Next Time: A Tribute To R.C. Sproul

Ligonier Ministries has just announced that R.C. Sproul has passed away. But I don’t think he would want you to cry about it. “You can grieve for me the week before I die, if I’m scared and hurting” he once said, “but when I gasp that last fleeting breath and my immortal soul flees to heaven, I’m going to be jumping over fire hydrants down the golden streets…” So, to honor his memory, I won’t cry. But I will write.

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I owe a lot to R.C. Sproul. God, in his providence, used him in my life in profound ways. To my recollection, the first Christian book I owned was his—my parents gave me Following Christ while I was still a teen. One of the first books I read as an adult was his as well—The Holiness of God, and I still rate it as the book that has formed me more than any other. One of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard was his—The Curse Motif of the Atonement from Together for the Gospel 2008. One of the ministries that has blessed me most was under his care as well—Ligonier has impacted more deeply than I can easily express. In many ways I can trace my growth as a Christian in direct proportion to my exposure to his influence. I doubt there is any legitimate way to measure such things, but I suspect there is more of R.C. Sproul in my beliefs and behavior than any other teacher.

It is no small sorrow, then, to learn that he has died. Yet it is no small joy to learn that he has gone to be with the Lord. The Bible insists, after all, that to depart from this life is far, far better, for only then can we—can he—be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23). Like you, I witnessed his obvious physical decline over these past few years and ached for him in his weakness and pain. Like you, I saw him stop traveling and begin getting extra assistance with his breathing and mobility. But like you, I saw his mind remain tack-sharp, his spirits remain unflagging, and his teaching increase in power, clarity, and authority as he came to understand that he had few sermons left to preach, few books left to write, few series left to teach.

Writing about old age, J.I. Packer once said, “Runners in a distance race … always try to keep something in reserve for a final sprint. And my contention is that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.” There is no doubt that in the ways that matter most, Dr. Sproul finished his race at a flat-out sprint.

At the news that he has broken the tape and crossed that line, I both mourn and rejoice. I mourn for the loss of one who has meant so much to me, and I rejoice that he has entered his reward, that he has met the Savior he so dearly loved and so consistently served. There is no doubt he fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith. There is no doubt he has received his prize.

I met Dr. Sproul on only a few occasions and we spent very little time together. Yet the final words he ever said to me are ones I will always remember with a sense of regret and anticipation. I had enjoyed lunch with a friend who works for Ligonier and when we returned to the ministry offices, Dr. Sproul was there to record a small video segment. He turned to me and said, “I had been hoping to join you for lunch but was feeling too tired. Next time.” I take that as a promise, and intend to hold him to it. Next time.