“By my Spirit”
Jonathan Goforth, D.D
I HAVE been asked to write a brief Foreword to my husband’s book, BY MY SPIRIT. It gives me real joy to do so, for the story of how the book came to be written is a wonderful — almost unbelievably wonderful witness of our Saviour’s own words, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
We were living in three rooms over the Street Chapel in Szepingkai, Manchuria. Late in the Fall our son Fred arrived unexpectedly from Canada. A few days later Dr. Goforth returned from Mukden where he had had a terrible time in the hands of a Japanese dentist. The weather turned suddenly extremely cold and Dr. Goforth caught cold in his jaw. As days passed he became seriously ill, his right arm for a time helpless. His only relief came when pacing the floor with hand to mouth.
One day I entered our living room to find Fred rapidly typing while his father told a revival story as he paced the floor in great pain. I protested vigorously but neither paid any heed so intent were they on getting the story down. No attempt was made at literary style — they both seemed only bent on getting the facts recorded. Later Fred retyped what he had written and corrected when reading to his father. Weeks passed thus till the main manuscript was completed. The first introductory chapter and the last Dr. Goforth wrote himself later.
We were all much impressed with the keenness of Dr. Goforth’s mind and the charm of his memory when in such suffering. It was always a cause of thanksgiving with him to have been enabled to do some thing worth while when forced from his beloved Evangelistic work.
IN this book we speak of results which are abnormal. If the Almighty Spirit moves in sovereign power on the hearts and consciences of men the outcome must be above the normal. In his introduction to Miss Dyer’s Revival in India, Dr. A.T. Schofield says: “One thing to be borne in mind is that since the days of Pentecost there is no record of the sudden and direct work of the Spirit of God upon the souls of men that has not been accompanied by events more or less abnormal. It is, indeed, on consideration, only natural that it should be so. We cannot expect an abnormal inrush of Divine light and power, so profoundly affecting the emotions and changing the lives of men, without remarkable results. As well expect a hurricane, an earthquake, or a flood, to leave nothing abnormal in its course, as to expect a true Revival that is not accompanied by events quite out of our ordinary experience.”
Perhaps no movement of the Spirit since Pentecost has been so productive of results as the Moravian Revival of the eighteenth century. We read that about noon, on Sunday, August 10th, 1727, “while Pastor Rothe was holding the meeting at Herrnhut, he felt himself overwhelmed by a wonderful and irresistible power of the Lord and sank down into the dust before God, and with him sank down the whole assembled congregation, in an ecstasy of feeling. In this frame of mind they continued till midnight, engaged in praying and singing, weeping and supplication.”
The accounts that we have of “the Love Feast in Fetter Lane,” London, New Year’s Day, 1739, give us an insight into the beginnings of another great movement which originated in that same period. We are told that there were about sixty Moravians present at the meeting, together with seven of the Oxford Methodists, namely, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Wesley Hall, Benjamin Ingham, Charles Kinchin and Richard Hutchins, all of them ordained clergymen of the Church of England. Of that meeting Wesley writes: “About three in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice — ‘We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!'”
I was a student at Knox College when Mr. Moody conducted a three days’ series of meetings in Toronto, during the winter of 1883. One of his noon meetings was about as melting as anything I have ever seen. I hardly think there was a dry eye in the assembly that day. No one who attempted to pray could go very far without breaking down.
But though we speak of the manifestations at Pentecost as being abnormal, yet we maintain that Pentecost was normal Christianity. The results, when the Holy Spirit assumed control in Christ’s stead, were according to Divine plan. Each one was strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. Christ then did dwell in their hearts by faith, and they were rooted and grounded in love. They were filled unto all the fulness of God, and God did work in and through them above all that they had asked or thought, even unto the “exceeding abundantly.” Anything short of that would have defrauded their Lord of His Calvary merits. The purpose of the Holy Spirit was to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ every day from the crowning to the coming. It is unthinkable that He should grow weary in well-doing. My conviction is that the Divine power, so manifest in the Church at Pentecost, was nothing more nor less than what should be in evidence in the Church today. Normal Christianity, as planned by our Lord, was not supposed to begin in the Spirit and continue in the flesh. In the building of His temple it never was by might nor by power, but always by His Spirit.
The Lord Himself met and foiled Satan after first being filled with the Spirit. And no child of God has ever been victorious over the adversary, unless empowered from the same source. Our Lord did not permit His chosen followers to witness a word in His name until endued with power from on high. It is true that before that day they were the “born-again” children of the Father and had the witness of the Spirit. But they were not the Lord’s efficient co-workers and never could be until Spirit-filled. This Divine empowering is for us as for them. We, too, may do the works which our Lord did, yea and the greater works. The Scriptures convey no other meaning to me than that the Lord Jesus planned that the Holy Spirit should continue among us in as mighty manifestation as at Pentecost. One should be able to chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight as of old. Time has not changed the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever.”
“But will it last?” How constantly unbelief puts this question! Of course, the work will last — if man is faithful. When the blood-bought servants of Christ yield Him absolute dominion, all the resources of the Godhead are in active operation for the glory of the Lamb which was slain. The efficacy of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire dies down in any soul only when that soul wilfully quenches it. Did Pentecost last? Did God will that it shouldn’t? Pentecost was of God. So was the Wesleyan Revival. It is not God, then, but man whom we must blame for the pitiful way in which the channels of blessing, originating in these great movements, have become clogged up. Can we imagine any one who is determined to co-work with God to the limit of his being asking “Will it last?” At one place in Manchuria, where the Holy Spirit had descended in unusual power upon the people, the Chinese evangelists went and asked the missionary why he had not told them that the Spirit would work so mightily. The missionary penitently replied that he himself had not known that it was possible. How pathetic to come out from “the schools of the prophets” and not realize that the Holy Spirit could endue with power to deliver a prophet’s message!
The ministerial association of a certain city in the homeland once invited me to tell them about the Spirit’s quickening work in China. In my address I assured them that I had no reason to consider myself any special favorite of the Almighty. What God had done through me in China I was sure He was able and willing to do through them in Canada. Hence that every minister should have the faith and courage to look to God the Holy Spirit to revive His people. I went on to point out that John Wesley and his colleagues were just ordinary men until their hearts were touched by the Divine fire. At that point a Methodist of some note interrupted me. “What, sir!” he exclaimed. “Do you mean to tell me that we don’t preach better now than John Wesley ever did?” “Are you getting John Wesley’s results?” I asked.
On another occasion I was asked to address a meeting of the Presbyterian Synod in Toronto. I took as my theme the revival at Changtehfu in 1908. I look back to that revival as perhaps the mightiest of the Spirit that I have ever been through. During those wonderful ten days there were seven different times that I was prevented from giving an address owing to the great brokenness among the people. While I was addressing the Synod, a theological professor, sitting at a table near‑by, looked anything but happy. My account of the Holy Spirit’s convicting power over a Chinese audience seemed to put his nerves all on edge. I understand that there was another professor from the same seminary who was sitting in another part of the building, and that he, too, fidgeted in his seat most uneasily. It seems that he finally turned around and hissed -‑”Rats!” That came perilously near being a sin against the Holy Ghost. By the most liberal allowance, could such prophets be expected to send out from their school young prophets filled with a Holy Ghost message? Can we wonder that spirituality is at so low an ebb throughout Christendom? Thirty‑two per cent of the Protestant churches in the United States report no increase in membership for 1927. The church attendance in Britain is not half of what it was twenty-five years ago. There can be no alternative; it is either Holy Ghost revival or apostasy.
We are convinced that the majority of Christian people are living on a plane far below what our Master planned for them. Only the few really seem to “possess their possessions.” Nothing can clothe with victorious might but the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire: and no one can possess such a baptism without knowing it. So many Church members seem only to have an acquaintance with water baptism, and this notwithstanding what the great Forerunner said: “I baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I . . . . He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Alas! We fear that many leaders know nothing more for themselves and their flocks than “John’s Baptism.” In spite of all our ecclesiastical pride and self-confidence, just how much of our building would stand the test of fire?
We cannot emphasize too strongly our conviction that all hindrance in the Church is due to sin. It will be seen from the following chapters how the Holy Spirit brings all manner of sin to light. Indeed, the appalling fact is that every sin which is found outside the Church is also found, although perhaps to a lesser degree, within the Church. For fear that some may judge too harshly, we would point out that many of the Chinese churches, of which mention is made, are not even one generation removed from heathenism. At the same time, let us not delude ourselves by thinking that all is well with our old established churches at home. It is sin in individual Church members, whether at home or on the foreign field, which grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit. I imagine that we would lose much of our self‑righteousness if we were to find that pride, jealousy, bad temper, back‑biting, greed and ill their kindred are just as heinous in God’s sight is the so‑called grosser sins. All sin in the believer, of whatever kind, mars the redemptive work of Christ. The most piercing cries that I have ever heard have come from Chinese Christians, when the Holy Spirit made plain to them that their sin had crucified the Son of God afresh. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. lix. 1, 2). The filth and blood‑guiltiness of the churches can only be swept away by the Spirit of Judgment and of Burning.
In view of the prominence that is given to confession of sin in this book, perhaps it would be as well to make plain my personal views on the subject. Some years ago, I was about to open a series of meetings at an important center in China, when a visiting lady missionary came to me with what she called “a sure plan to move the people.” Her idea was that I should first confess my sins, then she would confess hers and afterwards I was to persuade all the missionaries to confess theirs. The Chinese leaders would naturally follow, and she was certain that by that time every one would have broken down. I replied that the Lord had not led me to see things in that light. “If I have hindering sins,” I said, “they hinder in Honan, where I am known; and the same applies to yourself. So the sooner we return to our respective fields and get them out of the way the better. To confess our sins before this audience, where we are not known, would only waste valuable time. Besides, who am I that I should urge these missionaries to confess their sins in public, when, for all I know, they may be living nearer to God than I am? The Spirit of God does not need me to act as His detective. If the missionaries here have hindering sins, then we may rest assured that the Spirit will move them to get rid of them. But that is His business, not ours.” Never have I witnessed anything more moving than that last meeting when those missionaries, one after another, broke down before the people and confessed to the things that hindered in their lives.
We have a strong feeling that sins committed before conversion are under the blood of God’s Holy Son and never should be confessed. To do so is to bring dishonor upon His Calvary sacrifice. We have heard Church members confess to sins which they had committed previous to their having joined the Church. But such had never really been born again, and the conviction from the Holy Spirit that inspired and accompanied their confessions was usually of an awe‑inspiring nature and never failed to move the audience deeply. Moreover, as far as our observation has led us, we have concluded that there must first be deep conviction among the true followers of Christ before any expectation can be entertained of moving the others. From our own experience we are able to state that in every instance where this necessary first stage has been reached, the unconverted in the audience have broken down completely. There could have been no Pentecost unless the one hundred and twenty believers had first reached this stage. The Chinese Christians speak of this work of the Spirit as judgment, but as the “hsiao shen pan” (small judgment), the way still being open to avail oneself of the cleansing efficacy of the precious blood.
We believe, too, that as regards secret sin, i. e. sin which is known only to the individual soul and God, to confess it at the private altar is, as a rule, sufficient to ensure pardon and cleansing. We say, as a rule, because we have known of many, usually such as have been responsible for the salvation of others, e. g. ministers and Church leaders of one sort or another, for whom secret acknowledgment of sin has not been sufficient. Their agonised public confessions have shown plainly that, for them at least, there was only one way of relief.
As to sin against an individual the Scriptures are quite plain. “Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. v. 23, 24). It is vain for us to pray while conscious that we have injured another. Let us first make amends to the injured one before we dare approach God at either the private or the public altar. I am confident that revival would break out in most churches if this were done. Then again, as regards public sins, experience has shown us that these can only be swept away by public confession. True, this amounts to crucifixion; but by our wilful disobedience we have put the Lord of Glory to an open shame, and it is the price that we must pay.
Some years ago, while addressing a large body of ministers and elders in the homeland, we urged that the Divine call was for a greater emphasis upon sin. A few hours later, at a certain ministerial gathering, the subject was brought up, and I understand that in the argument that ensued a large majority decided that the Church had laid too much emphasis upon sin. Man’s thoughts, however, are not God’s thoughts. Calvary is His emphasis upon sin. Surely, since the sinless Son of God had to be made sin for us an over‑emphasis upon sin is in the nature of things impossible. Wasn’t it John Wesley, who, as he was passing into the presence of the King, was heard whispering:
“I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me!”
Some mention will be made in these pages of demon possession. We are well aware that it is not a popular subject. When Dr. Nevius’s book on “Demon Possession” was published, upwards of thirty years ago, the editor of a noted journal came out with the statement: “Here is another sample of how readily some men let slip the sheet anchor of their reason.” Yet, what we have seen with our own eyes has led us to conclude that the slip was not with Dr. Nevius but with the editor, who too readily let slip the sheet anchor of his faith. We again take the liberty of quoting from Dr. Schofield, the famous Harley Street specialist. “I think,” he said, “those who know the East cannot doubt that Satan’s power there is beyond dispute . . . Lunacy is a general word that covers any departure from sanity, but I think that at times it covers even more. My experience even in England goes to show, and I think the experience of all skilled men directly connected with mental diseases proves conclusively, that here and there one comes across a case that is evidently ‘possessed’ by some evil spirit. I . . . am one who believes that such cases occur, and still more that the demons may and can and have been ‘cast out’ and their victims restored to sanity. . . .”
Different ones have termed this work which God has led me into as mere emotionalism. We make no defense other than to quote a few extracts from letters which were written to friends in the homeland by missionaries in Manchuria during the Revival there in 1908.
“Hitherto I have had a horror of hysterics and emotionalism in religion, and the first outbursts of grief from some men who prayed displeased me exceedingly. I didn’t know what was behind it all. Eventually, however, it became quite clear that nothing but the mighty Spirit of God was working in the hearts of men.”
“Remember that the Chinaman is the most sensitive of men to public opinion, that here were men, and women too, running counter to every prejudice, in the teeth of cherished tradition ‘losing face,’ and lowering themselves in the public eye, and you will realise a little of the wonder and amazement that filled the missionary body.”
“A power has come into the Church we cannot control if we would. It is a miracle for stolid, self‑righteous John Chinaman to go out of his way to confess to sins that no torture of the Yamen could force from him; for a Chinaman to demean himself to crave, weeping, the prayers of his fellow‑believers is beyond all human explanation.”
“We are quite overwhelmed at the wonder of it . . . . We have read of revivals in Wales, in India, and our next‑door neighbor, Korea, but when the blessing comes down so fully and freely as it has done these past few days in our midst, it has a new meaning.”
“Perhaps you say it’s a sort of religious hysteria. So did some of us when we first heard of the Revival. But here we are, about sixty Scottish and Irish Presbyterians who have seen it — all shades of temperament — and, much as many of us shrank from it at first, every one who has seen and heard what we have, every day last week, is certain there is only one explanation ‑‑ that it is God’s Holy Spirit manifesting Himself in a way we never dreamed of. We have no right to criticise; we dare not. One clause of the Creed that lives before us now in all its inevitable, awful solemnity is, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.'”