Okay, so most people who read this blog will never visit the seminary I attend, Southern Seminary. That’s admitted. It may surprise you, then, that I am posting yet another piece of content from the “History of the SBTS” website. This is the last piece I’ll post, but I do hope you’ll check out the site. Even if you never make it to Louisville, you’ll learn much about the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptists and the arresting history behind it. Go to archives.sbts.edu for more. The following piece is a biographical essay of the school’s primary founder, James P. Boyce, who by his blood and sweat brought the seminary into existence.
“James P. Boyce, Southern’s first president, 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.
With the help of fellow Southern Baptists, Boyce brought his vision of a seminary for southerners to life. Southern Seminary opened in Greenville in 1859.
For almost thirty years, Boyce served as Southern’s de facto president, although his official title was chairman of the faculty. He did not take the title of president until 1888, a year before his passing. Throughout his career, Boyce proved himself a skilled fundraiser and administrator, equally able to produce a financial miracle and quell a fractious moment. In the midst of continual hardship, Boyce devoted his time and his finances to Southern, all while he taught classes, led a Sunday School class at Broadway Baptist Church, and served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention for seven consecutive terms from 1872 to 1879, and in 1888. He also found time to write a catechism and a book, Abstract of Systematic Theology. The book was used in systematic theology classes for many years.
Boyce’s talent as an executive fostered much competition for his abilities. In 1868, the South Carolina Railway Company sought Boyce for its presidency, a position that promised a ten thousand dollar salary. Though this offer was extraordinarily attractive, Boyce declined it. Numerous colleges and universities also sought Boyce’s administrative gifts. In 1874, Boyce’s alma mater, Brown University, requested that he become its president, but he refused. He was thoroughly convinced that nothing he could do was more crucial to the gospel than his devoted service to the seminary. He had set his hand to the plow. Until death, he would not turn from his life’s work.
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’s first president passed away on December 28, 1888. His legacy lives on to this day.”