Patrick's Confession (8)
On the day I arrived the ship had weighed anchor, I explained that I had the wherewithal to sail with them. And that day, furthermore, I refused, for fear of God, to suck their nipples. Nevertheless, I hoped that some of them would come to faith in Jesus Christ (for they were heathen). This displeased the captain, who answered sharply, with anger: "Your wish to travel with us is quite futile."
And when I heard this, I left them in order to return to the shelter in which I had lodged, beginning to pray as I went. Before the prayer was finished, I heard one of them, who shouted loudly after me: "Come quickly; these men are calling you."
I returned to them immediately and they began to explain to me: "Come, we will accept you in good faith. Bind yourself in friendship to us in any way you wish." Because of this I was received among them and we set sail straight away.
Translation: Liam De Paor, St. Patrick's World
He may have been a new believer, and not sure about a good many things. But Patrick was certain of this much: He would do nothing that was contrary to the fear of God and his desire to follow Christ.
This action of sucking the nipples of the heathen crew members was apparently a pagan way of demonstrating submission (note the sailors' comment at the end of this section). Patrick would not submit to a pagan practice which he considered to be not in keeping with the fear of God. Patrick's entire life from this point forward would be defined by fear of and love for the Lord. He would not yield to pagans, family members, or even ecclesiastical authorities when they seemed to be distracting or discouraging him from following the Lord.
Apparently, when Patrick declined to participate in their pagan rite of initiation, he then shared the Gospel and expressed the hope that some of the crew might become believers. This made the captain angry, and he turned Patrick away. Patrick's boldness here is certainly laudable, and it provides an indication of the kind of ministry he would have. The Gospel is true; paganism is not. Have nothing to do with heathen ways, and preach the Gospel boldly at every opportunity. Remember: This is a 22-year-old runaway slave with no formal schooling or training in theology or evangelism. Patrick's faith was simple, but sincere and powerful.
I have no doubt that the sailors understood that Patrick was some kind of runaway, perhaps a slave. Patrick's response to their turning him down was to commit the matter to the Lord in prayer. But the sailors had a change of heart. Did God suddenly melt their hearts with sympathy and compassion? Probably not. More likely, He put in their minds the thought that, upon arriving at their destination they might sell this runaway slave into slavery again, and earn a little extra for themselves. Patrick was enslaved again, but it's not clear from his account whether it was by these sailors that he was sold or during the time of his ministry in Ireland (as we shall see).
It's interesting to see that Patrick's unbending faith actually bent circumstances in his own favor. He would not compromise with paganism, but by his boldness and trust in the Lord, Patrick caused paganism to compromise with the will of God. Here is a lesson every believer needs to understand and practice consistently.
T. M. Moore