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Rebuking the Wicked

Sometimes it's necessary.

The Celtic Revival: Beginnings (14)

                                      That word is right
which says, “His wealth unjustly gained will be
regurgitated from his belly; he
shall be by death’s angel dragged away;
the rage of dragons will consume his day;
the adder’s tongue will kill him; on a pyre
he’ll perish, in an all-consuming fire.”
Again, “Woe unto them who fill themselves
with that which is not theirs,” and “He who delves
into the world for profit, though he gain
the whole, shall lose his soul and know the pain
of loss.” Yet tedious would it be to show
from all the Law what any man can know
who reads it: Avarice is a mortal sin.
“You shall in no way covet what is in
your neighbor’s hand.” “You shall not kill.” For he
who murders cannot with the Savior be.
“Who hates his brother, kills,” or, we may say,
“Who does not love his brother walks the way
of death.”

  - Patrick, Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus (5th century)[1]

“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

  - John 3.19, 20

Only two documents are extant from Patrick’s own hand, his Confession and the Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus. In this excerpt from the latter, Patrick is quoting from a letter of excommunication he wrote against certain soldiers of a Pictish king named Coroticus. The soldiers attacked a baptismal party, killing some believers and kidnapping many others. Survivors rushed to Patrick with the report, and he dispatched emissaries to intercept the soldiers as they were returning to their camp, to call them to repentance and request the release of their captives. The soldiers laughed Patrick’s emissaries to scorn and sent them away empty-handed.

The soldiers and their leader, Coroticus, claimed to be Christians. Patrick wrote a letter condemning their actions and excommunicating them from the fellowship of Christ’s Body. He sent the letter ahead of them and instructed that it should be read in all the settlements along their way, directing all who were believers to shun these murderers and thieves, and to pray that God might bring them to repentance.

We note Patrick’s absolute dependence on the Word of God, especially on the Law of God, in condemning and warning these miscreants. Patrick was bound by whatever the Scriptures taught, and he insisted that the Bible should be the foundation for all the communities that came into being through his work. His Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus shows us that Patrick not only walked in the light, but he was not in the least reluctant to use the light of God’s Word to expose and rebuke the evil deeds of others.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world, and one function of the light is to expose wickedness. That word doesn’t quite capture the full meaning of the Greek term, which is more like rebuke or reproach, and is thus more active and intentional. Coroticus and his men may have justified their actions as just what soldiers do, or as nothing out of the ordinary in pagan Ireland. But Patrick knew their deeds were evil, and he rebuked and reproached them, and exposed their evil works to as many people as possible.

When the light of truth is burning brightly, the darkness cannot prevail (1 Jn. 2.8). When we walk in the light, as He is in the light, it is inevitable that we will expose the wickedness of this world. But exposing wickedness is not enough; we must stand firm against it and call those who perpetrate it to repent and amend their ways.

And this is particularly true when wickedness is in evidence among the members of the Body of Christ. Here we can do no better than to follow the example of Patrick and return as a people to daily reading and meditation in the Law of God (Prov. 28.4). Likewise, Patrick pursued proper channels of church discipline to recall fellow believers to the path of righteousness. Ultimately, his only effective recourse was to excommunicate them, since they would not listen to appeals for mercy and repentance. We must recover this ancient practice of church discipline as well.

Where wickedness and sin are on the increase, the only explanation can be that light is not shining in the darkness. If believers would bring their “little light” into their daily relationships, roles, and responsibilities, and “let it shine” as the Lord intends, we can only speculate as to how much darkness might be exposed, rebuked, and overwhelmed, and how much the light of life might warm and renew the souls of many.

Jesus commands us to let our light shine before the people around us (Matt. 5.13-16). How will you shine your little light today?

For Reflection
1. If we do not expose and rebuke sin, what can we expect?

2. How should we expose and rebuke sin in our own lives?

Psalm 1.1, 2 (St. Thomas: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord)
How blessed are they that shun sin’s vain and wicked ways.
For them has Christ salvation won; He loves them all their days.

God’s Word is their delight; They prosper in its truth.
In it they dwell both day and night to flourish and bear fruit.

Give me light and grace today, Lord, so that I…

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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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.


[1] Verse translation excerpts of Patrick’s Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus from T. M. Moore, Celtic Flame (forthcoming).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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