Reading: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:13
The generally accepted date for Patrick’s captivity in Ireland is around A.D. 406. He was sixteen years of age, in his own words, “almost a boy without a beard” (Confession, sec. 10). About this time a pivotal debate was raging in the Christian church. Pelagius, a British monk, denied the doctrine of original sin. He taught that a man has the ability to live a holy life with the direction of the law and the example of Christ. Between 412 and 415 Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa, wrote against Pelagius’ teaching, showing from Scripture that man is a sinner by nature and not just in certain actions. He taught that man has no ability to please God in himself and that he is dependent alone on divine grace for his salvation.
The Pelagian controversy raged on in Britain between 420 and 450, and it is very probable that these are the years of Patrick’s ministry in Ireland. Patrick wrote his Confession with the knowledge of this controversy and evidently was Augustinian in his view of sin.
“I Patrick, a sinner” are the first words of Patrick’s Letter and his Confession. We might say then that it is Patrick’s signature. It is evident that this thought of personal and native sinfulness followed Patrick through his life. But Patrick did not get stuck on man’s sinfulness—what some have called the “dark side of Christianity”; he looked to the “bright side” to God’s gracious salvation freely offered in Christ. Patrick says, “The Lord opened up my awareness to my unbelief.” He came to a spiritual understanding of himself and, like the sinner in Luke 18:13, cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Do you know, like Patrick, that you are a sinner? Have you a sense of the mercy of God in Christ? Then, like Patrick, trust in the only sufficient Saviour. Take the advice that Patrick gave to the sailors on his escape from Ireland: “Turn trustingly and with all your heart to the Lord my God—because nothing is impossible for Him” (Confession, sec. 19).
“Depend on it, my hearer, you never will go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as God.”—C. H. Spurgeon