20 thoughts on St Patrick and the rare virtue of humility within contemporary evangelicalism

On this 17th March, some thoughts on Patrick and the rare virtue of  Christian humility within quite a bit of contemporary evangelicalism.

In days of celebrity pastors, relentless slick marketing, an embedded ‘culture of success’  and much competitive point scoring between various factions within much evangelical church culture, Patrick’s Confession stands out as first and foremost an honest story of a humble man.

Consider his own words:

1. He knows he is a sinner. He has no pretensions of learning. He is honest in admitting his failings

I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many

2.He is thankful to God for his saving graciousness. He knows he has much to learn and is inexperienced and unqualified to lead

God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance

… I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and,indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

3. His mission flowed out of simple gratitude and love not other agendas.

Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity.

4. His self-awareness of his own limitations did not however paralyse him into inaction – this would have been self-absorption. But rather it  propelled him to share the gospel with others. In other words, he put others before himself.

I am imperfect in many things, nevertheless I want my brethren and kinsfolk to know my nature so that they may be able to perceive my soul’s desire.

5. He feared God.

So it is that I should mightily fear, with terror and trembling,this judgment on the day when no one shall be able to steal away or hide, but each and all shall render account for even our smallest sins before the judgment seat of Christ the Lord.

6. In days when celebrity pastors tweet opinions promiscuously and publishers rush to print their latest controversial theories, Patrick was a reluctant author, aware of the special responsibility that comes with doing theology via the written word [note to self – this applies to bloggers!]

And therefore for some time I have thought of writing, but I have hesitated until now, for truly, I feared to expose myself to the criticism of men, because I have not studied like others, who have assimilated both Law and the Holy Scriptures.

7. He is well aware of the upside down nature of God’s kingdom, what Paul calls the ‘foolishness of God’ – in choosing the weak things of the world to shame the wise, the powerful and the eloquent. And he is well aware that any ‘success’ he had in ministry is due to God’s ‘foolishness’.

Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God, and you men of God, eloquent speakers, listen and contemplate. Who was it summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned in the law and powerful in rhetoric and in all things? Me,truly wretched in this world, he inspired before others that I could be– if I would– such a one who, with fear and reverence, and faithfully, without complaint, would come to the people to whom the love of Christ brought me and gave me in my lifetime, if I should be worthy, to serve them truly and with humility.

8. He became a man of deep and fervent prayer – and prayer is among other things, a true sign of dependent humility and faith in the living God and not ourselves.

But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day

9. He was persistent and determined and in ministry for the long haul, through disappointments, suffering and persecution. He was not confidently setting ministry targets and arrogantly assuming they would be reached through effective human action alone. He knew what it was to depend on God.

And I was not worthy, nor was I such that the Lord should grant his humble servant this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favour in these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined.

10. He trusted God to answer prayer (back to the link between prayer and humility)

‘Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.’

11. He did not only know about God, he knew God through the Spirit and how it is the Spirit’s power and strength that is essential for living the Christian life – not our own wisdom, cleverness or resourcefulness.

And so I awoke and remembered the Apostle’s words: ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.’ And again: ‘The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.’

12. He had no sense of a ‘right’ to be listened to or to be respected or to be in control. So often the tone I hear within wealthy, powerful and Western evangelicalism is one of presumption and authority and of power. One of the great challenges for the West is to to listen and learn from Christians in the Global South in contexts of minority status, powerlessness, persecution, famine, poverty and insecurity. It is in these places that God appears to be most powerfully demonstrating his ‘foolishness’.

So that whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I should accept it equally, and give thanks always to God who revealed to me that I might trust in him, implicitly and forever,and who will encourage me so that, ignorant, and in the last days, I may dare to undertake so devout and so wonderful a work;

13. He did not blow his own trumpet. How refreshing in these days of endless ‘How to’ books that unlock the latest secret for church growth (or whatever).

But it is tedious to describe in detail all my labours one by one.

14. He resisted the lure of popularity and money – authentic humility is freedom from pleasing others and being distracted from God’s calling.

And many gifts were offered to me with weeping and tears, and I offended them [the donors], and also went against the wishes of a good number of my elders; but guided by God, I neither agreed with them nor deferred to them, not by my own grace but by God who is victorious in me and withstands them all, so that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel

… And I gave back again to my Christian brethren and the virgins of Christ and the holy women the small unasked for gifts that they used to give me or some of their ornaments which they used to throw on the altar.

15. He was obedient to God, wherever that led him – even if it meant death. He knew his life was not his own and felt honoured to be called to be a missionary to the Irish.

Christ the Lord … commanded me to come to be with them for the rest of my life.

16. Even with an extraordinary ministry that is celebrated to this day, Patrick continued to have a humble and realistic opinion of himself – he knew fallen human nature too well.

So I hope that I did as I ought, but I do not trust myself as long as I am in this mortal body, for he is strong who strives daily to turn me away from the faith and true holiness to which I aspire until the end of my life for Christ my Lord

17. He writes not to increase his own kudos, but out of a desire to encourage and build up others.

Now I have put it frankly to my brethren and co-workers, who have believed me because of what I have foretold and still foretell to strengthen and reinforce your faith.

… Behold, I call on God as my witness upon my soul that I am not lying; nor would I write to y ou for it to be an occasion for flattery or selfishness, nor hoping for honour from any one of you. Sufficient is the honour which is not yet seen, but in which the heart has confidence. He who made the promise is faithful; he never lies.

18. He was courageous and brave – but not in a macho, heroic way. He considered it an honour to suffer for his God and for the people he loved.

And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for his name with proselytes and captives

19. His humility is rooted in eschatological hope. In other words, he is not desperately acting as if everything in God’s purposes depended on him. He has his identity, mission and purpose in right perspective.

We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ’s will, but will abide for ever just as Christ abides for ever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and for ever and ever.

20. He consistently seeks to turn attention away from himself, his gifts, his success, his impact in Ireland and to the grace, power, love and mercy of the one true God.

But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.

And so I’d guess that he’s be the first to comment here that I shouldn’t be holding him up as an example … but it’s  my blog 🙂 Honoured to be named after him.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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5 thoughts on “20 thoughts on St Patrick and the rare virtue of humility within contemporary evangelicalism

  1. I was delighted to see a full window display of St.Patrick’s confessio at Hodges Figgis, in Dawson Street during the last week-end, at least somebody was trying to communicate what the real Patrick was about.

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