I am now re-reading the Epistle to Diognetus for the fifth or sixth time and picking up something I previously missed each time I pick it up again. Last time, I quoted extensively and wrote some thoughts on Diognetus’ discussion of Christ as the gracious self-revelation of God to humanity. Similarly, we read later in the letter of Christ as the merciful atoning sacrifice for humanity–sent by the Father to reconcile the world to himself:
So then, having already planned everything in his mind together with his child, he permitted us, during the former time, to be carried away by undisciplined impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because he took delight in our sins, but because he was patient; not because he approved of that former season of unrighteousness, but because he was creating the present season of righteousness, in order that we who in the former time were convicted by our own deeds as unworthy of life might now by the goodness of God be made worthy, and having clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the kingdom of God on our own, might be enabled to do so by God’s power.
Thoughts…the author is clearly familiar with the writings of the Apostle Paul. Echoes of Romans 1-2 are unmistakable here. I also find it interesting that Diognetus presents an understanding of Law and Gospel that is very Lutheran. Though the Law is not explicitly mentioned here, the reference to humanity’s conviction “by our own deeds as unworthy of life” must refer to the traditional Jewish understanding of the Law (and Paul’s understanding, contra the New Perspective)…but I digress…the indisputable point here is that human attempts at salvation have failed, and salvation is wholly a graceful work of God. Continuing:
But when our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that is wages–punishment and death–were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!).
He did not hate us,
or reject us,
or bear a grudge against us;
instead he was patient and forbearing;
in his mercy he took upon himself our sins;
he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us,
the holy one for the lawless,
the guiltless for the guilty,
the just for the unjust,
the incorruptible for the corruptible,
the immortal for the mortal.
For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone?
O the sweet exchange,
O the incomprehensible work of God,
O the unexpected blessings,
that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person,
while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!
More thoughts…again I have reformatted the text into verse, even though the text in my copy is not formatted that way. I can’t help but read this almost as a hymn of praise to God for his great love and mercy. To be blunt, this is great stuff, especially the last stanza…I love it! And now wrapping it up:
Having demonstrated, therefore, in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed the Savior’s power to save even the powerless, he willed that for both these reasons we should believe in his goodness and regard him as nurse, father, teacher, counselor, healer, mind, light, honor, glory, strength, and life, and not be anxious about food and clothing.
As I said above, the more I read this letter, the more I like it. It is at the same time apologetic and suitable for worship. It is a magnificent work that I wish were in the hands, hearts, and minds of more Christians today as we ponder continually the mercies that the Father showers on us through Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit every instant of every day! Amen.