Window on the World is our weekly opportunity to look at the world from the biblical point of view. When I reopen this window each autumn, I usually begin by talking about something that happened during the previous summer. Just about the only thing I will remember about the summer of 2000 is the death of our Senior Pastor, Dr. James Montgomery Boice.
One of the many things that we have learned during these sad months is that grief is a burden to be shared. Although Christians sometimes weep in private, they never weep alone. One of the ways that we practice the communion of saints is by sharing together in suffering. “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26a).
As we have suffered together, we have also learned that God gives grace to comfort all our sorrows. The Scripture says that “Though [the Lord] brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (Lam. 3:32). During our time of loss we have had many occasions to worship God for his unfailing compassion. This is one of the reasons we have been encouraging you to share your memories of Dr. Boice: so that you can give praise to God for the gift of his life and ministry. This Window on the World is a brief testimony of my gratitude to God for James Boice.
The first time I saw Dr. Boice he was standing in the pulpit of Westminster Abbey in London. The occasion was the 350th anniversary of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and he was preaching on the sovereignty of God. “It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of God’s sovereignty,” he said. “The other attributes of God are equally important, and many touch us deeply. But if we take away the sovereignty of God–by which we mean the absolute determination and rule by God of all his works and creatures–God would no longer be God… . Sovereignty… gives meaning and substance to all the other doctrines… . It is… the Christian’s strength and comfort.”
The next day the conference moved to London’s Westminster Chapel, the church made famous by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In between sessions I introduced myself to Dr. Boice and mentioned how much I appreciated his ministry on the Bible Study Hour. I told him that during seminary we tuned in to his sermons on Sunday mornings as we were getting ready for church.
I did not speak with Dr. Boice again until the spring of 1995, when I was being considered for a position here at Tenth. I was in Oxford at the time, and Dr. Boice telephoned from London to ask me one question. Can you guess what it was? Before agreeing to have me come and preach he wanted to know if I was committed to expository preaching. I told him that I had been raised on the exposition of God’s Word, and that I had studied with William Still, who reintroduced systematic exposition to Scotland, and also with the great London Bible teacher Dick Lucas. That was all Dr. Boice needed to hear, for his great passion in life was the faithful exposition of God’s Word.
It was my privilege to see that passion first-hand during the five short years that I served under his ministry. I will never forget many of the sermons that I heard him preach. Nor will I forget the times that we kneeled to pray for God’s blessing on the ministry of his Word, or stood on this platform to sing the great hymns of the faith. But more than anything else, I will remember the way that Dr. Boice used to smile when I preached. I suppose that he smiled partly to encourage me in my ministry, but mainly because he took real pleasure in the exposition of God’s Word, no matter who was preaching.
One day last April I had reason to suspect that something was seriously wrong. On my way home, I stopped to see Dr. Boice and he said, “Here’s what it is: I’ve been diagnosed with liver cancer. It’s probably fatal, and if you want to know the truth, I don’t think I have very long to live.” He said it very matter-of-factly, almost cheerfully, as if it was all for the best and couldn’t possibly be any better. That was because Dr. Boice lived what he preached. He was so used to surrendering to God’s sovereignty that not even the approach of death could unsettle him.
Two weeks later James Boice addressed this congregation for the last time. I told my children to be sure to listen to what he said. It was good advice, for what they heard was a dying man’s testimony to the goodness of God. After church I asked them if they understood what Dr. Boice had said. Then I told them that they probably wouldn’t see him again until they went to heaven. “Dr. Boice is a great, great man,” I said. “You’re so fortunate to know him, and to have him as your pastor and your friend. You will probably never meet a man as great as he is ever again.”
Many people here tonight can give the same testimony. We give praise to God that Dr. Boice was our pastor and our friend. We may never meet another man as great as he was: faithful to God’s Word, valiant for the great doctrines of the Reformed faith, and steadfast in his commitment to do God’s work in the city. But we will see James Montgomery Boice again, not to hear him preach, but to join him in singing praise to our great God, who is sovereign over life and death, over earth and heaven.
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