Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield as a Prince at Princeton

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (BBW) was born near Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.A., on November 5th, 1851.

His early life on the farm left him with a life-long passion for farming and especially horses, and became a leading world authority on short-horn cattle.

He graduated from Princeton University “with highest honours” in 1871. The following year, at age 21, he acknowledged the claim of Christ on his life and entered Princeton Seminary to prepare for the ministry.

Warfield graduated in 1876 and married Annie Kinkead. He was studying in Leipzig and so the couple honeymooned in Germany. While walking in the Harz Mountains the pair were caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Some say that Annie “was struck by lightning and permanently paralysed” (Great Leaders of the Christian Church, Moody Press, page 344).

Whether that is the case or not, she was traumatised from the experience and never recovered, being an invalid for the rest of her life, needing Warfield’s constant care. For the next 39 years Warfield “seldom left home for more than two hours at a time”.

He became Professor of New Testament at a Presbyterian college, and in 1887 he succeeded A.A.Hodge as a Professor of Theology at Princeton and kept that post until his death 33 years later. He also edited the Presbyterian Review.

In the 1920’s ten volumes of his larger collected writings were published, and in the 1960’s two volumes of his shorter writings were also published. Those books and volumes of his sermons are in print today and are read more widely than in his life-time.

His book, Counter Miracles (1918), was a strong defence of the cessationist viewpoint.

His Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (1948) “asserted that verbal inspiration had been perfect in the original manuscripts” (Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 492).

His writings in defence of Calvinism are also worthy of mention.

He was an excellent lecturer, using a Socratic dialogue quiz style to prompt his students to examine the subject at hand. His writings were described by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “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.”

Warfield preached vividly. Once he illustrated the difference between fate and providence with a story of a Dutch boy who disobeyed his father and played near a windmill. Going too close he suddenly found himself picked up from the ground hanging upside down as a series of blows were rained upon him. What horror, caught in the machine! He thought his end had come. But when he opened his eyes he discovered the windmill’s sail that had taken him up but his own father had. He was receiving the threatened punishment for his own disobedience. He wept, not with pain but with relief and joy. He now new the difference between falling into a machine and into the loving hands of a father. That is the difference between fate and predestination.

On Christmas Eve, 1920, Professor BBW suffered a stroke – he recovered enough to resume his classes on 16 February, 1921, but died that night as a result of a further stroke.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.