Last summer I led a group to Ireland on a Faith Passage tour. The Emerald Island is breathtaking. One day we drove to the furthest point west on the Dingle Peninsula. There, the wind-swept blue sea crashes on rocky cliffs. It is harsh and cold; vast and beautiful. We were at the end of the world, or at least the end of Patrick’s world of the 4th Century.
He had been kidnapped by slave traders (in Britain) and sent to Ireland to work as a slave. God only knows what that life was like. In his Confession, he speaks of the harsh weather and constant hunger. Yet, this hardship brought him to reconsider the faith of his parents and his own sins and the need for a Savior. He writes in his Confession,
“the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance.”
And then, echoing Psalm 139 he wrote,
“God watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguish between good and evil… He protected me.”
Patrick Fulfills the Great Commission
Most people in the Roman world had written off the island as one of the least inhabitable portions of the earth. In the winter I’m sure I’d agree. Much of the northern island is rocky and rugged. They have had severe famines here in their recent past. But on Dingle Island, I came to see that this was the end of the world beyond which no one was living.
Here is a quote from The Confessions (34): Look at us: we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached right out to where there is nobody else there!
Can any of us claim to have fulfilled the Great Commission?
Patrick believed the people who lived here…pagans, Druids, warlords, and slaver-traders…were worth saving because he had been saved. The next years of Patrick’s ministry saw the Christian conversion of well over 100,000 pagans and the establishment of over 300 churches. All this took place while the Roman Empire was collapsing. Indeed, from this seedbed of the Gospel, other missionaries carried the Gospel to England and Europe; and the Word of God advanced. Remarkably, when the Roman missionary Bishop Augustine arrived at Canterbury in 597AD, he found evidence of the church already there. The Gospel has already come there…from the end of the world…from the work of Patrick centuries before.
As glasses are raised and Patrick is praised for deeds either legendary or true, let’s remember the times he lived in and the impact of his obedience. Because of Christ’s work in his life, he didn’t hate the culture he was trying to reach. He loved the Gospel of Christ and that made him love the people of Ireland. The land is impressive enough. But it is impossible not to be impressed with Patrick…and what God did for him.
But God also did something through him.