Throughout the week I have been referencing John Stott’s small book, Why I Am a Christian. On Wednesday, I shared why I myself became a Christian (To Seek and to Save), yesterday I shared a brief biography on Francis Thompson’s conversion (This Tremendous Lover) and even shared his own words in his poem describing his experience (The Hound of Heaven), and today we look to another well-known testimony in the Christian realm. Again, John Stott does a marvelous job in his brief description of Augustine’s conversion.
I move on now to some Christian biographies, and I begin with that great early-church father, Augustine of Hippo. He was born in North Africa (in what we now call Algeria) in the middle of the fourth century. Already in his teens he was leading a dissolute, even promiscuous, life, enslaved by his passions. He wrote in his Confessions:
Clouds of muddy carnal concupiscence filled the air. The bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love’s serenity and lust’s darkness. Confusion of the two things boiled within me. It seized hold of my youthful weakness sweeping me through the precipitous rocks of desire to submerge me in a whirlpool of vice.
Even while half-drowned in sin, Augustine also plunged into study, and his studies took him first to Carthage, and then to Rome and to Milan. A great tug of war was going on in his mind between Christianity (which at this time he rejected) and Manicheism (which he had embraced). In this turmoil of moral shame and intellectual confusion he found himself in utter misery. Yet, through his inner restlessness of mind and conscience, as also through the prayers and tears of his saintly mother Monica, and through the kindly admonitions of Bishop Ambrose of Milan, Jesus Christ was surely pursuing him.
As with Saul of Tarsus, so with Augustine of Hippo, the climax came suddenly. He went out into the garden attached to his lodgings, accompanied by his friend Alypius. He threw himself down under a tree and let his tears flow freely, as he cried out, ‘How long, O Lord?’
As I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house chanting as if it might be a boy or a girl (I do not know which), saying and repeating over and over again, ‘pick up and read, pick up and read …’ I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first chapter I might find … So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting. There I had put down the book of the apostle when I got up. I seized it, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: ‘Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts’ (Romans 13:13–14).
I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.
Augustine attributed his experience to the sheer grace, that is, the free and unmerited favour, of God. He claimed that God had quickened all five of his spiritual senses—hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch:
You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.
Stott, J. (2003). Why I Am a Christian (pp. 21–23). Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.
God uses all kinds of means to pursue our fleeing souls in order to save us. In the case of Augustine, it was the sweet voice of a child and a well placed Bible. In my case, it was the constant preaching of the Word flooding my mind day after day, week after week, and year after year.
What about you? How have you felt the pursuit of Christ in your own experience? What means did God use to save you from your sin? I encourage you to take some time to contemplate and praise God for having sought you out to save you.
For those who have not yet trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior, what is keeping you from trusting this day? Is it the things of this world? Is it that you plan on repenting later, but right now you want to live life your way? Perhaps you think Christ’s salvation is a fairy tale and you cannot fathom it to be true. I’d encourage you to take a second look at Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Then, take a third look, a fourth look, and keep searching to see if your preconceived beliefs are better than Christ.