Friday, October 24, 2008

Saint Patrick - Light in the Darkness

"I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel..." (St. Patrick)

In the providence and mercy of God two Latin writings of St. Patrick himself have survived from the fifth century. The "Letter to Coroticus" and the "Confession" (or "Statement") are Ireland's oldest literature and are regarded by scholars as absolutely genuine.

The writings provide historic information of priceless value, but more than that they bring to life again, for our generation, the faith, courage, and timeless message of one of the most remarkable Christians who ever lived.
The text of this booklet is based on these two documents together with some verses from the New Testament Scriptures.

Early Life
atrick, of Celtic origin, was a Briton brought up in the latter days of the Roman occupation. In early youth he had come under the influence of the Christian Gospel but had rebelled against it and, to use his own words, turned his back on God.
At the age of sixteen he was captured by pagan raiders at his father's estate, brought across the sea to Ireland and sold as a slave. It was a fearful experience and, initially at least, he suffered great hardship and hunger. His darkest hour, however, was just before the dawn!

Out in the West of Ireland his lonely and hopeless plight moved him to remember his sins and earnestly seek for God with all his heart. "And there" said Patrick, "I found Him ..." All alone, but with the help of the Holy Spirit and his memory of the Bible, he found the one whom he would often refer to as "Christ my Lord" ... and through Him the gift of salvation.

Prior to that, he tells us, "I did not know the true God" but "lay in death and unbelief." Now he was re-born! and a loving personal relationship with Jesus Christ was to be his treasure for the rest of life.

"You thrill me, Lord with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done."
Psalm 92 verse 4

Patrick became a man of prayer. He found, as every true believer finds, the joy of coming to the Lord in worship and petition. He rose before dawn to commune with God and afterwards, "out in the woods and hills," he would pray "as many as one hundred times a day .." He became familiar with the Irish language and Irish customs. His manner of living made a deep impression on the pagan people around him.

After six years, in response to a message in a dream, he deserted the man for whom he worked and with God's help returned to his own people in Britain.
It was there in Britain that one night, again in a dream or vision, he saw before him a letter with the title "The CALL OF THE IRISH" and then he heard the voice of the people, seemingly from the area where he had been a slave, .. "Holy youth come and walk again among us".

From that moment Patrick knew that he must return with the Gospel to that nation from which he says "I was only just able to escape."

Back to Ireland
"The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,"
(Matthew ch. 4 v. 16)

After years of preparation, Patrick, in the prime of life, returned to Ireland, somewhere around the year 430AD. Many doubted the wisdom of the project and said so!
In Ireland he met with sullen opposition from the pagan tribes. He tells of "insults," "persecutions," and of times when he was "robbed" or "thrown into chains."

His bold stand against the forces of evil and idolatry made a violent end to his mission seem probable. But, resting on the promises of the Bible, Patrick was sure of Heaven and in coming to terms with death he found the secret of joyful victorious living. "I am prepared" he writes, "to give my life without hesitation and most gladly for His Name." It seems he never even considered the possibility of quitting!

Ireland became his adopted country - he considered himself 'Irish' and in return for "The Gift of knowing and loving God" he was committed to that country for the rest of his life.

He never claimed enormous success or that he could perform miracles, but out of years of "exhortation" and "hard work" thousands were born again and brought to a life - changing faith in Jesus Christ. Patrick records that many who had worshipped only "idols and unclean things" are now a people of the Lord. They had come as the Bible puts it: "From darkness into light and from the power of Satan unto God."

The Gift
".. Regardless of danger I must make known the Gift of God.."
(St. Patrick)

Patrick was not well educated and Latin was not his native tongue but in an amazing way he comes alive in his stumbling prose. He had his faults like the rest of us but it is clear that he was a uniquely humble and godly man, filled with the love of Christ.

He found the basis for both his faith and his manner of living in the pages of the Holy Bible. His short works contain about 190 quotations from the Scriptures and none from any other book. He emphasised the coming again of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit whom he says ".. makes those who believe and obey to be sons of God and joint heirs with Christ."

He brought the light of God's Word into the gloom and hopelessness of the Irish tribes among whom he lived so many years ago.
But things have changed! Life in the 21st century has brought a prosperity and a range of social, educational, travel and entertainment opportunities beyond the imagination of the people of Patrick's day.

None of these things, however, carry any guarantee that they will fill an empty heart. We all have a spiritual dimension and there's plenty of evidence around us to underline the old biblical truth that "man shall not live by bread alone." We can send a man to walk on the Moon but it is still more important to know a God who will walk with us on earth!

Even in this modern world there are few real atheists and most of us, occasionally at least, face the truth that we will not be here for ever. Many people in Ireland seek by good deeds and faithful religious observances to obtain favour with God and, eventually, entrance into Heaven. Some sincerely believe that they are on the right track through involvement with one or other of the cults. There is general agreement on the fact that we are all sinners, but few seem to grasp the awesome truth that the salvation we all need has already been paid for in full by Christ's death on the cross. The Bible says so plainly in the book of Hebrews (chapters 7 and 9)

"...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many .." and
".. because Jesus lives for ever he has a permanent priesthood, therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him."

We don't have to wait until we die to know if we are saved or lost. That question is settled while we are still alive ..

Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5 v 25)

I have no criticism of good works or religion, but these, by themselves, will ultimately disappoint for they fail to give any definite assurance. God's pardon and inner peace cannot be bought, or merited, or conferred upon us by others .. it is, as Patrick taught, the free gift of God's grace through faith,
(see Ephesians 2 verse 8)

We could go on our hands and knees from Donegal to Cork and be no better for it but when we turn to the Lord in true repentance and faith the very purity and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is credited to our account. Anything less will not fit us for God's presence.

Jesus once compared the salvation he gives to 'living water' (those who drink, he said, will never thirst again). So let me quote for you what are almost the last words of the New Testament .. a final appeal from Jesus, so wide, so simple, that none may feel left out:

"Whoever is thirsty let him come and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22 verse 17)

In the light of such an invitation we should look thoughtfully at a question asked in the New Testament ..

" .. How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2 verse 3)

The Prize
The two writings born at the dawn of Ireland's Christianity provide the only reliable information on Ireland's patron saint. They do more. They lead us to see beyond Patrick to that incomparable Christ who was the centre of Patrick's message.. the one whose coming to Bethlehem has divided the chronicles of history and whose blood has opened the way to Heaven. Countless millions have made Him their own personal Saviour and have found that quality of joy and purpose that makes life worth living.

I think that Patrick would be happy for me to finish, not with his words, but with the words of Jesus in the book of the Revelation Ch. 3 verse 20 ..

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will go in and eat with him and he with me."

God's salvation is free but it is not cheap. For you, dear reader, to receive Christ into your life will require on your part, a willingness to turn from sin, and perhaps to question previously held views. You risk being misunderstood. But the prize is worth it! Many Christians are praying for you.
J. Holmes

"As many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God even to them that believe on his name."
St. John 1 verse 12

The distribution of this booklet is motivated by love for Jesus Christ and for all the people of Ireland whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant or of any other faith.

If you have doubts or problems about the truth of what we have tried to share with you, why not go to God in prayer yourself .. ask Him to give you understanding and direction.

We would encourage you to get in touch through any of the addresses below. You can make inquiries .. or ask questions .. or just tell us about yourself. We will be glad to send you, free of charge, a copy of the Gospel of John and additional helpful literature.

More information on St. Patrick is also available from Irish Hill Publications.

Write (in confidence) to any of the following:
Cavan Christian Bookshop 22A Bridge Street, Cavan Co. Cavan
Dick and Mary Keogh Curraheen, Horse and Jockey Thurles, Co. Tipperary
Christian Publication Centre 110 Middle Abbey Street Dublin 1
Irish Hill Publications 20 Logwood Road, Ballyclare Co. Antrim BT39 9LR