Jonathan Goforth served in China under the auspices of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission.
When, last autumn, in Taiyuan, the capital of Shansi, the president of the university there was in one of our meetings when the wondrous power of God swept through it, with tears he said: “Well, the Refiner and Purifier has been in our midst to-day.”
From the beginning of my work, I had seen results, but it always seemed that there must be hindrance somewhere, or the Spirit would produce still more wondrous fruits. This led me to look into the lives and work of Finney, Moody, Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, and others, and mainly the Word of God.
Finally I was willing to give up everything I possessed, only that God’s power might work through me. When I came to that point it was definite. “Lord, I have done all that I can; now I expect Thee to do all that Thou canst do!” By faith I received. I never had any wonderful manifestation; it seems to be God’s plan—for me, at any rate—not to wait for any definite consciousness of anything, but to obey God. “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” Fulfil all the conditions; and then God will fulfil His.
The Problem of Unbelief
There is a good deal of unbelief, even among foreign missionaries. It seems strange that it should exist among them. For illustration, one station I had been asked to go to by the native pastor and a foreign missionary. Another missionary, who had nothing to do with the invitation, arrived there. We went over to his house to arrange for a prayer meeting. He asked to be allowed to make his position plain. “My method is that tomorrow morning we do not preach at all. We three pastors meet together, pray, and think out a plan of action. We will think of subjects like this—The Kingdom of God. We will get the people in, ask this man to say what he thinks the Kingdom of God means, and ask another to pray. If you accept this plan I will go on with the meetings; otherwise, of course, I can not.”
For months I had been purposing to come; and, right on the eve of starting the special meetings, it was impossible for me to change plans.
“I thought so,” said he, “but I want to make my position plain, and I can not go on with the meetings.”
“Shall we have the prayer-meeting?” said I.
“I would rather not; I don’t want fellows to be prayed at.”
“I never pray at any one,” was my reply; “and I ask no one to confess.” “I know your plan is working on the feelings,” he said; “but I believe in getting at the intellect.”
We went away, and had our prayer meeting, but that brother did not come. A week after they had a big fight in his church, and one of the deacons was pitched on to the embankment. He did not see that the devil was inside the church eating up the sheep. He has got hold of some of this “New Theology,” poor fellow!
Well, the work started there, and the third night, the other missionary— whom no one could accuse of trying to work up any feeling whatever—a quiet, easy-going man—was leading fifty odd boys in the school, and everything was going on smoothly for an hour in the ordinary way. One boy got up, confessed, broke down, and the whole school followed. The leader tried to sing, but the boys gave no heed to him. After an hour of trying he sent for me. I was preparing an address upon “Quench not the Spirit.” I was called out to the place where all in agony, their feet and hands going, pounding the desks, were trembling, and crying out at the top of their voices. This had been going on for about an hour. A boy would get up, go over to another, and say: “That day I told a lie about you—forgive me.” A second would say to his fellow: “I stole your pencil.” They were going on in that way all round the school.
We got the teachers in, and started to sing. I took a bell, and rang it loudly, but the boys went on. I rattled a heap of slates, shouted, gradually gained the ears of the boys, gave them some comforting words, and told them to go off to bed. What a glorious change there was next day!
Twenty-three of them were baptized on the Sunday after that. Usually the rite is preceded by six months’ or a year’s probation, but we saw that they did not need this. Forty-three boys and girls, on the following Sunday, were led into the Church through baptism. That did not seem to move our brother, and he did not come to the meetings.
Then I gave the address on “Quench not the Spirit.” The native pastor had, unfortunately, taken sides and split the church, but all the trouble was swept away by mutual confession. Still, our brother did not yield.* It was amazing.
We ended with an eight days’ mission in the Presbyterian church, Peking, on March 28. There was blessing, but not in fulness. The 300 university boys did not yield much, but we resolved to continue the meetings. On the Thursday after I left, the mighty power of God broke the boys all down, and for an hour they were under awful agony. They confessed with shame that, when I was there, they had combined not to let Mr. Goforth move them.
There Must Be Absolute Obedience
If we are to be channels of this power, to bring down blessing upon our own people, families, and all we are connected with or responsible for, there must be absolute obedience. The Holy Spirit seems to be exceedingly jealous along those lines. In one place where we were holding meetings last December Princetonian theology prevailed. Men and women were melted before the Lord. Every time we had a prayer-meeting alone there was melting and weeping, and we felt that nothing could resist the power there. But things went on day by day, and the fulness did not come. One morning the chief pastor—and a saint of God—was out with the boys just before sunrise, and the mighty power of God swept through the school. He said he had been in China twenty-four years, and had never seen anything like this. That same night the girls’ school was swept by the power of God. And yet the main congregation did not give way.
A little while before, the pastor had found a man who was expected to preach sitting in his room and taking things easy. He spoke sharply to him, but he was puffed up with pride, and said he would quit the mission. The pastor begged him to forgive the hotness of his word, but he was still stubborn.
The last night came, and I said to my brother-minister: “Somehow, I am not satisfied; you have not the fulness.”
“Why,” he replied, “we ought to be grateful through eternity for what we have seen during these days.”
“Still,” said I, “there is not the fulness I have seen in other places, and I expected you to have received it long ere this.” Then God said within me: “Can not you stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord?” I said: “Lord, I will not pray any more. I need rest, I will just wait.”
Right after that, one of the foreign ladies broke down, confessed, and prayed. Another followed her. The female teacher in the girls’ school broke down. Then the brother right beside me, this saint of God, spoke, almost weeping, somewhat like this: “Father, a long time ago Your servant Moses did speak unadvisedly with his lips. And You would not let him into the Promised Land, tho he longed for it; Your servant here has spoken unadvisedly with his lips. Why should I hinder blessing for the whole people?”
One man burst out in great agony—it was that delinquent preacher. Then a school-teacher who had been opposed to the pastor; then several more.
I said to the boys: “Go down to your knees.” All the girls were slipping to their knees, and there was weeping all over the place. The doctor, who had been detained at the hospital, came in from outside. At some distance he thought an express trarin was coming rapidly from the south. Then, a little nearer, it seemed like a mighty wind blowing up from the north. As he came near and located the sound, he found it to be men, women, and children, all melted before the Lord.
It seems such a little thing, but the Spirit of God is exceedingly jealous. He must have His servants pure. Their sin has been known publicly, and must be set straight publicly.
The Wonderful Influence and Power of Prayer
Another thought is—wonderful influence and power of prayer. Just after I had got through six days’ meetings at Mukden, I saw a letter from a station where they had had such wonderful blessing. Dr. Moffat had said: “Remember when the meetings are going on at Mukden that your brothers and sisters will be praying—several thousand Koreans. Their prayers are mighty, and will prevail.” At Mukden they had not made any preparation—had not called in leaders from the outside, had not brought the east, west, and southern churches together. When I went home after the second meeting, I did feel a great burden. I went down upon my knees, and started to pray. In a little while God said: “Can you not trust me? Am I not the omnipotent One? Supposing they have not prepared, I can still do My work.” And I was at ease after that.
Next morning an elder, kneeling where I had knelt, said: “Before the Boxer movement I was treasurer, and had the cash in hand. The Boxers came and burned up my books. When the missionaries came back and asked for their money, I said I had never received it. I knew they could not trace it. Yesterday God cut me through and through as with knives, and I could not sleep last night. I will pay it all back.”
God was there, tho I had not realized it. God did sovereign work in Mukden; but He does not do that unless His servants are prepared.
When I was in Peking, I was in the Congregational London Mission. The movement started there. There was not the fulness, but it swept all over the women. Some of the leaders were loaded up too much with lucre, and would not disgorge. One is a cigaret vender, and makes too much to give that business up. They are hindering the blessing among the men. One of the college girls knew about this. That girl’s face would strike you anywhere. She prayed: “Father, we thank Thee for what You have done outside the barrier [the Great Wall]. Truly they needed You there, but we are dry and barren. Won’t You have mercy upon us, and come down as in Manchuria?” A missionary remarked that the girl’s face was like an angel’s. She knew all about the combine, and during the last night of the meetings she prayed in an agony, and said: “O Lord, break this combine.”
The Leadership of the Holy Spirit is So Prominent
Another thought I would mention is—the leadership of the Holy Spirit is so prominent. One missionary, writing about the great movement in Nanking, says: “It is a misnomer to speak of meetings as led by Mr.____; it is the Spirit of God. When He comes, you are willing to do anything.”
In one place in Manchuria a missionary said: “You need not expect any such movement here. We are 'North of Ireland hard-headed Presbyterians,' and do not move that way. Our people, after special meetings, could not be got to stand up and pray. As to women opening their mouths, it is not to be thought of in the Presbyterian Church.”
The Manner of Manifestation
I said: “I am not concerned about the manner of the manifestation; I do not control that. Whether God sweeps you people by mighty tempest, by earthquake, or by the still, small voice—that is His affair. I am here simply as His instrument.”
Right after the first address about fifteen men and women started to pray quickly, one after another. The missionaries were amazed. Next day even the boys and girls were praying. By the third day one could not wait until another had said “Amen.” For about twenty-five minutes none but men were praying. A lady said: “Tell the men to give the women a chance.” “Why,” said I, “I say: ‘Blest Spirit, this meeting is absolutely in Thy control. Glorify God the Father, glorify the Son.’ I have committed it to Him, and I don't like to interfere.”
At the next station a letter was handed in, which said: “Two requests I would like you to mention for prayer. Two brothers, one a preacher, the other a deacon, are always quarreling, and hindering the cause. Another preacher, his wife is a Bible-woman; they quarrel so terribly that others can not live in the same house. The cause is debt. Mention this, and have them prayed for.” I said: “I am not going to be a detective for the Holy Spirit. I am not going to interfere like that.”
The next forenoon, after an address, the mighty power of God swept through. One man said: “My temper and pride are so bad in the home that they can not get along with me.” It was the elder of those two brothers! Another man was down upon the floor, weeping as if his heart would break. He said: “I treat my wife so badly, and am full of pride.” That was the preacher who could not get along with his wife! He got filled with the Spirit, went back, and made it up with his wife.
Do not be anxious; God knows how to manage His work. Therefore do no urging. The missionaries want to put their hands out and steady the work of God. But we should keep our hands off. I have seen meetings spoiled in that way. People are under awful conviction, and some one says: “These people will go crazy, stop them.” I would rather see them in a lunatic asylum than in perdition with their awful sins upon them. They are in the hands of the Spirit of God; let Him have His way.
The Mighty Conviction
Another thing is—that mighty conviction. It is appalling, and is not to be understood by ordinary rules. At Mukden there was an elder, dressed in his very best, with a gold ring and bracelet—a prominent man. He was sent down to the Young Men’s Conference at Shanghai. On the fourth day he was fearfully agitated. His son flung himself upon the floor, after confessing terrible sins. The elder himself said: “Give me a chance. I tried three times to poison my wife. She screamed out in agony. I, an elder!” He took his elder’s cards out of his pocket and flung them into the stove. He took off his gold ring and bracelet and flung them down, saying: “I do not want them. If the Lord spares me, I will give tithe of all I possess after this.” Instantly seven or eight hundred people, men, women, and children, were in agony. That is the mighty conviction of the Spirit of God. No one can control it.
At the place where the hard-headed Presbyterians were, on the fourth evening, they went on praying for half an hour. Then I let them sing a hymn. An elder said, "Will you allow me to say a few words? My temper was so bad that it was very hard for the other elders and deacons to get along with me, especially Elder ____, on the platform.” The other said: “Don’t ralk like that. Mine are bigger sins, but I have been too proud to confess them.”
Just then a strong-faced man—I had noticed his face writhing under conviction for two days—was on his knees. He said, “O God, You know all about my sins. I am a preacher; and, if I tell all, I’ll be disgraced. And my two sons here, my two daughters in the audience, will all be disgraced. But O God, I don’t fear man at all; I have got to get rid of these things.
“My pastor has given me indemnity money, and I have used it. A man gave me a fur garment to close my mouth.” He dragged it off, flung it upon the platform, and said: “I can’t wear this any longer.” Soon men, women, and children were in awful agony for one hour, crying out for mercy. Several sets of heathen had come in, out of curiosity; but when the mighty convicting power of God laid hold of them, they fell down on their knees in agony, as the others.
Again at ____, on the second day, there was an audience of four or five hundred. One woman started to pray and confess, broke down, and could not finish. It was the same with another. A man started with a few sentences, and also went down. A third woman started, and broke down. Soon the whole audience were in awful contortions, pounding the floor, beating their breasts, and in fearful agony. After three-quarters of an hour, in front of every one I could see pools of tears. Yes, He convicted of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It was the judgment, in small degree, there; but they could reach the cross and get under the blood. What wonderful joy there was as the result. Down at Hankow last year, each one seemed to look into the wounds of the Redeemer, and to count, as in agony He poured out His blood, the sins which had crucified the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
In one audience of 1,500, what strong conviction was seen. On the last day, from ten minutes to three to ten minutes to nine, they could not stop. There were five pastors listening. On the great platform thirty men, women, and children were waiting. It seemed that the Spirit of God controlled every word. I was never before so impressed with the power of the Chinese. One felt that these men and women, boys and girls, more than 800 students, would sweep the country with the Gospel of God. Terrible revelations were brought to the light, but it is better to get these evils out than to have them in the Church of Christ.
The Sign of the Gift of Tongues
Often it has been put to me: Have you the sign of the gift of tongues? I say, No; there has not been the slightest indication of that, [wher]ever I have been. But there has been John xvi.: “When He is come, He will convince the world of sin.” That I have seen, with overwhelming power, everywhere.
Then I see His leading into all truth. But for that preparation this work could not have gone on. The Spirit revivified the truth, and revealed it in new light to the babes humbled before Him. Then I see this one desire to glorify Jesus Christ. There is no attempt at the gift of tongues at all. I am not taking up an antagonistic attitude; I have my own feelings about it. I have seen men and women coming out to China, believing in the gift of tongues, and waiting—they are doing nothing. Let us look only for that which will humble us and make us Christ-like, so that all who see us may know that we are the Lord’s.
Up in Manchuria, in one place the power of God was so terrible among the people that the heathen said: “Their spirit has come.” Christians are supposed to have first-rate demons, and the Chinese second-rate ones. In Manchuria they say: “Their spirit has come, and if you do not want to go their way, keep away from where they are. Otherwise, their spirit will get inside, and then you can not help yourself.” In one place, when God came down and made those who had quarrels settle accounts, the people said: “A new Jesus has come.” The Spirit of God has power to make people not only confess, but make restitution. Out there in China we see readiness to give wealth, to give means for the propagation and extension of God’s kingdom. There were two men. One who was making $40 a month said: “I want to become a preacher.” From that time on, he had to take $8 à month. Another young fellow, whose business prospects were bright, said: “I give myself henceforth to Jesus Christ, to be His servant.”
Are there not some who will give up their business, political and other great prospects, and go out to China for Jesus Christ? It will pay ten thousand times over. It is a grand thing to invest in China! God’s time to favor her has come!
Taken from the "Missionary Review of the World," August, 1909, pp. 613-617. The article was condensed from the “Life of Faith,” May 5, 1909.