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Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of New Georgia Baptist Church.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Biographical Sketch: James P. Boyce


James P. Boyce: Early Life (1827-1855)

James P. Boyce, the first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was born on January 11, 1827 at Charleston, South Carolina. Boyce matriculated at Brown University in 1845. He quickly became a respected student and popular peer. Soon after entering Brown, Boyce professed his faith in Christ. Soon after his conversion, he fell in love at a friend’s wedding. Just two days after meeting Lizzie Ficklen, Boyce asked her to marry him. Taken aback, Lizzie rebuffed her suitor, but only for a time. The two wed in December 1848 and together raised two daughters.

Boyce served as editor of the Southern Baptist after graduation. In 1849 he entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where he completed the three-year course in just two years. He then served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbia, South Carolina until 1855, when he received an offer from South Carolina’s Furman University to join its faculty. He accepted and became a professor of theology in 1855.[1]

James P. Boyce and the Founding of Southern Seminary (1856-1888)

In 1859 James Petigru Boyce along with Basil Manly Jr., John Broadus, and William Williams opened the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born as the son of the wealthiest man in the South in his day, J.P. Boyce would eventually drain his fortune in order to keep Southern Seminary opened.[2] The following is a summary presentation of Boyce’s vision for Southern Seminary, the theological foundation of Southern Seminary established under Boyce’s leadership, and Boyce’s defense of Southern Seminary when those beliefs were challenged.

The Vision for Southern Seminary: "Three Changes in Theological Institutions"

The history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary begins a full two years before the first class was ever conducted at the institution. In 1856, James Boyce was hired as a professor at Furman University. In his inaugural address at Furman, Boyce delivered a lecture titled, “Three Changes in Theological Institutions.” This address set forth a vision for theological education that would eventually take shape as the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The ‘three changes’ Boyce proposed were:[3]

1. Availability of theological education to all called by God to be ministers in His church, despite possible lack of previous formal education. (Most theological institutions in Boyce’s day assumed students would have had ten to twelve years of Latin and six to nine years of Greek.[4])

2. Excellence in theological education, including programs of study at the research level equal to or surpassing those available in secular universities. (This conviction would later lead Southern Seminary to become the first non-university based institution in the United States to offer a Ph.D.)

3. A confessional basis for theological education in which specific beliefs about what the Bible says are declared.

This last point would later lead to the framing of the Abstract of Principles.

The Theological Foundation of Southern Seminary: The Abstract of Principles

In 1858, one year before Southern Seminary opened for classes, a committee comprised of James P. Boyce, Basil Manly Sr., Basil Manly Jr., and John Broadus completed the Abstract of Principles. This confessional statement– the first crafted by a group that was specifically Southern Baptist– would serve as the theological foundation for all faculty members of Southern Seminary. The chief architect of the Abstract of Principles was Basil Manly Jr., who drew heavily upon the 1689 London Baptist Confession in crafting this document.[5] The construction of the Abstract of Principles was guided by three mandates agreed upon by the drafting committee:

  1. The abstract of principles must be a complete exhibition of the fundamental doctrines of grace, so that in no essential particular should they speak dubiously.
  2. They should speak out clearly and distinctly as to the practices universally prevalent among us [those in the Southern Baptist Convention].
  3. Upon no point, upon which the denomination is divided, should the Convention, and through it, the Seminary, take any position.[6]

The result was a simple twenty-point confession of faith that “remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, and orthodox.”[7]

The Defense of Southern Seminary: The Toy Controversy

During Boyce’s administration of Southern Seminary, the first major challenge arose as to the Seminary’s confessional convictions. This challenge was not raised by an individual who denied any specific point of the Abstract of Principles, but who rather denied the very presuppositions from which the Abstract originated.

C.H. Toy, who had been among the first class of students at Southern Seminary, studied theology and Semitic languages in Germany following the Civil War. Toy returned to the United States in 1868 and one year later he was elected as professor of Old Testament interpretation for Southern Seminary.[8] At his hiring, the trustees and faculty of Southern Seminary were apparently unaware of the extent to which Dr. Toy had been influenced by German higher critical methods. In his classroom, Toy began to undermine the biblical account of creation, teaching Darwinism and higher criticism. Boyce realized the danger of this teaching and insisted that Toy teach the Old Testament history as it is written in Scripture, which Toy agreed to do. Nevertheless, convinced of the validity and usefulness of his position, Toy submitted a defense of his beliefs, along with his resignation, to the trustees of Southern Seminary at the 1879 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Atlanta. The trustees accepted his resignation. Boyce did not oppose Toy’s resignation, but suffered great personal grief at being distanced from a treasured friend that had seemed so intellectually promising. John Broadus reported that when Toy left Louisville, Boyce accompanied him to the railway station and embracing him with his left arm, raised his right arm before him, saying, “Oh Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”[9]

James P. Boyce: Death (1888)

Boyce labored long in Louisville until illness drove him to seek recovery in Europe in 1888. Though his heart lifted in a visit to Charles Spurgeon, his health did not improve. Southern Seminary’s first president passed away on December 28, 1888.[10] The legacy he left behind was immense. He understood, as his contemporary Charles Spurgeon in England did the danger of a people of God not having the proper theological moorings. Like Spurgeon, Boyce often lamented the inroads that Arminianism was making on Baptist life. He saw the fate that awaits the Church when it trades the sovereignty of God for the sovereignty of man. Boyce also warned against the dangers of hyper-Calvinism that had taken root among Baptists in the south in the form of Primitive or Hard-Shell Baptists. He was a Calvinist who was so committed to evangelism that he offered the Seminary grounds to D.L. Moody when he brought his tent to Louisville.[11]



[1] “James P. Boyce” [on-line], accessed 15 July 2007; available from http://archives.sbts.edu/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID325566|CHID717900|CIID1978880,00.html; Internet.

[2] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “James Petigru Boyce and Renewal in Theological Education” (The Southern Baptist Founders Conference, 1995), audiocassette.

[3] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “To Train the Minister Whom God Has Called: James Petigru Boyce and Southern Baptist Theological Education,” The Founders Journal 19/20 (1995) [journal on-line], accessed 25 June 2007; available from http://www.founders.org/FJ19/article4.html; Internet.

[4] Mohler, “James Petigru Boyce and Renewal in Theological Education.”

[5] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! Southern Seminary and the Abstract of Principles,” Southern Seminary Magazine, November 2000 (class reader, 42710–– The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, Summer 2007, photocopy), 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Billy Grey Hurt, “Crawford Howell Toy: Interpreter of the Old Testament” (Th.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966) [on-line], accessed 25 June 2007; available from http://archives.sbts.edu/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID325566|CHID717902|CIID1992648,00.html; Internet.

[9] L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999), 216.

[10] “James P. Boyce” [on-line], accessed 15 July 2007; available from http://archives.sbts.edu/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID325566|CHID717900|CIID1978880,00.html; Internet.

[11] “J.P. Boyce” The Baptist Page [on-line], accessed 15 July 2007; available from http://www.siteone.com/religion/baptist/baptistpage/Portraits/boyce.htm; Internet.

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