Ligonier Ministries released the news yesterday that their founder, famed theologian R.C. Sproul, has died. Dr. Sproul suffered a stroke in 2015, and in December of this year was admitted to the hospital for complications caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a disease of the lungs. He passed away at the age of 78.
R.C. Sproul was well known for his books, Ligonier Ministries, his radio broadcast, and seminars called “Renewing Your Mind.” There were few areas of theology, philosophy, and history that his great mind left untouched. For some, Dr. Sproul was their go-to Christian apologist. For others, his encouragement to pursue holiness by pointing his readers to the character of God in his book The Holiness of God is how R.C. Sproul will be best remembered. For all of us who were blessed, encouraged, and admonished by his fruitful and faithful ministry, Dr. R.C. Sproul will be remembered as a giant of the faith and a generous intellect who strived his entire adult life to point people to Jesus.
R.C. Sproul’s love for Jesus is now reaping the full reward. Over the last twenty-four hours or so, many have referenced what is now a famous quote of Sproul’s from his book A Taste of Heaven: “You can grieve for me the week before I die if I’m scared and hurting. 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, and my biggest concern, if I have any, will be my wife back here grieving.”
R.C. Sproul’s journey to heaven took its first big step forward when he put his faith in Jesus in 1957. In his tribute to R.C. Sproul for The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor describes the event beautifully:
R.C. was reborn in September of 1957 during the first weekend of his first semester at Westminster College, a progressive Presbyterian school an hour north of Pittsburgh. Following freshman orientation, R.C. and his roommate (whom he had played baseball with in school) wanted to leave their dry campus to go to a neighboring town to drink. When they got to the parking lot, R.C. reached his hand in his pocket and realized he was all out of Lucky Strike cigarettes. They returned to the dorm, which housed a cigarette machine.
As he started to put his quarters in the machine, the star of the football team invited them to sit down at a table with him. He began asking them questions. They ended up talking for over an hour about the wisdom of God. What struck R.C. was that for the first time in his life, he was listening to someone who sounded like he knew Jesus personally. The football player quoted Ecclesiastes 11:3 (‘Where the tree falls in the forest, there it lies’) and R.C. saw himself as that tree: dead, corrupt, and rotting. He returned to his dorm that night and prayed to God for forgiveness. He would later remark that he was probably the only person in church history to be converted through that particular verse.
Yesterday, when I first heard of the death of R.C. Sproul, and while briefly giving praise to God for how the Holy Spirit has used Dr. Sproul’s ministry in my own life to make me more like Jesus, the words “rest in peace” came to mind.
“RIP” has become a common nomenclature in our society, especially when a celebrity dies. And while I understand and empathize with the sentiment, I am usually saddened whenever I see “RIP” used in conjunction with the death of a celebrity. You see, apart from faith in Jesus, there is no eternal peace.
R.C. Sproul once said, “There are only two ways of dying. We can die in faith or we can die in our sins.”
On that early fall day in 1957, Dr. Sproul recognized that because of his sin, he stood guilty before the throne of God. He understood that since God is perfectly just and holy (separated from sin), his own sin meant that not only was he unable to have a relationship with God but that God would one day sentence him to eternal punishment because of his sin. Yet, R.C. Sproul also knew that God had provided a way for His people to be reconciled back to Him and be able to enjoy His blessings and peace for all eternity. Sending His Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to earth in the form of man, God provided a way for salvation.
Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father and died in obedience for the just punishment of the sins of those who place their faith in him. The Holy Spirit then raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating his claim to be the Son of God and signaling that sin, death, and Satan had been defeated. The curse was undone.
In his dorm room as a college freshman, R.C. Sproul repented of his sins and placed his faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That meant that God applied Jesus’ perfect obedience to Dr. Sproul and applied Dr. Sproul’s deserved punishment to Jesus. This is why R.C. Sproul could say with confidence, “when I gasp that last fleeting breath … my immortal soul flees to heaven.”
Truly, R.C. Sproul is resting in peace. Praise God.