The death of a saint always fills fellow pilgrims with inner conflict: joy in their being in the presence of the Lord, without the pains and struggles of this fallen existence, and sorrow at losing a dear brother or sister. These mixed emotions overwhelmed me as I sat next to R.C. Sproul as we shared in the memorial service for our friend, James Montgomery Boice. “A mighty general has fallen on the field, in valiant service to his Lord,” I recall R.C. repeating in his message. And now, with so many others around the world today, I feel the sharp sting of that realization.
Taking me under his wing, James Boice introduced me to R.C. at a PCRT when I was a pup of about 16 or 17. Since then, I felt as if I had at least three wonderful fathers in the faith (after my own, who died over a decade ago). I devoured his cassette tapes from Ligonier Study Center on everything from the Doctrine of God to Descartes, just as so many do today around the world and will continue to do. Every five minutes I was struck by an “Aha!” moment, not because he was a provocateur or sought to try out some novel thesis, but because he really knew what he was talking about and made the content so vivid that I could imagine Turretin—and, more importantly, Christ—standing in front of me, speaking.
R.C. was the same person off of the platform: serious about theology (and philosophy, golf, baseball and the Steelers), but one of the funniest men I have ever known. Banter was one of his favorite ways of showing his friendship, and you rarely (actually, in my case, never) got the upper hand. He was as unique in recalling jokes (an appropriate one for every occasion) as he was in remembering a quote from Aquinas. Jim Boice never cared about my tacky clothes, but R.C.’s humorous chastisements led me finally to shop at Brooks Brothers whenever I could save enough money for the trip. The blazer became de rigueur for me ever since, though I still fall into my old ways when I’m not on the road.
R.C. did not have much time for cowards in matters of great moment. The great movie “Tombstone” was required viewing for his friends. A son of the mainline Presbyterian Church (after the United Presbyterian Church was absorbed into the PCUSA), R.C. valiantly but unsuccessfully tried to turn things around in that denomination. Since then, he has been at the forefront of the defense of Scripture (co-founding the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy with Boice) and the other key doctrines of the Reformation, including justification. He and I were part of the meetings in the aftermath of “Evangelical and Catholics Together” and watching his passionate and unwavering commitment will forever be a testimony to my conscience.
Many others will recount better the details of R.C.’s ministry and legacy. I will always remember him as one of the past century’s greatest friends of the gospel who I have had the privilege of calling my own.