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By John R. Sampey, D.D., LL.D.
Life Stories of Great Baptists
Biblical Recorder, 1932
Some dates:
Birth - January, 1827.
Conversion - 1843.
Graduation (M.A.) - 1880.
Pastorate and University teaching - 1851.
Professorship, Southern Baptist Seminary - 1859.
Travel in Europe - 1870-71.
Removal of Seminary to Louisville - 1877.
Death - March 16, 1895.

      Dr. Thomas Armitage, in his "History of the Baptists," stamped on the front cover a picture of John A. Broadus as the representative Baptist. It was a gracious compliment worthily bestowed. Dr. Broadus loved the great Baptist Brotherhood, and was himself deeply loved by Baptists in all parts of the world.

      John Albert Broadus belonged to a family which has given to the world many Baptist preachers, some of whom were widely influential. He was born in Culpepper County, Virginia, January 24, 1827. He died in Louisville, Kentucky, March 16, 1895. He was the son of Major Edmund Broadus, a gentleman of character and ability, who for many years represented his county in the legislature of Virginia, Major Broadus looked well to the education of his children, being himself a schoolmaster of real ability. John Albert Broadus was an ambitious pupil and throughout his school life stood at the head of his classes. He was industrious and had a great capacity for unremitting toil. He had excellent training in the Latin language in his boyhood. In order to assure John of the best educational advantages of the time, his father obtained a position at the University of Virginia as steward for State students. The father died two days before his son's graduation in the University four years later. The degree of M. A. at the University of Virginia in 1850 demanded more hard work than graduation at any other American institution of that time. His teachers and his fellow-students predicted for him a great future.

      John A. Broadus was converted in a protracted meeting in May, 1843, at Culpepper, Virginia. In this country community were Baptist preachers of marked ability. The Rev. Barnett Grimsley was a man of great gifts and unusual eloquence. In a meeting a few months after John's conversion the preacher suggested that Christians should speak to their unconverted friends. John had never done anything like this, but decided that he might venture to speak to a man not very bright, named Sandy Jones. This led to Sandy's conversion. Ever afterwards Sandy would cross the street to meet the friend who had led him to Christ, and would say, "Howdy, John? thankee, John." In telling: of this first effort at soul-winning, Dr. Broadus used to add, "And if ever I reach the Heavenly home and walk the golden streets, I know the first person to meet me will be Sandy, coming and saying again: 'Howdy, John? thankee, John.'"

      At the age of nineteen, under the influence of a powerful sermon by the Rev. A. M. Poindexter, young Broadus was led to surrender his life to the Christian ministry. His first sermon was preached at a Presbyterian church in Albemarle County, Virginia, as supply for Dr. William McGuffey, one of his professors in the University. A lady who heard him deliver his first sermon says, "There was something in his manner very entreating, very touching, very convincing. After the sermon all were eager to find out the name of "the student who had filled so acceptably the learned professor's place."

      In 1851 Mr. Broadus wag called to the pastorate of the Charlottesville Baptist Church. He was also offered the position of Assistant Instructor in Ancient Languages at the University. He accepted both positions. He became equally great as preacher and teacher. During two years, 1855 to 1857, Mr. Broadus was chaplain of the University of Virginia.

      In May, 1867, he took part in the Theological Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, which led to the organization of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Greenville, S. C., two years later.

      The committee to devise plans for the new institution consisted of James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr., E. T. Winkler and William Williams, all of whom were elected later on to teach in the new institution. With the exception of Winkler, these men constituted the original faculty of the new Seminary.

      It cost Jobn A. Broadus a severe struggle to turn from the pastorate in 1859 to become a professor in the Southern Seminary. He was to teach two major departments, New Testament Interpretation (English and Greek), and Homiletics. He became a master in each field. His standards of work were very high and his health snapped in the midst of his first session as teacher in the Seminary. His colleagues generously cared for his work for several weeks. In his "Memoir of James P. Boyce" Dr. Broadus tells how he was invited to accompany Dr. Boyce on a first visit to Charleston, S. C. "The journey had to begin at 4:00 a.m. and to continue till toward midnight; but he wrapped his friend in a wonderful overcoat - a miracle of softness and warmth - and when we reached Charleston carried him in his own arms from the carriage into his room at the hotel. He seemed strong like a giant, and he was tender as a woman."

      The War of Secession broke out during the second session of the new Seminary in Greenville. The institution closed its doors in the midst of the third session and remained closed until the autumn of 1865. In the summer of 1865 Dr. Broadus served for about three months as a missionary, in Lee's Army. One of his former pupils, who was a chaplain in the army of Northern Virginia, thus describes his ministry to the soldiers: He drew large crowds and as he looked into the eyes of those bronzed heroes of many a battle, and realized that they might he summoned at any hour into another battle, and into eternity, his very soul was stirred within him, and I never heard him preach with such beautiful simplicity and thrilling power the old Gospel which he loved so well, Again and again would the vast congregations be melted down under the power of the great preacher, and men "unused to the melting mood" would sob with uncontrollable emotion. General Robert E. Lee came to have a very high appreciation of Dr. Broadus as a preacher and invited him to deliver the Commencement Sermon in Washington College in June, 1867.

      When the four young professors in the Southern Seminary came together in Greenville in the late summer of 1865 it was a serious question whether the institution could reopen. After earnest discussion, Dr. Broadus said: "Suppose we quietly agree that the Seminary may die, but we'll die first." They bowed their heads in prayer, and held together for the remainder of their lives. The struggle was long and trying, but each man kept his promise, and so they laid the foundation for the largest Baptist theological school in the world. During the session of 1865-66 there were only seven students in the Seminary, one of whom was a blind man. Dr. Broadus lectured to this blind man on Homiletics. These lectures, five years later, appeared in book form as "Preparation and Delivery of Sermons." This admirable work on preaching has held its place for more than sixty years as the most popular and helpful treatment of the divine art of preaching.

      When Dr. Broadus' health was shaken in 1870, Dr. Boyce persuaded the trustees to give to his colleague a year's leave of absence in Europe with salary continued and money for traveling expenses. During this year abroad Dr. Broadus had opportunity to hear Mr. Spurgeon, Canon Liddon and other great preachers and to form personal friendships with great scholars like Bishop Ellicott, Professor J. B. Lightfoot and Dr. B. F. Westcott. He spent six weeks in the Holy Land, and drew inspiration from the study of paintings, statuary and architecture in Europe, He was qualified by his previous studies to appreciate all that he saw and heard, and he was greatly enriched in mind and heart by this year abroad.

      During the long struggle for the Seminary's life between 1865 and 1877 Dr. Broadus was the outstanding teacher In the Seminary. We do not forget his testimony concerning his gifted colleague, Dr. William Williams: "He is a noble man, of great abilities, and is the finest lecturer I have ever known." Dr. Toy and Whitsitt were also doing scholarly work of the highest order. Dr. Broadus and Williams were the outstanding preachers of this group. Students would come away from a service conducted by either of these wondering how the other man could equal the sermon they had just heard.

      Invitations to important pastorates and to the presidency of institutions of learning came to Dr. Broadus with growing frequency as the world came to appreciate his ripe scholarship and his unrivalled eloquence in the pulpit. He stuck quietly to his professorship in the Seminary as the work to which he had been called by the providence of God. He never forgot the covenant between himself and his colleagues to dedicate their lives to the Southern Seminary. He made no mistake in giving himself through a long life to the work of teaching and inspiring growing classes of young men studying for the ministry. He lives in hundreds of lives that were enriched by his instruction and his example.

      In 1877 the Seminary was removed to Louisville, Kentucky, and has continued to grow in numbers and resources until it has became the largest evangelical Seminary in the world. John A. Broadus was the greatest teacher who has ever been connected with the Seminary. The men who sat in his classroom can never forget his inspiring lectures and his ability to stimulate students to their highest endeavor. He was a wise counselor and a faithful friend. If one of his students could measure up to all that Dr. Broadus hoped for him, he would be completely satisfied. The great teacher set an example of industry and toil to the close of his life. He always did his best, and his beat was better than anybody else's best.

      In 1886 Dr. Broadus completed his Commentary on Matthew. a work of great learning and at the same time one of the most readable commentaries to be found anywhere. It is seldom that a teacher can excel in two major departments. The students in the Seminary were never willing for Dr. Broadus to give up either Homiletics or New Testament. In later years young men assisted him in all his classes, but he retained the position of chief instructor in both departments.

      Among the books published by Dr. Broadus we may name "A Harmony of the Gospels," "Sermons and Addresses," "Lectures on the History of Preaching," and "Jesus of Nazareth." Those who heard Dr. Broadus in the pulpit can never forget his manner, the tones of his voice and the magnetism with which be charmed his audience. We can imagine ourselves actually listening to him as we read one of his sermons or addresses. Few of his sermons were written out in full in advance of the delivery. The audience and the occasion always made some contribution to each sermon. The preacher was stimulated and inspired by the audience to which he ministered. In an atmosphere of worship the fullness of his learning and wisdom was brought under tribute and his marvellous powers of persuasion found expression. The soul of the preacher impinged upon the souls of his hearers and awoke in their aspirations after a higher and richer life of fellowship with Christ. In the presence of each a magnetic and frank personality, men yielded themselves to his sway with full assurance that their lives would be enriched under his instruction and appeals. Men unused to the manifestation of emotion were often powerfully moved by the preacher's message. The written sermon in the case of Dr. Broadus could not equal in impressiveness the spoken word. The preacher's thoughts were always well arranged, but there was much of spontaneity and freshness in the words which flowed from his lips in the presence of a responsive audience. Those same elements appeared in his lectures before his classes. Students were often so completely under the spell of the teacher as to find it difficult to write down the thought as he presented them. Men's hearts beat faster under the charm of his delivery. He knew how to sense the essential principles of the subject on which he was lecturing, and he was always accurate and succinct in statement.

      During the years in which the life of the Seminary often hung in the balance, there were times when Dr. Broadus would pour into a brief address appeals which profoundly moved his hearers. Men found it impossible not to respond with generous gifts. Without the aid of Dr. Broadus, his gifted colleague who founded the Southern Seminary could hardly have kept it alive through the trying period which followed the War of Secession. The friendship between Boyce and Broadus was like that of David and Jonathan. They loved and admired each other, And each would grow eloquent ia talking of his comrade and friend.

      Dr. Broadus outlived his three colleagues. He presided at the funeral service of Williams, Boyce and Manly. It seemed to some of his friends that Dr. Broadus took up into his own personality the finest things in the character of his great colleagues as they passed on to the life beyond. As long as Broadus lived, his three friends and colleagues lived in and through him.

      Dr. Broadus did much to draw Northern and Southern Baptists together in fellowship. He could interpret Southern people to Northern audiences, and Northern people to Southern audiences. His lore of the Baptist brotherhood in America and in the whole world enabled him to interpret his brethren of one section and country to those of other sections and countries. He was a great peacemaker.

      For seventeen years Dr. Broadus was a member of the International Sunday-school Lesson Committee. Toward the close of his life be was regarded by his colleagues of the Lesson Committee as their greatest scholar and their wisest leader In the selection of lessons for the Sunday-schools of North America. He was asked by the Committee to make the first draft of the lessons, and so well was the work done that only minor changes of his work were made by the full Committee. In selecting lessons which were used by millions of pupils and teachers, he rendered a signal service to evangelical Christianity.

      In the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. Broadus came to have a place quite unique. He was not only the greatest preacher among Southern Baptists, but also one of the wisest leaders. The brethren were always happy when he rose to speak on any subject, and they would follow his words with bated breath. At certain crises in the life of the Convention, it was Broadus who showed the way out. Plain and uneducated men could understand him, and they came to trust him as a, safe leader. He was aware of the weaknesses in our ultra-democratic denominational life, but he believed in our Baptist doctrines and polity. He held the confidence and loyalty of the Baptist brotherhood to the close of his life. Our whole world seemed to be different when he went away. In seasons of perplexity men found themselves inquiring "What would Dr. Broadus say of this? What would he advise us to do?" We missed him much as the early Christians must have missed the Apostle Paul when he departed "to be with Christ."


[From the Biblical Recorder, on-line edition, May 11, 1932, p. 10. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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