Saint Patrick
An Essay on His Life and Thought.

By Michael E. Rench, © 1990 (Used with permission.)

As if to inaugurate the arrival of spring, March 17th is greeted with
festive parades, something green to wear and toasts of green beer honoring
Saint Patrick’s driving the snakes out of Ireland. People of all
nationalities, not only the Irish, celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.

Although the dates are somewhat obscure, historians agree that Patrick was
born in Roman Britain probably in 382 and died in Ireland most likely in
461 but possibly as late as 476. Patrick’s “Confession” contains
autobiographical accounts of his capture in Scotland by Irish raiders at
age sixteen, of his being sold into slavery, of his days as a sheep herder,
and of his conversion to Jesus Christ. It traces God’s providential care
through his escape from slavery in Ireland, his reunion with his family in
Britain, his ordination as a deacon in the Celtic Church, his call to take
the Gospel to Ireland, and the subsequent resistance and endangerments from
the Druid priests. With such a remarkable life, it is a shame that so
little is known of Saint Patrick and his message. (All quotes of Saint
Patrick are from his autobiographical work, The Confession of Saint
Patrick.)

PATRICK’S SENSE OF UNWORTHINESS

I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Matthew
9:13

Patrick is not a downtrodden spirit with a self-esteem problem, but he is a
humble man, aware of his low estimate among men and his sinfulness before
God. His Confession begins, “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the
least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.” Patrick admits
that when he was captured, he “did know the true God.” Patrick saw his
spiritual condition before conversion as a state of death. “…I did not
believe in the living God, nor did I so from my childhood, but lived in
death and unbelief.” He continues, “I was taken into captivity to
Ireland…and deservedly so, because we turned away from God….there the
Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins
and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God.” There is joy in
Patrick despite being sold into slavery, because through it he was
converted with his whole heart to faith in Jesus Christ.

PATRICK’S DEPENDENCE UPON GOD

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation. 2 Corinthians
7:10

Patrick’s sense of sin did not lead to despair, but brought him to
dependence upon God. He realized that the answer to his unworthiness
before God was not found within himself. “I must not, however, hide God’s
gift which He bestowed upon me in the land of my captivity; because then I
earnestly sought Him, and there I found Him, and He saved me from all evil
because, so I believe, of His Spirit that dwells in me.” Patrick
understood that “…we all, without exception, shall have to give an
account even of our smallest sins before the judgment seat of the Lord
Christ…Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account
for it on the day of judgment.” Patrick saw that no one can render an
acceptable account before the judgment seat of the Lord. God alone
provides deliverance through His Son, Jesus Christ, in the day of judgment.
Patrick recalls Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I
will deliver you and you shall glorify Me.” Patrick’s salvation begins and
ends with Jesus Christ, “…so that today I can confidently offer Him my
soul as a living sacrifice – to Christ my Lord, who saved me out of all my
troubles.”

PATRICK’S ZEAL TO EVANGELIZE IRELAND

Going therefore now, teach all nations… Matthew 28:19

After returning to Britain, Patrick attended seminary and was eventually
ordained a deacon in the Celtic Church. One night, Patrick had a dream.
“And there I saw in the night the vision of a man, whose name was
Victoricus, coming from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me
one of them, and I read the opening words of the letter…’We ask thee,
boy, come and walk among us once more.’ And I was quite broken in heart,
and could read no further…” Patrick saw the dream as his Macedonian call
to return to Ireland and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Patrick
believed God was directing his steps to the shores of Ireland once again,
but for a definite purpose with undeniable promises.

“…I wish to wait for His promise…as He promises in the Gospel: ‘They
shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and
Isaac and Jacob’ – as we believe the faithful will come from all the world.
For that reason, therefore, we ought to fish well and diligently, as the
Lord exhorts in advance and teaches, saying: ‘Come ye after Me, and I will
make you to be fishers of men’…Hence it was most necessary to spread our
nets so that a great multitude and throng might be caught for God.”

Evangelizing Ireland was no small thing in 432. The Irish “religion was an
animistic polytheism, which worshipped sun and moon and diverse natural
objects, and peopled a thousand spots in Ireland with fairies, demons, and
elves. A priestly clan of Druids practiced divination,…and sacrificed to
the gods from altars in the open air…the first born child in every
family.” (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, pg. 83 Will Durant.)

Not only were the native prospects unpromising, but Patrick encountered
resistance to his decision to go to Ireland from family, friend and church
leaders. Patrick would not be dissuaded. “In the light, therefore, of our
faith in the Trinity I must make this choice, regardless of the danger, I
must make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, without fear
and frankly I must spread everywhere the name of God.” Patrick became the
Apostle to Ireland. God wonderfully blessed Patrick’s efforts and the
gospel of Jesus Christ began to free Irishmen everywhere from their bondage
to the pantheism of the Druids. Will Durant, no friend of Christianity,
says this of Patrick’s impact on Ireland: “He ordained priests, built
churches, established monasteries…and left strong spiritual garrisons to
guard his conquests at every turn. He made it seem a supreme adventure to
enter the ecclesiastical state; he gathered about him men and women of
courage and devotion, who endured every deprivation to spread the good
news…He did not convert all of Ireland…but when he died it could be
said of him, as of no other, that one man had converted a nation.” (ibid,
pg. 84)

PATRICK’S MOTIVATION

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

What was Patrick’s motivation? “…I never had any reason except the
gospel and its promises why I should ever return to the people from whom
once before I barely escaped.” Who motivated Patrick to go? “With the
grace of the Lord, I did everything lovingly and gladly for [Ireland’s]
salvation.”

It was not the “Luck o’ the Irish” that enabled Patrick to change the
course of history for Ireland. It was the sovereign power of the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that emboldened Patrick to “…cast down
imaginations and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of
God, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 10:5) Patrick did, in a very real sense, drive the snakes
out of Ireland. For in bringing the life-giving message of Jesus Christ to
the Irish people, Patrick drove that old Serpent Satan, and his servants,
the Druid priests into the sea. Patrick, once a slave, brought freedom to
his former slave masters by leading them into bond service to Christ.
Patrick’s message is still relevant to us today because it is the message
of the Word of God, of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would truly celebrate
Saint Patrick’s Day, we should not garnish his tomb and ignore his message.
We would find ourselves, as Patrick did, turning in faith to the Lord
Jesus Christ to be delivered from our own captivity to sin.

 

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