The Celtic Revival: Beginnings (13)
He sells the precious talents of the Gospel of Christ
and demands them back with interest, from the pagans of Ireland.
- Sechnaill, Audite Omnes Amantes (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.
Patrick wasn’t dealing with “seekers” either, but with raw, rough, rude Irish rubes, rascals, rustics, and ruffians. And he won them to Christ by the thousands, 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 required living for His glory and honor with all one’s strength and passion.
An early gloss (marginal note) of Sechnaill’s poem explains that by “talents” the poet meant “commandments.” The Gospel which 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. Our text is a bit difficult to understand as the NKJV renders it. James’ point becomes clear if we read the text like this: “But someone will say you (that is, “he”, the someone) have faith, but I (that is, James) have works. (Then James replies) Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” That is, some considered there were two kinds of salvation, that which was known by “faith” and that which entailed “works.” James had found works to be important in his salvation. Good for you, James. But the one objecting to him had found salvation by “faith,” that is by merely believing or giving assent to certain truths. This was a no-demand faith. Believe merely, and nothing else. Such “faith” didn’t require works, but it was nice that James had found works to be important for him.
Nonsense, says the Lord’s brother.
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 transformed life is expected. And if it’s not expected, or insisted upon, it will not be forthcoming. But this 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.
1. Why should we expect that repentance from sin leading to good works of love would issue from true faith in Jesus?
2. James says we show our faith by our works. How will you show your faith today?
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, so that today and every day I…
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Carey, p. 153.