The Scriptorium

God of Grace and Terror

Patrick's Confession (3)

It was He Who said through His prophet: "Call on Me in the day of your trouble and I will free you and you will glorify Me." And again He says: "It is an honourable thing to make known and proclaim the works of the Lord."

Although I am imperfect in many ways, nevertheless, I wish my brethren and kin to know what sort of person I am, so that they may understand my motives. I am not unaware of what my Lord has taught, since he has made it clear in the psalm: "You shall destroy the speaker of lies." And again He says: "The lying mouth kills the soul." And the Lord also says in the Gospel: "The idle word that people speak, they shall account for it on the day of judgment."

So, I realise I must be in the greatest dread - in fear and trembling - of incurring this sentence on that day when no one can hide himself or sneak away but we shall all, every one of us, have to account even for our smallest sins at the tribunal of the Lord Christ.

  - Patrick, Confession

(Translation, Liam Da Paor, Saint Patrick's World)

We continue to see the implications of Patrick's theology of grace. We are still at what might be considered the "introduction" of Patrick's Confession, before he begins the formal account and defense of his work. It's clear he is captured both by the grace of God and the fear of the Lord. God is gracious in that He invites sinners such as Patrick to appeal to Him in trouble - which Patrick did liberally, if not desperately. He promises to hear them and set them free so that the might live for His glory. God is not obligated to make such an offer; He does so freely, out of the infinite depth of His grace.

Further, He calls His redeemed people to the "honourable" task of making known the Gospel in all the world. Patrick seems fairly astonished by this. He was one who scorned the Gospel and its teachings. He has confessed himself to be a "sinner," and he is well aware of the power of sin to draw people away from God and to fill their mouths with lies. Now it pleased God to invite this sinner to live and proclaim His Gospel to the world. What a wonder for such an "imperfect" soul! Patrick's motives for his ministry were in response to this grace and out of a sense of fear. Remember, he had experienced the chastening of the Lord in his captivity in Ireland. He was well aware of what God could do against those who scorned or disobeyed Him. And he knew that a day of judgment is coming when every idle word or deed will be scrutinized by Christ, and judgment pronounced.

Thus Patrick loved the Lord Who forgave and commissioned him; but He also feared this One Who had called him to so high a commission. God is to be feared and loved for Who He is, what He has done, and what  He can and will do in days to come. The proper attitude of sinners - redeemed or otherwise - toward God is to fear, obey, love, and serve Him (Deut. 10.12).

T. M. Moore

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 Essex Junction, VT.
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