly in Halifax.” W. Hacking, the biographer, also knew him personally.
Many positive things are said by Mr. Hacking about Wigglesworth. He says that in spite of rumors to the contrary Wigglesworth was generous with his money. He says that sometimes he refused payment for his services and once even paid convention costs out of his own pocket (p. 67.) Maybe these things are true. But what about these rumors of avarice? His fondness for fine clothes and his remarks thereupon (p. 18) should at least make us wonder. And the bottles of anointing oil that he sold by the hundreds should cause us to hear these rumors even more (p. 38.) The sale of anointing oil by an evangelist ‘for a nominal sum’ sounds like the sale of ‘snake oil’ by a conniving carpetbagger. Given what we know about practices like this, it would be foolish to just believe the man is legitimate. And the fact that W. Hacking feels he has to continually apologize for the beastly conduct of his Subject should make us fairly easy with a negative appraisal of that Subject. Many found Mr. Wigglesworth ‘unapproachable’ (p. 53)—‘rough’ (p. 56)—and even ‘crude’ (p. 33.) You can tell that Hacking knows these charges are substantiated just by the way he presents them. But we need not rely on subjective feelings that a certain tone communicates in order to judge the Subject’s character. Facts are given. “Because of the unfortunate idea that Brother Wigglesworth might deal with them roughly or make a show of them, some people were afraid to come forward for healing in his meetings” (p. 57.) What is meant exactly? Here’s how he dealt with a brother who came forward complaining of stomach pain. “Wigglesworth said, ‘Close your eyes.’ Then he commanded, ‘In the name of Jesus, come out of him!’ He struck the man in the stomach, sending him halfway across the front of the hall” (p. 57.) I admit that men tend to exaggerate incidents like this. But Hacking, in his run-up to this character-building story, calls it ‘a rather amusing incident.’ And now we know something of Hacking’s character! This Wigglesworth, could he have been any better than the rude, charismatic buffoons of today who are living high on the hog off the proceeds of sick people? Jokers like Wigglesworth insult, plunder, and assault.
But did he not do wonders? ‘Much could be said,’ Hacking tells us, about cancers disappearing and the dead raised up (pp. 37, 38.) Yes, much! But nothing is. There is not one ‘healing’ in here that may be tracked by a Berean so it can be judged (though we suspect that someone has labored in some other book to show something.) It’s not Hacking’s purpose to deal at length with Smith Wigglesworth’s healing ministry (p. 38.) But a man who knew him so personally, in a book called Smith Wigglesworth Remembered, should he not like to deal at some length about the dead that were raised up by the instrumentality of the man he loves so much to tell us about? If a friend of ours were used by the Holy Spirit to raise people from the dead, would we, like the disciples, not only mention it, but also give details, names, and dates? Hacking doesn’t even tell us whether or not the ‘anointed handkerchief’ his hero sent to him worked on his ‘affected part’ (p. 58.) I guess it would be foolish to doubt that it did. No testimony necessary.
The usual suspects in a pseudo-Pentecostal ministry are precisely what we find in this project of Wigglesworth’s. A character of dubious virtue goes about starting up meetings or getting in wherever he can, stirring people up into an emotional, uncritical fever, and then claiming that he’s done great deeds. Ailments that are said to be healed are usually nameless, vague complaints, or else cancers that are not documented. Besides the suspiciousness of his character and the boasted, unproven claims, there is the unorthodoxy of the services. The vain repetition that is condemned by Jesus is used by men like this to emotionalize the crowd (pp. 17, 28, 29, 35.) This convinces everyone that something must be going on. Add to this the loud confusion of many ‘tongues’ all at once, also contrary to Scripture, and you can imagine the effect in such meetings. People worked into a frenzy will believe and go along with almost anything. “Nearly everybody did [speak in tongues], and the effect was phenomenal” (p. 34.) What good did this do, though? We are not told. What is important is that phenomena happened.
What inevitably ties in with this is a disregard for doctrine. “Do not preach too long” (p. 17.) That’s Wigglesworth’s advice. No, it’s better to have your preaching interrupted by a sister (p. 22.) Or to break into tongues in the middle of your message! (p. 29.) And is that something to be proud of, to have refused to read anything other than the Bible? (p. 19.) Not if you disdain to study it. It is well said that ‘he had no homiletics’! (p. 73.) No sermon preparation for him. Just presume on the Holy Ghost (p. 99.) Besides the usual misinterpretations we expect from men like this, like the opinion that it’s always Jesus’ will to heal (p. 79), the one that surprised me most is the practice of speaking one’s wish into reality, the so-called ‘word of faith,’ not exactly called that here (pp. 58, 59, 77.) “You will have to voice many things in order to bring them into being” (p. 81.) I didn’t know that kind of magic went this far back.
Selfish interpretation of Scripture always ends in defeat. Brother Wigglesworth didn’t make it to the rapture (p. 69.) As his death approached he continued to misapply Scripture by adopting verses to suit his wishes, even grabbing onto Genesis 6.3 in some pathetic attempt to live to 120! (p. 71.) “When you read a scripture that doesn’t fit into the atmosphere…pass it on to others that are there, that are in accord with the atmosphere that you find yourself in” (p. 91.) A fine way to treat the word of God! Just ask around until you find an interpretation that suits the mood!
Finally, what to make of this W. Hacking? Attributing wonders to God that he might not have done, is that not as risky as saying (as certain New Testament Jews did) that he didn’t do the wonders that he did do? Will not both of these groups, the deniers and the liars, be condemned for misrepresenting God? Mr. Hacking even goes so far as to state that Wigglesworth, I guess not just Jesus, or maybe not Jesus at all, was the living embodiment of Hebrews. 4. 12-13! (p. 106.)
Content: C (Empty of substance and full of blasphemy.)
Style: B (Nothing out of the ordinary.)
Tone: C (Romantic to a fault.)
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.