Ministry Reflections with John Piper and R. C. Sproul

Ligonier Ministries 2011 National Conference

Orlando, FL

Chris Larson: Two men — two servants of the Lord — who have sought, in their own generation, to be able to share a vision of the Lord, to be able to teach his word faithfully, to present his gospel clearly, and for us to be able to talk through their ministry and what the Lord has taught them. And at the end of the evening, we want you to walk away encouraged, edified, built up in your own faith. We’re quick to be able to point out we’re not here to celebrate men — we’re here to celebrate God and what God does through his servants.

So I’ve asked a good friend, Scott Anderson, who serves as the Executive Director at Desiring God Ministries there in Minnesota, to come down, and he’s been so gracious to be able to join us. We’re going to walk through some different questions this evening, and hopefully, the men will feel the freedom to interact with one another a little bit, and we’ll see where the Lord and the Spirit takes us this evening.

Scott, coming to a Ligonier conference, it’s about ten years ago you were telling me that you came to a Ligonier conference here in Orlando, and that just locked in some things, theologically, for you.

Scott Anderson: Yeah, it was Ligonier 2000 where this was just prior to my transition to Minneapolis. I came to that event, and the Lord met me in powerful ways. And if any of you were there at that particular event, you may recall this was just shortly after James Boice’s passing, and there was something of a spirit of solemnity and power that was in the air, and that was at that event. God, just sitting out at the Orlando Convention Center, met me in some deeply powerful ways that crystallized some ministry transition in my own life. After that, the Lord called me to Minneapolis, where I’ve been ever since.

Chris Larson: Been there for about ten years at Desiring God.

Scott Anderson: That’s correct, yes.

Chris Larson: Well, thank you for joining us. Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of being able to talk with you, Dr. Sproul, about the holiness of God and what really lit your fire there and set you down that path to get you interested in that subject. So if we could just take a few minutes, maybe, to be able to talk about that with you, Dr. Piper? And just what illumined that for you and set you down that path? You gave us a hint of that today, but if you could just expand that out for us?

John Piper: Yeah, and I was going to give more than a hint tomorrow. But repetition is good for the soul, or the mind anyway. The birth of Christian Hedonism, what’s summed up in the book, Desiring God, was the tension that shouldn’t have been there but was felt by me between God’s passion for his glory and my passion as a teenager to be happy.

I knew that those were two incontrovertible facts. My father oozed love for the glory of God. It stands out because of the way he pronounced the word when he prayed. For him, he divided the syllables after the O. It was “glo-ry,” not glory. And I always remember in every prayer, “Lord, let your ‘glo-ry’ fill the earth,” or some other. So do all that you do to the glory of God was relentlessly pressed upon me by my parents. I saw it in the Bible, incontrovertible. And inside of me growing up was this, “I want to be happy.”

And frankly, I felt bad about that. For whatever reason, my father was one of the happiest people I’ve ever known and never communicated to me, except maybe he did because if you put a big bowl of ice cream with chocolate on top of it in front of him, he would taste it and he’d say, “That is so good, it’s got to be sin.” That’s really bad theology. He always laughed when he said it. I wonder if I was kind of picking it up? Anyway, I felt bad that I wanted to be happy, and I didn’t know how to put the two together.

Jonathan Edwards, whom I’ll quote tomorrow afternoon, together with Dan Fuller at the seminary, just pointed me to the fact that my being happy in God brought the two together because God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him. So that the higher your satisfaction goes in him, the more glory he gets, which just seemed like the best of all possible worlds to me.

So that’s the nub of it. It started with the ache of my heart to be happy, a theological consciousness from the Bible and my parents that God does everything for his glory, and how in the world can, experientially, I bring those together? And that’s just what I’ve been trying to think about and work out ever since.

Scott Anderson: Playing off that just for a moment, Dr. Sproul, I’m wondering if you remember, perhaps, the first time that you heard of the phrase “Christian Hedonism”? Do you remember when that broke in on your radar? What did you think about it, and how did the book Desiring God, perhaps, help you? Did you like it at first? What are your thoughts on that?

R.C. Sproul: Yes, I did, but I can’t tell you where I was or what I was doing the first time I heard that phrase “Christian Hedonism.” But when I heard it, it jolted me. I wasn’t sure what it referred to because in the history of philosophy, hedonism is a pretty bad thing.

There’s the crass hedonism of the Cyrenaics in antiquity, followed by the Epicurean attempt to refine it into more of a virtuous pursuit. But the basic principle was that the good or the true is found in maximum pleasure. And so when I heard Christian Hedonism, it sounded to me as an oxymoron. But then when I heard it being unpacked, and listened to John, and read, then I understood what he was getting at, and I see it’s a marvelous way to state the thing.

You talk about that tension, John, between the glory of God and your personal happiness. In our Westminster Confession, the very first question of the catechism is, “What is man’s chief end?” We answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” And when I first learned that, I thought that was a contradiction in terms because everything I thought that would be pleasurable to me would be antithetical to the pursuit of the glory of God, like eating the ice cream with the chocolate syrup all over it.

And I had a hard time putting that together, until my conversion, and until the things I talked about yesterday on the character of God. And what I have found over the years is that I don’t think the Christian life is really enjoyable until we love God, not so much for what he does for us, which is a lot, and it’s a wonderful thing to receive the benefits from him and from his glory, but to love him for who he is. He is altogether lovely. This is the message that Jonathan Edwards redounds with.

And so when we love him for who he is, and the more we get to know him, the more that love intensifies, the more satisfying and fulfilling it is at the depth of our soul. One of the books that I wrote that probably had not the shortest shelf life of anything, that one would’ve been the one on abortion, but the one that just didn’t go anywhere? What was the name of it?

Chris Larson: The Glory of Christ?

R.C. Sproul: No, not The Glory of Christ.

Chris Larson: Loved by God?

R.C. Sproul: No, not Loved by God.

John Piper: It was so short, nobody remembers it.

R.C. Sproul: Nobody remembers the title.

John Piper: At all.

R.C. Sproul: I don’t even remember the title. Pleasing God. Wasn’t it Pleasing God? It wasn’t Desiring God, that’s yours. But if there ever was a book that I wrote where I really poured out my soul about this sort of thing, and the way Edwards impacted me in Religious Affections, and his sermons, and everything else, it was in that book. The Soul’s Quest for God is what it was. The Soul’s Quest for God and because, really, the Christian experience for me is a soul kind of a thing.

We sometimes get thought of and interpreted as being purely intellectual and conceptual in our approach to the things of God, that’s the price of being a theologian, but it’s more about the heart. But again, I think there’s a direct connection between the head and the heart. We see in our day an attempt to have a disjunction between the head and the heart, which is a very bad thing.

But that the reason for our attempt to know God is not simply to puff up our intellectual curiosity, but that, through the mind, the heart can be inflamed the more we understand who he is, because he is glorious, glorious. And that’s a joyful thing. So, I don’t know if that’s answered your question, Scott.

John Piper: Can I just have you say some more? When you say that we should love him because he’s all together lovely, knowing what you believe about him, and I believe about him, in his majesty and his sovereignty and the world that we live in, something really radical has to happen inside of you to say that. That he’s sovereign over Japan and fifteen thousand people being swept away, he’s sovereign over Libya right now, sovereign over the cancer of the people that you love. Absolutely, totally in control of the universe. Does not dispense with the devil, though he could. And any number of big, horrific, horrendous things that God ordains to happen. Talk for a minute just about what happened in you along the way that enabled you not only to concede, begrudgingly admit that he’s big, but to actually find him beautiful in all that he does.

R.C. Sproul: That’s a heavy question, John. You mentioned earlier, Scott, about the conference that we had in 2000, which we held in the summer, June. My recollection was that it wasn’t after Jim died but that Jim died during the conference, on the 15th of June. And I remember, between the diagnosis and his death was six weeks. What Jim’s testimony was, was the testimony of his whole life: God does all things well, even in that he was comfortable and satisfied.

But it was Edwards, really, who drove me to submit to the doctrines of grace. I fought the Reformed faith for five years, in spite of great mentors who were trying to persuade me of the articles of Reformed theology. As Roger Nicole used to say, we were, by nature, Pelagians. So it’s hard to bend the mind to the sovereignty of God in the way that the Scriptures teach it. But I had a little card on my desk in seminary that said, “You’re required to believe and to teach what the Bible teaches, not what you wanted to teach.” It wasn’t until I took an in-depth course of Edwards, where the whole course was basically on freedom of will.

John Piper: Was that Gerstner?

R.C. Sproul: Yeah. Gerstner used to say about Edwards that he didn’t just defeat his opponent, but when he was finished, he’d dust off the spot where he stood. He dusted me off pretty well in Edward’s treatment of Romans 9, persuaded me of the truth of the sovereignty of God in election. My basic response, John, was, “Okay, that’s true. I have to believe it. I have to teach it. But I don’t have to like it.” I was really wrong about that. And it’s like you learn a new word, and you hear it every time you walk down the street.

Well, once my eyes opened to the sovereignty of God’s grace, I found it on every page of the Bible. I began to see it in its sweetness, not just in its truth. I began to see the sweetness of divine grace. I thought, “Where have I been all my life, that I was fighting, kicking, and screaming against the supremacy of his grace?” That’s just nuts. I was nuts until I began to see it.

I can’t point to a moment, an hour and a day where it suddenly dawned on me that this was a wonderful, beautiful thing that the Lord had done. But I can tell you an experience I had much later that confirmed it, and it was in the 1993 train wreck that Vesta and I were involved with in Mobile, Alabama, that train wreck that killed more people on Amtrak than all the rest of their accidents combined. We were survivors of that particular accident there in the Bayou. I can remember coming home, being in shock, and not really realizing the gravity of what had taken place.

After the immediate accident, at three o’clock in the morning, we sat on the train tracks for three hours until the rescue train came, and we were brought into Mobile. They had assembled over a hundred ambulances for triage, and we were bused to a hospital called Providence in Mobile. We were still numb. Our friends came, my son, and one of my coworkers at Ligonier came, they flew from Orlando to Mobile, and we were taken from the hospital by hospital staff to the airport to meet them.

Now it was daylight. We walked into the airport, and we saw all these people huddled around a television monitor, and the whole scene was this train wreck. We’re watching that and we’re thinking, “We were just in that.” You didn’t realize the gravity of all of that. Then we drove home, and we got home, and the news media was parked at our front door, on our front porch, wanting to interview us. Asking the silly questions, “Why do you think God let you survive this?” I said, “I’m not sure that the people that went didn’t get a better deal than the ones that survived.”

What I remember, this is a long way to say this, but I was reading the Psalms the next day, and David was talking about the tender mercy of God. I said, “That’s it.” God’s grace and his mercy are tender. As men, we’re taught to be tough, not tender. But when there are crisis moments like that in your life, it’s a wonderful thing to be treated with tenderness, and to be treated with tenderness by the Lord God omnipotent? It just doesn’t get any better than that. That’s pure hedonism, John, don’t you think?

Chris Larson: Dr. Piper, in that Westminster Shorter Catechism first question, you augment the word “and” with suggesting the word “by.” Tell us. Link those two together. Glorifying God by enjoying him forever.

John Piper: If a woman spreads a beautiful table before you and spends hours cooking it, making it beautiful, you might say, “She should be glorified for it, and you should enjoy it.” But everybody knows that your enjoyment of it, followed by effusive expressions of enjoyment, in some cultures, it might be a burp, here, it would just be, “That was awesome. That was awesome. It satisfied my hunger.” She would feel honored.

Or, the favorite story that I have, the rose story, I’ve told it five hundred times. I come home on my anniversary, and I knock on the door, and I’ve got roses behind my back, and she opens it. I don’t ever knock on my own door. So she’s puzzled. I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh Johnny, they’re beautiful! Why did you?” I say, “It’s my duty.”

That answer, “Why did you do it?” is a bad answer. The reason it’s a bad answer is because it dishonors her. So rerun it, get the retake that you don’t get to do in life. You knock on the door, “Johnny, beautiful. Why did you?” “I couldn’t help myself, nothing makes me happier than to buy roses for you. And get yourself dressed, we’ve got a babysitter, we’re going out tonight, because nothing I’d rather do than to spend the night with you.” Now, that’s the right answer.

Never, in a million years, would Noël respond, “You are so selfish. All you ever think about is yourself. Nothing would make me happier than to spend the night with you. All you ever think about is yourself. ‘Me, me, me, me, me.’” Never, in a thousand years, would she respond like that.

The reason is because we glorify our wives by enjoying them. If you say to your wife, “Nothing would make me happier than to spend the evening with you,” you just can’t say anything better about her. That’s the idea. When God reveals himself to us, if we say, “Well, here are the roses of my worship because I’m supposed to, it says so in the Bible.” He’s not honored.

But if we bring our roses to him and say on Sunday morning or during the week, Romans 12:1, nothing makes me happier than to see you for who you are, be satisfied in you, and reflect that to the world. We do glorify God. We glorify the things we value by enjoying them.

Scott Anderson: John, what does it mean, then, for the believer to delight, find their joy in, to treasure the holiness of God? What would that look like for any of us here?

John Piper: Well, I really would love to hear R.C. talk some more about the holiness. Let me give you my simple — I’ve been listening to your book on tape. What do you call them now? On my telephone. I’ve been listening to it on my phone. I just about finished with it, about fifteen minutes to go. I am reminded again, what I want is the relationship between the holiness of God and glory of God. Because I talk about glory all the time, and don’t talk about holiness nearly as often as I do the glory of God. The Bible talks about glory way more often than it talks about holiness. But I think R.C. is right, totally right, and provocatively right, to make the proclamation of God’s holiness the mission of Ligonier Ministries, because holiness is more ultimate.

My take on holiness, which R.C. defines as the transcendent purity of God. It connotes transcendence, he’s other, he’s different, he’s in a class by himself, he’s unique, and therefore he’s infinitely valuable, like one-of-a-kind diamond that has to be put behind big glass protective walls to be displayed. It connotes purity, and just not mere purity, not mere transcendence, but transcendent purity and glory (tell me if you agree with this) is when that goes public.

When the radiance, the radiance of this otherness, the radiance of this complete self-sufficient transcendent purity, when that goes public, we talk about its glory. In fact, the text, the key text goes like this, doesn’t it? “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.” Why? Why not, “The whole earth is full of his holiness”? What do you think the reason is?

R.C. Sproul: I think that there’s a corollary between holiness and glory, and that the glory is the consequence. It is the manifestation of his holiness. It is his weightiness — it is his heaviness, it is his significance, it is his greatness being displayed. And nowhere is it more obviously manifested than the Shekinah. The Shekinah glory, which is the outward, visible manifestation of who he is, eternally and transcendentally.

John Piper: Right, so you come in, and that holiness is not one of his attributes. Glory is also not one of his attributes, right? All of his attributes are glorious, and together, they compose the glory.

R.C. Sproul: Exactly.

John Piper: And behind that is the essential reality, which is holy. Something like that. So your question, how do you delight in the holiness of God? Surely the first answer would be you must know some things about it? You must listen to “Renewing Your Mind” type radio programs, instead of right-wing talk show programs that just help you become cynical. I must know something. The word G-O-D can’t produce delight in anyone. G-O-D. It’s like gazorninplat — remember that old Bob Newhart? Got monkeys together and said, “If I have enough monkeys on enough typewriters, I’ll get a famous line from Shakespeare”?

And he stopped over one, and he said, “Oh, look, look, look! To be or not to be, that is the gazorninplat.” I love Bob Newhart. But anyway, gazorninplat produces nothing. G-O-D. So you got to know, you got to know. Which is why we have a very thick book, and the Revelation of God in history.

So, my answer is you go deeper and deeper by watching this God in history, and then you let your mind run up all these events, run up all these words, and if you run far enough up the beams of glory that are coming down in all the biblical events, and all the biblical words, where you arrive is an absolute God of absolute holiness. And your affections rise along those beams and they terminate on him.

But that’s a mature response. Baby Christians just see the beams, and sometimes they see the beams very obscurely. And so we want to grow by letting all the biblical actions of God, and all the biblical statements of God carry our minds and our hearts up until they repose, where R.C. started, they repose not in any of his gifts, which are glorious, but in himself.

R.C. Sproul: Edwards used to say that the chief business of the Christian is the seeking of the kingdom of God. And what he meant by that is the chief business of the Christian is the seeking after God. We have such a superficial understanding of seeking that we attribute it to non-believers, when the non-believer is not seeking God, he’s running from God. He’s seeking the benefits that only God can give him, but he wants the benefits of God without God. The seeking after God starts at conversion; it doesn’t end there. And to get beyond infantile Christianity really involves being on a mission, on a quest to know God. It’s got to be a passion. It can’t be something that we just do in our spare time. And where that desire to know him takes us, every single time, is to the word.

John Piper: I celebrate. I’ve been thinking a lot about R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries in the last days leading up to this, knowing that we’re going to do this. I just celebrate, R.C., your philosophical mind to say just what you just said. Because I was going to draw attention to the fact that one of the unique things about Ligonier, there’s nothing like it, it’s certainly not Desiring God, nothing like it, is that you have a philosopher who is manifestly devoted to, in love with, and immersed in, and saturated by Bible.

When he talks, there’s a philosophical rigor and awareness, and yet that comes in the service of exegesis, so that you get a series on John, Romans, 1 and 2 Peter, Acts. What philosophical Free University of Amsterdam trained theologian writes commentaries on the Bible? Well, C.H. Hodge. Hodge did that sort of thing. So, I just want to take this moment just to celebrate the allegiance of Ligonier and the allegiance of R.C. Sproul with that kind of philosophical orientation to the Bible, which is really what has given him, I think, the kind of edge that he’s had these forty years. At least for me, it has.

Chris Larson: Dr. Piper, I’m not going to let you off with that easily. For you yourself have a love for the academy, and even in your early ministry, thought that was the trajectory, and serving there at Bethel. Maybe the two of you could walk us through the phrase, “Right thinking leads to right living.” R.C. has popularized this, others have said it in different ways, but the life of the mind interacting with the life of the heart, so, theology lived out, and is one more important than the other? Is the mind more important than the heart? And some people put those in tension, and since you both have lived in the academic world, but also in the pastoral world, serving laypeople, help us understand that tension between mind and heart.

R.C. Sproul: Chris, I once wrote a statement that sounded neoorthodox, because I said I believe in the primacy of the mind, the primacy of the intellect, and I believe in the primacy of the heart. Now, you can’t have two primacies at the same time and the same relationship, unless you are neoorthodox. And even then, you can’t escape the dialectic. But what I meant is that there’s a primacy in the intellect in one sense, primacy of the heart in the other.

I see the primacy of the intellect in terms of the order of knowing. It has to be in the mind before it can be in the heart, because a heartfelt religion that is mindless is not genuine faith. It has no real content, it has no real understanding. There is no wisdom in it. We’re called to get knowledge, but even more to get wisdom. You can have knowledge without wisdom, but you can’t have wisdom without knowledge. So you can’t really have a right heart without a right mind, all right? So I think there’s a primacy of the intellect in terms of order.

But I think, at the same time, when I talk about the primacy of the heart, it’s in terms of importance. It’s more important, I think, that my heart is on fire for God than that my mind has all the right answers for the theological examinations. So, if I’m going to make mistakes, I’d rather make them with my head than with my heart, because the Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

Now, the biblical writer that said that knew very well that the heart is not the organ that we usually associate with thinking. Even the ancients understood there was some connection between the brain and thought. The heart was more understood as the seat of the affections. So, what does it mean that, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”?

What it means by that, it’s not just what you contemplate casually and without any depth connected to it, but what really penetrates from your mind to your heart, the deepest chambers of your heart. What you really believe in the deepest chamber of your heart dictates and determines who you are. That’s why I chose the words “Renewing Your Mind” for our radio broadcast going back to Romans, because after Paul unpacks all of the glories of the gospel, he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers,” and he tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifice, which is our reasonable service before God, and to be not conformed to this world, but to be transformed (Romans 12:1–2).

How? How do you get transformed? How do you get changed? By the renewing of your mind. You got to get the mind of Christ, and have the heart follow that, and it can change your life. It turns your life upside down. What else? What else? It’s really hard for people to change. It really is. The Ethiopian really struggles to change the color of his skin, and the leopard its spots. The only really transforming power I know of is God, the Holy Spirit, and he works through the word to do that. I’m preaching now.

John Piper: Preach on — preach on! Just pushing the same thing a little further. I totally agree that the primacy of the affections is in terms of the mind serving the affections so that they’re not emotionalism, but real fruit of knowing. God is not honored by emotions based on falsehood. He’s only honored by emotions that are rooted in truth.

Now, here’s the practical issue. Lots of people know things and don’t get changed. Some of you are just discovering the doctrines of grace, and you’re just as crabby this year as you were last year. So, what’s wrong? How can you know? Right knowing leads to right affections and doing, but not quickly for everybody, or not immediately, or sometimes not at all. The devil knows quite a bit of theology and hates all of it, and he’s maybe more orthodox than most of us, but he can’t abide it. And the reason is because he doesn’t know it as glorious. He doesn’t know it as beautiful.

So I’m just going to add, to know something aright is not just to get the theological pieces in order and have the right quotes in the Bible, but to go to 2 Corinthians 3:18: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed from one degree of glory to the next.” Now, I would say the implication is that the veil is lifted by the Holy Spirit — this is Reformed sovereign grace lifting the blinding veil — so that now we don’t just see five points, we see five stunningly glorious, beautiful things about God, and it’s the beauty of them that changes. “Beholding the glory, we are being changed.”

And they asked me the other day in our little round table at Bethlehem College and Seminary, they said, “So, we’re students here, and we’re faculty here. What can we do, so that we don’t just become academically big-headed, and get it all right, and not be changed or help anybody?”

And I said, “Most practical thing I can say is as you study from morning till night, pray at least every ten minutes that God would not let that happen, and would reveal the part of Scripture that you’re working on, or the theological issue you’re working on, reveal himself to you as beautiful. Ask him over and over again, ‘Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law’ (Psalm 119:18). ‘Open my eyes.’ ‘I’m staring at it right now. Nothing’s happening.’ Ask him, ‘Open my eyes,’ because I need to see not just truth, I need to see beautiful truth, glorious truth, and that’s what changes.” So prayer, I think, would be the key. You look like you’re ready to say something.

R.C. Sproul: No, I’m just sitting here and eating that up, John. One place where I have felt so much alone in the ministry that I am involved with is I find so few people who have a passion for beauty. And I see that God is the foundation for the good, the true, and the beautiful. And you can distinguish among those three things, but you better never separate them. And I love it when you sit here and talk about it, because you’re articulating what I’ve been trying to articulate for years, that I’ve usually said it’s not just enough to understand the truth, you got to see the loveliness of it. You got to see the sweetness of it. You talk about the glory of it, but you’ve added to it the beauty of it, and that’s it.

Our worship is supposed to be for beauty and for holiness. And God went to such extremes in the Old Testament to communicate that principle of beauty in the heart of worship. And that’s one of the great weaknesses of our tradition, is that we seem to think that the only thing that’s virtuous is ugliness, and we have to get away from beauty.

But everything that’s beautiful, even paintings painted by pagans and travesties, sometimes in spite of themselves, they call attention to the character of God, because everything beautiful bears witness to him, because he is the source of beauty. And that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder. It’s there, essentially, in the character and the being of God himself. And when you’re talking about it here, it just thrills my heart, because that’s what we have to see, how beautiful, how beautiful the truth is, and that the God of the truth is. It’s amazing. So, we’re on the same page there.

Scott Anderson: Keeping with that theme a little bit, let’s talk about these aspects as it relates to sin and temptation. How does the beauty of holiness help us in our fight against sin? Not seeing sin as merely wrong, but as ugly?

R.C. Sproul: I think that the enticement to sin is that sin promises pleasure. That’s the bad kind of hedonism. But it never delivers. It’s a lie. And that’s where our great deception is. We think that we can’t be happy unless we’re sinning. And sin can be pleasurable, for a season, from one perspective, but it can never be joyful, ever. It can’t possibly bring joy, because it’s not beautiful. It’s ugly. And we have that attraction to ugliness. Our basic makeup is to prefer the darkness rather than the light. That we live in a world that has been marred, seriously marred, it’s been vandalized. The beauty of that creation, where the glory of God is everywhere, the whole world is full of his glory, but we have vandalized that glory, and that’s what sin does. It makes the beautiful ugly, and we have to be able to see that. We really got to be able to see that.

I’m doing a little short series on Joseph right now in the evening at St. Andrew’s. It’s much shorter than I expected because after the first week I was in the hospital. I didn’t get to continue. The next sermon, God willing, if I ever get back to do it, is going to be on the incident of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, who was the Elizabeth Taylor of the ancient world of Egypt. She was Cleopatra in her seductive power. And she makes an advance against this Hebrew slave in her own house. What could be more ego-gratifying than to have the captain of the guard’s beautiful wife put a move on you?

And Joseph saw right through it. “How can I do this thing? Sin against God.” It wasn’t just a matter of duty, he was just, “This is not a pretty thing. You may think you’re pretty, Mrs. Potiphar, but you’re really ugly. And what you’re suggesting here, it’s just an abomination to the most beautiful thing in my life, which is my God.” So, I don’t think that he was tied to the mast like Ulysses to avoid that temptation, I think he saw through it. That’s the kind of character he was. And we should have that kind of character.

John Piper: It seems to me that the way Jesus argues is that the kingdom of God is like a man who found a treasure hidden in a field, and in his joy — from his joy — he went and sold everything he had and bought that field. That’s the paradigm for how you get freed from the bondage to the world and sin and the devil.

If you see the kingdom and the king as a treasure more valuable than your grandfather’s clock, your car, your computer, your books, your fame and whatever, then it all becomes rubbish and you’re freed. Before then, it had tremendous power. It held you. So sin has the power of pleasure, and the Bible breaks that power with the power of a superior pleasure. It severs the root of it.

So, I had one of the text in my mind. Oh, 2 Peter 1: “All things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” in order that by these you might have these precious and very great promises and escape “from the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:3–4). So, how do you escape from the corruptions in the world? Precious and very great promises of the glory and excellence of God. The sequence of thought in 2 Peter 1:2–3 is escape from corruption comes through a superior promise.

So, I think the beauty of holiness, the more it goes deep and satisfies, really, really satisfies, the freer you become from pornography, and from the pleasures of resentment and bitterness that you want to hold onto, and from fear of man. These sins that have their talons in us, those talons are dislodged, not so much by duty, yanking them out like this, but by pushing them out. Who asked, what’s the easiest way to get the sin of air out of a glass? Put a vacuum on it? No, just pour water in the glass. It’s real simple, just want to get the air out of the glass, just fill it with water. That would be the way I want to build holiness into my people’s life.

Chris Larson: Earlier today, you were talking about after your time at Wheaton and Fuller, all those big pieces fell into place for you, and then later you mentioned moving to a more explicit Christocentric focus in terms of your ministry, even adding “through Jesus Christ” to the mission statement. Tell us more about the person and work of Jesus Christ in recent years in your ministry, and let’s also connect it back to any discussion of the holiness of God moving quickly to the person and work of Christ.

John Piper: Yeah, I said, I don’t know if you’re watching on the video, but I said one of the things we might talk about tonight is both of us have theocentric mission statements, as opposed to Christocentric mission statements. And sometimes I worry about that, and it’d be good to have you talk about that. My mission statement is we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And we did add the “through Jesus Christ” later, wasn’t there at the beginning, and yours is, what, proclaiming the holiness of God? Or something like that.

R.C. Sproul: That’s a good point. As you know, we’ve never seen a more full revelation of the holiness of God than in the incarnation. And the first people to recognize the identity of Jesus were the demons. “What do you have to do with us, holy one of Israel?” And as Jesus was the express image of his person, and the brightness of his glory, what an image that is. Talk about glory. And where does the brightness come from? That refulgence, that blinding radiance that you mentioned earlier, in the glory of the Father? It’s from the second person in the Trinity. He’s the brightness of the glory.

So, we have a Trinitarian understanding, and we talk about the holiness of God. I don’t mean just God the Father. It’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And it’s interesting that we call the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit, but it’s the Holy Father, it’s the Holy Son, it’s the Holy Spirit, because it’s the holy God that we’re talking about. And again, the question that was asked, “Jesus, we’ve seen these fantastic miracles. You change water into wine, you raise people from the dead, you heal the blind and the deaf. But let us have the big one. Show us the Father, and it suffices us.” If you ever find Jesus disdainful and frustrated, “How long have I been with you? And you don’t know? Don’t you know that if you see me, you see the Father?” And so there you have holiness all over.

John Piper: A couple of factors have pushed me toward a more explicit Christ-centered verbalization of my mission. One is the sequence of texts I shared in the message this morning — Ephesians 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:9, Revelations 13:8 — showing that from before creation, the climax of the revelation of glory would be the revelation of grace. The climax of the revelation of grace would be Christ, and the climax of Christ’s life is his death. So, the whole universe exists for Calvary. That’s one.

Another factor is the rise of Islam. I get into these discussions. I was on a panel with a couple of imams. I have one message: “If you don’t love me and know me as I am, you don’t know God.” There are five or six texts in the Gospel of John that are explicit: “If you receive me, you receive the Father. If you know me, you know the Father. If you reject me, you reject the Father.” The litmus test of all religions claiming to know God is: Do they know Christ? Judaism doesn’t know Christ. Islam doesn’t know Christ. Buddhism doesn’t know Christ, and Hinduism doesn’t know Christ, and New Ageism doesn’t know Christ. They all reject essential core issues about Jesus, which means none of them know God, which will get you killed all over the world today.

So this is really big. That we cannot, today, in this religious milieu, just talk about God. Every Muslim will nod, and Jews will nod, and Buddhists will nod, but as you say, “You must know Christ, and him crucified, and risen from the dead for the sake of sinners, and that’s the only way you can know God.” Then your head comes off. And so I think it’s absolutely crucial that we become increasingly Christ-talkers in this way.

R.C. Sproul: You know what, Chris? I think we need to change our mission statement to make that absolutely clear, because you’re so right. John wrote that book, Contending for the Faith. The thing that I came away from is the simple message: it’s not enough to believe the truth of the gospel, but we’re called to defend, and proclaim it, and defend the truth of the gospel.

But even that’s not enough. We have to be prepared to contend for it. As Luther said, if you’re not contending for it at the critical point of the moment, you’re not contending for it at all. And right now, the point of contention is with the darkness of Islam in this world. So, I salute you for taking that stand, because it’s so true. What none of the religions have, they don’t have a savior, they don’t have an atonement, they don’t have a resurrected Lord, because they don’t have Jesus. And without Jesus, you don’t have anything.

John Piper: Yeah, and I just got a book from the publisher, I think it’s Oxford, called Allah, and something like Christian Response to Islam, and it will argue that we are worshiping the same God or some version of it. And I’ve got a big quote from me in there, and that John is the one we want to answer, that sort of thing. And it’s just an unbelievably challenging issue.

And how many evangelicals are going squishy on whether or not other religions, in their earnest pursuit of God, are not, in fact, worshiping Allah. Acts 17 will be where they go: “I see that you’re very religious,” and “him whom you worship without knowing it, I now present to you that we all do worship the same God.” So I think you’re right. This is the front burner challenge, not just of a vague pluralism, which is there, but of a concrete challenge of the second-biggest religion in the world.

Scott Anderson: I wonder if we could stay on this topic for just a moment. Both of you men are known in your pastoral ministries, and your writing, and your teaching ministries to be contenders for the faith. And whether it’s going way back to the battle of the Bible days, or if it’s more recently, things like open theism or justification. Talk a little bit more about some of, maybe, the current or emerging theological battles that this younger generation of young, restless Reform pastor types need to be aware of. Are we going to be revisiting, perhaps, some older battles, or are there new things that are emerging on the horizon?

R.C. Sproul: When I was in seminary, I was at a liberal seminary, and Bultmann was the big deal of the day, and it was beyond Barth at that time. And I found refuge in this movement called evangelicalism, and I wasn’t sure what it really was, but I knew that it was disparate, that it involved advocates from all different kinds of denominations.

But there was a common thread running through all evangelicalism, two chief doctrines that cemented the unity of evangelicals. One was the doctrine of Scripture, and the other was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. When I graduated from seminary, I never, in my wildest imagination, ever thought that the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture would be a divisive issue among professing evangelicals. Although that was a little bit more understandable to me because of the relentless assault by heretic criticism against the Scriptures. And so even though I didn’t anticipate it, I was surprised by it. I wasn’t utterly shocked by the battle for the Bible.

But what really turned me upside down was the issue of justification. I never thought I would live to see the day that leading professing evangelicals would negotiate the article upon which the church stands or falls. And I saw it, and I saw it with a vengeance, and I was caught completely off guard in that. But, having said that, and having lived through those critical issues, and people ask me, “What do I see as the greatest danger on the horizon for the years ahead?”

Let me say what I always say. It’s the doctrine of Christ, the personal work of Christ. In all of church history, there have been four centuries where the church’s understanding of Jesus rose to critical proportions. In the fourth century that culminated in the Council of Nicaea; in the fifth century, culminated in Chalcedon in 451; and then the 19th century, with the advent of liberal theology and modernism; in the 20th century, where the person and work of Christ was slammed in the mainline churches.

But we have not passed beyond that. I still think the church’s understanding of Jesus is the single most critical issue facing us in the 21st century. And I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Particularly when, I mentioned this afternoon, John, about how much I appreciated your book on imputation because I never thought that even in the Reform community, anybody would ever raise questions about the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. How can you be a Christian, and raise issues like that? And yet there’s open season on the act of obedience of Jesus, over the imputation of his righteousness.

For me, without the imputation of Jesus’s righteousness, I have nothing, absolutely nothing. There is no gospel without it. And yet that’s in the middle of the battle, right now, as we’re sitting here tonight, in and among evangelicals, professing evangelicals, and professing Reform people, ready to negotiate imputation. It’s unthinkable to me.

And so I think we’re going to have our hands full in the days to come, and it’s going to be a focus, always, again, the world, the flesh, and the devil can’t stand the biblical Christ, and they’re going to try to do away with him one way or another. So we have to be prepared to fight the battle at that level.

John Piper: Just to put a point on it, the place where Christ’s work, person, is attacked is at the cross, justification, and penal substitution, and that relates directly to the wrath of God and your view of God. So they go hand in hand. If your view of God is that he just can’t hate sin so much as to send people to hell, so you got wrath, hell, and cross all standing and falling together, and underneath the authority of Scripture, and a certain kind of approach towards life that is submissive instead of standing over and saying, “I don’t like that kind of God,” standing under and letting Scripture dictate.

So, Christ at the center here, his penal substitution and justification circling there, that coming from a God that we don’t want to have wrath from, and that cannot have hell underneath. All those things right now, with the big Rob Bell fracas, are seen to be so closely connected, that the very people that call the atonement divine child abuse are the people who can’t have wrath, are the people who can’t have hell. And so what you wind up with, and you said, “Will we see new things coming?” There isn’t anything new, I don’t think. Numerous commentators recently have so well said, “This is so old.” We have seen this so many times before, and it cycles through. This is old liberalism from the early 20th century.

R.C. Sproul: And all this excitement about Bell’s universalism and all that stuff. There are tens of thousands of pastors in mainline churches that believe exactly the same thing. The only thing that gives him some print is that he’s a professing evangelical, who’s denying orthodox Christology and Christianity.

John Piper: Just one last comment on us as contenders. I don’t know how R.C. feels about this, but I didn’t write any article in response to Bell. Twenty years ago, I most certainly would have. And the reason I didn’t is because I looked at the quality of what younger guys were doing, and I was so happy. I just read DeYoung and the others, and I thought, “What’s left for me to say? I could just die and go to heaven.” And my wife, she just said to me, “Johnny, I’m so proud of you. You didn’t write a response!” Because they’re good. So I feel encouraged, at that level, that guys twenty to thirty years younger than we are, are producing responses to new things coming along that do not require us older contenders to jump into every fight.

Scott Anderson: Maybe in a minute or two, we could circle back to this aspect of the things that you’re encouraged by that are happening out there. But to probe here a little bit more, both of you men, at times, have spoken at places and participated with others who do not share your theological emphasis or philosophy of ministry. Why have you both chosen to do that through the years?

R.C. Sproul: When I first started out with Ligonier Ministries, I was determined that, though my passion was for the unique tenets of the Reformed faith, I understand that Reformed theology, before it’s Reformed, is first of all catholic, second of all evangelical, and then third, Reformed. But you can’t be Reformed without embracing what we call the catholic doctrines of Christianity: the Trinity, the personal work of Christ, the atonement, things that we share with other Christians. And as I said earlier, the authority of the Bible and justification by faith with evangelicals—we share that, that’s all part of the fiber of Calvinism and of Reformed theology.

And so I saw, when I came out of seminary and out of graduate school, that the real crisis in our day was, as I mentioned a moment ago, the catholic issues; the person of Christ, the character of God, the very existence of God. These are things that are not just unique to people in the Reformed faith. And so I determined that I would cooperate with anybody who was even broadly evangelical.

And we did that in our conferences, that we were trying to reach out to brothers and sisters outside the pale and the scope of the Reformed faith. And so we would have speakers come who didn’t share our distinctives at all, but they did share a commitment to evangelical truth and to the catholic doctrines of the faith.

And frankly, along the lines, we got burned a few times because I had some speakers that took positions that I never expected them to take, that I thought really denied evangelical Christianity. And I said, “Hey, we got to be a little bit more careful here.” We haven’t changed the strategy. We still don’t insist that people are all together Reformed before they can appear on the platform of a Ligonier conference or anything like that or that we’ll be willing to work with them. We work with people from all different denominations, and Together for the Gospel, and all that.

But this ecumenism and relativism are making it harder and harder and harder to be cooperative because you just don’t know where these people are going to go. Before you know it, they’re out there telling the world that you can be a Muslim and go to heaven, like you said a minute ago. And you think, “What? And I’m giving that guy my microphone?” It just becomes a sticky wicket, if you know what I mean. I’m sure you know what I mean.

John Piper: It is sticky, and I don’t claim to have it figured out. I don’t presume to claim to say I’ve got three criteria, or a sieve with this size hole that everybody goes through, as to whether they’ll come to a Desiring conference, or whether they’ll let me come to their conference or church.

A couple of principles would be, I don’t want to give credence to any doctrine that is outside the evangelical orthodox sphere. So, if a person believes you can be saved without trusting Christ consciously, I don’t want to hang out with them in any way that would get the impression I believe that.

Methodologically, I’m really broad. That is, I can tolerate a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t do. I don’t do it that way. I don’t do it your way. You don’t do it my way. And I don’t do it other people’s way. But so in methodology, I’m willing to cross more lines.

And another principle is I want to influence people. I want to make everybody a Calvinist. Absolutely do, because it’s true. And I think we should want people to believe what’s true. And so whenever I go anywhere that doesn’t have that flavor about it, I’m hoping that I can talk in such a way as to win lots of people over. Over to the website, or over to the books, or over to another sermon, and suddenly they’ll start to taste like, “Whoa, that’s biblical.” Which, of course, is all that matters, right?

The only reason we use the words like Calvinism, because we think it’s a good summary of biblical truth. So, I just want to be biblical. So, our principle is I’d like to go places where there are not many like me, so that I might win some.

Chris Larson: So, coming back, then, to what encourages you today? Obviously, R.C., you’ve described yourself in the past as a battlefield theologian and have fought many struggles, but what encourages you when you look at the landscape in the church today? We can always find things to be discouraged by, but what would you say to this generation to encourage them?

R.C. Sproul: We go to Together for the Gospel, John and I have done that several times, and we see five thousand pastors there, and three thousand or four thousand of them are in their twenties or thirties. That’s very encouraging, to see this younger generation on fire for the gospel. We see the resurgence of interest in Puritan literature, in Edwards, and the things that we hold precious. There is an awareness of the Reformed faith in our churches today that certainly wasn’t there forty years ago. I’ve seen that development, and that’s very encouraging to me. At the same time, evangelicalism, broadly, is sinking; I see the Reformed faith rising, and so I’m encouraged by that, though I’m discouraged by the former.

John Piper: Yeah, I’m so cautious because history is fickle, and movements rise quickly and fall quickly. If somebody says, “What do you think the next century will be?” I say, “I don’t know.” I just don’t know.

Let’s just start from the big and move to the small. Globally, the last fifty years have been stunning. I’m going to talk about this tomorrow a little bit. The rise of the Global South, the books by Philip Jenkins, the new book by Mark Noll about the growth of Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Christianity in the big, broad Christendom terms means that the possibility for the spread of deeper truth and greater understanding has tracks on which to run now in places that it didn’t fifty years ago.

So, if you move outside the departures of Europe, which is just dead, to the more vital places around the world, there is much to be encouraged by that. God, the Holy Spirit, is magnifying the sun all over the world. We should be praying and not complaining. “Oh, it’s a thousand miles broad and an inch deep.” Well, stop complaining and get on your knees! This is worth praying about because the Bible says, “Grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” at the end of 2 Peter (2 Peter 3:18), not complain that nobody’s there, but grow, grow. So, that’s big.

And then you narrow it down, and there are evidences of renewal and awakening in Europe and in America, and it is largely Reformed, and it’s amazing that it is. And Reformed in no denominational sense. You can’t draw the categories — they defy categorization, where God is cropping up with his sovereignty.

You got C.J. Mahaney types over here, and Mark Driscoll types, and Matt Chandler types, and Mark Dever types, and R.C. Sproul types, and Sinclair Ferguson types, and those are really different types of people, and types of music, and types of ministry and clothing. It defies categorization, and it’s got this common denominator of Bible people, remarkable orientation on complementarity between men and women, a remarkable love for the sovereignty of God in the face of suffering, and a deep confidence that God saved sinners sovereignty. That’s just kind of cutting across lots of denominations.

And in a conference like this, it’s interesting because the generations here are so diverse. You pull older people and younger people together. I don’t get any older people come to my conferences. I don’t know what you do to get older people to come, but maybe have it in Orlando? It’s cold. You’re going to slip on the ice and break your hip in Minneapolis.

R.C. Sproul: The last time I spoke up in Minneapolis for you was 13 below zero. And I was never so happy for global warming as I was.

John Piper: We figure if you make it hard that the real people will come.

R.C. Sproul: What you’re talking about there, John, is the end of the Elijah syndrome, that, “I, I alone, am left, that the Lord has seven thousand that haven’t bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18). And as I said last night, the cemeteries of this world are filled with people that were supposed to be inexpendable.

But the Lord God doesn’t need me and he doesn’t use you. And he brings his word to power in every generation, in every part of the world. And I think we have this parochial thing about America, like the kingdom of God stands or falls with what happens with American Christianity. Boy, is that silly. Like you said, it’s all happening outside the United States, the Third World, in Africa, South America, even in Eastern Europe, what’s going on over there right now. And in China? Holy mackerel, what’s happening there. Because this is our Father’s word.

John Piper: Can’t believe you said holy mackerel. Mackerel are not holy. That’s leftover from the old R.C.

R.C. Sproul: That is, you got me there. Oh my goodness. Unholy mackerel.

John Piper: Actually, it’s not unholy either. It’s just mackerel.

R.C. Sproul: There’s this friend of mine, this lady, she was trying very hard to have children, and she couldn’t. She was an immigrant from the old country and had trouble speaking the King’s English. She went and had a physical examination from the doctor, trying to find out why she couldn’t get pregnant. The doctor said to her after the examination, “Madam, you have a tissue in your passage, and if you have a baby, it’ll be a miracle.” She came home, and her husband said, “What did the doctor say?” She said, “I don’t know. It sounded funny. He said I had a fish in my passage. If I have a baby, it’ll be a mackerel.” This thing’s starting to go south here.

Chris Larson: Please edit that from the tape.

John Piper: I think it’s amazing to be 72 and remember that.

R.C. Sproul: Oh my, I’m just even par — 72.

Chris Larson: Save us, Scott.

Scott Anderson: As we take a turn toward home now and begin to bring this time to a close over the next few moments, we need to talk a little bit about — I think, John, you just commented on all of these personalities and such. In our day, we’ve been blessed with all of these conferences and such, and we’ve been blessed with all of these ministries.

But I want to ask both of you men about your heart, at this point in your ministry now, for redirecting people to the local church. I’ve heard one person say that disciples can be born at conferences, but they are not made at conferences. Disciples are made in the day in, day out, week in, week out, life-on-life preaching of the word and sacraments that takes place in the local church.

So, we’re a part of something in our day that is special and wonderful, remarkable, and we praise God for it. We come to events like this, and we drink deeply, and we profit much. Exhort us, both of you, if you would, exhort us now, redirect us, as it were, to the local church, and the primacy of it in the working out of all of these things that we talk about here at conferences like this.

R.C. Sproul: Scott, when I was ordained a hundred years ago, I was ordained to the teaching ministry, and my first call was to be a college professor. Then from there, to be a seminary professor. And then from there, a life devoted to adult Christian education. My education was in those paths, and it never occurred to me to be a pastor. I had concerns for pastoral life. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a pastor. I still don’t. I’m really not a pastor. I’m a preacher, pretty much, at St. Andrew’s. Yet my ministry and my career, if you want to call it that, has been widely diverse, and done lots of things with writing, radio, conferencing, teaching, and so on.

But the greatest joy of my life in ministry is being able to be the teaching-preaching pastor at St. Andrew’s Church, where I can be in the same pulpit every Sunday — not running all over the place here, there, and everywhere — but to be able to have a flock of people, the same people, and to be involved in expository preaching, week in and week out, to those people. Because I really believe that the most corrupt institution in the world is the church. I think the reason for that is it’s the most important institution in the world, and all of the arrows of Satan are directed against it.

But what has to happen in this country, in every country, is for the church to be the church, and for the church to be focused on Godly worship, and the exposition of the word of God, so that the people in the church are being nurtured, and fed, and become disciples. The Great Commission is not to go to all the ends of the earth to make converts, but we are to make disciples, teaching them. That is through preaching the exposition of the content of God’s word. The chief vehicle that God himself has ordained for that purpose is the church.

John Piper: And to underline it, the New Testament, I think, is crystal clear in saying that Christ died to become the head of a universal body to buy a bride. This bride, this church, is to be manifest in the world in local congregations. The evidence for that is, number one, the language of 1 Corinthians 12:14 of members in the local church, where head, in 1 Corinthians, doesn’t refer to Christ. It’s like head, foot, hand, leg. So he’s talking about a local body.

Then officers, in 1 Timothy. Officers of the local church are specified for us, elders and deacons. Clearly, the Bible isn’t loosey-goosey; everybody should have some kind of connectedness with another human, but rather there should be local churches, with elders and deacons, and those are gifted to teach, and they’re charged to, “Feed my sheep.”

To me personally as a pastor, that word from Jesus to Peter of, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Feed my sheep.” “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Feed my sheep.” “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Feed my lambs.” I hear that as the main work of the eldership in the church is to feed the sheep. God has ordained it, for whatever reason, that there be these kinds of structures. We might like to think, because we believe in the priesthood of believers, that everybody can do everything, and we’re all on the same par. In fact, he’s ordained there be people with the gift of teaching, and that others with the responsibility to learn. That happens in the local church.

It’s remarkable to me, just historically in these ministries, that your ministry begat a church, and my church begat a ministry. They’re both overflows, you might say. They’re attached. I don’t know how structurally yours is attached, but Desiring God is owned by Bethlehem Baptist Church, and the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church could destroy it tomorrow. They could put it out of existence tomorrow. So it’s structurally attached, and it’s considered as just putting a megaphone to the life of the local church.

Chris Larson: Let’s talk about your journey with your helpmates over the years. R.C., you celebrated 50 years with Vesta, and John, you and Noël have been 42 years. Tell us, John, just tell us about what that’s been like to have your wife with you by your side over the course of ministry.

John Piper: Yeah, yeah. I like texting, especially if she’s across the room. But I texted her at lunch today, said, “I love you.” There she is. That’s an old picture. I’ve got more hair. But there she is. Life, as I’ve lived it, would’ve been impossible without Noël. Nobody knows what it costs, I think, a wife of a pastor, and the wife of a public figure, and the wife of a embattled public figure.

Nobody knows what it’s like to be the mother of five children, and to have your heart delighted and broken more than once. So to link arms and walk along the way through the pain and the happiness of having children and having a ministry is something that you can’t quite quantify, in terms of the depth and wonder of it.

I imagine, I’ve said this often, to her and to others, we’re 65 and 63, and we’ve been through a lot, and there’ve been really hard times. I say, “It will be,” and now it’s hardly future tense anymore. I used to say it in my forties, “It will be glorious to, one day, go to a little restaurant on Lake Superior, with little birds flitting around outside in the bushes looking through the glass over this massive lake, when we are really old, and I’m almost bald, and our skin is not taut anymore, it’s just hanging on our knuckles, and there’re big brown splotches all over our legs, and all over our arms, and look at each other in the eye and say, with tears, ‘We made it. We made it.’” And have the depth just of covenant-keeping strength.

Romance goes like this. You get angry as all get out at your spouse, and then you feel rotten, and sometimes there are heights of ecstasy, and sometimes you just feel like there’s no future. And to make it to the end with covenant-keeping love, which is what marriage is intended to portray to the world, Christ keeps covenant with his bride, and that my bride has been so faithful to me through all of this is beyond estimation. It is more valuable than you can begin to put dollars on. So sweet and deep and unshakeable.

Just one last thing, I used to use the phrase velvet steel. In fact, I named a book of poetry for Noël — Velvet Steel. After about 35 years of writing poems about my wife’s velvet steel, by which I meant she is soft and warm and embraceable, with a backbone of steel, she just finally said, “I’m tired of that. I don’t want people to think of me as steel anymore.”

R.C. Sproul: Oh, wow.

John Piper: Because I think she began to hear in it hardness? So, even your favorite images can go south. She’s soft inside too. Yes you are, Noël, if you’re watching.

R.C. Sproul: Chris, just a few days ago, four o’clock in the morning, I wasn’t able to breathe. So, kind of a frightening experience. It’s like when you’re choking in a restaurant or something, and desperately trying to get just a breath, and it was all I could do to wake Vesta up. I said, “You got to call 911. I got to get to the hospital right away.” She jumped up and called, and five minutes later the ambulance was there. The paramedics told Vesta where they were taking me, and so she left in the car, ahead of the ambulance, and we went to the hospital. We were marvelously treated and cared for at the hospital by the paramedics before we got there, and the emergency room physicians and so on.

But they finally rolled me upstairs into the room, and they had the nice bed, and all these wonderful nurses being very kind. There was this awfully hard leather chair off to the side, and Vesta parked herself in that chair, and she said, “I’m going to stay here.” I said, “Honey, you don’t need to stay here. I’m getting good care.” Then I said, “But you better stay here because I want you to stay.”

The next morning, she just had to go back to the house for this or that and the other thing. I said, “Honey, you go home, and take your time, do what you have to do. I’m going to be fine.” She left, and she walked out of the room. When she walked out of the room, I looked at the clock. I thought, “Now, how many minutes is it going to take her to get from here to our house, to get the things done that she needs to get done, and be back here?” I watched the clock the whole time. When she walked back in that door, it was glory. She stayed there the whole time I was in the hospital. I was a sissy — she was the rock.

I’ve just mentioned that because it’s anecdotal, and it’s episodic, because that’s our life together. She has been the quintessential helpmate for me for my whole life in everything that I do and care about. This is an unspeakable gift from God. Luther said of Katie von Bora, “That if God wanted me to have a humble woman, he’d have to hew one out of stone.” Well, he hewed one out of stone for me, and what a blessing.