Patrick’s Confession (21)
That is why, even if I wished to leave them so that I could visit Britain (and with all my heart I was ready and anxious for my homeland and my parents – not only that, but to go on to Gaul to visit the brethren and be in the presence of my Lord’s saints – God knows how much I longed for it), I am bound by the Spirit, Whose testimony is that if I do this He will afterwards find me guilty. And I am afraid of wrecking the task I have begun – not just I but the Lord Christ, Who commanded me to come and live among them for the rest of my life. May it be the Lord’s will to guard me against all evil. So that I may not sin against Him.
Four observations in particular stand out from this section of Patrick’s Confession.
First, Patrick understood that his calling to go among the Irish for the purposes of the Gospel was lifelong and uninterruptible. The Lord Jesus commanded him to this task, and the Spirit both enabled him to it and warned him against foregoing it for any reason.
We know that Patrick’s original call to Ireland was by a vision or dream. However, as we have seen, that only confirmed to Patrick must have been reading throughout the Scriptures concerning the Great Commission and the Lord’s intention of sending workers into the fields to the farthest ends of the earth. The vision was but the culmination of what must have been stirring in Patrick’s soul for some time, and he read it as the Lord Jesus calling him to his ministry. Once that decision was made and Patrick headed to Ireland, the Spirit confirmed his calling and ministry, as we have seen, in many ways thus far in his Confession.
So he feared lest, should he go to Britain as requested, he might interrupt the Lord’s work or, worse, even cause it to come to an end, should he leave his fruitful calling in the field for what he regarded as a frivolous assembly back home.
The second observation relates to Patrick’s mention of Gaul. He would, of course, have enjoyed being with his parents again. The reference to Gaul and the “saints” there, and Patrick’s longing to go among them (although note the absence of “again”) is perhaps what leads many Patrick biographers to believe that he had spent time in Gaul among those saints before returning home the first time, or perhaps before going off to Ireland. There is nothing in Patrick’s Confession or in the poem, “Audite Omnes Amantes,” by Sechnall, a contemporary of Patrick, to suggest such a hiatus. Patrick’s testimony and his frequent apologies for his meager learning and inadequate literary skills suggest he was not trained in a Roman Catholic monastic center but “on the job”, as it were.
In the third place, I want to reflect a bit more on Patrick’s sense of being “bound by the Spirit.” Patrick knew himself to be indwelled by the Spirit and a vessel of the Spirit for the work of the Gospel. He was a servant in the Spirit’s hands, so to speak, to do the work the Spirit is wont to do. This included bearing personal fruit, exercising spiritual gifts, bearing witness, preaching and teaching, serving and caring, making disciples, and building the Body of Christ. Patrick knew these to be the works of the Spirit. How could he, “bound by the Spirit”, dare to think of doing anything other than this?
The “testimony of the Spirit” for Patrick, it seems – looking at the over 125 references or allusions to Scripture in his Confession – was the ongoing witness of the Word of God, coupled with the inward and confirming voice of the Spirit, as evident in fruit. Patrick “listened” for the Spirit’s leading daily, and he feared lest he should be found guilty of departing from the path the Spirit was marking out for him.
Finally from this section, most of us would not consider a little time off for “R & R” – a visit with one’s parents, a brief vacation in the homeland, perhaps a nice tour among the saints in Gaul – as an “evil.” But Patrick did. He regarded anything that would distract him from the Lord’s calling and the Spirit’s work as evil. Evil to Patrick was not just the “evil” we experience about every two weeks or so in this country, where innocent victims are slaughtered by troubled or insane shooters. For Patrick evil was anything that diverts one from the path of the Spirit and the work of Christ. And he earnestly prayed that the Lord would keep him from all such evil so that he would not sin.
The way to bring “evil” to an end is to follow Patrick’s advice and nip all evil in the bud, as it seeks to emerge in our hearts, leading us astray from Christ and His Spirit. Certainly Celtic society in Patrick’s day included “evils” of many sorts. But it was the daily struggling against evil and sin on the part of growing numbers of believers which ultimately saw the decline of “evil” in that pagan land.
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