One of America’s greatest preachers spent most of his ministry not as a pastor but as a professor, then president, of a young Baptist seminary.
John A. Broadus, born January 24, 1827 in Culpepper County, Virginia, had planned to enter the University of Virginia to study medicine. After hearing a sermon on the parable of the talents, however, he told his pastor, “The question is decided; I must try to be a preacher.”
Following graduation, Broadus taught school while continuing his theological study independently. He served as chaplain of the university and pastor of Charlottesville’s First Baptist Church before agreeing to become part of the original faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary when it began classes in 1859. For 36 years–spanning the Civil War and the seminary’s move to Louisville–he served as Professor of New Testament and Homiletics, and eventually President, of what was then Southern Baptists’ only seminary.
During the difficult days following the Civil War, Broadus and others sacrificed greatly to insure the continued existence of the young seminary. It was also during this period that he produced some of his most significant work, including the classic textbook A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. That book, which has been revised twice and reprinted many times, is the most widely-used preaching text ever published. In 1889, Broadus became the first (and for the next 90 years the only) Southern Baptist to present the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University.
Broadus’ commitment to teaching withstood frequent attempts to call him to major pulpits in cities of both north and south. He was a popular preacher throughout the nation and was recognized by his contemporaries as one of the most gifted pulpiteers of his age.
His preaching was strongly Biblical, growing out of a deep devotion to Scripture. At the same time, Broadus sought to communicate his message in clear, understandable terms and direct, simple organization. He tried to instill this concern for clarity in his students also; he once exclaimed, “Alas for the education of the ministers of Jesus if it ceases to be true that the common people hear them gladly.”
Broadus preached in a conversational tone–he once urged his students to “talk like folks talk”–and used only a few gestures. Though he prepared carefully for his messages, Broadus made only scattered notes, and would not use even them in the pulpit, preferring what he called “extempore delivery.”
Though he spent most of his ministry in a classroom rather than the pulpit of a local church, Broadus’ commitment to strong Biblical preaching still provides a worthy model for those who would proclaim God’s Word. The excerpts which follow provide just a glimpse of the preaching of this gifted pulpiteer.
From “Come Unto Me”
It is worth observing that the gospel invitations, while they extend to all, are so varied. The same bountiful and gracious Being who suits the blessings of His providence to our various wants, does also adapt the invitations of His mercy to the varied characters and conditions of men. Are men enemies to God? — they are invited to be reconciled. Have they hearts harder than the nether millstone? — He offers to take away the stone, and give a heart of flesh. Are they dancing gaily, or rushing madly, along the way that leads to death? — He calls upon them to turn, “Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?” Are they sleeping the heavy sleep of sin? — “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” Are men hungering with a craving hunger? — He calls them to the water of life. And are they burdened with sin and sinfulness? — He invites them to come to Jesus for rest.
From “Be Careful For Nothing”
How can we help it? How can any one help being anxious? Our possessions are held by an uncertain tenure. The possessions of the rich are a source of anxiety; and the anxieties of the poor are not proportioned to their possessions. Our very lives are uncertain; and the things that are dear to us awaken anxieties in our minds. We are anxious about those we love better than our lives. Your son stayed out late last night, and made an evasive answer when you questioned him about it. Could you fail to be anxious, as you stole a furtive look at him across the breakfast table? And your husband, you used to hope would become a Christian; but he hasn’t, and he does not seem interested of late; he has not been to church in a good many Sundays …
Life, property, character, everything is uncetain. How is it possible to avoid being anxious? And yet the apostle says it, secure in the promise of his master, “In nothing be anxious.”
From “All Things Work Together For Good”
How does the Spirit help? Among the Greeks and Romans the advocate had a two-old function. He not only appeared for the client, but he prepared the address which the client would deliver–prepared for him his plea. The Spirit not only maketh intercession for us, appears before the throne as our advocate, but teaches us what to say, gives right thoughts, works in us deep desire and strong purpose, incites our heart’s petition, a prayer pleasing and acceptable to God.
In the last days of the war, the good President spent much of his time hearing appeals of wives, mothers and sisters in behalf of husbands, sons and brothers. Military law was strict and severe, but the word of the President set it all aside. No matter for military law if the President signed a pardon. O, man, if God is for us, who can be against us? “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” Such a priceless gift is assurance of every other gift.
From “Some Laws of Spiritual Work”
How shall we learn to love religious work so that it may kindle and refresh us? Old Daniel Sharp, who was a famous Baptist preacher in Boston years ago, used to be very fond of repeating, “The only way to learn to preach is to preach.” Certainly, the only way to learn to do anything is to do the thing. The only way to learn to love spiritual work is to keep doing it until we gain pleasure from doing; and to cherish all the sentiments which will awaken in us that “enthusiasm of humanity” which it was Jesus that introduced among men; and to love the souls of our fellow men, to love the wandering, misguided lives, to love the suffering and sinning all around us with such an impassioned love that it shall be a delight to us to do them good and try to save them from death. Then that will refresh both mind and body.
From “Christian Joy”
My hearer, have you ever felt what is meant by communion with God? Or is it only a something you have read of in the Bible and heard of from the pulpit, without understanding it? If you be a real, earnest Christian, you have felt what it is. You are able to call God Father. Although by sin men are separated from him and can look to him only as an offended Lord and a righteously angry Judge, yet you may rejoice at knowing that you have been adopted into the household of faith, and have received that spirit of adoption whereby you cry, “Abba, Father,” and can in humble faith and earnest confidence lift your prayer unto him who is our Father in heaven. You can pray without ceasing to him. As you hunger and thirst after righteousness, you can go to him and know that you shall be filled. As you feel yourself weak, you can hope for strength from him.

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