There can be no doubt that John A. Broadus embraced fervently the cause of the confederacy in the Civil War. Broadus went to serve as a chaplain in the Southern army. He was active in preaching among the troops and saw waves of revival and conversion in the camps. In a pamphlet he wrote to the Confederate soldiers We Pray for You at Home, he pointed particularly to his prayers for the “just and glorious cause in which you so nobly struggle that it may please God to make you triumphant that we may have independence and peace.” He also prayed for the Holy Spirit’s influence to bring them to hate sin and love holiness and that they would flee to Christ as an atoning sacrifice.
Broadus believed in the inevitability of the Civil War. Apart from several other considerations, the nation’s fathers had left two important questions mistily defined. One concerned the character of the Federal Government. Does a state have a right to secede from the union or would such action be seen as rebellion? The second, Broadus described as “a certain great social institution, grown into portentous and tremendous proportions,” that had fallen under the ban of the civilized world. Is slavery compatible with freedoms stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? “I verily believe,” Broadus pronounced, “that it is worth all our dreadful financial losses, all the sufferings of the long and frightful conflict, yea, and the blood of our precious dead, to have those two questions behind us forever.” Forever!
On these perceptions of the result of the War, Broadus was right. The secessionist action of the South was not seen as a matter of the autonomous rights of the states but as, in the words of Lincoln as he enacted the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, an act of “rebellion against the United States.” The Declaration of Independence had stated clearly, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Constitution of the United States was written to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Did these words apply to the slaves that lived, worked, sang, sought to produce families and pursue happiness within these states.? Lincoln believed so and thus also “sincerely believed” the suppression of this rebellion and the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation to be “an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity.” He appealed to the “considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” That constituted the answer to Broadus’s second question; neither on the basis of the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution could slavery be maintained as viable in the United States of America. Amendment 13 finalized this abolition of slavery stating “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Divine providence ruled in giving answer, for the Southern position on both these issues “was appointed” to fail. Apart from the exegetical question that occupied much energy among theologians of both the North and the South as to whether the Bible presented slavery in every situation as an immoral and necessarily oppressive institution, Broadus concluded that, concerning its legality in the United States, Providence had decided the question. So earnest and intense was Broadus that he conceded as a necessary cost to decide these questions “all our dreadful financial losses, all the sufferings of the long and frightful conflict, yea, and the blood of our precious dead.”
The struggle and deaths, however, still served a noble purpose for the South, Broadus believed, for it “preserved the self-respect of the Southern people.” To have acquiesced simply to avoid suffering when conscience said that rights were disregarded and treated peremptorily would be unmanly and disrespectful. “It is better to have been brave and beaten, than never to have been brave at all.” No shame, no lack of respect attends the present union because there is now no underestimation of the manhood or conviction of either North or South. “The graves of our fallen soldiers,” Broadus contended, “make it possible that this generation and the coming generations of the Southern people should feel no shame in consequence of their defeat.”
Speaking at the dedication of an art museum, Broadus argued strongly for the educational value of all museums and for the rapid gathering of the “precious and often perishable relics” of the heroism of Confederate soldiers. “The conflict is over,” Broadus remarked; “its animosities have been quite laid aside and we are contented and patriotic citizens of the United States; but the relics of that great civil war are sacred, for us and for our children, and its heroes, its splendid heroes, shall be famous forever.”
While we wish that every Christian man of the South could have risen above the dominant views of the culture, they did not. We wish they could have worked rapidly and with true zeal for the superior condition of freedom (1 Corinthians 7:22). They were enmeshed in a network of economic, societal, cross-cultural, and exegetical complexities that established an assurance of mind that they were right. In our present position of freedom established by 150 years of struggle, we must be careful not to be dismissive or resentful toward the clear and serious nature of instruction to both slaves and masters in Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, and 1 Peter. Driven more by an idyllic vision of what they hoped than by the often brutal reality around them, southern Christians looked toward a society with slave and master refined by Christian love under the authority of a “Master in heaven” (Ephesians 6:9). We relish freedom and seek to rectify real injustices of the past and present, but must beware of looking with suspicion or with a dismissive spirit toward biblical instructions (e.g. Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1, 2; Titus 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 2:18-21) given by the apostles and imply that they were naïve, immature, unenlightened, and inconsistent with the gospel that they themselves preached.
Many considerate people of the South, however, did transcend certain abuses, saw the slaves as image-bearers of God and equally entitled to gospel privileges along with their masters, and saw the true path to freedom for both was forgiveness of sin and justification by the work of Christ. No matter what kind of social relations defined the earthly status of individuals the transcendent truth for all was found in the revelation of the gospel in Scripture and in the person and work of Christ. Broadus held this during the tensions of secession, during the war and after the war. All that the war dissolved was merely temporal; the eternal verities of biblical revelation as concentrated in the gospel exhibited converting and reviving power beyond the sectional conflict and was not inhibited by geographically defined borders. Broadus focused on that, gloried in that, and his contribution to Christian witness in general and Baptist life in particular flourished within that framework.
No matter how confident Broadus was in his assumptions about how the future would regard the sufferings of the Confederacy and how precious its relics would be, it appears that his confidence of future honor was completely misguided. Everything that Broadus felt was glorious, the absence of reason for shame, the mutual respect that would be maintained, the “splendid heroes” whose fame would endure has now been shattered and subjected to an absolutist existential cultural judgment. He forgot, and perhaps we have also, what the apostle Paul said, “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purpose of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Some of this removal is warranted; perhaps some is not. That which should be suppressed should be done so for reasons stated and verified in rational discussion filled, hopefully, with good will. Peremptory destruction and removal of publicly owned and exhibited artwork, buildings, plaques, and memorials is a dictatorial intrusion on the liberties of all citizens of the United States, and for Christians, in direct violation of biblical standards of conduct and submission to legitimate authority. Recently, a movement in Mississippi has proposed a change in the state flag to remove the Confederate flag as an element. This proposal has in fact been effected. Ligon Duncan, among others including Baptists, argued that this should be done. His reasons are well-stated and convincing. The Confederate flag, given all the emotional and cultural attachments many may have to it, is in reality, historically speaking, a static symbol of one aspect of American history that sought to justify rebellion and retention of slaves as property. Though many persons have a purely cultural and perhaps nostalgic connection that has nothing to do with rebellion and slavery, but a congenial, neighborly, polite, hospitable way of living, the symbol itself is set in a specific period of time and was a rallying point for the distinctives of the southern cause in the Civil War. Those specific aspects of southern conviction, as Broadus realized, were providentially ruled out of bounds in the American concept of liberty in a democratic-republic. Maintaining a symbol of the rebellion in a celebratory context should be eliminated and then isolated to a context that is purely informative for the purpose of historical instruction.
People, however, differ greatly from static symbols. They interact with other people and with ideas moment by moment. They change their understanding and influence others to change theirs. They create relationships that transcend their personal chronological boundaries and extend their influence into future generations, sometimes for increased ill and sometimes for burgeoning good. It is impossible to isolate a person to a static caricature who is active in thinking, writing, speaking, advancing in knowledge, expanding beyond the restrictions of a narrow span of life. Mark Antony’s line should not be encouraged: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr’d with their bones.” So let it not be with Broadus.
When Broadus died, his contemporaries saw his character and his contributions as indicative of true greatness in manhood and unusual endowments of grace. C. L. Corbitt remembered the final lecture given by Broadus in New Testament in 1895. He lingered over the description of Apollos as “mighty in the Scriptures.” As he repeated that phrase over and over, “the whole class seemed to be lifted through him into a sacred nearness to the Master.” What occupied the man just weeks prior to his death? He was absorbed, and wanted others to enjoy the same vision, of the transcendent beauty and power of Scripture. Let us pray for such men today.
The Evening Post in Louisville wrote just before Broadus died, ”Clear in all his views, lucid in all statements, earnest and persuasive in argument, . . . the work he has done will live after him.” The Courier Journal said, “There is no man in the United States whose death would cause more widespread sorrow than the death of Dr. Broadus.” W. D. Thomas compared Broadus in his convictions about Scripture and the person and work of Christ to the bilious liberalism of the day affirming that he had no “indefinite faith” but a “clear and firm trust in the atonement of the Son of God.” When seeing the greatness of Broadus, one must know that “Faith in Christ worked in him, quickening, purifying, and elevating all his impulses, powers and aspiration, and made him what he was. In this time of unrest and of drifting away let us not forget that this scholar, this great and good man, was Christ’s man.” Can we sense the irony that this contemporary “time of unrest” drives us to forget that “this great and good man was Christ’s man?”
Another observer, knowing of Broadus’s great respect in the South, said, “Yet he was as much loved in New York as Virginia. Whatever he spoke from any platform on either side of the line was applauded to the echo on both sides of the line.” A. H Newman wrote, “I have long regarded Doctor Broadus as the finest and most perfect specimen of Christian manhood I have ever known, and I look in vain for his superior in the history of the church since the apostolic age.” B. H. Carroll said that Broadus was “the foremost Baptist left in the world when Spurgeon died. . . .He was the wisest man I ever knew.” W. H. Whitsitt lamented that when death took Broadus “Unrivaled genius and usefulness, exquisite learning, peerless eloquence, iron industry, apostolic piety, have all been scattered.” He also observed, “It would seem that a man of such endowments and achievements should be formed to live a thousand years.”
When Broadus was pastor of the Baptist church in Charlottesville, Virginia, he preached revival services In December of 1858. He was the co-founder of the Albemarle Female Institute where Charlotte Diggs Moon was enrolled that year. She attended this revival service to scoff. Unable to sleep one night because of a barking dog, her mind raced with thoughts of eternity and the state of her soul before God. She went to a prayer and inquiry meeting the next evening and spoke with Dr. Broadus. According to her testimony, “I went to the service to scoff, and returned to my room to pray all night.” She was baptized on December 22 after relating her Christian experience to the Baptist church in Charlottesville. Reared on a tobacco plantation in Virginia with servants to wait on her hand and foot, she became a missionary to China who progressed from a sense of western superiority to considering herself one of the Chinese. Her sacrificial service and her great success as a missionary teacher and an evangelist among Chinese women laid such a groundwork of single-minded devotion in missionary service that the annual offering for foreign missions was named in her memory. The long extensions of Broadus’s faithful gospel preaching are remarkable.
When Southern Seminary was founded, so vital was Broadus’s consent to teach for the initial existence of the school, that his hesitation to accept the invitation to teach delayed its founding for one year. When it reconvened after the Civil War and seemed on the verge of immediate collapse, Broadus resolved, “Suppose we quietly agree that the Seminary may die, but we will die first.” When only one student, a blind one, took his course in homiletics, his careful preparation of lectures for that student led to his writing On The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. This probably is the single most influential textbook on preaching in America.
His commentary on Matthew in the American Commentary series was a model of scholarship in interpretation and in practical suggestions for preaching each text. One who has spent many minutes with Broadus in his reflections on the text has found himself smiling with pleasure and praying with gratitude for this gift. In writing of the meaning of God’s having hidden spiritual truth from the “wise and prudent,” (11:25) after details about etymological and translation matters, Broadus wrote,
We often now witness the same state of things. Intelligent and reflecting men frequently overlook the simple beauty and perfect fitness of the plan of salvation, which is plain enough to those who are consciously and confessedly weak, and who gladly receive the Lord’s teachings without cavil or difficulty. The gospel is so intensely practical that it can be understood at the outset only by persons willing to receive it, and will be thoroughly known only in proportion as it is truly loved. Here as everywhere, we see the adaptation of the gospel to mankind. Not all men can become wise and intelligent, but all may, by the grace of God, become babes.
His Harmony of the Gospels manifest an understanding of critical studies admired internationally without receding any from his commitment to the unerring character of the biblical text. He pioneered in a new way of discussing the progress of the life of Christ freeing the discussion from the artificial subjection to feasts and Passovers; he looked to the internal logic of the text and history itself in accord with the driving purpose of Jesus. In his preface, Broadus wrote, “Thus we become able to follow the inner movement of the history, toward that long-delayed, but foreseen and inevitable collision, in which, beyond all other instances, the wrath of man was made to praise God.” Broadus emphasized this same idea in one of the answers to his catechism (mentioned below) “What is the greatest example of God’s bringing good out of evil? The crucifixion of Christ is the greatest example of God’s bringing god out of evil.”
His History of Preaching contains masterful analyses of sermonic structure and preaching style of scores of historic preachers described in elegant and easily comprehended prose. The short volume arose from a series of lectures Broadus gave at Newton Theological Institution in May 1876. In his final remarks in that series, Broadus said, “In your time, as in all times, the thing needed will be not oratorical display but genuine eloquence, the eloquence which springs from vigorous thinking, strong convictions, fervid imagination and passionate earnestness; and true spiritual success will be attained only in proportion as you gain, in humble prayer, the blessing of the Holy Spirit.”
Broadus and Basil Manly, Jr. were instrumental in founding the first Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1863. Broadus served as its corresponding Secretary from 1863 to 1866 and was one of its most creative and prolific writers. In 1867 he attended a Sunday School Union celebration where more than 2000 Sunday School children attended to listen to a speaker. Broadus commented, “Probably 2500 were kept forty-five minutes listening to a most inappropriate address from a distinguished preacher. . . . It was full of spread eagle, geology and infidelity, cyclopedia and dictionary, and the poor children sat trying to listen.” His sympathies for children being taught the truth and being cared for in a manner fitting to their capacities was enormous and insightful. This is demonstrated in his A Catechism of Bible Teaching which contains fifteen lessons from “God” to “The Future Life,” each section with basic questions and then a section of “Advanced questions.” The last advanced question under the topic of the “Inspiration and Authority of the Bible” asks, “Has it been proven that the inspired writers stated anything as true that was not true?” The answer: “No; there is no proof that the inspired writers made any mistake of any kind.” In his Harmony of the Gospel, Broadus put in the hands of his son-in-law A. T. Robertson the longer explanatory notes at the end of the volume. Robertson began that section with this explanation: “In explaining a difficulty, it is always to be remembered that even a possible explanation is sufficient to meet the objector. If several possible explanations are suggested, it becomes all the more unreasonable for one to contend that the discrepancy is irreconcilable.” Broadus and Robertson took the same view on the unerring character of Scripture gave historical credibility to the claim that such was the historic position of Baptists on Scripture.
Soon after the war, Broadus was in the company of some young men who had begun to participate in activities of the Ku Klux Klan. Broadus could not hold his peace. H. P. Griffith records, “I never heard a more scathing rebuke administered than he gave the young men and the Ku Klux. He grew eloquent over the woes already inflicted by the organization, and spoke with withering power of the criminality of lawlessness and of the just retribution that was sure to come.” Is retiring the Broadus gavel now seen as a symbol of the “just retribution” deserved by the criminality of the Klan?
In 1879 at the Southern Baptist Convention, Broadus proposed an amendment that preserved Southern Baptists as a distinct convention, rather that reunite with the brethren in the North. Stinging with the Toy controversy and finding some reasons to be suspicious of doctrinal developments in the North, this settled the convention as a distinct entity with a conservative theological determination. Those strong biblical convictions stated so clearly in the era of burgeoning modernism formed an important element of the foundation to which Southern Baptists have been able to recall themselves. In its final version under the influence of Broadus, the resolution read, “Resolved, That five brethren be appointed by this Convention to bear to our Baptist brethren of the Northern States, at their approaching anniversaries, expressions of our fraternal regard, and assurances that, while firmly holding to the wisdom and policy of preserving our separate organizations, [Broadus addition italicized] we are ready, as in the past, to co-operate cordially with them in promoting the cause of Christ in our own and foreign lands.”
In 1888, after the death of Boyce, Broadus was offered the presidency of the Convention but he declined saying that the two things he could not learn to do were ride a bicycle and serve as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1891, Broadus singlehandedly stopped a contentious debate on the floor of the Convention that led to the revival of the Sunday School Board, now Lifeway Christian Resources. He served as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from the death of James P. Boyce in 1888 until his death on March 16, 1895.
While he did not serve as Convention president, Broadus did donate a gavel to be used at the SBC proceedings. He presented it in 1872 to J. P. Boyce immediately after Boyce was selected president of the convention. The Annual for 1872 states,
Bro. J. A. Broadus, of SC, presented to the Convention a mallet for the use of the President, which he had brought from Jerusalem for that purpose.
Its handle is made of the balsam tree which grows by the river Jordan forming a large part of that beautiful fringe of green trees which has always marked the banks of the sacred river, and beneath whose shade the multitudes looked on as the Saviour was baptized. The head is of olive wood, reminding us of the Mount of Olives, from which He ascended to Heaven. This simple mallet thus suggests to us the beginning and the end of our Lord’s public work on earth.
On motion of Bro. J. B. Jeter, of Va., the mallet was received with the thanks of the Convention.
This symbol of the Lord’s redemptive work, because passed through the hands of Broadus, is perceived as a symbol of racism. The proclamation to retire the gavel because it is called the “Broadus” gavel is intended to send a strong statement of conviction that the SBC is being thorough in clearing its conscience of its racist past. Without controversy, whatever racism presently exists should be repented of. Every racist should and can repent. Whiteness is not a natural inability that inhibits genuine repentance from moral evil. We can all be sure, moreover, that whatever remnants of racism remained in Broadus at his death have been erased now. Even so will all indwelling sin in all of us find perfect cleansing at the appearing of Jesus Christ in his glorious purifying holiness.
Let us consider whether retaining a gavel with which the name of “Broadus” is connected shows that we are not sufficiently sensitive to the slave-owning repercussions of the name. Retiring the gavel, so it is assumed, could be seen as another concrete indication of the sincerity of our repentance. The gavel, donated by Broadus as a symbol of Christ’s saving life and death, must be retired, it seems, for present repentance to be genuine.
Seeking a way to be content with this proposal, I have looked at this as a possible application of 1 Corinthian 10:28-32 and Romans 14:13-19. Seeking such has produced no coherent argument or application to this case. To avoid a lengthy line of reasoning, I must let the reader fill in the narrative between these points. First, those who think otherwise on this issue are not weaker brothers whose consciences will be harmed by retention of the use of the gavel. They are mature brethren who can interact with an alternate viewpoint based on a reasoned doctrinal consideration. Second, Broadus is not a piece of animal flesh offered for worship in a pagan temple to be consumed or not consumed in a moment and be done with. He was a living man, a vibrant Christian witness, who gave his life to honor Christ and his word. Rather than a mute assault upon a sensitive conscience, his ministry was aimed at opening hearts—of all ethnicities—to the glory of Christ, the power of the gospel, and the joy and purity of worship before the triune God. No, this proposal is not a fair example of a Romans 14:15 conviction. It has more in harmony with Colossians 2. Without any perverse intention, this proposal arises from “plausible arguments” (4) in support of “human traditions” (8), with “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion” but in the end have no true revelatory basis and “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (23).
We should bind Paul never to utter the name of Peter or consent to his apostolic status if we bind ourselves to wash away the name of Broadus (Galatians 2:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 2 Peter 3: 15, 16). In addition, I think we will find that instead of obeying the law of condescension to a weaker brother, we are breaking the law against bearing false witness, for we present a gifted brother’s ministry in a radically false light. That he was an antebellum slaveholder is not the dominant fact of Broadus’s long ministry and to imply that it is is simply wrong.
If Broadus were merely a static, immutable pledge to a racist conviction, the move of retirement could be defended. As shown, however, such is not the case. His beneficial influence extends deeply into Southern Baptist life. We must avoid the inexplicable narrowness of spirit and deficiency in gratitude implied in such a proposal. Personally, I am not embarrassed at all by the name of Broadus and I hope I would be joined by many in expressing deep gratitude and humble acceptance for the great gifts bestowed on men (Ephesians 4) by Christ’s ascension which were found resident within this rarely gifted man.
Despite his devoted scholarship, his insight and contribution to lasting SBC institutions, his sacrificial spirit, his universal respect, his theological clarity and steadfastness, the character assessments carefully crafted by his contemporaries , we are weighing the name “Broadus” in the balance; do we seriously find it wanting? Have we come to a rare moment of clarity now to have transcended Broadus in piety and morality and have reached a depth of repentance for him finally to find ourselves purged with hyssop? Does the imputation to the Broadus gavel a racist ruse mature our growth in grace?
This symbolic act of dissolving the “Broadus” factor, however, raises some interesting possibilities as to how we can overcome undeniable providential connections. Many parts of the Southern Baptist Convention have living sinews to the denominational and doctrinal foresight of Broadus and many others like him. If we have convictions about a Broadus gavel, then why not dissolve the convention, return to 1879, accept the resolutions proposed by I. T. Tichenor, and unite with the northern brethren? Broadus’s resistance kept it from happening. We should not be surprised if someone suggests that Lifeway Christian Resources, the successor to the Sunday School Board, be eliminated. Broadus’s fingerprints are on it. The name “Broadman” (Broadus and Manly) has been long gone so why not dissolve B&H, for “B” still stands for Broadus. For consistency in our reasoning, someone might suggest abolishing the trade press along with the division that publishes Sunday School materials.
But should someone suggest that we press on with the elimination of reminders of the legacy of Broadus, Broadus Street at Southwestern Seminary should be renamed. In addition, dissolve, not only the name of Broadus Chapel at Southern Seminary, but get rid of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After all, since due to the determination and resolve of Broadus, it survived the financial devastation of the war and by his sacrificial labors in appealing for funds kept it afloat during lean years. It is a much bigger reminder of Broadus than a gavel.
Perhaps we should take a close look at every publication that bears his name. Any republications of his Harmony of the Gospels and his On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons should be discouraged in order to preserve the new virtue of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our connection with Broadus should be shunned with righteous indignation. If people know we are connected to Broadus, then they also should know that we don’t like it.
Then there are all those people who had such high regard for and public acclamation of Broadus. Does anyone suppose that we could contribute to public perception of our virtue to produce resolutions of reprimand toward, B. H. Carroll, A. H. Newman, The Courier Journal, J. R. Sampey, and A. C. Dargan for their unashamed public admiration of Broadus? If using a gavel he donated gives an uncomfortable feeling, then creating distance from these Broadus admirers is in order. Without it, we are out of step with the social conscience of the day. Let’s not even talk about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Converted under the gospel ministry of Broadus, baptized by Broadus, and inspired to pursue mature selflessness in missionary labors . . . Too late, I think someone already is calling for its renaming.
And what should we say of Rabbi Moses who said, “Before I became familiar with Doctor Broadus, I knew Christianity only as a creed which seemed absolutely incomprehensible to me. I judged it mainly from the untold, unmerited misery, the agony of ages which Christian rulers and nations had entailed upon poor Israel under the impulse given by Christian priests and teachers. But when I learned to know and revere in Broadus a Christian, my conception of Christianity and my attitude toward it underwent a complete change. Broadus was the precious fruit by which I learned to judge of the tree of Christianity. . . .Ah, it was his delight to honor and love men, and to inspire them with self-respect and moral courage. The central warmth of his great heart diffused itself as a genial influence in glance and smile, in clasp and word, on his family, his friends, his disciples. . . . His heart was a noble vessel brimful of the milk of human kindness; the slightest touch of pity caused it to overflow.”
Clearly, the Rabbi estimated Broadus apart from our context. Had we been there, would our insight have been more morally perceptive than his? Did this man, clearly sensitized to the spirit of oppression in men, fail to give an honest statement of his impression of Broadus? It seems that task has been left to us. And we will rid ourselves and our consciences of this last vestige of Broadus, the gavel he gave. The man who should live a thousand years was unable even to maintain respect for 125.