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Jonathan Goforth was a Canadian missionary who was sent to China by the Canadian Presbyterian Mission. Over the next few weeks, we will learn more about the life of this zealous evangelist and soul-winner, whose sole passion was to win the unsaved multitudes to Christ.

Family background and early life

The seventh of eleven children, Jonathan Goforth was born near London, Western Ontario, Canada on February 10, 1859. His parents were poor pioneer farmers who were exposed to great physical hardships. To support the family, Jonathan and his brothers took on odd jobs with neighbouring farmers who testified that “the Goforth boys were diligent, hardworking lads”.


Recounting their hardships later, Jonathan told of the time when his father had to tramp “through the bush all the way from Hamilton to our home near London, a distance of seventy miles, with a sack of flour on his back.”

Godly upbringing and conversion

Jonathan’s godly mother began teaching him Bible lessons when he was just five years old. From her, he also learnt how to pray and to read the Psalms. Because of his mother’s faithful nurturing, Jonathan had a desire to become a Christian from an early age. When Jonathan was seven, a neighbour gave him a Bible – a gift which stirred in him an even greater desire to search the Scriptures.

One Sunday, when ten-year-old Jonathan was in church with his mother, he suddenly realised that “if God called me away I would not go to heaven”. Deeply convicted of his sins and the need for salvation, Jonathan said: “I would have yielded my heart to Christ then.” Sadly, no one asked him to make a decision for Christ at that time.

But God was graciously working in Jonathan. A Presbyterian pastor, Rev Lachlan Cameron, visited his school regularly. It was one of Rev Cameron’s sermons that convicted Jonathan’s heart, and he yielded himself to Christ. Jonathan said: “Henceforth life belongs to Him who gave His life for me.” He was then eighteen years old. Soon after, Jonathan became a member of the Presbyterian Church.

In His Master’s service

Eager to serve his new-found Master, young Jonathan “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”. Not long after, he started a Sunday evening service in an old school house not far from his home.

Jonathan also began leading his family in family worship, as convicted by the Lord. As his family had not even been used to giving thanks before each meal, Jonathan was afraid of his father’s response to family worship. But strangely, his father never said a word. Family worship continued as long as Jonathan was home. Some months later, his father came to know the Lord.


When Jonathan was fifteen, his father put him in charge of their second farm, called “The Thamesford Farm” which was twenty miles from their home. Jonathan’s father told him to work hard as he would return at harvest time to inspect the field.

Jonathan took up the challenge and worked diligently throughout the summer – clearing the field of weeds, searching for, and sowing the best seeds. He also applied the latest scientific methods to his farming and cultivating techniques with gratifying results. At harvest, the yield was plentiful, thanks to Jonathan’s unceasing efforts.

When his father came to inspect the field in autumn, looking for signs of weeds, there were none. Pleased with what he saw, Jonathan’s father simply smiled. Jonathan said: “That smile was all the reward I wanted. I knew my father was pleased. So will it be if we are faithful to the trust our Heavenly Father gives us. His smile of approval will be our blessed reward.”
(… to be continued)

– Sis Helen Wee

(Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from and Goforth of China by Mrs Rosalind Goforth).