Patrick’s Confession (an open biographical letter) tells the story of his life and call by God. It, along with his letter to Coroticus, are the very oldest surviving texts written in Ireland.
Patrick probably grew up in Wales and when 16 was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave. He says
“At that time I did not know the true God”.
But it was in Ireland that he become a Christian as he became deeply aware of the grace of God.
“It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God.”
After 6 years he escaped and returned home. But later, in a dream, he experienced the ‘call of the Irish’ – to return to the land of his enslavement to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to pagan Ireland.
As I read his Confession, I see some strong parallels to Paul. What do you think? See any other parallels? Are there lessons here for Christian ministry and the challenge of mission in today’s world?
1. He is called by God to go to pagans who have never heard of Jesus.
“Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God.”
It could be said that Patrick stands in direct continuity with Paul in the sense that he is completing Paul’s mission to bring the gospel to the known Gentile world. Paul never got to Spain as he hoped he would, but Christianity spread there and to Britain under the embrace of Roman civilisation. But pagan Ireland lay ‘outside the pale’ of Roman influence.
2. He faces many physical dangers and much opposition but does so joyfully and thankfully.
“they took me and my companions prisoner, and very much wanted to kill me, but the time had not yet come. They stole everything they found in our possession, and they bound me in iron. On the fourteenth day, the Lord set me free from their power”
Paul tells of his experience this way in 2 Cor 4:7-11
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
3. He does not fear death but has a deep hope in the resurrection.
“every day there is the chance that I will be killed, or surrounded, or be taken into slavery, or some other such happening. But I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven.”
Paul says in 2 Cor 4:17-18
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal
4. His missionary call flows out of obedience to Jesus and is part of God’s mission to the whole world
Patrick quotes extensively from the gospels (eg Matt 28:19-20, from Joel 2, from Hosea 1:10 and 2:23-24) to show that mission to all nations is part of the divine plan.
It is right that we should fish well and diligently, as the Lord directs and teaches when he says: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”
Paul of course is directly commissioned by Jesus himself on the Damascus Road. He interprets his mission as a fulfilment of God’s divine plan that all people would be invited into the new covenant through faith in Christ (Gal 3:28)
5. He knows he is not worthy but God has granted him grace to be used in his service.
“I am greatly in debt to God. He gave me such great grace, that through me, many people should be born again in God and brought to full life.”
Paul says in 1 Cor 15:9 that
9″I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
6. He loves God and would do anything for him – suffering is a privilege
If I have ever imitated anything good for the sake of my God whom I love, I ask that he grant me to be able to shed my blood with these converts and captives – even were I to lack a grave for burial, or my dead body were to be miserably torn apart limb from limb by dogs or wild beasts, or were the birds of heaven to devour it.
Paul puts it this way in Colossians 1:24 (similarly in many other places)
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
7. He loves the people he is called to share the gospel with
“It is right to spread abroad the name of God faithfully and without fear, so that even after my death I may leave something of value to the many thousands of my brothers and sisters – the children whom I baptised in the Lord.”
Paul regularly gives thanks for the privilege of ministry and for many new relationships formed with new believers, toward whom he feels like a father. One example is 1 Thes 2:11-12:
11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
8. He faces opposition and criticism from within the church
The Confession is probably written to his spiritual superiors to respond to unspecified charges. A sin committed back before his conversion seems to have been used against him. But Patrick defends himself and his conscience is clear
I make bold to say that my conscience does not blame me, now and in the future. I have God for witness that I have not told lies in the account I have given you ….
And many were the gifts offered to me, along with sorrow and tears. There were those whom I offended, even against the wishes of some of my superiors; but, with God guiding me, I did not consent nor acquiesce to them. It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel.
Paul similarly faced all sorts of opposition and accusations. His gospel is not Jewish enough (works of the law, circumcision), he is not impressive enough a speaker, he works with his own hands and so on. See 1 Cor 4:1-4 for one example
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
Comments, as ever, welcome