Most merciful Father, who hast been pleased to take unto thyself the soul of this thy servant; Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that having served thee with constancy on earth, we may be joined hereafter with thy blessed saints in glory everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–The Book of Common Prayer
We cannot determine truth by counting noses.
For me, the story begins as a teenager stuck in a desperate struggle with huge theological questions in the 1970s. Of course, R.C. Sproul, with firm conviction and a friendly smile, would rightly insist that the story begins in the gracious will of our sovereign, eternal, and omnipotent God. Actually, those were some of the big theological questions that had me by the throat.
I had been confronted by teachers in high school who had declared their own atheism and ridiculed theism. I was surrounded by a culture of increasing moral relativism and the first wave of what would later be called post-modernism. I knew Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and I wanted to be faithful to him. But how?
My struggle was spiritual and moral, but it was also irreducibly intellectual. How could I know and defend the Christian faith? I did not even know where to begin. At home and at church, I was surrounded by sweet Christians who loved me and invested their lives in me. But I had big questions they could not answer. Questions that gnawed at me and kept me awake at night. Questions that I feared could not be answered. Questions that I had no idea Christians had grappled with for centuries.
Thankfully, I found help. I found other Christians who were struggling with the same questions, and some of them passed to me cassette tapes. At that time, the cassette was a recent invention. For me, these tapes were a lifeline – bringing me expository preaching from Dr. John MacArthur and lectures from this strangely infectious and compelling teacher at an oddly named center in Western Pennsylvania. The teacher was R.C. Sproul.
Those tapes from R.C. Sproul were not my own. They had been passed to me after several others had listed to them. They squeaked. Nevertheless, I pounced on them like a hungry tiger. I received the tapes out of sequence. No matter – I just gained confidence and understanding with every tape.
R.C.’s voice was captivating. Honestly, I probably would have listened to him read the Farmer’s Almanac. But the power of his teaching was the vitality and virility of biblical Christianity, presented logically, forcefully, biblically, and passionately.
My own pilgrimage as a theologian cannot be traced without the indelible influence of R.C. Sproul. Had I never met him in the flesh, I would have been in his debt and gifted with his influence. By God’s grace, I came to know R.C. Sproul as a teacher, colleague, encourager, and friend.
He was, as the British would say, a man in full. He never made a half-argument, presented a half-correction, preached a half-sermon, or laughed a half-laugh. He was all in, all the time. His voice would fill the room, his preaching would shake the timbers, and his passion would spread like a virus. He showed up as everything he was and with everything he believed – every time.
He was one of the great defenders of historic Christianity of our times. It is fair to say that R.C. was the greatest and most influential proponent of the recovery of Reformed theology in the last century. He was a stalwart defender of the Word of God, and one of the primary architects of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978. His tapes were soon accompanied by his books and the vastly expanding influence of Ligonier Ministries.
When he taught about the holiness of God, a generation of evangelicals was rescued from the emaciated and desiccated theology of cultural Christianity. When he defended Reformed theology, he taught us all how to understand the gospel in terms of God’s eternal purpose to save, consistent with his sovereignty. He was rigorously biblical and ruthlessly logical . . . with a smile.
He loved to introduce Christians to both the splendors and the humbling lessons of church history. He wanted evangelical Christians to stand in a line of faithfulness that began with the apostles and continued to the present. He had the heart and courage of Martin Luther and the theological precision and passion of John Calvin. He was a proud son of the Reformation, and the solasof the Reformation were the architecture of his mind. He urged and taught Christians toward the development of the Christian mind, and ideas were his battleground.
He was a preacher of the Word of God, a faithful steward of God’s mysteries. In the later years of his life, he told friends that his greatest joy in ministry had come as a pastor. That comes as no surprise.
R.C. Sproul was an evangelist. “Evangelism is our duty. God commanded it,” he taught: “But there is more. Evangelism is not only a duty; it is also a privilege. God allows us to participate in the greatest work in human history, the work of redemption.” There will be many saints in heaven who came to hear the gospel through R.C.’s talks, sermons, videos, conferences, books, and personal witnessing.
The work R.C. so courageously and brilliantly and infectiously led for so many decades goes on, in the work of Ligonier Ministries. R.C. planned it so, and set an example for us all in fulfilling this stewardship. His teaching and his influence will continue, channeled into successive generations. He surrounded himself and populated Ligonier Ministries with a leadership team that will continue steadfastly.
To know R.C. was also to know that the man and his ministry could never be explained—and would never have been begun—without the incredible loyalty, love, and devotion of his gracious wife, Vesta. Their hearts beat as one, and few spouses in ministry have been so demonstrably faithful, insightful, affectionate, and absolutely necessary as Vesta Sproul. R.C. would insist that you know that truth.
Our prayers are with the Sproul family, and our hope is in Christ. Listening to one of R.C.’s messages in the last few hours, I realized that R.C. had been preaching – decades ago – as a man ready to die, trusting in Christ.
In a tribute to his own beloved teacher, Professor John Gerstner, written in 1976, R.C. stated: “In an era of church history when theology is in chaos, the church is being shaken at its foundations, and Christian ethics shift and slide with every novel theology, we are grateful for the vivid example of one who stands in the midst of confusion as ‘a bright and burning light.’”
Indeed, we are grateful to God for the bright and burning light named R. C. Sproul. Soli Deo Gloria