Tolle Lege. A long time ago, in a country far, far away, a young man struggling to come to terms with truth and salvation was sitting on a park bench. Outwardly, he looked calm, but inwardly there was only turmoil, anxiety and anguish. He had been raised in the church, but long since left that group of simpletons for the big city to find a more cultured and promising life. For a time, he satisfied himself with the usual pleasures, but could not shake a restlessness in his heart for something more, something permanent, something soul-satisfying.
At the climax of this search, as he sat on that park bench, he heard a child’s voice say in Latin, “Tolle! Lege!” (Take! Read!). You and I might find it strange that anyone should speak in Latin, but for Augustine living in the Roman Empire in the 4th century, it wasn’t so odd. Even so, he found it odd that these words should be spoken by a child. Upon reflection, Augustine wondered if this might be an action he should follow, so instead of continuing to search for truth through mysticism or philosophy or education or conversation or the spiritual practices common to his day, he found a Bible and read it. When he did, he realized that he was a sinner despite thinking he wasn’t so bad (after all, he was cultured, urbane, educated, successful) and discovered that repentance and faith in Jesus was the only way to deal with sin. In short, Augustine was saved.
To the day of his death, Augustine never discovered if the voice he heard was really just a child, a call from heaven or part of his imagination, but that didn’t matter. What is striking about Augustine’s life is that his salvation started him on a trajectory that kept him in God’s Word. Augustine never sought out another spiritual experience like that first one; instead, he sought to know and live God’s Word through joy and sorrow, hardship and ease, frustration and uncertainty.
This did not mean, however, that Augustine stopped reading anything else except the Bible. He was a voracious reader of all sorts of material. What changed is how he evaluated what he read. As we saw this past Sunday (2/10), there is a difference between books that are an explanation of revelation and books that give revelation with explanation.
When reading, especially devotional literature, we must take care to evaluate the author’s method and purpose. If the method sets God’s Word aside or seeks something more than he has already given, that’s a problem. If, however, the purpose is to explain and apply what God has already said, then the effort is consistent with Scripture’s own instruction that the practice of teaching should continue from generation to generation. This is the aim of authors such as John MacArthur, Paul Tripp, Jill Briscoe, Alistair Begg, Joni Eareckson Tada, Sinclair Ferguson or R.C. Sproul. Looking for a devotional? Try one from these authors.