March 24, 2015

"Who has despised the day of small things?" - Thoughts on the Life of John Broadus

Unless you are a preacher, or an aficionado of Baptist history, you may never have heard the name of John Broadus.

But you’ve probably heard of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – which is, today, one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the entire world. And I sincerely hope you know the name of Lottie Moon “whose fame” – because of her sacrificial service to the gospel in China, and because of the Christmastime offering named after her – “has spread through all the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:18).

Indeed, I dare say that the Seminary in Louisville and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® are perhaps the two best things we Southern Baptists have going for us. And both of them owe much of what they are (under God) to that man at the beginning of the article whose name you may never have heard. And, as I listened to a lecture about him this week (“The Spurgeon of Charlottesville” by Nathan Finn, at, I was intrigued enough by Broadus’s story to pass on just a bit of Finn’s information to you, with some application.  I’d encourage you to listen to the full 45-minute lecture. But here are just a few items:

In the mid-1800’s, John Broadus was Lottie Moon’s pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was converted to Christ under his ministry, and trained at a school for women that he began in those days when women didn’t go to university. And she went on to become the most famous missionary the Southern Baptists have ever had, and the driving force behind that massive missions offering which today supports thousands of missionaries all over the globe. And I wonder – would we be able to send out nearly so many missionaries without that Christmas offering? And would we have begun collecting the offering, in the first place, without Lottie Moon’s boldness to call for greater missionary support? And would Lottie Moon have been the missionary that she was without her old pastor, John Broadus? Humanly speaking, who knows how different things might have been without Lottie Moon’s pastor!

And what about Southern Seminary? Praise God for its current president, Albert Mohler, who has led the school, in recent decades, from the brink of near death at the hands of liberal theology to amazing heights of fruitfulness. But would there have even been a seminary to revive had not John Broadus and a few other men gotten it off the ground in the 1850’s? And had they not committed to keeping it open when it nearly died of financial strain after the Civil War? Speaking from a human vantage point, the answer would seem to be ‘no’.

And so the two (in my opinion) greatest Southern Baptist institutions of the present day both owe much of their human origin to this pastor-turned-seminary-professor named John Broadus.

And then there was this nugget from Finn’s lecture – namely that John Broadus’s book, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, became one of the most influential textbooks to be written on the subject of preaching. Some schools were still using it as a textbook 140 years later, when Finn gave his lecture in 2010! But here, to me, is the most intriguing part of Finn’s nugget: The book was written based on Broadus’s seminary lecture notes from the fall of 1865 – the first semester after the devastation of the Civil War, when Broadus only had one student in his preaching class … and that student was blind! And yet Broadus evidently gave that one student his best just the same – and out of those lectures to one blind student, he penned one of the best preaching books ever written!

And I say to you, from Zechariah 4:10, “who has despised the day of small things?”

Now, make no mistake, Broadus was one of the most gifted preachers of his day. And much of what he did and was involved in cannot rightly be filed under the heading of “small things.” Charles Spurgeon, who actually was the greatest preacher of the 19th century, called Broadus “the greatest of living preachers.” That’s high praise! And Broadus’s great gifts were greatly blessed in his day to the conversion of many souls.

But I have just noted for you that Broadus’s impact continues to be felt by people in our day who will never hear him preach, and many of whom will never know his name – because of his influence on one college-aged girl in his church; because he and his friends determined to save a fledgling seminary when most people would have understood them letting it go; and because when he had an audience of one (instead of the thousands who sometimes sat before him), he still gave his best. And there is something to be learned there for those of us who are much less gifted!

Yes, God used Broadus’s extraordinary gifts! And few, if any, who read this little column will ever possess the like. But Broadus’s influence has come down to us, in large part because he did not despise “the day of small things.” I doubt, in other words, that Broadus ever dreamed what Lottie Moon would blossom into (much less how many millions of dollars would be raised for missions under the Lottie Moon offering all these years later)! And yet he invested in her (and many other young women in his church and school) just the same. I think he might be astonished to see that fledgling little seminary, nearly decimated by the financial repercussions of the Civil War, now humming with a couple of thousand students and a world-class faculty. But he worked to save her anyway, even when talking of such success would have seemed like pie-in-the-sky. And could he have imagined that the content of his lectures to that one blind student would still be in print and blessing preachers a century-and-a-half-later? But he still gave his best!

So I conclude that surely Broadus must have begun all these ventures, not because he was certain that they would be great things, but because they were the right things, even if they were small! And I say there is a lesson in that!

Who knows what impact you may make if you will continue to do what is right, even though it may be small? Who knows what will come – in 150 years – of your winning that one young woman to Christ, or of your faithfully teaching a Sunday School class with one student, or of your helping keep a small church or school’s doors open, or a thousand other seemingly small acts of faithfulness? And even if you don’t spawn a Lottie Moon or a Southern Seminary … God is pleased with faithfulness!

So press on, brothers and sisters! And do not despise “the day of small things”!


For more on Broadus, see a brief intro to him at Southern Seminary's website, or pick up a book about Broadus's life and ministry edited by David Dockery and Roger Duke.

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