My Discovery of The Doctrines of Grace
The following article is an excerpt from an upcoming book to be published by Founders Press entitled My Journey in Grace by Terrell Suggs. The excerpt is taken from Part 1—A Personal Journey.
When the Lord called me to preach as a teenager I wanted to be the best I could be. My sense of calling and need to preach has remained at a high level. I love preaching and preachers. Through the years there have been scores of preachers for whom I have had unusual admiration. They have been models and mentors for me. While I have always tried to maintain my own uniqueness, other men’s beliefs and practices have greatly intrigued and inspired me.
I have, at times, very naively and almost unquestionably followed them. I would go to their churches, devour their books and study their theology and methods.
At times, I must confess I did not glean truths for myself from the Scriptures. To my deep regret, what I believed, preached and practiced was not always thoroughly grounded in the Bible itself but on what some successful preacher was espousing. It was especially this way in the area of theology.
My theological background in college and seminary left something to be desired. However, in those early years I did adopt the expository method as my primary way of preaching. In this way I had to study every verse. Often texts that dealt with such subjects as the sovereignty of God or foreknowledge puzzled me. This especially was so in the light of all the man-centered “free-willism” I had been taught. I found that commentators would often evade these subjects. Of all the sermons I had read or heard, very few dealt with them. It became obvious that terms such as “predestination” or “election” are very scary subjects to most people.
Responses of impatience and even anger would sometimes result when I preached on or discussed these subjects. I have been accused of being foolish and even a cultist for believing them. In my study, however, I saw that the biblical writers never hesitated to talk very freely, openly and often about them, even to new believers (1 Thessalonians 1; Ephesians 1, 1 Peter 1, etc.). If they are so much a part of the Bible, I reasoned, why don’t we freely talk about them?
In my study, I had mixed emotions. Sometimes I found myself struggling, even to the point of tears. I remember waves of terror sweeping over me as I pondered the reality of hell and eternal judgment. In wrestling with the subject of the fairness of God I would agonize over such questions as: “Why evil?” “Why the devil?” “Why suffering?” “Why sin?” “Why the fall of man in the Garden?” “Why did God elect some and not all?” At other times, I would become overwhelmed with joy.
More and more I was amazed at the wonder of God’s free grace to undeserving sinners. I wanted to delve into the deep things of God and find answers. I knew I could never completely understand but I wanted to try. My sincere prayer was for God to unveil His Word to me. The more I searched and prayed, the more I discovered books and commentaries that powerfully spoke to me. Some had been on my bookshelves for years that I had never read.
The Lord began to use the writings of such men as C. H. Spurgeon and A. W. Pink to fill me with truth. The Scriptures began to open as never before. I was thrilled beyond words. God became more real to me than ever and the gospel of His sovereign grace virtually jumped off the pages with clarity and power. I began to see the person of Jesus Christ unveiled in all His mighty splendor. I saw in Scripture that Christ is not the weak “Savior” that we often hear about; the One standing on the wayside of life trying to save the world but “sovereign sinners” won’t “let” Him.
Rather, I saw the Christ of the Bible as the Savior of His people, the Church (Matthew 1:21; Ephesians 5:25). In the Covenant of Grace He came to save those whom the Father had given Him. He will most certainly accomplish this (John 6:37; 17:1–20). He will not be defeated. His kingdom is forever. Not only will He reign someday but He reigns now (Acts 2:32–35). He is the Christ who has been exalted to the highest place and given a name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9).
I began to understand the reality that God is sovereign. I was especially challenged by A. W. Pink’s book on The Sovereignty of God. Never had I read such a work. What was so powerful and compelling was his overwhelming scriptural proof of every claim he made. I had never seen these things before. I could not deny them. How had I missed seeing all this in my study of Scripture? Where had all these great books and writers been all my life?
At first I wondered about the direction in which I was headed. I felt alone in my beliefs. Were there other Southern Baptists that shared my views? The more I searched, the more I began discovering other people of like faith. They were not in abundance but they were there. I thank my God always for each one.
A pastor friend introduced me to the outstanding writings of J. P. Boyce and J. L. Dagg. Boyce was the founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and Dagg was the first writing Southern Baptist theologian. Both of these men were among the great early leaders of our convention. The more I studied Baptist history and the theology of our founders, the more I saw that I believed what they believed. I am forever indebted to these men who have given us some of the finest theological works in all of Christian history.
In 1983, I received information about the Southern Baptist Founders Conference. I was elated. I will never forget my first time to go. It was held at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. I was thrilled to attend. Here was a conference filled with Southern Baptists that believed just as I did and shared my concerns. They were committed to doctrinal reformation in our Southern Baptist life. Sermons were preached, papers read, testimonies given, and books made available on the biblically sound faith of our founding fathers. I couldn’t believe my ears. I am edified each time I attend this wonderful conference that continues to meet annually.
Indeed I came to see that the doctrines of grace were not incidental in the lives of Baptists from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. The rafters of Southern Baptist churches once rang with these great truths. Seminary and college professors were meticulous in teaching young preachers to articulate the gospel of sovereign grace. This was the gospel that Baptists carried to the ends of the earth. These doctrines were the very foundation of everything in Baptist life. Oh, that it would be so again!
How thrilling it was to make these exciting discoveries. The more I studied, reflected, prayed and talked with others, the more I became convinced that God was showing me truths that had long been neglected. The vast majority of Southern Baptists and much of the Christian world know little, if anything, about the doctrines of grace. The Lord began to make it quite obvious to me that He did not want me to hide these truths “under a bushel” but to hold them high for all to see.