31 August 2005

…on the impact of the written word.

The title of this column—Take Up and Read—was not chosen by chance. It comes from the conversion story of one of the pillars in the history of the Christian church. Aurelius Augustinus, better know as Saint Augustine, lived in the 4th and 5th centuries and led a wanton early life full of dissipation and lustful pleasures. He eventually became enamored by pagan philosophies and a dualistic heresy called Manichaeism. His growing drive for truth and understanding carried him to Platonism and eventually led him back to the Christian scriptures. Through the Bible, Augustine was brought before God in all His holiness and before a mirror that clearly revealed his sin before God. At the age of 32, in the midst of an intense internal turmoil that Saint Augustine described in his Confessions as “being beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity,” Augustine withdrew in utter despair and conviction over his sin. Book 12 of The Confessions of Saint Augustine describes his state and subsequent conversion.

While laying in this state of bitter sorrow and despair, Augustine overheard a child chanting as if it was a nursery rhyme, “take up and read, take up and read” which he interpreted as a command from God to once again pick up the Scriptures. He opened Paul’s Epistles to read Romans 13:13-14; “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.” Upon reading, Augustine had a “light of confidence flood his heart” and came to receive and understand God’s grace and the forgiveness found by faith in Christ. Shortly thereafter, he reported his awakening to his mother, Monica, who had been praying for his salvation most of his life and who immediately “leaped for joy and triumph and blessed [God who is] ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.’”

The full account of his awakening and the subsequent impact of Saint Augustine’s work—especially the later impact on Luther and Calvin leading to the Reformation—is one of the most amazing testimonies of God’s grace in church history. It is a testimony to the power of the Word and the reading thereof. Let us all take a lesson from that child outside Augustine’s window, from Augustine’s confessions, and from God’s providential work of grace in Augustine’s life and take up and read!

(First published in DeiLight August 2004)