A Thief Finds Peace of Mind

A true account by Charles Finney

A young woman visited me one day under great conviction of sin. On conversing with her, I found that she had many things upon her conscience. She had been in the habit of pilfering, as she told me, from her very childhood. She was the daughter, and the only child I think, of a widow lady, and she had been in the habit of taking from her schoolmates and others handkerchiefs, breast pins and pencils, and whatever else she had an opportunity to steal. She made confession respecting some of these things to me and asked me what she should do about it. I told her she must go and return them and make confession to those from whom she had taken them. This of course greatly tried her, yet her convictions were so deep that she dare not keep them, and she began the work of making confession and restitution. But as she went forward with it, she kept recalling more and more instances of the kind, and kept visiting me frequently and confessing to me her thefts of almost every kind of article that a young woman could use. I asked her if her mother knew that she had these things. She said yes, but that she had always told her mother that they were given to her. She said to me on one occasion, “Mr. Finney, I suppose I have stolen a million times. I find I have many things that I know I stole, but I cannot recall from whom.”

I refused altogether to compromise with her and insisted on her making restitution in every case in which she could, by any means, recall the facts. From time to time she would come to me and report what she had done. I asked her what the people said when she returned the articles. She replied, “Some of them say that I am crazy, some of them say that I am a fool, and some of them are very much affected.” “Do they all forgive you,” I asked? “Oh yes!” said she, “they all forgive me, but some of them think that I had better not do as I am doing.”

One day she informed me that she had a shawl that she had stolen from a daughter of Bishop H___. I told her she must restore it, and a few days later she called on me and related the result. She said she folded up the shawl in a paper and went and rung the bell at the Bishop’s door, and when the servant came she handed him the bundle to give to the Bishop. She made no explanation, but immediately turned away and ran around the corner into another street, lest someone should look out and see which way she went and find out who she was. But after she got around the corner her conscience smote her, and she said to herself, “I have not done this thing right. Somebody else may be suspected of having stolen the shawl unless I make known to the Bishop who did it.” She immediately turned around, went back, and asked if she could see the Bishop. Being told that she could, she was conducted to his study. She then confessed to him, telling him about the shawl and all that had taken place. “Well,” said I, “how did the Bishop receive you?” “Oh,” said she, “when I told him, he wept, laid his hand on my head and said he forgave me, and prayed God to forgive me.” “And have you been at peace in your mind,” said I, “about that transaction since?” “Oh yes!” said she. This process continued for weeks, and I think for months.

This girl was going from place to place in all parts of the city, restoring things that she had stolen and making confession. Sometimes her convictions would be so awful that it seemed as if she would be deranged. One morning she sent for me to come to her mother’s residence. I did so, and when I arrived I was taken to her room and found her walking the room in an agony of despair. Said I, “My dear child, what is the matter?” She held in her hand, as she was walking, a little New Testament. She turned to me and said, “Mr. Finney, I stole this New Testament. I have stolen God’s Word. Will God ever forgive me? I cannot recall which of the girls it was that I stole it from. I stole it from one of my schoolmates, and it was so long ago that I had really forgotten that I had stolen it. It occurred to me this morning, and it seems to me that God can never forgive me for stealing His Word.” I assured her that there was no reason for her despair. “But,” said she, “what shall I do? I cannot remember where I got it.” I told her, “Keep it as a constant remembrance of your former sins, and use it for the good you may now get from it.” “Oh,” said she, “if I could only remember where I got it, I would instantly restore it.” “Well,” said I, “if you can ever recall where you got it, make an instant restitution, either by restoring it or giving another as good.” “I will,” said she.

All this process was exceeding affecting to me, and as it proceeded her state of mind that resulted from these transactions was truly wonderful — a depth of humility and deep knowledge of herself and of her own depravity, a brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit, and finally, a faith and joy and love and peace followed like a river. She became one of the most delightful young Christians that I have ever known. – Revised and slightly condensed.

“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13

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