THIS remarkable man was prepared by very peculiar circumstances for his important work; and in his instance also it may be seen, how that infinite wisdom which guides the development of the kingdom of God amongst men, is able to bring great things out of what seems insignificant to the eyes of men.
Patrick, called in his native tongue Succath, was born A. D.372, in a village between the Scottish towns of Dumbarton and Glasgow, (then appended to England,) in the village of Bonaven, since named in honour of him Kilpatrick. He was the son of a poor unlettered deacon of the village church. No particular care was bestowed on his education, and he lived on light-heartedly from day to day, without making the religious truths taught him by his parents matters of personal interest, until his seventeenth year. Then it happened that he was awakened by a severe chastisement from his heavenly Father from this sleep of death to a higher life. Some pirates of the wild tribe of the Scots, who then inhabited Ireland, landed at the dwelling-place of Patrick, and carried him off with other captives. He was sold into slavery to a Scottish prince, who committed to him the care of his flocks and herds. Necessity directed his heart to that God, of whom in his days of rest in his father's house, he had not thought. Abandoned of men, he found consolation and blessedness in Him, and now first learned to perceive and enjoy the treasures which the Christian has in heaven. Whilst he roamed about with his flocks through ice and snow, communion with his God in prayer awl quiet contemplation were his portion. Let us hear how he himself, in a confession which he subsequently wrote, describes this change which took place in him. |I was about sixteen years old, and knew nothing of the true God, when I was led into captivity with many thousands of my countrymen, as we deserved, in that we had departed from God, and had not kept his commandments. There God opened my unbelieving heart, so that I, although late, remembered my sins, and turned with my whole heart to the Lord my God, to him who had regarded my lowliness, had bad compassion on my youth and my ignorance, and had watched over me before I knew him, -- who, ere I knew how to choose between good and evil, had guarded and cherished me as a father doth his son. This I know assuredly, that, before God humbled me, I was like a stone lying sunk in deep mire; but he who is able came, he raised me in his mercy, and set me on a very high place. Therefore must I loudly bear witness to this, in order in some measure to repay the Lord for such great blessings in time and eternity, great beyond the apprehension of human reason. When I came to Ireland,| he says, |and used daily to keep the cattle, and often every day to pray, the fear and the love of God were ever more and more enkindled in me, and my faith increased, so that in one day I spoke a hundred times in prayer, and in the night almost as often, and even when I passed the night on the mountains, or in the forest, amidst snow, and ice, and rain, I would wake before daybreak to pray. And I felt no discomfort; there was then no sloth in me, such as I find in my heart now, for then the Spirit glowed within me.|
After he had passed six years in the service of this prince, he thought he heard a voice in his sleep which promised him a speedy return to his native land, and soon afterwards announced to him that a ship was already prepared to take him. In reliance on this call, he set out, and after a journey of many days, he found a ship about to set sail. But the captain would not at first receive the poor unknown youth. Patrick fell on his knees and prayed. He had not finished his prayer before one of the ship's company called him back, and offered him a passage. After a wearisome voyage, in which he experienced from the grace which guided him many a deliverance from great peril, and many a memorable answer to prayer, he arrived once more amongst his people. Many years after this, he was again carried off by pirates. But in sixteen days, by the special guidance of Providence, he regained his freedom, and again returned, after many fresh perils and fatigues, to his people. Great was the joy of his parents to see their son again after so many perils, and they entreated him thenceforth to remain with them always. But Patrick felt an irresistible call to carry to the people amongst whom he had passed the years of his youth, and amongst whom he had been born again to the heavenly life, the tidings of that salvation which had been imparted to him by Divine grace whilst amongst them. As the apostle Paul was by the Lord called, in a nocturnal vision, to carry to the people of Macedonia the first tidings of salvation, so there appeared to Patrick one night, in a vision, a man from Ireland with many letters. He gave him one, and Patrick read the first words, |The words of the Irish.| And as he read these words, he thought he heard the simultaneous cry of many Irish tribes dwelling by the sea, |We pray thee, child of God, come and dwell once more amongst us.| He could not read further from the agitation of his heart, and awoke. Another night, be thought he heard in a dream a heavenly voice, whose last words only were intelligible to him; namely, these words, |He who gave His life for thee, speaks in thee.| And he awoke full of joy. One night it seemed to him as if something that was in him and yet above him, and was not himself, prayed with deep sighings, and at the end of the prayer it spoke as if it were the Spirit of God himself. And he awoke, and remembered the expressive words of the apostle Paul concerning the inward communion of the children of God with his Spirit. |The Spirit itself helpeth our infirmities. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.| And in Rom. viii, 24: |Christ which also maketh intercession for us.|
As the Almighty Shepherd of souls does not draw all to Himself by the same means, nor guide and nourish them alike, but on the contrary reveals and communicates himself to them in divers manners, according to his various purposes for them and their various wants, it pleased Him to grant Patrick, by many manifestations of His grace, the pledge of the certainty of his fellowship with Himself, and of his call to preach the Gospel in Ireland. His parents and friends sought to hold him back, representing to him that such an undertaking far exceeded his capacity. He himself informs us of this when he says, |Many dissuaded me from this journey, and said behind my back, Why does this man throw himself into danger amongst the heathen who do not know the Lord?' It was not said maliciously, but they could not comprehend the thing on account of my rustic life and manners.| But nothing could mislead him, for he trusted in the power of the Lord, who imparted to him the inward confidence that He had called him, and was with him. He himself says of this, |Whence came to me so great and blessed a gift, that I should know and love God, and be able to forsake my country and my kindred, although large gifts were offered me with many tears if I would remain? And against my will I was compelled to offend many of my kindred and my well-wishers. But, by God's guidance, I yielded not to them; it was not my own power, it was God who triumphed in me, and resisted them all; so that I went amongst the people of Ireland to preach to them this Gospel, prepared to suffer much contempt from the unbelieving, and many persecutions, even to chains, and if needful to sacrifice my freedom for the good of others. And if I am counted worthy, I am ready also to lay sown my life with joy for His. name's sake.|
Patrick accordingly went to Ireland in the year 431. He could now make use of his early proficiency in the Irish language. He gathered great multitudes of the people together in the open air by beat of drum, to tell them of the sufferings of the Saviour for sinful men; and the doctrine of the Cross manifested its characteristic power over many hearts.
Patrick met indeed with much opposition; the priests and national bards, who possessed great influence, excited the people against him, and he had to endure many a hot persecution. But he overcame by his steadfastness in the faith, by his fervent zeal, and by a love which drew all hearts to itself. The following incident furnishes us with a beautiful example of the power which he exercised over the heart.
He was once in a family of rank, whose members he baptized. The son of the house conceived such an affection for Patrick, that he resolved, in spite of all the opposition of his family, to forsake all, and follow the preacher of the Gospel through all dangers and difficulties. Patrick bestowed on him the name of Benignus, on account of his gentle and affectionate character. He availed himself of the fine voice of the youth to influence the people by means of hymns. Benignus was his zealous fellow-labourer in the preaching of the Gospel until his death, and then became his successor in the pastoral office. Many of the national bards also were converted by him, so that they themselves sang in their songs the nothingness of the idols, and the praises of God and of Christ. Patrick addressed himself especially to the chiefs and princes of the people. They could do the most mischief if they were excited by the Druids against the strange religion, and, on the other hand, if they received the Gospel, they might make their people also more accessible, and form a counterbalance to the influence of the Druids. Many of these chiefs were also probably more easily persuaded of the vanity of idolatry on account of their superior education. But he by no means sought through the conversion of the princes to bring about a mere external conversion of the multitude. He frequently travelled through the whole island, attended by many of his scholars and assistants, read to the assembled people something from the Gospels, and then preached on what he had read. Sons and daughters were filled with love for the spiritual life; and also many female slaves, who did not suffer themselves to be moved by the threats or ill-treatment of their heathen masters.
Patrick took the part of the servants who had suffered hard usage from their masters. When he found youths of the lower ranks, who seemed to him fitted for a higher calling, he provided for their education, and trained them to be teachers of the people. He had from his youth, as we have seen, experienced the especial guidance of the Lord, and his heart was penetrated by it. Now whilst he laboured in the fervour and the power of faith, he was able to produce effects on the rude minds of the Irish such as never could have been produced by ordinary human power. He saw himself, moreover, sustained by the peculiar direction of that God whose word he preached. Patrick speaks of it, not in spiritual pride, but full of the sense of his unworthiness and impotence, as well as of the consciousness of the grace working in and through him.
After speaking in one of his letters of such marvels as God granted him to perform amongst the barbarous people, he added: |But I conjure all, let no one, on account of these or the like things, think to place me on an equality with the apostles and other perfect men, for I am an insignificant, sinful, and despicable man.| And more marvellous still to him was the simple fact which filled his whole soul, that by him who, until God drew his soul to Himself by severe chastisement, had himself cared so little about his own salvation, many thousands of the people, who had hitherto known nothing of the true God, should be brought to salvation. |Marvel,| he says, |ye who fear God, small and great, and ye eloquent talkers, who know nothing of the Lord, inquire and acknowledge who it is that has awakened me, a simple man, from the midst of those who are accounted the wise, learned, and mighty, in word and in deed. For I, who was abandoned beyond many others in the world; even I, in spite of all this, have been called by His Spirit, that in fear and trembling, yet faithfully and blamelessly, I should serve the people to whom the love of Christ has led me. Unweariedly must I thank my God, who has kept me faithful in the day of temptation, so that I can this day trustfully offer my soul as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to my Lord Christ, who has delivered me out of all my afflictions, so that I must also say, Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling, that Thou halt so gloriously revealed to me Thy Godhead, that I can now constantly rejoice amongst the heathen, and glorify Thy name wherever I may be, not only in prosperity but also in adversity, so that whatever may befall me, good or evil, I can calmly receive it, and continually thank that God who has taught me to believe in Him as the only true God?|
Patrick endeavoured to avoid all appearance of seeking his own gain or glory. A man who, according to the judgment of men, was not fitted to effect such great things, who from obscurity and poverty had been called to so high a place, and in whom, therefore, as is frequently the case, those who had formerly known him after the flesh would not recognise what the Spirit had accomplished, -- such a man was obliged, with all the more circumspection, to avoid giving any occasion to those who were disposed to declare a thing which they could neither measure nor comprehend by the common standard, altogether beyond flesh and blood. When many, full of love and gratitude to the teacher of salvation, their spiritual father, freely offered him gifts, and pious women offered their ornaments, Patrick, although the donors were at first offended at it, in order to avoid all evil report, declined everything. He himself gave presents to the heathen chiefs, (one of whom once robbed him, threw him into chains, and kept him a captive fourteen days,) in order thereby to purchase peace for himself and his Churches; he ransomed many Christians from captivity; and was himself prepared, as a good shepherd, to lay down all, even to his life, for his sheep. In his confession of faith, which, after labouring for thirty years in this calling, he addressed to his converts, he says: |That ye may rejoice in me, and I may ever rejoice in you in the Lord, I repent not what I have done, and even now it is not enough for me. I shall go further, and sacrifice much more. The Lord is mighty to confirm me yet more, that I may yield up my life for your souls. I call God to witness in my soul, that I have not written this to seek glory from you. The glory which is not seen, but believed on in the heart, is enough for me. Faithful is that God who hash promised, and he lieth not. But already in this world I behold myself exalted above measure by the Lord. I know very well that poverty and hardship suit me better than wealth and ease. Yea, even the Lord Christ became poor for our sakes. Daily have I expected to be seized, carried into captivity, or slain. But I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have cast myself into the arms of the Almighty God, who reigns everywhere, as it is said in the Psalm (Psa. lv, 23), Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.' Now I commend my soul to my faithful God, whom in my insignificance I serve as His messenger. For since with Him there is no respect of persons, and since He has chosen me for this calling, that I, as one of the least of His people, should serve Him, what shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits? What shall I say or promise unto my Lord? For I can do nothing, unless He himself give it me! But He trieth the hearts and reins, and He knoweth how greatly I long that He may give me to drink of the cup of His sufferings, as He has granted to others who love Him. I pray God that he may give me perseverance, and enable me to bear a faithful witness until my departure. And if I have striven after anything good for my God's sake, whom I love, I beseech Him that I, with those my new converts who have fallen into captivity, may shed my blood for His Name's sake, even though I should never be buried, even though my body should be torn in pieces by wild beasts. I believe firmly if this should befall me, I should gain my body as well as my soul; for, undoubtedly, in that day, we shall arise and shine like the sun, that is, in the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the living God, as joint heirs with Christ, renewed in His image; for by Him, through Him, and with Him, shall we reign. That sun which we see, rises daily for us, by God's command; but it will never reign, and its brightness will not last forever. All those also who worship it will (unhappy ones!) draw down punishment on themselves. But we pray in faith to Christ, the true Sun, that will never set, and he also who doeth His will shall never set, but shall live forever, as Christ lives forever, and reigns with God, the Almighty Father, and the Holy Spirit, from everlasting to everlasting.|
Patrick would gladly, after the absence and labours of many years, have once more visited his relations and his old friends in his native Britain and in Gaul, but he sacrificed his inclination to the higher calling. |I would gladly,| he says, |have journeyed to my fatherland and my parents, and also once more have visited my brethren in Gaul, that I might have seen again the countenances of the saints of my Lord; God knows I longed for it much, but I am restrained by the Spirit, who witnesseth to me, that if I do this, He will hold me guilty, and I fear lest the work I have commenced should fall to the ground.|