The section of the new confession dealing with Jesus Christ has in it a most carefully phrased paragraph which rejects the teaching of the Bible concerning the death of our Lord. This is done by two devices-first, by describing it as “a mystery,” and second, by relegating the various expressions of the Scriptures that explain the substance and meaning of the Cross to the realm of theory. The new confession actually offers no true meaning for the Cross, except that it is all hidden in the “love of God.”

Four sentences make up this paragraph, and the importance of this issue for the salvation of precious souls is such that a careful consideration of each sentence separately is required.

1. “God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery which the Scriptures describe in various ways.”

Nowhere in the Bible is the death of Christ described as a mystery to the believer. There are references to mystery in the Bible-the mystery of godliness, which is Christ in you the hope of glory; the mystery of iniquity; and Mystery, Babylon the Great. But the Cross is not a mystery to the Christian. God has been careful to present in detail the full and glorious meaning of this one act of reconciliation when Christ died upon the Cross for the sins of men. In the matter that concerns the redemption which God has purchased for His people, He has left nothing in the realms of mystery, uncertainty, doubt, or confusion. In fact, since a man is justified by his faith in the death of Christ, to leave any mystery whatsoever surrounding this supreme sacrifice of our Saviour is to leave doubt, uncertainty, and insecurity. There simply cannot be any mystery about this work of the sacrifice of Christ if the sinner is to be at peace and fully satisfied in his own mind and heart concerning what God has done for him upon the Cross. It is just the other way around. The death of Christ is called good news. It is the greatest announcement that has ever been proclaimed to men. And the full significance of this death in all of its relationship to God’s justice and His love is explained in the simplest possible terms.

The fact that “mystery” is introduced into this new confession about this matter of the Cross at this point reveals that here is unbelief, which, refusing to accept what the Bible teaches concerning the Cross, relegates the whole matter to an area of uncertainty and mystery.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) . The content of the Gospel was spelled out in such precise terms that Paul taught that if an angel from Heaven preached “any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). To obscure, to change, or to add to this Gospel was an aggravated sin against God, Paul said, for it indeed kept from men the understanding of the way in which God had made possible their salvation. It has been the task of Satan through all the years to obscure and hinder the Gospel. The Apostle wrote, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3,4).

Let us now consider the various ways in which the new confession says the Scriptures present this mystery.

2. “It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil.”

Is there any mystery about “the sacrifice of a lamb”? The whole announcement of John the Baptist was, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29 ). Christ was the sacrifice, and everything that the Old Testament taught about the shedding of blood by the slaying of the lamb in an offering for sin was literally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This showed the continuity of the plan of redemption from the very beginning.

Is there anything mysterious about “a shepherd’s life given for his sheep”? None whatever, when the Shepherd is Christ, who said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep . . . . Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:11, 17, 18).

Is there anything mysterious with an “atonement by a priest”? Not when that Priest is Christ, who “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12 ) . “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth in the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:24-26).

Is there anything mysterious about His death being a “ransom of a slave”? Not when Jesus Christ was Himself that Ransom offered to God to satisfy God’s infinite justice, that He might deliver those of us who were slaves to sin, for He said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34), and “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45 ) .

Is there anything mysterious about the “payment of debt”? Not when the debt is the total burden of our sin which merited death and judgment, and Jesus Christ offered Himself, the just for the unjust, in our room and stead that He might bring us to God. Is there anything mysterious about a “vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty”? Not when Christ is the one who paid that penalty to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God.

Is there anything mysterious about “victory over the powers of evil”? Not when the one who obtains the victory is Jesus Christ, who was indeed as the Scriptures said, the propitiation for our sins.

There is no mystery here. In fact, the Scriptures present this truth in such a way that our minds and our hearts may be fully satisfied and we may understand exactly what took place in that great transaction. God’s grace and love provided the sacrifice to meet every demand of His justice. His love and His justice kissed at the Cross. The believer understands, and, because he understands, the believer can say with the Apostle, He “loved me, and gave himself for me,” and “We love him, because he first loved us.” Our love is not built upon a mystery. It rests upon truth and understanding, because we have believed God’s Word.

We come to a very fine and keen line which is drawn but which one can now see clearly in the light of the present design.

3. “These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for man.”

The new confession offers these “expressions” but the real truth itself cannot be reached or found by them. These expressions are in the realm of “theory” which cannot reach the truth still mysterious and hidden in God’s love. Whatever this truth may be which cannot be known and cannot be expressed because it is so mysterious is beyond the realm of all these theories that have been devised but which fail to express it. All have failed and somewhere out there in the depths of God’s love for man the truth exists, but man cannot find it or reach it or explain it or arrive at it, so it must forever remain mysterious and beyond all these various theories.

This is a simple device for denying the Gospel and obscuring the meaning of the Cross which God wants every man to understand so that he might believe God and rejoice in God’s grace and truth. This love that the Confession speaks about is a strange kind of love indeed. It hides the truth rather than reveals the truth. It makes the truth mysterious rather than plain and a ground for life and hope.

Thus it is that the preachers of the new confession preach the love of God for man, but just how this love actually saves man cannot be explained because it is mysterious and the Biblical terms, moreover, involve “theories.”

Thus at this point an appeal to the love of God is actually used to obscure and to remove from any real commitment or proclamation or belief what that love actually did for man.

Thus we can talk abort the love of God, but when it comes to what happened on the Cross all we can do is to offer some theories and no theory can possibly explain what took place there. No one can really know. Satan has done his work again in attacking the Cross.

But, praise God, what took place there was not a theory. It was a solemn, definite, forensic act in which a judicial penalty was fully satisfied, and the substitute, our Saviour, bore our sins in His own body on the Tree. All of this, of course, is necessary in the confession to provide a place and comfort for a wide range of unbelief and the rejection of the one message of the blood of the Cross.

What is even more significant at this point is that the Cross is called “God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ,” and the theme of the new confession is built upon reconciliation in Christ. Therefore, of all the points on which the Confession ought to be clear and precise the one on the very act of reconciliation should be chief. But when the new confession comes to discuss this specific act of reconciliation, it offers a blur, a theory, a mystery, and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is literally crossed out. This explains also why it is necessary to read a new and broader interpretation into the concept of reconciliation presented by the confession. This we shall see in detail in our section dealing with “reconciliation.” They do have a progam for social reconciliation. The chapter on the Auburn Affirmation will offer more light on the “theories” in the church. The minds that worked on this paragraph were keen, and they moved all around the Cross with the “unbelief,” yet wanted to offer something “sure.” We come now to the fourth sentence of this paragraph.

4. “They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work.”

These theories and attempted explanations only reveal the gravity and the cost, and they would even tell us that there was some sure achievement, but nobody is able to tell us just what that was or how it has been accomplished, because we have been told in the beginning that it is a mystery.

We therefore are confronted with apostasy, “a falling away,” when it comes to presenting the Cross, its meaning and its message. It retreats from the true, pure Gospel. There is no place at this point in any such program for the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses from all sin. Thus, the word “blood,” like Heaven and hell and other vital words, which are Scriptural, is eliminated. The confession rejects some words; conveniently uses others.

Before I turn from the discussion of this section, so all-important and crucial, there is one other point that is apparent to those who are indeed born again and the children of God. I have emphasized that the Cross is not a mystery to the believer. He understands it fully and has been saved by his faith in the sacrifice of Christ. But there is a very real sense in which the Cross is a mystery. It is a mystery to the ungodly and to the unbeliever.

All of this is developed by the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians, Chapter 2. He told the brethren in Corinth, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” He said, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” And then the Apostle makes the line of distinction, “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Then he explains in clear reference to the Bible, “As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Next he insists, “We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” There is no mystery to the believer here.

Thus the Cross, the Gospel, is freely known by the work of the Holy Spirit to those who believe. It is no mystery, and our faith rests in the power of God. It rests in the wisdom of God as manifest in the Cross. To climax it all Paul writes, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” All of this has a direct application to the new confession and its terminology and the phrasing in relationship to the Cross. The Christian cries with the Apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To the ungodly it is all a mystery, foolishness, a scandal.

It would therefore appear, on the basis of the teaching of the Word itself, that those who drafted this statement about “God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ” being a mystery were themselves in the position of those described in First Corinthians, Chapter 2. It would appear that the spirit of the world has here described the Cross and left it meaningless and mysterious. Indeed, as the Apostle concludes for all believers, “But we have the mind of Christ.” The believer therefore understands the Cross. This is why he loves it and preaches it.

In this twentieth century, when apostasy is so general throughout the churches, men have a way of calling their unbelief, faith, and their darkness, light. These matters are not confined to the United Presbyterian Church.

The Methodist Church, for example, with its ten million members, had as its most prominent bishop for many years G. Bromley . Oxnam. He was chairman of the Council of Bishops. He was the president of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. He was one of the first presidents of the World Council of Churches, elected in 1948. During his life he was considered the No. 1 Protestant leader from the United States on the world level.

Bishop Oxnam wrote a book entitled, A Testament of Faith. In this book, referring to Christ’s sufferings on the Cross, he said: “I do not think that this was part of a predetermined drama wherein the great Playwright set down the lines to be repeated, with a player, in this case Christ, moving here and there as the Director ordered, the end known from the beginning. It is almost blasphemous for someone to say that this is so and that the Cross was simply a part of the act …. When He hung from that cross and cried, `My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ surely this was not a bit of a drama foreseen; it was the cry of a man well-nigh brokenhearted.” These quoted words are from Psalm 22, which, a thousand years before Christ was upon the earth, described in gruesome detail His death by crucifixion, even the casting of lots over His vesture. The blasphemy was on the part of the bishop, not on the part of the Scriptures.

Concerning the vicarious sacrifice he said, “I have never been able to carry the idea of justice to the place where someone else can vicariously pay for what I have done in order to clean the slate.”

These, indeed, are the ideas which led the Presbyterians in their new confession to relegate such explanations to the realm of theory and then attempt to hide as “mystery” whatever the meaning of the Cross might have been in the death of Christ.

The bishop further said: “Is God a Being who must have the accounts squared by some death, the sacrifice of a Son even, that the individual’s account may be ruled off in two red lines, the balance in sin paid by a being who died long since and left a great control account from which the Deity may draw forever? Frankly, such doctrines do not help me.”

Oxnam is dead.

The Apostle Paul said: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. We preach Christ crucified…unto them which are called,…Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 24).