The Wigglesworth Prophecies
by Desmond Cartwright
David du Plessis
The are several different reports in current circulation about what David du Plessis said that Smith Wigglesworth told him when they met for the first time in South Africa in 1936. The Wigglesworth meeting, which began in October, was first reported in the British Assemblies of God paper, Redemption Tidings of December 4th.
Du Plessis wrote a further report of these meetings that began in October and continued through until their Annual Convention in December. This appeared in January 29th, 1937. A further report on March 12th gives details of further meetings in other parts from Cape Town and Durban as well as places in the Transvaal. Archibald H. Cooper, Vice-Moderator of the Full Gospel Church, South Africa, sent one of these reports. Interestingly it contains a photograph showing Wigglesworth together with Fred Squire and his wife, James and Alice Salter (Wigglesworth’s daughter) and David du Plessis and his wife. The picture was taken outside David’s home.
None of these reports give any indication of any, “message” or “prophecy” being given to the still youthful David by the veteran Wigglesworth who was then 77 years of age.
Now it could be argued that the very private and personal nature of the encounter as later reported for the first time some sixteen years later was so private that it was for David’s own personal attention only. I am quite happy to accept that this may be the case. This is particularly acceptable as an explanation of the words as reported in 1952 in the World Pentecostal Conference Souvenir Brochure:
“How well I remember the increased desire for fellowship when the late Smith Wigglesworth visited South Africa in 1936. One morning early he came to my office and without a word of greeting said, ‘Young man, you have been in Jerusalem long enough. The Lord says you have to go to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ I was dumfounded. ‘He has much work for you and you will be going soon.’ Then he prayed,’ Lord, let him always enjoy your blessing and never get sick on his many travels ahead.’
“Later he spoke to me and warned me that absolute obedience, at a cost, would be the price for having to share in the greatest wave of revival that has been known in history.”
In order to help us understand the import of these words and particularly how David understood them at the time is not an easy task. After the early morning encounter there is no record of any further communication between the two men apart from the vague and unexplained reference given above where David says, “Later he spoke to me…”But where? When? And, more importantly, what did he say?
In 1977 another account was given of what took place when Wigglesworth confronted David in his office early one sun-baked morning in 1936. This was recorded by Journalist Bob Slosser in a biography on David du Plessis entitled, A Man Called Mr Pentecost.
In telling the story, David explained:
“I had been around this powerful preacher a lot. In fact, I was at that time his host - he and his party were staying in my home. I did a lot of the interpretation at his meetings, and we were quite close…
“He looked straight into my eyes. I had no choice but to stare back at him. He began to speak, and I knew that he was prophesying.
‘I have been sent by the Lord to tell you what he has shown me. This morning,’ he began. ‘Through the old-line denominations will come a revival that will eclipse anything we have known throughout history. No such things have happened in times past as will happen when this begins.”
David’s narrative continued:
“Without breaking stride, he plunged ahead in his rapid-fire manner.
‘It will eclipse the present-day, twentieth-century Pentecostal revival that already is a marvel to the world, with its strong opposition from the established church. But the same blessing will become acceptable to the churches and they will go on with this message and this experience beyond what the Pentecostals have achieved. You will live to see this work grow to such dimensions that the Pentecostal movement itself will be a light thing in comparison with what God will do through the old churches. There will be tremendous gatherings of people, unlike anything we’ve seen, and great leaders will change their attitudes and accept not only the message but also the blessing.’
“He paused’ ever so slightly, and his eyes burned into mine.
‘The Lord said to me that I am to give you warning that He is going to use you in this movement. You will have a very prominent part.’”
There is another possible line of enquiry that might help us to get a clearer picture. This is to ask the question as to what were the views that were held by David du Plessis on the question of his relationship towards members of other Christian groups outside of any of the Pentecostal bodies with which he was then familiar.
An article in Prophecy Today said that the Wigglesworth “prophecy” was reported to the conference of the Elim Pentecostal Church in 1947.
This is simply not true. I write as the official historian of the Elim Pentecostal Church - a position I have held for more than twenty-five years. It can be said quite categorically that no such report of any prophecy, report or testimony were given by David du Plessis when the Elim Conference met in London in June 1947. On the contrary he could not have done so because he was not there! There was a report of this conference published in the denominational magazine, the Elim Evangel on July14th. This gives us the following information:
“After a telegram from Pastor David Du Plessis (Apostolic Faith Church of South Africa) apologising for his absence and wishing the Conference God’s blessing, had been read, Pastor Boulton, proceeded with his address, welcomed the delegates and introduced the new President - Pastor S. Gorman.”
The most probable reason for his absence from the Elim Conference was that he was unable to fit this date into the time that he was in Britain. The reason for his visit was that he was on his way to the World Pentecostal Conference in Zurich He did visit a number of the Elim Churches when he was in Britain on another visit in December 1947. More importantly he was able to address the Assemblies of God Conference in Scarborough at their meeting on May 13th. This was only a few months after Wigglesworth died in Bradford.
For many years the British Assemblies of God had stenographers present at their conferences and by these means they regularly recorded the messages delivered by many of the leading preachers. These included Stephen Jeffreys, Donald Gee and Howard Carter.
The message given by Du Plessis was entitled, “The Danger of Compromise in the Pentecostal Movement”. The article was published in two issues on August 1 and 15 and consisted of some five pages. The most surprising thing is that he told of his experience in South Africa in 1944 some eight years after meeting Wigglesworth. He said nothing at all about Wigglesworth who had died three months before.
Preaching on the story of Jacob and his brother Esau in Genesis 32 he made the story of the separation between the two brothers as an analogy for the differences between Pentecostals and the other churches! (Surely a rather dubious analogy. Who was Esau? Who was Jacob?)
The relevant passages contain the following words:
“There is in the hearts of God’s people in this Pentecostal movement a desperate fear of the churches, fear of this kind - that we shall become a church - we have that fear. The other fear is that we shall compromise and the churches will swallow us and we shall be finished as a testimony for God… Some people seem to think that God will raise up something else out of Pentecost- another Pentecost, but I believe God still has much blessings for us, and I truly believe we have not come to the best yet.”
Coming towards his conclusion he illustrated from his own experience in South Africa three years previously:
“There are many children in Pentecost that we could not take into the churches. We don’t want to put live chickens under a dead hen.
“In Johannesburg in 1944 I was a member of the National Sunday school Executive. I thought I was representing Pentecost. On the platform in the City Hall were about three thousand people crowded in. The Minister of Finance was a baptised man and a good preacher - he preached a Christian sermon without mentioning the name of Christ. As I sat listening to him, someone touched me; when I saw no-one I thought one of the ministers noticed I was uneasy, and had invited me to move; then I sensed the presence of the Lord and I bent my head and said, ‘ Lord, what is it?’ The Lord said,’ What are you doing here?’ I answered, ‘Representing Pentecost.’ The Holy Spirit said, ‘You are not. You are like Peter sitting by the fire side of Christ’s enemies.’ I said, ‘Lord, help me get out of here and I will never come to such an affair again.’ Well the Lord asked me, ‘You see those children (5000), you want them to be on fire for God, to grow up with Pentecostal vision and get filled with the Holy Ghost - how do you expect them to be warm if you take them into a refrigerator like this?’ This was the end of compromise as far as I was concerned. I like ministers and contact them as much as I can, and when someone invites me I go to visit and we have lovely times, but that is as far as we get.”
What is clear from this admission is that there is clearly no thought in David’s mind in 1947 when he addressed the British Assemblies of God that the Lord was going to do some new thing in the Pentecostal Movement. He does not seem to think that he was to play an important part in what was to take place a few years later. There is no reference to Smith Wigglesworth at all and not even a hint to any word from Wigglesworth. In that company at that time such a reference would have been very well accepted. Wigglesworth had died just nine weeks previously.
From the available evidence it seems most likely that in 1936 that Wigglesworth, recognising the potential in the young General Secretary and that he indicated to him that there was a greater work for him to do. Whether this meant to David at the time it is impossible to say at this distance. The subsequent account first appeared in print some 16 years later.
David then told how it was not more than a few weeks later that received a letter from J. Roswell Flower, General Secretary of the Assemblies of God in the United States, inviting him to attend their General Council meeting that was to be held in Memphis, Tennessee during 1937.
The fuller expanded versions are best accounted for by what is known as “False Memory.” A current example is to be seen when President George Bush reported on his reaction to seeing the picture of the first plane crashing into the first of the Twin Towers on 9/11. There is no recording of the first plane crashing. It was totally unexpected. The dramatic record of the second crash has become an icon of the age. It was seen by millions of people on live television. George Bush was deeply affected by 9/11 and the trauma had this affect on him. He was not telling a deliberate untruth but his memory had deceived him.
It needs to be said very clearly that the words spoken by Wigglesworth should not be understood as a prophecy. Wigglesworth never did accept that as being the function of prophecy. The interpretations that are now being put upon the words (and who knows exactly what they were?) that he spoke to David Du Plessis in his office in 1936 are being used to give support to views on relations between Pentecostal/Charismatic groups that, whatever their merit should be based on other grounds.
There are many cases of words being spoken to individuals that are recorded in Christian biography and autobiography and these occur in many different groups.
For those who follow John Calvin, though many of them would deny the continuation of apostolic giftings, they would surely acknowledge that when Guillaume Farel passionately urged young John Calvin to stay in Geneva in 1536 it was indeed a “word from the Lord.”
I have no doubt in my own mind that Smith Wigglesworth said something to David du Plessis when they met in 1936. Here was a thirty-one-year-old man and newly elected leader of a small Pentecostal denomination who had organised his meetings. Wigglesworth, a shrewd judge of character would have been impressed with the young man’s ability but perhaps also with his potential. The Biblical phrase, “You have compassed this mountain long enough” (Deuteronomy 2:3) would have been an appropriate text.
Smith Wigglesworth had suffered a great deal when people in his own assembly in Bowland Street, Bradford used the vehicle of supposed prophecy against him after he sought to discipline them over the use of this gift. In fact, whatever other reasons there were for the loss of Bowland Street as a Pentecostal Mission the understanding of the nature and function of prophecy formed an important part. It is evident from the lack of the involvement of Wigglesworth with any of the Apostolic Churches that he rejected there teaching in that area.
The highly respected leader of the Apostolic Church, Daniel Powell Williams (1882-1947) recorded in his Diary under the date of 1925 some of the events that occurred in Smith Wigglesworth’s Bowland Street Mission in 1916-1917. The Mission had always been independent with links with Reader Harris and the Pentecostal League.
It became Pentecostal in practice after Smith was baptised in the Spirit in Sunderland in October 1907. Spiritual gifts, tongues, interpretation and prophecy were in regular use in the assembly. Increasingly however tensions were evident and directive prophecy became a divisive issue. Things were particularly tense after the majority of the meetings belonging to William Oliver Hutchinson’s Apostolic Faith Church founded in Bournemouth in 1908 separated from the Welsh Assemblies. These assemblies under the leadership of D. P. Williams seceded to form what became the Apostolic Church.
D. P. Williams recorded:
“I remember when Bro. H. V. Chanter was only a young man and Bro. A. W. Rhodes when the Lord began to speak to them. The leader (The leader Pastor S Wigglesworth) of a large Pentecostal Assembly said ‘I will have nothing to do with the prophetical word here. I cannot trust or believe it, and therefore it is not going to be here.’ As soon as he said that then a simple young sister prophesied a word, ‘Being that you have finished with Me and My Voice, I finish with you, and there is a day coming when you will see the door of this assembly shut, but I will have another place, and I have faith in the heart of some of the young in this congregation.’”
From 1920 Wigglesworth ministered in many Pentecostal Churches in many parts of the world. The American Assemblies of God published his books. He ministered regularly in Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple. In Great Britain he convened the Missionary Convention every Easter at Preston for the Assemblies of God. This was a regular part of his life every year until the year before his death in 1947. He preached in Methodist and Anglican churches also when they were open to his ministry. Reading through his many sermons, of which hundreds are available now on a single CD, there is not one in which he ever spoke ill of any Christian group. In his later years, particularly during the winter he regularly attended the Anglican Church in Victor Road if he was unable to attend the Elim Church on a Sunday morning for Holy Communion.
Pentecostal /Charismatic people should not look to doubtful words attributed to Wigglesworth years after his death to believe that there would be a coming revival.
From its earliest days Pentecostals have believed that there would be a revival in God’s work. As early as 1910 D. Wesley Myland wrote a book entitled, The Latter Rain Covenant and Pentecostal Power. Using both the prophet Joel and the epistle of James he even used the rise in the rainfall in Palestine at that time as an indication of his belief that there would be a latter day outpouring of the Spirit and a revival in the Church. Whatever we may think of some aspects of this exegesis there can be no doubt that Pentecostals from the earliest part of their history have believed in revival.
When David du Plessis wrote the original article in 1952 he also included a map with worldwide statistics of Pentecostal Church growth. They showed nothing for Korea or Nigeria where there has since been spectacular growth that runs into millions. It is not always easy to obtain accurate and reliable statistics for every place but on anyone’s reckoning the figures are impressive. The “Sure word of prophecy” that we can rely upon in that the Lord will build his church. He still adds to it daily.
Desmond Cartwright September 2011
Desmond Cartwright was founding Archivist at the Donald Gee Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Research at Mattersey Hall in Britain Author of The Real Smith Wigglesworth, Sovereign World, 2000, Baker Books, USA 2002. He has been the official historian of the Elim Pentecostal Church since 1979. Holding an M.A. in Pentecostal History from Sheffield University he has written extensively in magazines and journals as well as contributing to articles in the Dictionary of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.