April 26: Ordination of B.B. Warfield

He Being Dead, Yet Speaks
by Rev. David T. Myers

You may have noted that several of those featured in this historical devotional guide have been mentioned for more than just one date out of the year. Their birth dates, their death dates, and significant dates during their lives may have been featured. The reason why that is that they, while members now of the triumphant church, were well-known members of the militant church on earth, and so there is much to note about their lives and how the Lord worked through them. Such a one was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, whose inaugural address we featured this past Saturday, and who we feature again today.

Born in 1851 in Kentucky from good solid Presbyterian heritage, especially on his mother’s side, Warfield was known and still is known as a great defender of the faith. The books he wrote are still readily available in both hard copy as well as on the web.  Yet he had limited experience in the pulpit and pastorate, serving only a few years in that capacity.  Further, he was not interested in  church politics,  either in the presbytery, synod, or general assembly.  His place of ministry was always in the classroom in a seminary setting.

In that sense, he was, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:12, an individual who “equipped the saints.”  That word “equip” is used in the gospels accounts to describe the necessary work of the fishermen who later became the apostles of our Lord.  It was said that when that divine call came, they were “mending the nets.”  In other words, they were getting the nets ready for service.  This is what the word “equip” speaks about in Ephesians 4.  And that is exactly what Warfield did as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary with his students.  They were equipped as student saints.   They were prepared for service in the kingdom of God.

No one did a better job in his time there than Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.  He took over the Chair of Charles Hodge from the son of Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge.  He was therefore a link to the marvelous Hodge dynasty at old Princeton.  When he died in 1921, it was said that Old Princeton had passed away. In God’s providence, a mere nine years later Westminster Theological Seminary  began,  as an effort to preserve and continue something of that tradition of Old Princeton.

And to think all this story was begun officially on April 26, 1879 when Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was ordained to the ministry, being ordained by the Presbytery of Ebenezer (PCUSA).   It was a recognition of the spiritual gifts which he possessed in knowledge and wisdom, in teaching, and in discernment. His ordination was a recognition by the Church of the hope and anticipation of how those gifts might be used in coming years, for the glory of God.

Words to Live By: Warfield is in heaven now, but his words live on in the church on earth.  It will do you, the reader, much good to spend time in reading his books either in book form or on the web.  Those books are not always easy to read, but they are worth the effort, for they still stand ready to equip you for service in Christ’s kingdom. A number of Dr. Warfield’s works can be easily located online, here.

Note: Consulting Robinson’s Ministerial Directory (1898), page 526, we find that Warfield was ordained by the Presbytery of Ebenezer, on 26 April 1879. From the time-line provided in Robinson, it looks like Warfield’s ordination was performed with a view to his installation as professor of Didactic & Polemic Theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He had first served in the summer of 1875 as stated supply in Concord, KY, then in Dayton, OH in the summer of 1876, and from 1877-78 as stated supply for First Presbyterian in Baltimore, MD. He was an instructor in New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Western Seminary, 1878-79. Thus the ordination would have taken place at the end of the academic year at Western, but probably after Warfield had his call to Princeton in hand.


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