While scanning both book lists and library shelves, I was rather startled at the absence of material on restitution. Many volumes have been written on various subjects and many have been “beaten to death” by writers for whatever purposes; however, there seems to be not standing in line for the opportunity of expounding on this subject. There are many reasons and not least among them is that it is not a popular subject in today’s church world. However, I believe that it is a highly ignored subject, but that it stands on a solid moral and scriptural foundation. In the following paragraphs I hope to explore the five foundations on which I believe restitution rests.
Before we begin let us first define the subject at hand. The English dictionary defined restitution as the restoration to the rightful owner of that which has been taken away.
There is a basic moral law written on every man’s heart that every man should be able to possess what is rightfully his. We see this principle displayed even in very young children, the right and pride of ownership. Although this principle must be nourished and cared for by the parents of this child, nevertheless the natural law is there.
Men and women who may be very depraved in their various actions do not have to be coddled to readily admit that every man has the basic right to possess what he has rightfully earned. The doctrine of restitution rests on this firm foundation and is without legitimate argument to the contrary. If a man is to be at peace and rightfulness with his neighbor, he therefore is obligated to restore that which he has wrongfully, illegitimately, or secretly taken; be it or moral or monetary value.
Many shoplifters are caught with merchandise which they really did not need and could have easily done without; others have sufficient money on their person to have purchased the merchandise. Neither necessity nor penury promoted these to steal, but a depraved lust of the eye was motivating them to take unlawfully. Deeds of this category can be sensibly judged by this basic moral law to require restitution.
The second foundation on which restitution so firmly rests is that of civil law. To the best of my understanding civil law operates on a different standard than criminal law. One may escape the hand of criminal law and still be assessed a liability in a civil court. One such case was recently tried in our local court system where a man was tried for the murder of a teenager and found not guilty, yet the parents of the murdered teen went to civil court and were awarded a restitution. This ruling was upheld by the high court. This shows that the civil law which allows for the man to possess what is rightfully his is very broadbased and well founded.
The third foundation for restitution is found in the Old Testament where specific prices were connected to the specific wrongdoing. for instance, if a man seduced a virgin in a field, or remote area, and lay with her, his price to pay for that encounter was specific; he was to pay her father and he was to take her to wife and could not divorce her (Exodus 22:16; Deuteronomy 22:29). If a man steals an ox or a sheep and kills it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep (Exodus 22:1).
The various laws were specific. Read Exodus 22 and other related Scriptures and see that the Law of Moses was specifically designed to keep intact human relations by practicing restitution through pre-determined standards laid down in the law. There is no question but that this foundation rests on solid footing.
Again, in the New Testament in the case of Jesus and Zacchaeus, we see the law of repentance as the fourth foundation for restitution. “Lord, the half of my goods I give to feed the poor and if I have taken anything wrongfully I restore fourfold.” It is clearly inferred by the Scripture here that Zacchaeus’ statement was evidence that he was out of the sin business and clearly intended to lead a new life.
Zacchaeus wanted no skeletons in his closet to haunt him in the future. If he was going to be the host of Jesus, he did not want to dishonor the kind master who had called him from the Sycamore perch. A brief encounter with Christ in the way brought a total surrender to deity. The Apostle Paul on the Damascus road quickly and completely surrendered with the words, “What wilt thou have me do?” Restitution is one area that is strongly opposed by those who have the sorrow of the world. When they find God’s requirements they go away sorrowfully. The tendency today is the separation of faith and practice. A general confession and a half hearted commitment is all that is required by modern day evangelicals. This is not the commitment taught by the Scriptures not is it the practice used by Christ and the apostles.
There is a distinction that I would like to note between the story of the rich young ruler and the disciples’ actions in Acts 4. In Acts 4, those having possessions sold them and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. The tone of the Scriptures here was that they considered themselves to be only caretakers of material possessions, while the rich young ruler went away sorrowfully at Jesus’ command to sell and to give, indicating that his understanding of Christ was one that was subservient to the riches he possessed.
Christ in his Church will not allow members who have property that is rightfully the possession of others. The ramifications of such a practice is far reaching. We are now seeing some of the fruit from such practices surfacing in America’s religious circles. No one can lay rightful claim to New Testament repentance who has not made earnest attempt to correct his moral and monetary wrongs. The charge the Master issued was “owe no man anything.” This surely applies to this area.
It is my firm conviction that the Lord of the Sabbath offers ample time for a man to “judge himself,” and if a person will seriously heed to warnings and wooings of the Holy Spirit, God will grant great grace and ample victory in this area. But, if the longsuffering and forbearance of God is exhausted, the Holy Spirit being grieved by continual refusals and rejection on the part of the convicted, the justice of God will demand a full exposure, whether here on this earth or at the day of judgment. Further, it is easy to conclude that it is necessary in order that God’s justice be satisfied. Consequently, the doctrine of the New Testament restitution is not the laying out of burdens and unnecessary penitence, but it is the safest and easiest way to escape the judgment of God declared to be poured out on the impenitent. This doctrine is not unreasonable, unbearable, nor intolerable.
The fifth and final foundation of restitution rests in God’s demand of a right relationship between men as a condition of continual fellowship. If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has ought against you, leave your gift and be reconciled to your brother. Many say somewhat smugly that they have many enemies. Others say that they have nothing against anyone. However, we need not fool ourselves. One has only to listen for a little while to realize that the unity displayed at Antioch and in other first century churches is not prevalent today. Only recently a “good” brother stated, “Did you hear a certain organization had another split.” May the Lord have mercy upon us, someone surely must have remembered, but failed to leave their gift and be reconciled. We may all continue to preach, promote, teach our doctrine, but if we do not practice this injunction all our self-righteousness is but as filthy rags. While it is true that we cannot spend all of our time “putting out fires,” we can always obey the scriptural injunction that if we are at the altar and “remember.” Self conceit and self righteousness will destroy the very things that we worked so hard for. One of the strange phenomenon at work today is the inability to say, “I was or am wrong,” We can be very candid in our criticism of those who proceeded us, yet at the same time express so little ability even to entertain the idea that even we could be wrong. A high shout and a fast run will not remove a grudge. Neither will a high tide and a fast song straighten out a wrong, though in many circles, these are depended on to hold together the structural fabric of an organization. What a tragedy awaits those who attempt to appease a just God in this manner.
What, if any, is the fruit of our failure to follow these instructions or just simply ignore them? I’m sure that we do not fully count the cost when we ignore any of these five foundations. I am sure we do not see all the products of such failure, but let us begin to look at a few. Lawsuits come readily to mind. St. Paul stated, “How dare you. One having a matter against another take it before the unjust.”
One Indiana federal magistrate said that any civil case that comes to trial is evidence that at least one part is hard headed and stubborn and that there is sufficient time and due process to work out all differences. What an indictment of religious circles. Paul has a clearly marked route for us to follow, that he who is of the contrary part may have nothing to say.
Grudges are probably the most difficult rift in human relationships to correct because each party consistently purposes that the others are motivated by spite. Even conciliatory actions are often mistaken. Hundreds go to their grave and to the judgment with hard feeling which could have been erased by simple restitution and apology. To have the knowledge, ability, and opportunity to right wrongs and then meet them at the judgment is unspeakably tragic.
A third area which blossoms as a result of a failure to correct wrongs is talebearing, gossip, and evil speaking. A person may profess to have a right relationship with his fellow man, but the dispositions of the soul are not so easily hidden. Physical beauty can easily be marred by one’s speech and attitudes. The Scripture states, “Can the same fountain bring forth sweet water and bitter water?” Take heed, “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
I conclude with a brief testimony of my late father, Charles M. Brown (9/6/16 – 11/13/87). Converted at age 17 in the local Methodist Church, he fell away until early in the Spring of 1950. After months of intense conviction in which he quit all his wicked habits (smoking, etc.) except his swearing, he was converted and received the witness of the Spirit in the annual Spring revival. He then began an earnest walk with God which lasted until his death. He was known to be of deep piety not only of these within the church world and in his home community where he resided at the same house for 44 years. But his family also knew by precept and practice that he was first a Christian.
Two incidents I will note which exemplified his life and practices. Only as late as August 1987, he went to great length to straighten up a wrong action toward a grand-daughter that in an incident had happened years before.
The second was a testimony that he had given to Mother after he had narrowly escaped death in a farming accident. “I thought this was the end and I can truthfully say there is nothing between my soul and the Savior.”
The whole purpose of this article is to incite every reader to make his calling and election sure, so that when your call comes you can answer, “There is nothing between my soul and the Savior.”
From: Brown, C. Marion. “Restitution.” The Arminian: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, vol. 8, no.1, 1988. http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/the-arminian-magazine/the-arminian-magazine-fall-1988/. Web.