In his book Loving God, Charles Colson recalled how Augustine – brilliant, learned and handsome – held one of the most prestigious and enviable professorships in Italy. When he spoke, he was overwhelmingly persuasive. Few considered themselves his equal. Although he had a Christian mother and was personally intrigued by the Christian faith, Augustine lived a life distant from God. He was torn about how best to live; he was engaged to be married yet had a mistress and an illegitimate child. Many mistresses, in fact. Sex was necessary for him, he said, for he had no power to resist his natural desires. On the other hand, he was riddled with guilt from when he stole fruit from a neighbor’s pear tree with a gang of youthful rowdies. But change was afoot in Augustine’s heart. The great philosophers, such as Plato, had convinced Augustine that there was more to the world than what could be seen, tasted, touched, heard or smelled. Augustine was coming to believe that things could be real beyond his own sense of reality. Then came Ambrose, a Christian pastor in Milan whose preaching Augustine was eager to hear. In Ambrose, Augustine had found a speaker equal to his own skills. But it was more than verbal ability—Augustine was intrigued with what Ambrose was saying. Augustine’s life would be changed by for simpe words: take up and read.
Augustine had tried reading the Scriptures as a teenager but was not impressed. At the time he had been in love with beautiful language, and the language of Scripture had seemed dull and plain. But years had passed since then. Under Ambrose’s influence, the simplicity of Scripture had begun to sound like the simplicity of the profound.
Take Up and Read
One evening he sat in his garden, utterly silent in the stillness of the summer heat. But inside his heart, a storm raged. Confusion over his life built up until finally it seemed as if his chest would burst. He threw himself under a fig tree, sobbing, unable to stop.
Then… a voice.
A childish, piping voice so high-pitched that he could not tell whether it was male or female. The voice seemed to come from a nearby house. It chanted, over and over: Take up and read. Take up and read. Take up and read.
Were the words for him?
“Read what?” Augustine shouted into the sky.
Then he glanced around him, and there, lying nearby, were the letters of the apostle Paul from the New Testament. Was he to take up the Scriptures and read?