Patrick of Ireland: A Devotional History
In recent years the Reformed church has been enjoying a resurgence of Reformed and Puritan literature. Publishing houses have been established and Puritan works, long out of print, now decorate the shelves of many homes. But we must ask, is personal piety proportionate to all of this reading?
Could we be guilty of reveling in Reformed sentimentality—caught up so much with the logic of the theology of grace, grateful for the rich historical records and literary genius of it all—that we miss the point? It would be easy to stumble over these externals; they are attractive! Could we be like the child so taken with the wrapping paper that it misses the gift? The Jews in Christ’s day read the Scriptures but missed the point. Christ asked them, “How readest thou?” Each of us must put this question to ourselves. If we are going to read the Scriptures and other worthy material with profit, we must read devotionally; the reading must lead me to Christ.
Devotional reading is an act of worship; it leads the heart to God. It awakens the affections and moves us towards His love as it is revealed in Christ. Devotional reading enables us to see the promises of God through the trials of life; it strengthens faith in those promises and helps us to lean on them. Other types of reading may stimulate the brain, enlighten the mind, and increase knowledge. Knowledge alone “puffs up,” but devotional reading humbles the heart with the knowledge of God. It takes the focus off self and the present and puts it on Christ and eternity.
In devotional reading the heart is the target, not the head. Jesus is the teacher; the writer is not. Learn to read good material and learn to read it devotionally. As we read the Confession of Patrick, let it lead us in worship. Let us see Christ through the life of this man whose goal was “to spread God’s name everywhere confidently and fearlessly, so that even after my death I may leave a legacy.” (Confession, sec. 14). What a high ideal! Can I say it is mine also?
“Above all, may we, dear sir, live and feed upon the precious promises. There is no teacher like Jesus, who by his Holy Spirit reveals himself in his word to the understanding and affections of his children. When we thus behold his glory in the Gospel glass, we are changed into the same image. Then our hearts melt, our eyes flow, our stammering tongues are loosed.”—John Newton
All quotations from the Confession or Letter of Patrick are taken from the edition by A. B. E. Hood, 1978.
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