Pick up a book on expository preaching, and you’re likely to see multiple references to John A. Broadus. The book he wrote on preaching had its origin over 150 years ago, and since 1870, it has stayed in print and undergone multiple revisions.
What has given Broadus’ work such staying power?
Today, I’ve invited Roger Duke to answer a few questions about Broadus’ legacy. Roger is the editor of a new compilation of Broadus’ sermons, Prince of the Pulpit. As one who has benefited from Broadus’ work, I was honored to contribute the foreword.
Trevin Wax: Preaching books come and go about as quickly as preaching styles do. But John Broadus’ A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons is considered a classic, and it is still in print after more than a century. How did this book come about, and why do you think it has stood the test of time?
Roger Duke: When Southern Seminary was convened in 1859, John Broadus was given the assignment to develop and design a curriculum. He fashioned it after the model he had known at the University of Virginia, where he had studied Classics. Because of his academic background it fell his lot to teach New Testament and Sacred Oratory (as Homiletics was called then).
The first day of class Broadus had only one blind student in class. But he presented his lecture as though he had a class full of students.
The lectures from this first experience grew into what would become his famous Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. I believe this work has stood the test of time because Broadus found his impetus for Homiletics in the Classical Rhetoric Traditions of Aristotle, Augustine, Cicero, and Quintilian.
Trevin Wax: We know Broadus today for being a writer about preaching. In the late 19th century, people would have known Broadus for being a preacher. What did Broadus possess that gave him such preaching power?
Roger Duke: There were at least four dynamics that gave Broadus such power as he preached.
- First was his tremendous intellect. No doubt he was brilliant. He stood head and shoulders about his peers at the University of Virginia.
- Secondly, he had a never ceasing energy connected with a tremendous work ethic. Again his professors at the University noted how Broadus threw himself into every task set before him academically. This would prove invaluable to his ministry as campus minister, pastor, chaplain, denominational worker, seminary co-founder; et al.
- Third was his love for the Bible. He knew it. He translated it. He taught it. He taught others how to preach it. He saturated his life with the Bible for he himself was “mighty in the Scriptures.”
- Lastly, all of these coalesced in his extraordinary character. All that knew him observed the deep love he had for our Lord Jesus Christ and how it came across through his pulpit manner.
Trevin Wax: As I read through the sermons in this new book, I am struck by how richly theological and yet utterly simple they are. How would you advise students who are wanting to model Broadus’ ability to combine richness and simplicity?
Roger Duke: I would advise student ministers to take advantage of every educational opportunity possible. Some will be able to go on to graduate theological work. Some will not be afforded such opportunities. Nevertheless, learn all you can. Study as a habit and manner of life. Make the study of Scripture deep as you set about to do the task.
And coupled to that—a broad based general education. Read the great books of the ages. Read philosophy. Read history. Read the great novels. Read the great literary works of all time. Be proficient in the Biblical languages if at all possible. Seek to be a well-rounded person in general knowledge. Then you will have a never-ending reservoir to bring to the preaching task.
One thing that made Broadus so theologically profound was that he would be called a “lifelong learner” in today’s parlance. I do not think it a stretch to refer to him as a “renaissance man.” All of this is what made Broadus so deeply rich.
But he never forgot his humble beginnings. He always endeavored to make the message so plain that even a child could understand the Gospel. The uneducated farmer could hear the message of the man Jesus and know that Christ Jesus loved him had come to bring him salvation.
Trevin Wax: Broadus was a scholar who labored more than 20 years to write his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel. He was one of the founders of Southern Seminary and the second president of that institution. Together with Basil Manly, he was one of the primary advocates for the creation of a Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources, the largest Christian resource provider in the world). How was Broadus able to succeed at so many different roles and yet maintain his passion and skill for preaching?
Roger Duke: It is difficult to add to those four dynamics enumerated above: his tremendous intellect, his unusual work ethic, his inordinate love of the Scriptures, and his impeccable character. All of that served him well throughout his life. But his many responsibilities can be attributed to or flow from one single motivating factor. He was a gospel preacher first and foremost. As I have spent a great deal of time with him through his writings over the years, it is my considered opinion that this is how he would want to be remembered. Whatever he attempted, however he was presently employed; he never forgot to give himself devotedly and unreservedly to the art and craft of preaching.
Trevin Wax: Your biographical sketch of Broadus at the beginning of this book ends with Broadus’ last words to a preaching class at Southern Seminary. His plea was that they have “true piety” and become “mighty in the Scriptures.” How did Broadus model this two-fold desire in his own life, and how can young preachers cultivate the same desire?
Roger Duke: Broadus was a man of prayer, a a man of meditation and contemplation. Broadus was a man truly “mighty in the Scriptures!” This he did by precept and practice all of his life—as long as the Lord gave him strength. It was these that made his peaching what it was.
In sum: I believe Broadus would tell this young generation of preachers to be “mighty in the Scriptures” as well. For one must lay hold on the Scriptures as an academic pursuit. But the Scriptures must lay hold on us! The Scriptures must be allowed to change them from one level of glory to another. This is how we can know that true piety of which Broadus spoke. Love the Scriptures. Preach the Scriptures. Teach the Scriptures. But most of all, allow the Scriptures to change you.
For further study, check out John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy.