One of our core values in providing seminary education to called men from all walks of life is Accessibility. Whether by Internet or some other means, we seek to make our programs available to men who are called to the ministry, but cannot relocate to Greenville, South Carolina for whatever reason. Over the years, our distance program has even made it possible for incarcerated men to pursue advanced theological education with us.
The following reflection was penned by a first-year student who is taking correspondence classes from behind bars. He was referred to us by a PCA pastor who has studied with us. He and his session have affirmed this man’s call to the ministry. The author is in the final years of a decades-long prison sentence, and hopes to join us on-campus upon his release from prison. His identity is being withheld for his protection.
What does God’s sovereign work of grace really look like?
Among those who do not instantly assume battle stations when “sovereignty” is
mentioned, there is in most cases agreement about human inability to produce divine
satisfaction for sin. But, does our agreement that all men are sinners and need
God’s free grace reach far enough to include those who are unable to sit beside
you during Sabbath worship? Can you imagine the grace of God reaching into the
depths of a prison to save the despised and rejected? Can you fathom that there
are elect souls living as social lepers?
Since 1999, my physical world has been contained within a
perimeter lined by fences capped with razor wire. However, the most secure
barriers erected by the South Carolina Department of Corrections to separate
its residents from the outside world could not bar the entrance of God’s
extended arms of love. In 2001 the free and irresistible grace of the Sovereign
One transformed my life so that I am now free to live for Him. He looked beyond
the criminal record, beyond the depravity that marked my life, beyond the
contempt in which I held Him, and He saw His eternal intention. Can I offer you
the 20/20 hindsight of this dreadful situation? In most respects, I was merely
a sinner just like you. God saved me with the same infinite grace by which He
Dressed in my prison garb, I don’t look like you, but I worship
the same Lord. Our homes are drastically different, but we daily look forward
to the same reward and eternal place where we will dwell in His presence. Our
neighbors are as different as we are from each other, but I join you in
proclaiming to them the doctrines of grace and the necessity of the local
church. I even experience the same contempt as you do from men that want their
feelings to dictate to them the meaning of Scripture, who desire a god that can
be summoned to grant their wishes of health and wealth, and who ultimately live
for personal glory. My desire and my need are just like yours, to preach the
gospel first to myself and then to others daily.
My prison environment is not always conducive to making progress
in my seminary education, and the pursuit of my studies is often hindered by
the very worst expressions of human depravity. Yet, the unique challenges I am
facing make the theological treasures I am unearthing so much more precious.
The examples we have in our godly heritage, men that I strive to emulate, allow
no room for complaint. Be it chains or persecution, abandonment or expulsion;
the prophets and apostles, the Reformers, and unwavering preachers of God’s
Word have walked the most dreadful paths. Yet, they have been used to pen
Scripture, to launch reform and revival, and to draw men into the ministry of
the Word. From Moses to Paul, Scripture grips my mind and heart. Godly men like
John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, R.C. Sproul, and Sinclair Ferguson preach my mind
and heart to greater devotion. Just like you, these things stir my heart for
the glory of God! Hallelujah – He has visited prison!
It is an honor to be a different
kind of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary student echoing the same message of Sovereign Grace.