How James Montgomery Boice Faced Death from Liver Cancer

James Montgomery Boice was a renowned Reformed theologian, pastor, author, and speaker who defended the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. He was the senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for 32 years, until his death from liver cancer on June 15, 2000. How did he face his terminal illness and what can we learn from his example?

The Diagnosis

On May 7, 2000, Boice stood in the pulpit of his church for the last time and announced that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer. He said:

If I were to reflect on what goes on theologically here, there are two things I would stress. One is the sovereignty of God. That’s not novel. We have talked about the sovereignty of God here forever. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. It’s not the answer that Harold Kushner gave in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. God does everything according to his will. We’ve always said that.

But what I’ve been impressed with mostly is something in addition to that. It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge, but he doesn’t care. But it’s not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what I’ve been impressed with is how good God is, despite our pain

Boice expressed his trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness, even in the midst of his suffering. He did not question God’s wisdom or love, but rather affirmed his faith in God’s plan and purpose for his life.

The Treatment

The doctors who were caring for Boice initially prescribed a round of chemotherapy, in the hope that it would slow the disease. However, this proved ineffective, and given the advanced state of the cancer, no further treatment of any kind was possible. Boice decided to spend his remaining time with his family and friends, and to continue his ministry as much as he could. He wrote a letter to his congregation, saying:

I have been so greatly blessed by the outpouring of love and support since I made my condition known to you. You can hardly imagine how much your letters, cards, phone calls, and e-mails have meant to me and to my family. I am grateful to God for you. I am also grateful for the prayers that have ascended to God on my behalf. I am sure that it is because of them that I have been able to carry on with very little pain and discomfort.

I have been asked if I am mad at God for this. I can only say that I am not. God has done nothing wrong. He is not the cause of evil. He is good, and everything he does is good. I have also been asked if I am afraid. I can honestly say that I am not. I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. And I trust him completely

Boice demonstrated his gratitude and peace, even in the face of death. He did not complain or despair, but rather thanked God for his blessings and his people. He also testified to his hope and confidence in God’s promises and power.

The Legacy

Boice passed away on June 15, 2000, at the age of 61. He left behind a rich legacy of biblical teaching, Reformed theology, and Christian witness. He authored more than 50 books, including commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, and a four-volume systematic theology. He also founded and led several ministries, such as The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and the City Center Academy. He influenced and inspired many pastors and laypeople, both in America and around the world, to uphold the truth and glory of God’s Word.

Boice’s life and death were a testimony to his love for God and his people. He faced his final trial with grace and courage, and he finished his race with faith and joy. He once said:

I don’t think we understand theology unless we understand what it is to praise God. Theology is not merely a set of dry doctrines that are to be debated by scholars in academic settings. Theology is a matter of doxology. It is a matter of praising God and living to his glory

Boice lived and died to the praise and glory of God. He showed us how to live by faith and how to die in hope. He taught us how to face death from liver cancer, or any other affliction, with a firm trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness. He was a faithful servant and a beloved brother, and we thank God for his life and ministry.

Doms Desk

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