Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
Augustine was one of the most influential people in the history of Christianity. But things didn’t start out that way. When he was sixteen-years-old he had his entire future ahead of him, but was consumed with a love of sin, and it would be many years before things changed.
Soon after the event with the pears (Click Here to read the first part of the story) his father sent him to Carthage, a city down the road from where he grew up in Northern Africa, to begin his Law studies. Two things quickly became obvious in Carthage: Augustine was a brilliant student, and Carthage had many opportunities to continue his sinful lifestyle. Old friends who followed him there and new ones alike joined him in the pursuit of drunkenness, theft, and rejecting the Christian faith his mother had tried to teach him. While in Carthage he also took a mistress and fathered a child with her, even though they could never mary as she was from a lower class and the law would not allow such a marriage at the time.
He changed from studying Law to Rhetoric, and over the next ten years he would travel and teach in Northern Africa, then Rome, and Milan, Italy. At every stop along the way he explored new faiths, cults, and philosophies—anything he thought might help him make sense of the world—anything, that is, except the Bible.
All throughout this season of running from God, his mother kept praying and never lost hope. Her prayers were partially answered in Milan when he attended church again for the first time since he was a small boy. He went not because of an interest in Christianity, but to hear the famous preacher Ambrose and to study his public speaking techniques and methods. Augustine was so mesmerized by Ambrose that he kept coming back, over and over again. He would discuss and debate the sermon with friends for hours afterward. His mother would listen in and delight with hope that maybe Augustine would change. God was using Ambrose’s teachings to slowly pry open Augustine’s heart and mind to the gospel. Augustine even noted that it seemed Ambrose was purposefully picking apart every objection Augustine had to Christianity.
Augustine started reading the Bible, especially the letters of Paul, and over the next year he slowly began to see the truth of Christianity and how far from God he had been. He began to agonize over his sinful past and then over his inability to become a Christian. Why was he not able to fully commit to following Christ?
One afternoon he sat in his backyard with a friend, reading Romans and wrestling with the truth he found there. The internal struggle became so intense that he flung himself down under a nearby fig tree and began to weep with sorrow wondering why he couldn’t change, why he couldn’t desire God.
At that very moment, he heard a small child repeating a phrase in a sing-songy voice as if playing some game he had never heard before or since, saying, “take up and read, take up and read, take up and read.” He ran back to the copy of Romans and took up reading where he had left off, and here’s what he read, “not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires” (Romans 13:13-14 HCSB).
Augustine went from death to life in that moment. He said, “In an instant… it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.” He and his friend committed their lives to following Christ and serving him with all their abilities. Augustine would soon become a pastor, a teacher of Scripture, and a writer who would pen some of the most influential books in Christianity.
After this back yard experience, Augustine went into the house to tell his mother what had happened. For years she had said to him, “I will see you become a Christian before I die” and now her prayers had been answered.
1. What are some of the events or people God used to draw Augustine to himself in this story, to bring him from Death to Life?
2. What events or people has God used to give you new life in Christ?
God, we thank you for being at work in our lives to make us alive in Christ. Thank you that you use people and events to draw us to yourself. Help us to see you at work in the events of our lives, even those that were painful or we regret. Help us to be seekers of truth, and, like Augustine, to depend on your word to guide us to all truth. Thank you that you loved us enough to bring us from death to life!
(Quotes taken from Confessions by Saint Augustine, p.177-9 of the Penguin Classics 1961 edition).