Funeral Message for William S. H. Piper
Everybody with a little life experience knows that in many cases parting is sweet sorrow. The experience is so common that we have proverbs to express it. Actually, it comes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—which is more than incidental to say because my father was trained in Shakespearean drama at Bob Jones University.
Good night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
that I shall say good night till it be morrow.
That experience is not new. Every tear has been a sad and happy tear. But what has been new for me is that it is not the immediate experience of my father’s death that makes me cry. It doesn’t work on me directly. It works indirectly. It comes at me through other people. Most of my tears since Daddy died on Tuesday have been sitting in front of my computer and reading emails. My father’s death and my father’s life are touching me most in these days through the way they are touching others. That was new to me.
I mention this simply to say that so many people have touched me and touched my father in these last years and months of departing from us mentally and then bodily. And I want to thank God and you publicly.
Thank you, Beverly and Bob. Nobody knows what you paid. You have the right middle name. She would have done the same. And thanks to Berchetta and Steve and Brande who supported her and in the last days have made a place for us to be at home.
Thank you, John and Marilyn Vanden Akker for your partnership in the ministry of Rogma and your relentless care for my father. And thanks to all the Rogma board who respected and loved my father.
Thank you, Brent Armstrong, my father’s faithful pastor, and all the friends at his church, Oakwood Baptist in Anderson. He could not have asked for a better pastor, even from a distance.
Thank you, Sharon and Larry, Nancy and Fred, Paul and Linda, and Pam and John for loving your uncle well, especially after Elmer and Naomi were gone. What an extraordinary bond existed between our fathers.
Thank you to Shepherd’s Care where he spent the last two years of his life. He liked his place and turned it into a sanctuary where memories of gospel triumph were happening all over again.
Thank you to Dr. Bill Logan and the staff at Greenville Memorial Hospital who tenderly honored my father with dignified care and protected him from pain in his last week.
Thank you to Bill Philips and the team here at White Oak who have lifted so many burdens from us and made this day possible.
Thank you to all of you for coming to express your support to us and to honor my father. Your presence is a grace that we do not take for granted.
Thank you to Bethlehem, the church I serve, and to the hundreds of friends who have prayed and written. It is a beautiful thing when the sheep shepherd the shepherd.
Thank you to Karsten and Shelly and Millie and Frances and Able and Ben and Melissa and Lilia and Abraham and Molly and Barnabas and Lesley and Grace for coming to honor their grandfather and great grandfather. And to Oscar and Orison who were willing to stay behind.
And thanks, above all, to Jesus Christ, my father’s God and my God. To use the words of George Mueller when he preached his wife’s funeral sermon in 1870: “The Lord was good to give her to me. The Lord was good to leave her with me so long. The Lord was good to take her from me.” So we thank him for Bill Piper: The Lord was good to give him to us—a child does not choose his parents, God does. The Lord was good to leave him with us so long—sixty-one years for me, more than I deserved. The Lord was good to take him from us—so quickly, so gently, so free from pain. Thank you, Lord Jesus.
Let My Father Preach One More Time
When Daddy turned eighty, there was a great celebration. Some of you were there. When I stood to speak I said, “I have come to preach my father’s funeral sermon.” What I meant was that I wanted Daddy to be alive and to hear my tribute. And he heard it. And so I don’t intend to preach it again. Instead, it is printed in the booklet you have called “A Tribute to My Father.”
Today what I want to do, as much as possible, is let my father preach to you one more time. Not with a recording but through the heart and mouth of his son. You know, when someone asks you, “Who were the key influences in your life that made you what you are?” your answer to that question is only as valid as your memory. And you don’t remember but a tiny fraction of the influences that made you what you are. Many decisive influences came into your life before they could even register in your memory. And millions upon millions of influences have entered your life of which you have no memory. This is not only because you have forgotten millions of moments in your life, but because thousands of influences on you you never knew about in the first place. For example, the prayers of others for you. You don’t know about them, but they shape your life.
This fact has two effects on me. One is to make me thankful for the sovereignty of God. He governs all the influences over my life. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” I am glad that neither I nor any other human governs my life. God does. My days are in his hands. And I am glad.
The other effect this truth has on me is to send me back to my father’s preaching to uncover more deeply my roots. I have seven of my father’s books here. The more that I read them, the more I marvel at how unoriginal I am. And this makes me very happy. Original theologians tend be heretics. I want what I say to have roots. I don’t want to be new in what I believe. I want to be true.
“Saved, Safe, and Satisfied”
And so I have chosen one of my father’s sermons from the book A Good Time and How to Have It. The sermon is on pages 43-49, and it is called, “Saved, Safe, and Satisfied.” The date on the book is 1964. I have simply marveled at how what I preach and write is simply an updating of his vision of the Christian life. He never used the phrase Christian Hedonism; he just preached it. He never used the phrase God is the gospel. He preached it. He never wrote a book called Counted Righteous in Christ. He just preached it. So I have reveled in the roots of my life. And I thought I should let the root speak through the branch.
Saved, Safe, and Satisfied—three of the great themes of his preaching. First, everyone must be saved or perish. Second, when God saves you by his sovereign grace, he keeps you safe by his sovereign grace. Third, Christ himself is our supreme satisfaction. A few comments about these three great themes of my father’s preaching and life:
Always, as he introduces a new theme, there flows off of Daddy’s tongue a stream of verses from all over the Bible that lays the foundation for his comments:
Isaiah 45:22: Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
Jeremiah 8:20: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
Luke 8:12: The devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
John 3:17: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Acts 2:47: The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 16:31: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.
But why talk so much of being saved? Why give your whole life to this? The world doesn’t think it needs to be saved. Daddy told me more than once: Getting people lost is much harder than getting them saved. People don’t think they need to be saved. It doesn’t mean anything to them. So why talk so much about it? Four reasons:
1) Because we are by nature corrupt. We don’t just sin, we are sinful. Our nature is bent, corrupted, depraved. We are selfish to the core. We are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).
2) We have all acted on this nature relentlessly all our lives and piled up a huge debt of guilt. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In fact, since Paul says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” and Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), all that we do apart from faith in Christ is sin—no matter how virtuous it is.
3) Because of this sinful nature and these mounting sins, we are under the just sentence of condemnation. The judge of the universe pronounces a sentence of guilt over us. And this is impeccable justice.
4) The punishment following this sentence of condemnation is everlasting torment in hell. Matthew 25:41: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” My father’s eyes were never more penetrating than when he looked into your eyes and warned about the unspeakable reality of eternal punishment. This is a kind of love with which the world does not want to be loved.
And of course the great burden of his message was that there is Grace for the Guilty, the title of one of his books. And he was unapologetic about being rigorously doctrinal in his evangelistic preaching, because the remedy for each of these four conditions from which we need to be saved involves profound biblical doctrine.
1.) The remedy for our corruption and our sinful nature is regeneration. That is, we must be born again. And this is a gift and miracle of sovereign grace. You can’t make yourself to be born again any more than you made yourself be born. Jesus said in John 3:7-8, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This is the work of God. If you have not been born again, ask God to do this miracle and give you spiritual life.
2. The remedy for the guilt of sin and the mounting up of sins day after day is the redemption in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of our sins, because he bore them for us. Colossians 2:13-14: He has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).
3. The remedy for the sentence of condemnation that hangs over us because of our depravity and our sins is justification. This is the declaration in the courtroom of heaven that those who are in Christ Jesus are not only forgiven, but also counted perfectly righteous as though they had fulfilled every demand of the law. How can this be? How can I, a sinner, be counted righteous before God? Romans 5:19: “As by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The remedy for our condemnation is that because of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
4. And the remedy for the curse and the penalty of hell and the wrath of God that hangs over us because of our depravity and sins and condemnation is propitiation. When you propitiate someone, you remove his anger. That is what Christ did when he died (Romans 3:25). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). First Thessalonians 5:9-10: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” This is not because there was no wrath, but because Christ suffered in our place not only to cover our sins but to remove the wrath of God.
My father preached, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), because everyone is sinful, guilty, condemned, and hell-bound, and because Christ is a great Savior. Everything hangs on whether you are united to Christ. In Christ we are forgiven, justified, and free from wrath. And union with Christ comes by one means: being born again through faith in him.
And when you are united to Christ by faith, you are safe. Forever. Not because the rest of your life doesn’t matter—as though you can live your life as though other things in your life are more precious than Christ. This is the great misunderstanding of eternal security in so many churches, which cause so much false Christianity. And my father was greatly burdened by this.
The safety of a Christian does not lie in the fact that I once prayed to ask Jesus into my heart and now I can know I am saved even if he has no central place in my life. The safety of a Christian lies in the biblical fact that those who embrace Christ as their Savior and Lord and Treasure, God preserves. That is, God comes after us again and again to make himself central in our lives. Jeremiah 32:40 is one of the greatest statements of the new covenant that Christ bought with his blood: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”
Our safety rests on God’s promise that because of Christ he will not let us minimize him without convicting us and causing us again to pursue him. In other words, the mark of a Christian is not perfection—we often stumble and yield to temptation to put other things ahead of Christ in our affections. But the mark of a Christian is that we grieve over this. We hate this about ourselves. And again and again we renounce our love for other things more than Christ and pursue him as our highest Treasure. That is what God promises to do for all who are justified by faith alone. “Those whom he justified he glorified” (Romans 8:30). It is as good as done. It is sure. The justified are safe.
Do we coast because we are safe? Do we love what the world loves because Christ died for us that we might love him above al things? No. That is not the heart of a Christian. Rather, we do what Paul says in Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Because we are safe—Jesus made us his own—we press on to make it our own. We resolve everyday . . . what? Which brings us to the final point: Saved. Safe. Satisfied.
We resolve everyday that today Christ will be our supreme satisfaction. The psalmist prays in Psalm 90:14, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Satisfy us with your love. Not with the toys of the world. Do you pray like that? Is this your longing?
Can you resonate with Paul when he says, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8)?
How often I have quoted C. S. Lewis that people who prefer the world—even the innocent world—to Christ are like children making mud pies in the slums because they cannot imagine what a holiday at the sea is like. Daddy put it like this: “I have often seen a cow stick her head through a barbed wire fence to chew the stubby grass bordering a highway, when behind her lay a whole pasture of grass” (A Good Time and How to Have It, p. 48).
A Final Plea: Find Your Satisfaction in Jesus Christ
This is my father’s final plea—it is what I intend to devote the rest of my life to: Find your supreme satisfaction in Jesus Christ. It does not come naturally to fallen human beings. But Christians have the Holy Spirit. They are in Christ Jesus. We are not of the world. We have a new nature. The mark of a Christian is not perfection but new affections for Christ.
Here are his closing words and mine:
Just remember, my friend, who Jesus is. He is God. When you fully trust Him you have all that God is and all that God has. You cannot be otherwise than satisfied with the perfect fullness of Christ. Because he is God, He is all you need and more. There is no corner of your life He cannot fill, no problem He cannot solve and no need He cannot supply. . . .Yes, my friend, in Christ we are saved, safe, and satisfied. He is a perfect, a complete, Savior. And I must add, He is the ONLY Savior. Trusting Christ spells JOY. Failure to trust him spells judgment. Now is the time to accept him. “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart. (A Good Time and How to Have It, pp. 48-49)
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