We are always forgiven! Yet Witsius reminds us throughout this section of the Apostles’ Creed that in stating it we imply that our sin is the transgression of God’s law, multitudinous, and worthy of everlasting punishment. He thus gives a wonderful summary of the doctrine of the remission of our sins that should move us deeply.
During the ancient Apostles’ Creed’s development over time into one of the Church’s first sanctioned statements of faith some of its phrases were inserted along the way into the completion of its final form; yet the belief of “the forgiveness of sins” was an initial part of this earliest confession. Primary and paramount to Christianity is God’s pardon of His people by propitiation—however, this early doctrine was (and is) an unwelcome witness by the watching world.
J. Ligon Duncan helps us see this primitive profession against its dark historical backdrop:
Some of us take for granted the morality of forgiving sins … the ancient pagans accused the Christians of immorality in saying that God could forgive murderers and adulterers of their sin. Pagans did not agree with that and attacked and mocked Christians as they taught the gospel of grace throughout the Roman and Greek world. Pagans often mocked the Christian teaching that sins could be forgiven by another, even by God. As far as a pagan was concerned, you either make up for your misdeeds … or you’re forever guilty. And pagans did not consider forgiveness a virtue … Only the weak spirited—the weak willed—would forgive. We need to realize just how radical the Bible’s message is of the forgiveness of sins. It’s interesting that in Rufinus’ commentary on The Apostles’ Creed, written in the fifth century, pagans were still attacking Christians for this very reason.
Considering that “the forgiveness of sins” was a cause for early persecution of Christians and that it was a part of the Apostles’ Creed from its inception, is the placement of this clause near its end significant? Schaff’s observation of the Creed’s structure might illuminate: “It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture language, and in the most natural order—the order of revelation …” (emphasis, GVL).