Posts by John Hartley

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“An error in justification is dangerous, like a crack in the foundation,” said Thomas Watson. The problem with a crack is two-fold. First, trouble easily passes through, such as swelling ground water, bringing deleterious effects upon the foundation and everything meant to be guarded by it. Second...
Perhaps the most thorough definition of regeneration came from the pen of Herman Witsius, the 17th century Dutch theologian, in his work, The Economy of the Covenants : “Regeneration is that supernatural act of God whereby a new and divine life is infused into the elect person, spiritually dead,...
“As long as he believes in something, that is what’s important.” With those words the man in front of me simultaneously dismissed the authority of God and justified a younger relative who had embraced an animistic system of belief. For the older gentlemen, it was the act of believing in something...
In an approved essay on the doctrine of “sanctifying grace,” an author at Catholic Answers brings us to the frightening precipice which his church’s doctrine demands. Under the grim heading, “Spiritual Suicide,” the author says of sanctifying grace: “But you can lose it again by sinning mortally...
If I could preach only one sermon, I would preach my one allotted message to the visible church. I would preach with the weighty concern that the baptized are on an irreversible course toward eternity. And the baptized, those well-ordered around the outward expressions of the covenant, are most...
But the L ORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. – Isaiah 8:13 My dearest Theophilus: We live in a soft age. Our idols are soft and so our fears too. In the old days our idols were hard. Literally. Made of stone. Made of wood. Sculpted and carved...
In a 1986 speech President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I'm here to help.’” A lot of Americans appreciated Reagan’s humorous point because sometimes government does more to harm than to help. Many Americans, however,...
In the late 1990s, my wife and I persuaded a widowed neighbor to join us one Sunday at the faithful Presbyterian church downtown. A standout preacher of the Reformed faith was filling the pulpit. Our neighbor, a serious believer, liked the preaching well enough. It was the recitation of the Apostle...
I am not sure where I first heard this wisdom, but I have heard it several times: a pastor does not need an office, he needs a study. Spot on. The bulk of pastoral work is not management behind a door labeled “office,” it is bookish work behind a door labeled “study” – reading, research, writing,...
John Owen (1616-1683) said, “That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church and has been so in all ages.” Not only does Owen’s comment dissuade us from regarding this doctrine to be negligible and of optional interest, his comment challenges us not to be...
The work of biblical interpretation must begin with a commitment to the humble yet courageous task of exegesis, matched with an equally daring rejection of eisegesis. In the former, we submit to both the Divine author and human authors of Scripture. In the latter, we ask Scripture to submit to us,...
“You probably won’t have much to say until you are forty.” The words passed easily enough over the breakfast table into my ears. Then they went deeper. Their sanctifying force was acute and penetrating. They have haunted me, in the best possible way, for twenty years now. Just before I heard those...
Natural theology, to be contrasted with Revealed Theology, is that human response to divine revelation where truths about God, or arguments for his existence, are discerned from the created order without aid of special revelation. In a sense, natural theology does not take special revelation into...
A valuable lesson for 21 st century Christians is found in the writings of three 2 nd century Romans: Pliny the Younger, an imperial governor; Tacitus, both senator and historian; and Suetonius, a prolific biographer of Caesars, poets, orators, historians, grammarians and rhetoricians. Observed in...
Let me begin with a little thought experiment. Admittedly, some readers will regard it as nothing more than a dark look into a dystopian future. A world worse than the Hunger Games ! Others will regard it as utterly utopian. An immanentizing of the eschaton. What would happen if all the churches of...
That holiness of life which the Christian has from God and before God and for God is not sourced nor drawn from even the best doctrinal formulations – as essential as they are to our faith. Nor is holiness of life sourced or drawn from moral transformation – as essential as it is to living out our...
The third person of the Holy Trinity is no less zealous in applying redemption to us than was the second person in accomplishing it for us. Like our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit is perfectly ambitious toward the children of God. Once the Spirit applies the redemption of Christ – effectually calling...
Delighting in the Trinity, IVP Academic, 2012. Paperback, 135 pages Reviewed by John Hartley At the risk of sounding cheeky, Michael Reeves’ book, Delighting in the Trinity (IVPress, 2012) is delightful. It is the kind of book that should be reviewed annually, as if it had just been published. It...
The 17 th century minister and Scotsman, Alexander Nisbet said, “the most dangerous heretics have many followers; every error they introduce turns out to be a friend to some lust in the heart of man.” Case in point: Several years ago, a friend of mine discovered his pastor had committed adultery...
It is possible to make disciples that are just too new. Case in point. In his book, The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012), Carl Trueman relays the story of a pastor who regularly declared his devotion to Scripture by dismissing creeds and confessions. With the Bible held high before his church,...
In his first sermon on our Lord’s prayer in John 17, Anthony Burgess (d. 1664), preacher and delegate to the Westminster Assembly, makes the case why prayer is necessary to all preaching. “If therefore we would have our preaching and your hearing do any good, be powerful to a heavenly alteration...
A great blind spot which afflicts anyone who limits their reading of Calvin to The Institutes is how thoroughly engrossed the Reformer was in missions work across Europe. Calvin was no austere academic always at his desk with his nose in a book. Rather, we could say, he spent much time at the...
Eight years-ago this month a friend gave me a copy of N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan...
In commenting on the Samaritans our beloved brother, John Calvin, made a penetrating observation about the nature of religious pride. His comments are a particular help in answering the question, How now shall the church live when boundaries of public life, at a time more pluralistically welcoming...
The 17 th century minister and Scotsman, Alexander Nisbet said, “the most dangerous heretics have many followers; every error they introduce turns out to be a friend to some lust in the heart of man.” Case in point: Several years ago, a friend of mine discovered his pastor had committed adultery...
How do you explain to yourself why you are a Christian? Why do you think your life is a Christian life and not some other kind of life? Do you tell yourself you have a Christian life mostly for social reasons? It’s good for the children. Your parents raised you in a Christian church. Your...
A month before our son was born my wife came home from the baby shower with a gift even a father could love: two over-sized plush boxing gloves in the shape and color of Hulk’s famous fists. Smash those green fists just right and your opponent hears a threatening audio track in Hulk’s voice: “You...
Why don’t we immediately see God the Holy Trinity jumping from the pages of Old Testament scripture? It is a sincere question a Muslim, a Jew and even a newer Christian all may ask. Reading the Old Testament by its own light, not by the light of the New, may push us to regard God as an...
It is an ironic point not lost on many theologians that the doctrine of divine simplicity is not so simple. To study the doctrine you must be prepared to welcome an expansion of your theological vocabulary. Every time I read or listen to something on simplicity I frequently pause and consult a...
A minister of the gospel in service to Jesus Christ will necessarily have an interest in children. All servants who hear their Master say, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” will share his great interest in the spiritual needs of little ones...
It is probably fair to say most of us enjoy reading polemics far more than writing them. Studying a careful and robust dismantling of an errant theological system delights defenders of biblical orthodoxy. Cheers rise from the stands. But who has the courage to step on the field? Who has the skill...
The ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is an historical event of no less enormity than his resurrection. Like his resurrection, his ascension was an event set before the eyes of the apostles. Jesus made no clandestine departure from this world. He did not reach his fortieth day of new life (Acts 1:...
It is safe to assume whether you sit in a pew or stand in a pulpit, philosophical trends are trickling into minds all around you. They drip, drip, drip into the intellectual habits of those you worship with, those who teach your children, and those who will eat turkey with you in November. No one...
In his classic book, The City of God , fourth century bishop, Aurelius Augustine, discusses a notable abuse of scripture in his day. He speaks of contemporaries who “allegorize all that concerns Paradise itself,” who teach “as if there could not be a real terrestrial Paradise!” ( COG , 13.21)...
Overlooking the biblical doctrine of union with Christ is one surefire way to lose sight of Christ while allegedly maintaining a rigorous orthodoxy in matters of doctrine and worship. If we labor in orthodoxy – either as worshipers or ministers – while blind to our union with Christ, it will not be...