Scripture speaks of heart failure.
Asaph, the psalmist, cries out in Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” And that there is an increase in the number of heart failures today in the sense of heart attacks, no one would care to deny. Even the age at which such attacks occur seems to be pushed consistently downward. The medical world is seeking to explain why and to prevent them from taking place. Of course, each time one dies—regardless of the immediate cause—it is a case of heart failure. The very first sign of death, for which men both skilled and unskilled look to determine that death has taken place, is the failure of the heart to beat with life’s blood.
So it is. Heart failure signifies death. When that heart fails all of man’s organs fail. He cannot breathe any more after his heart fails to do its work. His digestive processes stop. His brain and nervous system fail to function. His knees buckle under him as his muscles fail to support him. And the body returns to the dust from whence it came. The heart is a very important organ in man’s body. All the other organs depend upon it and none can get along without it. We have no spare for it. It can take but a very momentary rest between each beat. A vacation of that heart, a moment of idleness so that it is not there on the beat, and we begin to suffer at once. Heart failure is failure of the whole man. And it would stand to reason that man would then be very careful of that heart. Were it on the outside where he could watch it and examine it regularly, he would look for signs of wear and of possible injury. Even then, at the first sign of a pain in the chest that takes away his breath, man rushes to the doctor, and the doctor quickly arranges for an electrocardiogram and puts the patient at complete rest, if a measure of failure is then determined. To try to prevent complete failure, the heart is relieved of as much work as possible. And therefore oxygen may even be supplied to take the strain off that heart.
And what of heart failure in the church?
You say that churches do not suffer heart failure? Well, if you are thinking of The Church, the body of Christ, it is true. This Church never has a heart failure and has everlasting life. “Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die” are the words of Jesus to Martha at the occasion of the physical heart failure of her brother, Lazarus. Triumphantly that Church sings:
For this is His word: His saints shall not fail,
But over the earth Their pow’r shall prevail;
All kingdoms and nations Shall yield to their sway.
To God give the glory And praise Him for aye.
In His fear, believing that Word of God, man has no fear that the cause of Christ shall ever fail. With the eye of faith upon Him Who is enthroned in the highest heavens, having complete control over all creatures in heaven, on the earth and even in hell, knowing and believing that He is the Great Spiritual Physician and the Merciful High Priest of His people, the God-fearing pilgrim here below has no fear that Satan, the Antichrist and the whole host of ungodly together can possibly bring heart failure to The Church. One would expect in that church-world extreme care, however, for the heart of The Church.
One would expect the membership of that Church to be alarmed at any signs that there might be something wrong with the heart. At least one would expect that believers everywhere would attach to the heart of that Church extremely great importance and would appreciate and treasure that heart with its work to the very utmost—even as they do with their own physical hearts.
But that is not true. O, indeed, according to that new principle of life, of which John speaks in I John 3:9, according to which the new man in Christ does not and cannot sin, the believer is concerned and rejoices in God’s work and trusts Him completely to bring His Church through all trials and tribulations into everlasting blessedness in the kingdom to come. But because of the flesh that still cleaves to all of us, it may be observed today that respect, love and even interest in the condition of the heart of the Church is so lacking. Yea, according to the flesh men are not even concerned when attempts are made to stab that heart unto failure! Men are ready to cut it out, to destroy it, to deny it even belongs in the Church!
We are, of course, speaking of that which our Church Fathers always called the heart of the church:Sovereign and eternal election. Indeed, already some are perhaps disappointed. Election! Who wants to hear about that in this day and age? To many that doctrine has been outmoded and been discarded a long time ago. This is the age of God’s love. This is the age of the gospel, and election curbs the joy of that gospel. Election makes the mission field impossible. Election gives an entirely wrong impression of the great and glorious God of love of which the Scripture speaks. Thus men talk today. They want nothing of that heart of the church and would give her an heart that is sure to fail. After all, you just cannot do that. No one can transplant a heart. Mechanical hearts have been devised and used to take over temporarily while the heart itself was repaired, but even then, the mechanical heart is a mute testimony of the fact that without a heart man cannot live. And the Church cannot live without the heart which is election.
That may be and will be disputed. The reason for this is that men do not know anymore what that Church actually is. Men do not turn to the Word of God and in His fear listen to what God has to say about that heart but instead approach with preconceived ideas and philosophize about her. They speak and write of theirchurch, of man’s church and want nothing of God’s Church. Quite general is the idea that the church is the society or a society for saving souls. That language is not borrowed from Holy Writ, even though all the true members in that church are saved souls. The purpose of the Church is not man and his salvation but God and His glory. The Church does not have on her somewhere a sign, “Made in the U.S.A.” nor “For the Salvation of Souls.” She does have on her the sign of “Chosen from before the Foundation of the World”. She does have, as Paul writes to Timothy, have this on her cornerstone, “The Lord knoweth them that are His” and, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
There also you have the purpose of that Church, and it is: Soli Deo Gloria—To God Alone Be Glory! And note again the text above from I Peter 2:9, the purpose is that we show forth the praises of Him Who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. How shall we and can we praise Him, if the all important and crucial part of that call depended on our choice-and not His? Why should we not have something whereof to boast and wherein He is obligated to us? O, He called, but what if we had not answered, or rather had said to Him, “No, thank you.”? If we in time determined the constituency of His Church, would it be His Church or ours? And would there be any church at all? If we take that heart away, can WE replace it with one of our own making? Consider that if His eternal and unchangeable choice has not determined the membership of His Church, then ours does in time. And then He will have to be satisfied with what we do and accept the kind of church that we would be willing to make. In His fear we would never dare to talk that way. Many others do not either. When their “offers” of salvation to all, the love of God-for all men with a sincere desire to save every last one of them, and their condition promises which depend upon man’s act of faith are shown to mean exactly that, they reject the consequences of their teachings and yet boldly go on and teach the heart out of the Church. They continue to look at the Church as though she were a society for saving souls rather than a glorious manifestation of the God of our salvation in all His sovereign grace and inscrutable wisdom. God saves His elect and makes them living members of His Church. The Church, as a living organism, brings forth the children of the Church. But the one and sole purpose of the Church is the glory of her Maker. In that powerful—and therefore generally glossed-over and avoided—passage of election inEphesians 1:3-6 we read very specifically, “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him. In love have predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.”
We are predestinated or elected unto the adoption. We have been chosen that we should be holy and without blame before Him. The goal of our election is salvation in all its richness. All the physical and spiritual blessedness of verse 3 is comprehended in the adoption and the sanctification and justification of being made holy and without blame before God. But that is not the same as to state that the Church is a or even the Society for Saving Souls. The purpose of the Church and the deepest goal of election is expressed in the text in the statements that we are made to be holy and without blame before Him; He predestinated us in Christ to Himself and to the praise of the glory ofHis grace. The Church exists and was elected from eternity that ALL the praise and all the glory may be God’s. Yea, the statement means that the glory of the grace of God must shine forth. Therefore there must be a Church. And that Church comes into being and exists in such a way that there is NONE of our work that enters into its cause or existence. Not even our will, and certainly not the decisive choice of which all Arminianism speaks, must be the reason why the Church has come into being or that any single member is in that Church. It must not in any sense and to any degree be to the praise of man. It must not and will not shine with any of the glory of man’s works but only of God’s grace. Therefore, although the benefits of the Church are salvation, the adoption, everlasting life, righteousness and holiness, the Church is not a society for realizing this blessedness. It is not even a society for transmitting this blessedness to coming generations. God does that through the Church, but there must not be a church in order to give God this opportunity. The Church exists because He decreed from before the foundation of the world to manifest the glory of His own grace.
That Church, then, has a calling to preach the gospel. Through that preaching God will save souls and those who are thus used may say with James, “Let him know, that he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins,” James 5:20. But then he will preach the gospel and not a perversion of that gospel. He will preach the good news that God has chosen us from before the foundation of the world and that our future glory does not rest on such flimsy and even hopeless grounds as our possible decision to take it. The Church is not a society for saving souls but the Organism of Saved Souls Chosen Thereto from all Eternity.
She is not a society—and we will have to continue with that next time—and her calling is to be to the praise of the glory of God’s grace. She must, therefore also preach damnation and approach the unregenerated with the awful truth of His just wrath and intense hatred of sin. In fact the love of God and His grace can only be shown on that background. There is also a praise of the glory of God’s wrath. In His fear we will not ignore it but preach it with the undeniable doctrine of eternal and sovereign reprobation.