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Life of God's General; Maria Woodworth Etter

Life of God's General; Maria woodworth Etter

Maria was born in New Lisbon, Ohio, on July 22, 1844. She was the fourth daughter of Samuel and Matilda Underwood, one of eight children. She was not born into a Christian home, however, the family did join a church in 1854. A year later, Mr. Underwood died and the family experienced deep sorrow. Maria and her sisters worked during the week to provide for the large impoverished family. When she heard the gospel preached at church, she was very moved by it and decided that she wanted to be a Christian. Arrangements were made for her to be baptized in a creek, before a large crowd. As Maria was being baptized, she had a wonderful conversion experience.1bShe says, “I asked the Lord to save me fully, trusting myself in His hands; and while going into the water, a light came over me, and I was converted. The people saw the change and said I had fainted.”2Soon after her conversion, Maria heard the voice of Jesus calling her to go into evangelistic work. She did not respond to this call for many years. She married a Mr. Woodworth and they had six children.3 They were a family and the future looked bright for the Woodworth home.

The future, however, had some unexpected turns. Maria’s (now Mrs. Woodworth) health had failed and although she longed to attend church, she was not able. From her bed she would hear the church bells ringing and would cry herself to sleep. Not only did her health fail, but the health of her son did also. As he lay dying, he said to Woodworth, “Mamma, do not weep for me; I am going to a better world.”4 Woodworth comments in these words, ”It almost broke my heart to lay him away in the cold grave; but I could see the loving hands of God and hear Him calling me to build up higher, to set my affections on heavenly things and not on things of the earth.”5

The tragedy was repeated a year later as Woodworth’s baby, Freddy, was taken by death as well. Around this time, Woodworth’s seven-year old daughter, Georgie, was converted. Sadly, she developed the disease, scrofula, and suffered painfully from its effects. She sent messages to her Sunday school teacher, fellow students and friends telling them to meet her in heaven. One day, after eight months of struggling with the disease, she said to Woodworth, “Mamma, I’m going to leave you this week.”6 On the last day of that week, Georgie died. As she was passing, she said to Woodworth, “O Mamma, I see Jesus and the angels; I see my little brothers; they have come for me.”7 Woodworth again comments, “It was like death to part with my darling. But Jesus was very precious to my soul. Heaven was nearer, Christ was dearer than ever before. I had one more treasure in glory.”8 Three weeks before Georgie died, Woodworth had given birth to a girl, Gertie. Gertie lived for only four months and died also.

Heaven and Christ were nearer than ever to Woodworth as she herself hung between life and death. During this time, she had a number of visions. She would see heaven. She would also see herself pleading with sinners to come to Jesus. 9 God was again calling her to the work of the ministry. Woodworth wrestled with not wanting to fulfill her calling. Part of her wanted to die and go to be with the Lord and with her children who had passed on. However, she promised the Lord that if He would restore her health and prepare her for the work that she must do, she would endeavour to accomplish it. Immediately, her health began to recover.10

Even after making this commitment to the Lord, she feared stepping out into the work. The Lord gave her a very sobering vision. She says:

Then the Lord, in a vision, caused me to see the bottomless pit, open in all its horror and woe. There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was surrounded by a great multitude of people who seemed unconscious of their danger; and without a moments warning, they would tumble into this awful place. I was above the people on a narrow plank-walk, which wound up toward heaven; and I was exhorting and pleading with the people to come up onto the plank and escape that awful place. Several started. There was a beautiful bright light above me, and I was encouraging them to follow that light and they would go straight to heaven.

This vision deeply impressed upon her the responsibility of her calling.

More sorrows were ahead for Woodworth. This time her six-year old son, Willie, became ill. He knew that he was not going to recover and told Woodworth and the others that he was going to be with Jesus. He soon died. Woodworth comments:

He was the joy of my life, nearly seven years old. He was very bright for one of his age – in fact, far beyond his years. He was the pet of the whole neighborhood … This sad bereavement nearly took my life. The dear Savior was never so near and real to me before. He was by my side and seemed to bear me up in His loving arms. I could say, “[…] the LORD gave[,] and the [LORD hath] taken away; blessed be the name of the [LORD].”12

By His grace, the Lord carried Woodworth through experiences such as this. Woodworth now had one remaining daughter, sixteen-year old Lizzie.

The Lord’s grace was about to show itself in another way. Woodworth says that she felt unqualified for the work that she was called to do. In simple faith, she asked the Lord to anoint her for service. In answer to this prayer, she had a wonderful experience. She says:

The power of The Holy Ghost came down as a cloud. It was brighter than the sun. I was covered and wrapped up in it. My body was as light as the air. It seemed that heaven came down. I was baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire and power, which have never left me. Oh praise The Lord! There was liquid fire, and the angels were all around and the fire and the glory. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ and by this power, that I have stood before hundreds of thousands of men and women, proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ.13

The time had come; Woodworth stepped out in faith. She held a small meeting in her home town and began preaching on the text “ … Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” (2 Kings 20.1; and see Isaiah 38.1). As she was preaching, all fear of man left her and her words rang with greater and greater conviction. She continued holding meetings for a few days and twenty souls were converted. Encouraged by this, she held more meetings and, when preaching, she experienced the same power that she had received when she was baptized in the Holy Ghost. The glory of God seemed to descend and fill the meeting houses.14Woodworth shares further that:

I started out after God baptized me in the Holy Ghost. I knew God was calling me for public service. I knew I would die unless God came to me like He did to the fishermen. I told the Lord if He would baptize me with power and knowledge that I would undertake the work. I would go to the ends of the earth and live a thousand years if I might take one soul to heaven. So the Lord wonderfully baptized me and sent me out.15

This was Woodworth’s experience and determination as she set out to begin her ministry and preaching work.

One thing that characterized her ministry work was her fiery preaching. On one occasion, she says:

I believe in preaching in such a way that the power of God will make people tremble and come up to the front to do His will. ‘The fear of the [LORD] is the beginning of wisdom [: …]’ [Psalm 111:10]. The first we know of God, there is a holy awe that comes over us. When we want God to work, to cause His presence to be felt in our midst, we must feel He has the power to work among His people; and it is a terrible thing to resist. We must get on the full armor and rush into the battle. Press the battle to the gates. Vain is the help of man. There is no shelter except in the wounded side of Jesus. It is the only place on earth to which we can flee. We learn there the way of righteousness, and we know what awaits the sinner if he does not accept this shelter. 16

As well as Woodworth’s ministry being characterized by fiery preaching, it was also characterized by a very peculiar feature. Many times while she was ministering, Woodworth would freeze in a trance. She sometimes would stay in this trance-like state for long periods of time, even hours. Upon awakening from the trance, she would share with her audience visions that she had just seen. Often these visions were of heaven and hell. Many in her audiences were shaken up by these sobering visions. If it wasn’t peculiar enough for her to go into a trance, it was equally peculiar for the very same thing to happen to attendees of the meetings. The newspapers began calling her the “Trance Evangelist.” Many accused her of using hypnotism. She vehemently denied this, declaring that she did not use hypnotism and that the trances in her meetings were by the power of God. She said, “I know nothing about hypnotic power. I never saw a person hypnotized; but I do know something of the power of God, of the power of the Holy Ghost.”17

Commenting on these trances, in 1885, a newspaper reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote:

I have endeavored to give a true and impartial account of the very remarkable revival of religion at the Methodist Episcopal Church in this city, and I am impressed with the magnitude of the undertaking, at present more than ever before, and am convinced that it is beyond the “ken of tongue or pen,” to give an accurate description of the scenes enacted at each meeting. Scores have been stricken down at these meetings, and whatever form the limbs or body chanced to assume, in that position, immovable as a statue, they remained – sometimes the hand uplifted far above the head, the eyes open wide, and not a muscle of the entire body moved; they were as immovable as in death. 18

Many, like this reporter, were shocked, having never seen scenes like this before.

The Cincinnati Enquirer was not the only newspaper running articles on Woodworth. In that same year of 1885, the Indianapolis Journal printed these observations, along with some of Woodworth’s preaching:

On yesterday Mrs. Woodworth opened services by singing, Let Me in the Kingdom. Her gestures, voice and countenance seem not of earth, and she sees her crown almost within her grasp. Her text was Acts 2:17: ‘[…your y]oung men shall see visions[,] and [your] old men [shall] dream dreams[:]’ She said the last prophecy is being fulfilled. ‘Signs and wonders follow God’s Word in His way. Don’t expect blessing in your way, but cry, ‘What shall I do?’ And be ye also as clay in the potter’s hands. Remember you are doing business for eternity. Oh, do it well. May God make sinners sin-sick and place great thorns in their pillows. Sinners, don’t resist the Spirit, You can resist until the key is turned on your heart. Don’t stray away from God. Don’t cross the deadline. Change your course; There are breakers ahead. Leave the poor old stranded wreck and get into our boat. It’s a lifeboat. Christ is our pilot; He never leaves the helm. He will guide us safely into port. Passage is free for all. We will soon sail for the kingdom. Your country is in the sky. Oh, come, come now.’ Many lay entranced for hours. Those who resisted most were first stricken. Many related visions they had seen… 19

Newspaper reports, such as these, stirred the curiosity of the public and they continued to come to the meetings.

Coming to the meetings, attendees often stayed for hours. A service could run from 9 A.M. in the morning until 3 P.M. in the afternoon or, on another occasion, from 4 P.M. until 9 P.M.20 Woodworth continued to be as controversial as ever and The Weekly Review Democrat of Indiana called her “a bull in a china shop.”21

Although seen as controversial, Woodworth was simply expressing the spirit of revival which so filled her life. She said:

In these last days when God is pouring out His Spirit in great cloud bursts and tidal waves from the floodgates of heaven and the great river of life is flooding our spirit and body and baptizing us with fire and resurrection life and divine energy, the Lord is doing his acts. His strange acts, which include dancing in the Spirit and speaking in other tongues and many other operations and gifts. The Holy Ghost is confirming the last message of the coming King, with great signs and wonders and miracles.22

In light of such an outpouring of God’s Spirit, Woodworth pleaded with people to put themselves in a position where they could receive from the Lord.

Ministry, healing and death

Maria lost five of six children to sickness and she grew more and more sickly, almost dying many times. With all her heart Maria believed in the soon coming of Jesus, the call of the bridegroom. Her thought life was consumed by the relentless call to preach. While caught up in the presence of the Lord and prayer, it was easy to yield and say yes. When that all faded, she was again overwhelmed with the impossibility of it all.

She said “There was all the time a monitor within, telling me that I should be calling sinners to repentance, . . . awake or dreaming, I seemed to have a large congregation before me, all in tears, as I told them the story of the cross.”1 Then the voice of reason and circumstance jolted her back to reality to validate the insanity of a woman answering such a call. She thought of suicide. This was the battle for her life. Tormented with being uneducated, she said she couldn’t preach what she didn’t know. She told the Lord she needed preparation, a course of study in the bible, and then she would go. What happened next she tells in her own words: “Then there appeared upon the wall a large open bible and the verses stood out in raised letters. I looked and I could understand it all. Then Jesus said “Go and I will be with you.”

The Woodworths made a move and there, local Friends (Quakers) began bringing Maria to their meetings. There she saw a good pattern for participation of men and women. Eventually, barely able to stand for shaking, she could testify a little. Here Maria rededicated her life and was invited to go with a missionary couple to preach. Mr. Woodworth refused to allow it.

When Maria finally stood shakily to preach the first time, it was in the home of her husband’s family. A scripture came to her, and the words tumbled out almost faster than she could speak them. The hearers were all in tears. A notable evangelist was born and hungry souls were waiting-multitudes in the valley of decision.

As Maria began to receive more invitations to preach, many times it was the hard places where thugs were bent on breaking up her services. David Dyke, pastor of Refuge Church in Grapevine says Woodworth-Etter brought thousands of tough people into the Kingdom of God. In 1890 The Church of God in Indiana licensed and ordained her. She held meetings for them and many others who invited her.

As news spread of this preacher woman, her powerful meetings, and unusual manifestations, reporters flocked to her meetings from as far away as New York. Just like today many were biased and hostile. They sensationalized the manifestations, quoted the disgruntled and aroused persecution. Two Doctors brought charges against Maria who was then arrested and charged with hypnotizing people.

In the midst of great persecution came great mountain tops. The evangelist soon outgrew whatever facility was offered and was able to buy a large tent with donations. Meetings lasted longer, often up to three months and went on up to three times daily. Small tents could be rented for anyone wanting to stay on the grounds. Out of towners thronged the meetings. Believers were greatly refreshed and vibrant. Numbers were added to the church.

Maria later began to preach healing and the testimonies were incredulous. She was arrested. Charges were brought against her for practicing medicine without a license while hundreds were healed. She exhorted that salvation and faith had to be in place in order to experience these miracles. Believers saw every kind of disease healed in every meeting. Blind and deaf mutes were set free, sick and crippled healed and those near death were raised up. Immediate miracles as well as ongoing healings were a constant. One most notable:

The 1915 Topeka meeting saw a dramatic healing of 10-year-old Louis Romer who, at the age of 92, is still around to tell about it. Suffering with what was known as St. Vitus' dance (chorea), Louis shook so badly he couldn't feed himself, and his toes bent under his feet, preventing him from wearing shoes. He had little hope outside a miracle, for life expectancy of chorea victims in that day was only 13. Louis, who now lives in Lowell , Oregon , remembers that August camp meeting as if it happened only yesterday... The Topeka Capital was caught up in the healing when they referred to Louis in a headline as "Boy Cured by Miracle." He was never afflicted with the shaking again.

She regularly called for testimonies from the newly saved and healed. Whenever the subject lingered on experiences she would exhort them to speak of Jesus and give Him glory. Though manifestations were abundant, she attributed these to the power of God as in Peter’s trance in Acts 10:10. Unbelievers bent on interrupting the service were struck by the power of God and frozen in place or brought to the ground. She scrutinized the services careful to try the spirits, and deny flesh. She exhorted the crowds to do the same.

In the midst, souls found Christ, suffering multitudes were healed of every kind of sickness and testimonies were circulated far and wide. When this evangelist left town, it was her goal to leave a newly planted church complete with a Sunday school, leaders and pastor in place.

Finally after years of a most difficult marriage, she divorced her husband for adultery. The newspapers had a hey day but many stood up to tell the truth on her behalf. Importantly, a large group of elders and ministers in the Church of God where Maria was ordained came forward and gave honor to Maria and her work saying they’d had to remove his name from membership. Further, they reported:

Mrs. Woodworth was a revivalist of remarkable power …she was licensed to preach by the Indiana Eldership in 1884. She was at once appointed Eldership Evangelist, and reappointed in 1885. She was so successful in her work that she soon became noted as an evangelist of more than ordinary power, and was invited to hold revival services in churches of other religious bodies, in halls and in one instance in the court-house. The Church of God further attests to this success: An encouraging effect of Mrs. Woodworth's wonderful revivals was the inspiration to energetic endeavors felt by ministers and churches in the work of evangelism and Church extension. Her work, with all its defects, was of a very serious character, and it suggested the propriety of "days of fasting and solemn prayer for revivals" in many localities. Gratifying results followed. 3

Mr. Woodworth died the year after the divorce, and several years later she married Samuel Etter who was a strong believer and served wholeheartedly with her. In the last period of her life, Maria was carried to her church in a chair. They grew aged and weak, but served the Lord while they had breath.

Maria wrote books that were highly inspirational. Among them was The Life, Work, and Experiences of Maria Beulah Woodworth written in 1894. Included in the Cambridge Seven missionary group, was Stanley Smith who greatly valued Maria's Acts of the Holy Ghost, "It is a book I value next to the Bible," He believed that Maria’s ministry was unparalleled in church history. Fred Bosworth, on Etter's book. It is such a help to faith! There has been no such record written since the 'Acts of the Apostles' recording such continuous victories by the Lord in our day over sin and sickness."

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