Chapter 4 – Restitution

A third element of successful prayer is RESTITUTION. If I have at any time taken what does not belong to me, and am not willing to make restitution, my prayers will not go very far toward heaven. It is a singular thing, but I have never touched on this subject in my addresses, without hearing of immediate results. A man once told me that I would not need to dwell on this point at a meeting I was about to address, as probably there would be no one present that would need to make restitution. But I think if the Spirit of God searches our hearts, we shall most of us find a good many things have to be done that we never thought of before.

After Zaccheus met with Christ, things looked altogether different. I venture to say that the idea of making restitution never entered into his mind before. He thought, probably, that morning that he was a perfectly honest man. But when the Lord came and spoke to him, he saw himself in an altogether different light. Notice how short his speech was. The only thing put on record that he said was this: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” A short speech; but how the words have come ringing down through the ages!

By making that remark he confessed his sin — that he had been dishonest. Besides that, he showed that he knew the requirements of the law of Moses. If a man had taken what did not belong to him, he was not only to return it, but to multiply it by four. I think that men in this dispensation ought to be fully as honest as men under the Law. I am getting so tired and sick of your mere sentimentalism, that does not straighten out a man’s life. We may sing our hymns and psalms, and offer prayers, but they will be an abomination to God, unless we are willing to be thoroughly straightforward in our daily life. Nothing will give Christianity such a hold upon the world as to have God’s believing people begin to act in this way. Zaccheus had probably more influence in Jericho after he made restitution than any other man in it.

Finney, in his lectures to professing Christians, says: “One reason for the requirement, ‘Be not conformed to this world,’ is the immense, salutary, and instantaneous influence it would have, if everybody would do business on the principles of the Gospel. Turn the tables over, and let Christians do business one year on Gospel principles. It would shake the world! It would ring louder than thunder. Let the ungodly see professing Christians in every bargain consulting the good of the person they are trading with — seeking not their own wealth, but every man another’s wealth — living above the world — setting no value on the world any further than it would be the means of glorifying God; what do you think would be the effect? It would cover the world with confusion of face, and overwhelm them with conviction of sin.”

Finney makes one grand mark of genuine repentance to be restitution. “The thief has not repented who keeps the money he stole. He may have conviction, but no repentance. If he had repentance, he would go and give back the money. If you have cheated anyone, and do not restore what you have taken unjustly; or if you have injured anyone, and do not set about to undo the wrong you have done, as far as in you lies, you have not truly repented.”

In Exodus we read — “If a man steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” And again: “If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard shall he make restitution. If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith, he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.”

Or turn to Leviticus, where the law of the trespass offering is laid down — the same point is there insisted on with equal clearness and force.

“If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbor in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or has deceived his neighbor; or has found that which was lost, and lies concerning it, and swears falsely; in any of all these that a man does, sinning therein; then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he has deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he has sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertains, in the day of his trespass offering.”

The same thing is repeated in Numbers, where we read — “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done; and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he has trespassed. But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the Lord, even to the priest, beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made of him.”

These were the laws that God laid down for His people, and I believe their principle is as binding today as it was then. If we have taken anything from any man, if we have in any way defrauded a man, let us not only confess it, but do all we can to make restitution. If we have misrepresented any one — if we have started some slander, or some false report about him — let us do all in our power to undo the wrong.

It is in reference to a practical righteousness such as this that God says in Isaiah — “Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness; you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen — to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall spring forth speedily; and your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your reward. Then shall you call, and the Lord shall answer; you shall cry, and He shall say, Here I am.”

Trapp in his comment on Zaccheus, says: “Sultan Selymus could tell his councilor Pyrrhus, who persuaded him to bestow the great wealth he had taken from the Persian merchants upon some notable hospital for relief of the poor, that God hates robbery for burnt offering. The dying Turk commanded it rather to be restored to the right owners, which was done accordingly, to the great shame of many Christians who mind nothing less than restitution. When Henry III of England had sent the Friar Minors a load of frieze to clothe them, they returned the same with this message, ‘that he ought not to give alms of what he had rent from the poor; neither would they accept of that abominable gift.’ Master Latimer said, “If you make no restitution of goods detained, you shall cough in hell, and the devils shall laugh at you.” Henry VII, in his last will and testament, after the disposition of his soul and body, devised and willed restitution should be made of all such moneys as had unjustly been levied by his officers. Queen Mary restored again all ecclesiastical livelihoods assumed to the crown, saying that she set more by the salvation of her own soul, than she did by ten kingdoms. A bull came also from the Pope, at the same time, that others should do the like., but none did. Latimer tells us that the first day he preached about restitution, one came and gave him ££20 to restore; the next day another brought him ££30; another time another gave him ££200.

“Mr. Bradford, hearing Latimer on that subject, was struck in the heart for one dash of the pen which he had made without the knowledge of his master, and could never be quiet until, by the advice of Mr. Latimer restitution was made, for which he did willingly forego all the private and certain patrimony which he had on earth. “I, myself,” said Mr. Barroughs, “knew one man who had wronged another but of five shillings, and fifty years after could not be quiet until he had restored it.”

If there is true repentance it will bring forth fruit. If we have done wrong to someone, we should never ask God to forgive us until we are willing to make restitution. If I have done any man a great injustice and can make it good, I need not ask God to forgive me until I am willing to do so. Suppose I have taken something that does not belong to me. I cannot expect forgiveness until I make restitution. I remember preaching in an Eastern city, and a fine looking man came up to me at the close. He was in great distress of mind. “The fact is,” he said, “I am a defaulter. I have taken money that belonged to my employers. How can I become a Christian without restoring it?” “Have you got the money?” He told me he had not got it all. He had taken about 1,500 dollars, and he still had about 900. He said, “Could I not take that money and go into business, and make enough to pay them back?” I told him that was a delusion of Satan, that he could not expect to prosper on stolen money; that he should restore all he had, and go and ask his employers to have mercy upon him, and forgive him. “But they will put me in prison,” he said. “Can you not give me any help?” “No; you must restore the money before you can expect to get any help from God. ” “It is pretty hard,” he said. “Yes, it is hard; but the great mistake was in doing the wrong at first.” His burden became so heavy that it was, in fact, unbearable. He handed me the money — 950 dollars and some cents — and asked me to take it back to his employers. I told them the story, and said that he wanted mercy from them, not justice. The tears trickled down the cheeks of these two men, and they said, “Forgive him! Yes, we will be glad to forgive him.” I went downstairs and brought him up. After he had confessed his guilt and been forgiven, we all fell down on our knees and had a blessed prayer meeting. God met us and blessed us there.

There was another friend of mine who had come to Christ and was trying to consecrate himself and his wealth to God. He had formerly had transactions with the Government and had taken advantage of them. This thing came to memory, and his conscience troubled him. He had a terrible struggle; his conscience kept rising up and smiting him. At last he drew a check for 1,500 dollars, and sent it to the Treasury of the Government. He told me he received such a blessing after he had done it. That is bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. I believe a great many men are crying to God for light; and they are not getting it because they are not honest.

A man came to one of our meetings, when this subject was touched upon. The memory of a dishonest transaction flashed into his mind. He saw at once how it was that his prayers were not answered, but “returned into his own bosom,” as the Scripture phrase puts it. He left the meeting, took the train, and went to a distant city, where he had defrauded his employer years before. He went straight to this man confessed the wrong, and offered to make restitution. Then he remembered another transaction, in which he had failed to meet the just demands upon him; he at once made arrangements to have a large amount repaid. He came back to the place where we were holding the meetings, and God blessed him wonderfully in his own soul. I have not met a man for a long time who seemed to have received such a blessing.

Some years ago, in the north of England, a woman came to one of the meetings, and appeared to be very anxious about her soul. For some time she did not seem to be able to get peace. The truth was, she was covering up one thing that she was not willing to confess. At last, the burden was too great; and she said to a worker; “I never go down on my knees to pray, but a few bottles of wine keep coming up before my mind.” It appeared that years before, when she was housekeeper, she had taken some bottles of wine belonging to her employer. The worker said: “Why do you not make restitution?” The woman replied that the man was dead; and besides, she did not know how much it was worth. “Are there any heirs living to whom you can make restitution?” She said there was a son living at some distance; but she thought it would be a very humiliating thing, so she kept back for some time. At last she felt as if she must have a clear conscience at any cost, so she took the train, and went to the place where the son of her employer resided. She took five pounds with her, she did not exactly know what the wine was worth, but that would cover it at any rate. The man said he did not want the money, but she replied, “I do not want it; it has burnt my pocket long enough.” So he agreed to take the half of it, and give it to some charitable object. Then she came back; and I think she was one of the happiest mortals I have ever met with. She said she could not tell whether she was in the body or out of it — such a blessing had come to her soul.

It may be that there is something in our lives that needs straightening out; something that happened perhaps twenty years ago, and that has been forgotten until the Spirit of God brought it to our remembrance. If we are not willing to make restitution, we cannot expect God to give us great blessing. Perhaps that is the reason so many of our prayers are not answered.

“Who would be cleansed from every sin,
Must to God’s holy altar bring
The whole of life – its joys, its tears,
Its hopes, its loves, its powers, its years,
The will, and every cherished thing!

“Must make this sweeping sacrifice —
Choose God, and dare reproach and shame,
And boldly stand in storm or flame
For Him who paid redemption’s price;
Then trust (not struggle to believe),
And trusting wait, nor doubt, but pray
That in His own good time He’ll say,
‘Thy faith hath saved thee; now receive.’

“His time is when the soul brings all,
Is all upon His altar lain;
When pride and self-conceit are slain,
And crucified with Christ, we fall
Helpless upon His word, and lie;
When, faithful to His word, we feel
The cleansing touch, the Spirit’s seal,
And know that He does sanctify.” – A. T. Allis.