Not a few Christians find it very difficult to forgive, especially when they’ve been deeply wronged and hurt. Rosalind Goforth was an outstanding missionary to China with her husband Jonathan for forty-seven years (1888-1934). In her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife she wrote honestly of her own struggle and eventual victory in this difficult matter of forgiving a marked offense.
Rosalind did not reveal the specific offense that was committed against her husband and her by a fellow missionary at the station where they were ministering. “Suffice it to say,” she later wrote, “that those who knew the facts agree that humanly speaking one can scarcely imagine a case where unforgiveness was more justified. Yet my dear husband, who had equal reason with myself for feeling as I did, quietly and calmly laid it all before the Lord and left it there. He begged me to do the same, but I could not, or rather would not, forgive.”
For more than a year the person who had caused the offense continued to live at their mission station, during which time Rosalind would neither speak to nor acknowledge him. After he left the station, another three years passed in which Rosalind held the matter “more or less in abeyance.”
Then the Goforths and some other Christians traveled by train to a large religious fair in a distant town where they carried out an intensive annual evangelistic campaign. Rosalind had been put in charge of the women’s outreach work that year, and she had a great yearning in her soul that the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power would be experienced in her life and ministry endeavors.
While they traveled along she bowed her head and cried to God to fill her with His Spirit. As she did, she sensed the Lord speaking to her in her heart: “Write to _____ [the one toward whom she felt hatred and unforgiveness], and ask forgiveness for the way you have treated him.” Instantly her whole soul cried out, “Never, never can I forgive him!” Twice more she prayed the same request and sensed the same clear inner prompting from the Lord. At last she jumped to her feet and said to herself of the divine blessing which she desired, “I’ll give it all up, for I’ll never, never forgive!”
As a result: “Then followed the saddest part of my life. For several months I taught and prayed to keep up appearances. But all the while my heart was becoming harder, colder and more hopeless.” One day Rosalind was reading Pilgrim’s Progress to her children. She came to the passage where Christian came to the man in the iron cage who said, “I have grieved the Spirit, and He is gone; I have provoked God to anger, and He has left me.” As she read those words, a terrible conviction came upon her that they were true of her. For the next two days she was in the depths of despair.
Jonathan was away from home at the time, and there seemed to be no one to whom she could turn for spiritual help. Then a young missionary, whose wife had died under exceptionally sad circumstances, came to their station and stopped by to greet Rosalind. They sat on the front steps of the Goforths’ home while he related with tears the details of his wife’s tragic death.
Apparently the emotion of the moment combined with Rosalind’s already distraught spirit proved too much for her to bear, and she began to weep uncontrollably. When at last she was able to do so, she shared the entire story about her struggle to forgive the man who had wronged them. She ended by saying, “I have grieved the Holy Spirit of God, and He has left me!”
“But Mrs. Goforth,” the young missionary asked, “are you willing to write the letter?” She replied: “I now know what it would be to be without God and without hope. And if I could only have another chance, there is nothing I would not do.” Again her fellow missionary asked, “Are you willing to write that letter?” When she indicated she was, he said, “Then go at once and write it.”
With “a glorious ray of hope dawning” in her, she hastened into the house and returned a few minutes later with the letter. It contained a few lines of sincere, humble apology for her actions toward the one whom she had been unwilling to forgive. Of the immediate and long-term consequences of her finally choosing to forgive she afterward related:
“O the joy that came, and thankfulness that it was indeed not too late! From that time, I have never dared not to forgive. There have been times when for hours, or even days, the battle was on again. But always the remembrance of this experience has enabled me to conquer and forgive.”
An important clarification: I do not understand the Bible to teach that the Holy Spirit actually leaves true Christians when they persist in sin. But Scripture certainly teaches that when believers refuse to forsake sin they grieve God’s Spirit and forfeit His empowerment and many other precious spiritual blessings.
A vital application: If we’re aware of unforgiveness or some other unforsaken sin in our lives presently, let’s hasten to get that cleared up with the Lord and any other appropriate individuals. Then we’ll once again fully honor and please the Lord and experience the restoration of spiritual joy and blessings in our lives.
Rosalind Goforth wrote several inspiring books, including her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife. I believe that volume is no longer in print, but can easily be found online through various used book sources. It is well worth the effort to track down and read the work, in which Rosalind honestly and humbly relates her own beneficial (and oftentimes remarkable) experiences of growing in her relationship with and service of the Lord. Reading that book may very well lead you to read several of her other works, as I have.
Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie