PRIMARY SOURCE: From Bath to Baptistry
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh,
to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
Around AD 370, when 16-year-old Augustine stepped from the waters of the public bath where all sorts of sins were committed, his father spied him and smiled to think he might soon become a grandfather. What gladdened Augustine’s pagan father, however, grieved his Christian mother.
Along with sexual indulgence, the teenager stayed out all hours with ne’er-do-wells. One night, he and his buddies stole pears from a neighbor, climbing each tree, nibbling just a bit from each piece of fruit, and then throwing them to the hogs below. He later confessed the appeal of the theft: “It was foul, and I loved it.”
Augustine eventually pursued a career in rhetoric. Meanwhile, the child his father had anticipated wasn’t long in coming. Adeodatus they called him, “a gift from God.”
Just before his 30th birthday, Augustine sailed for Italy where the glory of Rome occupied him for a year before heading for Milan. Seeking to sharpen his craft, he attended the preaching of the eloquent Ambrose. His interest wasn’t religion, but he couldn’t hear the minister’s oratory without drinking in the truth he expounded. Listening, he realized his earlier rejection of Christianity had been misplaced.
Of course, accepting Jesus’ teachings as true doesn’t make one a Christian. God wants the heart, not just the head. To be saved, one must advance beyond the porch of truth into the house of trust. Augustine was not far from the Kingdom but not in it. His final move to faith came when a friend shared his testimony. Augustine recalled: “Thou, O Lord, while he was speaking, didst turn me round towards myself, taking me from behind my back where I had placed me, unwilling to observe myself; and setting me before my face, that I might see how foul I was, how crooked and defiled, bespotted and ulcerous. And I beheld and stood aghast; and whither to flee from myself I found not.”
He realized he hadn’t been honest with God or himself. He’d been praying, “Give me chastity, but not yet.”
Shortly after hearing his friend’s testimony, Augustine was walking in a garden when from a nearby house, he heard a child saying, “Take up and read.” Considering this as direction from God, he walked to where he’d laid a copy of Romans and read the first passage he saw: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13–14). Those words prompted faith and swept his soul into God’s Kingdom.
Augustine visited Ambrose, and soon, on Easter morning, behind curtains and stark naked as was the custom, he was lowered three times under the waters of baptism. As he stepped out of the water, his Father spied him and smiled.
About the Columnist: Paul V. Harrison has pastored Madison FWB Church in Madison, Alabama since 2015. Previously, he pastored Cross Timbers FWB church in Nashville, Tennessee, for 22 years. He was an adjunct professor at Welch College for 17 years, teaching church history and Greek. Paul is the creator of Classic Sermon Index, a subscription-based online index of over 66,000 sermons, with clients including Harvard, Baylor, and Vanderbilt, among others: classicsermonindex.com.