Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The love of God

[The following words were written 19 centuries ago, not long after the time of the apostles. It is part of what is known as The Letter to Diognetus. Neither the author of the letter, nor Diognetus, have ever been satisfactorily identified, but the letter breathes an authentic and dynamic faith. Shouldn’t those two qualities still go together?  Is it just me, or is it really so that those today who profess a dynamic faith are lacking in authenticity? And those who rigorously seek an authentic faith are lacking in dynamism (or vitality)?)

VII. For this is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was delivered into their charge; it is no mortal idea which they regard themselves bound so diligently to guard; it is no stewardship of merely human mysteries with which they have been entrusted.

2. But God Himself in very truth, the almighty and all-creating and invisible God, Himself from heaven planted among men and established in their hearts the Truth and the Word, the holy, incomprehensible Word, sending to men not a servant, as one might imagine, or an angel or ruler, or one of those who administer earthly things, or of those who have been entrusted with the ordering of things in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the universe Himself, by whom He made the heavens, by whom He enclosed the sea within bounds of its own, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily courses to keep, whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine at night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and defined and placed in subjection, the heavens and things in the heavens, the earth and things in the earth, the sea and things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, things in the heights above, things in the depths beneath, things in the space between — He it was whom God sent to men.

3. Did He send Him, as a man might think, on a mission of domination and fear and terror?

4. Indeed He did not, but in gentleness and meekness He sent Him, as a king sending his own son who is himself a king; He sent Him as God, He sent Him as man to men, He sent Him with the idea of saving, of persuading, not of forcing; for force is no part of the nature of God.

5. He sent Him as inviting, not as pursuing man; He sent Him in love, not in judgment.

6. For He will send Him in judgment; and who shall stand before His presence? . . .

7. (Dost thou not see them) flung to the wild beasts, to make them deny their Lord, and yet unconquered?

8. Dost thou not see that the more of them are punished the more their numbers increase?

9. These things look not like the achievements of man; they are the power of God; they are the proofs of His presence.

VIII. Who among men understood at all what God is, before He came?

2. Or dost thou accept the vain and foolish theories of those famous philosophers, of whom some said that God was fire (giving the name of God to the element into which they themselves are destined to go), and others that He was water, and others again some other of the elements created by God?

3. And indeed if any one of these theories deserves acceptance, each of the remaining creatures might just as readily be proved to be God.

4. But these notions are but the trickery and imposture of magicians.

5. No man ever saw God or made Him known; God revealed Himself.
6. And He revealed Himself through faith, to which alone it has been granted to see God.

7. For God, the Lord and Creator of the universe, who made all things, and set them in order, proved to be not only loving unto man but also longsuffering.

8. Such indeed He ever was and is and will be, kind and good and dispassionate and true — in fact He alone is good.

9. But He conceived a great and unspeakable thought, and this He communicated to His Son alone.

10. While therefore He kept and guarded His wise counsel as a mystery, He seemed indeed to be negligent and careless of us.

11. But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and made manifest what had been prepared from the beginning, then He bestowed upon us all things at once — to partake of His benefits, and to see and understand things which none of us could ever have expected.

IX. Having therefore planned the whole dispensation already in His own mind in union with the Son, He permitted us during the former time to be carried along by disorderly inclinations just as we wished, and led astray by pleasures and desires, not in any way taking delight in our. sins, but bearing with them, nor again assenting to that age of unrighteousness, but creating all the while the present age of righteousness, so that we, having then been by our own works convicted of our unworthiness of life, might now be rendered worthy by the goodness of God, and having plainly proved that we were unable of ourselves to enter into the kingdom of God, might be enabled so to enter by the power of God.

2. But when our unrighteousness had now been fulfilled, when it had been made completely manifest, that its retribution was awaited in chastisement and death, when the time came which God had ordained to manifest His own goodness and power (O the surpassing kindness and love of God for man!), He did not hate us or reject us or take vengeance upon us, but showed His longsuffering and forbearance; in His mercy He Himself took up the burden of our sins, He Himself gave His own Son as a ransom on our behalf, the holy for the lawless, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

3. What else could cover our sins but His righteousness?

4. In whom could we lawless and ungodly men be justified but in the Son of God alone?

5. O sweet exchange! O inscrutable operation! O unexpected blessings, that the lawlessness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, and the righteousness of one should justify the lawless many!

6. Having therefore proved in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to win life, and having now revealed a Saviour powerful to save even the powerless, in both these ways He wished us to believe His goodness, to regard Him as guardian, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength, life, and not to be anxious about clothing and food.

X. If thou, too, desirest this faith, first obtain the knowledge of the Father.

2. For God loved men, for whose sake He made the world, to whom He subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason and intelligence, to whom alone He granted to look upward to Him, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He promised the kingdom that is in heaven, yea, and will give it to them that have loved Him.

3. And when thou hast attained this knowledge, with what joy, thinkest thou, wilt thou be filled? Or how wilt thou love Him who so first loved thee?

4. Loving Him, thou wilt be an imitator of His goodness. Wonder not that man can be an imitator of God; by the will of God he can.

5. For happiness consists not in exercising lordship over a neighbour, nor in wishing to have advantage of weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and using force against inferiors. Not in ways like these can a man imitate God; such ways are far removed from I lis majesty.

6. But whosoever takes up his neighbour’s burden, whosoever is willing to use his superiority as a means of benefiting another man who is in this respect his inferior, whosoever bestows upon the needy what he himself holds as a recipient of God’s bounty and so becomes a god to the recipients of his bounty, he is an imitator of God.

7. Then though thou art yet upon earth thou shalt behold that God ruleth in heaven, then shalt thou begin to speak the mysteries of God, then shalt thou love and admire them that are punished for their refusal to deny God, then shalt thou pass judgment upon the deception and delusion of the world, when thou hast learned to know the true life that is in heaven, to despise the seeming death here, and to fear the real death there, which is reserved for them that shall be condemned to the eternal fire which shall punish them that are delivered over unto it, even unto the end. Then shalt thou admire them that endure for righteousness’ sake the fire that lasteth but for a time, when thou hast learned to know that fire yonder. . . .

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