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          Many of us have wished that we could have heard preachers of past generations, and although
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) lived into the beginnings of the recording age, we have no
audio recording of him at all. But thankfully, Warfield kept scrapbooks in which he preserved many items of
Warfieldian interest, and in scrapbook volume three he pasted a printed version of what is undoubtedly
one of his very earliest sermons. This our first sample of Warfield’s preaching is a sermon preached at the
First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday, July 23, 1876, and published in the local
newspaper on Tuesday, July 25. And an interesting sample it is in several ways.

          Warfield, then a twenty-four year old recent seminary graduate, was in Dayton briefly as “supply”
minister in the church which was then without a pastor. His text that Sunday was Romans 3:4 - “Let God be
true and every man a liar.” The sermon consisted of an affirmation of the truthfulness of God as over
against all doubts, confusions, criticisms, and denials that have been brought against the Scriptures.
Scripture is God’s very own word and therefore is and must be truth without any mixture of error. We may
wonder how divine sovereignty and human responsibility may fit together, or how we can rightly understand
God as Trinity, or how an all-powerful and good God could allow sin, and so on. But we may confidently
rest in the fact that, in all cases, what God has declared is true. And although modern man may balk at the
supernatural and at various mysteries of our faith, we remain nonetheless believing - “let God be true, and
every man a liar.” Trusting in the truthfulness of God’s spoken word we will never fail.

          The editor of the newspaper, somewhat a sceptic, rather condescendingly praised the sermon as a
wonderful specimen of the hell-fire and damnation types of old-fashioned preaching. But the congregation
was evidently impressed: they issued a unanimous call to Warfield to become their pastor. Warfield
declined the offer, however, determining instead to go to Europe, with his soon-to-be bride, to further his
theological studies. But what is perhaps most interesting to us is that in this first sample of Warfield’s
theological work the theme and dominant note is that which marked his entire career - the unfailing
reliability of God’s word.

          B.B. Warfield is known to us as the theologian of the doctrine of inspiration. In a day in which
enlightenment thinking had come to full blossom, there was little place for the supernatural. We had
learned from Darwin that God had little, if anything, to do with the world itself, so how can we now believe
the Bible actually came to us from him? This was in many respects the defining issue of the day, and it
was Warfield above all others who stood to answer and provide defense for - we might better say, go on
the offense for - the divine origin and character of Scripture. Many others of his day were faithful in the
same battle, but no other possessed the breath or depth of learning that Warfield brought to the table.
From virtually every quarter of learning attacks were being advanced, and in virtually every case it was
Warfield who stood to give them check. And over the course of his career he provided the church with the
most thorough exposition and defense of the doctrine of inspiration to date. Indeed, as many have said, in
the century since, all discussion of the doctrine has been but a footnote to Warfield. He was the high-water
mark. And whatever one’s theological persuasion, no investigation of this doctrine is complete until the
works of this Princetonian giant are taken into careful consideration.

          This is how Warfield is known to us today, and deservedly so. It was Augustine who gave us an
understanding of sin and grace. It was Anselm who gave us understanding of the death of Christ. It was
Luther who gave us understanding of the doctrine of justification. And so on. None of these men originated
anything, of course, but their expositions of their respective doctrines were watershed moments in the
history of the church’s understanding. And it is in this sense that Warfield is rightfully known as the
theologian of the doctrine of inspiration. In more than a thousand published pages his massive grounding
of the proposition, “What Scripture says, God says,” provided a lasting reference point for all related
discussion.

          The irony is that Warfield’s theological contribution was much larger than this. Surprisingly, to many,
the doctrine of inspiration was not the leading area of his theological output. Nor would he have viewed the
doctrine of inspiration as his center of gravity.

          Warfield was born and reared in Kentucky of godly parents whose families were already rich with
American heritage - civic, political, military, academic, theological, and ecclesiastical. Receiving his
schooling at home he protested to his father that he did not need to bother with learning Greek! His protest
was unsuccessful, but it is amusingly ironic - this from one who would be a leading Greek scholar of the
day and the first American to produce a textbook in New Testament textual criticism! Entering the
sophomore class of the College of New Jersey (later named Princeton University) when he was still not
quite age seventeen (1868), he graduated at age nineteen at the top of his class, with highest honors, and
having received perfect marks in science and mathematics. After study in Europe he returned to Princeton
in 1873, this time to the seminary, where he studied under the aged and renowned Charles Hodge. After
studying again in Europe and serving as supply pastor in various places, Warfield began his career in
1878 teaching New Testament at Western Seminary in Pittsburgh where at about the age of thirty his
published works already began to gain notice internationally. Among these publications was his famously
influential “Inspiration,” co-authored in 1881 with A.A. Hodge, who had succeeded his father, Charles
Hodge, in the Chair of Theology at Princeton Seminary. Upon the unexpected death of A.A. Hodge in
1887 Warfield returned to his beloved Princeton to teach Theology, where a brilliant and notable career
seemed - to onlookers even then - to be inevitable.

          Warfield’s interests were wide and varied. He was one of those rare scholars with a mind that
seemed driven to know everything. And although his given fields of study were New Testament and now
Theology, he seemed equally to master every field of inquiry related to Biblical studies. He was
recognized in his own day as a man of immense learning, whose depth and breadth of grasp were nearly
unprecedented. His “presence” on the theological scene of the day was immense. His many hundreds of
periodical articles and book reviews, many of which were of substantive monograph length in themselves,
and in his several dozen books and pamphlets, constitute a literary output that is rarely achieved.

          Warfield’s title at the seminary was, Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology. It was his
responsibility not only to teach the Biblical system of doctrine but in teaching it to provide answer to
criticisms and arguments against it that had arisen from various quarters - from within the professing
church or without. And it was a responsibility he carried out with famous vigor. He eagerly took on all
comers, from whatever particular department of biblical or theological or historical study, and he was
recognized widely as the leading defender of the faith in his day. “Fear” may not be the word I want here,
because it may overstate the case; but if so, only slightly. The fact is that there is plenty of evidence to
demonstrate that Warfield’s contemporaries - friends and foes alike - were very aware of him, his watchful
eye, his ready pen, and the weight of learning he would bring to bear on all that contradicted the historic
faith “once for all given to the saints.” And in his journal articles and book reviews, sometimes published in
journals controlled by his opponents, his demeanor is always one of supreme confidence in the veracity of
all the declarations of Scripture, always insisting that the facts of the matter once again confirm that God is
true.

          One of the leading areas of attack in his day concerned the person of Christ. Differing doctrines of
“kenosis” portrayed Jesus in naturalistic terms. Jesus was not divine, according to the kenotic theologians,
at least not in the traditional sense of the term, and the miraculous dimensions of the Gospels were
dismissed by various kinds of naturalistic explanations. With all this, of course, the work of Christ - the
meaning of his death, his resurrection, and so on - received redefinition also. And this - the person and
work of Christ - forms the largest single area of Warfield’s literary output. In sermons and scholarly articles
alike he gave himself to the exposition and defense of the biblical presentation of the supernaturalness of
Christ. It is here we find Warfield’s own center of gravity, and in scores of publications he provided a
massive exegetical grounding for the historic Christian understanding of the person and work of our Lord.

          Warfield loved to describe Christianity as a redemptive religion. Christianity means redemption, he
would say. The reason God has revealed himself is to accomplish redemption. Revelation itself, he
insisted, was a redemptive act. Thus, at the climax of God’s self-revelation is Christ the Redeemer. And
so also at the center of our faith is not simply Christ, but Christ crucified. All this was the conscious
atmosphere in which Warfield considered and evaluated the many criticisms that were being advanced
against the Christian faith. He saw them not as unrelated or isolated criticisms of this or that area of
Christian teaching but as destructive of the gospel. And he would demonstrate that these denials call into
question the truthfulness of God himself, denigrate the Lord Jesus, and destroy the redemptive character
of Christianity. This redemptive or gospel concern was consistently evident, even in his most polemic
pieces. The closing lines of his 1914, “Christianity and Our Times,” summarizes his thinking well.

The message of Christianity concerns, not “the values of human life,” but the grace of the
saving God in Christ Jesus. And in proportion as the grace of the saving God in Christ
Jesus is obscured or passes into the background, in that proportion does Christianity slip
from our grasp. Christianity is summed up in the phrase: “God was in Christ, reconciling the
world with himself.” Where this great confession is contradicted or neglected, there is no
Christianity.

          Reading Warfield’s works what stands out is that he models so well the wonderful ideals of Old
Princeton Seminary, qualities that ought to be the pursuit of every Christian theologian - the highest
scholarship and learning matched with an utterly devoted heart and warm devotional piety. In his case in
particular we find one whose heart for Christ was as evident as his mighty scholarship. He is marked
everywhere by a keen sense of helpless dependence upon the Redeemer, and he saw himself first as a
helpless sinner rescued by divine grace. And all this in a context of humble trust in all that God had
declared in Scripture. He was so fully persuaded that “What Scripture says, God says” that it does not
seem even to have entered his mind that Scripture could possibly be mistaken at any point.

          On December 24, 1920, Warfield fell with a heart attack while walking to the home of his friend
Geerhardus Vos. Having seemed to recover he resumed his teaching on February 16, 1921, lecturing on
his favorite theme - the love of God in Christ crucified. He then returned home, where that evening he
passed into the presence of the Redeemer whom he had so passionately adored for so long.

          The weight of Warfield’s presence was felt in his own day by friends and foes alike. In the Princeton
land of giants he stood unquestionably taller. For example, colleague John DeWitt, professor of Church
History at Princeton Seminary, is reported to have said 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.” Machen
remarked that Warfield had done the work of ten men, and he complained when Warfield died that there
was not a man in the entire church that could fill one quarter of his place. Through his many writings and the
2,700 students who sat under his tutelage Warfield’s influence for the faith was felt world-wide. As it has
been said, he was the spoiler of Liberalism, and through this work he propelled orthodoxy into the
twentieth century.

          And his influence lives on in our day also, as evidenced by the continued re-publication of his works,
the many articles and Ph.D. dissertations that focus on his work, and the almost innumerable citations of
him in theological journals. His works on inspiration, as already noted, were landmark and remain a
reference point in all related discussion. His arguments for the cessation of the miraculous gifts have held
enormous influence in evangelicalism for a century. And his exegetical grounding of the Reformed faith
remains a source of instruction for students everywhere.

          In his last-published book of sermons, Faith and Life (1916), Warfield includes a stimulating sermon
from First Timothy 6:20 - “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and
contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’” Here Warfield presses the minister of the Word with
the responsibility of faithfulness. God has spoken, this word from God has been deposited to our care,
and it is our solemn responsibility simply to minister it faithfully. It is not ours to add anything to it or come
up with anything new. Nor may we change it. And we may be sure that any “so-called knowledge” that
contradicts it is a false one. This word from God is always and only true and will never be overthrown. We
must “keep the deposit inviolate.”

          What is interesting about this is that here in Warfield’s final published book of sermons we have the
same emphasis that we find in his earliest sermon - the note that marked his career and for which he is
remembered: the unfailing truthfulness and reliability of God’s word. It was with this firm conviction that
Warfield stood so confidently to answer critics of the faith at every point. “The condition of right thinking . . .
is, therefore, that the Christian man should look upon the seething thought of the world from the safe
standpoint of the sure Word of God.” Standing in the teachings of Scripture may at times be difficult, but “it
will always be found safe.”

Let us bless God, then, for His inspired word! And may He grant that we may always
cherish, love and venerate it, and conform all our life and thinking to it! So may we find safety
for our feet, and peaceful security for our souls.





B.B. Warfield: Champion of the Faith
by Fred G. Zaspel
(originally published in Credo 2:4 [August 2012], pp.42-46)