Missions History: Jonathan Goforth

Imagine this…a one-room schoolhouse at recess, when children rushed out the door to play in the warm sunshine. Yet one boy stayed behind. He loved to stand in front of the maps in the schoolroom. Studying each continent in each turn, he was fascinated with lands he had never seen. Was something stirring him, drawing him, to go “unto the uttermost parts of the earth” with the gospel of Christ? Time would tell. 

This boy’s name was Jonathan Goforth, and he would become one of the most influential Christian missionaries in twentieth-century China.


Early Life

Although Jonathan grew up with a devout Christian mother, he did not accept Christ as his Saviour until the age of eighteen. Jonathan later wrote, “That Sunday, Mr. Cameron seemed to look right at me as he pled, during his sermon, for all who had not, to accept the Lord Jesus Christ…As I sat there, without any outward sign except to simply bow my head, I yielded myself up to Christ.” 
Full of newfound zeal, Jonathan was eager to start serving in his local church. He was assigned a Sunday School class and started handing out tracts at the door of the church every Sunday. Jonathan even started holding a Sunday evening service in a nearby schoolhouse! 

Call to Ministry

As a young man, Goforth dreamed of becoming a lawyer and politician. But he would soon learn that God had other plans. After reading The Memoirs of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Jonathan felt God’s call to ministry. Gone were his ambitions of pride and selfish dreams. In their place burned a holy desire to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At first, Jonathan refused to consider foreign missions, preferring to serve in Canada. But, one day, a classmate invited him to a meeting to hear Dr. MacKay of Formosa (modern-day Taiwan) speak about the need for more missionaries. 
George MacKay earnestly pleaded, “For two years I have been going up and down Canada trying to persuade some young man to come over to Formosa and help me, but in vain…I am therefore going back alone. It will not be long before my bones will be lying on some Formosan hillside. To me the heartbreak is that no young man has heard the call to come and carry on the work that I have begun.”
Ashamed, Jonathan realized that he had been planning his own life as he pleased, without seeking God’s direction. He heard God’s voice calling and answered, “Here am I; send me.” From then on, he devoted his life to preparing for the mission field.
At the local church’s prison ministry, we want our people to have a heart for missions, too.

Service in China

In 1885, Jonathan was given a copy of Hudson Taylor’s book China’s Spiritual Need and Claims. He began praying for an opportunity to serve in China, and God answered! After graduating from Knox College and marrying Rosalind Bell-Smith, the couple sailed for China in February of 1888. They were sent by the Presbyterian Board of Canada. 
His ministry focused on evangelistic meetings, starting churches, and training local believers for leadership. The Goforths also held “open house” and welcomed the local people to visit them. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900, Jonathan’s family narrowly escaped to Canada. 
By 1902, both Jonathan and his family were safely back in China. He began to travel from village to village with his family. In each place, they would stay a month while Jonathan taught the men and Rosalind taught the women about the Bible. 

A Desire for Revival

In the year 1904, someone gave Jonathan a copy of Charles Finney’s Lectures on RevivalsHe grew deeply interested in revival and spent much time in prayer and Bible study about it. Three years later, he visited Korea at the time of a great revival.  
On his way back home through Manchuria, Jonathan visited congregations and told them what God was doing in Korea. Many churches invited him back to speak in early 1908, and the great Manchurian revival broke out. 
At these meetings, the Holy Spirit moved in a powerful way. From elders and deacons to small children, many people made public confession of sin and asked for prayer. Christians boldly shared the gospel with the people of their communities. Meetings were filled with the presence of God, as people’s hearts were broken in humility and repentance. At the local church’s prison ministry, we want to see God revive our hearts, too.
After these revivals, Jonathan Goforth began to travel full-time as an evangelist. Until his return to Canada in 1934, he divided his time between planting churches, evangelism, furloughs, and training missionaries. 
Because of their declining health, Jonathan and his wife Rosalind returned to their native land in December of 1934. He preached evangelistic meetings throughout Canada for the next two years. On October 8, 1936, God called him Home.

His Example to Us

Had Jonathan refused God’s call and instead pursued his own dreams, thousands of Chinese believers might never have heard the gospel. Churches might have languished in coldness. Many missionaries might never have gone to China. Yet he courageously said yes, and God used him in great and mighty ways. 
What about you and me? When God calls us, will we say yes? Let us not waver in fear or indecision. Like the prophet Isaiah, let us boldly say, “Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) 
Are you searching? Jesus has the answers for addictions and stubborn habits. For more information, send the Crossmans a private message here on Facebook or come to a church service at Prince Albert Baptist Church. Take the first step in a walk of freedom!

For more information, call (306) 940-9554 or email anchorofhopeheb@gmail.com

1. Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Goforth of China by Rosalind Goforth. Accessed from http://www.revival-library.org/index.php/catalogues-menu/20th-century/goforth-of-china

PC: By Greg Gordon – http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/myalbum/photo.php?lid=371, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21306567