What comes to mind when you think of R.C. Sproul? What do you remember of his life and ministry? What associations do you make when you hear his name?
He was a gifted teacher, of course—probably the greatest pure teacher many of us have ever encountered. So many Christians first came to marvel at God’s transcendent holiness and God’s glorious sovereignty to the distinct rasp of his voice and, in the background, the distinct squeak of chalk on chalkboard. Few men have been better teachers.
He was a trusted theologian. He had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Christian doctrine and could converse or debate on a host of subjects. A panel or roundtable could go to nearly any topic and he would have something to say. In some of the church’s most crucial modern-day controversies, he took the side of the Bible and the side of orthodoxy. Time has proven that he was invariably on the side of the right.
He was a brilliant intellectual. He had a quick and exceptional mind and a towering intellect. Few people could catch him off guard and few people could match his wit. No one who ever debated him had an easy time of it or ran him over.
He was a compelling apologist. He loved to defend Christianity against the encroachment of false doctrines and vain philosophies. He also guarded the church against more subtle dangers like Catholicism and pseudo-gospels. Throughout his life, he defended the faith and courageously called people to it.
He was a pastor and professor, a mentor and chancellor, an editor and author. In fact, he bore so many talents and wore so many hats that it’s hard to believe he lived only one life. Truly, he was a gift to us.
And yet if you ever visit St. Andrew’s Chapel in Orlando and make your way to Sproul’s grave, you will find a different accolade on his gravestone—an accolade chosen by his family, by the people who loved him most and knew him best. “He was a kind man,” it says. “He was a kind man redeemed by a kinder Savior.”
I have often pondered that epitaph. Despite all he did and all he was known for, it is the quality of kindness that is engraved for the ages. And I find that both challenging and encouraging.
It takes raw talent to teach like Sproul taught. It takes divine gifting to preach like he preached and to lead like he led. It takes advanced education to have his knowledge of philosophy and decades of study to have his grasp of doctrine. In these ways and others most will never be like him.
But kindness is available to all of us. Kindness is not an innate quality that is given to some and not to others. Kindness is not a characteristic that demands special talent or advanced education. Kindness is a decision we make each moment of each day. Kindness is fruit of the Spirit who lives within us—evidence of his presence in our lives and imitation of his divine qualities. Sproul was kind because he lived his life in service to a kind Savior.
And so, one of the men we love and admire, a man who left his mark on so many of us, is not remembered first for his accomplishments, but for his character. His lasting legacy is not what he did, but who he was. His enduring gift to those he loved is not the books he wrote or the organizations he founded, but the qualities of Jesus that were so prominent in his life.
As much as we have benefitted from all of Sproul’s gifts and talents, from all he did and all he founded, his family gave us a gift of their own—a reminder that the greatest accomplishments are accomplishments of character and the greatest legacies are legacies of divine attributes displayed in a redeemed life.