18 October, 2010

The Epistle to Diognetus on the "Happy Exchange" Which Justifies the Ungodly

"...when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as its recompense, and the season came which God had ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (O the exceeding great kindness and love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

For what else but His righteousness would 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 sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessing, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!"

The Epistle to Diognetus 9.4-5
(Trans. by J.B. Lightfoot, 1891; full trans. available on-line here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-lightfoot.html)

In Lutheran theology, the justification of the ungodly through the death of the righteous Son of God incarnate is often termed "the happy exchange"; the sins of the ungodly and the punishment they deserve have been placed on Christ on the Cross, and in exchange the righteousness of Christ's perfect life is imputed to the forgiven sinner. The unknown author of the Epistle to Diognetus, usually regarded as a member of a Johannine community, nevertheless picks up on this Pauline theme in his letter, an early apologetic work, most likely from the end of the 2nd century.
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