We are pleased today to run this guest post by church historian Jason G. Duesing, author of Mere Hope: Life in An Age of Cynicism (B&H Books, 2018). Duesing serves as provost and associate professor of historical theology at Midwestern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter.
For evangelicals, the enduring relevance of Patrick of Ireland (c. 390–460) lies in a sacrificial heart motivated by the Great Commission and burdened for the lost.
Christianity likely arrived in Britain from European missionaries during the third century, though it did not emerge as an established tradition until the late fourth century while still under the rule of the Roman Empire. Or, as Malcolm Lambert has said, “Christianity came late to the province.”
After surviving Germanic attack in the fifth century, Christians in Britain contributed to theological development by engaging with controversialists like Pelagius and Faustus, and they spread the faith to neighboring Ireland.
And there we find the role of Patrick (the would-be saint), son of a deacon, who was first kidnapped and taken as a slave to Ireland when a teen.
During his enslavement, Patrick sought God and was converted. Six years later he found a path to return to Britain. While resettling there he sensed the call of God to the ministry of the Gospel. Specifically, he grew convicted that he should return to Ireland.
In his Confession Patrick shares that he went in response to the call of God to “come to the Irish people to preach the gospel . . . so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others.”
I did not proceed to Ireland of my own accord until I was almost giving up, but through this I was corrected by the Lord, and he prepared me so that today I should be what was once far from me, in order that I should have the care of—or rather, I should be concerned for—the salvation of others, when at that time, still, I was only concerned for myself. . . .
I will tell briefly how most holy God frequently delivered me, from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offence to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor, ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy.
Whence came to me this wisdom which was not my own, I who neither knew the number of days nor had knowledge of God? Whence came the so great and so healthful gift of knowing or rather loving God, though I should lose homeland and family?
I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, “Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.”’ And again: ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.’
And I wish to wait then for his promise which is never unfulfilled, just as it is promised in the gospel: ‘Many shall come from east and west and shall sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Just as we believe that believers will come from all the world, So for that reason one should, in fact, fish well and diligently, just as the Lord foretells and teaches, saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,’ and, again, through the prophets: ‘“Behold, I am sending forth many fishers and hunters,” says the Lord,’ et cetera. So it behoved us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God.
Patrick would give his life as a gospel minister in Ireland for more than 30 years.
This selfless motivation is as timeless as the apostle Paul’s desire to become all things to all people that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22), and as relevant for the 21st-century family from Illinois called to live among the people of India.