Daily Devotionals: (March 21st) Patrick, the Humanitarian Missionary

by Aaron Dunlop

Patrick of Ireland: A Devotional History

Reading: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10

Augustine is known for his heroic opposition to the heresy of Pelagianism, as Athanasius is for his stand against Arianism. John Chrysostom, the golden mouth, is most known for his eloquence, Tertullian for his brilliant theological brain, and Bernard of Clairvaux for his devotion. But of all of the ancient saints of God whom the church values so much, Patrick is the best known for a great variety of reasons. To many he is known as the humanitarian missionary, the pioneer of Liberation Theology, the one who went from slave to saint.

That Patrick gave his life “to do good unto all men” is evident from his Confession and more especially from his Letter, which was written in defense of slaves. It is true that Patrick had a heart for people and their human needs. It is also true that his great humanitarian contribution was against slavery. But it must be noted that the intensity of Patrick’s humanitarian interests was derived from the intensity of his interest in people’s souls. His gospel indeed had social implications, but it was not at all a social gospel. It was not fiscal poverty that motivated him, but spiritual poverty. It was not economic, social, or physical captivity that drove him, but spiritual captivity.

He says, “And so it was our bounden duty to spread our nets, so that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God and there might be clergy everywhere to baptise and exhort a people that was poor and needy, as the Lord says—He urges and teaches in the gospel, saying: ‘So go now, teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and see, I am with you every single day right to the end of the world.’ (Matthew 28.19–20)” (Confession, sec. 40).

Patrick’s humanitarian missionary vision was not merely the call of God; it was warmed by an intense and personal sense of a felt Christ and was driven by a burning desire that men might know Christ as he did.

“Love your fellowmen, and cry about them if you cannot bring them to Christ. If you cannot save them, you can weep over them. If you cannot give them a drop of cold water in hell, you can give them your heart’s tears while they are still in this body.”—C. H. Spurgeon

All quotations from the Confession or Letter of Patrick are taken from the edition by A. B. E. Hood, 1978.

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