Oswald J. Smith is one of the most versatile Christian leaders in the history of the Christian church. Perhaps never has one man done so many different things well. It all centered in Toronto, Ontario, where Smith pastored from 1915 to 1959. He raised some $14,000,000.00 for foreign missions, more than any other pastor in history. Half of this was from his own church.
Smith was a country boy and the eldest of ten children of Benjamin and Alice Smith. He had five brothers and four sisters. Smith was born at home above the train station. His father was a telegraph operator for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The family moved from Odessa to Walkerville, to Woodstock, and finally to Emro. Delicate in health most of his life, he was not expected to live to manhood. He truduged one and a half miles to school and attended the local church and Sunday school.
At age 13, his Sunday school teacher said, "Any of you boys might be a minister." He thought in that direction from that time on. His conversion at age 16 was the result of the Torrey-Alexander evangelistic team. He had been reading about the Torrey crusade in Toronto which the newspapers were describing. The reports of 3,000 gathering only 90 miles away challenged him to take a trip to Toronto. Attending the Massey Hall services for a few days, he was saved at the seventh service - one for boys and young men only, held January 28, 1906. Torrey preached on Isaiah 53:5.
Young Smith soon decided that Toronto was the place to get a job. For a while, he identified with a group of Christians called the Hornerites. Soon he spoke to a couple of youth groups in Mount Albert where his family had now moved, as well as speaking at the Beverly Street Baptist Church in Toronto. He began to attend Toronto Bible College evening school. This helped fire him up for mission work, and he applied to the Presbyterian Church for a mission field appointment. They rejected the desires of this brash 18-year-old. He then began to sell Bibles and was very successful in this venture. Then came another chance to preach - at the Severn Methodist Church - plus two more services in nearby circuit churches the same day. He then got a call from the Bible Society in Vancouver, so he was off on a train journey of six days to western Canada. In September of 1908, he began his work at Prince Rupert Island, working his way up the coast, selling Bibles and making contacts for the local pastors, making calls in remote lumber camps and homes. He soon ended up at Port Essington some 30 miles away. For the next few months, Smith sold Bibles and preached to the Indians.
He met a Methodist missionary, G.H. Raley, who wanted Smith as his associate to minister during the winter to the Indians at Hartley Bay. Smith got his supplies, which were $20 worth of food, a small cook stove, an axe, a hammer and nails, two quilts, a blanket, plus fifteen jars of fruit and jelly. Arriving at the village, he found it almost covered by deep snow and as bleak and barren as he had ever seen. Stoic Indians met him. That winter was the most difficult time of his life. Soaking clothes and nights of bitter cold followed as Smith fought with his stove in a desperate effort to keep the green wood burning and the small quarters warm. This expeience drove him closer to the Lord and also gave him an empathy with missionaries and their problems for years to come. He started a Sunday school, preached twice on Sundays and four times during the week, plus taught the Indian children at school. By April, 1909, he resumed his work selling Bibles, up and down the coast of British Columbia, plus preaching wherever he could.
Feeling the need for additional training, he went to the Manitoba College in Winnipeg in the fall of 1909. Returning home to Mount Albert for the Christmas holidays, his parents and friends heard him preach for the first time. This was quite a contrast to his previous holiday season, when he was with a few Indians in the wilds of British Columbia. Feeling a spiritual lack at the Manitoba school, he entered Toronto Bible College in the fall of 1910. By late November, Smith was chosen, along with five other students, to be one of the speakers at the Students' Public Meeting. His subject was "A Call to the Foreign Field," for his interest in missions was now beginning to grow. On December 8, 1910, he surrendered completely to God. His diary states:
The great struggle is over, I surrendered completely to God. I now trust that He will send me out to the foreign field. I do not care if my life is hidden away, unknown by the civilized world, as long as it is known to Him.
At age 21, in January of 1911, he decided to hold a revival in Toronto - his first extended campaign. He used the Missionary Tabernacle, prepared 3,000 posters, and prepared his messages. Five were saved, and on Friday night Jennie Tyrrell sang. Five years of courtship and engagement followed. Soon J. Wilbur Chapman and Charles Alexander held a large crusade in Massey Hall, where Smith served as an usher and then as a counselor. Then in mid-summer 1911, he took a position with the Pocket Testament League of Canada to become their first traveling secretary, which gave him exposure throughout various areas in Ontario.
Then in November he became pastor of the Belwood (Ontario) Congregational Church. A second church at Garafraxa used his services simultaneously. Graduating from Toronto Bible College, he went off to Chicago in the fall of 1912 to begin further studies at McCormick Theological Seminary - a strong Presbyterian school in those days. In February of 1913, he assumed the pastorship of the Millard Avenue Presbyterian Church on Chicago's southwest side. He continued until May, then decided he would minister amongst the hills of Kentucky. He was assigned to a place called Cawood, a very small hamlet consisting of a combined store - post office and one house - as home base. Again, like British Columbia, it was a lonely ministry. Out of these experiences came some of his finest poems, which set the tone for many of his writings in later years. Towards the end of the summer, revival broke out at a place called Turtle Creek. His next year at McCormick Seminary (1913-14) saw him pastor the South Chicago Presbyterian Church also. His engagement to Miss Tyrrell was broken by mutual agreement in March, 1914.
He had begun to write verse in 1906 at age 17, and on September 5, 1914, he saw his first collection of hymns published. D.B. Towner had provided the music. Three days later, he wrote a well-known hymn, Deeper and Deeper. On April 29, 1915, he graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary, and on the following night, he was ordained in the church where he pastored. That day he spent in prayer, and he became convinced of two things - his work would be worldwide in coverage and Toronto would be his home base. He would leave Chicago. The congregation begged him to stay, but he felt impressed to take an associate pastor's position at the Dale Presbyterian Church in Toronto, where J.D. Morrow pastored.
June 6, 1915, began a lifetime of ministry in Toronto. Smith served with vigor at this work, and was impressed with one Daisy Billings, who was the senior deaconness of the church. By the spring of 1916, he was physically exhausted and had to take a complete rest. He went to Clifton Springs, New York, for an extended vacation. On September 12, 1916, he married Daisy Billings in a ceremony at the church by their pastor J.D. Morrow. Some 2,000 attended. Dale Presbyterian Church became the center of evangelism. Smith was learning fast from Morrow and soon was doing considerable preaching there. Morrow decided to become a chaplain in 1916, and Smith was made the pastor of this, the second largest Presbyterian church in Canada. In September of 1917, a real revival came to the church, which prompted Smith to write "A Revival Hymn". Morrow returned only briefly, but with failing health, he moved on to California in 1921, where he later died.
Smith's strong stand began to cause a concern amongst the liberal element, as has happened so often in history. Liberals were irritated by the revival meetings, the use of gospel hymns, the prayer meetings, the $600 raised for missions. The liberals succeeded in mounting so much pressure that, in October of 1918, Smith terminated his ministry. The Smiths' first son, Glen, was born June 22, 1917. A call was given to return to British Columbia under the Shantymen's Christian Association. Settling his family following their arrival on April 1, 1919, he began to preach to a needy and forgotten section of Canada's society.
However, a vision of Toronto and its masses burned in his soul, so he returned later in the year and served in various Christian causes until it was God's time to open up the right doors. On February 4, 1920, his only daughter Hope was born. Smith spent part of this summer in Kentucky again.
Smith, now 30 years of age, decided it was time for action. Renting the West End YMCA, he started his own services in October of 1920, calling the work the Gospel Tabernacle. Sixty-four people showed up in the 750-seat auditorium for the first service. Three months later this new work merged with the Parkdale Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and Smith became the pastor of the new work in January of 1921. On June 1, 1921, their third child, Paul, was born. (Paul later would succeed his father as pastor of the famed People's Church.) A tent meeting to attract attention did just that when Smith had a "Bring Your Own Chair" shower on Sunday, July 3. The tent was filled with every kind of kitchen chair imaginable. A new church building was soon needed. For $40,000 they built an 80-by-130-foot auditorium seating 1,800. Paul Rader dedicated it on May 14, 1922, and the new work was called the Alliance Tabernacle.
He packed the auditorium by giving the people something they couldn't get any other place - variety. The best evangelists and singers in North America were constantly streaming across his platform. Establishing this kind of program made it easier for him to be gone weeks and months at a time later, because the people were used to different men filling the pulpit. He was now getting calls for many ministries elsewhere. The Alliance Tabernacle of New York called him to succeed A.B. Simpson, but he declined. One of the speakers at his church was William Fetler of the Russian Missionary Society, who had a burden for the Russian origin populace of the Baltic countries, who were ripe for the Gospel. Smith sailed on July 2, 1924, on his first of many trips outside the continent. Smith and Fetler had great meetings, with many of the auditoriums seating over 2,000 in such places as Latvia and Poland.
Back in Toronto with additional influence, the church grew until at times 1,000 would be turned away from a service. Smith pioneered soul-winning in Toronto. Gospel singing, intense evangelistic crusades, with a teaching ministry on Wednesday and Friday nights, continued to inspire the Christians throughout the area. Smith resigned in 1926 and did a year's worth of evangelistic efforts. In April, 1927, he accepted a call to the Gospel Tabernacle of Los Angeles, California. But Toronto continued to be in his heart. Even though he was drawing crowds of up to 2,200 and his church offered to build a 3,000-seat auditorium if he remained, he left in April, 1928, to go "back home."
Most people start at the bottom and work up, but not Smith. He rented Massey Hall and, on September 9, 1928, at this first service, he faced an audience of nearly 2,000 people. The Cosmopolitan Tabernacle was born, the crowds grew and so did the number of converts. On January 13, 1929, he was off to the Baltic countries for his second trip, now at the invitation of Paul Rader. He visited many countries this time. In Latvia over 2,000 were saved and one night a crowd of 1,300 sang his song Saved, which was the first time he had heard one of his songs in a foreign tongue.
He returned to Massey Hall, then on March 30, 1930, they moved to a permanent address - the empty 1,500-seat St. James Square Presbyterian Church on Gerrard Street East. It was now called the Toronto Gospel Tabernacle. He put the church on radio and kicked off the new work with a missionary convention. Soon it grew and he decided to move once again to the empty Central Methodist Church on July 1, 1934, and once again took on a new name - The Peoples Church, 100 Bloor Street East, a name that became famous from that time on.
Smith was now pastoring the largest church in Canada, and was often quoted in the media. Music was at its best, the Back Home Hour broadcast followed the evening service, the missionary conventions, the evangelistic crusades all helped bring in the crowds. The annual missionary conference going often for a full month was to eventually get $300,000 annually in faith promise offerings - a technique Smith widely and successfully utilized. The convention was loaded with mottos and displays from various missionaries. A large thermometer told the congregation how they were doing toward their goal.
Evangelism was emphasized. Soon, nearly 500 were saved each year, besides those from the radio broadcast. Eldon B. Lehman was an early musical director and had a choir of 135 voices and an orchestra of 40 pieces. Sometimes the evening crowds would be higher than the morning. Curtailing newspaper advertising for several years did not hold the crowds back. They had a $40,000 pipe organ that took too much space, so they sold it and built a second gallery. A 1944 evangelism crusade was moved to Massey Hall, and eventually to Maple Leaf Gardens. Over 11,000 people attended two Sunday nights.
On January 1, 1959, Smith turned over the reins of pastoring to his son Paul, while still enjoying such titles as founder, missionary pastor, pastor emeritus. It was in 1963 that the church was sold for $650,000 and a new church was built in the suburbs of Willowdale, where he resided. The original investment in the former church was only $75,000, so that in essence Smith and his associates were given a brand new church worth $575,000 absolutely free. How can anyone else get something like this? Smith replied, "All you have to do is give $5,000,000.00 to foreign missions over a 25-year period and God will give you a $500,000.00 church."
Smith's hymn writing had been an outlet for his feelings and emotions in hours of deepest depression and heartache. "Jesus Only" and "Christ Is Coming Back Again" were some of the early songs. One of his songs, "Saved", written in 1917, was the first of his hymns to gain universal attention. More than 1,200 hymn-poems followed, with musical settings by Ackley, Stebbins, Harkness, Towner, and other famed composers, with C.M. Alexander as publisher.
After Towner and Alexander died there was a lull un til he met B.D. Ackley in 1930. Hymn after hymn, Smith wrote and sent to him. Ackley provided music that fit the words and they began to be published by the Rodeheaver-Hall-Mack Company. From 1931 to 1946, there were 73 hymns that the two worked on together and that were successfully published. They became favorites overnight, and people everywhere were singing them.
Smith brought well-known Christian songs to the public year after year: In 1931, "Joy in Serving Jesus"; 1932, "The Saviour Can Solve Every Problem"; 1933, "A Revival Hymn"; 1934, "The Glory of His Presence"; 1935, "Take Thou O Lord"; 1936, "His Love Is All My Plea"; 1937; "God Understands"; 1938, "The Song of the Soul Set Free"; 1939, "The Need of the World Is Jesus"; 1940, "Then Jesus Came"; 1941, "A Wedding Prayer"; 1942, "Surrender".
His 1,200 hymns and poems made him one of the most widely used song writers. A few of the stories behind the hymns: "The Glory of His Presence", written in 1934 in the middle of the night; "God Understands" came as a result of Smith's youngest sister, Ruth, and her husband, Cliff Bicker's, plans to come home from Peru on their first furlough from missionary work. Just before leaving, Bicker was killed in an automobile accident. Then "Jesus Came" was written in 1939 in Philadelphia. Homer Rodeheaver had asked for a song depicting the change in men when Jesus came. He soon had a new solo to sing. A.H. Ackley gave Smith the music for "The Song of the Soul Set Free" and soon had the words for this widely used choir number.
To sum it up, seems as though you are describing the work of several men: As a pastor, Smith had ministered in Toronto since 1915. His congregation numbered about 3,500. About 2,000 attended the services, often three times each Sunday.
As an evangelist, he preached in the greatest churches in the world, and held some of the largest campaigns ever held in many places of the world.
As a missionary statesman, he led his church in a program that by the mid 1970s netted over $700,000.00 annually - the figure grew every year for foreign missions, more than any church on the face of the earth. This helped to support 350 missionaries from 35 faith missionary societies in 40 countries of the world. He stimulated this kind of program via the missionary convention route in scores of churches.
As an author, he published some 35 books which have sold over a million copies. The only other author to surpass this volume in the history of his publishing company - Marshall, Morgan and Scott of England is G. Campbell Morgan. His books, "The Passion for Souls" and "The Cry of the World", are the most challenging and practical books on missions ever written. Other titles are: "The Man God Blesses", "The Work God Blesses", "The Revival We Need", and scores more, published in 128 languages.
As an editor, he published a magazine, The People's Magazine, for 36 years, which enjoyed a worldwide circulation.
As a radio preacher, his church services were carried by as many as 42 stations at a time. In later years, he conducted "Radio Missionary Conventions" in major cities across the United States and Canada, challenging Christians and raising funds for the World Literature Crusade movement, of which he was honorary president.
As a world traveler, he toured 72 countries. His first major overseas tour was in 1924 when he visited nine countries in Europe. Tours after that included: 1929, England, France, Belgium, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Spain, Poland, Switzerland; 1932, England, France, Spain, Egypt, Palestine, India, Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula, the Dutch East Indies, French Somaliland, and Ethiopia; 1936, England, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Sweden, Den- mark, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Yu- goslavia, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and Scotland; 1938, Ha- waii, Samoa, Fiji, Australia, the Solomon Islands, and New Zealand; 1941, Jamaica; 1946, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales; 1948, Ireland, England, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Iceland, and back to Jamaica; 1949, Scotland, Ireland, England, and Iceland; 1950, England, Bel- gium, Norway, Scotland, Germany, and Denmark; 1955, Azores, Portugal, Senega, Liberia, the Gold Coast, Congo, Rhodesia, South Africa, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Egypt, Italy, France, England, Scotland, and Newfoundland. Over 7,000 were converted in South Africa. Another tour in 1957 to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Equador, Colombia, and Panama, consisted of the largest united evangelistic campaigns in the history of South America, and saw some 4,500 conversions. Here the 67-year-old Oswald J. Smith preached to crowds averaging 15,000 nightly at the Luna Park indoor fight arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Three times over 20,000 attended. Three hundred churches participated and over 1,500 decisions were registered here.
Another tour took place in 1959, covering Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, England, Ireland, and Scotland. During this trip, he was received in Buckingham Palace. Then, later in the year, Smith went to Japan; to Hong Kong, preaching to 3,000 nightly; and to Hawaii.
In 1960, it was on to Alaska and then to Japan, where 1,000 decisions for Christ were made in the 2,200-seat Kyoritz Hall auditorium campaign in Tokyo. In 1961, Smith visited Hawaii, Fiji, and Australia, where over 1,000 young people volunteered for foreign service. Later in the year it was England, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Rhodesia, South Africa, and Sudan. In 1962, he visited Iceland, and in 1963, Ireland, England, and Wales.
Smith nearly died on three of his trips because of poor health, which as stated earlier plagued him all his life. Why such energy and talent given so unreservedly to Christ? Smith replied with a motto he originated that has become world-famous: "Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?"
On November 1, 1972, his beloved Daisy went to heaven after 56 years of marriage. Smith had preached his first sermon in a small Methodist church in the village of Muskoka in 1908. Nearly three quarters of a century and some 12,000 sermons later, he preached his last sermon at the Peoples Church in December, 1981 - at the age of 92. Bedridden for the last months of his life, he died at the age of 96. His funeral was Thursday, January 30, 1986, at the Peoples Church in Toronto. It featured the singing of George Beverly Shea and the preaching of Billy Graham.
He slipped away to be with the Lord, and Oswald J. Smith experienced what he wrote:
I have seen Him, I have known Him, For He deigns to walk with me; And the glory of His presence Will be mine eternally. O the glory of His presence, O the beauty of His face, I am His and His forever, He has won me by His grace.
Some of Dr. Oswald J. Smith's favorite missionary mottoes allegedly originated by him were the following: "You must go or send a substitute." "If God wills the evangelization of the world, and you refuse to support missions, then you are opposed to the will of God." "Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God." "Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?" "Give according to your income lest God make your income according to your giving." "Now let me burn out for Christ." "The church which ceases to be evangelistic will soon cease to be evangelical." "This generation can only reach this generation." "The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home." "Not how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God's money will I keep for myself." "The supreme task of the Church is the evangelization of the world."