On June 23, 2000 a memorial service was held at Tenth Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Philadelphia for its pastor, James Montgomery Boice, who had died eight days earlier as the result of an aggressive form of liver cancer. He was 61 years old.
The service was a two-hour testimony to the grace of God and His use of His servant. The music was beautiful, including two hymns and an anthem for which Dr. Boice had written the words and the church's organist, Paul S. Jones, had composed the music. Three men spoke of their personal experiences with Dr. Boice, including Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, who had served thirty-two years earlier on the pastoral search committee that had recommended the calling of Dr. Boice to Tenth. Dr. R.C. Sproul also spoke of his years of working with Dr. Boice on various efforts to promote the Reformed faith and uphold the inerrancy of SCripture.
The Rev. Eric Alexander, a retired pastor of the Church of Scotland, preached movingly from the text, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He spoke of how Dr. Boice had lived for Christ and what a disdplined life of service it had been. He also stressed that while death remains the enemy, because of the work of Christ, dying is gain in Christ for those who inherit eternal life.
After the service Linda Boice and their three daughters greeted the well over 1000 people that attended the memorial.
It was my privilege to attend the service and to count Jim Boice among my friends. I had spoken with him several times at various conferences, including the Philadelphia Conferences on Reformation Theology that he began over twenty years ago. I also served with him on the council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. As I sat at the service it struck me anew how much he had contributed to the cause of Christ in our generation and how we will miss his wise leadership.
In the 1970s he had chaired the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy which did so much to defend the authority of Scripture on both a popular and scholarly level. He had a national radio program, The Bible Study Hour, and in the course of his ministry wrote over sixty books, including a four-volume commentary on the Book of Romans. He was one of the founders of the Alliance of Confession Evangelicals, dedicated to promoting and defending Reformation theology.
In addition to these remarkable achievements, he pastored a church that grew in the years he served there from 350 to over 1200. He also led the church into a variety of programs that helped to keep it vital as a downtown church in a big city: fellowship and deaconal ministries, outreach to international students, care for women with crisis pregnandes, for the homeless, and for those infected with HIV.
To accomplish all this, Dr. Boice was remarkably disdplined and hardworking. Yet he remained warm, unpretentious, and caring for those with whom he came in contact.
As I sat at the memorial service, I could not help but think that again the Lord had taken from His church someone who could yet have contributed so much. I thought of ]. Gresham Machen earlier in this century and of John Calvin in the sixteenth century, both of whom had died in their mid-fifties. The loss of great and apparently irreplaceable leaders reminds us that we must rest in God alone and in His wisdom. His providence is always good and wise even when we can not fully understand it. We know that Christ will build His church and that no force (or loss) will defeat that purpose.
Also I thought of those remarkable words of Isaiah 57:1–2:
The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
We should pause to ponder the death of the righteous and what it means for them and for us. Isaiah in chapter 57 writes of the sins of his day immorality and idolatry—as that from which the righteous are delivered. And concludes with a wonderful promise for the righteous: “But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” A new world is promised those who are righteous in Christ. That is our confidence for Jim Boice. He is spared the troubles of this world and is assured of the blessed reward of those who are saved by grace through faith in Christ.
He died at peace with great confidence in his Savior. His last appearance on the pulpit at Tenth was to announce that he was very ill and did not have the strength to preach. He said that he had been asked if people might pray that he would be miraculously healed. He responded that that was legitimate and that God sometimes did surprising things. But Dr. Boice said that his God could have prevented the disease if long life had been His will for him and he rested content in his Lord’s providence.
Mr. Alexander concluded his sermon at the memorial service by quoting from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the scene where Mr. Valiant for the Truth dies. He commented that Dr. Boice had been very valiant for the truth in our generation- the truth of Scripture and the truth of the Reformed faith.
We will miss his strong, clear, biblical voice for the faith. But we are comforted to know that he is at peace, resting from a life of dedicated labor. And we are assured that Christ will continue to build His church.
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, professor of Church History, is also president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, CA. He is a contributing editor of The Outlook Magazine.