Andrew Broaddus was born in Caroline Co., Va., Nov. 4, 1770. His love of letters and his studiousness were such that he became one of the most thorough Biblical scholars of his times. About the age of eighteen he experienced a change of heart, and although strenuously opposed by his father, who was a rigid adherent of the Episcopal Church, he was
baptized May 28, 1789, and became a member of the Baptist church of Upper King and Queen, then under the care of the Rev. Theodoric Noel
The duty of preparing himself to preach the gospel at once pressed itself upon his attention, and having been convinced that it was his duty to do so, he preached his first sermon at the house of Mrs. Lowrie, where, upon this, the first occasion, Rev. R. R. Semple also preached. From the very beginning Mr. Broaddus was popular as a preacher. He was ordained Oct. 16, 1791, in the church in which he was baptized. Among the first churches he served were Burrus and Bethel, in the county of Caroline, and also the church in Fredericksburg. While supplying these churches he also taught a school, and applied himself closely to study. Subsequently he became pastor of Upper Zion, Beulah, Mangohie, Salem, and Upper King and Queen, with the last two of which he continued to labor until the close of his life.
Although Mr. Broaddus was known but to few personally beyond the limits of his own State, yet, when in the prime of life, he received invitations to become the pastor of numerous churches in distant cities: from the First church in Boston, in 1811; from the First church in Philadelphia, in 1811; from the First church in Baltimore, in 1819; from the New Market Street church, Philadelphia, in 1819; from the Sansom Street, Philadelphia, in 1824; and from the First church, New York, in 1832. An ineradicable constitutional timidity, which sometimes made him almost powerless in speech when in the presence of strangers, and a deeply-rooted attachment to old friends and old scenes, prevented his acceptance of all such tempting offers. He made the trial once in removing to Richmond to take charge of the First Baptist church in that city, but his stay there was short, and he soon returned to labor again with his country congregations.
As a preacher, Mr. Broaddus was the foremost man of his generation. “In clearness of conception, beauty of imagery, aptness of illustration, and tenderness of soul he was pre-eminent. With a well-proportioned form, graceful manner, natural gesticulation, benignant countenance, and musical voice, he held as by a pleasing spell, his enraptured hearers. All hung upon his lips, unwilling to lose a word, while with softly insinuating power he found access to the innermost depths of the soul, causing all its fountains of emotions to gush forth.” His chief excellence consisted in the exposition of the Scriptures, and especially those passages suited to edify and comfort the people of God.
Contrary to what many suppose to have been the case, his most effective sermons were not preached on great occasions. His love of quiet, and inveterate dislike of large and promiscuous assemblies, generally kept him away from Associations and conventions; and when present and persuaded to preach, there was no certainty that he would be able to fulfill his appointment. It is recorded of him that having been appointed to preach at a meeting of the Dover Association in Matthews Co., Va., he went through the preliminary services in his usual felicitous manner, and when the large audience had settled themselves to enjoy a spiritual feast, he came to a sudden pause and said, “The circumstances of the case-I mean my case-make it necessary to excuse myself from proceeding with the discussion.” His biographer adds, “The thought had probably seized him that the expectations of the people could not be met; or he had recognized in the congregation some one whose criticism he dreaded; or the wind and roar of the ocean had disturbed his nervous system; whatever it was, a serious surprise and regret were felt by all.” This painful dread of a crowd was, however, in a measure overcome towards the latter part of his life.
Mr. Broaddus’s literary labors were also of a high order. He wrote a small volume, of some 70 pages, entitled “The Age of Reason and Revelations,” which was a reply to Paine’s celebrated attack on Christianity. This little work was published in 1795, while he was still quite young, and gives evidence of a well-stored mind and vigorous logical powers. In 1816 he published “A Bible History, with Occasional Notes, to Explain and Illustrate Difficult Passages.” These “notes” are, indeed, valuable for the clear and satisfactory views they open up of many of the dark passages of the Word of God. The Dover Association requested him, at one of their sessions, to prepare a commentary upon the Scriptures, which, however, he did not undertake. He prepared an admirable little “Catechism for Children,” which was issued by the American Baptist Publication Society. He also prepared a manual of church polity and discipline.
He did much for the hymnology of the churches. As early as 1790 he prepared and published a collection of “Sacred Ballads,” most of which were in popular use at that time. About 1828 he prepared the “Dover Selection,” and afterwards the “Virginia Selection,” several of whose hymns were of his own composition, and all of which were very extensively used by the churches.
Only a few of Mr. Broaddus’s sermons have been published, for, although he prepared his sermons with the greatest care, making more or less extended notes, he rarely wrote out his discourses. Mr. Broaddus was also a frequent contributor to the Religious Herald, for which he wrote a valuable series of essays on Campbellism and its errors. The Columbian College conferred the degree of D.D. upon Mr. Broaddus, but he respectfully declined to accept the honor. The Baptists of Virginia will long cherish the fond memory of the excellence of his character, the superior mental and oratorical powers with which he was endowed, and the genial, useful influence he exercised on the churches and the world.