An Evangelical Reflects on Patrick of Ireland

by Aaron Dunlop

patrick of IrelandLike Christmas and the incarnation, most people think of Patrick only during the month of March. I find myself returning often to this great church father for the rich blessing and encouragement that I find in his writings—his Confession and Letter to Coroticus. At the beginning of January this year I was in Armagh—the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland—and from my room in the Armagh City Hotel I could see the two great cathedrals named after Patrick: the Anglican, Protestant cathedral and the more elaborate, twin-spired Roman Catholic cathedral. My mind was again drawn to this great Irish saint.

Patrick is a great Christian example. His self-sacrifice, personal piety, and energy in prayer, his zeal for the lost and love for the church are both conviction and encouragement to anyone who cares to read him. It is always good therefore to find material on Patrick that avoids theological or ecclesiological biases, that is not anachronistic, or that does not indulge all of the myth and folklore surrounding him.

This is what makes Dr. Michael Haykin’s new book on the “life and impact” of Patrick so valuable. Published last April (2014) this is the first St. Patrick’s Day it has been available and it makes a valuable contribution to the evangelical church. I am always impressed with the devotional content of Dr. Haykin’s writing on history and this treatment of Patrick is no exception. Dr. Haykin deals with Patrick’s life through a number of theological and practical considerations; these include, the trinity, missions, and Patrick’s dependence on the Holy Spirit. This is an excellent book, packed with historical insights, rich in devotion, and with lots of endnotes and direction for further reading. The following is a short chapter titled “An Evangelical Reflects on Patrick.” It is reproduced here with permission from Dr. Haykin. You can get this book on Amazon in paper or for your Kindle.haykin

“E. A. Thompson has rightly noted that Patrick’s ‘character is complex and of the utmost fascination’. My own fascination with Patrick began quite early in my studies of the ancient church. Initially, I suspect I was drawn to him because of my Irish ancestry. But in time, his rich Trinitarianism and zeal for missions, his biblicism and dependence on the Spirit exercised their own pull on my heart and mind. Since 1989 I have written a number of pieces on Patrick. In this book-length essay, however, I have not only sought to bring together the various strands of all that I have written about Patrick, but I have also expanded this material considerably so that readers today might see the implications of his life and thought for contemporary Evangelicalism.

It would be both wrong and anachronistic to describe Patrick as an Evangelical. His encouragement of monasticism, for example, hardly squares with Evangelical piety. His devotion to the Trinity, however, has much to teach Evangelicals, far too many of whom seem to have forgotten the absolute necessity of being Trinitarian in teaching and worship. His zeal for missions and the salvation of the lost is not only inspiring, but deeply convicting. Also, he is into missions for all of the right reasons: the glory of God; his love for the lost, in this case, the Irish, and his concern for their salvation; the duty he owes to God’s call on his own life; and obedience of the Scriptural mandate to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Then, there is his bibliocentrism: whether he had read many other books or not, he leaves us with the overwhelming impression that only one book supremely matters, and that is the Bible. He is not afraid to find truth in other sources—all truth is God’s truth—but in the final analysis, it is Scripture that guides him. Finally, I love his dependence on the Spirit. While his thought and expression are indeed shaped by God’s infallible Word, he sought in all integrity to listen to the Spirit in his daily life and so find that much-needed balance of Word and Spirit that we all require in our day. Most importantly in this regard, because of his own weaknesses, Patrick knew that the Spirit’s work in us is a humbling work, showing us that all in the Christian life is of pure grace: a truly Evangelical note—‘if I have achieved or shown any small success according to God’s pleasure, … it was the gift of God’ (Confession 62).”

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