IF THEY DO NOT DO WHAT IS RIGHT, THERE MAY BE A MIGHTY BATTLE
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was born at 'Grasmere' near Lexington,
Kentucky, one hundred and fifty years ago this year on 5th November 1851.
He died in February 1921 12 weeks after the death of Abraham Kuyper and
22 weeks before the death of Herman Bavinck. The three were devoted friends.
Farming was in Warfield's blood. He loved horses, admiring the racehorse
and studying their blood-lines, but his speciality was short-horn cattle.
He maintained his interest in them throughout his life being one of the
leading authorities on the breed in the world, writing many articles on
that subject in the 1880s in the "National Live Stock Journal".
The articles are found in one of his scrap-books in the Princeton Seminary
The Warfield family were notable in America. One distant niece was Wallis
Warfield, born in Maryland on June 19 1896. Through her second husband
she became Wallis Simpson. Her third husband was the King of England and
for her hand in marriage he abdicated and they became the Duke and Duchess
B.B.Warfield married his wife Annie in 1876 and they left for honeymoon
in Germany. He was also studying at Leipzig at that time. On a walking
trip in the Harz mountains they were overtaken by a terrible thunderstorm.
It was a shattering experience for Mrs Warfield from which she never recovered.
She was more or less an invalid for the rest of her life. They had no
children and Warfield cared for Annie all her days. The students would
see them walking slowly together about the Seminary campus. BBW was always
gentle and caring with her. He could never leave her for very long. This
was one of the reasons he was rarely present at church courts or heard
speaking from the floor of his presbytery. He was not outstanding in debate.
His time was spent with his beloved Annie.
But he was a champion of confessional Christianity and despised any truce
bought at the price of compromise. A lady once met him during the week
of the General Assembly. "Dr Warfield, I hear that there is gong
to be trouble at the Assembly. Do let us pray for peace." "I
am praying," replied BBW, "that if they do not do what is right,
there may be a mighty battle." When he and Dr Machen were talking
about their denomination at the end of BBW's life Machen expressed the
opinion that there might be a split. "No. You can't split rotten
wood," said BBW.
When BBW was twenty-one years of age he acknowledged the paramount claims
of God upon him and entered Princeton Seminary to train for the ministry.
He was taught by Charles Hodge. He lectured for nine years at a Seminary
in Pennsylvania, but in 1887 he succeeded A.A.Hodge as a professor of
theology at Princeton which post he occupied until his death, that is,
for over 33 years. Ten large volumes of his collected writings were published
in the 1920s, and two volumes of his shorter writings in the 1960s. All
of those books plus volumes of his sermons are in print today and are
read more widely than those articles were read during his life-time.
I once had a meal with Dr O.T.Allis and his two daughters in 1963. Dr
Allis had entered Princeton in 1902. Warfield had taught him and later
Allis became the professor of Old Testament at the Seminary and an academic
colleague of Warfield. During the meal I bided my time waiting for the
judicious moment of silence. It finally came: "What was it like to
study under and teach alongside B.B.Warfield?" I asked. O.T.Allis
smiled back at me, "Very interesting," he said. And that was
all! So much for the young investigative journalist. But later Allis did
describe Warfield's method of
teaching: his favourite approach was a kind of quiz, a sort of Socratic
dialogue, in which by question and answer he tested the student's knowledge
of the assigned reading and his understanding of it. His style was conversational.
Sometimes there was a gleam in his eye and a touch of humour. Once, when
a student was trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity BBW raised
an eyebrow and said, "So there are three Gods are there?" The
student set out again to explain himself more clearly. One day when BBW
was teaching about the miraculous (he was a cessationist concerning the
reappearance of apostolic and revelatory gifts) he finally remarked, "Gentleman,
I like the supernatural."
BBW's handwriting was almost illegible. He once wrote a letter to his
colleague Dr Armstrong who was visiting Germany to ask him to look up
a book that was not available to him at Princeton, but his handwriting
was so bad Dr Armstrong had no idea what book BBW was seeking. Once when
he was speaking to the President of Princeton Seminary, the notably short-sighted
Dr Patton, a lady came walking towards them. "Should I greet this
lady, Warfield?" muttered Patton. "I think you should,"
said BBW, "it's Mrs Patton."
Warfield preached vividly. He once illustrated the difference between
fate and providence telling the story of a little Dutch boy disobeying
his father and playing near to a windmill. He went too close and suddenly
found himself picked up from the ground hanging upside down and a series
of blows were being rained down upon him. What horror, caught into the
machine! He was twisted through the air; his end had come. But then he
opened his eyes and discovered it was not the sail of the windmill that
had taken him up but his own father, and he was receiving the threatened
punishment for his own disobedience. He wept, not with the pain but with
relief and joy. He learned in that moment the difference between falling
into the grinding wheels of a machine and into the loving hands of a father.
That is the difference between fate and predestination.
There are no books about BBW. That is a good thing because it drives
us to read the man himself. I have never left reading an article of his
without the greatest satisfaction. Once a friend of mine was meeting Dr.
J.I.Packer at Boston airport. He told Packer that he would like to work
on a post-graduate degree. "What subject would you be interested
in?" asked Packer. "B.B.Warfield," my friend replied. "No.
It is impossible," replied Packer instantly. "We have looked
at that possibility on many occasions. There is not enough material for
a Ph.D." That may be so, but there is enough writings of Warfield
for a man to become familiar with, to his lasting profit. As Dr Martyn
Lloyd-Jones wrote of BBW's writings, "His mind was so clear and his
literary style so chaste and lucid that it is a real joy to read his works
and one derives pleasure and profit at the same time."
Some of the material in this article is taken from the Warfield Commemoration issue of The Banner of Truth magazine, number 89 (February 1971).