A true account by Charles Finney
A young woman visited me one day under great conviction of sin. While talking to her, I found that she had many things that bothered her conscience. She told me that she had been in the habit of stealing things, ever since she was a very young girl. She was the daughter, and I think the only child, of a widow lady. She had been taking from her schoolmates and other people such things as pencils, breast pins, handkerchiefs, and whatever else she could steal. She confessed to me some of her thefts and asked me what she should do about it. I told her she must return the stolen articles and make confession to those from whom she had taken them. This of course was a great trial for her to bear, yet her conviction was so great that she dared not keep them. She began the work of confession and restitution, but as she went forward with it, she kept recalling more and more instances of the kind. She visited me often and confessed 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 that I have many things that I know I have stolen, but I cannot recall from whom.”
I altogether refused to compromise with her and insisted that she make 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 said that I am crazy, some of them said that I am a fool, and some of them were greatly affected.” “Did they all forgive you,” I asked? “Oh yes!” said she, “they all forgave me, but some of them thought 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 that 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 turned away and ran around the corner into another street, for fear that someone would find out who she was. But after she got around the corner her conscience convicted her, and she said to herself, “I did not do this thing right. Somebody else may be suspected of having stolen the shawl unless I make known to the Bishop who did it.” She then 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 confessions. Sometimes her conviction would be so awful that it seemed as if her mind would become deranged. She once sent for me to come to her mother’s residence. I did so, and when I arrived I was taken to her room. I 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 forgotten that I had stolen it. It occurred to me this morning, and it seems to me that God may 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 reminder 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.
This whole process greatly affected me. As for the girl, her state of mind that resulted from these transactions was truly wonderful. She received a depth of humility and a deep knowledge of herself and of her own depravity, a brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit, and finally, faith, joy, love and peace followed like a river. She became one of the most delightful young Christians that I have ever known. – Revised for easier reading and slightly condensed.
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13
This article may be reproduced and distributed.