Founder, Ligonier Ministries, and stalwart warrior of the gospel, pastor, friend, goes home to be with the Lord
It was just more than a month ago that R.C. officiated the wedding of my friends Tim and Courtney at St. Andrew’s. It was just less than a month ago that Guy was dropping off R.C. at Tuesday morning Bible study. I held his oxygen tank as he got out of the car. Approaching the door to the golf club where we’ve been studying through the Gospel of Mark, I reached for the door handle and noticed R.C. wasn’t right behind me. I then realized he was struggling up the steps of the porch and I felt a little bad that I had outpaced him. Even as he gripped the handrail and the base of the pillar to stabilize, he looked up at me with a warm and loving smile.
About 10 years ago, a friend ordered for me a gift subscription to Tabletalk, the daily devotional magazine of Ligonier Ministries, the international teaching ministry started by Dr. Sproul. I didn’t know anything about Reformed theology at the time, and it’s doubtful whether I had a firm grasp on what the gospel was according to the Bible. I perused those Tabletalk issues, and though I didn’t fully understand what I was reading, I was intrigued enough to revisit them a few years later when my heart was much more malleable to God’s truth. In this way, Dr. Sproul’s ministry was at least a small secondary means of grace in my eventual conversion.
In 2012, I was invited to a Reformed Presbyterian church for the first time, and I already had been studying Reformed theology. Learning that Ligonier Ministries was located in the Orlando area, I wanted to benefit from being close to so many great teachers of God’s Word, including Dr. Sproul. I committed as a member at St. Andrew’s Chapel in 2013, and I’ve been privileged to learn so much in these five years attending the church and how the church’s confession, doctrine, teaching and worship have drawn me closer to God.
I might as well admit that I have had to keep myself in check at times not to allow my veneration for R.C. to go too far (and many other teachers like him, for that matter). As students and scholars of God’s Word, it’s easy to let our enthusiasm for God’s truth to sometimes be misplaced in the agents he has ordained to convey that truth — especially those of us who are more intellectually inclined are prone to hero worship. But we realize this is a pitfall, and remind ourselves that though they are blessed men of God, they are just men after all, and they would be the first ones to redirect our adoration to God alone who deserves the glory. We don’t learn God’s truth just to fill our heads with knowledge or to look good, but to translate that knowledge into practical application in our Christian lives and help others know him better, living every day coram deo, “before the face of God.”
It’s with sadness today from our temporal perspective to say that Robert Charles Sproul has departed from us and is now living coram deo, in the presence of God, in the ultimate sense — he sees the Lord face to face, as all those who are united to Christ someday will. “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
We all knew the Lord would eventually bring him home, and Dr. Sproul worked with many others to raise up and methodically place equally competent teachers to ensure Ligonier Ministries and St. Andrew’s Chapel continue faithfully equipping the saints with God’s truth for generations. He preached almost every week until he recently became ill and passed away; nonetheless, his family, our pastors, the session, and the congregation naturally will grieve and have to get used to R.C. not being able to lead us anymore.
So although I’m quite sad, as I put this in perspective, the main emotion I feel is gratitude. Profound gratitude. I’m thankful that the Lord graciously saved R.C. while he was in college. I’m thankful that this grace did not stay with him, but that the Lord used R.C.’s keen intellect and passion to proliferate that grace to save and sanctify other people through hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of sermons, more than a hundred books, dozens of hymns, and countless articles and teaching sessions.
I’m thankful that I was able to be under R.C.’s teaching at St. Andrew’s for five years. I’m thankful that I started my 30th birthday in Guy Rizzo’s Bible study listening to R.C. answer questions and lend his insights. As a young man, it was such a privilege each week to just sit and relax with a cup of coffee and listen to these men discuss theology. If having a family is something the Lord has planned for me, I hope to be able to tackle my grandchildren’s theological questions in 30 or 40 years and buttress the credibility of my answers with, “Oh, by the way, I learned that one in Bible study with Dr. Sproul.”
I’m thankful the Lord preserved R.C.’s rapier intellect and quick wit until the end. So much of what he knew has been immortalized in multimedia, but there’s probably so much more in his mind on a myriad of subjects, not only philosophy and theology, that we never had the opportunity to learn from him. Though R.C. won’t be able to preach for us anymore, I’m thankful to continue under the aegis of wonderful pastors at St. Andrew’s who were directly mentored by him.
I’m thankful for Mrs. Vesta Sproul and the way she supported and cared for R.C., and helped him disciple other leaders around them and protect the theological integrity of the ministry they labored so hard to build. I’m thankful for the generous Christians who, so many years ago, saw R.C.’s potential for reaching people, and for the past several decades, have financially and prayerfully supported Ligonier Ministries’ efforts to reach both the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God on earth with the eternal truths of Scripture. Ligonier is generous with its resources — the ministry has given way, way more to me than I have given to it or expect I ever will, no matter how much I might ever earn and will be able to give back.
I’m grateful that R.C. lived to see the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, in the ministry and church he helped to found, and that at that Reformation celebration, he called us to “Come, let’s sing the Forty-Sixth.”
I’m even thankful for R.C. lovingly rebuking me personally on a couple occasions. Though it was painful at the time, I probably deserved it, and I suppose it’s what made the relationship real.
Finally, I’m thankful that the Lord gave R.C. Sproul 78 blessed and fruitful years on this earth, and though he was afflicted during his later years, his suffering is now over and he is whole. He’s fought the good fight, he’s finished the race, and he’s kept the faith, and he now rejoices in the arms of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Goodbye, our beloved pastor and friend, R.C. We’ll see you on the other side.
(Where there will be no more speculation, and we’ll find out for sure who wrote Hebrews.)