Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936) Pioneer Revivalist
Preparation.Jonathan Goforth began attending church with his mother as a child, but he did not come to Christ until age 18. He felt God’s call to serve in China after hearing Dr. G.L. Mackay, a pioneer missionary to Taiwan. In 1888 he and his bride of one year, Rosalind Bell Smith, became the first missionaries to China from the Canadian Presbyterian Church. They served in China for the next 46 years.
God used Goforth to bring revival to the Chinese Church, but his ministry did not start that way. Prior to 1906, Goforth worked in northern Henan as an evangelist and church planter. He and Rosalind practiced “open house evangelism,” offering tours of their “foreign devil” home to as many as 2,000 Chinese a day and preaching the gospel to all. Jonathan nearly lost his life in 1900 when he was severely injured by Boxers armed with swords.
The family returned to China in 1901 with a new ministry focus, itinerant evangelism. In 1907, Goforth traveled to Korea and witnessed the revival sweeping that land. He became convinced that his call was to revivalism, and began the ministry that would bring the greatest immediate response of any missionary work in China. Goforth’s new work as a revivalist started in 1908 in the northeast, and in the next five years more than 13,000 came to Christ in China through his preaching, which focused on the need for prayer, confession, repentance and reconciliation. By the 1920s, so-called modernism had begun to sap the vitality of many mainstream denominations in the west. Goforth heard himself criticized for his “fundamentalist” preaching on the reality of hell and judgment. He persevered, often preaching eight hours a day, sometimes to crowds numbering 25,000. By the time the Goforths left China in 1934, Jonathan was blind, and he died less than two years later. In style and substance, he had blazed the way for John Sung, whose ministry as China’s great revivalist was just beginning.
Family Ministry.. Rosalind’s life with Jonathan was not easy. When he asked her to marry him, he explained that he could not afford an engagement ring because he was using his money to purchase tracts. When they returned to China after the Boxer Uprising, Goforth developed his plan for a life of itinerant evangelism. The family would move to a different location every month, trusting God to raise up a faithful national worker in each location who would stay behind as they moved on. Rosalind, who had already buried four children in China, argued that more would die from the rigors of life in rural areas. God spoke to her heart, however, and she finally agreed with her husband that the children would be safest in the center of God’s will. They eventually had eleven children. Rosalind was a gifted writer, and she authored Goforth of China and her autobiography, Climbing: Memoirs of a Missionary’s Wife, before her death in 1942.
Quotation.““Some may think that receiving visitors is not real mission work, but I think it is…Often the people of a village will gather round me and say, ‘We were at your place and you showed us through your house, treating us like friends.’ Then they almost always bring me a chair to sit on, a table to lay my Bible on, and some tea.”