(Taken from a short biography in http://www.wholesomewords.org)
Jonathan Goforth, the seventh of eleven children, was born February 10, 1859 on his father’s farm near London, Ontario, Canada. His devout mother influenced him to pray and to love, read and memorize the Scriptures. Something of the hardships endured by the family is indicated by the fact that the father once went to Hamilton for food and walked through the bush all the way back, a distance of seventy miles, with a sack of flour on his back. By diligent effort Jonathan managed to keep up with his class in school, although he was under the handicap of being obliged to work on the farm each year from April to October.
When he was fifteen years of age his father put him in charge of their second farm, which was twenty miles from the home farm. “Work hard,” said his father. “At harvest I’ll return and inspect.” In later years Goforth stirred many an audience as he told of his arduous labors that summer, of his father’s return in the fall and of how his heart thrilled when his father, after inspecting the fields of beautiful waving grain, turned to him and smiled. “That smile,” he would say, “was all the reward I wanted. I knew my father was pleased. So will it be, dear Christians, if we are faithful to the trust our Heavenly Father has given us. His smile of approval will be our blessed reward.”
At the age of eighteen, while Jonathan was finishing his high school work, he came under the influence of Rev. Lachlan Cameron, a true minister of Christ. He went one Sunday to Rev. Cameron’s church and heard a sermon from God’s Word that cut deeply and exactly suited his need. The Holy Spirit used the Word to bring him under conviction and that day he yielded to the tender constraints of Christ. “Henceforth,” said he, “my life belongs to Him who gave His life for me.”
Under this impulse he became an active, growing Christian, He sent for a supply of tracts and startled the staid Presbyterian elders by standing, Sunday after Sunday, at the church door giving each person a tract. Soon thereafter he began a Sunday evening service in an old school house about a mile from his home. He instituted the practice of family worship and besought the Lord for the salvation of his father. Several months later his father took a public stand for Christ.
About this time his faith was subjected to a severe testing. His teacher was a blatant follower of the infidel Tom Paine, and his classmates, influenced by the teacher, made his life miserable by their jeers and mockery. The foundations seemed to be giving way and in a mood of desperation Jonathan turned to God’s Word. In consequence of an earnest, day-and-night search of the Word, his faith was firmly established and all his classmates, also his teacher, were brought back from infidelity. The next great influence in Jonathan’s life came through a book and then a collection of books. A saintly old Scotchman, Mr. Bennett, one day handed him a well-worn copy of the Memoirs of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, saying, “Read this, my boy; it will do you good.” It did! Stretched out on the dry leaves in the woods, he was soon so absorbed in the book he did not notice the passing of the hours. When the lengthening shadows of sunset aroused him, he arose a new man. The story of M’Cheyne’s spiritual struggles, sacrifices and victories stirred him to the depths and was used of God’s Spirit to turn his life from selfish ambitions to the holy calling of being a seeker of souls. In view of his intention to enter Knox College to prepare for the ministry, Rev. Cameron arranged to give him lessons in Latin and Greek and loaned him a number of books by Bunyan, Baxter, Boston and Spurgeon, which he “devoured” with rich blessing. But his main book was the Bible. He arose two hours earlier each morning in order to have unhurried time for the study of the Word before going to work or to school.
Young Goforth was now spiritually ready for God to deal with him again. One epochal day he went to hear an address by the heroic missionary pioneer, George L. Mackay of Formosa. Full of the Holy Spirit, like Peter and Paul and Stephen of old, Dr. Mackay pressed home the needs and claims of the heathen world, especially of Formosa. He told how he had been going far and wide in Canada seeking missionary reinforcements but so far he had not found even one young man willing to respond. Simply but powerfully he continued, “I am 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.”
Note: I was provoked about five years ago by a joyful old pentecostal preacher to consider the life of Canadian missionary Johnathan Goforth. The preacher spoke of revival and his continuing hopes for a significant move of God locally in the near future. He stated that the missions success of Goforth was birthed in profound, honest repentance and public confession first in the Christian communities of Korea and then in China. He urged his local congregation, which we were visiting, to the same cleansing, focusing process. Imagine, a missionary named Goforth! Imagine the Lord’s successes through him echoing here in Grand River Valley. And he was born near my native city of London, Ontario.