The Inspiring Life of Patrick of Ireland
I have always enjoyed learning; I can remember back in kindergarten trying to get every book humanly possible at the Scholastic book fairs our school would have. One particular genre that has always fascinated me was history. I have recently been interested in the history of Ireland as my family comes from there, and we have records going back to when they came to Newfoundland from Southern Ireland. Combining my faith with my interest in learning Irish history naturally led me to Patrick of Ireland.
Many know the myth that Patrick drove snakes from Ireland and nothing more; this is a disservice. Our general lack of knowledge of church history beyond Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door and the names of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas is to our detriment. The Bible itself is sufficient for all we need to know, but I believe God blessed us with the records of just some of the ways He has been using His people throughout history. For now, I will focus specifically on Patrick.
Patrick’s story should encourage us in many areas, including evangelism and the need to see those who harm us as image bearers who need the gospel, not enemies on whom we must enact vengeance. Contrary to popular belief, Patrick was not born in Ireland but instead in Britain. He was at least a third-generation Christian as his father was a deacon and his grandfather a presbyter. But when Patrick was 16, he was captured by Irish slave traders and spent six years tending sheep as a slave in Ireland. Patrick writes that he recognized his sin and came to faith while in slavery. He recognises that it was by God that he was sold into slavery but that he was also protected by God the whole time.
This story is reminiscent of Joseph, who was also sold into slavery and was later able to see the sovereignty of God by proclaiming to his brothers that “you planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20 CSB). God had also used Patrick for the survival of many people as God did not allow bitterness to build up in Patrick against the Irish who enslaved him but instead showed him their need to know Jesus. Patrick eventually escaped Ireland and went to France, where he studied before being called back to Ireland to evangelize those who once enslaved him.
How would I react if God called me to evangelize someone who had wronged me, especially if it was on the level of slavery? This made me think about how we are called to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, not just those we may get along with. Patrick was living out Jesus’s words from Matthew, in which He tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44 CSB). Our sinful hearts do not want to do this by default, but may we praise God for the grace of giving us a new heart and the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we may obey God’s commands.
Why would we want some to not know Jesus? Is it because we are self-righteous in thinking, “this person does not deserve to be saved?” Or maybe we know the truth about how they will become our brother or sister and that we will have to see and treat them as such. For the first point, we would be correct that a person does not deserve to be saved. Our fault is that we fail to recognize our unworthiness to be saved. The second reason stems from our stubbornness in not wanting to change. Seeing someone who sinned against us as our brother or sister requires heart change in us, but thankfully we have a God who softens hearts. Think about how hard it must have been for the early Christians to welcome Paul in after being an infamous persecutor of the church. We must recognize that God elects people, not us. I have been challenged by the story of Patrick because I am sure I have used these excuses before.
We are living in an increasingly hostile culture with regard to the gospel message, but Patrick’s story showed me that those who oppose and threaten us are image bearers who need the light, not enemies we ought to fight. I have been encouraged to reinforce the truth that the great commission means the whole world, not just those I think should be saved. I have also been encouraged to be bolder in telling others about my faith as God will protect us just as He protected Patrick in his hostile environment and promised us in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church. So let us speak gracefully but boldly about our faith. Even to those who may oppose us because maybe God is using us for the salvation of modern-day Nicodemus, who begin with doubt and questioning or modern-day Sauls who begin as persecutors.
I could go on for ages about the things I have learned from my still brief look into the life of Patrick and how God used him for the spreading of the gospel in Ireland, but I will conclude for now. I hope this encourages others to investigate the lives of the saints who came before us and how God used them for His glory and the good of so many.
Let me now leave you with the last words of Patrick’s confession which states:
I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die.