In the summer of 1981, while living and working outside of Chicago, I worshipped in a small Reformed Baptist congregation in Wheaton, IL. As I prepared to leave for graduate school in Boston, one of the elders of the church urged me to keep an eye out for Roger Nicole, who was, he told me enthusiastically, a Reformed Baptist theologian teaching at Gordon-Conwell seminary.
I never had occasion to meet Dr. Nicole in the two remaining years that I spent in Reformed Baptist circles. But in the mid-1980’s, he filled the pulpit a couple of times in our Reformed Presbyterian church in Cambridge, and I finally had the opportunity to meet him and to hear him preach. In 1986, he retired from Gordon-Conwell and began teaching at RTS Orlando.
Just this afternoon, I learned that Dr. Nicole went to be with the Lord yesterday, one day after his 95th birthday. I thought about what a gifted preacher of the Word he was, but I also remembered what a kind and gracious man he always showed himself to be. The mental image that I have of him is not so much his presence in the pulpit as it is the time he spent after worship fellowshipping with those to whom he had just preached. I particularly recall his delight in holding one of the infants of our church as he chattered cheerfully with her.
What is striking to me still is Dr. Nicole’s genuine humility. A true servant of Christ, he was as willing to drive an hour from his home on a Sunday evening and preach the Word to a couple of dozen people as he was to preach to Boston’s Park Street Church, where he also sometimes filled the pulpit in those days. Dr. Nicole’s great scholarship never eclipsed his pastor’s heart, and his two earned doctorates never kept him from being able to minister to people.
As others who knew him better than I can also attest, Dr. Nicole was as notable for his graciousness and Christ-likeness as he was for his scholarly excellence. In an age when debates among those of us who wear the “Reformed” label too often sink to the level of cheap shots and sloppy logic, he was an exemplar of what a Reformed Christian scholar can be, by God’s grace.
Dr. Nicole has fought the good fight and finished his race. May the Lord give his Church more men like him.