This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. Had R. C. not been a theologian, he would have been a baseball player—for the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course.
R. C. Sproul played baseball for a sponsored team. He was traded for three players. The announcement made the papers. But the sportswriter added these words, “Sonny Sproul”—as he was known before he became R. C.—“lacked a potential bat.” At the time he was in the sixth grade playing against mostly early twenty-somethings. His first time at bat after the trade, he ripped off a sharp single. Next time at bat, he pounded a home run. He had an actual bat. He was offered a baseball scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh, but went to Westminster College on an athletic scholarship.
2. R. C. met Vesta, the love of his life, when he was in the first grade and she was in the second grade.
Vesta Voorhis moved to the next street over from R. C.’s in the Pleasant Hills community nestled to the south of Pittsburgh. In between Vesta and R. C.’s home was the elementary school. That is where he first saw her. She was in the second grade, and he was in the first grade. From the first time he saw her, he knew he was going to marry her.
3. R. C. always loved music, and at the age of 63 he started violin lessons.
Dr. Sproul often said that in addition to caring about and pursuing truth and goodness and justice, we should also pursue beauty. He loved art, architecture, literature, and film. He especially loved music. He took piano lessons when he was young, but always admired and aspired to the violin. In 2004, Saint Andrew’s Chapel (the church where he served as founding pastor) opened the doors of the Saint Andrew’s Conservatory. R. C. was one of the first students—for the violin.
4. R. C.’s conversion verse was Ecclesiastes 11:3.
As a freshman at Westminster College, R. C. stopped by the cigarette machine in the dorm lobby, put in his quarter, and received his pack of Lucky Strikes. He was on his way to Youngstown, Ohio for a night out. Sitting at a table was one of the captains of the football team. He was studying his Bible and motioned for R. C. to come over. He was reading Ecclesiastes and showed R. C. this verse: “If a tree falls to the north or to the south, in the place where the tree falls, there will it lie” (Eccles. 11:3). That verse ricocheted in R. C.’s head. He forewent his trip and returned to his room. He saw himself as a dead tree, rotting on the ground. He called out for God to save him.
5. R. C. wrote his bachelor’s thesis on Moby Dick.
To R. C., Melville’s Moby Dick is the great American novel. In his bachelor’s thesis from 1961, he referenced how Ahab vainly thought that by charting the Great White Whale, he could control it and eventually kill it. Then R. C. delivers this line: Ahab represents “the shallow religious views of mankind.” The seed for Dr. Sproul’s classic text, The Holiness of God, was sown.
6. R. C. went to the Netherlands for doctoral studies not knowing a single word of Dutch.
The first day of his studies, he spent 12 hours getting through one page of one of his textbooks. He looked up each word, recording it on a 3x5 inch card. And the next day, he did it again. And then again.
7. R. C. had the vision for Ligonier Ministries while teaching a Sunday School class on Christology.
In 1968, Dr. Sproul was teaching philosophy and theology at Conwell Theological Seminary on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia. He was bored. But on Sunday mornings he taught a class at Oreland Presbyterian Church comprised mostly of adult professionals. The course was on the person and work of Christ. The deeper he went, the more they listened. He began to think of devoting his life to teaching outside the formal academic classroom.
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.
8. R. C. first preached a series on the holiness of God at a Young Life camp in Saranac Lake, New York, in 1970.
The first time Dr. Sproul read the Old Testament as a new Christian he came to the realization that God is a God who plays for keeps. That was in 1957. He had been gripped by the holiness of God. At Saranac Lake in 1970, he offered a five-part series on the holiness of God. Later, it was one of the first teaching series recorded for VHS tapes at the Ligonier Valley Study Center in the mid-1970s. In 1985, he published the book. The holiness of God is central to Ligonier Ministries, which R. C. Sproul founded in 1971. The mission statement for Ligonier is “to proclaim the holiness of God in all of its fullness to as many people as possible.” It was the central theme of his teaching. He believed that people both in culture and in the church did not know who God is—that is, who God is according to God’s self-revelation. As he said, there is only one attribute of God raised to the third degree (Isa. 6:3).
9. R. C.’s heart’s prayer was for awakening.
Of Dr. Sproul’s many heroes from church history, Jonathan Edwards stands out. One of Edwards’s sermons, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” had a particular influence. In 2014, he led a Ligonier study tour through New England. The tour reignited his desire to preach for awakening. R. C. emphasized the theme of awakening throughout his life. He prayed for awakening daily. In the final years of his life, his zeal for awakening intensified.
R. C. Sproul preached his final sermon on Hebrews 2:1–4 on Sunday, November 26, 2017. His final sentence was this: “So 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.” By Wednesday of that week, he developed a cold that continued to worsen. He entered the hospital on Saturday, December 2. Within two weeks, he was in the presence of God.
10. R. C.’s tombstone reads, “He was a kind man redeemed by a kinder Savior.”
Few have a wider smile than R. C. Sproul had. He loved to laugh and was always quick to deliver a one-liner. He enjoyed people. He truly knew the generosity of God, and that propelled him to serve people. He was known for standing for the truth. Over the course of his lifetime he took many such stands for the truth. He endeavored, however, to be kind. He was acutely aware of his own sin and of God’s mercy and grace in forgiving him. This was the cause of his desire to be kind. Most Sundays on the short drive home from church, R. C. would ask Vesta if he had been kind to people in the sermon.
Stephen Nichols is the author of R. C. Sproul: A Life.
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