So this is why it come about in Ireland that people who had no acquaintance with God, but who, up to now, always had cults or idols and abominations, are recently - by this dispensation - made a people of the Lord and are known as children of God.
- Patrick, Confession (British, 5th century)
For by grace you have been saved...
- Ephesians 2.8
What does Patrick mean by the phrase, "by this dispensation"?
We have to back up a few paragraphs in his Confession to answer that question. It begins in Patrick's understanding of the Great Commission: God has called His people to "spread our nets so that we can catch a great shoal and multitude for God." He has promised that the Gospel would be preached to every creature and that His Spirit would accompany that preaching. The result is that a people would be called out who were not God's people but were instead entirely foreign and hostile to Him. These shall be called the children of God.
Then comes our quote. Patrick is trying to explain his ministry. How could a barely-learned priest provoke a movement of evangelism and awakening that saw multiplied thousands of the most rank pagans come to faith in Jesus Christ?
The irresistible grace of God, that's how. That's the "dispensation" Patrick is celebrating, not his own ministry.
God's grace overcame illiteracy, superstition, tribal warfare, gross immorality, dangers on every hand, and even the doubts and opposition of Patrick's family and church, to accomplish a revival unprecendented since the earliest days of the Church.
Our pragmatic, postmodern generation is no match for the pagan Celts of ancient Ireland. Yet these heathen people were no match for the grace of God. God's grace is irresistible when it works with His Word, promises, and Spirit to regenerate the hearts of lost men and women of His choosing.
All God needs today is what He found in Patrick then: willing and available men and women.
Salvation is all of grace, but God chooses to make that grace known through the vessels of faithful witnesses like Patrick. This is our calling, friends. We who have come after Jesus are to become fishers of men; we who claim to possess His Spirit are to be His witnesses.
As dark and unwelcoming as our generation can seem when it comes to the things of Christ, they cannot resist the grace of God. But they must hear it proclaimed and see it lived. If they do, that same dispensation that Patrick observed will unfold in our day as well to bring many to faith in Christ.
Where are the faithful Patricks of our day?
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T. M. Moore, Principal