'China's Greatest Evangelist'
Jonathan Goforth was on of the greatest foreign missionaries of his era. He was an instrument used mightily by God in the early 20th century.
Goforth was born on a farm in 1859 near Thorndale in Ontario, Canada. The seventh of eleven children, he gave his life to Jesus Christ at the age of 18 and soon commenced his ministry of winning others to faith.
The young Canadian met Rosalind in the spring of 1885. She had been praying for a husband who was fully dedicated to God and His work. Later that year they were engaged after Jonathan asked Rosalind, “Will you join your life with mine for China? And will you give me your promise that always you will allow me to put my Lord and His work first, even before you?” She immediately replied, “Yes, I will always.”
Rosalind soon got her first taste of the sacrifice she would encounter during her life as the wife of Jonathan Goforth. Her dreams of an engagement ring were dashed when he told her that the money he would have spent for a ring was instead used to purchase Christian literature.
The Search for God’s Power
After arriving in China the Goforths settled in northern Henan Province, which was to be their home for decades to come. The early years of ministry in Henan proved difficult, and the powerful revival that God brought to China through the Goforths in the early 20th century almost never took place. During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, Jonathan was almost killed by bandits, who hacked him with swords to his back, neck, and head. He managed to escape with his life by the providence of God.
Jonathan returned to China in 1901 a changed man. He had been grieved by the dead Christianity he encountered at home, and was also dissatisfied by the luke-warmness he saw among the Christians in China.
In 1906 Goforth was preaching in a remote town when he fell under heavy conviction. The Lord commanded him to go and reconcile himself with a Christian brother. Goforth tried to argue with the Lord, pointing out that the point of contention was the fault of the other man. He tried to continue preaching, but his message was awkward and without power. He stopped speaking, bowed his head, and promised the Lord he would go and see the man immediately after the meeting. The whole spiritual atmosphere of the meeting changed, and many tearful confessions of sin were made throughout the congregation. In the following months the same happened at every meeting Goforth spoke at. The Holy Spirit moved in a mighty way, and many wrongs were made right.
For the next decade Jonathan Goforth led revival meetings all over China. Often he would preach for eight hours a day, to crowds of up to 25,000 people. Thousands of sinners experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and multitudes of Christians were awakened to a more vital relationship with God. The meetings were often characterized by public confession of sin and repentance.
When Heaven Came to Anyang
A series of revival meetings was arranged in the Goforth’s home town of Anyang. So many people were gripped with the fear of God that they desired nothing more than to confess their sins and be cleansed by the Blood of Jesus Christ.
Another of the missionaries heard many school boys confessing their sins publicly, in deep anguish of spirit. The missionary mocked this in his heart, believing the boys were just mimicking the earlier confessions of the adults. He didn’t believe teenage boys could possibly perform the kinds of sins and depravity that they were confessing. Gradually, however, the Holy Spirit had mercy on the man and he too came under the transforming power of God. He admitted his pride and foolishness, and vowed to never again pretend to know more than the Holy Spirit.
Goforth wrote, During these last days a number, who had held out up till then, felt that things were becoming too hot for them and tried to run away. But they found out what a difficult thing it is to escape from a seeking God. Some only got half way home, when the pressure became so unbearable that they had to turn around and come back. Others got all the way home, but, finding no relief, they returned.
Before the revival there were only about 100 Christians in Anyang, out of a population at the time of 250,000. That means that just one in every 2,500 residents in Anyang knew Jesus Christ.
Today the gospel seeds that were sown a century ago have produced a bountiful harvest in Anyang. There are presently about 200,000 believers throughout Anyang City and the surrounding county. The population is just over two million, meaning that today one in ten people in Anyang are followers of Jesus! The efforts of the Goforths and Chinese pioneers laid the groundwork for a wonderful harvest of souls for the kingdom of God in Anyang, and throughout all of Henan Province.
Yang the Champion Boxer
The town of Guangshan was visited by Goforth in December 1915. During eight days of meetings there, 154 people were baptized and thousands more heard the gospel for the first time.
One of those who came to Christ was a man named Yang, a former champion boxer. He had been the greatest prize-fighter in the region, and nobody had ever knocked him out. Many had lost their fortunes betting against Yang, and they consequently harbored a grudge against him. When news got around that the great fighter Yang had become a Christian, his enemies saw it as an opportunity to get revenge on him. One day, while Yang was in the marketplace, a mob of men surrounded him and almost beat him to death. He was found by some friends and carried home. The missionaries wanted the perpetrators arrested, but Yang begged them not to get involved, and refused to bring charges against his attackers.
A few months later he had recovered from his injuries and was again seen walking around the town. His enemies were furious, and decided this time they would finish him off. Yang was so terribly beaten the second time that for months his family despaired of his life. He slowly recovered, and again insisted that no charges be brought against the thugs.
Goforth recalled, As soon as he had recovered, he went around the country preaching the gospel. He died a few years after I met him. But it was not before he had led many of his old enemies to Christ. He left a church of 600 members in his own village, and ten other churches scattered throughout the surrounding country.
Heaven came down to Henan during those blessed days, and thousands of people entered into relationship with Jesus Christ for the first time. Many Christians repented of their sins and found new freedom in their lives.
People who had stolen items from their neighbors returned them, and sick marriages were restored to health. Many opium addicts were wonderfully and powerfully delivered, and never returned to the drug again. Perhaps the greatest result was the new unity and love that developed between Christian leaders.
Lives Well Spent for Jesus
For almost 50 years Rosalind proved a wonderful partner to her husband. Following the call of God cost the Goforths dearly, and five of their eleven children were buried on Chinese soil. Rosalind never doubted Jonathan’s love for her, but she often struggled with the level of intense commitment he had to the Lord and his work.
In the early 1930s Jonathan’s eyesight started to diminish. He became totally blind and the Goforths retired to Canada in 1934, where the man dubbed ‘China’s greatest evangelist’ went to his eternal reward two years later at the age of 76.