Finding a Familiar Face, and Forgiveness
He was born on February 13, 1939. He died on December 14, 2017. He was 78 years old. Between the day of his birth, and the day of his death, Robert Charles Sproul lived a remarkable life. He was a scholar, an educator, a prolific and gifted writer, a television personality, pastor, conference speaker, faithful husband, loving father, and a loyal friend. Most of all he was a kind and gracious Christian gentleman.
My first encounter with Dr. Sproul came around 1985 when I was invited to watch, in a private home, one of his video productions. Over the years, I have followed the ministry of Dr. Sproul by reading his books, visiting Saint Andrew’s church in Sanford, Florida to hear him preach, and learning from his program, Renewing Your Mind. Like countless others, Dr. Sproul has influenced my life and style of ministry.
I appreciated his simplicity. While Dr. Sproul was a scholar par excellence, he was able to make the gospel understandable. Like Jesus, “the common people heard him gladly.” (Mark 12:37)
I appreciated his brevity. Growing up in churches where the average sermon was 45 minutes to an hour, Dr. Sproul was able to say, in one third of that time, what was needed.
I appreciated his humor. Dr. Sproul had a marvelous sense of humor which he did not hesitate to use. He never tried to be comedic, but he enjoyed laughter, and it was found in the stories he told.
I valued his commitment to Reformed Theology which exalts the sovereignty of God, the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
I appreciated his honesty. In his article, Death is no Stranger, Dr. Sproul revealed the remorse he carried for more than 34 years. “My guilt resides in the insensitive, nay, the stupid words I said to my father. I said the wrong thing, the juvenile thing for which death gave me no opportunity to say, “I’m sorry.”
I long for the chance to replay the scene, but it is too late. I must trust the power of heaven to heal the wound. What is done can be forgiven—it can be augmented, diminished and, in some cases, repaired. But it cannot be undone.
Certain things cannot be recalled: the speeding bullet from the gun, the arrow released from the bow, the word that escapes our lips. We can pray that the bullet misses or that the arrow falls harmlessly to the ground, but we cannot command them to return in midflight.
What did I say that makes me curse my tongue? They were not words of rebellion or shouts of temper; they were words of denial—a refusal to accept my father’s final statement. I simply said, “Don’t say that, Dad.”
In his final moments my father tried to leave me with a legacy to live by. He sought to overcome his own agony by encouraging me. He was heroic; I shrank from his words in cowardice. I could not face what he had to face.
I pled ignorance as I only understood enough of his words to recoil from them. He said, “Son, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
He was quoting the apostle Paul’s closing words to his beloved disciple Timothy. But I failed to recognize that fact. I had never read the Bible—I had no faith to keep, no race to finish.
My father was speaking from a posture of victory. He knew who he was and where he was going. But all I could hear in those words was that he was going to die.
What impertinence for me to reply, “Don’t say that!” I rebuked my father in the most valiant moment of his life. I tramped on his soul with my own unbelief.
Nothing more was said between us—ever. I put his paralyzed arms around my neck, hoisting his useless body partially off the ground, supporting him on my back and shoulders, and dragged him to his bed. I left his room and shifted my thought to my homework assignments.
An hour later my studies were interrupted by the sound of a crash from a distant part of the house. I hastened to investigate the sound. I found my father sprawled in a heap on the floor with blood trickling from his ear and nose.
He lingered a day and a half in a coma before the rattle of death signaled the end. When his labored breathing stopped I leaned over and kissed his forehead.
I did not cry. I played the man, being outwardly calm through the following days of funeral home visitations and burial in the grave. But inside, I was devastated.
How much value did my father have to me then? I would have done anything I could, given everything I had, to bring him back. I had never tasted defeat so final or lost anything so precious. That was 34 years ago, but it does not require a psychiatrist to recognize that I am not over it yet.”
When he stepped from time into eternity, on December 14, 2017, R. C. Sproul was able to resolve his feelings of guilt. Because of Jesus, his father, alive in heaven, was waiting for his son. Because Jesus lives, and gives eternal life to all who believe in Him, R. C. Sproul was able to be reunited with his father and say the words he has been waiting to say to him for so many years. “Yes father, you did fight the good fight. You finished the race. You kept the faith. I am so glad you did. I never forgot. Not for a moment.”
And then Jesus said to Robert Charles Sproul, “well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”