Celtic Spiritual Poetry (20)
The ancient fortresses of the pagans,
to which title had been gained by long habitation,
are empty and without worship
like the place where Lugaid dwelt.
The little places that were settled
by twos and threes
are Romes, with assemblies
of hundreds and thousands.
Though it was far-flung and splendid,
paganism has been destroyed:
the kingdom of God the Father
has filled heaven, earth, and sea.
- Oengus mac Oengobann, “The Martyrology of Oengus,” Irish, 9th century
And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
- Daniel 2.44
The Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD) was a sudden, widespread, expansive, and sure movement of God’s Spirit, which saw paganism swept from Ireland and various places on the continent. Oengus was reflecting on the progress of the Kingdom of God over all the pagan deities and religions of Ireland. Where once great pagan “ring forts” had stood, now monastic communities and churches, started by “twos and threes” of God’s people, dominated the landscape.
Oengus’ Féilire(“Martyrology”) celebrates the work of faithful Irish saints who believed God that His Kingdom would grow and overcome all obstacles and opposition to fill “heaven, earth, and sea”. Even though Ireland in the 5th-7thcenturies was perhaps the most unlikely place for a revival to begin, this is precisely what happened, changing everything.
The Celtic Revival is but one demonstration of the truth of Daniel’s vision of the Kingdom of God, growing and overwhelming all opposition to bring grace, truth, justice, mercy, goodness, beauty, and stability to societies and nations through the proclamation of the Gospel. Oengus wanted us to remember those who had contributed to this great movement of God’s Spirit, and to call us to emulate their example in knowing, loving, and serving Jesus with all our soul and strength.
Ireland was the wildest, most dangerous place in the world when Patrick arrived there in 430 AD. Even Roman legions balked at invading it. But the wild Irish tribes could not resist the power of the Gospel in the hands of courageous, faithful saints.
We should expect the Kingdom of God to have the same impact in our day. But do we? Do we really believe that Jesus can fill our lives, and overflow from us to fill our Personal Mission Field? Our nation? The earth and the seas?
The fact is we don’t expect it. Even though Isaiah promised it (Is. 9.6, 7), Jesus commanded us to seek it as our first priority in all things (Matt. 6.33), and He commanded us to pray for it to come on earth in the same manner that it obtains in heaven (Matt. 6.10).
But we don’t believe Daniel and Isaiah. Oh, those are nice ideas to ponder – the Kingdom growing, the increase of righteousness without end, and so forth. But we don’t believe it. We believe things are going to go from bad to worse, and we just have to hold on for dear life until, just before we’re all swallowed up by the Beast, the Lord comes to rescue us. Whatever ideas we cherish about the Kingdom of God are strictly for the benefit of our souls. This is as much of the Kingdom as we seek or pray for, when we seek or pray for it.
Which, if we’re honest, is not very often.
This is not the teaching of Scripture, and it is not the record of Church history. Our faulty understanding of the Gospel and of the Kingdom keeps us from knowing the kind of reviving and transforming power that set the Irish free from paganism and liberated all of Western Europe into the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Kingdom of God for centuries after Patrick.
Why not in our day, too? Why should we not expect the Kingdom to flourish and advance in this way in our own day?
The difference between us and the saints Oengus celebrated is simple: They really believed their Bible, and they staked their lives on it.
Questions for Reflection
1. What do you expect the Kingdom to look like as it grows and overwhelms unbelieving elements in your Personal Mission Field?
2. What does it mean to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God? Would you say that this is your highest priority in all things?
Psalm 72.9-11, 18-20 (Martyrdom: Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed)
O let the Righteous rule the earth, and let His foes bow low!
Let nations praise His matchless worth, and all His bidding do!
Now bless the God of Israel Who wondrous works performs.
And bless His name, His glory tell both now and forevermore!
Lord, is my view of Your Kingdom what it should be? Is it the same as that of Daniel and Isaiah? Patrick? Oengus? Jesus? Help me today to…
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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, pp. 190, 191.