Oswald Jeffery Smith
BORN: November 8, 1889
Odessa, Ontario, Canada
DIED: January 25, 1986
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
LIFE SPAN: 96 years, 3 months, 17 days
PASTOR, EVANGELIST, MISSIONARY STATESMAN, author, hymn
writer, world traveler, poet, editor–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 dif-
ferent 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 pas-
tor in history. Half of this was from his own church.
Smith was a country boy and the eldest of ten chil-
dren 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 trduged
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 de-
scribing. The reports of 3,000 gathering only 90 miles away
challenged him to take a trip to Toronto. Attending the Mas-
sey 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 ap-
pointment. They rejected the desires of this brash 18-year-
old. He then began to sell Bibles and was very successful in
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 So-
ciety 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 chil-
dren 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. Return-
ing home to Mount Albert for the Christmas holidays, his par-
ents 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 inter-
est 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 civi-
lized 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 fol-
lowed. 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 (On-
tario) Congregational Church. A second church at Garafraxa
used his services simultaneously. Graduating from Toronto Bi-
ble 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 min-
istry. Out of these experiences came some of his finest po-
ems, 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 Semi-
nary (1913-14) saw him pastor the South Chicago Presbyterian
Church also. His engagement to Miss Tyrrell was broken by mu-
tual 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 pub-
lished. 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 con-
vinced 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 Tor-
onto. 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 mis-
sions. 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 var-
ious 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 ser-
vices in October of 1920, calling the work the Gospel Taber-
nacle. 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 Janu-
ary 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 some-
thing 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 pro-
gram 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 minis-
tries 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 ser-
vice. Smith pioneered soul-winning in Toronto. Gospel sing-
ing, 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,
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 peo-
ple. 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 annu-
ally 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. El-
don 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
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 feel-
ings and emotions in hours of deepest depression and heart-
ache. 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 Ack-
ley, 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 Com-
pany. 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 sing-
Smith brought well-known Christian songs to the pub-
lic 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,
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 mid-
dle 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 mission-
ary work. Just before leaving Bicker was killed in an automo-
bile accident. Then Jesus Came was written in 1939 in Phila-
delphia. 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
To sum it up seems as though you are describing the
work of several men: As a pastor Smith had ministered in Tor-
onto 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 annu-
ally–the figure grew every year–for foreign missions, more
than any church on the face of the earth. This helped to sup-
port 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–Mar-
shall, 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
As an editor, he published a magazine, The People’s
Magazine, for 36 years, which enjoyed a worldwide
As a radio preacher, his church services were carried
by as many as 42 stations at a time. In later years he con-
ducted “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, Co-
lombia, and Panama, consisted of the largest united evangel-
istic 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. Dur-
ing this trip he was received in Buckingham Palace. Then,
later in the year, Smith went to Japan; to Hong Kong, preach-
ing 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 Kyor-
itz 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, Eng-
land, and Wales.
Smith nearly died on three of his trips because of
poor health, which as stated earlier plagued him all his
Why such energy and talent given so unreservedly to
Christ? Smith replied with a motto he originated that has be-
come 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 Meth-
odist 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
Attempt great things for God, expect great things
Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice before every-
one has heard it once?
Give according to your income lest God make your in-
come 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
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.