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  • « The Prayer Life (a window) | Main | Calvin, the Bible, and the Western World »

    Mathetes to Diognetus

    One of the earliest Christian letters in existence, likely written very shortly after the death of the last apostle, is anonymous, addressed to a certain Diognetus by one who simply calls himself, "Mathetes," that is, a "Disciple". Diognetus is an unbeliever, and hence the letter is primarily evangelistic. So what about the gospel would so early a Christian emphasize, in his endeavors to spread the good news to others? Nothing, of course, but the "Great Exchange"! Consider his following words:

    "But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had clearly been shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great longsuffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on the burden of our iniquities, He gave His Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!"

    So where are they who claim that justification only by an imputed, external righteousness is a doctrine new to the Protestant Reformation?

    Posted by Nathan on September 25, 2009 01:00 PM


    Hi Nathan,

    Like you, I'm deeply impressed with Ad Diognetum. I just finished lecturing on Polycarp's martyrdom to my Ancient Church class. I hope to do more work on this treatise. I'm impressed like you with the theology of the treatise and his (2 kingdom!) ethic.

    A couple of things I've learned recently:

    1) it's probably not a letter. It's a treatise, quite possibly a spoken appeal to a potential convert

    2) It's quite possible, even probable, that Polycarp is the author.

    On these two things, see Charles E Hill's book on this. It's a circumstantial case but a fascinating read. I've got an extended review coming out in the next/upcoming issue of the Confessional Presbyterian.

    Thanks for the added info, Dr. Clark. You're probably right, I'm certainly no authority on the subject.

    2 kingdom! -- yes, "[Christians] dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.... Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens..."

    I just finished reading an advanced reading copy of Michael Horton's new book, The Gospel-Driven Life, and was surprised (surprised, that is, because I had just posted an excerpt from the same treatise here) to come across a quote from that portion of Ad Diognetum, which he used (quite appropriately) in support of a 2 kingdom thesis.

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