Here you will find brief writings of theological and general
interest written by Pastor Hartley. These are also archived via the links below.
Friday, April 19, 2013
6:13 pm edt
The scriptures clearly teach that God - yes, our Lord Jesus
Christ - "upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). Strikingly this means the universe is
not governed by impersonal forces without ability to exercise concern for what is holy and wise. We do not live here at the
mercy of merciless formulas and laws of nature. On the contrary, the universe is governed by the works of our compassionate
covenant God. Psalm 145:15-17 says:
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind
in all his works.
Of course God's works of providence are often executed through
the agency of others - men, beasts, and manifold creational norms like gravity. Even so, it is always God's "most holy,
wise and powerful" work that prevails in and through all such agency.
Consider Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery wishing to never see him
again (Gen. 37). Their scheme, however, did not prevail, God's did. When they came to Egypt and their evil plan was laid bare
before the authority and judgment of Joseph, they all feared for their lives. Yet stunningly Joseph comforted them: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people
should be kept alive, as they are today" (Gen 50:20).
Joseph not only acknowledged God's providence
in his very personal hardship, he also acknowledged God's prevailing kindness to others because of it. In this way Joseph
was bearing witness to the future ministry of Christ on our behalf. Think about it: lawless men like us prevailed in putting
Christ to death, yet God prevailed by working out a great salvation for us lawless men, not merely in spite of, but through
God's works of providence are both remarkable and unremarkable. We see remarkable providence
in the rise of Esther in the eyes of King Ahasuerus "at such a time as this," a time her people desperately
needed saving from their enemies (Esther 4:14). We see unremarkable providence in God's daily feeding,
keeping, birthing and burying of the creatures of the earth. In Psalm 104 the Spirit says:
all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they
are created, and you renew the face of the ground (vv. 27-30).
We tend to be more interested
and thrilled with God's works of remarkable providence than with the unremarkable. No harm done. But we must not neglect God's
unremarkable providence. The rain. The sun. Fruit ready in season. Tasty food and drink. Healthy plumbing in the human body.
All these unremarkable things that just keep coming are governed by our holy and wise God. To know it is to give thanks and
praise to God for even the most ordinary things.
To know unremarkable governance is His governance
will also have look humbly to him when the most ordinary things are lost, broken or not working. It may be his will and wisdom
to keep them lost, broken or not working longer than we would because the good He is working out must simmer longer than we
would allow. Yet it may please him to do otherwise. It may please him to find what is lost, heal what is broken, and fix what
is not working. Indeed, the Lord our God and Father may be quite pleased to even plug a hole with a dolphin. Let me
In Bristol, England there is an independent school called Colston's School, named after the founder, Edward Colston
(1636-1721). The students wear on their uniforms the figure of a dolphin in brass, the reason is explained by John Whitecross:
"Edward Colston, a rich West India merchant, was coming home with a ship which contained all his treasure: she sprung
a leak, and after having pumped for a long time, day and night, the people on board were every moment expecting to go to the
bottom. At once, to their great astonishment, the leak was stopped. On examination, it was found that a dolphin had providentially
squeezed itself into the hole, and thus saved them from destruction. Colston, therefore, ordered this emblem of a dolphin
to be worn as a signal both of his deliverance and gratitude."
Saturday, April 6, 2013
12:00 pm edt
are we so naturally offended by the cross of Jesus Christ? The late pastor/theologian, John Stott, answers so very well:
"Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like
the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called
Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size. And of course men do not like it. They resent
the humiliation of seeing themselves as God sees them and as they really are. They prefer their comfortable illusions. So
they steer clear of the cross. They construct a Christianity without the cross, which relies for salvation on their works
and not on Jesus Christ’s. They do not object to Christianity so long as it is not the faith of Christ crucified. But
Christ crucified they detest. And if preachers preach Christ crucified, they are opposed, ridiculed, persecuted. Why? Because
of the wounds which they inflict on men’s pride."
But the cross was never meant to offend only. Yes,
it must offend but it must do so for our sake so our soul will go on to boast in the cross above all else.
As Paul says to the Galatians
6:14 - "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
The fruitful offense of the cross is to leave man despairing
of his own goodness and righteousness so he lays hold of Christ's righteousness by faith. A man fruitfully offended will eagerly
repudiate his own goodness just like Paul does in his letter to the Philippians: "I count everything as loss...count
them as rubbish" - Philippians 3:8. Why must a man make such a repudiation? So he may truly boast
in Christ alone: "in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own
that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ." - Philippians 3:9-10. Such is the basis
for our own membership vow, where the professing saints say, I "abhor and humble myself before God...."
Tonight we will gather to attend to these very things. We will prayerfully "strive to enter that
rest" which is Christ crucified for us. It is a rest that moves from offense to humble boast. It is a rest
not achieved by the words and spirit of men but by the Word and Spirit of God.
tonight we have a Good Friday Service centered on Word and Spirit. Much like we would gather in a your home for a Bible study,
we gather tonight at the church to read scripture, pray and sing praise to God. We gather to set our minds on holy things.
By God's grace we will receive a renewal of faith together.
11:59 am edt
A long dead theologian captured a key truth about man when he said: "We may guess of the stateliness
of the building from the magnificence of the ruins. An Aristotle was but the rubbish of an Adam and Athens but the rudiments
With question 10 the catechism reminds us of our magnificent
beginning. The origins of man - your very own parentage - are in God. Man does not take his beginnings from the beasts. Man
does not take his beginnings from the earth. Man does not take his beginnings from the stars. The origin of our species
is in the deliberate creative act and will of Almighty God. Genesis
2:7 - "...then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
Though sin has left us but "magnificent ruins," all men have as their heritage the magnificent
privilege of bearing God's own image. We are a reasonable and true impression of God himself. We are creatures yet we do show
forth the likeness of our Creator. Genesis 1:27 - "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created
him; male and female he created them."
That which bears God's image
in us, however, is not our physicality. Though we are physically beautiful (more or less) and strong (more or less) and our
frame carries a glory unique among creatures, this is not the image of God in us. It is impossible for a physical thing, a
material thing, to bear the image of the invisible God. That which bears the image of God in us is our soul. It is the human
soul which is capable of bearing "knowledge, righteousness and holiness" and using said "knowledge, righteousness
and holiness" to properly exercise "dominion over the creatures." So the image of God in man goes public in
acts of dominion, but it is not public in man's physical features but his moral features.
was created with a magnificent knowledge. Adam, before sinning and falling into ignorance, was able to
understand God's revelation of himself. Adam had an unclouded knowledge of God's existence and God's will. In this way Adam
was capable of naming his wife properly as Eve, mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). He was capable of knowing God without
the doubts and suppression of such knowledge that sin would bring into him. Adam's magnificent knowledge of God's existence
and will meant that he was the first great Prophet, knowing and speaking the truth of God.
Man was created with a magnificent righteousness. Adam, before sinning and falling
into a rut of disobedience, was able to execute everything that was right in relation to God's law. He had within him the
"executive power" to do all that was required by God. In this way Adam righteously refused to eat the fruit that
was forbidden until, of course, he did eat, recklessly throwing his natural righteousness into ruin. Adam's pre-fallen righteousness
meant he was the first great king of earth, doing all that was right and so executing a perfect dominion.
Man was created with a magnificent holiness. Adam, before sinning and falling into
impurity and defilement, walked about with a heart fully "set apart" to the Lord. His conscience had no cause for
shame. His affections were undisturbed in their devotion to God. Holiness should not be confused with righteousness. If righteousness
is man's execution of all that God requires in the law, holiness is man's inward climate of heart whereby he truly delights
to do it. As Alexander Whyte put it: "[Man's] holiness was, and was to be, the hidden root of his outward righteousness....He
would stand in righteousness, in fruitfulness, and in acceptance only as his holiness was preserved unimpaired and untainted."
Adam's magnificent holiness meant that he was the first great priest, set apart fully to God from the inside out.
We can now see that God created man to be Prophet (knowledge), Priest (holiness) and King (righteousness).
In Adam's sin we have all fallen ruinously short of these glorious offices. Yet by God's grace and power a second Adam has
come, a new head of the race of men, our Lord Jesus Christ. Where the first Adam failed the second Adam has succeeded in bearing
perfectly the image of God in man: perfect knowledge of God's will (Prophet), perfect holiness in devotion to God
(Priest), and perfect righteousness in executing the Law of God (King). Christ is the true man who graciously
exercises his dominion by granting us who are in shattered ruins a share in his magnificent kingdom. Praise be to God!
Colossians 3:9-10 "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with
its practices and have put on the new self, which is being
renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator."
Friday, March 8, 2013
7:53 pm est
Forgiveness is a
call to die. Consider Colossians 3:12-13. "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one
another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must
Now your eyes are not playing tricks on you. There really was no death in that
text. That text is all life. The life of Christ. The death that gives way to such life came a few verses earlier. Colossians
3:5-6 says, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness,
which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming."
The call to die with
Christ (mortification) precedes the call to live in the power of Christ (vivification). This is a crucial
sequence we must never forget. If we try out the life of Christ without joining him in His death to all things earthly we
will fail and soon succumb to a frustrated hardness toward His ways. You can not remain earthly minded and succeed in
exercising heavenly graces.
Let's finish working this out around forgiveness.
As a Christian you know you have been forgiven. You also know you have no options when it comes to forgiving
others. You must forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. If you do not, you are inviting the Lord to treat you the same way
you treat others. You must forgive. But what will doing so require of you? In a word, it will require your death
Most people avoid practicing forgiveness because they think it is complicated. Too many details. Too many conversations.
Too much ambiguity. This is a smokescreen. Forgiveness is not complicated. It is quite simple really, simple but incredibly
difficult. It is like having your arm pinned under an enormous rock in a canyon miles from all human life. The solution for
survival is simple - cut off your arm. A simple solution yet an incredibly difficult one. Death always is.
death which forgiveness requires is the simple but difficult task of humbling yourself to the core of your being until you
desire the reconciliation of love, fellowship, and agreement more than you desire the comfort of having any given person out
of our life. The only place to look for such humility and get your bearings is the reconciliation campaign of Jesus Christ.
Christ could only forgive us by humbling himself to the point of bearing all our shame and sin through death.
Forgiveness, which is a great treasure you have in Christ, was exorbitantly expensive. Forgiveness is always expensive. Always.
It will cost you your pride. It will cost you the pride that secretly says in your heart: "They got me into
this mess. They haven't come to me. They did this and they did that and they did much more than me." That is
all pride. To throw it away will feel like death. It will feel like cutting off something alive, something that's a
part of you, something precious, something that seems so crucial to your well-being.
might such a death bring? It might bring words like these: "I am so sorry this took me so long. I want you in
my life. I want to have a leisurely free-flow of love between us where conflict is resolved. I want us to share again the
love we both are receiving from Christ through His forgiveness. We should be getting the same from each other. I am so sorry
I didn't rush to you sooner. I want to do everything I can to make this right. I don't understand the ways I have contributed
to this mess. I barely remember who did what and when. But I do understand that I am a sinner and proud and fearful. Please
forgive me for being willing to lose you for so long. I am not a good person by any measure, but I have the goodness of Christ
in me and I know He loves me even with all the sin I still have. I am ready to hear what you have to say. But please hear
what I am saying too: I need you to forgive me and love me as one who is forgiven much sin by God. If all we want is to pick
at a thousand details of wrong-doing but not to lavish forgiveness on each other, we will get no where and we will not be
ready for Christ''s appearing. I do not mean to say the details don't matter, but they always matter less than a humble heart
hungry to have one another back. Let's begin."
The first person in a conflict to step
out on this plank of death - the death of pride - will be the one Christ uses to bring life to many. But in an important way,
that is not quite true. No one of us can go first down the plank of death. Christ has already gone first. This is the way
of Christ, the way of the cross. Follow Him. He does not shove you out on the plank. He is out there with you and ahead of
you. He knows every step. He has already walked the plank for you and your sin. His resurrection and presence with you shows
you there is life after death. He died to give you this life, but this life He gives you is His own life. His life in yours.
His life in you by the Spirit so you may die too to all pride and see others graced with heaven's love.
It is all very simple, but all very difficult. So difficult you can not do it. But He who is in you can do it
if you come to the end of asking, "What am I capable of?" and instead ask, "What is Jesus in me, for me, through
me, capable of?" If you are following Him you can be sure He is always bringing you to the cross, to the end of yourself,
to death. That's where His power and His resurrection life begins and flourishes.
seeing it now - you can not forgive rightly without fixing your heart and mind on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You
can not put to death what must be put to death without looking to Him. Only when looking to Him died and Who lives, can you
die with zeal and hope.
Friday, March 1, 2013
8:12 pm est
"What is your only comfort in life and death?" So
goes the first and famous question of the much beloved Heidelberg Catechism of 1563.
The catechism answers with truth that resonates across time and into the soul of the
most faint sinner: "That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful
Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power
of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that
all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and
makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him."
is the only comfort we have to offer my Jen's dear grandmother, Flossie, who lost her Jim to death this
week. Here is the only comfort we have to offer those who may soon realize that 2013 is their last year on earth. But here,
in fact, is also the only comfort we have to offer the rest of us who are not great in years and not threatened by severe
Yes, the only comfort for us who are well
and apparently abundant in life is the same comfort for those mourning death. Look
at that catechism's question again: "What is your only comfort in life and death?"
It is not just those close to death that need the only comfort of
the faithful Savior, but those "in life" need this only comfort too. Why? Because life tempts us powerfully to turn away from the Lord we love. The Lord is quite vivid on this
point at Luke 14:16-21:
A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the
time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come, for everything is now ready."
But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.
Please have me excused." And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have
me excused." And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." So the servant came and
reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, "Go out quickly
to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame."
Because life promises comforts both visible and immediate, life keeps many from
the only comfort that is secure in the heavens - the Savior. Notice in the parable above that all who reject the Lord do so
not for love of earthly vices but for love of earthly comforts. They don't
reject Him for LasVegas but for Pleasantville. And they do it so politely - "Please have me excused." These are cordial middle-class moralists with sufficient comforts in reach; hard-working people
too busy with temporal securities to be moved by the rest and abundance a great man's great banquet offers. Life with all its necessary acquisitions and upwardly mobile expectations and teeming imaginations and alluring presentations
and idolatrous fascinations has made grace look so, well, humdrum. Life put in the hands of fallen sinners becomes a curse
We could even say that
life itself is fallen for this is what scripture means by "the world". For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and
pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world (1 John 2:16). The world is ready to comfort
us who are "in life" with things we desire, with things we can see, with things that inflate our souls with a boast
that says, "I'm okay because I have ________________."
But worldly comforts, even middle-class ones, are all a chimera - an unrealizable
dream. They will be eaten by moths and destroyed by rust. This is a self-evident truth that any fallen sinner can observe.
What is not self-evident yet urgently true is that worldly comforts cast a deathly dullness upon the soul and so keep many
from the true comfort of Christ and his Kingdom. As C.S. Lewis put it: We
are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant
child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the
sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory).
this is the tip of the blade - any sinner with a working brain can tell you worldly comforts are a chimera, but no sinner
-- even those with first-rate working brains -- can believe in a comfort better than what they can see. So they hold on because
worldly comforts, rusting as they are, are all that can be seen and held.
This is where the catechism and
the gospel it proclaims is such a disruptive blessing. When a catechism or a preacher proclaims that there is a comfort that
is greater than the whole world, a comfort sufficient for those in life and those in death, then we have the Spirit disrupting
the deathly dullness of worldliness. When the comfort of the gospel is preached the mud pie making sinner may, by God's gracious
action upon his darkened soul, begin to understand what is meant by a holiday at sea. When his soul takes possession by faith
of the greater and lasting comfort that is the Savior then his hands use earthly comforts to love others not to comfort himself.
This is life put back in the hands of redeemed sinners. As the catechism above says: "He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth,
to live unto him." It's a beautiful thing.
What is your only comfort
in life? Do you find that a poorly worded question because it narrows your comforts down to one? Do you have many comforts
in life? If so, you are a poor kid making mud pies in a slum. If, however,
you believe your only comfort in life and death is the comfort of Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners, then rejoice! God has opened
your heart from the outside and given you an eternal possession, Himself.
have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess."
- Martin Luther
Apple Valley Church - OPC, 1750 Olde Buggy Drive, Neenah,WI 54956 (920) 969-1650