John A. Broadus: Teacher of Preachers

by Bernard R. DeRemer

Smiles of assent swept across the Upperville, Virginia, Baptist Church in August, 1846, as the speaker won the full sympathy of his audience. No preacher had ever before so fully justified the toil and sacrifices enriching these farmers. It was right, he declared, for the Christian to gather property and provide well for his family.

Suddenly Dr. A. M. Poindexter dramatically appealed for hearers to "consecrate their wealth to the highest ends of existence, to the…glory of Christ." Then with no less power he urged his audience to consecrate their mental gifts and possible attainments to the work of the ministry. One young man was so powerfully moved that immediately after the service, he told his pastor, "the question is settled; I must try to be a preacher."

Dr. Poindexter's sermon had just changed the life course of young John A. Broadus. In the providence of God, Broadus' preaching, teaching, and writing were destined to influence countless lives, far beyond his own lifetime.

Concerning Broadus, Dr. William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, declared, "No man ever heard him preach but understood every sentence. As a teacher of the New testament as well as of homiletics, it is perhaps not too much to say that he had no superior in this country."

John A. BroadusJohn Albert Broadus was born January 24, 1827, in Culpeper County, Virginia, and was saved during a protracted (evangelistic) meeting, and was baptized in a mountain stream. He quit teaching school in 1846 to enter the University of Virginia, planning to become a doctor. But he could not dismiss the appeal of the ministry. Finally, Dr. Poindexter's message settled the issue; he enrolled in the university but pursued a different career.

There he became active in Sunday school work, students' prayer meetings, and a debating society, meanwhile absorbing learning at the institution said to offer "the most thorough education to be had in this country" at the time.

After graduation, Broadus pastored the Charlottesville Baptist Church, where he preached to congregations ranging from slaves to university professors. At the same time, he served as assistant professor of classics at the University of Virginia, and for a time as university chaplain-gaining stature in Latin and Greek, the latter invaluable for his life work.

In 1859, Broadus and three others joined the original faculty of the new Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, then in Greenville, S. C. Before he was fairly launched on his new career, the Civil War broke out, forcing the infant school to close for the duration.

Broadus ministered in small country churches, and preached at many military bases, meanwhile working on his commentary on Matthew.

Amid the overwhelming difficulties of a prostrate economy, the seminary bravely reopened November 1, 1865-with seven students. It was uphill work, seeking to enlist support and raise funds during the difficult days of reconstruction.

During this time, renowned institutions actively sought Broadus as president, and many influential churches would have welcomed him as pastor. But he did not waver in his devotion to the seminary.

After much prayer and work, it was decided to move to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1877. Immediately enrollment increased, and demands for Broadus to speak in churches of all evangelical denominations multiplied. In 1889, he became seminary president.

Dr. Broadus, who had a high concept of the preacher's office, preached with a purpose. He always sought to lead his hearers to some spiritual decision: conversion, commitment, decisive Christian living. Famed Dr. A. T. Robertson, who had heard Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Phillips Brooks, and many others, declared, "Broadus was the equal of any man I ever heard."

In the classroom, he was exacting, compelling, fascinating, possessing "a sort of faculty of divination; and extraordinary scientific and historical imagination." One of his daughters recalled, "When we heard him preach, what he said never seemed in different character from his home self, but only something more from the same source."

Coming home from school one day, one of his children asked whether it was right to try to get ahead of others so as to be the best in a class. Broadus answered, "It is right to try to do better than they, but it would be wrong to keep them from doing well, or begrudge their success." In later years. Broadus delivered the famous Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University. He also spoke at the Northfield, Massachusetts, conferences which Moody founded and conducted, as well as lecturing at the University of Chicago.

His correspondence with leading scholars of the day included Professors W. F. Moulton and J. B. Lightfoot, of Cambridge University, England; Prof. B. B. Warfield of Princeton; and many others.

While Dr. Broadus wrote nine books and a number of articles, perhaps his crowning achievement was his textbook, Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. First published in 1870, this classic stemmed form his careful preparation of full lectures for the benefit of a blind student. It has been translated into several foreign languages, went through at least forty-two editions, and reached a circulation of more than 65,000 copies. From it generations of preachers learned the fundamentals of Scriptural exposition, enormously enriching countless ministries.

Dr. W. O. Carver testified, "No other work in the field of homiletics has had so wide and extended use in the history of theological education." A Chicago professor discovered that this work was "employed more than all other such books combined."

Only Broadus's Commentary on Matthew is listed in Books in Print. However, other titles may be found in libraries or secondhand stores.

John A. Broadus, who went to be with the Lord in 1895, was indeed an outstanding teacher of preachers, and an Olympian of the pulpit.

Adapted from Christianity Today; used by permission