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by Stan Williams

Early Life, Conversion, and Education

John Albert Broadus was born January 24, 1827, in Culpepper County, Virginia, the fourth child of Major Edmund Broadus and Nancy Sims. Although the Broadus home was not financially wealthy, it was rich in the things which count; intelligence, culture, love, and piety, . . . and "Baptist to the core."

When he was about sixteen, he surrendered himself to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Though he had been surrounded by religious influences, he had not yet confessed faith in Christ. During a revival meeting at the Mt. Poney Baptist Church, a friend asked him if he would not accept the promise of the preacher's text, "all that the Father giveth me shall come to me. And him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." In that moment he yielded his life to Christ. After this initial experience, he made a constant effort to grow in grace and knowledge of his Lord. He began immediately to witness, to study, and to serve. His preaching knew the under girding of a warm, contagious, experimental religious faith.

In the fall of 1846, young Broadus entered the University of Virginia. His early education had been somewhat irregular; consequently, he spent four years in diligent, disciplined study. On June 4, 1849 the twenty two year old Broadus preached his first sermon at the Mount Eagle Presbyterian Church in Albemarle County. His text was from Psalm 62:8, "God is a refuge for us." He was supplying the pulpit for Dr. William McGuffy, professor of moral philosophy at the University of Virginia, who was ill.

His second sermon was preached at his home church of New Salem, on July 2. His text on this Sunday was taken from I Timothy 4:8. That afternoon he re-preached his sermon on Psalm 62 at the home of John Lewis in Culpeper. Dr. Broadus left two large notebooks filled with the dates, places, and texts of all his sermons preached during his whole life which is a good practice for all preachers.

He received the M.A. degree hi 1850 and later came to be considered the University of Virginia's most famous alumnus. At the close of his University course, Broadus declined various offers because he desired to pursue theological studies. During the next year he taught in a private school in Fluvanna County, Virginia, preached in small country churches, and diligently studied church history, theology, sermons, and above all the Bible. During this year two notable events occurred; his ordination on August 12, 1850, and his marriage to Miss Maria Harrison, November 13, 1850, who was the daughter of his favorite professor, Gessner Harrison. Into this marriage was born three daughters: Eliza S. (for whom the Eliza Broadus State Missions Offering is named), Annie Harrison, who married W. Y. Abraham, and Maria Louisa. Maria Broadus died on October 21, 1857 and on January 4th, 1859 Broadus married Charlotte Sinclair who bore him five children; Samuel, Caroline, Alice, Ella (who married Dr. A. T. Robertson) and Boyce.

Calls of various kinds came to the young teacher, and he finally accepted the one to be tutor in Latin and Greek at his alma mater and the pastorate of the Charlottesville Baptist Church. After one year he resigned his teaching position in order to devote his full tune to his pastorate, which he did with the exception of two years when he was given a leave of absence to serve as chaplain at the University of Virginia. During his pastorate at Charlottesville, among those he baptized were Crawford Toy, (who was the professor of Hebrew at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1869 to 1879 but later resigned over his views on Darwinism which were fueled by European higher criticism. He later taught Hebrew and Semitic languages at Harvard University and became a Unitarian). Pastor Broadus also baptized Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon who became the "patron saint of missions" for Southern Baptists. Lottie Moon was educated at the Albemarle Female Institute, which was founded by Dr. Broadus, where she was one of the first women hi the south to earn a master's degree in languages. She became proficient in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and English grammar. She was who was briefly engaged to Crawford Toy but broke off the engagement citing religious reasons and her desire to stay on the mission field in China.

Dr. Broadus was a consummate scholar. He studied the sources of things and worked through everything for himself. To Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he added German, French, Spanish, Italian, Gothic, Coptic, and modem Greek. He had made himself a specialist in homi-letics, in the English Bible, in New Testament history, exegesis in Greek, in textual criticism, in patristic Greek, and in hymnology (English and foreign).

The Founding of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Civil War

In 1858 he was asked to become a member of the first faculty of the new Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Though Broadus had had a part in the planning of the institution, he at first declined the offer because of his attachment to preaching and pastoral work. But there ensued months of struggle with himself over the decision, and he finally agreed to become a member of the first faculty of the seminary when it opened in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1859. For the next 36 years, he was Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Homiletics, and his life was inextricably bound to the school.

During the first two years, the Seminary showed real promise, but then came the Civil War and the school was forced to close. During the course of the war between the states, Dr. Broadus preached in small churches and spent some time as chaplain in Lee's army in Northern Virginia. During the summer of 1863, and at the invitation of General Robert E. Lee and the urging of General "Stonewall" Jackson, Dr. Broadus preached as a missionary in General Lee's army. When General Jackson heard that Dr. Broadus had accepted the invitation he said, "That is good; very good. I am so glad of that. And when Doctor Broadus comes, you must bring him to see me. I want him to preach at my headquarters, and I wish to help him in his work all I can. " However, the battle of Chancellorsville came on a few days afterward, and before the great preacher could see the great soldier, Stonewall Jackson had "crossed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees."

Dr. Broadus spent July, August, and the first half of September, 1863 preaching to Confederate soldiers as an "army missionary." He lived in the camps with the men, and slept on a cot using his coat for a pillow. During this time he also served as a war correspondent of the Charleston News and Courier. "It was the most interesting and thoroughly delightful preaching I was ever involved in," he wrote. He preached to thousands and saw hundreds come to faith in Christ during that summer.

When the Seminary reopened in 1865, its small endowment was gone, the students were few, and the prospect was one of struggle and sacrifice. During the darkest days in Greenville, Broadus revealed his spirit when he said to the other professors, "Perhaps the Seminary may die, but let us resolve to die first." However, it was in this period of stress and strain, that Broadus did some of his best and most painstaking work. He reworked his lectures on homiletics for a blind student and in 1870 he published A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, a book which was to become and remain a classic hi its field.

The seminary was moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1877. Though conditions were somewhat better, Broadus and Dr. James P. Boyce, the seminary's first president, were to give their lives trying to establish the Seminary on a firm financial foundation. Broadus was offered many influential pastorates hi the North and South, many professorships and other positions. Brown University, Crozer Seminary, Richmond College, First Baptist Church of Richmond, and Eutaw Place, Baltimore all clamored for Dr. Broadus' services at a time when there was not enough money to pay the salaries of the professors. But he could not be moved. He had cast his lot with the seminary and with it he chose to remain.

The last years of his life were years of increasing fame and recognition, hi 1889, he gave the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University, the only Southern Baptist ever to be accorded this honor and became the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's second president. His Commentary on Matthew, Lectures on the History of Preaching, Harmony of the Gospels, and other books were to add to his stature as a scholar.

The Preaching Power of John A. Broadus
He had accurate knowledge, a clarity of expression which made the difficult simple, and an enthusiasm which was transmitted to his listeners. - V.L. Stanfield
In his own preaching, Dr. Broadus made excellent use of the Scripture. He used a text for every sermon; and the text was more than a springboard; it had a vital relation to the sermon. Sometimes the text would provide the outline of the sermon, sometimes only a portion of the outline, sometimes the subject of the discourse, or again the introduction. He used, and never abused, the Scripture.

The texts which he used most frequently are some of the great preaching texts of the Bible. He followed his own advice, "Do not avoid a text because it is familiar." A listing of these texts sounds like a roll call of the great texts of the Bible. This may be seen by noting the texts of the sermons his this book. Surprisingly, however, few of Dr. Broadus' sermons were expository. In fact, he did not often take a long passage as a text. He kept a record in his "Day Book" of four hundred and sixty sermons which he preached in various places. Of these sermons, 344 were on single verses, 110 on two or more verses, and 6 were on multiple texts.

Nonetheless, Dr. Broadus was an expository preacher in the broad sense of that term. He rarely, indeed if ever, preached a sermon in which there was not some exposition. He wanted the Scripture to say only what it meant; he wanted his listeners to know what God was saying to them. Because he let himself be a channel of God's message, the intrinsic power of that message gave him unusual power.

A second factor which contributed to his power was the simplicity of his preaching. What he had to say was transparently clear. This does not mean that his sermons lacked worthwhile thought. He gave to his preaching his best intellectual effort, but he invariably concealed the processes and brought to his congregations the results of his investigations in language which they could understand. One Sunday morning he preached on the "Practical Aspects of the Trinity," and a ten-year-old boy came forward after the service to thank him for the helpful message.

This teaching concerning clearness was practice before it became theory. Clarity was a prerequisite in his first pastorate. In the congregation at Charlottesville there were five distinct groups (1.) those from the University, (2.) the business people in the town, (3.) the country people, (4.) the children, (5.) and a large group of slaves. Consequently, "he had to give his audience high thinking in simple language." The ideas had to be strong enough to interest the University teachers and clear enough for the others to understand. "He accomplished his feat and made each group, not to say each individual, feel that every sermon was a special message to that particular class." This lesson, once mastered, became the rule of his later preaching.

This simplicity however, was the result of studious care. Dr. Broadus labored to make his message simple. He had learned from experience that the simple message was acceptable to every group. One Sunday he preached a sermon to his congregation at Cedar Grove, a small country church in South Carolina; a week later he preached the same sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention hi Atlanta, Georgia.

A third factor which contributed to his power was his conscious purpose to lead his hearers to some spiritual decision. He was not content just to preach a sermon; he wanted the sermon to do something. In defining good preaching, he declared, "There must be a powerful impulse upon the will; the hearers must feel smitten, stirred, moved to, or at least towards, some action or determination to act." This attitude also is seen in a plea which he frequently made to his students. "A good speech is a good thing, but the verdict is the thing. Gentlemen, when you preach, strike for a verdict." Dr. W. H. Whitsitt has well summarized the aim which undergirded Broadus' preaching: "In his conception the supreme end of delivery was not to charm or delight the hearer, but rather to convince and persuade him. Therefore, every art of persuasion was studied and employed if by any means he might reach the heart and move to action."

A fourth factor which contributed to Broadus' preaching power was his method of preparation and delivery. Early in his ministry, Dr. Broadus determined to master the technique of preaching. Besides his own dedication to his task, the high standard for sermon delivery which had been established in Virginia, the demands of a university church, and perhaps the example set by Andrew Broadus, his famous kinsman, spurred him to attain his best. Consequently, long before he had thought of teaching homiletics, he began an analytical study of the great preachers and their sermons and sought to put the principles which he learned from them into practice.

The mode of preparation Dr. Broadus preferred and employed was that of speaking extemporaneously. "To think over the subject with all possible thoroughness, arranging its topics in the most natural order; to fix it in the mind, running over the arrangement till the whole is familiar; then going without paper into the pulpit to stand up and speak. However, extemporaneous delivery did not mean extemporaneous thinking. It meant a free delivery after careful preparation

Dr. Broadus practiced what he preached; One Sunday morning as he was walking into the church, he discovered that he had his notes with him. He turned to his daughter, Mrs. A. T. Robertson and said, "Daughter, I forgot to leave my notes at home. Will you keep them until after the services?"

Final Illness and Death

Broadus had struggled with ill health since his college days. By extreme care he had continued his work in spite of toil and trial. However, years of privation and struggle had taken their toll. Dr. A. T. Robertson, who was Dr. Broadus' son-in-law, relates the following: "One day in March, 1895 Dr. Broadus stood before his class in New Testament English for the last time.
He was talking of Apollos:

Young gentlemen, if this -were the last time I should ever be permitted to address you, I would feel amply repaid for consuming the whole hour in endeavoring to impress upon you these two things, true piety and like Apollos, to be men, "Mighty in the Scriptures." Then pausing, he stood for a moment with his piercing eye fixed upon us, and repeated over and over again in the slow, but wonderfully impressive style peculiar to himself, "Mighty in the Scriptures" "Mighty in the Scriptures," until the whole class seemed to be lifted through him into a sacred nearness to the Master. That picture of him as he stood there at that moment can never be obliterated from my mind.
This was on Thursday. Next day he was attacked with pleurisy that gradually grew worse. For some days there was still hope, but by Thursday of the 14th it became clear that the end was near. The children were telegraphed for. No sadder hour has come to my life than the duty of telling the student body in New York Hall on Thursday evening that Doctor Broadus was dying. The end came Saturday morning, March 16th, at 3:45 a.m."

The whole city was hushed into reverence as Doctor Broadus passed into the shadow of death. Tributes poured hi from all over the world. The Courier-Journal wrote: "There is no man in the United States whose death would cause more widespread sorrow than the death of Doctor Broadus."

The funeral services were held at Walnut Street Church. The audience overflowed to the sidewalk and the streets were lined with sympathetic crowds all the way to Cave Hill Cemetery. The Confederate Veterans attended hi a body. The active pall bearers were students. There were five addresses given that day by Dr. W. D. Thomas, Dr. Whitsitt, Dr. Eaton, Dr. Hemphill, and Dr. Henson who said;

"He was a Baptist of deep conviction, never apologizing for his principles. He is gone, but his light is not out. There are stars so far away that if they were blotted out they would still shine on for a hundred years. So will Dr. Broadus continue to shine. He will live in your hearts and in other hearts over the world. When Moses died the people wept, and well they might, for there was but one Moses. But lo! Joshua comes, and the walls of Jericho fall down, and the Promised Land becomes the heritage of God's people. Elijah is taken up, but his mantle falls on Elisha. So God's work goes on."
Dr. John A. Broadus was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in the Seminary lot beside Dr. J. P. Boyce and Dr. Basil Manly. They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided.

[Presented to the J. H. Spencer Historical Society, November 9, 2015, meeting at Severns Valley Baptist Church Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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