This brief volume by R. C. Sproul is a little gem of a book:
The noted American theologian and pastor R. C. Sproul passed away late in December 2017 (aged 78). I have often written about him and quoted from him. A quick search of my website reveals over 170 articles that mention him or discuss him.
I have reviewed some of his books on my site and quoted from plenty others. I even reviewed the 2021 biography of him by Stephen Nichols: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/03/30/a-review-of-r-c-sproul-a-life-by-stephen-nichols/
Here I want to look at one quite brief work of his that was published shortly after he passed away. It is: Moses and the Burning Bush (Ligonier Ministries, 2018). It of course deals with what we find in Exodus 3. And it appears to be a reworking of some of his earlier material, and those who are familiar with his work will find much recognisable material here.
But still, for Sproul fans, it is worth adding this little book to your collection, even if it will take most folks an hour or less to read. Since I like to make folks aware of good books by good authors, and good quotes from those books, that is what I am going to do here.
Four portions of the book stood out to me, so that is what I will highlight. Early on he sets the scene by reminding us of some basic Christian truths:
One of the church’s biggest problems is that we don’t understand who God is. But in that one revelation—the theophany in which God appeared to Moses—the transcendent majesty of God was partially unveiled. What had been invisible became visible through the theophany. Part of our problem is that when something is out of sight, it’s out of mind. But from time to time throughout biblical history, God manifests Himself to human eyes. God manifested Himself at the burning bush, and it was earth-shattering. p. 2
Other biblical characters of course experienced this incredible divine disclosure. The prophet Isaiah was one of these figures. Says Sproul:
Isaiah realized who he truly was as soon as he realized who God is. He realized he was unclean. Be we all, Isaiah realized, are filthy as well. And so to purify Isaiah for his mission, God dispatched a seraph to bring a burning coal from the altar and place it on Isaiah’s lips. It wasn’t for punishment; it was for purging. It was to make the unclean clean.
Just like Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah must have been terrified by his experience. Augustine said self-consciousness carries with it an immediate awareness of one’s finitude. As soon as we are aware of ourselves, we know that we are not God and we know that we are subject to God. John Calvin said that we don’t really understand God until we encounter ourselves.
Calvin goes on to say that in our fallen condition we tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We observe each other, and we judge ourselves according to earthly standards. We can always find someone who is more corrupt than we are, or at least who appears to be. But when we lift our gaze to heaven and consider who God is, then we are reduced to dread. We don’t measure up to the standard He demands.
The Lord is holy, high and lifted up. He is a consuming fire. And if not for His grace, we would be consumed. This is still true for us today: if not for the covering of Christ’s righteousness, if not for the purging of our filthiness, we would be consumed. But God in His grace has condescended to make it possible for us to stand in His presence through Christ and live. What Moses experienced at the burning bush is what God’s people experience today: a holy transcendent all-consuming God who comes down to dwell with His people. He knows us. p. 6
One thing especially that stood out for me is something all rather basic I suppose, but it seems I still have a long way to go in grasping this key Christian reality: We are created to worship, and that is the main aim of the Christian. And yet I still struggle to even understand this at times. Here is what Sproul says about the matter:
Consider this simple question: Why does someone worship God? Why give to Him reverence and adoration that is different from any esteem that might be given to anything in the created world? It’s easy to love God, be grateful to Him, and worship Him because of the wonderful things He’s done in history, and in our own personal histories—but a Christian’s reverence for God doesn’t rise to true worship until that Christian worships God not for what He has done but for who He is in His transcendent majesty. p. 67
I am far from really letting that fundamental truth fully sink in. And the final quote I want to share also deals with these important truths:
The point of the exodus was not simply to redeem people from oppression, but to redeem them to something: from slavery to worship. That’s true in an even higher manner in the redemptive work of Christ in the New Testament: we are not saved simply because we need to be saved, but so that we might worship Him. That’s why, for example, the author of Hebrews said we are never to neglect assembling together as saints (Heb. 10:25). We don’t come to church just to have our attendance taken; we come to church because the Lord has redeemed us, and the people of God should have their hearts filled with reverence and adoration and should come into the corporate assembly of the people of God to worship Him. p. 95
As mentioned, this very small volume can be read in minutes. But some of the core Christian truths contained here can be meditated on for hours, days and weeks on end. Sometimes going back to basics is so very vital for the believer – even if you have been a Christian for over half a century as I have been.
So thank you R. C. Sproul. Even books published posthumously by you are so very helpful, encouraging and inspiring.