Justification: what the early church thought about being justified. How they thought about the doctrine of justification…
It is important in our day and age to stand steadfast upon old paths. Old paths, in this case, are trodden and packed by the constant footsteps of travelers along the road of salvation. God has the same idea in mind when He says through the prophet Jeremiah in 6:16, “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” In walking along these old paths, in fact in asking for them, justification by faith alone is among the most endangered doctrine of today’s modern church in much the same way it was eclipsed during the time just prior to the Reformation. The church would rather “experience” God than recall their justification declared about them by God. In this way, feeling and experience have moved aside the central truths of the Gospel.
It was not Martin Luther that came up with the doctrine of forensic justification, rather, it was God. And God did not take so long to communicate such wonderful truths just at the turn of the 16th century. Far before, even among the early church fathers, the doctrine of justification was as accepted as much so as in the day of Luther. It is certain that the formulations around the doctrine were not as defined and critically studied as in the time of the Reformation, of thereafter, but such a study in the time of the early church was unnecessary since justification was an accepted Christian truth. Usually heretics press the church to deal with certain issues throughout its life. In the early church many of the disputes surrounded the nature and persons of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet even in the midst of those tumultuous debates, the doctrine of justification by faith was still taught and received as biblical, right and true. There was no need to have a debate around that which was accepted as biblical.
Throughout the writings of the early church, we find numerous accounts of the doctrine of justification expounded. Below are simply cross sections of some of the most important excerpts by the early writers. No, these are not the quintessential notes of Luther, Calvin, John Owen, or the Westminster Standards. However, there is still much insight to be gleaned into the nature of justification, and its biblical content as expressed by the early church.”
Clement of Rome: “Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.” All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. ANF: Vol. I, The Apostolic Fathers, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 32.
Mathetes to Diognetus: “He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own 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 (substitution)! 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! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.” Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume I, Mathetes to Diognetus, Chapter 9.
Marius Victorinus (born c. 280, converted around 356): Every mystery which is enacted by our Lord Jesus Christ asks only for faith. The mystery was enacted at that time for our sake and aimed at our resurrection and liberation, should we have faith in the mystery of Christ and in Christ. For the patriarchs prefigured and foretold that man would be justified from faith. Therefore, just as it was reckoned as righteousness to Abraham that he had faith, so we too, if we have faith in Christ and every mystery of his, will be sons of Abraham. Our whole life will be accounted as righteous. Epistle to the Galatians, 1.3.7. Mark J. Edwards, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 39.
Chrysostom (349-407): The patriarch Abraham himself before receiving circumcision had been declared righteous on the score of faith alone: before circumcision, the text says, “Abraham believed God, and credit for it brought him to righteousness.” Fathers of the Church, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, 27.7 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), p. 167.
Chrysostom (349-407): For if even before this, the circumcision was made uncircumcision, much rather was it now, since it is cast out from both periods. But after saying that “it was excluded,” he shows also, how. How then does he say it was excluded? “By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith.” See he calls the faith also a law delighting to keep to the names, and so allay the seeming novelty. But what is the “law of faith?” It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God’s power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only. NPNF1: Vol. XI, Homilies on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Homily 7, vs. 27.
Chrysostom (349-407): “For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light.” NPNF1: Vol. XI, Homilies on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Homily 8, Rom. 4:1, 2.
Chrysostom (349-407): “And this he removes, with great skill and prudence, turning their argument against themselves, and showing that those who relinquish the Law are not only not cursed, but blessed; and they who keep it, not only not blessed but cursed. They said that he who kept not the Law was cursed, but he proves that he who kept it was cursed, and he who kept it not, blessed. Again, they said that he who adhered to Faith alone was cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to Faith alone, is blessed. And how does he prove all this? for it is no common thing which we have promised; wherefore it is necessary to give close attention to what follows.” NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Commentary on Galatians, 3:8.
Chrysostom (349-407): “For they said that the one who does not keep the law is cursed, while he shows that the one who strives to keep it is cursed and the one who does not strive to keep it is blessed. They said that he who kept not the Law was cursed, but he proves that he who kept it was cursed, and he who kept it not, blessed. Again, they said that he who adhered to Faith alone was cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to Faith alone, is blessed.” Homily on Galatians 3.9-10. Mark J. Edwards, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 40. 3:8.
Chrysostom (349-407): God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent. Homily on Ephesians 4.2.9. Mark J. Edwards, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 134.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384) commenting upon 1 Cor. 1:4b: “God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 6.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 1:11: “For the mercy of God had been given for this reason, that they should cease from the works of the law, as I have often said, because God, taking pity on our weaknesses, decreed that the human race would be saved by faith alone, along with the natural law.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 23.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 2:12: “For if the law is given not for the righteous but for the unrighteous, whoever does not sin is a friend of the law. For him faith alone is the way by which he is made perfect. For others mere avoidance of evil will not gain them any advantage with God unless they also believe in God, so that they may be righteous on both counts. For the one righteousness is temporal; the other is eternal.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 65.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 3:24: “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 101.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 3:27: “Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 103.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 4:5: “How then can the Jews think that they have been justified by the works of the law in the same way as Abraham, when they see that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law when the ungodly is justified before God by faith alone.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 112.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 4:6, “‘righteousness apart from works’: Paul backs this up by the example of the prophet David, who says that those are blessed of whom God has decreed that, without work or any keeping of the law, they are justified before God by faith alone.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 113.
Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), commenting on Rom. 3:28: “Paul did not say we hold because he was himself uncertain. He said it in order to counter those who concluded from this that anyone who wished to could be justified simply by willing faith. Note carefully that Paul does not say simply without the law, as if we could perform virtue by wanting to, nor do we the works of the law by force. We do them because we have been led to do them by Christ.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 104-105.
Oecumenius (6th century), on James 2:23: “Abraham is the image of someone who is justified by faith alone, since what he believed was credited to him as righteousness. But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. Of course he did not do this work by itself; in doing it, he remained firmly anchored in his faith, believing that through Isaac his seed would be multiplied until it was as numerous as the stars.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 33.
Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3: “God justifies by faith alone.” (Deus ex sola fide justificat). In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Caput X, v. 3, PL 30:692D.
Jerome (347-420): “He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.” Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 61.
Pope Boniface to Caesarius: “[Phil. 1:29]–it appears obvious that our faith in Christ, like all good things, comes to individuals from the gift of divine grace and not from the power of human nature. We rejoice that your brotherhood perceived this truth in accordance with catholic faith, when a council of some bishops of Gaul was held. As you have indicated, they decided unanimously that our faith in Christ is conferred on men by the intervention of divine grace. They added that there is absolutely nothing good in God’s eyes that anyone can wish, begin, do, or complete without the grace of God, for as our Savior said, “Without me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]. For it is both a certainty and an article of catholic faith that in all good things, the greatest of which is faith, divine mercy intervenes for us when we are not yet willing [to believe], so that we might become willing; it remains in us when we are willing [to believe]; and it follows us so that we remain in faith.” William E. Klingshirn, trans., Caesarius of Arles: Life, Testament, Letters, Letter 20 – Pope Boniface to Caesarius; 2 (Liverpool: University Press, 1994), p. 125.
Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): “Seeing then that the law condemned sinners and sometimes imposed the supreme penalty on those who disregarded it and was in no way merciful, how was the appointment of a truly compassionate and merciful high priest not necessary for those on earth; one who would abrogate the curse, check the legal process, and free the sinners with forgiving grace and commands based on gentleness? ‘I,’ says the text, ‘I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins’ (Is. 43:25). For we are justified by faith, not by works of the law, as Scripture says (Gal. 2:16). By faith in whom, then, are we justified? Is it not in him who suffered death according to the flesh for our sake? Is it not in one Lord Jesus Christ?
Against Nestorius in Norman Russell, Cyril of Alexandria (London: Rutledge, 2000), p. 165.
Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444): “For truly the compassion from beside the Father is Christ, as he takes away the sins, dismisses the charges and justifies by faith, and recovers the lost and makes [them] stronger than death. For what is good and he does not give? Therefore the knowledge of God is better than sacrifice and holocausts, as it is brought to perfection in Christ. For by him and in him we have known the Father, and we have become rich in the justification by faith.” Commentary on Hosea. Alberto Ferreiro, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament XIV: The Twelve Prophets (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 29.
Bede (673-735), on Paul and James: “Although the apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works, those who understand by this that it does not matter whether they live evil lives or do wicked and terrible things, as long as they believe in Christ, because salvation is through faith, have made a great mistake. James here expounds how Paul’s words ought to be understood. This is why he uses the example of Abraham, whom Paul also used as an example of faith, to show that the patriarch also performed good works in the light of his faith. It is therefore wrong to interpret Paul in such a way as to suggest that it did not matter whether Abraham put his faith into practice or not. What Paul meant was that no one obtains the gift of justification on the basis of merits derived from works performed beforehand, because the gift of justification comes only from faith.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament XI: James, 1-2Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 31.
Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67) on Matthew 20:7: “Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.” George Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy (London: G. Norman, 1831), p. 230.
Basil of Caesarea (329-379): “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ. Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, p. 505,
Ambrose (c. 339-97): “Thus I do not have the wherewithal to enable me to glory in my own works, I do not have the wherewithal to boast of myself, and so I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am free of sins, but because sins have been forgiven me. I will not glory because I am profitable or because anyone is profitable to me, but because Christ is an advocate in my behalf with the Father, because the blood of Christ has been poured out in my behalf.” FC, Vol. 65, Saint Ambrose, Seven Exegetical Works, Jacob and the Happy Life, Book 1, 6.21 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1972), p. 133.
Ambrose (c. 339-97): “I have nothing, therefore, whereby I may glory in my works; I have nothing to boast of, and, therefore, I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I am righteous, but because I am redeemed. I will not glory because I am free from sin, but because my sins are pardoned. I will not glory because I have done good to any one, or any one has done good to me, but because Christ is my advocate with the Father, and because Christ’s blood was shed for me.” George Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy (London: G. Norman, 1831), p. 220.
Ambrose (c. 339-97): “Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.” George Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy (London: G. Norman, 1831), p. 220.
Augustine (354-430): “Having now to the best of my ability, and as I think sufficiently, replied to the reasonings of this author, if I be asked what is my own opinion in this matter, I answer, after carefully pondering the question, that in the Gospels and Epistles, and the entire collection of books for our instruction called the New Testament, I see that fasting is enjoined. But I do not discover any rule definitely laid down by the Lord or by the apostles as to days on which we ought or ought not to fast. And by this I am persuaded that exemption from fasting on the seventh day is more suitable, not indeed to obtain, but to foreshadow, that eternal rest in which the true Sabbath is realized, and which is obtained only by faith, and by that righteousness whereby the daughter of the King is all glorious within.” NPNF1: Vol. 1, Letter 36, 25.
Augustine (354-430): “Not so our father Abraham. This passage of scripture is meant to draw our attention to the difference. We confess that the holy patriarch was pleasing to God; this is what our faith affirms about him. So true is it that we can declare and be certain that he did have grounds for pride before God, and this is what the apostle tells us. It is quite certain, he says, and we know it for sure, that Abraham has grounds for pride before God. But if he had been justified by works, he would have had grounds for pride, but not before God. However, since we know he does have grounds for pride before God, it follows that he was not justified on the basis of works. So if Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified?” The apostle goes on to tell us how: What does scripture say? (that is, about how Abraham was justified). Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). Abraham, then, was justified by faith. Paul and James do not contradict each other: good works follow justification
3. Now when you hear this statement, that justification comes not from works, but by faith, remember the abyss of which I spoke earlier. You see that Abraham was justified not by what he did, but by his faith: all right then, so I can do whatever I like, because even though I have no good works to show, but simply believe in God, that is reckoned to me as righteousness? Anyone who has said this and has decided on it as a policy has already fallen in and sunk; anyone who is still considering it and hesitating is in mortal danger. But God’s scripture, truly understood, not only safeguards an endangered person, but even hauls up a drowned one from the deep. My advice is, on the face of it, a contradiction of what the apostle says; what I have to say about Abraham is what we find in the letter of another apostle, who set out to correct people who had misunderstood Paul. James in his letter opposed those who would not act rightly but relied on faith alone; and so he reminded them of the good works of this same Abraham whose faith was commended by Paul. The two apostles are not contradicting each other. James dwells on an action performed by Abraham that we all know about: he offered his son to God as a sacrifice. That is a great work, but it proceeded from faith. I have nothing but praise for the superstructure of action, but I see the foundation of faith; I admire the good work as a fruit, but I recognize that it springs from the root of faith. If Abraham had done it without right faith it would have profited him nothing, however noble the work was. On the other hand, if Abraham had been so complacent in his faith that, on hearing God’s command to offer his son as a sacrificial victim, he had said to himself, “No, I won’t. But I believe that God will set me free, even if I ignore his orders,” his faith would have been a dead faith because it did not issue in right action, and it would have remained a barren, dried-up root that never produced fruit.” John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., WSA, Part 3, Vol. 15, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms 1-32, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31, 2-4 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2000), pp. 364-365.
Augustine (354-430): “But what about the person who does no work (Rom 4:5)? Think here of some godless sinner, who has no good works to show. What of him or her? What if such a person comes to believe in God who justifies the impious? People like that are impious because they accomplish nothing good; they may seem to do good things, but their actions cannot truly be called good, because performed without faith. But when someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6). What righteousness is this? The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.” John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., WSA, Part 1, Vol. 11, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms 1-32, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31, ¡±7 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2000), p. 370.
Chrysostom (349-407): “For he makes a wide distinction between commandments and ordinances. He either then means faith, calling that an ordinance, (for by faith alone He saved us,) or he means precept, such as Christ gave, when He said, “But I say unto you, that ye are not to be angry at all.” (Matthew 5:22.) That is to say, If thou shalt believe that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ (Romans 10:6-9.) And again, The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thine heart. Say not, Who shall ascend into heaven, or who shall descend into the abyss?’ or, who hath brought. Him again from the dead?’ Instead of a certain manner of life, He brought in faith. For that He might not save us to no purpose, He both Himself underwent the penalty, and also required of men the faith that is by doctrines” NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on Ephesians, Homly 5, Ephesians 2:11,12.
Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398): “But how can some say that because the spirit which gives life to the body is more honorable than the body, therefore works are more honorable than faith? I have looked into this matter in some detail and shall try to explain my position on this. It is undoubtedly true that the spirit is nobler than the body, but this does not mean that works can be put before faith, because a person is saved by grace, not by works but by faith. There should be no doubt but that faith saves and then lives by doing its own works, so that the works which are added to salvation by faith are not those of the law but a different kind of thing altogether.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 34. See PG 39:1732, from his Commentary on James, 2:26b.
Andreas (c. 7th century): “Now someone might object to this and say: “Did Paul not use Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by faith, without works. And here James is using the very same Abraham as an example of someone who was justified not by faith alone, but also by works which confirm that faith?” How can we answer this? And how can Abraham be an example of faith without works, as well as of faith with works, at the same time? But the solution is ready to hand from the Scriptures. For the same Abraham is at different times an example of both kinds of faith. The first is prebaptismal faith, which does not require works but only confession and the word of salvation, by which those who believe in Christ are justified. The second is postbaptismal faith, which is combined with works. Understood in this way, the two apostles do not contradict one another, but one and the same Spirit is speaking through both of them.” Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 32. See J. A. Cramer, ed., Catena in Epistolas Catholicas (Oxford: Clarendon, 1840), 16, where he is commenting on James 2:21.
Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (c. 467-532) commenting on Eph. 2:8: “The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity. Where there is true belief through true faith, true salvation certainly accompanies it. Anyone who departs from true faith will not possess the grace of true salvation.” On the Incarnation, 1. Mark J. Edwards, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 133-134.
Ignatius of Antioch: “His cross, and his death, and his resurrection, and the faith which is through him, are my unpolluted muniments; and in these, through your prayers, I am willing to be justified (Epistle to Philadelphians).”
Athanasius: “It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word [Genesis 2:17] and that humanity, having transgressed, should not die. it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back on His word regarding death [Genesis 2:17] in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not make Himself a liar. What, then, was God to do?. The Logos perceived that our perishing condition could not abolished except through death. Yet He Himself, as the Logos, being immortal and the Father’s Son, could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that this body, through belonging to the Logos Who is above all, might become a sufficient exchange in dying for all. His body, remaining imperishable through His indwelling, would thereafter put an end to perishing for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. By surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, He immediately abolished death for His human brothers by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Logos of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled by death all that was required.” On the Incarnation of the Logos, 6-7, 9.
Athanasius: “To provide against this also, He sends His own Son, and He becomes Son of Man, by taking created flesh; that, since all were under sentence of death, He, being other than them all, might Himself for all offer to death His own body; and that henceforth, as if all had died through Him, the word of that sentence might be accomplished (for all died in Christ), and all through Him might thereupon become free from sin and from the curse which came upon it, and might truly abide for ever, risen from the dead and clothed in immortality and incorruption.” Athanasius, Orations Against The Arians 2:69.
Clement of Rome: “We also, being called through God’s will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, neither through our own wisdom or understanding, or piety, or works which we have done in holiness or heart, but through faith.” Epistle to the Corinthians.
Polycarp: “I know that through grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God, through Jesus Christ.” The Epistle of Philippians.
Hermas, “I have heard, sir, said I, from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins. He said to me, You have heard rightly, for so it is.” The Shepherd 4:3:12.
Justin Martyr: “”Whoever are convinced and believe that what they are taught and told by us is the truth, and professes to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to beseech God in fasting for the remission of their former sins, while we pray and fast with them. Then they are led by us to a place where there is water, and they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: In the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing of water. For Christ said, Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” First Apology 61:1417.
Dialogue with Trypho: “No longer by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of a heifer…are sins purged, but by faith, through the blood of Christ and his death, who died on this very account.”
Letter to Diognetus: “God gave his own Son the ransom for us…for what, save his righteousness, could cover our sins. In whom was it possible that we, transgressors and ungodly as we were, could be justified, save in the Son of God alone? …O unexpected benefit, that the transgression of many should be hidden in one righteous Person and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors.”
Irenaeus of Lyons: “Through the obedience of one man who first was born from the Virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.” Adversus Haereses.
Irenaeus of Lyons: “For He came to save all through means of Himself all, I say, who through Him are born again to God infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence, the Prince of life, existing before all, and going before all.” Against Heresies 2:22:4