Patrick of Ireland: A Devotional History
The times of Patrick were not known for missionary enterprise—they were instead dominated by martyrs and apologists as the church was being consolidated after its acceptance by Constantine in ad 311.
The martyrs such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Perpetuta in North Africa were all within the Roman Empire as were the apologists who were defending the truth against the various errors and taking stands at the various church councils. But missions to “the regions beyond” were almost non-existent. Ulfilas was one of the few missionaries; he worked for forty years evangelizing the Goths in present-day Romania. And then there was Patrick in Ireland, who evangelized those outside the Roman Empire. His testimony was, “I travelled amongst you and everywhere for your sake, beset by many dangers, even to the remote districts beyond which there was no one and where no-one had ever penetrated to baptise or ordain clergy or confirm the people. With God’s favour I have produced all these results tirelessly and most gladly for your salvation” (Confession, sec. 51).
The spirit of the pioneering missionary is one that we need still today. Men like William Carey, Henry Martin, J. G. Paton, and many women like them in the 1800s had the spirit of the early church and were prepared to give their all for the sake of the gospel. The missionary call still echoes around the world—the call that Paul heard and Patrick after him and thousands since: “Come over and help us.” Christian, take your fingers out of your ears and listen to the call of a needy world and to the command of a gracious Saviour: “Go and teach all nations!”
It is faithlessness that stops the forward movement of the church. As Patrick said, “In accordance with the measure of one’s faith in the Trinity one ought to be explicit [variously translated “proceed without holding back”] and to make known God’s gift and His everlasting consolation without jibbing [balking] at the danger, and to spread God’s name everywhere confidently and fearlessly” (Confession, sec. 14).
“Nothing so clears the vision, and lifts up the life, as a decision to move forward with what you know to be entirely in the will of God.”—John G. Paton