“I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.” ~R. C. Sproul
In 1662, a Puritan minister in England, Thomas Watson (c. 1620 – 1686), was ejected from his congregation because of his non-conformity to the state church. In his Farewell Sermon, Watson declared,
“I feel I must part with my conscience or with my ministry. I choose, therefore, that my ministry be sealed up by my sufferings.”
To some degree, the ministry of R. C. Sproul was sealed in suffering.
Dr. Sproul suffered spiritually. Because of his high view of God and His sovereignty, because he emphasized grace and not free will, and because of his commitment to Reformed theology, Dr. Sproul had many critics. One website calls him a “raging heretic and blasphemer.” Writing for Table Talk Magazine, R. C. Sproul addressed this issue.
“Has anyone ever said something unkind to you, or about you? I think we all have had that experience. Becoming victims of slander, or malicious gossip can be difficult to bear. However, God calls us to exhibit a very specific kind of response in such circumstances.
Years ago, I received a letter from a friend who is a pastor at a church in California. In it, the pastor included a copy of an article that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Although the article included a photo of him standing in his church and holding his Bible, it was basically a vicious personal attack against him. When I saw that picture and read that article, I felt a great deal of empathy for my friend, because I had recently had a similar experience. A person I believed was my friend made some very unkind statements about me publicly, and word had gotten back to me. My feelings basically vacillated between despondency and anger, even though I knew I needed to respond with joy (Matt. 5:11–12).
I believe the greatest book ever written about the virtue of love in the Christian life, is Jonathan Edwards’ classic study, Charity and Its Fruits. In this book, Edwards included a chapter on how we are to respond to false charges. There, he makes the biblical point that such attacks should not surprise us; rather, we should expect them:
‘Men that have their spirits heated and enraged and rising in bitter resentment when they are injured, act as if they thought some strange thing had happened to them. Whereas they are very foolish in so thinking, for it is no strange thing at all but only what was to be expected in a world like this. They therefore do not act wisely that allow their spirits to be ruffled by the injuries they suffer.”
Edwards’ point, is that if the Christian expects to be slandered, and keeps his eyes focused on God when it happens, he will not be depressed over it.” Dr. Sproul kept his eyes on Christ, and the Lord honored him.
Dr. Sproul suffered physically. Though he was a gifted athlete in his youth, time took its own toll on his body to the point that eventually, near the end of his life, Dr. Sproul struggled to breathe, and relied upon pure oxygen wherever he went. Dr. Sproul died on December 14, 2017, of severe respiratory difficulties exacerbated by the flu, and complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Despite social attacks, and personal suffering, Dr. R. C. Sproul always preached Christ and the great salvation Jesus secured for those who are the heirs of salvation. His own Farewell Sermon, was preached on November 26, 2017, at St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. The title of the sermon was “A Great Salvation” from Hebrews 2:1-4.
“Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. 2 For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; 3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”
These are the words of God. We are to receive them with fear and trembling, and with an earnest desire to be obedient to the faith, for the author of Hebrews teaches there is an essential unity between doctrine and practice. For the Christian, all doctrine should be practical, and all practice should be doctrinal.
If the gospel is believed, and embraced with all sincerity, then there is a radical implication for how life is to be lived. We must pay much more attention to the things heard, lest at any time we let the truth of God slip away. Every professing Christian must pay the most possible attention to what they have heard and read in Scripture, lest the soul drift away into sin, and mortal danger.
Consider the image of drifting. Some of those who go fishing will lazily cast their line into the water and watch as the bobber drifts. If there is no anchor placed down, the boat too will drift along with the current. Sometimes, such drifting can become problematic if attention is not paid to weeds, or rushing waterfalls just ahead.
Elsewhere, the Scriptures speak of an anchor for our soul, which is our hope in Christ Jesus.
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil” (Heb. 6:19).
The author of Hebrews pleads with Christians saying, “Do not allow yourselves to drift.”
The Christian drifts away from the Church, and away from Christ, through laziness and indifference. Many professing Christians are aware they are drifting, but are not alarmed by any lack of Bible study, nonattendance of worship services, and no prayer. Before they know it, time has passed, and they wake up far from the peaceful shores of Beulah’s Land.
I’ve reached the land of corn and wine,
And all its riches freely mine;
Here shines undimmed one blissful day,
For all my night has passed away.
O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My Heav’n, my home forevermore!
My Savior comes and walks with me,
And sweet communion here have we;
He gently leads me by His hand,
For this is Heaven’s borderland.
A sweet perfume upon the breeze
Is borne from ever-vernal trees;
And flow’rs that never fading grow,
Where streams of life forever flow.
The zephyrs seem to float to me,
Sweet sounds of Heaven’s melody,
As angels with the white-robed throng
Join in the sweet redemption song.
The term Beulah, is a geographical location according to Isaiah 62:4. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi–bah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.” The word is a transliteration of a Hebrew word and should be translated as “married”.
The English Standard Version supplies a better understanding of the text: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”
The idea is the Lord delights in His people. The Church is the Bride of Christ whom He loved enough to die for her. How then, can a true Christian drift aimlessly from such love? Is Jesus not better, is He not superior over the angels and over all creation? Indeed, He is. Therefore, pay the closest attention possible to all that can be said about Jesus.
There is a reason why special attention should be given to Jesus. There is danger in neglecting Him.
The author of Hebrews draws a comparison.
He speaks of how the Old Testament community was given the Law by the angels, and yet did not embrace and obey the Word of God, and so received a just retribution, a punishment for their neglecting of that which is holy. How much more responsible are those in the New Testament era who have received the gospel directly from Christ?
If a person wants to escape imminent danger, if a person wants to be saved and delivered from the wrath of God, then Christ must not be neglected.
When such an idea is presented to the minds of men, it is not uncommon for someone to say, “I do not want to be scared into heaven.” My response has always been, “I would rather scare you into heaven, then laugh you into hell.”
There is a dire and eternal life-threatening facet facing those who reject the gospel. The person who would escape a spiritual kidnapper, or a soldier of Satan, or a Divine executioner, must avail themselves of God’s means of deliverance.
There are invisible prisons to which a soul can be taken from which there is no escape, humanly speaking. Anyone who has known the bondage of an addiction knows how strong are the chains of alcohol, lust, lying, or substance abuse.
There are some visible prisons to which a soul can be taken which are known to be prisons of no escape such as Alcatraz, Devil’s Island, or the French prison, La Chateau d’if, a fortress on a rocky island off the coast of Marseille. It has been immortalized in the novel the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
As awful as such places can be, sin can put the soul of every person into a more horrible place, which is the abyss of an eternal hell. It is from such a place the author speaks of deliverance.
But the question comes. “How can we escape that terrible place if we neglect so great a salvation?”
The implication is that we cannot escape the wrath of God, and His place of divine appointment, if we neglect His great way of salvation. Hell is the one prison from which no one ever escapes once they arrive.
Those who cling to the doctrine of purgatory, or annihilation, or those who believe in universalism, are holding onto a rope of sand that will crumble, and drop them into a place of utter darkness without God, without hope, and without eternal life. This is a place called hell from which there is no way to escape. There is no way to dig out of hell. There is no wall to climb over. There is no guard to overpower in a flight to freedom, and the key to the bottomless pit is beyond reach. In addition, there is no fellowship in hell. There is only an eternal consciousness that the way of salvation was neglected.
The author of Hebrews pleads, not with the unconverted, but with people who have known, and to some extent experienced the grace of the Lord, to remember what they have heard about Jesus, and His atoning work at Calvary, and then exhorts them to not drift away unto unbelief, followed by a certain damnation.
What have you heard about Jesus?
Have you heard that He is the Son of God?
Have you heard that He came to seek and to save the lost?
Have you heard that Jesus will save His people from their sins?
Have you heard that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved?
Have you heard that Jesus gives eternal life to all who put their trust in Him?
Have you heard that this same Jesus shall one day return to earth in power and glory?
Have you heard that Jesus has the power, the authority, to forgive all sin for those who ask for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness?
Have you heard that Jesus is a Friend of sinners?
Have you heard that Jesus is the way of escaping the wrath of God?
If you have heard this gospel truth, do no neglect so great a salvation. Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and then cling to Him. Stay close to Jesus in love and fellowship, through His Word, and by His Spirit. Do not drift away.