B. B. Warfield

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We are honored today to draw our text from the opening chapter to Dr. Kim Riddlebarger’s 1997 doctoral dissertation, B.B. Warfield: The Lion of Princeton. Our thanks to Dr. Riddlebarger for granting permission to post this excerpt.

“The Pugilist”

Princeton College alumni who remembered Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield’s student days at Princeton recall that on November 6, 1870, the young Warfield and a certain James Steen, “distinguished themselves by indulging in a little Sunday fight in front of the chapel after Dr. McCosh’s afternoon lecture.” Warfield, it seems, “in lieu of taking notes” during Dr. McCosh’s lecture, took great delight in sketching an “exceedingly uncomplimentary picture of Steen,” which was subsequently circulated among the students.[1]  The resulting fist-fight between the two young men ultimately didn’t amount to much, but it earned Warfield the nickname—”the pugilist.”[2]

B. B. Warfield’s earliest days at Princeton, as well as his last, were characterized by a passionate defense of his personal honor. Princeton Seminary colleague, Oswald T. Allis, tells the story about Dr. Warfield’s encounter with Mrs. Stevenson, the wife of the Seminary President, shortly before Warfield’s death and during the height of the controversy at Princeton over an “inclusive” Presbyterian church. When Mrs. Stevenson and Dr. Warfield passed each other on the walk outside the Seminary, some pleasantries were exchanged, and then Mrs. Stevenson reportedly said to the good doctor, “Oh, Dr. Warfield, I am praying that everything will go harmoniously at the [General] Assembly!” To which Warfield responded,

“Why, Mrs. Stevenson, I am praying that there may be a fight.”[3] As the late Hugh Kerr, formerly Warfield Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary reflects, “from the very beginning to end, Warfield was a fighter.”[4]  B. B. Warfield was not only a fighter, he was also a theological giant, exerting significant influence upon American Presbyterianism for nearly forty-years. John DeWitt, professor of Church History at Princeton during the Warfield years, told Warfield biographer Samuel Craig, that . . . he had known intimately the three great Reformed theologians of America of the preceding generation—Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd and Henry B. Smith—and that he was not only certain that Warfield knew a great deal more than any one of them but that he was disposed to think that he knew more than all three of them put together.[5]

Unlike many of today’s “specialists,” B. B. Warfield was fully qualified to teach any of the major seminary subjects—New Testament, Church History, Systematic or Biblical Theology, and Apologetics.[6]  One of Warfield’s students, and an influential thinker in his own right, J. Gresham Machen, remembers Warfield as follows: “with all his glaring faults, he was the greatest man I have known.”[7]  Hugh Kerr, though critical of Warfield’s “theory of the inerrancy of the original autographs,” still told his own students a generation later that, “Dr. Warfield had the finest mind ever to teach at Princeton Seminary.”[8]

[1.]  Hugh Thomson Kerr, “Warfield: The Person Behind the Theology,” Annie Kinkead Warfield Lecture
for 1982, at Princeton Theological Seminary, ed. William O. Harris (1995), p. 21.
[2.]  Ibid., pp. 21-22.
[3.]  O. T. Allis, “Personal Impressions of Dr Warfield,” in The Banner of Truth 89 (Fall 1971) pp. 10-14.
[4.]  Kerr, “Warfield: The Person Behind the Theology,” p. 22.
[5.]  Samuel G. Craig, “Benjamin B. Warfield,” in B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986), p. xvii.
[6]  Ibid., p. xix.
[7]  Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1977), p. 310.
[8]  Recounted in personal correspondence of February 25, 1995, from William O. Harris, Librarian for Archives and Special Collections at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Words to Live By:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.—Jude, verse 3 (KJV)

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.—1 Timothy 6:12 (KJV)

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Birth of a Giant.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was born on this day, November 5th, in 1851.

warfield_1864For God-fearing parents, every birth must bring some small trepidation, along with great hope and promise. We trust the Lord, we seek to live exemplary lives and strive to diligently do our part to raise our children, that they might never know a time when they did not trust in Christ Jesus for their salvation and rely upon Him completely. Child-rearing truly is a humbling thing, casting us upon the Lord, praying for His grace and mercy. 

At the same time, some children, even from a young age, show great maturity and promise.  You can see it in their face. Such a child, I think, was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. 

All of the Warfield children were patiently led to memorize both the Shorter and Larger Catechisms, as well as the associated Scripture proof texts. In 1867, at the age of 16, he became a member of the Second Presbyterian church in Lexington, KY. It is tempting to think that the photo at the left, from that same year, might have been taken in conjunction with that event.

In 1868, he began the Sophomore year at Princeton College, graduating in 1871, with a strong interest in the sciences and a desire to pursue further studies in Scotland and Germany. But it was not until he returned home in 1872 that he announced his intention to explore a call to the ministry. That had long been his mother’s prayer for her sons, that they would become ministers of the Gospel. In 1873, he began his preparation for the ministry at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Years later, Warfield wrote a brief article on the value of the Shorter Catechism. Warfield writes:

What is ‘the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism’? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ — ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!’ ‘Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,’ was the rejoinder.

It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.’

[B.B. Warfield, “Is the Shorter Catechism Worth While?” in The Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1 (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed), 1970), pp. 381ff.]

[Note: It is tempting to think that Warfield may have come by this anecdote through his own extended family. There were a number of men in the Breckinridge family who were military officers. Of these, Ethelbert Ludlow Dudley Breckinridge, an 1898 graduate of Princeton University and a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1906, seems the most likely candidate to fit the details of the story. Moreover, the San Francisco earthquake would appear to be the most probable setting of the story.]

warfield1867b_75Words to live by: God bless faithful parents! May He equip, encourage, sustain, and support those loving parents who know that they must daily rely completely upon the Lord in the raising of their children. Child-rearing is entirely a matter of trusting prayerfully in the grace of God. Patiently love them, spend sacrificial time with them, live exemplary lives in front of them. But above all, pray daily for them, that God by His grace would save them to the uttermost. You never know when a child will grow up to be greatly used in the advance of the Lord’s kingdom.

Image sources : Original photographs preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Scans prepared by the Center’s staff. Photo 1, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1864, age 13. Photo 2, B.B. Warfield, 1867, age 16.

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He Died with his Boots On

myersDavidKThe Rev. Dr. David K. Myers had a full ministry during his life of eighty-nine years.  Rural pastor, church planter, evangelist, Army chaplain through two wars, seminary professor, this husband and father of four  children lived and ministered through the turbulent years of the modernist-fundamental controversies of the nineteen thirties.  He took his stand with the historical Christian faith by leaving the Presbyterian Church USA in 1936.  Back then, their form of government stated that you could do that, if there were no charges against you.  So in 1936, he joined the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America.  Imagine his surprise when his  former PCUSA Presbytery brought charges against him for leaving what the form of government allowed him to do.  While the Presbytery eventually dropped the charges, the western Synod of that same increasingly liberal church brought them up again and, after a trial, deposed him from the gospel ministry.  They put him out after he had been out for a full year!  His ordination was restored by the Presbyterian Church of America.  He went on to minister in the Bible Presbyterian Church for over 50 years.

What is striking about his long ministry is the manner in which the Lord took him home on February 16, 1992.  After the death of his Scottish wife, he entered the County Home in Muskegon, Michigan.  At this time, he was in his late eighties.  Once, his two sons, both ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America, visited him.  They wanted to find out how their widowed father was doing.  One of them has sent  him a chess set to take up his time.  They were both surprised to find out that it remained half opened on his window sill.  Questioning their father who loved a good chess game, they were interrupted by the County Superintendent who had heard that Chaplain Myers’ two minister sons were visiting.  He proceeded to fill them in on their father’s activities.

Chaplain Myers has become, he said, the unofficial  chaplain of the home.  Several prayer chains were going strong in the Home.  Bible studies were being held regularly inside the home.  Daily visitations were being made to all the hospital beds by Chaplain Myers in his wheel chair.  Even a Sunday afternoon worship service was being conducted by evangelical ministers in the city.  He was still busy in the work of the Lord, and thus, the superintendent said, had no time for a silly game of chess.

It was at one of these worship services that God took His servant home. The regularly scheduled pastor failed to show for some reason.  So Dad took over the worship service himself,  Playing the piano for the song service, he even sang as a solo that old gospel favorite “Jesus is tenderly calling me home.”  Preaching a gospel sermon impromptu, he gave the benediction, even shaking hands with everyone who came out to the service.

Visiting several who couldn’t make it due to health, Chaplain  Myers went back to his own room to wait for lunch.  It was there that  they found him in the body, but his spirit was already in heaven.  As someone remarked, “Chaplain Myers died with his boots on.”

Words to Live By: As the gospel song puts it, “Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun, let us talk of all his wondrous love and care; then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done. and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”  Reader, is it your assurance that you will have a place in heaven?  You can, if you trust in Christ’s life and work on your behalf, by grace alone, through faith alone.  And Christian reader, is it your life work to labor for the Master until your work on earth is done?  May God’s Spirit give such to His church who will answer in the affirmative this question.

Also on this day:
1921 Death of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The death of B.B. Warfield

Most of the April, 2005 issue of Tabletalk magazine focused on the life and ministry of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, the great Princeton Seminary professor. One of the most remarkable passages in that issue was the following account of the death of Warfield. R.C. Sproul tells the story:

“Twenty-five years ago I gave an address at a college in Western Pennsylvania. After the service was completed, an elderly gentleman and his wife approached me and introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Vos. I was surprised to learn that Dr. Vos was the son of the celebrated biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos who had written a classical work on redemptive history entitled Biblical Theology, which is still widely read in seminaries. During the course of my conversation with them, Dr. Vos related to me an experience he had as a young boy living in Princeton, New Jersey, where his father was teaching on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary. This was in the decades of the 1920s, a time in which Princeton Theological Seminary was still in its heyday; it was the time we now refer to as “old Princeton.” Dr. Vos told me of an experience he had in the cold winter of 1921. He saw a man walking down the sidewalk, bundled in a heavy overcoat, wearing a fedora on his head, and around his neck was a heavy scarf. Suddenly, to this young boy’s horror and amazement, as the man walked past his home, he stopped, grasped his chest, slumped and fell to the sidewalk. Young Johannes Vos stared at this man for a moment, then ran to call to his mother. He watched as the ambulance came and carried the man away. The man who had fallen had suffered a major heart attack, which indeed proved to be fatal. His name was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.”

Above right, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield at about age 54, circa 1903.

Thus ended the life of one of the greatest minds in Christian history, on February 16, 1921. In his celebrated work on the history of Princeton Seminary, Dr. David Calhoun recounts J. Gresham Machen’s reflection on Warfield’s death:

“In a letter to his mother, Gresham Machen spoke of ‘the great loss which we have just sustained in the death of Dr. Warfield. Princeton will seem to be a very insipid place without him. He was really a great man. There is no one living in the Church capable of occupying one quarter of his place.’ A few days later Machen wrote again:

Dr. Warfield’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at the First Church of Princeton . . . It seemed to me that the old Princeton—a great institution it was—died when Dr. Warfield was carried out.

I am thankful for that one last conversation I had with Dr. Warfield some weeks ago. He was quite himself that afternoon. And somehow I cannot believe that the faith which he represented will ever really die. In the course of the conversation I expressed my hope that to end the present intolerable condition there might be a great split in the Church, in order to separate the Christians from the anti-Christian propagandists. ‘No,’ he said, ‘you can’t split rotten wood.’ His expectation seemed to be that the organized Church, dominated by naturalism, would become so cold and dead, that people would come to see that spiritual life could be found only outside of it, and that thus there might be a new beginning.

Nearly everything that I have done has been done with the inspiring hope that Dr. Warfield would think well of it . . . I feel very blank without him. . . .He was the greatest man I have known.”

Below: Cemetery marker for the grave site of Dr. B. B. Warfield in the Princeton cemetery.











Words to Live By:
Brethren, it is there only also [in Christ our Lord] that our comfort can be found, whether for life or for death. Perhaps even yet we hardly know, as we should know, our need of a saviour. Perhaps we may acknowledge ourselves to be sinners only in languid acquiescence in a current formula. Such a state of self-ignorance cannot, however, last for ever. And some day—probably it has already come to most of ussome day the scales will fall from our eyes, and we shall see ourselves as we really are. Ah, then, we shall have no difficulty in placing ourselves by the apostle’s side, and pronouncing ourselves, in the accents of the deepest conviction, the chief of sinners. And, then, our only comfort for life and death, too, will be in the discovery that Christ Jesus came into the world just to save sinners. We may have long admired Him as a teacher sent from God, and have long sought to serve Him as a King re-ordering the world ; but we shall find in that great day of self-discovery that we have never known Him at all till He has risen upon our soul’s vision as our Priest, making His own body a sacrifice for our sin. For such as we shall then know ourselves to be, it is only as a Saviour from sin that Christ will suffice…”

[excerpted from The Power of God Unto Salvation, by B.B. Warfield (1903), p. 51-52.]

Through the Scriptures:  Leviticus 24 – 27

Through the Standards:  Sin: Fact, Form, Source, God and His Relation to it

WCF 7:2
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

WCF 6:1

“Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit.  This their sin, God has pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.”

Image sources:
1. Frontispiece photograph from The Power of God Unto Salvation. Presbyterian Pulpit Series. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1903.
2. Warfield grave marker, Princeton Cemetery. Photograph by Dr. Barry Waugh. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
All digital scans by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Text sources:
1. Tabletalk magazine [Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries], 29.4 (April 2005): 4.
2. Calhoun, David B., Princeton Seminary, Volume 2 : The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, pp. 317-318.