The Celtic Revival: Patrick (18)
He sells the precious talents of the Gospel of Christ
and demands them back with interest, from the pagans of Ireland.
- Domnach Sechnaill, Audite Omnes Amantes, Irish, 5th century
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
- James 2.18
Patrick was one of the most effective and fruitful evangelists in all of Church history. By his own undisputed testimony, thousands of Irish pagans came to faith in Jesus and were baptized into the Kingdom of Christ. The awakening of the Irish under Patrick’s ministry spawned a revival of faith that spread from Ireland to Scotland and much of Europe, and lasted nearly 400 years.
This period is what we refer to as the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD), and it holds many important lessons for seeking Christ’s Kingdom in our day, beginning with those we have been considering from Patrick.
Patrick wasn’t dealing with “seekers” either, or siphoning off followers from smaller churches. The people of Ireland were illiterate, lawless, superstitious, and sensual. They were raw, rough, and rude rubes, rascals, rustics, and ruffians. And Patrick won them to Christ by the thousands, but not by peddling some “feel-good gospel” or by telling them Jesus loved them and would accept them just as they were. He did not try to cushion the Irish against the strong demands of the Gospel. Quite the opposite: he told them everything Jesus promised, and all that He had earned, as well as precisely what He demanded in return.
Patrick insisted that to follow Jesus demanded living for His glory and honor with all one’s strength and passion, all the time.
An early gloss of Sechnaill’s poem explains that by “talents” the poet meant “commandments.” The Gospel Patrick proclaimed consisted of commandments, such as “repent” and “believe the Good News” and “bring forth the fruit of repentance.” He demanded of those who came to faith in Christ that they “pay back” love to the Lord with interest, in lives of holiness and good works.
And he could point to the example of his own life to show those new believers just how radical and complete their obedience had to be.
Patrick did not preach salvation by works; rather, like James, he preached salvation unto works, and no salvation without them. We cheapen the Gospel when we make it so easy to believe and become a “follower of Jesus” that nothing in the way of repentance or a disciplined and transformed life is expected. And if it’s not expected, or insisted upon, it will not be forthcoming. A faith that demands nothing in return is not the Gospel. Not the Gospel of Patrick and James. Not the Gospel of the Kingdom.
John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, Patrick, and all the great evangelists and preachers down through the ages have called their hearers to turn from their wicked ways and take up the life of the cross. For Christ’s investment of love in them, they have demanded back true faith, saving faith, faith that bears fruit in works of loving obedience.
Cheap grace – grace that neither demands nor issues in holiness and good works – is simply false grace. While it’s certainly true we may expect grace upon grace from Jesus, it’s not true that the grace comes with no strings attached. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14.15).
What you expect of Jesus is not nearly as important as what He expects of you. Patrick understood this, and so must we.
Psalm 40.1-3, 6-8 (Dix: For the Beauty of the Earth)
I waited patiently for God; He inclined and heard my cry,
Lifted me up above the sod, set me on a Rock on high!
New songs in my mouth He gave; may He through me many save.
Off’rings You do not require – open now my ears, O Lord –
What from me do You desire? Firm delight to do Your Word.
Take my life in ev’ry part; write Your Law upon my heart.
Lord, help me to know the true power of Your grace to transform me from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ.
The Legacy of Patrick
Patrick’s is one of the great and most inspiring stories from Church history. Read about him, his ministry, and the revival that resulted from his efforts in our book, The Legacy of Patrick (click here).
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T. M. Moore
All psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Carey, p. 153.