R.C. Sproul

Fear Not

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Wednesday, March 2, 2022
The assurance we need the most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know if only intuitively that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath.

We are fragile mortals, given to fears of every sort. We have a built-in insecurity that no amount of whistling in the dark can mollify. We seek assurance concerning the things that frighten us the most.
The prohibition uttered more frequently than any other by our Lord is the command, “Fear not.” He said this so often to His disciples and others He encountered that it almost came to sound like a greeting. Where most people greet others by saying “Hi” or “Hello,” the first words of Jesus very often were “Fear not.”
Why? Perhaps Jesus’ predilection for those words grew out of His acute sense of the thinly veiled fear that grips all who approach the living God. We fear His power, we fear His wrath, and most of all we fear His ultimate rejection.
The assurance we need the most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know if only intuitively that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath. Our insecurity is worsened by the certainty that we deserve it.
Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible nor even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.
Yet, if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, then it would be supremely arrogant for one to deny or neglect it.
In fact, God does command us to make our election and calling sure: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).
This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question, “Am I saved?” is one of the most important questions I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer; I must know the answer. This is not a trifle. Without the assurance of salvation the Christian life is unstable. It is vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes and allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep. Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it, the foundation crumbles.
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The Anatomy of Doubt

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Friday, February 18, 2022
The order of the process to destroy doubt is crucial. For example, the miracles of the Bible cannot and were never designed to prove the existence of God. The very possibility of a miracle requires that there first be a God who can empower it. In other words, it is not the Bible that proves the existence of God, it is God who through miracle attests that the Bible is His word. Thus proven, to believe the Bible implicitly is a virtue. To believe it gratuitously is not.

Spiritus sanctus non est skepticus—“The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic.” So Luther rebuked Erasmus of Rotterdam for his expressed disdain for making sure assertions. Luther roared, “The making of assertions is the very mark of the Christian. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity. Away now, with the skeptics!”
Doubt is the hallmark of the skeptic. The skeptic dares to doubt the indubitable. Even demonstrable proof fails to persuade him. The skeptic dwells on Mt. Olympus, far aloof from the struggles of mortals who care to pursue truth.
But doubt has other faces. It is the assailant of the faithful striking fear into the hearts of the hopeful. Like Edith Bunker, doubt nags the soul. It asks “Are you sure?” Then, “Are you sure you’re sure?”
Still doubt can appear as a servant of truth. Indeed it is the champion of truth when it wields its sword against what is properly dubious. It is a citadel against credulity. Authentic doubt has the power to sort out and clarify the difference between the certain and the uncertain, the genuine and the spurious.
Consider Descartes. In his search for certainty, for clear and distinct ideas, he employed the application of a rigorous and systematic doubt process. He endeavored to doubt everything he could possibly doubt. He doubted what he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears. He realized that our senses can and do often deceive us. He doubted authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical, knowing that recognized authorities can be wrong. He would submit to no fides implicitum claimed by any human being or institution. Biographies usually declare that Descartes was a Frenchman but his works reveal that he was surely born in Missouri.
Descartes doubted everything he could possibly doubt until he reached the point where he realized there was one thing he couldn’t doubt. He could not doubt that he was doubting. To doubt that he was doubting was to prove that he was doubting. No doubt about it.
From that premise of indubitable doubt, Descartes appealed to the formal certainty yielded by the laws of immediate inference. Using impeccable deduction he concluded that to be doubting required that he be thinking, since thought is a necessary condition for doubting. From there it was a short step to his famous axiom, cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.”
At last Descartes arrived at certainty, the assurance of his own personal existence. This was, of course, before Hume attacked causality and Kant argued that the self belongs to the unknowable noumenal realm that requires a “transcendental apperception” (whatever that is) to affirm at all. One wonders how Descartes would have responded to Hume and Kant had he lived long enough to deal with them. I have no doubt that the man of doubt would have prevailed.
There were clearly unstated assumptions lurking beneath the surface of Descartes’ logic. Indeed there was logic itself. To conclude that to doubt doubt is to prove doubt is a conclusion born of logic.
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The Origin of the Soul

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Thursday, February 3, 2022
The soul of man can live without the body; the body cannot live without the soul. From biblical revelation we know we have souls. The Bible does not banish the soul to some “never-never” noumenal world of agnosticism. Not only do we have souls, but the nurture and care of our souls is a top priority for the Christian life.

Students of philosophy are well aware of the watershed significance of Immanuel Kant’s epochal work, The Critique of Pure Reason. In this volume Kant gave a comprehensive critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, wrecking havoc on natural theology and classical apologetics. Kant ended in agnosticism with respect to God, arguing that God cannot be known either by rational deduction or by empirical investigation. He assigned God to the “noumenal world,” a realm impenetrable by reason or by sense perception.
The impact on apologetics and metaphysical speculation of Kant’s work has been keenly felt. What is often overlooked, however, even among philosophers, is the profound impact Kant’s critique had on our understanding of the soul.
Kant placed three concepts or entities in his noumenal realm, a realm above and beyond the phenomenal realm. The triad includes God, the self, and the thing-in-itself, or essences. If God resides in this extraphenomenal realm, then, the argument goes, we cannot know anything about Him. Our knowledge, indeed all true science, is restricted to the phenomenal realm, the world perceived by the senses. Kant argued that we cannot move to the noumenal realm by reasoning from the phenomenal realm (a point that put Kant on a collision course with the Apostle Paul).
Kant’s agnosticism moved beyond theology to metaphysics. Since meta-physics is concerned with that which is above and beyond the physical, it is deemed a fool’s errand to seek knowledge of essences. The phenomenal realm is the world of existence, not of metaphysical essences or “things-in-themselves.” There may be metaphysical essences but they cannot be known by human reason. That Kant did a hatchet job on metaphysics as well as theology is clear.
Again, what is often overlooked is that the hatchet had more work to do. By assigning the self to the noumenal realm, Kant also hacked away at the concept of the human soul. This has had a devastating impact on subsequent views of anthropology. Pre-Kantian thought gave heavy weight to the importance of the human soul. Post-Kantian thought has as all but eliminated the soul from serious consideration.
The nature of the self remains a concern of psychology, but its nature is enmeshed in enigma. Descartes arrived at a knowledge of the self as a clear and distinct idea via a rigorous doubting process. He resolved to doubt everything he could possibly doubt. The one thing he couldn’t doubt was that he was doubting. There was no doubt about that. For anyone to doubt that he is doubting, he must doubt to do it. Since doubting is a form of thinking and thought requires a thinker, Descartes arrived at his famous conclusion: Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” We notice that in this formula there is an “I,” a self, that is necessarily involved in the process.
Kant, himself, could not rid himself of the awareness of his self. He appealed, however, not to a rational deduction by which he came to a conclusion of his self; rather, he coined the idea of the “transcendental apperception of the ego.” This technical language is somewhat cumbersome but nevertheless significant.
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An Historic Faith

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Friday, December 31, 2021
A kairotic moment is a moment that shapes the history of everything that comes after it. In the Old Testament, for example, the exodus was a kairotic moment. In the New Testament, the birth of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection are all kairotic moments. The closest word we have to this in English is the word historic. Every event that takes place in history is historical, but not every event that takes place in history is deemed historic. To be historic it has to have special significance and special impact on life. So the Bible is the record of God’s historic works of redemption within the context of space and time. 

“Once upon a time . . .” These words signal the beginning of a fairy tale, a story of make believe, not an account of sober history. Unlike beginning with the words “once upon a time,” the Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God….” This statement, at the front end of the entire Bible, introduces the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament, and it sets the stage for God’s activity in linear history. From the opening chapters of Genesis to the end of the book of Revelation, the entire dynamic of redemption takes place within the broader setting of real space and time, of concrete history.
The historical character of Judeo-Christianity is what markedly distinguishes it from all forms of mythology. A myth finds its value in its moral or spiritual application, while its historical reality remains insignificant. Fairy tales can help our mood swings, but they do little to give us confidence in ultimate reality. The twentieth century witnessed a crisis in the historical dimension of biblical Christianity. German theologians made a crucial distinction between ordinary history and what they called “salvation history,” or sometimes “redemptive history.” This distinction was based in the first instance on the obvious character of sacred Scripture, namely, that it is not only a record of the ordinary events of men and nations. It is not a mere chronicle of human activity but includes within it the revelation of God’s activity in the midst of history. Because the Bible differs from ordinary history and was called “salvation history,” it was a short step from there to ripping the biblical revelation out of its historical context altogether. No one was more important in the snatching of the Gospels out of history than the German theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann devised a new theology that he called “a theology of timelessness.” This theology of timelessness is not interested in the past or in the future as categories of reality. What counts according to Bultmann is the hic et nunc, the “here and now,” or the present moment. Salvation doesn’t take place on the horizontal plane of history, but it takes place vertically in the present moment or what others called “the existential moment.”
We might ask the question: How long does a moment last? There is a parallel between Descartes’ concept of the “point” and the existentialist’s concept of the “moment.”
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Seeing Christmas through New Eyes

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Saturday, December 25, 2021
When the minister interrupted his sermon and listened to the chimes and then leaned over the pulpit and said, “It’s Christmas,” I was ready to walk through the door into heaven. It was all the joy that I could handle because now for the first time I was experiencing this pageantry as reality, as truth, as something that had really taken place.

I remember as a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh and always dreaming of a white Christmas. It was a tradition in our home to go to the Christmas Eve service every year. That service began at eleven o’clock, but we would have to assemble outside of the church at about quarter after ten because so many people congregated for that special candlelight event. It was filled with pageantry and great choral music. And at about thirteen minutes to twelve, the minister would begin his Christmas Eve homily. And just as the clock reached twelve o’clock, in the middle of his sermon, there was a signal given to the organist, and the organist would play the chimes in the church as if they were the chimes of a clock striking twelve. The pastor would stop his sermon in mid-sentence as the chimes would begin to sound one, two, three, four, and we would all sit there in the pews and count them. As soon as the twelfth tone had registered, the pastor would smile to the congregation and he would say, “It’s Christmas. And may I be the first on this day to wish you a Merry Christmas?
Well, that used to send chills up and down my spine. It was a tradition.
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The Controversial Birth of Jesus

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Friday, December 24, 2021
The question of the virgin birth is not so much a philosophical question as it is a historical one. If one whom we call God has the power of being—sovereign efficient and sufficient causal power—then we cannot rationally object to the virgin birth on the grounds that it couldn’t happen. The real issue is not could it happen but did it happen. It becomes then a question of history and drives us once again to the historical sources.

The records of Jesus’ life and ministry cause controversy from the very start. The extraordinary narrative of the circumstances surrounding His conception and birth provokes howls of protest from the critics of supernaturalism. They must begin their work of demythologizing early, wielding scissors on the first page of the New Testament. Following Matthew’s table of genealogy, the first paragraph of the first Gospel reads as follows: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).

Though the New Testament is replete with miracles surrounding the person of Jesus, none seems more offensive to modern man than the virgin birth. If any law of science is established as immutable and unbreakable, it is that human reproduction is not possible without the conjoining of the male seed and the female egg. We may have developed sophisticated methods of artificial insemination and “test- tube” intrauterine implantations, but in some manner the reproduction process requires the contribution of both genders of the race to succeed.
Thus, the birth of Jesus violates the inviolable; it mutates the immutable; it breaks the unbreakable. It is alleged to be an act that is pure and simple contra naturam. Before we even read of the activities of Jesus’ life, we are thrust headfirst against this claim. Many skeptics close the door on further investigation after reading the first page of the record. The story sounds too much like magic, too much like the sort of myth and legend that tends to grow up around the portraits of famous people.
The arguments against the virgin birth are many. They range from the charge of borrowing mythical baggage from the Greek-speaking world, with parallels evident in pagan mythology (Ovid’s Metamorphosis is cited as “Exhibit A”), to the scientific disclaimer that the virgin birth represents an empirically unverifiable unique event that denies all probability quotients. Some have offered a desperate exegetical argument trying to show that the New Testament doesn’t teach the idea of virgin birth. This we call the exegesis of despair.
The real problem is that of miracle. It doesn’t stop with the birth of Jesus but follows Him through His life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. The life of Jesus carries the aura of miracle wherever it is described in the primary sources. A “de-miraclized” Jesus is not the biblical Jesus, but the invention of those who cannot abide the biblical proclamation. Such a Jesus is the Jesus of unbelief, the most mythical Jesus of all, conjured up to fit the preconceived molds of unbelief.

Behind the problem of miracle are certain assumptions about the reality of God the Creator. Matthew’s infancy narrative raises questions not only about parthenogenesis but about genesis itself. Creation is the unique event to beat all unique events.

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How Should We Then Worship?

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Friday, December 3, 2021
Let us return to Augustine who agreed that we can use a variety of music in our worship, but all that is done should be done with a certain gravitas, a certain solemnity, always containing the attributes of reverence and awe before the living God. The “what?” of worship, the “where?” of worship, the “when?” of worship, and especially the “how?” of worship must always be determined by the character of the One Who is the living God.

Three-quarters of the way through the twentieth century, Francis A. Schaeffer asked the question, “How should we then live?” His book of the same name answered the questions raised by the radical shift in our culture from modernity to post-modernity. The question that we face in our generation is closely related to it: “How should we then worship?” The “how?” of worship is a hotly disputed matter in our day. The issue has been described as the war of worship. If there has been a worship war in the church in America in the last thirty years, then surely by now its outcome has been decided. Far and away, the victorious mode of worship in our day is that form roughly described as contemporary worship. “Contemporary” in this context is contrasted with “traditional,” which is seen as being outmoded, passé, and irrelevant to contemporary individuals. Those who deem the contemporary shift in worship as a deterioration are in the minority, so it behooves us to explore the “how” question that Schaeffer first raised.
The “how” question is related to the other questions usually pursued by the journalists who seek to unwrap the details of a particular story. They ask the questions: “Who, what, where, when, and how?” In like manner, the best place for us to answer the “how” question of worship is to begin with the “who” question. Manifestly the most important question we ask is, “Who is it that we are called upon to worship with our hearts, our minds, and our souls?” The answer to that question at first glance is exceedingly easy. From a Christian perspective, the obvious reply is that we are called upon to worship the triune God. As easy as this answer is on the surface, when we see the concern given to this question throughout the Old and New Testaments, we realize that as fallen creatures it is one of our most basic and fundamental inclinations to worship something, or someone, other than the true God. It’s not by accident that the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments focus attention on the true God whom we are to worship according to His Being. The New Testament likewise calls us to honor God with true worship. Paul reminds us that at the heart of our fallenness is a refusal to honor God as God or to show proper gratitude to Him with praise and thanksgiving. So it is imperative that the Christian, at the beginning of his pursuit to understand what true worship is, gets it clear that the object of our worship is to be God and God alone.
When we move to the “where” question, it doesn’t appear to matter that much. We recall Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well when He said that the New Testament church has no appointed central sanctuary where all true worship must take place.
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What Is Grace?

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Saturday, November 27, 2021
When we truly understand grace—when we see that God only owes us wrath but has provided Christ’s merit to cover our demerit—then everything changes. The Christian motivation for ethics is not merely to obey some abstract law or a list of rules; rather, our response is provoked by gratitude. Jesus understood that when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If I may have the liberty to paraphrase: “Keep My commandments not because you want to be just, but because you love Me.” A true understanding of grace—of God’s unmerited favor—always provokes a life of gratitude and obedience.

A number of decades ago at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, we sent out a Thanksgiving card with this simple statement: “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.” In all the debates about our role versus God’s role in sanctification—our growth in holiness—we’d stay on the right track if we’d remember this grace-gratitude dynamic. The more we understand how kind God has been to us and the more we are overcome by His mercy, the more we are inclined to love Him and to serve Him.
Yet we can’t get the grace-gratitude dynamic right if we aren’t clear on what grace means. What is grace? The catechisms many of us learned as children give us the answer: “Grace is the unmerited favor of God.” The first thing that we understand about grace is what it’s not—it’s not something we merit. In fact, if that is all we ever understand about grace, I’m sure God will rejoice that we know His grace is unmerited. So, here’s our working definition of grace—it is unmerit.
Paul’s epistle to the Romans sheds light on what we mean when we say that grace is unmerit. In 1:18–3:20, the Apostle explains that on the final day, for the first time in our lives, we will be judged in total perfection, in total fairness, in absolute righteousness. Thus, every mouth will be stopped when we stand before the tribunal of God. This should provoke fear in the hearts of fallen people, as condemnation is the only possible sentence for sinful men and women: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).
But those who trust in Christ Jesus have hope, for if we are in Him by faith, we have been “justified freely by His grace.” Note that justification is accomplished not by obligation, but freely through grace on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone. There’s no room for boasting, for we are justified not by our works but by grace alone through faith alone. Paul goes on to cite Abraham as the preeminent example of one who was justified by faith alone and therefore free from God’s sentence of condemnation.
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We Are Not Germs: The Case for Human Dignity

Several years ago, the mother of a college student came to me wringing her hands, saying: “I don’t know what to do with my son. I’ve been praying for him for years; he’s in total rebellion. He’s smoking dope; he’s doing all these wild and crazy things, and he won’t listen to me about the Christian faith. Will you talk to him?”
I cautioned her that forcing him to come talk to me would make him a reluctant audience, but I nevertheless agreed to her request. She persuaded the young man to come and see me. When he came in, he was sullen, curt, and obviously hostile. So I asked him, “Who are you mad at?” He replied, “My mother.” And I said, “Why are you angry at your mother?” He said he was mad at her because “every time I turn around she keeps trying to shove religion down my throat.”
I said, “I see, you don’t buy into Christianity?” He said “No, sir.” “Okay,” I replied, “so what do you believe?” He said, “I believe that everybody should have the right to do their own thing.” “Alright,” I answered, “but why are you mad at your mother?” He said, “What do you mean?” “Well,” I replied, “maybe it’s your mother’s thing to shove religion down people’s throats. What I hear you saying is that you want everybody to do their own thing as long as their own thing doesn’t impose upon your own thing. And you want to be able to do your own thing even if it does impose on other people’s own thing.”
I said, “Don’t you see that if you complained to me on the basis of Christian ethical standards that things would be different? If your mother is provoking you to wrath and is being thoroughly insensitive to you as a person, then I would have a foundation upon which to stand with you. I could defend your cause against your mother.” At that point, he started getting interested in the Christian faith.
Of course, the point of the illustration is that the young man knew what he didn’t like, but he hadn’t thought it through. He wanted to come to the conclusion that there is no basis ultimately for ethics, but he couldn’t live in that domain. And that is the point that even a non-Christian philosopher such as Immanuel Kant made, namely, that life ultimately is impossible without God, without justice, without life after the grave.
The bottom line is this: if there is no God, if there is no life after death, then ultimately all of our ethical decisions are absolutely meaningless. That’s a true and inescapable conclusion. If we think about it, it’s the only conclusion we can reach if we have absented God from our thinking. The only alternative to an absolute ethic is a relative ethic. We cannot have an absolute ethic without a personal Creator.
To confess that God is Creator is to confess that we are not cosmic accidents, devoid of ultimate value. We came from somewhere significant and we are headed toward a destination of importance.
Mechanistic determinists and hyperevolutionists say that the human animal is the highest advance up a scale of life that emerged out of primordial slime. Humanity, the grownup germ, is the result of accidental cosmic forces, and the destiny of the human race is at the mercy of these indifferent, impersonal forces. This view does not leave us in total darkness about the goal of human existence, nor does it point us in the direction of significance. What began in the slime is destined for organic disorganization or disintegration.

The Secret to a Happy Life

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Humility is the secret to a happy life. What is humility? Scripture does not say the humble person is Mr. Milquetoast, the wishy-washy person, the spineless man who is a doormat for the world; rather, the humble person is one who fears God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and such fear flows from a heart that is in awe of God and bows to His authority.

James is sometimes called the “New Testament book of Proverbs.” That’s because of passages such as James 4 that give us a series of loosely linked aphorisms of practical, godly wisdom. This chapter begins with our universal concern about conflict:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend on your passions. (James 4:1-3)
The world is marked by warfare. There’s global war and national conflict; there’s warfare in the church; there’s warfare in the community; there’s warfare in the home—there’s conflict all around us. James says that these quarrels, fights, disputes, and contentions come from within, from the fallenness of our hearts. The motivation for these conflicts is envy, or covetousness, which is a transgression we rarely hear about in our own day.
Conflict is the fruit of covetous hearts that want what others have. Now, it’s not inherently wrong to want something we don’t have. James’ statement that we do not have because we do not ask implicitly calls us to ask God to give us our desires. We should feel no shame when we desire good things as long as our desire does not make those good things into idols. The warning against covetousness comes into play when James acknowledges that sometimes we ask wrongly for what we don’t have. Sometimes we ask for good things in the wrong spirit.
What does this mean? Consider that we ask for things because we believe they will make us happy. This turns into covetousness when we believe that we have an inalienable right to pursue pleasure as the source of happiness. Maximizing pleasure is our culture’s chief goal, but happiness and pleasure are profoundly different.
I’m not opposed to pleasure. I enjoy pleasure. But remember, sin is tempting because it can be pleasurable—in the short term. We sin because we think it will feel good.
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